We can all agree that when we gather for worship, it is directed to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Beyond there, Christians have differed and sometimes fought tooth-and-nail. What should we do in worship? Is it really up to us to decide? Who’s being worshiped, anyway?
The Confession continues, Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one part of natural worship, is by God required of all men. But that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, according to his will; with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and when with others, in a known tongue.
This introduces to us what is called “the Regulative Principle.” IE, Scripture regulates what is done in God’s worship. Otherwise, we are left to the whims of man. God tells us what is acceptable worship; we do not know what God accepts apart from revelation.
First, we’re told that prayer is a natural part of worship. But not all prayer is heard by God. Paul tells us in Romans 14:23 that anything not done in faith is sin, and this includes prayer. God requires prayer of all people, but he requires it be done in faith. Therefore, God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers since they are by definition not praying in faith.
When we pray in corporate worship, we pray to the Father, but not without an intermediary. The only mediator between God and man is Christ Jesus. That is why we pray in the name of the Son in the power of the Spirit.
We do not pray to Daddy God or anything irreverent such as that. That is a mockery of his name. We pray according to his word, and he has said he is our Father.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:13-19 about the importance of worship being orderly, especially when it concerns prayer. We do not pray to edify ourselves alone but all of those who hear. Apart from a frank discussion about the cessation of the apostolic gifts, praying aloud in public in foreign languages (which is the dictionary definition of “tongues”) requires three conditions be met for it to be lawful: they must be translated (vv.16-17), only two or three people may do it to keep it from getting out of hand (v.27), and women may not participate in speaking in tongues (vv.34-35).
What then do we pray for? The Confession continues, Prayer is to be made for things lawful, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.
Prayer must be done in faith, which includes praying for things which God has determined, hence “things lawful”. Where do we find what is lawful? In the Scriptures. One example is 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, or kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
We pray for the living, as Paul writes, not the dead. Two passages come to mind to support such an assertion. King David mourns the death of his son born from Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:15-23). He prays that his son will survive, but once the son dies, he stops praying for his son and begins to worship. And Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that judgment immediately proceeds death. There is no praying for the state of the dead after judgment has been pronounced.
But there is one thing for which we are told not to pray: the sin that leads to the death. The relevant Scripture passage would be 1 John 5:16, which says, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”
This is most likely a devotion to biblical fidelity and saying what Scripture says. Two other passages speak to this matter to help us make sense of the sin that leads to death.
Matthew 12:31-32, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
The Holy Spirit witnesses to the gospel being true. To reject the gospel to which the Spirit attests is the sin that leads to death. It is not possible to reject the gospel once it is received, but there are those who receive the external call of the gospel and never believe the Spirit’s witness about Christ. Rejection is fatal.
In the time of the apostles, there were those who performed miracles as signs and witnesses to the veracity of the gospel. These took place before the apostolic witness of Scripture. The apostle Peter tells us that today, “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Scripture is that prophetic word. Since those signs are not performed today, the sin that leads to death is rejection of the gospel to which Scripture witnesses.
Next time we will turn to the preaching of the word and its place in Scripture.