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Trinitarian prayer panics relieved

Praying to the Father is biblical, and praying to the Trinity just barely is, so if you’re trying to stay low to the ground and follow the biblical patterns of prayer… I used to be very cautious about this, too. I didn’t want to make anyone’s prayer life get messed up just on the basis of a little bit of teaching I did. A little learning is a dangerous thing. If you take the whole course, I think we’ll come out okay.

I used to say, “However you’re praying is fine. There are no secret formulas. You don’t have to hold your hands a certain way to get the prayer to go through.” But then I started saying, “But there is a way to get an A on the theology test and to pray in line with clear biblical guidance, and that is to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s the A on the theology test. Then you’re not going to be surprised by biblical patterns of prayer that you see. You’re not going to read Paul and think, “Why does he bend his knee to the Father in heaven? Why doesn’t he pray to Jesus? Why doesn’t he pray to the Trinity?” We know God is Trinity.

That’s the main thing. The biblical pattern of prayer is not to say, “Oh, Trinity,” but to say, “Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Praying to the Trinity would be praying objectively to the Trinity out there. It’s not heretical. It’s not wrong. I suppose it works. But the biblical pattern of Trinitarian prayer is to pray more from within the Trinity, to the Father, in the name of the Son, as one who is caught up in the middle of that relationship between Father and Son, in the power of the Spirit.

In congregational prayers or open prayers that we overhear from each other in the church, I do my best not to be critical of those. When people begin thinking about the wonders of the Trinity, they’ll start praying to one person of the Trinity, then their mind will go on a little journey, and they’ll say things to another person of the Trinity, and they don’t always edit the sentences as they’re going. It’s extemporaneous prayer. You’ll hear terrible things like, “Father, thank you for dying on the cross,” or, “Jesus, thank you for sending your son,” and the theologian in me wants to get up and immediately censor everything, something like, “No more praying until you get your doctrine right.”

But I don’t think what I’m hearing is really heresy, and I won’t interrupt somebody. They have thoughts about the Father, thoughts about the Son, and thoughts about the Holy Spirit, and in the freedom of prayer, they go on a little mental spiritual itinerary. They move from the glory of the Father, to the glory of the Son, and they just haven’t made the sentence right. Ideally, the sentence would also come out right, but I no longer think I’m hearing heresy in the act.

Fred Sanders

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