Theology

Prayer: its foundations

Don West reflects on the essentials of prayer as established for us in the gospel of Christ. Don is the Principal of Trinity Theological College, Perth

To draw near to God in prayer, to express our wonder and to bring our concerns to him, is a joy and privilege. I know this. What’s more, Holy Scripture is filled with examples and teaching on prayer in all its facets and applications. I know this too. But it is not the knowing about prayer that is my challenge, it is the doing of it. In preparing and writing up this article, I have prayed that I will be moved to pray more regularly and more freely. I have come to see that this prayer will be answered by God the Father as his Spirit moves my heart before the meekness and majesty of Jesus Christ as he is presented to me in the gospel.

Prayer is Grounded in the Gospel

Prayer is the means by which we turn to Christ at our conversion:

9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Note the outer and inner aspects of prayer involved in receiving the salvation offered by God in Christ: declaring (or confessing) with the mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believing in him with the heart. Note too that ‘calling’ upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) implies both confessing his status (i.e., praising him) and crying out for his salvation (i.e., petitioning him; asking for help).

Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord—the faith that is expressed through prayer and that saves us from God’s just condemnation—arises from the proclamation of the gospel:

14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-16)

In short, from the beginning of the Christian life until its end, prayer is a work of the Spirit whereby we ‘dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon’ (John Calvin, Institutes 3.20.2).

Do you remember the day you turned to Christ? Do you remember when you prayed for the first time and knew that God was listening to you? Have you been with another person when they ‘prayed the prayer’? Do you remember the wonder, the relief, the joy of knowing that your sins were completely wiped away at the cross, that you had been transferred from darkness to light, from being condemned to being justified? True prayer never leaves this spot.

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The Spirit Enables Us to Call God ‘Father’

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-16)

Here Paul draws upon the imagery of the redemption of God’s ‘son’ Israel out of Egypt. The psalmists apply the same image when they ‘cry out’ to God to rescue them from the hands of his enemies. When we cry out to God the Spirit moves us to call him ‘Father,’ following the pattern of his one and only Son (see Mark 14:36). Moreover, when we call upon God as our Father, the Spirit of adoption moves us to do so from the deepest part of our person. In prayer we express our new identity as God’s children.

Our understanding and expectation of intimacy is heavily influenced by our experience of relationships as broken, flawed people in a world that seeks things that do not last. We find it hard to imagine what real closeness should be like. To be able to address God as our Father is to be given the privilege of coming before him with boldness, knowing his readiness to hear us and grant our requests out of his lavish generosity.

The Son Gives Us Permanent Access to the Father

In prayer we bring our concerns into God’s very presence.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

In the Old Testament, God’s presence or glory was associated with the tabernacle and temple—this is where his ‘name’ dwelt. Access was available to ordinary Israelites only by sacrifices offered by appointed priests. It is here that Moses talked with God ‘face to face’ (Exodus 33:11) and David sought God’s ‘face’ in prayer (e.g., Psalm 27). In 1 Kings 8, Solomon asks God that the temple be the place towards which the Israelites could pray with confidence of being heard when in distress. Although God could be approached in prayer at the place where he dwelt, distance had to be maintained.

According to the writer of Hebrews, because Jesus has ‘ascended into heaven’—and so ‘always lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:27), and because he is fully able to ‘empathize with our weaknesses,’ we don’t have to hold back before God. Moses’ ‘face to face’ conversation with God at the tabernacle in the wilderness was a mere shadow of what we may enjoy.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples repeatedly that whatever they ask in his ‘name’ will be granted to them (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26). His name guarantees our being heard by the Father because it stands for his complete obedience to the Father, ultimately seen on the cross.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Where to from here?

In this brief article I have been laying down the main foundations of Christian prayer. When I teach these truths to myself, or am reminded of them, God often moves my mouth and heart toward himself. I begin to thank and praise him for who he is and all that he has provided for me in the Lord Jesus; I become more confident to bring my concerns and fears to him, knowing again his tremendous love for me. The only remedy I know of for a lack of prayer is to start to pray.

The Bible really matters

Peter Jensen meditates upon how, as we read it, the Bible is in some ways jarring and puzzling, but also infinitely precious.
Peter Jensen was Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2013.

This day, as far as I am aware, I met my first Tibetan. More than that, my first Tibetan Christian. I had been praying for this over the years since 2008, aware that there is a handful of Tibetans in Australia, mainly refugees. I had acquired a Tibetan Bible from India and had vowed that I would pass it on to my first Tibetan when I met them. And so I did, to the evident huge delight of the recipient. That joy reminded me how easy it is to take the scriptures for granted and how wonderful it is that they should be so readily available in our own tongue. This, of course, is the fruit of the Reformation. We praise God for William Tyndale for a start.

The more I read the Scriptures, the more I am filled with awe. Like the God whose Spirit inspired them, they are not to be treated lightly. Living as we do, in a society whose thought-forms are utterly alienated from God, we are frequently reminded how very strange the Bible is. I sometimes think that they are rather like a rough, irascible, shaggy unmannered uncle who comes to stay, creating unease and curiosity in equal measure.

Word and sacrament

Evangelicals are known for being strong and clear on the place of the Word in the Christian life. But can the Reformers' embrace of Baptism and Holy Communion remind us to be clear on the place of the sacraments too? Archbishop Glenn Davies is President of EFAC Australia.

One of the great discoveries of Martin Luther 500 years ago was the recognition of the supremacy and authority of Holy Scripture. It was this that undergirded his nailing of 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, exemplified in Thesis 62: ‘The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.’ By God’s grace, a fire was lit in continental Europe which critiqued the Roman Church of the day by the touchstone of Scripture, and brought the plain teaching of the Bible into the hands of ordinary Christians in their own language. Justification by faith alone was reclaimed; the priestcraft of Rome was scrutinised; and the need for human intermediaries between God and his people was refuted. In particular, the seven sacraments of the Roman Church were reduced to two (those established by Christ), namely, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Our Anglican heritage, under the godly leadership of Thomas Cranmer, followed this Reformation lead.

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men [and women], in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.(Article XIX)1 

As Evangelicals, we are shaped by the gospel, as the moniker implies. As Anglicans we are also committed to the Reformation principles of our heritage, with the Bible as our authoritative source of doctrine, confessed in the Thirty-nine Articles and given liturgical expression in the Book of Common Prayer.
Yet, whereas ‘word and sacrament’ was a defining feature of the Reformation, it is often the case that many Anglican Evangelicals are more at home with the former than the latter. Perhaps it is my experience of Sydney Diocese that taints my judgment, since many ministers seem to have a less than clear understanding of the importance of the sacraments. For example, Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ final instructions for the making of new disciples, where administering baptism and teaching Jesus’ commandments are essential ingredients of that commission. Yet if one looks at today’s popular evangelistic tools and gospel outlines, there is no mention of baptism and little mention of keeping Jesus’ commandments. A simple test for us all is, that when we share the gospel with others does it cross our mind to share with them the importance of being baptised or of following Jesus’ commandments? Why is this the case? I fear that we have lost a precious aspect of Jesus’ teaching with regard to evangelism.

It is little appreciated that Jesus’ disciples had been practising water baptism during Jesus’ earthly ministry, which laid the groundwork for the Great Commission. Indeed, the Pharisees heard ‘that Jesus is making and baptising more disciples than John’ (John 4:1). Note the same conjunction of ‘making’ and ‘baptising’ disciples, as we find in Matthew 28. Although the Evangelist is quick to explain that Jesus himself was not the one baptising, as that was undertaken by the Twelve, yet it is incontrovertible that water baptism marked discipleship, as it did for John the Baptist. Hence Peter’s response to the people gathered on the Day of Pentecost makes perfect sense: ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you.’ Luke‘s record of the early church only confirms the importance of baptism as that which distinguished Christ’s followers from the world.

Our catechism defines a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.’ The sacraments are a sign, a means and a pledge, each established by Christ himself.

As signs, they need to bear some resemblance to that which they signify. Hence, water is used in baptism, as a sign of washing away of sins; bread and wine are used in holy communion, as a sign of feeding on Christ. They signify a reality, although are not to be confused with the reality. In this regard the Reformers were fond of quoting Augustine’s dictum: ‘if sacraments had not some point of real resemblance to the things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all.’2

As a means, the sacraments are not bare signs, but effectual signs, as Article XXV declares: "effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us." Philip E. Hughes, my former professor, eloquently expresses it in this way: "But their efficacy is not automatic (ex opere operato); for the external sign by itself is impotent to produce any spiritual effect. Water cannot cleanse, nor bread and wine nourish the soul. The efficacy of the sacrament is indissolubly linked to the word of promise of which it is the sign—not, however, to the word as a mere pronouncement of a formula of consecration, but to the word as a proclamation of the gospel to those who receive the sacrament."3

Thirdly, as a pledge, the Reformers were accustomed not only to speaking of the sacraments as a sign and a means of grace, but also as a pledge of God’s faithfulness. As Article XXV states, the sacraments ‘also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.’ As the engagement ring is a pledge of a man’s fidelity to his fiancée, thus strengthening the relationship, so the sacraments are a pledge of God’s promise to be faithful to his people.

The Reformers’ embrace of the sacraments of baptism and holy communion were the result of a clear understanding of the teaching of Scripture and a reclaiming of the theology of the early church, which had been obscured by the teachings of the Roman Church.  The conjoined use of ‘word and sacrament’ was based upon the teaching of Scripture, where the sacraments gave visible expression to the word of God. Bishop Jewel captures this thought in these words:"[F]irst he declareth his mercy by his secret purpose to his Word; then he sealeth it and assureth it by his sacraments. In the Word we have his promises: in the sacraments we see them."4

May God give us grace as Evangelical Anglicans, to follow our Saviour’s instructions and echo the Reformers’ teaching as we proclaim Christ through word and sacrament.

1. Article XX of Cranmer’s 42 Articles (1553)
2. Augustine, Epistle XCVIII to Boniface, cited in Cranmer, Works, I.124.
3. P E Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1965), 194.
4. Jewel, Works, II.1099, cited by Hughes, 197

Justification by faith and the pastor

Peter Brain rubs the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith into the heart of the pastor.
Bishop Peter Brain has just retired from the Parish of Rockingham, WA.

Martin Luther’s famous saying that justification by faith is the article of a standing or falling church has proven true over the past 500 years, but can be applied equally to those who are called to pastoral ministry.

The versical from Morning and Evening Prayer: 'Clothe your ministers with righteousness along with its response: And make your chosen people joyful, remind us that a very real benefit of justification by faith is that, when evident in the life and preaching of the minister, it will bring church members much joy'. This quote from Psalm 132:9 reminds us of the reformed nature of ministry, with the word minister replacing priest. Reformed pastors know that their standing with God is secure through faith in Christ not because of the size of the church they serve or the gifts they may have. Security in this truth will keep us from despair when there appears to be little response, from pride when there is and from using our members as fodder to feed our egos or drive our agendas. Ministers will want to live rightly in glad response to the one who has so graciously justified us through faith in Christ alone. This will bring joy to ministers and people alike along with glory to God.

Beginning to see how much I don’t know about the Reformation

Paul Bartley reflects on his recent encounters with the tumultuous world of Martin Luther and the Reformation he sparked.
Paul is in the formation programme for ordinands in the Diocese of Perth.

My wife Peggy and I had the privilege of being supported to attend the Ridley College Reformation study tour in June to Germany, France and Switzerland. It was a special year to go, as 2017 marks five hundred years since Luther is credited with sparking the Reformation. Family and friends took care of our four small children and we flew to Germany- a first time overseas for my wife. We had both been preparing as much as the general busyness of life allowed, reading Alister McGrath1 and Bruce Gordon2 and watching Carl Trueman’s lectures. This piece meanders through my reflections of Reformation study, with a focus on Luther.

Having the trip coming up certainly helped our enjoyment of our pre-trip learning. The potentially mundane watching of Trueman’s lectures on Luther while washing dishes at home in Perth in the weeks beforehand was as much part of the rich experience as the lofty heights of singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in the monastery, standing on the very same tiles as Luther would have. What a wealth of resources we enjoy here in Australia — in our well stocked theological libraries, on the internet and in documentaries! But we loved having this time together without the kids, travelling in such stunning countryside and at locations so central to the Reformation as Luther’s house in Wittenberg and St Peter's church in Calvin's Geneva.

Self forgiveness

Frances Cook relates how God gave her something precious and healing in the words of Paul.
Frances, a missionary of CMS SA/NT, works in the Pastoral Studies Centre (CEP), Theological College of the Anglican Church of Chile.

Sometime after the deaths of my parents, I went through a period of feeling very deeply my failures in relation to them. I tormented myself with questions: Why did I do this or not do that? Why did I say that but not say this?

I had never had much time for the idea of self-forgiveness. I was not aware of any hint of that in the Bible and, anyway, it seemed logically silly. Forgiveness implies an offended person and the offender – two people, not one. However, as these questions tormented me, I really felt the need to forgive myself. My theology said I just needed to trust more in God’s forgiveness, but I felt very deeply the need for self-forgiveness.

It is a really lovely thing that in the discipline of daily Bible reading, God speaks to us freshly. I was reading 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul, defending his apostleship, says that he is concerned for God’s judgement, not that of his readers. In v 3, almost as a throw-away line, if the Bible could have such a thing, the apostle writes these words which were so precious and healing to me, I do not even judge myself.

My problem was not that I could not forgive myself. Rather, I was standing in judgement on myself and that simply isn’t my job, any more than it is to judge others. I was not suffering from lack of self-forgiveness, but from self-condemnation, to which I had no right. With that, God healed me, beautifully! Praise be to him!

And, by the way, you won’t be surprised to hear that I found God to be a very much kinder and more generous judge than me, as he sees me in his Son who died for me.