CTCR Review: Theology and Practice of Prayer

Our church body has a commission charged with putting together theological statements on various topics.  This entity is known as the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, or the CTCR.  It’s a body comprised of academics, clergy, and lay people.  Their publications are not binding statements of polity doctrine, but rather efforts to engage a broader range of our membership in the activity of theology – thinking through things that pertain to God and and our life in him.

I’ve decided that it’s good to not only read these as I receive them, but to comment on them as well for both of my readers, something I’ve done here and here.  A few weeks ago I received their latest publication – Theology and Practice of Prayer: A Lutheran View.    If you click on the hyperlink, you can download the publication for free, and I encourage you to do so whether you’re Lutheran or not.  
Certainly the topic of prayer is one that ought to seem so familiar to Christians as to not need an elaborate theological reflection.  My children have been praying for as long as they could fold their hands.  It’s easy, right?  Yes.  And no.  In much the same way that breathing is easy, and yet when you stop to try and describe the process  to someone else it gets very complicated, very quickly.
The purpose of this document is “to encourage prayer and to guard against potential misunderstandings, from the standpoint of Lutheran theology.”  As such, at 62 pages, it’s hardly exhaustive on the subject.  While it goes on in the introduction to claim that it isn’t intended to be devotional or inspirational in tone, I’d argue that the latter portion of the document does an admirable job of those very things, and that it’s not a bad thing, either.
Since the document comes from “the standpoint of Lutheran theology” it is characteristic in what it wants to say about prayer, primarily in the distinguishing of Biblical/Lutheran theology from what are perceived to be the most common erroneous interpretations of prayer in Scripture.  The document takes time to distinguish the Scriptural admonitions to pray to God from the admonitions of some faith traditions to pray “to” (or ‘through’) other agents, such as Mary the mother of Jesus or certain men and women who are regarded as having lived highly pious and devoted lives of faith.  The document also quickly links the importance of prayer in conjunction with the Gospel, and distinguishes prayer to the Triune God from any other use or application of prayer.  All good points.
But likely not the points of concern that most people have when asked for questions about prayer.  I’d wager that the most common question on prayer centers on why some appear to be answered favorably and others are not.  Why are we apparently promised that we will get what we ask for if we pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13, among others), yet this doesn’t seem to be the case all the time?  
The document deals with this issue (pages 21-22), but not in a way that I think many people are going to find particularly satisfying or helpful.  That said, I’m not sure that there is a satisfying or helpful way of clearly understanding the tension between our will and God’s will.  
The document concludes by leading readers to consider the model of prayer that Jesus provided to his followers – the Lord’s Prayer.  Petition by petition, the authors provide insight into what is being prayed and offering reflections on the why behind it.  This section is very, very good and helpful for long-term Christians who may pray the Lord’s Prayer every week but not really think about it.  The reflections offered here are a good summary of why this prayer is so powerful and important, and so worthy of repetition and emulation.  
If you’re in a Lutheran (LCMS) congregation, ask your pastor if he has a copy of this that you can borrow (he should).  My congregation has amassed a small library over the years, and I make sure that the library has a copy of these documents (one is usually sent to the congregation’s mailing address and another is sent to the pastor’s address) so that members can access it.  It’s worth your time to read it and grow in your awe and joy in the ‘simple’ matter of prayer.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s