Where to begin? Let’s see. Maybe elementary school.
When I was in the fourth grade, I was obnoxious. (No, I haven’t changed that much.) You see, I had this annoying habit of correcting my teachers. I really can’t blame my Church of Christ indoctrination. I was obnoxious quite on my own — but my Church of Christ indoctrination gave me plenty of ammunition. If a teacher mentioned “three wise men,” well, I was the first the point out her ignorance of the scriptures. If she mentioned “going to church,” I assured her that the people are the church and she was really going to the “church building.”
And if she had the audacity to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer, I was loaded for bear. It’s not the “Lord’s Prayer” because Jesus prayed lots of prayers — all of which were a Lord’s prayer. She should call it the “Model Prayer.” And she certainly shouldn’t say “Thy Kingdom come,” because the Kingdom came on Pentecost, when the Churches of Christ were founded by Peter. Saying “Thy Kingdom come” is premillennial — which leads to universalism — which denies the gospel.
In junior high, I was in more comfortable surroundings, because our principal was an elder in our church. And when he led a devotional over the PA system, he said the Model Prayer, but he said “Thy KIngdom be extended.” And this is what God wanted, even if some of the parents got upset. He always called them in and explained the premillennial thing to them.
For those who didn’t grow up being properly instructed on such things, it is surely strange that the Churches of Christ don’t say the Lord’s Prayer during their worship services. Nearly everyone else does. Some do it every week. I guess they do this because Jesus said to do so. But we in the Churches of Christ know better.
Well, enough of that. Here’s what produced this part of my obnoxiousness: Foy E. Wallace, Jr. John Mark Hicks posted a series of articles describing how in the Churches of Christ the highly legalistic Texas school of thought came to dominate over the more generous Tennessee school of thought (which he has now de-posted in anticipation of publication). And much of the answer is simply the fact that Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was given the editorship of the Gospel Advocate, and he used that platform to push his extreme legalism on the Southeast Churches. And he did a thorough job of it.
One of his crusades was against premillennialism, which he considered a damnable heresy. He worked vigorously to stamp out any notion that Jesus might come to earth and reign for 1,000 years, because he thought this was part of the doctrine of a “second chance,” leading to everyone being saved. And he drove the premillennial teaching almost entirely out of the Churches of Christ, leaving us thoroughly amillennial, that is, denying the 1,000-year reign altogether.
In the process, he taught that the Kingdom came on Pentecost and thus we should not pray “Thy Kingdom come.” Most of us felt uncomfortable editing a prayer composed by Jesus himself, leaving us uncomfortable even saying the prayer. Which is an odd thing, and surely not a good thing.
Let’s take a fresh look at what Jesus taught us to say, and see if maybe we can rehabilitate the Lord’s Prayer.
(Mat 6:9a) “This, then, is how you should pray …
“Pray” is present imperative. Present tense in the Greek implies continuous action, as opposed to the aorist tense, which can indicate point-in-time action: “This, then, is how you should continuously pray …” Plainly, this model prayer was meant to be used over and over. It’s not an occasional prayer, that is, a prayer that Jesus just happened to pray for a particular purpose. It’s designed for ongoing use.
The prayer also appears at Luke 11:1ff. Luke has Jesus introducing the prayer,
(Luke 11:2) He said to them, “When you pray, say …
This even more strongly indicates that Jesus expected his disciples to pray this prayer on a regular basis.
The Patristic evidence shows that the early church took Jesus at his word. The Didache (ca. 92 AD) instructs the church to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, quoting from Matthew verbatim.
So why didn’t the early church know better than to say “Thy Kingdom come”?
Let’s look at the prayer a bit more closely.
(Mat 6:9b-10) “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“Hallowed be” and “be done” are aorist imperative passive. “Come” is aorist imperative active. The aorist tense does not indicate point-in-time action in the imperative case. Rather, as Zodhiates says, “[T]he verb does not have any temporal significance. In other words, it refers only to the reality of an event or action, not to the time when it took place.” The Complete Word Study New Testament 862.
“Hallowed” means “made holy” or “sanctified.” In the passive voice, it means “be made holy.” Thus, “hallowed be your name” does not mean “Your name is holy.” Rather, it’s a plea that God’s name be considered holy. It is holy, and so it needs to be treated as holy.
Thus, the three clauses are parallel. Jesus prays that God’s name be considered holy, that his kingdom come, and that God’s will be done — entreating God to make all three of these real — “on earth as it is in heaven.” You see, the last clause modifies all three —
hallowed be your name on earth as it is in heaven
your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Ah … now it makes better sense, doesn’t it? The Kingdom came with power on Pentecost. But it has yet to come on earth as it is in heaven. We can — and should — still pray for that.
The prayer is in fact strongly eschatological. It looks forward to the final culmination when earth and heaven are brought together as one, as described in Rev 21-22. And in the meantime, it’s a prayer that the reality on earth should grow closer to the reality in heaven for which we all yearn.
And I should add that the New Testament writers speak of the Kingdom as having come, as coming, and as yet to come.
(2 Tim 4:18) The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(Heb 12:28) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
(James 2:5) Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
(2 Pet 1:11) and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The New Testament writers understood that the Kingdom as it exists now is a foretaste of the full-fledged Kingdom we’ll receive at the end. It’s rather like the difference between being engaged and being married. The church is described as the bride of Christ today. She doesn’t become his wife until the End. Rev 21:9.
Obviously, this argues neither for nor against premillennialism — a controversy I find very uninteresting. It does argue for honoring Jesus’ instructions on how to pray. Yes, it’s okay for the church to say the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday morning. Trust me. It’ll be entirely decent and in order.
I readily grant that Jesus did not intend that his words had to be mindlessly repeated everytime we assemble. He certainly allows us to customize the prayer to our time and place. But the prayer remains appropriate to today’s time and place. There’s no reason to completely omit it from our worship.
Indeed, Scot McKnight notes in The Jesus Creed (page 15) that the Lord’s Prayer is remarkably similar to the Jewish Kaddish, a prayer prayed at all Jewish prayer services. The following is the Mourner’s Kaddish, which I quote because it gives the core of the prayer. There are other versions.
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
In Jewish teaching, the Kaddish may only be spoken when at least 10 adult males are present. And so Jesus built his prayer on a liturgical prayer designed to be spoken in community. It’s only appropriate to use the Lord’s Prayer liturgically, that is, to pray it verbatim routinely in the assembly.
Is it absolutely required? No. Should we pray it regularly in church? Yes.