The Lord’s Prayer is once again the subject of dispute in the Victorian Parliament. It is the practice of both Federal and State Governments in Australia to open the parliamentary sitting with the speaker reading out loud the ‘Lord’s Prayer’.
Today in Victoria, Legislative Council Member, Fiona Patten of the “Reason Party” (formerly called the Australia Sex Party), is introducing a motion to have the Lord’s Prayer banned and in its place introduce a moment’s silence at the start of each sitting. Her reasoning is that many Victorians are not Christians and it’s discriminatory toward other religions and to Victorians with no religious affiliation.
As a Christian leader living in Victoria, I’m not persuaded by Patten’s argument, but neither am I calling for the Parliament to hold onto this tradition. Rather, my desire is that our Parliamentarians would come to terms with the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, and from there, make a decision.
In case anyone is wondering where this prayer originates, it is with Jesus Christ. Jesus introduced this prayer to his disciples early in his ministry and it was written down as part of Scripture and has remained precious to Christians ever since (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). The prayer, while it can be read verbatim, is probably meant to serve as a model for teaching us ‘how to pray’. Nonetheless this renowned prayer is read verbatim in our Parliaments.
The positive in keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament
Reading the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament serves to perform two important functions in our society. First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both an historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability.
Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live.
The danger of praying the Lord’s Prayer
While there is argument for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in the Victorian Parliament, there are more significant reasons for treading cautiously with this prayer. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; all nice and innocuous. The Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous prayer to pray. It should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Let me explain,
1. The Lord’s prayer is for believers
The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,
“‘Our Father in heaven”
Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it is unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!
However God is not everyone’s Father, and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad; only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. The Bible shows us that we only have the privilege of knowing God as Father through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.
‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible teaches us that we can know God as Father, but it is through Jesus. By trusting in his death and resurrection, we are no longer separated from God, but are included into his people and brought into a personal relationship with God.
It is a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father without first placing their faith in his Son.
2. The Lord’s prayer acknowledges God’s utter holiness and otherness
“hallowed be your name”
This line is asking God for glory and greatness to be attributed to his name.
3. The Lord’s prayer asks for God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing.
“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Lord’s prayer asks for God’s Kingdom to come and be manifest. This petition is asking for both judgment and salvation. We’re imploring God to bring an end to all sin, evil and death, and to judge the guilty. It is calling for God to rid the world of every evil and injustice, including our own. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally, that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation.
Should we encourage people to ask God for this, especially if they themselves don’t believe in Jesus Christ? It’s like playing Russian roulette, except Jesus is persuaded that the Bible’s teaching on judgment is no idle threat, it’s about God righting all that is wrong.
4. The Lord’s Prayer says we need God each day and especially his forgiveness
“Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
He is the God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins.
This petition requires us to recognise our sinfulness, as defined by God’s righteousness and not by our current social norms. At the time, this is breathtaking. In our culture where forgiveness is hard to find and where politics is filled with shaming and guilting others, Jesus’ prayer is humbling and provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness.
5. The Lord’s Prayer asks for a way out from temptation.
“And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”
Are we wanting to embrace and live according to God’s design for life or something else? Given the reputation of our Parliament and many of the decisions made in recent years, one might conclude that our political representatives are consciously jumping into temptation rather than seeking to avoid it.
To pray or not to pray?
Let’s be honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers even in many churches have become about tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. One cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those errant conclusions.
Fiona Patten’s reasons for banning the Lord’s Prayer may be about further undermining the important role Christianity plays in our society, but there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer. Should you speak of God as your father if he is not? Do you understand that calling for the coming Kingdom include Divine judgment? Do you mean it when you ask God to forgive you?
This prayer that provides comfort to millions of Christians is also far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making and to ask, do I believe this? Can I ask speak these words with a clear conscience? Perhaps, just perhaps, ask yourselves, does this God of the Lord’s Prayer really exist and can I known him and receive the blessings that are promised to those who know God as Father?