Question: Why do Latter-day Saints not pray directly to Jesus Christ?

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Question: Why do Latter-day Saints not pray directly to Jesus Christ?

Despite the fact that some may have prayed directly to Jesus Christ in the past, Latter-day Saints accept the Lord's Prayer as a divine pattern which was reinforced and clarified in modern scripture

Latter-day Saints are criticized for not praying directly to Jesus Christ. [1]

Despite the fact that some may have prayed directly to Jesus Christ in the past, Latter-day Saints accept the Lord's Prayer as a divine pattern which was reinforced and clarified in modern scripture. We trust the Lord's word as revealed in both ancient and modern times and will continue to pray to our Heavenly Father as Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer directed.

Overview

The critical claim is made by the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) in a YouTube video and on their web site. Some of IRR's YouTube video criticism seems to be based on what Bruce R. McConkie wrote in his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary regarding Stephen's request while being stoned, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59) Elder McConkie explained:

To whom did Stephen pray? Sectarian commentators say he prayed to Jesus and not to the Father, and they accordingly claim this instance as justification for the apostate practice of addressing prayers to the Son. From the day of Adam, through all ages, however, the true order of prayer has been to “call upon God in the name of the Son.” (Moses 5:8) The only scriptural instances in which prayers were addressed directly to the Son were when—and because!—that Holy Being, as a resurrected personage, was standing before the petitioners. (3 Nephi 19:18-36)[2]

IRR challenges McConkie's response by citing other Old and New Testament cases where people appear to be praying to Jesus Christ (Old Testament prayers to Jehovah, John 14:14 ESV; Acts 1:21-26; Acts 9:14, Acts 9:21; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:9-14; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 John 5:13-15). The critics also state that "The Bible is clear: the gospel offers forgiveness of sins to those who turn to Jesus Christ in faith and appeal to him in prayer to save them (Acts 2:21, Acts 2:38; Acts 4:12; Acts 5:31; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:12-13)."

We could discuss these scriptures in detail, however, we would be quibbling over what some would consider questionable examples of true prayers. Many seem to be cries for help or references to "calling on the Lord," which could also be describing prayers to God the Father in Christ's name. The critics are really questioning Elder McConkie's assertion that these verses are being used as "justification for the apostate practice of addressing prayers to the Son." Elder McConkie's assertion should be considered an authoritative LDS opinion, but not LDS doctrine. The scriptures, on the other hand, are considered doctrine and do answer this criticism, but we need to examine the content of a few scriptures not cited by the critics.

The Scriptural pattern for prayer

The Bible gives us the pattern for our prayers in the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In these accounts the Lord teaches us to address our prayers to "Our Father which art in heaven." The Lord also instructed us on several occasions to ask in his name:

"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." John 14:13-14.

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." John 15:16.

And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24.

In the Book of Mormon Jesus also taught the Nephites to pray to our Heavenly Father in his name:

"Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name; And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you." (3 Nephi 18:19-20)

"And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name." (3 Nephi 20:30-31)

And verily I say unto you, whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you. (3 Nephi 27:2, 3 Nephi 27:28-29)

Latter-day Saints do not pray directly to Jesus because we would be ignoring the Lord's specific instructions cited above. (See also James E. Faust, “The Lifeline of Prayer,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 62, 67–69)

The IRR Youtube video completely ignores the scriptures cited above. We would ask those who criticize our prayers, why should we do as the critics recommend when it clearly goes against Jesus Christ's teachings in the New Testament and especially in the Book of Mormon? We would also be ignoring the specific instructions the Lord has given us by modern revelation. It is this modern revelation that distinguishes us from Christians that rely solely on the Bible. The scriptures indicate that "to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22). This same principle could apply to prayers addressed to Jesus.

Additionally, praying directly to Jesus seems unnecessary as he has taught us that he is our mediator and advocate with the Father (see 1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; DC 29:5; DC 32:3; DC 45:3; DC 110:4) and as such hears our prayer.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that:

Jesus is our Advocate with the Father... The word advocate comes from Latin roots meaning a “voice for” or “one who pleads for another.” Other related terms are used in scripture, such as mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5, 2 Nephi 2:28; DC 76:69). From the Book of Mormon we learn that this responsibility to mediate, or make intercession, was foreseen before His birth: Jesus “shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved” (2 Nephi 2:9).[3]

Statements made by early Christians

Finally, we might cite many early Christians such as Origen [ca. A.D. 250 ] who wrote that "only God the Father is worthy of receiving prayer and adoration; not even the Son, though we pray in the name of Christ."[4] And also “the Father alone is ho theos; the Son is simply theos…. Prayer can be offered only to the Father; prayer directed to the Son is not prayer in the fullest meaning of the word.”[5]

Athanasius (A.D. 300-373) stated that we do not pray to the Great Unoriginate in the name of the Originated One, but rather to the Father, in the name of the Son. He wrote: “’Father’ was made known to us by our Lord…, who knew whose Son he is…. When he taught us to pray he did not say, ‘When you pray, say ‘O God Unoriginate….,’ but rather ‘Our Father….’ And he did not call us to baptize ‘in the name of the Unoriginate and the Originate…’ but ‘in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit….’ Those who name God ‘Unoriginate’ name him only from his external works…, but those who name God ‘Father’ immediately signify in him also the Son…, naming him from the intimate issue of his own being.’” [6]

The Council of Carthage, North Africa, held in A.D. 397 wrote:

“In prayer one should not put the Father in the place of the Son, nor put the Son in the place of the Father; when standing at the altar one should always address the prayer to God the Father.”[7]

LaCugna also records that the A.D. 393 Council of Hippo stated:

“At the service of the altar, prayer shall always be addressed to the Father,"</ref>LaCugna, 126. </ref>

Jesuit Frans Jozef van Beeck refers to the same Council and makes the same point: “The classic liturgical prayers were exclusively addressed to the Father ‘through’ Christ living and reigning with the Father—a practice proposed as normative at the Council of Hippo in A.D. 393,”[8]


Notes

  1. Institute for Religious Research, Youtube Video "Gospel Principles Chapter 8 Part 1" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z400sx6RQyQ; Institute for Religious Research, An IRR web site article at: http://www.irr.org/mit/GP-BSG-8-Praying-to-God.html. The web site article provides additional Old and New Testament cases beyond the video, where it appears individuals are praying directly to Jesus Christ.
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 Vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1965–1973), 2:79.
  3. Russell M. Nelson, "Jesus the Christ: Our Master and More," Ensign (Apr 2000), 4.
  4. Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Christian Classics, n.d.; 1st Holland 1950) 2.67, citing Origen, On Prayer 16.1 [translation in Ancient Christian Writers, volume 19, 1953].
  5. Citing Comm. John 2.2; and Contra Celsum 5.4; first published Journal of Theological Studies 13 (1962): 339-347. Maurice Wiles, “In Defence of Arius,” in Wiles, Working Papers in Doctrine (London 1976), 28-37, see p. 31.
  6. See Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (Philadelphia, 1982), 18; citing Epistle on Decrees of Nicaea 31; Contra Arianos 1.34; Epistle to Serapion 4-6. Also in R. S. Franks, The Doctrine of the Trinity (London 1953), 111.
  7. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (Harper Collins, 1993), 141, note 88; quoting J. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum (Paris, 1901), 3:347-409.
  8. van Beeck, God Encountered, Volume I (1989), 228-9; see also Josef A. Jungmann, S.J., The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great (University of Notre Dame 1959), 201.