Ambassador of Reconciliation
6/15/15 at 10:48 PM 26 Comments

Why Aren't We Allowed to Believe What We Sing, Say, and Pray? Part 2

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In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the fact that there are hymns and songs in all Christian traditions that speak of a hope that Jesus will save the world and draw all people into His kingdom. Here in Part 2 we will look at prayers that express the same idea. Most of these prayers come from the Anglican prayer book, but similar ones can be found in all denominations.

I first started noticing this theme in our prayers when a friend drew my attention to the Collect for Christ the King Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Two statements jumped out at me: “whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son” and “Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth … may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.” God’s will is to restore all things in Christ; will He accomplish His will? Are we asking that He bring some people together under His gracious rule? Or are we asking that He bring all people together, knowing that in reality it will only be some? Or are we fully laying hold of His promise to reconcile all to Himself through the cross?

Many of our Prayers of Consecration include the idea that God in His mercy sent His Son, whose sacrifice is completely sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world:

All praise and glory is yours, God our heavenly Father, because of your tender mercy, you gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and instituted, and in his Holy Gospel commanded us to continue a perpetual memory of his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.

Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all. He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in your tender mercy, you gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. He offered himself and made, once for all time, a perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

This summer, the service our church is using is taken from Our Modern Services of the Anglican Church of Kenya. The Prayer of Consecration from the African church expresses the same belief that Jesus made “full atonement for the sins of the whole world”:

Therefore, heavenly Father, hear us as we celebrate this covenant with joy, and await the coming of our Brother, Jesus Christ. He died in our place, making a full atonement for the sins of the whole world, the perfect sacrifice, once and for all. You accepted his offering by raising him from death, and granting him great honor at your right hand on high.

If His sacrifice is perfect and sufficient and if He made full atonement for the sins of the whole world, why would we ever think that His sacrifice won’t work to atone for the sins of all?

The power of the cross to draw all people to Christ is a theme that is particularly prominent at Easter time. This Preface of Holy Week says that God gave His Son to redeem mankind; does He redeem only a fraction of mankind?

Because you gave your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind from the power of darkness; who, having finished the work you gave him to do, was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself, and, being made perfect through suffering, might become the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

This Preface of Easter includes John’s declaration that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. And if by His death He has destroyed death, how can anyone be subject to eternal death?

But chiefly are we bound to praise you for the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us, and has taken away the sin of the world; by his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again he has won for us everlasting life.

This Collect for the Triduum (the three-day period from Maundy Thursday to Resurrection Sunday) expresses the hope that all nations will be saved. As we pray that all the people of the earth may become children of Abraham, do we believe that it will actually come to pass?

O God, whose wonderful deeds of old shine forth even to our own day, you once delivered by the power of your mighty arm your chosen people from slavery under Pharaoh, to be a sign for us of the salvation of all nations by the water of Baptism: Grant that all the people of the earth may be numbered among the offspring of Abraham, and rejoice in the inheritance of Israel, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Not only at Easter but throughout the year we declare our belief in Jesus’ power to redeem the world and we pray that He would do it. This Prayer for the Persecuted Church asks that God would enable us all to stand reconciled before Him. Would not “the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies,” also love His own enemies and make sure that in the end they too experience His saving mercy?

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you.

When we confess we are assured with “The Comfortable Words” from 1 John 2. Do they not suggest that Jesus Christ is the advocate and atoner for the whole world?

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In our Prayers of the People we ask that “the whole created order” would worship at Jesus’ feet. Will God bring His entire creation—except the majority of humanity—to bow in true worship to the Savior?

Jesus Christ, keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at your feet; for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

When you pray prayers like these, are you thinking that they express a nice sentiment, but you know it won’t really turn out that way? When you proclaim that God’s mercy endures forever, does your theology tell you that He cuts off His mercy when an unbeliever takes his last breath? When you sing “Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, all sufficient for me” are you thinking that it applies only to you and others like you, or that it really reaches “to all the lost,” to “the most defiled”? Is God trying to communicate to your heart something that your head rejects? Please listen to Him!

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