[Her] Majesty our [Queen], to the Governor and Legislatures of this Commonwealth and of this State and to all our judges and magistrates. Endue them with grace to rule after Thy good pleasure to the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
For our enemies
And let us not forget that we are required to pray also for our enemies. “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” That is one of the outstanding principles of Christianity. It is just this Christian virtue that has been so arresting to many. It is true that just because of the practice of this virtue Christians have often been accounted fools.
Yet, herein Jesus set them the example. He prayed for His executioners, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And the first martyr of the Christian Church, Stephen, followed the example of Jesus when he prayed for those who stood ready to hurl their death-dealing boulders upon him, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
The stoning of Stephen
And so we do well to say in our prayers, “May it please Thee to turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries, that they may cease their enmity and be inclined to walk with us in meekness and in peace.”
Should we also pray for those who have departed this life?
We know the Romanists do that. Rome’s ceremony of the mass is based on the assumption that the prayers of Christians can induce God to liberate out of purgatory those confined there to expiate sins for which they had failed to make sufficient reparation in this life. In the Roman Catholic confession of faith as accepted by the Council of Trent in the year 1562 this is especially emphasised. In the Roman Catechism the people are taught to say, “I firmly believe that there is a purgatory and that the souls therein detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful.” Also in the Anglican Church prayers for the departed are heard.
But if we believe that it is given unto men once to die and after this the judgement, then what purpose can prayers for the departed serve? Jesus tells us of two men who lived and died. The one, a poor man named Lazarus, was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The other, a rich man, when he died, found himself in hell. Did Lazarus have any need of intercessions on his behalf? Could intercessions make the rich man’s torments any easier?
The rich man calling to Abraham and Lazarus from Hell
The practice of praying for the dead is inextricably connected with, and dependent on, a belief in a purgatory or some intermediate state. But the Bible knows nothing of any intermediate state. “If the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be” (Eccl 11: 3).
As the tree falls, so will it lie,
As the man lives, so will he die,
And as he dies, so will he be
All through the days of eternity.
Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have been unanimous in their rejection of any form of prayers for the dead. We do have, however, what we call a Commendatory Prayer to be used at a deathbed. Our Liturgy makes provision for such a prayer.
“If the pastor be present when a person’s earthly life is drawing to a close, he shall lay his hands on the dying one as he breathes his last and say a few words of farewell and benediction to him on this wise:
Go forth, Christian soul, in the name of God the Father, who so gloriously created thee in His image. Go forth in the name of God the Son, who has bought thee with a price and has redeemed thee with His bitter sufferings and death. Go forth in the name of the Holy Ghost, who sanctified thee to be His temple. May the God of all mercy who caused Lazarus to be carried into Abraham’s bosom and the thief on the cross to enter paradise keep thee from the power of the evil one … and take thee into His eternal home, etc.
When death has ensued, all may kneel and pray thus:
We thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Prince of Life, for having kept our brother in true repentance and faith unto his blessed end. Into Thy hands we commend his spirit in its homeward flight. He is now being gathered unto his people, etc.“
In the prayers at our funeral services we thank God for all the blessings enjoyed by the departed and pray that the remains which we are committing to the grave may be kept against the day of the glorious resurrection. That, of course, cannot be termed praying for the dead.
Reprinted by kind permission of Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, by the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Reformation (ELCR), 1995. Contact: P.O. Box 692, Kingaroy, Qld. Aust. 4610.