To Pray or Not to Pray?: That is the Question 1

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Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
April 4, 1998

Last Updated :
March 14, 2012

NOTE: This article or series has not been updated recently. As such, it may possibly contain some outdated information, and/or ideas and beliefs which I no longer embrace, or which have changed to some degree.

A Discussion On Salvation Prayers, Repetitive Prayers And Chants, Confessional Boxes, Private And Public Confession Of Sin, Forgiveness And Grace And Works

As many people who live in the western Christianized world are aware, passing out Gospel tracts is a popular and an effective means of sharing God's Word with the masses. In the case of Salvation tracts, these almost always contain some kind of short prayer to lead the repentant sinner to Christ. However, the question arises: Is a Salvation prayer really necessary? In fact, is even the practice of verbally praying with someone so that they might accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour based upon Scripture? Or is it just a ritual created by modern Christianity?

I believe that most of us can agree that Salvation is a matter of personal belief in and acceptance of the atoning Blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is not simply a physical act of praying a certain prayer prescribed by a priest, preacher or evangelist, or included in a Gospel tract. It is you making the personal decision that you believe in the Good News found in the Bible; that you believe that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for your sins, as well as for the sins of all men everywhere. Salvation is based upon your conscious acknowledgment that you are a sinner in need of a Saviour; and your acceptance of that Saviour once you understand and realize who He is. This is the true essence of Salvation.

In a sense, saying a Salvation prayer is similar to the Disciples baptizing in the Book of Acts. It is just an outward manifestation of a personal decision and an inward spiritual change of mind, heart and spirit. As the Apostle Paul tells us:

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV

"That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
Ephesians 4:22-24, KJV

Saying a Salvation prayer simply serves as a landmark in a person's life so that they can look back and say with confidence, "This is the first time I really remember believing in who Jesus Christ is, and in what He did for me. This is the first time I remember truly acknowledging Him as my personal Saviour." This idea of being certain of our Salvation is clearly expressed in the following words from the Apostle John:

"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."
1 John 5:13-15, KJV

In other words, John is saying, "If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you must now believe with all confidence that you have been forgiven for your sins, and that you have been born into the Kingdom of God by faith, even if you never see any kind of physical confirmation that it is so. You must simply know and believe because of your faith, or confidence, in God's Word, that God has granted you your petition for Eternal Life."

In addition to serving as a landmark and giving us confidence in our moment of Salvation, I also believe that saying a Salvation prayer adds a tone of seriousness to a person's decision to accept and believe in Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible we find examples of the different covenants or agreements that God has made with His people. Saying a Salvation prayer is similar to a verbal covenant made between the person saying the prayer, and the Lord. Such an agreement adds a degree of finality to a person's decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour. It is somewhat like signing a rent contract because you are asking God's Spirit to come and dwell with and within you, just as the Disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two. In this sense, I believe that saying a Salvation prayer is a good positive practice. The main thing to remember is that it is only meant to serve as a symbolic act of acceptance. Any prayer you read or are taught should only serve as a guide or an example. This is exactly what Jesus did when His Disciples asked Him how men ought to pray:

"And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."
Luke 11:1, KJV

Jesus then proceeded to give them an example by saying what has come to be known as the "Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father". He wasn't being particularly adamant saying that we must pray those exact words or else it isn't effective; He was simply providing an example of how to pray, and not necessarily what to pray. Prayer is not meant to be some vain repetition as some religions practice. It is not a matter of repeating a certain prayer or chant over and over again to achieve some spiritual benefit. Consider what Jesus had to say concerning this matter:

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."
Matthew 6:7, KJV

Frankly, I personally believe that these types of prayers do very little good for anyone. I don't believe that praying a prayer over and over again, such as in a rosary, absolves anyone of their sins. A person can pray the "Our Father", the "Hail Mary", or chant some mantra as much as they want, but it is not going to absolve them of anything. Doing such a thing might make them feel better, and help them to accept themselves afterwards; it might even make them feel a little more righteous; but that is about all it does. There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for this practice that I am aware of. Praying repetitive prayers are merely works of self-righteousness, trying to earn our Salvation through our own good deed of praying and chanting something over and over again. As I will explain more fully in a moment, true repentance isn't found in repeating a prayer or chant, it is found in asking forgiveness from those whom we have offended, and in making a positive change in our lives for the better. This whole idea of repetitious prayer as a means of earning forgiveness is totally contradictory to what the Scriptures tell us:

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;"
Titus 3:5, KJV

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV

Additionally, I have no doubt that such repetitive prayers as chants, mantras, and rosaries, as well as practicing yoga, breathing exercises and other Eastern techniques, are extremely dangerous. Those poor people who do such things have absolutely no idea what they are opening themselves up to. When someone is not protected by God's Divine Spirit, instead of being an invitation to Christ, these things can actually be an invitation to ungodly spirits coming in and possessing their being! Demonic oppression -- negative influence from without -- and demonic possession -- negative influence from within -- are real things! They are a result of people yielding themselves to any spirit which might want to come in and take over. I am reminded of something the Apostle Paul said regarding yielding to sin in his epistle to the Romans:

"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?"
Romans 6:16, KJV

Sadly, today the spiritual reality of demonic possession or oppression have been given nice little scientific or medical names to keep people in the dark regarding their true nature and origin. Both the Old and New Testaments contain a number of examples of people who yielded themselves to the wrong spirits. In the Gospels we find the following example:

"And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters."
Matthew 8:28-32, KJV

We aren't told exactly how these people became possessed by devils, but it certainly wasn't through worship of the one true God. Somehow they had opened up their lives to the forces of Darkness. Could it have been through some of the ritualistic practices described above? Simply put, prayer is meant to serve as a connection between your heart and God's Eternal Spirit. It is you making intimate contact with your Heavenly Father and Creator in Heaven. How can you be accomplishing this if all you are doing is repeating some prescribed prayer ordained by the religious body you associate with? God wants to hear you speak from your heart, and not just repeat some vain babble which He never commanded. I don't doubt that God is sick of hearing twenty "Our Father's" and ten "Hail Mary's" and two "Glory Be's" or your "Om" chants or whatever your religious preference happens to be. Consider what Jesus said about personal prayer:

"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Matthew 6:6, KJV

Tragically, some churches have interpreted this verse in a literal sense instead of in the way Jesus really meant for it to be understood. Jesus is not talking about going into some manmade confessional box and praying to a priest. He is talking about closing your eyes in the privacy of your own home and praying to your Father in Heaven directly, in the name of Jesus Christ. You don't even have to close your eyes, but sometimes it helps to block things out around you so you can really concentrate on what you are saying. This is what is meant by going into your closet. As I explain in the series "Is Jesus the Only Begotten Son of God?", we must remember that Jesus is our only High Priest. Some of the verses which I include in that series are the following:

"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;"
Hebrews 3:1, KJV

"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession."
Hebrews 4:14, KJV

"Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
Hebrews 6:20, KJV

There is absolutely no mention of a third party in the previous verse from Matthew. It is just you and the Lord talking together. Jesus said to do it in secret between yourself and your Heavenly Father, and not with some earthly ordained father of some church. In fact, Jesus also said:

"And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven."
Matthew 23:9, KJV

How can your prayer be in secret between you and the Lord when the priest knows, and everyone else sitting on the pews waiting their turn also know what a lousy sinner you must be for even showing up there? While this sign of humility on your part is a good thing, it doesn't negate the fact that this false practice is not ordained of God. It is based on a false and twisted interpretation of the following verse:

"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
John 20:23, KJV

The Catholics in particular have taken this verse to mean that they are to set up their ecclesiastical hierarchy, and that people are to come to them to obtain forgiveness of sins, as well as Salvation. This whole idea of confessionals is a well-thought-out plan to keep people in bondage to the church. As a former Catholic myself, I can speak from firsthand experience. It is about power and control over people's lives. Confessional boxes are a means of forced humiliation to keep people in subjection. By falsely making their members believe that their Salvation is based upon their adherence to the church's teachings, instead of upon the sacrificial Blood of Jesus Christ, these poor people are coerced into going to confession to make their dirty deeds known to a priest. It is simply something which I cannot understand. If I were a priest having to endure such things, I think I would go crazy. I don't see how they can sit there week after week hearing people's sins and shortcomings. It must make some of them feel really proud and self-righteous, and glad that they aren't as bad as those they are listening to. I am reminded of something Jesus said in one of His parables:

"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14, KJV

Aside from the fact that this parable is a lesson in humility, notice also to whom they are directing their prayers. Are they praying or confessing to a temple priest? No! They are praying directly to God. It is a one-on-one contact with no third party mentioned whatsoever. This is the very same example Jesus gave us when He said:

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name."
Matthew 6:9, KJV

What we also see is that these two men did not pray some kind of ritualistic prayer pre-determined for them by the temple priests; they prayed directly from their hearts; at least the second one did. What I find interesting is that over the years, as some churches have drifted further and further away from the Lord themselves, they have become more lenient concerning hearing confession. When I was a young boy, weekly confession was a must, or else you were not supposed to partake of the Eucharist, something else which has become another idol with the Catholic Church. From what I understand, confession is now only required several times a year, and in some religions, only once a year.

The Apostle James made it clear that we are to confess our sins to each other, to forgive each other, to forgive and be forgiven by those whom we have offended, or who have offended us. This is what brings about spiritual healing of the soul. It also heals personal relationships. This is what is meant by a true confession, and not going to some priest who has absolutely nothing to do with the matter. It is only then, after clearing things up with the person we have offended, that the Lord tells us that He will hear us and forgive us:

"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
James 5:16, KJV

Notice how in the above verse, confession is a two-way street. Each party is confessing their faults to each other. They are both forgiving each other. Is that what you see when you go to your confessional booth? Does your priest also tell you what a lousy sinner he is, or does he just sit there quietly on the other side of that partition waiting to dole out your penance like some magical formula which is going to save your soul due to the good graces of the "Holy Mother Church"? I don't know how many of you have ever seen the film "Brother Son And Sister Moon", but if you want to see a real expose on the Catholic Church, that is a movie to see. It caused quite an uproar when it first came out several decades ago. It exposes the hypocrisy of organized religion, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. That is the only church I have ever heard of where you can literally pay for forgiveness of sins and bribe your way into Heaven. What a film! The director, Franco Zefferelli, must be a real iconoclast. His lengthy "Jesus Of Nazareth" is another film I highly recommend.

I can recall times in my childhood when I would have a really hard time trying to think of something to say to the Catholic priest, some dirty sin I had committed during the week, even if there really weren't any. As I mentioned above, you were expected to go to confession every week if you wanted to feel worthy of communion on Sunday. Now tell me, how many serious sins can a little kid commit in one week? Trying to think of a venial sin was hard enough, but a mortal sin? Forget it! I am sure those priests must have gotten some good laughs out of some of the things we kids would tell them in all our childish seriousness. As I have already said, it was a complete bondage trip topped off with having to repeat the "Our Father", "Hail Mary" and "Glory Be" so many times in order to earn forgiveness and show repentance.

I remember times when we would just race through our penance prayers or even cheat just so we could get out of there. It was easy to tell who had the biggest sins by watching who had to stay to pray the longest. What humiliation! What embarrassment! As I have already shown, this is NOT what the Bible instructs us to do. In the previous verse from the Epistle of James, James was basing his teachings upon the words of Jesus Himself who said to go directly to your brother whom you have offended:

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Matthew 5:23-24, KJV

"And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us . . ."
Luke 11:4, KJV

"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Matthew 6:14-15, KJV

In the above verses, Jesus is clearly saying that before we can expect God to forgive us, we must first be reconciled with and forgive others we have been offended by, or whom we have offended. There is no mention here of a repetition of some established prayer to somehow merit forgiveness or atonement for our sins. Forgiveness and atonement only comes through forgiving others, and through accepting Jesus' overall Atonement for the sins of mankind by shedding His Blood on the Cross. If we forgive each other, God will then forgive us through the Death of His Son on the Cross. Consider what the Apostle John tells us in one of his epistles:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:9, KJV

As I said earlier, if we are really sorry for our sins, it is through change in our lives that we show our repentance, and not by saying some prayer over and over again just to fulfill the church's requirement. There is no place in the Bible where we are told to engage in such practices, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. The Scriptures I have shared thus far make this very clear.

Much like some churches today, the Scribes and Pharisees of old used the oral and written Law to place themselves over the common people. Their many traditions were the tool they used to control the masses. While everyone else was guilty of sin, they did their best to present themselves as the perfect examples of sinless perfection. It is for this reason that when Jesus, the True Son of Righteous arrived, they had to constantly judge and criticize Him in order to cover their own sins. But, as Jesus later said, once He had revealed The Truth to them, they no longer had a cloak for their sins:

"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin."
John 15:22, KJV

I am reminded of the time they dragged the woman before Jesus whom they accused of being caught in the very act of committing adultery. Consider their words:

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not."
John 8:3-6, KJV

This was a deliberate act of entrapment. Have you ever stopped to consider how they caught her in the very act? Did they plan it? Did they go in there and pay someone to solicit her services like we have in law enforcement today? It's a very common practice. A law officer will solicit the hooker, and then arrest her when she takes the bait. In other cases, undercover agents will make a drug deal, and then bust the traffickers when they hand over the drugs. The whole reason the Scribes and Pharisees did this was to show how righteous they were in keeping the Law, while at the same time accusing Jesus of being a dirty Lawbreaker, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a companion of sinners:

"The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children."
Luke 7:34-35, KJV

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus completely turned the tables on them when He said:

"Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him."
Matthew 21:31-32, KJV

Between their many rules and regulations, their confessionals, intimidating system of tithing, etc., some modern churches have become just as corrupt as the religious rulers of Jesus' day. Contrary to what they teach in their systems of bondage, the only One who can forgive us for our sins is our Heavenly Father through the Sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can grant us Salvation, contrary to the false teachings of modern religious institutions like the Roman Catholic Church.

Let me say again that we are not supposed to go to some priest who we have not offended. We are supposed to go directly to the person whom we have offended; and that takes a lot of humility. Once we know we have their forgiveness, or at least have tried to obtain it, then we can present ourselves before the Lord; for He is our only High Priest. By now, you the reader should understand that confessional boxes and repetitious prayers like penance and rosaries are a cop-out and a cheap way for trying to find forgiveness with God. They just aren't scriptural practices in the New Testament Church. They are rituals which were added and instituted later by organized religion, particularly by the "founding fathers" -- or so-called "Church Fathers" of the Roman Catholic Church, to maintain a hold on church membership. I have already presented sufficient Scriptural evidence which clearly shows that we are to go directly to God, through Jesus Christ, to seek forgiveness for our sins. King David is a prime example of one who knew how to approach the Lord directly. Psalm fifty-one is an excellent example of a prayer of confession from a sincere and repentant heart. In that psalm he said in part:

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit . . . For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
Psalm 51:1-4, 10-12, 16-17, KJV

In the above verses, the "burnt offering" King David is referring to are animal sacrifices. Up until the time of Jesus' Sacrifice on the Cross, building altars to God and offering up a variety of animals was the primary means of worship and atonement. This was practiced by Abraham and the early Patriarchs, by Moses, Aaron and the Levitical priesthood during the time of the Tabernacle, and then continued with the first and second Temples as well. These animal sacrifices served as a foreshadow of the Final Sacrifice to come through Jesus Christ. As I have shown in other articles, with His Death on the Cross, God entered a New Covenant with His people, not based on the keeping of the Law, or on other works of the flesh like sacrificing animals, but rather based on placing one's faith in the final Sacrifice of His Son as the only means of forgiveness, atonement and attaining Salvation. As Paul said in part in his letter to the Hebrews:

". . . for this he did once, when he offered up himself."
Hebrews 7:27, KJV

Thus, what we see in Psalm Fifty-One is David's realization that animal sacrifices are meaningless if one does not truly have a repentant heart. They are self-righteous dead works if there is no change of heart and attitude. This is the true sacrifice to God. The Apostle James also delved into similar issues when he explained how faith must be backed by works, not because the works are what save us, but rather because they are a manifestation of our faith:

"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
James 2:18, 26, KJV

Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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