July 2008 – Once again, this year’s National Day of Prayer (NDP) on May 1 brought unmerited complaints from the pluralism police, griping about evangelicals praying together in an exclusive manner to the God of the Bible.
The NDP was inaugurated in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman. “Under the energetic sponsorship of a national task force, the events have mushroomed into the thousands in recent years,” said the Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Lampman. “They are held at houses of worship but also schools, courthouses, city halls, state houses, and at the White House and on Capitol Hill.”
Lampman was referring to the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF), a private organization chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson. Under Mrs. Dobson’s leadership, one high-profile NDP event has indeed flourished. According to the task force’s Web site, “more than 35,000 gatherings are conducted by approximately 40,000 volunteers across the country.”
Any god will do
Of course, Christians should be quite accustomed to the very public grumbling of people who gripe about the religious right on a full-time basis.
What is much more spiritually perilous for the Christian, however, is the subtle pressure to conform to a more syncretistic or even universalistic religious ideal. And that pressure grows as politically correct critics demand that Christians include clergy from other religions in their NDP events.
For example, JewsOnFirst.org, a Web-based activist group that exists to defend “the First Amendment against the Christian right,” denounced NDPTF events for being “narrow and exclusive.” The group demanded that “clergy representing … Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other faith traditions be included in all observances staged on public property.”
Such demands imply that there is no real difference between religions. In fact, in his speech to the NDP gathering at the White House, President Bush quoted President Abraham Lincoln and implied that when we have prayed together on the NDP we have all “prayed to the same God.”
Is this true? Would it be a good thing, as the president added shortly thereafter, to have “an International Day of Prayer,” during which “people of faith around the world … stop at the same time to pause to praise an Almighty?”
An Almighty, as if any one will do?
Similar universalistic sentiments were expressed by Rabbi Bruce Lustig, who was invited by NDPTF officials to address the gathering at the White House. “No matter our creed, our color, our income or our status in life, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain, before the Eternal, we are all equal in God’s eyes, we are equal in prayer, …” he said.
A spiritual catastrophe
Christians do no favors for Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists by acting as if there is no distinction between religions. Christians are commissioned in Scripture to call the nations to repentance, to flee from idols and false religions and deceptive philosophies and to worship God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Such a commission is extremely offensive to secularists and members of other religions, who appear to want only one type of god for our public life. They increasingly demand that the public god be as pale as possible, a mere smudge and a wisp of vapor, harmless and benign, accepting of all peoples and all religions.
Such an approach amounts to idolatry – the worship of a false god created by men. Scripture makes clear that only demons dwell behind such idols.
It would be a spiritual catastrophe for Christians to ally themselves with and serve such a god – catastrophic for the individual believer as well as the nation. For we not only harm ourselves by kneeling before such an idol but also rob our countrymen of the witness by which the true God is glorified and Christ is exalted.
It was perhaps this concern that led some evangelicals to note that the official NDPTF prayer, posted on the organization’s Web site and offered as a sample prayer for other NDP gatherings, was not specifically Christian. Written by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a well-known and respected evangelical leader and the 2008 honorary chairman for the NDPTF, the prayer mentioned nothing about Jesus Christ and ended with the words, “In God’s holy name.”
But clearly the biblical manner of addressing God the Father in prayer is in the name of Jesus Christ (John 16:23-24).
“We are not here as Christians to appease those of other world religions. We cannot come to God except through His Son’s righteous merits,” insisted Ingrid Schlueter, host of Crosstalk Radio Talk Show. “To pray as ‘Christians’ in any other way is both a farce and a mockery.”
Moreover, as the Liberty Counsel stated in a press release, the NDPTF prayer, devoid of the name of Jesus, “stands in stark contrast to the first prayer of the Continental Congress, which was delivered on September 7, 1774, by Reverend Jacob Duche.”
That prayer, which began, “O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings and Lord of lords,” ended unapologetically with these confident words: “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.”
Surely there is much that Americans of all faiths can do together to make our country better. But prayer to a god created by men is not one of them.