The Prayer Closet: Did Jesus teach that corporate, vocalized prayer is wrong?
Mt 6:5-6 “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” (NET)
Jesus’ words here have been interpreted by many to mean vocalized prayers in public settings should be avoided. The only acceptable form of prayer in a public setting is silent prayer. Is this what Jesus meant? No, as Biblical examples of prayer make clear.
The first thing to observe is that Jesus went on to instruct the disciples how they should pray. He told them they should say, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (6:9) Jesus’ use of the plural possessive implies that this prayer would be prayed aloud in a community setting. There would be no need for a single person praying alone, or a single person praying silently in a group to use “our.” In both cases “my Father” would be more appropriate.
In Acts 4:24-30 we read of a corporate prayer uttered by the early believers. Luke tells us “they raised their voices to God with one mind” (4:24). Not only was this a corporate prayer meeting (no private prayer closet), and not only was the prayer vocalized rather than silent, but the plural form indicates that multiple believers were vocalizing prayers simultaneously.
In Acts 12:12 we read of a corporate prayer meeting on behalf of Peter.
Finally, when Jesus was about to suffer the fate of the cross he took Peter, James, and John with Him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked them to pray as well, presumably corporately. Furthermore, it’s clear that Jesus vocalized His prayer, otherwise the contents of His prayer would not be known to us.
Jesus’ point was not that we should not pray in groups, or that if we do we should not allow the contents of our prayer to be heard, but that our motivation for praying should be to be heard by God, not to be admired by men for our religious devotion.
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