During the early years of my ministry, I lived in a small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania. I enjoyed participating in the local ministerium. Every year during Holy Week the ministerium would hold a three-hour Good Friday service at the local United Methodist Church. All the Protestant pastors of the town participated, each preaching on one of the “Seven Words” Jesus spoke from the cross. I usually stayed through the entire service and listened to the special music offered by the various choirs and soloist. It was also interesting to listen to sermons from each of my colleagues that included both mainline and independent congregations. The most unique of the clergy was the pastor from the Free Methodist congregation who preached and prayed in the King James English. For me in that period of the mid 1980’s, while his speech had a poetic flow to his proclamation, I found it strange since most of us don’t talk that way in church or in conversation.
The Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal © 1958 still contained the King James English and was the worship book I was accustomed to as a child. Five years before I entered seminary the Lutheran Church produced a new hymnal, The Lutheran Book of Worship©1978 that was printed in modern English. Subtle changes were made to the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds and it also introduce two variations of The Lord’s Prayer, one the traditional and the other using today’s English. Something similar happened to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), first introduced in 1549 and then other renditions such as in 1662 which is still used by the Church of England and the current BCP used by the Episcopal Church USA produced in 1979. It is in the 1979 BCP that the two Lord’s Prayers were included.
Over the years, I have encouraged congregations I have served to use, if not solely, at least periodically the more modern version of the Lord’s Prayer. I am not one who takes breaking from tradition lightly as I grew up using the traditional prayer that extends back to the King James Bible written in 1611. However, I am one who believes when we teach people to pray – to speak to God in the language we use. One of the reasons for the Reformation was to translate the Bible and the Mass into the language of the people.
Let’s remember Jesus didn’t speak English. He spoke Aramaic. The New Testament was translated from Greek, to Latin, to German, English and so on. An English theologian and Roman Catholic priest, John Wycliffe produced an English translation of the NewTestament from Latin in the late 1300s. Luther’s translation of the Bible from the Greek was completed in 1534. King James’ scholars completed the English version in 1611. Today we have over 100 English translations of the Bible. In the next edition of the newsletter, we’ll do some comparisons of the Lord’s prayers with a few of the translations.
Two more items I want to address regarding the Lord’s prayer:
The Bible contains two version of the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. If you look them up, you will find Luke’s version is shorter than Matthew’s. Some scholars believe the simpler Lukan version is most likely closer to what Jesus said. However, there is no way we can know which Gospel has the more accurate version of Jesus’ prayer. Both are addressing different communities that have distinct concerns. Matthew’s version is the one we commonly use. However, you will note in most translations the doxology (for thine is the kingdom…) is not included in the scripture. You might find a footnote regarding its omission or its inclusion. The reason – it is believed to have been added to the prayer much later in the life of the Church.
Finally, I know some will say why would we change the prayer when so many of our Christian brothers and sisters pray the same words in the traditional Lord’s Prayer.
This is simply not true.
Some traditions (Presbyterians) use the words debtors and debts instead of trespasses and trespassed.
Others like Episcopalians and Lutherans add an extra two words at the conclusion of the prayer; “and ever.”
The Roman Catholics normally omit the doxology and conclude with the words, “but deliver us from evil.”
Some use “which” and not who art in heaven.
And now, there are congregations who use the contemporary form and other who use the traditional form of the prayer.
Beginning this Advent through Epiphany, I encourage the St. David’s community to use the contemporary Lord’s Prayer at home and at worship. We will return to the traditional Lord’s Prayer in Lent and Easter. If one feels strongly about using the traditional Lord’s Prayer, please continue to do so. However, as we worship, please do so quietly so not to broadcast one’s dislike for the modern form of the prayer! It is a prayer and not a popularity contest.
As shared above, more will be written about the Lord’s Prayer in the next issue of the Newsletter.
See you in church this Sunday.