When a daily newspaper asks a pastor to share a prayer for the new year, one might think that such an offer gives a unique opportunity to present a clear witness to the Gospel. Unfortunately, in our PC world such opportunities are too often reduced to empty words saying little of value. Take this prayer by the Rev. Stephen Hamilton Wright, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Wausau, Wisconsin [which is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA)] recently published in the January 3 issue of the Wausau Daily Herald:
Source of All Hope, Fill us with hope in the new year, and lead us to live accordingly.
Teach us to listen calmly to our neighbors, and those with whom we disagree.
Inspire respect for the sincerity of those who practice different faiths, who also seek to serve others.
Show us that there is more truth than any of us knows, and make us eager to listen for it, even from unexpected places.
Teach us peace, in our hearts, homes and world.
Let us to generosity, and help us end poverty everywhere.
Send us to serve the sick, the lonely, the broken in spirit and all others in need, and fill us with gratitude for all that is good, praying in the name of all that is holy.
Too bad the name of Jesus could not be mentioned - at all. I guess that would not be respectful of the "sincerity of those who practice different faiths." Too bad the real gifts of grace are missing as well. All law, all about what we do instead of finding comfort in what God is doing and has done for us in Christ. And what does he mean by "there is more truth than any of us knows"? And where am I expected to "listen for it"? I'm afraid I'm more confused after this prayer than before it.
Ironically, looking at the website for the PCUSA, this is what they say about the core of their theological beliefs:
Some of the principles articulated by John Calvin remain at the core of Presbyterian beliefs. Among these are the sovereignty of God, the authority of the scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers. What they mean is that God is the supreme authority throughout the universe. Our knowledge of God and God's purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ. Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God's generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments. It is everyone's job - ministers and lay people alike - to share this Good News with the whole world. That is also why the Presbyterian church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy and laity, men and women alike.
The prayer above obviously doesn't reflect this statement, and one wonders how much of it is reflected in the denomination's churches at large. Too many so-called Christian denominations today give mere lip service to the Gospel while bowing to the altar of generic spirituality.
Too bad they had to begin the year with such an empty prayer....