Almost a year ago, I wrote a couple of articles about errors in doctrine I had come across that reinforce a truth that I have repeated on several occasions: If we get the doctrine of God wrong, all of our other doctrines will be in error to some degree. Recently, I heard a preacher make some comments from the pulpit that really set my heart on fire.
If we get the doctrine of God wrong, all of our other doctrines will be in error to some degree.
My wife and I recently visited one of the largest churches in our area. The church hosts three worship services on a given Sunday morning with the Senior Pastor preaching on most occasions. That means that, whatever is taught from the pulpit is heard by 2000-2500 people or more every Sunday morning.
On this particular Sunday, the pastor emphasized the critical nature that prayer plays in salvation. This is not a direct, word-for-word quote, as I was typing the notes on my phone. However, it is extremely close to a direct quote:
“Someone’s eternal destiny may depend on your prayers.”
He went on to explain that if a Christian should fail to pray for a particular person concerning that other person’s salvation, that particular person may be sent to hell. The essence of his message was that the other person’s salvation was dependent upon the prayers of the Christian. In other words, God will send that other person to hell as a direct result of the Christian’s failure to pray specifically for them.
Whatever happened to personal responsibility for sin? Does God punish one person with eternal damnation because of the sins of another? The Bible very clearly and without any ambiguity teaches just the opposite – that people go to hell because of their own individual sin.
Romans 2:5 Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
Whatever happened to personal responsibility for sin? Does God punish one person with eternal damnation because of the sins of another?
There are many verses that teach personal responsibility when it comes to judgment for sin. Just a few examples include Psalm 62:12, Isaiah 3:11, Jeremiah 17:10, Jeremiah 32:19, and 2 Corinthians 5:10.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:27) In the closing verses of the Revelation, He announced, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” (Rev. 22:2)
Having known this pastor for many years, I find it hard to believe that he would teach this from the pulpit. In fact, I would have argued that he did not really believe what he said that day and simply misspoke in the excitement of the moment, except that he attempted to justify his teaching with Scripture. Right after the quote given earlier, the pastor said…
“Peter was in prison, but the Bible records that there were people praying for him, and God set him free. James was martyred, but there is no biblical record that anyone was praying for him.”
What does this mean? Did others in the congregation hear what I heard? I heard the pastor say, “If people had not prayed for Peter, he never would have gotten out of jail. If people had prayed for James, he would not have been martyred.”
This is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture and evidence of an extremely poor concept of the will of God and the purpose of prayer. Read this story for yourself in Acts 12:1-17. True enough, you will find no mention of the church having prayed for James specifically, but neither does the Bible call attention to the fact that the church did not pray for James. Nor is there any condemnation for their assumed failure to do so. The absence of evidence cannot be construed or interpreted as evidence of guilt. We are not free to build doctrine on what we imagine the Bible might have said but omitted.
The absence of evidence cannot be construed or interpreted as evidence of guilt. We are not free to build doctrine on what we imagine the Bible might have said but omitted.
This story does not teach that God responded to the prayers of the church by granting their request or that He failed to rescue because the church failed to pray. It does teach that, because the prayers of the church coincided with the actual accomplishment of God, the church’s prayers for Peter were in accordance with the will of God.
This pastor followed the statement concerning Peter and James by adding…
“Prayer changes things; prayer changes people.”
This phrase sounds very pious and religious, and most likely aligns with what the majority of Christians believe. However, there is no Scripture to support the idea that prayer changes the will or the plans of God, even on those occasions when God seems to have had a change of plans following someone’s prayer.
The Bible makes it very clear that God never changes (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), nor does He change His mind (Numbers 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Rev. 13:8; Psalm 102:27) His plans are perfect and need no alterations or amendments. (Deut. 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 18:30; Psalm 19:7) However, God does accomplish His plans for both circumstances and people through the prayers of His people.
God does not depend upon or wait upon man before He determines His will, though He will wait until man has prayed to carry out His plan. His plan for the creation was determined before anything was created, and that plan will never change. What appears as a change to man is simply God accomplishing what He had already determined to do in eternity past.
Prayer is not so much about change as it is about obedience. Why pray? Because God commanded us to.
Prayer is not so much about change as it is about obedience. Why pray? Because God commanded us to. Our prayers are a sweet smelling savor to God, not because they provide Him with resource material about how He might improve His eternal plan to better benefit humankind, but because those prayers give evidence of our submission to His perfect will.