For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. -Mal. 1:11
In a previous article I explored giving as an essential part of corporate worship. In that article the central point was to press home the truth that giving is to be done in the corporate worship of God’s people on God’s day, not relegated to an online form or a box in a foyer. To summarize, giving is part of the regulative principle of the church. The central or spring-board text for that article was Acts 2:42. I believe that this text is also central with regard to what I am proposing in this article. I am not arguing here for the validity of prayer in worship. I am proposing that corporate prayer, in the New Covenant, is not to be offered by pastors alone, but by the men of the church.
Prayer is one of the primary ways we draw near to God. Prayer is not only primarily how we draw near to God individually, but how we draw near to God corporately as the church. Mal. 1:11 envisions this when he prophesies that “in every place incense is going to be offered to My name,” tying the Old Testament ritual of incense in worship to, among other things, the act of prayer (Ps. 141:2) in every place where God’s people are gathered (1 Tim. 2:8). Isa. 56:7 calls God’s house, His corporate gathered saints, a house of prayer.
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.
Saints may have their private prayer closets (Matt. 6:6) and rightly so. But as priests unto God (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), possessing the very keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:17-18), the local church has been given the right and privilege of drawing near to God corporately in prayer.
Acts 2:42 bring clarity to the practice of the early church with regard to the elements of worship.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)
This passage states that the church not only continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles (τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων), the fellowship (τῇ κοινωνίᾳ), the breaking of the bread (τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου), but in the prayers (ταῖς προσευχαῖς). Each of these elements are denoted by what is commonly called a definite article. I believe that in the context of Acts 2:42 this article used by Luke is spelling out the particular parts of the corporate worship of God’s people. The church received and obeyed the teaching of the apostles. The church contributed help. The church broke bread. The church prayed. Each of the elements in this passage point to the corporate nature of worship in the early church. The definite article seems to make this notion explicit.
They continued steadfastly (προσκαρτεροῦντες) in each of these things. This verb carries with it the idea of interaction, devotion, or to continue to do something with intense effort. They did these things not as passive participants, but with effort and with devotion. One could argue that hearing has an element of both passivity and activity, but the meaning of this text is clear. The hearing involved obedience (Jam. 1:22; 2:14-26). Not only this, the church actively contributed help monetarily, they actively broke bread, and they actively prayed. This was not an environment where prayers were offered in their hearing, but an environment in which they actively participated. They were not passive in any of the elements mentioned, not even prayer.
Just as the pastor does not receive and obey the apostles teaching in place of the church, just as he does not give contributory help in place of the church, just as he does not take communion in place of the church, so he does not pray in place of the church in corporate worship. Each of the elements are activities of the church. If the command to pray according to Acts 2:42 can be fulfilled solely by the pastor, upon what consistent basis could not the bread and wine be partaken of by the pastor alone? I don’t know upon what consistent basis someone could argue against the latter application (bread and wine) and embrace the former application (prayer). Both are elements. Both are mentioned in Acts 2:42. Can both be withheld from the congregation? Can one? This may be overly simplistic, but I think what has been said so far makes clear at least one of the implications of the passage and opens up for discussion the logical conclusions that follow when the church is excluded from praying corporately.
With Acts 2:42 spelling out clearly that the church ought to pray in its corporate meetings, there is a qualification that must be mentioned. The New Testament teaches that the men of the church are the ones who should pray in corporate worship. 1 Tim. 2:1-12 is one place that clearly teaches this truth.
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
Paul is writing to Timothy and instructing him how a church should function. Verses 1 and 2 teach that, among other things, all types of prayers are to be offered up to God by the men of the church for all types of people (cf. Acts 2:42). Verses 8-12 proceed to spell out how both men and women are to function in the corporate gathering. In comparison to the function of men mentioned in verse 8, verses 9-12 speak clearly of the attitude, apparel, and obedience of godly women in the church. Verse 8 clearly spells out the function of the men.
Verse 8 states that “in every place the men should pray”. The place in which Paul is speaking is not the believer’s home, or prayer closet (although both of these are surely good and necessary, cf. 1689 Baptist Confession chap. 22, para. 6). Paul is speaking of churches. This conclusion cannot be determined by syntax alone, since ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ simply means in every place. Contextually, however, the place in which Paul is speaking of is clear. His instructions to Timothy are instructions for the churches. Comparing this text with 1 Cor. 1:2 where Paul is addressing the church at Corinth “with all who in every place (ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ) call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” it is clear that Paul is referring to the saints worldwide, gathered together in local bodies to worship.
Paul desires that the men should pray. The reference here is not to the elders (Οἱ πρεσβύτεροι) but to the men (τοὺς ἄνδρας). The word ἄνδρας means adult male. The noun in verse 8 is plural. The men here in verse 8 are set in contrast to the women (καὶ γυναῖκας) in verse 9. Though it must be admitted that Paul’s emphasis is not primarily on the role of men and women but on the priority of prayer in the churches, the point cannot be ignored. Choice implies meaning. Paul chose to make the distinction and he chose to give precise ecclesiastical instructions, so the distinction matters. Simply put, in the analysis of 1 Tim. 2:1-12, Paul has something different to say to the men of the church as opposed to the women. The men should pray.
John Gill offers clarity on this passage. He states,
In this declaration of the apostle’s will concerning prayer, he only takes notice of “men”; not but that it is both the duty and privilege of women, as well as men, to pray in their houses and closets; but because he is speaking of public prayer in the church, which only belongs to men, he speaks only of them; and his will is, that prayer should be performed by them everywhere, or in any place, in any part of the world where they lived. Now was the prophecy in Malachi 1:11 fulfilled, and now was the time come our Lord refers to, John 4:21. This seems to be said in opposition to a Jewish notion, that the temple at Jerusalem was the only place for prayer, and that prayer made elsewhere ought to be directed towards that.
Solidarity and Corporate Relationship
It must be admitted that solidarity and corporate relationship are a fundamental fabric of the basic institutions of God in the world. We see this in the family, the state, and the church. In the family the husband is chief representative. In the state our officials hold this capacity. In the church it is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ who holds this title. On an all inclusive scale we find Adam as a prototype regarding solidarity and corporate relationship for the entire human race.
Corporate solidarity is the foundation for basic human institutions, but we cannot assume that since there is corporate solidarity in these institutions we have warrant to infer that corporate solidarity with regard to prayer in the church can be relegated to a single ecclesiastical figure. We have express Apostolic command for the prayers of the church. The men are to pray. If there is to be some sort of solidarity found in the activity of prayer in the church the most basic level seems to be found in the men of the church. I think we can safely say that whatever belongs to the function of the men of the church, it is certainly not fitting for a woman to attempt (cf. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9). “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13).
A few passing comments on at least two other texts are in order.
The first text is 1 Cor. 14:33b-35. In this passage Paul is speaking of the role of men and women in the church. It reads as follows:
33b As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Verse 33b is clear. Paul is speaking of the corporate gathering of the church. The term “their husbands” in 1 Cor. 1435 is τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας signifying an adult male. Verses 34 and 35 are in accord with 1 Tim. 2:1-12.
The second text is 1 Pet. 3:7. It reads as follows:
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
If a husband lives with his wife in an inconsiderate, disrespectful way it not only affects his marriage, it affects the church. The prayers of the men will not only be hindered in private, in the grace of joint spousal and family prayer, but also in public assembly of the church where they are to pray without wrath or doubting, lifting holy hands to the Lord (cf. 2 Ki. 7:2; Jam. 1:6). There is harmony between Peter’s instructions in 1 Pet. 3:7 and Paul’s instructions in 1 Tim. 2:8.
Much more could be said here but the implications of 1 Tim. 2:1-12 and 1 Cor. 14:33b-35 for sure, and possibly 1 Pet. 3:7, are that women should not lead the church in prayer. Leading the church in prayer is the distinct function of the men of the church.
Fleshing It Out
Some might be wondering how they would ever communicate the truth that only the men are to pray without offending women in the congregation. Others might be wondering how this looks from a practical standpoint. Since the former of the two may be a Gordian knot that only sensitivity, time, and careful pastoral instruction can solve, I would like to offer at least two solutions to the latter.
First, fleshing out the truths of scripture regarding the men of the church praying may be as simple as an elder making the issues of prayer known to the congregation during corporate worship and calling on specific men in the congregation to pray for the things mentioned. If there is tension regarding the role of women versus men on this matter this may be a healthy solution since most will not offer a rebuttal on the spot. It may open up opportunity for questions later which can be handled in the sensitive, careful, and patient way that only a pastor can. This option offers a little more control over who prays yet leaves the scriptural teaching of the men of the church praying in tact.
Second, if there is a healthy understanding of the function of men and women in the congregation simply opening up a time for corporate prayer (possibly with an elder mentioning from the pulpit some of the prayer needs) allows for the men to pray as they are led. This option clearly leaves the scriptural teaching of the men of the church praying in tact.
Corporate prayer, in the New Covenant, is not to be offered by pastors alone. It is to be offered by the men of the church. All types of prayers for all types of people in every gathering of the saints on the Sabbath are to be offered as incense in God’s name. I realize that good men differ on these things, but I believe this to be the clear teaching of the Bible.