Recently a brouhaha was created when R2K advocate Brian Lee, went ahead as a Pastor in the Church realm, prayed in the common realm, opening a session of the US House of Representatives in prayer. All this despite his R2K principles that forbid from confusing the Kingdoms went ahead.
You can read Lee’s whole “apologetic” here. I’ve excised only some of the superfluous verbosity,
Below I interact with Dr. Lee and his glaring inconsistencies as he ties himself up in knots trying to justify the contradiction involved in insisting that the two realm must not be confused all the while confusing the two realms with his prayer.
Before I get into the Lee labyrinth let me start off by quoting one of Dr. Lee’s R2K bedmates (Dr. R. Scott Clark) on this very subject. Clark said on the matter of opening common realm sessions with prayer,
“… there may be no clearer example of the confusion of the two kingdoms when Christ’s ministers do the bidding of Caesar by praying for divine blessing on behalf of the magistrate, as a civil function. Ministers and all Christians are commanded by God to pray for the magistrate. We do so during the week. We do so on the Sabbath, but do we have any business doing so to open legislative sessions? Legislators ought to pray as private persons before, during, and after their civil work but ministers are called by God as Christ’s servants in his eternal, immutable kingdom. They are not called as civil servants. If they will to be civil servants they have only to resign their ecclesiastical office. To attempt to function as an officer in both kingdoms simultaneously is a blow to the spirituality (which doesn’t mean ethereality) of Christ’s church….
For more on how to think about this see D. G. Hart, A Secular Faith. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul opening a session of the Roman senate? The real question is whether we’re going to continue to try to hang on to the last remnants of Christendom.”
And so, we see here what we’ve said all along and that is that R2K is a movement without a center. On one hand you have R2K advocates like Clark and Hart insisting that praying as Ministers in the common realm to be clear confusion of the Kingdoms while on the other hand you have Ph.D’s like Lee and wannabe Matthew Tuiniga who insists that one can be R2K and confuse the two Kingdoms.
Want to know what R2K thinks about any one issue? Flip a coin and your apt to find some R2K minister supporting the coin whether it lands heads, tails, or on its side. Shoot, you can probably find the same R2K minister supporting the same contradictory opposite positions of the coin as we find in Dr. Lee. Really, you’d be better of reading Tarot cards to find consistency in the R2K position then to read the R2K advocates themselves. It’s just that with Lee their inconsistency finds new ways to be inconsistent.
Having introduced my fisking with those comments we turn to the Honorable Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee writes,
“I was torn, (about whether I should pray in the House of Representatives) and proceeded to have a lively debate with myself, based on the terms of my own Christian faith, on whether I ought to accept. Most arguments for and against civil religion tend to be pitched at a generic level, though the merits of generic religion are unclear to me. (I have yet to see a Judeo-Christian church — or would it be a synagogue?) However, it dawned on me that there are a number of quite good Christian arguments for and against public prayer in Congress, and that the more Christians gave serious thought to what their tradition thinks about this, the more welcome they would be when they do speak out. What follows is a brief summary of some key arguments. (Spoiler alert: I accepted and opened the pro forma session on April 30th in prayer; here is text and video, at 2:00.)…
1) What the Bible says about public prayer for civil leaders.
The Apostle Paul urges prayers and thanksgivings to be offered for all people, especially “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and dignified life” (1 Timothy 2). Christians believe all governing authorities are established by God, and Paul even calls them “God’s servants” for our good, and for punishing evildoers (Romans 13). In the New Testament, church and state play distinct roles in God’s plan, but both are divine instruments in the world — the church for salvation, the state for preservation. So the state is a fitting subject for Christian prayer, and indeed one we pray for practically every week in our church.
Where these prayers should take place is less clear. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned about hypocrites, who love to pray on street corners “so they may be seen by others” (Matt 6.5). Yet for many Christians today, the whole point to praying in public is to be seen, that we may “bear witness” to the Gospel. This seems to deeply confuse the purpose of prayer with public proclamation, not to mention totally ignore Jesus’ command: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”
Of course, as a minister I get paid to pray in public every Sunday. Which brings us to our next argument.”
Bret Lee responds,
1.) First, let me note that it is head scratchlingly amazing to me that a minister has to write a couple thousand words in order to justify praying. What next, articles from Surgeons justifying using a scalpel?
2.) Jesus instructed the disciples how to pray. In that instruction He didn’t limit His disciples as to where they could pray. That saints prayed in public can be seen everywhere in Scripture. Solomon prayed in public. Ezra prayed in public. Hannah prayed in public. Daniel prayed in public. Jesus prayed in public. To cite Matthew 6:5f so as to muddy the waters about public prayer is to completely miss the point of Jesus words in Matthew 6:5f. For a minister to misunderstand the Scripture so badly on this simple of a point should be a klaxon warning of the potential errors to come.
2) The difference between Congress and church.
Before you file this under “most obvious argument ever,” take a moment to consider exactly what the essential difference is. A church is a particular worshiping community, a creedal body, because it prays to a particular God. When I pray publicly in church, I therefore pray in the first person plural. That is, I pray in common and on behalf of every member of that community. While guests are welcome to observe and join in, there is no presumption they must do so. In doing so I presume for all to whom we are praying, and how we are praying, and why we expect our prayers to be answered.
To whatever degree “Christian” may describe America, we are quite obviously not a creedal nation. Membership in Congress is explicitly not subject to a religious test; it is in this sense an anti-creedal body. It is therefore impossible for me to pray before Congress as I pray in church, on behalf of the assembled body, for Congress does not have an agreed-upon God. However, while I may not be able to pray on behalf of people who don’t share my faith, I can certainly pray for them. In this way, I occasionally pray for sick unbelievers when I’m invited to visit them in the hospital.
Christians must not presume false unity within a pluralistic group by praying in the first person plural on their behalf. If we do pray in such settings, we must pray as individuals, to a particular God, for the group. And indeed, this seems to me most consistent with the pluralistic character of our polity, that we retain our religious distinctiveness even as we enter the public square, instead of pretending as though there is none.
1.) Being a creedal nation is an inescapable category. All nations are creedal nations. Even were a nation to insist that it was not a creedal nation that disavowal would then be that nations creed. When Lee notes that the Congress is a “anti-creedal body,” he has affirmed that the creed of the Congress is that no creed except the creed of no creed will be tolerated. Non-creedalism is the established religion.
Now nations are more than creedal but they are never less than creedal. So, this nation is a creedal nation. In point of fact legion is the name of those who are insisting that this nation is only a propositional nation which is much the same as being only a creedal nation. The creed of this Nation goes something like, America is a democratic nation founded upon the notions of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” grounded in the principles of equality and human rights all the while affirming the creed that no creed except the creed of no creed will be tolerated. Despite Dr. Lee’s denial that is America’s creed and it is her civil religion. So, for Dr. Lee to insist that America is not a creedal nation tells us more about Dr. Lee’s analytical abilities then it tells us about America.
2.) To the contrary of Dr. Lee I would say that there is a religious test in America and religious test is the necessity for all who would serve to agree that there is no religious test in America. If any person ever ran on the idea that there should be a religious test in order to serve in Congress they would never be elected and I doubt they would be seated if they ran and won. Of course Dr. Lee agrees with our religious test that demands that we not allow religious tests and so he fits right into the current creed of this creedal nation.
3.) I do agree with Lee that as Christian ministers we must enter the public square as Christian ministers. As such were I asked to pray in that setting as a Christian minister I would pray that God would give a spirit of repentance to all men; both his servants who have a daily need to be conversant with repentance but also to those who have not had the joy of surrendering to the majesty and protection of the Lord Christ. It is true, I may not presume that all present are Christian but as a Christian minister I should pray that all might become Christian. Further I should pray that the magistrates of the nation would become God fearers and work to make existentially true what is already objectively true and that is that they might surrender the nation to the Crown Rights of the Lord Christ.
Dr. Lee writes,
3) The unknown God as the object of prayer.
It is a little odd, in my opinion, for the House of Representatives, which can’t officially believe in any particular God, to want to officially offer prayers to no God in particular. It brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens in Acts 17, when he notes the very religious nature of a people who raise altars dedicated “to an unknown God.” Paul grants that this unknown God was in fact the Creator God of Christianity — just as I recognize “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence as the Triune God of Scripture. But then he calls the Athenians to repent of their ignorant folly in light of the resurrection of Christ.
This argument is a hard sell. Americans like their gods unknown, and their religion generic, and the more generic the better. “Hey, we’re all on a spiritual journey, no one has a corner on truth, and you can’t judge me for the object of my prayer. I’d rather members of Congress pray to someone — even just a higher power — than not pray at all.” Or, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” Civil religion is the enemy of the particular God; owned by every citizen, it is by definition generic.
There may be practical arguments, a la Ike, for civil religion and its generic prayer to an unknown God. It may be good public policy, and might even be good for your health. But these aren’t Christian arguments, and as a Christian minister I can’t encourage people to falsely pray to a God they don’t know and don’t believe in.
Therefore, I accepted the invitation to pray as a guest with the understanding that I could pray a Christian prayer, in and through the merits of Christ. Should the House tolerate prayers like mine, offered in the name of Christ? Only, it seems to me, if it is also willing to accept prayers written in the name of Allah, Buddha, Gaia, or Zeus. My guess is this pluralistic version of Pascal’s wager would enjoy a lot less popular support than generic prayers to a nameless God, and the practice would soon pass away entirely.
Rev. Bret Lee responds,
1.) If, as a Christian minister Brian can’t encourage people to falsely pray to a God they don’t know and don’t believe in, he can at least pray (Congress Critters) God via his prayer that those outside of Christ might come face to face with the God of the Bible that they may see their danger and so flee to Christ and he could pray that in his prayer in the well of the house. Can we not plead God for sinners to convert wherever we pray?
2.) Of course by Brian’s reasoning the House must also accept prayers written to Satan, Kali, and the Staypuff Marshmallow man. A polytheistic nation must allow all the gods in as long as the gods know to keep their place and not try to overstep the boundaries of the one true god, to wit, the Humanist God-State. Brian seems to think that one god does not predominate the the House and the Nation but in that Brian is mistaken. The one God that rules over all the gods in the public square is the God State. The God State even informs Brian what he can and can’t pray to his God as we shall see later on in this analysis.
Dr. Lee writes,
4) The nature of Christian prayer
Christian prayer is redemptive. We pray to God not as rights-bearing citizens deserving of our hearing in court, but as penniless beggars, debtors before his throne of mercy. As a Reformed Christian, I don’t hope, I know, this God will answer my prayers — not based on what I deserve, but based on what Jesus has done for me. When I pray publicly, as a Christian minister in church, I pray with this confidence on behalf of all the baptized members of that church, all who have professed faith in the work of Christ alone, and trust on him alone. I pray for their salvation, as well as for everything needful for body and soul. This is the essence of Christian prayer.
It is not only unchristian, but rude, to offer such a prayer publicly on behalf of people who don’t claim Christ. Therefore, I explicitly limited the scope of my House prayer. While I invoked the name of Christ that my prayer might be answered, my prayer was not stealthily evangelistic, or redemptive. Rather I prayed for those blessings which the Lord is pleased to give to all men in common. I prayed that the House would fulfill God’s purpose for all civil governments: “to protect the defenseless, praise those who do good, and punish those who do evil” (1 Peter 2.14, Romans 13). America may be exceptional in many ways, but not in God’s eyes, and Christians everywhere should pray these things for their government, whether they live in Syria, China, Israel, or Russia.
Rev. Bret Lee responds,
1.) Please note the two sentences I emboldened. I’m sure that there is something I am missing here because if I have not misunderstood the point here this must be the most glaring contradiction I’ve ever seen from a Reformed minister.
On one hand Dr. Lee tells us that Christian prayer is redemptive but a few sentences later Lee tells us that his prayer in Congress was not … redemptive. So, if this is really what Lee means all I can conclude is that Lee, as a Christian minister offered a non-Christian prayer in the name of Christ. What else am I to conclude?
2.) Dr. Lee also tells us that it is unchristian for a Christian Minister to offer a Christian prayer for non-Christian people.
If this keeps up we are going to need a Venn diagram to keep all this straight.
3.) I also disagree with Dr. Lee about America not being exceptional. I think America is exceptional. It is exceptional in wickedness. It is also exceptional in producing profoundly confused clergy.
4.) Governments can not fulfill God’s purpose for all governments when they are not Christian because when they are not Christian they no longer have God’s standard to define either good or evil. Oh sure, non Christian governments might serve into good and evil but they will not be able to account for why they see some matters as “good” and other matters as “evil.”
Here is a copy of Dr. Lee’s prayer,
Creator God, merciful and just.
You dwell above in holiness, a father to the fatherless, protector of widows and orphans. Dear Lord, rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Give wisdom to this body. You hold all things in your almighty hand, and you have established this House of Representatives — and every governing authority — as your servants, that they might protect the defenseless, praise those who do good, and punish those who do evil.
Preserve and protect our President.
Humble all these your servants with your holy law, which you shine forth in all our hearts. Help them to seek peace.
You are a God who saves. Convict us of all our sins, that we might know deliverance from these our wicked ways.
Hear this prayer, for the sake of the merits of your only Son, the crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
1.) Lee goes out of his way to address God as “creator God.” In his mind, by doing so, Lee has avoided confusing Creation (common realm) with Redemption (grace realm). However Lee really confuses matters when Lee then refers to this Creator God as a father to the fatherless, protector of widows and orphans. However, God as Creator is only father to the fatherless and protector of widows and orphans to those fatherless and widows and orphans who are in Christ. To all those outside Christ (including the Fatherless and Widows an Orphans) the Creator God is an avenging fire.
2.) Lee suggest that God has written his law on all men’s hearts and yet Jeremiah restricts that blessing of the law written on the heart to those who are members of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33). In other words, Dr. Lee was mistaken on that point.
3.) I’m quite encouraged that Dr. Lee prayed for the redemption of all his listeners in this, his non redemptive prayer.
4.) It is a bit confusing that a non-redemptive prayer would be offered up for the sake of the merits of your (The Father’s) only Son. How can a non-redemptive prayer be offered up upon the merits of the Redeemer Christ?
And finally, here are the restrictions that the God State put upon Dr. Lee and his God. After all, the God state is obliged to let all the gods know how far they can go in the god states public square.
“The guest chaplain should keep in mind that the House of Representatives is comprised of Members of many different faith traditions.
The length of the prayer should not exceed 150 words.
The prayer must be free from personal political views or partisan politics, from sectarian controversies, and from any intimations pertaining to foreign or domestic policy.
It must be given exclusively and in its entirety in the English language.
It must be free from references to the national day observances of any other nation.
The prayer must be submitted at least one week ahead of time for incorporation in the Congressional Record.
When introduced by the Speaker for the prayer, the guest chaplain should not make any introductory remarks, but rather just begin the prayer.”