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May We Pray Against People?

One of our readers writes: "I attend a mixed denomination where the minister is evangelical. The church itself has a mixed congregation of believers and unbelievers. Sunday morning prayer has heard the minister occasionally thank God that people have been removed from this church (pruned) thus making it a more pure church, etc. Also, prayer has been made to God for the removal of apostates from the denomination even by death. Unconverted people hear these prayers and must find this confusing. As a believer I am not convinced that public prayer should be of this nature. Surely we want to win men for Christ, not judge them as being beyond remonstrating with, and worthy only of being cast off. Can you give me your thoughts on this? I do feel the minister is out-of-order here and becoming a stumbling block to souls under his ministry in need of salvation."

We agree with our correspondent, that this is not a proper way to pray, not only in public worship, but at any time. Scripture's testimony is clear that we are to love our enemies, which means that we do good to them and pray for them (Matt. 5:43-48; cf. also Acts 7:60; Rom. 12:14, 20; I Cor. 4:12, 13). To pray otherwise is indeed, so it seems to us, to judge them beyond any hope of salvation. Nor do we find any passages in Scripture that allows us to pray in this manner.

Some might object that the examples of the Apostles in Acts 8:18-24 and 13:9-11 give ground for praying against certain persons. Yet in Acts 8 Peter does not pray God that Simon the Sorcerer might be cut off by death, but warns him and calls him to repentance. Paul, too, calls Bar-jesus to repentance (Acts 13:10) and does not judge him beyond hope. Admonishing and warning someone and praying against them are two different things.

Even in the case of those who have come under the discipline of the church and been excommunicated and so removed from the church, we are still to admonish them as brothers and to seek their restoration (II Thess. 3:14, 15; I Cor. 5:5). Our motive in discipline, as well as in all our dealing with others must be that we seek their salvation. Perhaps the greatest example of this is found in Romans 9:1-5 and 10:1, where the context of no less a doctrine than sovereign double predestination, Paul himself prays for and desires the salvation of his brethren.

All this brings up another point, however, The situation in so many churches and denominations is such that ministers, who are otherwise godly men, are led to pray such prayers. While it is certainly wrong to do so, the real problem, we believe, is the total lack of oversight and discipline in the majority of churches today, even those that still deserve the name "evangelical." We can well understand that in the face of such failure to deal Biblically with sin in the church, the minister or others become so frustrated that they begin to pray against such persons.

One other comment. We find it somewhat strange, to say the least, that those who are most ready to speak of a universal love of God and a desire of God for the salvation of all without exception (using Matt. 5:43-48 as their proof), find it difficult in such cases as these to put that into practice themselves. We believe, of course, that God does not love all and seek their salvation - for He knows eternally whom He loves and will save. Nevertheless, because we do not know the secret counsels of God, we are always to love our neighbor and pray for him.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 21
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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