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The Illegal Name of Jesus, Part 1

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My friend asked one question after I accepted his invitation to give the opening prayer at the City Council meeting: “Do you have to pray in the name of Jesus?”

I was stunned.

I’m a pastor—a Christian pastor—and he asked if I would consider not praying in Jesus’ name, but rather, “in the name of ‘The Risen Lamb’ instead, like another pastor had once done.”

“No,” I replied. “There is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved: the name of Jesus!”

He explained that it had been eight years since this particular city had anyone regularly give the invocation at a council meeting. “A pastor prayed in the name of Jesus and they got over 500 phone calls. They are just afraid of being sued.”

“Then I will not do the invocation..”

“I want you to do it, but it might be the last time they allow someone to pray,” he cautioned.

I took my chances.

I was greeted by a very friendly City Clerk in the foyer of the council chambers who gave me some pre-prayer advice and an instruction sheet on how to give the invocation. “We ask that the prayer be non-sectarian.”

“I’m sorry; I can’t do that,” I replied. “I will be praying in the name of Jesus.”

“That’s okay, but we’ll probably not be able to ask you back. We don’t want people to sue the Mayor.”

I sat down in the back and read the rules for invocation-giving.

“On behalf of the Mayor, thank-you for agreeing to give the invocation at our City Council meeting. He has asked that your invocation be as inclusive as possible to reflect the diversity of the community.”

Then it gave the court case, Rubin v. City of Burbank, in which “the court held that city council meetings may not begin with sectarian prayer. In determining what constituted sectarian prayer, the court looked to the concluding sentence of the challenged invocation, which was this: ‘We are grateful Heavenly Father for all thou has poured out on us and we express our gratitude and our love in the name of Jesus Christ.’

“The judicial ruling is… binding on all public agencies in the State of California. Sectarian prayers are not permitted.”

Now what do I do? Sitting in the back row, I pondered my dilemma. The council chamber was beginning to fill up with people, including a civics class from a local high school. Hoo boy. Did anyone prepare them for this…an illegal prayer in the name of Jesus?

I got up from my seat, conscience-stricken. I had to ask the City Clerk if it was still okay to pray my “Jesus prayer” after reading the rules. If she told me that I couldn’t do it, then I would graciously bow out of my commitment due to “creative differences.”

“It’s okay,” she said calmly. “We’ll just put your name on the bottom of the prayer-person list from now on.”

The bottom of the list? How degrading. Now that’s persecution. But wait, this is America!

She then made an intriguing comment, “There is still freedom of speech…” Ah—the wink. It wasn’t a literal wink, but a subtle acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of the State’s ruling.

I walked to the front row and sat down. Councilmen and women assembled and took their seats on the dais. Whisperings. Knowing smiles. Head nods. They were talking about me! They are talking about me! I averted their searing glances.

Important-looking men with thick binders and leather briefcases made themselves comfortable in the rows beside me. I caught one of them looking in my direction. There he is! The scofflaw who is going to defy the high court and pray in the forbidden name!

The Mayor arrived. Everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. “One nation under God” was still in there.

The Mayor then announced, “Pastor Steve Sanchez will now give the invocation.” No applause. No trumpets. No ambient sound at all except a heart beating wildly in somebody’s chest, somewhere in the room. It still was not too late to change the prayer just a little.

In my mind I rehearsed some alternatives: “In the name of you know who.” “In the name of the name that everyone knows.” “In the name of… of… of…

I spoke a simple, self-conscious prayer of blessing, concluding it with “In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

There were no sirens. No hushed screams from the back. No one fainted. I didn’t notice much of anything because I was walking way too quickly up the side aisle to get out the door.

Now a marked man, my name was forever on the bottom of the list. I would never pray aloud in this town again. Banished.

But for one brief, glorious moment, everyone heard the name of their Unknown God…

… maybe for the last time.

**********

A year later I had another opportunity to give an invocation. I employed a strategy that was very legal. Click here to read it.

 

31 Comments

  1. Wow. Good job Steve!
    God can move you up on the list.

  2. Awesome, Steve!
    It’s not easy to do the right thing…and I’m thankful to God that you did.

  3. Pastor Steve, you have just planted the first seed that leads hopefully some to a saving knowledge of the one that some day real soon every knee will bow and tonge confess that Jesus is Lord. Thank you for sharing this story.

  4. Steve —

    You approached this with all the right attitudes and I think you were right to pray in the Name of Jesus. So what about being moved to the bottom of the list. Your name is on the only list that counts and I do not think what position you are in on that list matters.

    Mike …

  5. You go Steve! I’m sure it was stressful but you did the right thing! Yeah God!

  6. Pastor Steve,

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3944/is_200101/ai_n8940130

    The city clerk is right and this could bring a lawsuit against the city.

    Do you pray on a regular basis for “all who are in Authority” over the City like it says in 1 Timothy 2?

    1 Timothy, say;
    Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in Authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
    For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in DUE TIME, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle–I am speaking the truth *in Christ and not lying–a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

    Pastor Steve: “I got up from my seat, CONSCIENCE-stricken. I had to ask the City Clerk if it was still okay to pray my “Jesus prayer” after reading the rules.”

    GNM: It’s the Law…Is that why you were Conscience-Stricken? If you did not pray “In Jesus name” you would deny God and if you did pray “in Jesus name” you are disobedient to the states ordinance for the city?

    Romans 13:5 “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for CONSCIENCE sake.”

    Now how do you justify “resisting the ordinance” based on the scripture below?

    Romans 13 – Submit to Government
    1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

    You said “There were no sirens. No hushed screams from the back. No one fainted. I didn’t notice much of anything because I was walking way too quickly up the side aisle to get out the door.
    Now a marked man, my name was forever on the bottom of the list. I would never pray aloud in this town again. Banished.
    But for one brief, glorious moment, everyone heard the name of their Unknown God…Maybe for the last time.”

    GNM: Since Jesus himself gave us a model that is really effective for just a moment like you had, both the city and state law would be satisfied and God is not denied. Did you ever consider the prayer below?

    Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.
    Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
    As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom,
    and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

    GNM: I believe Yes, you considered it, it’s only the model prayer, but not really a prayer. Since “In Jesus Name” is missing in that model prayer God will not respond? “Our Father who art in Heaven and for thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory, for ever and ever. AMEN” who else could you possibly be addressing?

    Would you have been obedient to the state, done what the city asked and been able to pray for the city at the top of the list? Yes…a simple conscious prayer of blessing.

    But now it was exactly what you said “a simple self-conscious prayer of blessing.” …for one brief, glorious moment, everyone heard the name of their Unknown God…maybe for the last time…Banished”

    You could have obeyed the law, honored God and Pastored a City. But look on the bright side at least the city will not be sued by putting you on the bottom of the list.

    GNM

  7. To Good News Moves: Thank-you for the helpful input and the link; they are much appreciated.

    To not pray in Jesus’ name would be, in my mind, a form of idolatry. To allow for any other identification other than the One True God, would enable the listeners to identify with a God of their own choosing. I was assured several times that it would be okay to do this. I was willing to not pray if asked not to.

    Please read Franklin Graham’s prayer at Bush’s first inauguration.

    Also, please remember that this was also meant to be humorous…

    God Bless!

  8. Steve,

    “In my Mind” “a form of idolatry”, so is this the justification for the disobedience to Romans 13?

    Is the Lords Pray idolatry? Was Jesus not acknowledging the one true God? Did those who heard Jesus identify with any other God of their own choosing? Were there non-believers listening to Jesus when he spoke those words?

    You were asked to pray and accepted, let your yes be yes and your no be no.
    Our Father who art in Heaven is not idolatry in any form, so please try not to justify willful disobedience. The assurance you got from whoever in the city to violate the Law is not an excuse to do it. You’re to be without reproach.

    Since there won’t be a next time, it’s irrelevant, but the law is simple, you had a way to pray that is not idolatry and you chose to break the law instead. The evidence is your conscience was stricken.

    You reach out to the blog for affirmation, but the reality is Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2. Do you intend to reconcile this?

    Maybe you should be more serious and give more thought to what was asked of you. And just say no if you have a conviction so strong that it would make you break the law when you clearly don’t have to.

    GNM

  9. From now on, that is what I will do. I will just say no if I can’t pray in Jesus name. It certainly is a learning process. Thanks for your accountablity!

    BTW, Do you care to give your real name?

  10. Nevermind. You don’t have to give your name. I know who you are and I’ll talk to you at church…
    I don’t think we will ever see eye to eye on this “K.” Just like our former dialogues on how to evangelize. But I certainly appreciate your thoughtfulness and graciousness to me.

    I believe the best answer I can give you on why I did why I did (and would do it again the same way), is found in Acts 4:18-20. The same chapter that says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other NAME under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

    The “Disciples Prayer” (Our Father) was given by Jesus; He knew Who His Father was.

  11. Also Steve, I will add that Romans 13 does not always apply, for we are to obey God rather than men. In Acts, it was the “authorities” that were telling the disciples not to pray in the NAME as well, and they had to obey God and SPEAK THE NAME! There are currently many laws that are on the books and ones trying to get passed that absolutely conflict with the word of God [abortion, gay marriage, etc…] Any “law” that tells us not to speak in Jesus name should be added to the list of false laws. In many parts of the world pastors are being arrested for speaking the name of Jesus, or speaking against sin, or speaking against false religions, etc. We cannot let the world direct our ministry, because we are led by the Spirit of God. And what good is a pastor to a city who does not speak the name of Jesus? You might as well have a mumbling idiot stand up there and rattle off the Lords prayer, because without the name of Jesus Christ mentioned there is nothing for the Holy Spirit to bring people to life.

  12. Steve,

    It’s not that we don’t see eye to eye but rather “No” should have been your answer once you read the law and disagreed. I’ll see you at church.

    GNM

  13. Val,

    “You might as well have a mumbling idiot stand up there and rattle off the Lords prayer because without the name of Jesus Christ mentioned there is nothing for the Holy Spirit to bring people to life.”

    I want to answer this but I’m done.

    GNM

  14. Steve —

    I just re-read your post and I still think you did the right thing. You did respond to the authority and the City Clerk opened the door for you. I think the thing GNM missed is had you not been given the opportunity by the City Clerk you would have declined to pray.

    Mike …

  15. Steve,

    I thank God for you, and for your wllingness to stand up for what is right.

    No one complains when Hollywood mentions the name of Jesus in blasphemy. Where’s the “diversity” there?

    Don’t let GNM discourage you. There’s one in every church…

    Ray

  16. Mike,

    I did not miss that the city clerk opened the door with Freedom of Speech, Does his actions violate a state law and does her authority override that law? No. You say “I still think” he did the right thing? Address the scriptures, Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 , help me understand if I am reading this wrong.

    Brother, I am not against Steve, I truly love the evangelism and his labor of love to reach the lost, how he stands for Christ anywhere at anytime, I see his conviction as genuine. His desire to reach the lost for Christ is without question to me.

    I also see somethings that may requires more thought before action in this situation. We are to be as wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. My recommendation was to either say No because of his conviction or use the prayer Jesus gave us as a model that meets the requirements of the law.

    Does it meet the requirements of the civil law? Yes. Is it a model Prayer that meets God requirements? Yes. Would people pray with him? Yes, most people know it. Would he have more opportunities to reach the city for Christ through the leadership of the city? Yes. How is this unreasonable to suggest this? He can even give a side note saying I normally pray in Jesus name but I want to respect the law, and the city officials and pray the way Jesus modeled for us, “Our Father who art in Heaven….”

    Question: Does the City Clerk’s authority override the authority of the State law? No, but she informed him of his right to Free Speech and told him he will be on the bottom of the list. The dilemma is in the Law that is specific to a particular finish to prayer. Is the civil law right? Of course not, but if he uses this finish in the prayer of invocation, it violates the law, is that right?
    No.

    The Jewish defense league is all over this, he doesn’t get to suffer for it, it falls entirely on the mayor and the city. Was there anyone asking him to deny Christ? No

    What are the consequences? Name on the bottom of the list (doesn’t seem to bother him), but this is probably the last time he’ll be asked to pray for city that he is the Pastors. Maybe, the last time anyone ever hears the name of the unknown God. The phone calls coming that come into city because he violated the law, possible lawsuits directed at the mayor, the state authority coming down on the city.

    Maybe I was too hard in my response to Steve and I apologize if he is offended, but do I believe he is missing out on the ability to evangelize the City Officials by being self conscious, I do.

    GNM

  17. Ray,

    I thank God for Steve too, and his wllingness to stand up for Christ.

    “No one complains when Hollywood mentions the name of Jesus in blasphemy.

    People complain all the time, but we should spend that time praying and evangelizing.

    “Where’s the “diversity” there?” only pointing towards the homosexual community

    “Don’t let GNM discourage you. There’s one in every church…”

    Believe me, this does not discourage Steve, his convictions spur him on far beyond my feable critique, but maybe I deserve that comment. And if I discouraged Steve, then I am sorry.

    Questions: how many churches are there? you should say only 1 but many congregations. Should I leave the congregation because I suggested something different? Should I keep silent and not make a suggestion?
    Should I go to the city and do the same thing? Should I not go to the city and do nothing? Should only the false religions pray for the city?

    GNM

  18. Val,

    I want to break down your comments and answer each point because you seem to be all over the map and not sticking to one particular thought.

    Val: I will add that Romans 13 does not always apply, for we are to obey God rather than men.

    GNM: Than Romans 13 always applies if we are to obey God.

    Val: In Acts, it was the “authorities” that were telling the disciples not to pray in the NAME as well, and they had to obey God and SPEAK THE NAME!

    GNM: It was the Religious Leaders that arrested and addressed Peter and John, so when you say “authorities” who are you referring to in context with this scripture? Prayer is not mentioned as something they said not to do. It say not to Teach or Speak. Plus, there was a Miracle they could not deny as the evidence for the Disciples speaking and teaching, which was the reason so many people were believing. Their reply is brilliant; Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
    “Right in the sight of God,” and “you judge” solidify Romans 13.

    Val: There are currently many laws that are on the books and ones trying to get passed that absolutely conflict with the word of God [abortion, gay marriage, etc…] Any “law” that tells us not to speak in Jesus name should be added to the list of false laws.

    GNM: None of these laws you mention say anything like what you are implying “not to speak in Jesus name.”

    Val: In many parts of the world pastors are being arrested for speaking the name of Jesus, or speaking against sin, or speaking against false religions, etc.

    GNM: That is true, this should bring you to your knees in intercession for them and their captors.

    Val: We cannot let the world direct our ministry because we are led by the Spirit of God.

    GNM: Because we are led by the Spirit of God the world cannot direct our ministry. Praise God.

    Val: And what good is a pastor to a city who does not speak the name of Jesus?

    GNM: No good at all. But not everyone who names the name of Jesus is a Christian, Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:21. You see, Steve is bearing good fruit, I personally am a witness to his fruit, so I am in full agreement with his evangelism and teaching. I am sure you are too.

    Val: You might as well have a mumbling idiot stand up there and rattle off the Lords prayer, because without the name of Jesus Christ mentioned there is nothing for the Holy Spirit to bring people to life.

    GNM: It’s the word of God and the Word of God cannot return void. So you might as well have a mumbling idiot stand up there and rattle off the Word of God, since no one can say anything in dispute because it’s not against the law. The Holy Spirit is not missing from the Lord’s Prayer, God cannot deny Himself.

    To close the prayer “in Jesus name” is against the law, just like perjury and stealing, and murder so to not come under condemnation of the law or a judge who has to judge based on the law, it is better to decline than to break it.
    See, it is easy for someone now to say, hey Pastor Steve did it, so I can do it too and also now his enemies can accuse him of breaking the law purposefully because he was not without knowledge of the law. Because someone said go for it, is not a good excuse before a judge.

    An alternative is to pray the word of God the “Lord’s Prayer” which is just as effective and not against the law. If you don’t think that is enough, fill in the areas you specifically want to add and God will get it. It’s not Blasphemy to speak the Word of God, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    The men and women that make up the city council are there because God voted for them, it just took one vote and they are in because he ordain it. We cannot be unsubmitted to their authority, we are called to do the right thing and they become our blessing.

    GNM

  19. What should Christians do regarding the government?

    And what about Calvinism and Arminism?

    Far wiser Christians have debated this issue and have come to no conclusion, what makes us think we’re going to do any better?

    Regarding these debates which will take centuries to argue out, I have a position, but I see no benefit to explain it. It just takes away precious time God has given us.

    GNM, I’d be glad to discuss governments, politics, friendship evangelism, calvinism, arminism, etc In Eternity.

    Keep sowing Steve!

  20. Logan,

    Not sure why you are changing the subject from breaking the civil law and prayer in the city meetings, and I’m not sure where you’re trying to go with your position.

    Here is my position:
    I see somethings that may requires more thought before action in this situation. We are to be as wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. My recommendation was to either say No because of his conviction or use the prayer Jesus gave us as a model that meets the requirements of the law.

    Does “Our Father” meet the requirements of the civil law? Yes. Is it a model Prayer that meets God requirements? Yes. Would people pray with him? Yes, most people know it. Would he have more opportunities to reach the city for Christ through the leadership of the city? Yes.

    How is this unreasonable to suggest this? He can even give a side note saying I normally pray in Jesus name but I want to respect the law, and the city officials and pray the way Jesus modeled for us, “Our Father who art in Heaven….”

    I’m really not sure what your position is on what he did and said and his position about praying for the city…maybe you should read everything first.

    GNM

  21. Hey GNM,

    I have come up with a solution for this controversy after reading the discussion and considering your point of view (thanks for your input, by the way).

    Tomorrow, Tuesday, I will let you know of my future strategy should I be invited to give another invocation…

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  23. Man! I was just catching up with e-v tailes and oh boy! Somebody doesn’t have a job or what? Things like these do nothing but create quarrels… not a blessing at all! Hey “GNM” you go to Hope right? why don’t you take Steve to the side and discuss it over lunch instead? Buy Steve lunch and bless him and give him your imput. It would be a better approach instead of causing of the fuzz with everybody in the blog…You sound like you’re upset at the world man! I will ended with what I read resently in an evangelistic ray Confort book and it said in response to another christian brother complaining in his evangelistic method. Ray told him “I like the way I do it better, than the way you DON’T do it”
    and GNM you don’t have to analize my comments… You’re not a shrink by any chance?
    Walter

  24. Hey Steve–

    Todd Friel, who hosts “The Way of the Master Radio” (Ray Comfort’s Radio Program), read through this on the air today & gave his comments.

    You can hear it at http://www.wayofthemasterradio.com/podcast/2007/03/13/march-13-2007-hour-2/
    It begins at 25:43 in…

  25. Thanks Scott! I will listen to it soon!

  26. WC,

    Welcome back Brother, I agree, lunch sounds great and if you join us, I’ll buy, otherwise we eat off of Steves Chic-fil-a coupons after evangelizing. You’re a good man with a good heart, and it’s good to hear from you again.

    I was not trying to cause a fuss, I was just responding to blog Steve posted and the comments directed to me. I had questions about the position he took. I saw it as dialog that allows us to see it another perspective which may have had some influence in changing our approaches without compromising our convictions. As we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. We search the scriptures and God shows us His way, Amen.

    I am serious about the lunch, not the chic-fil-a part, but let’s have lunch real soon.

    P.S.
    It’s amazing you knew who I was…thanks for being discreet.

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  28. This is from W.C.:

    Hello everyone, Greetings to all and Knowing our GOD is giving us his protection and Grace today as we continue in this great journey called life.
    I want to make a few comments on the last blog #102 The illegal name of Jesus:
    1. GNM was placed on the spot unfairly. Steve is aware of that.
    2. There are some valid points to his “suggestions” but the tone of his email was a bit harsh and uncalled for. I have made many similar mistakes in my life and learned that I must attack the problem, NOT that person.
    3. We must be our gentleness be evident in our life and be ready to extend God’s grace given to us when others.
    4. Romans 13 is brought up a lot on that particular blog. we are all well familiar with it right? and if so, Isn’t Steve an appointed leader? Has not GOD appointed him over us? Are are to challenge his methods? Is Steve and his approach perfect? are we perfect? Those who are perfect should begin the stonning.
    All things should be done in order and in good timing since we are by nature insicure and weak. Let us be carefull not to discourage one another but rather in humility let us incourage eachother daily.

    I am soooooooooooooooooooooo Thankful for God’s grace in my life because i don’t deserve it.
    YBIC
    Walter

  29. WC,

    Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. You are a true ambassador.

    GNM

  30. To all:

    I pretty sure that the verses in Timothy and elsewhere that GNM has brought up do not endorse man obeying Caesers law (mans laws) over man obeying God. Otherwise, any law man dreams up that is in violation of Gods law must be obeyed. Not sure why this is such a big issue here.

    To me it is pretty clear cut. Give a prayer, acknowledge our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and let the chips fall where they may in regards to man’s contempt for Christ. Example, in China it is a violation of the law to read the Bible, own a Bible, have a non-government sanctioned church meeeting, etc. Are the Christians there subject to the strict interpretation of Timothy and not to read the whole Bible for understanding?

    I think not.

    Bert

  31. Wow Pastor Steve, it looks like you stirred up a hornet’s nest!

    I still say you did the right thing. This world needs more unapologetic Christians.

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