Standing for Prayer

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Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
This is a spin-off from the "Fifth OPC membership vow" thread.
I recently came across this short article on the subject of standing for prayer, in an 1834 issue of The Banner of the Covenant.
[See also http://www.fpchurch.org.uk/about-us/how-we-worship/why-we-worship-this-way/standing-for-prayer/ ]

Banner of the Covenant (May & June 1853): 179-180.

On Certain Changes in Forms of Worship.—Some people are never satisfied with things as they are. Like a vessel sailing against wind and tide, they must be always tacking about, and yet losing ground at each turn. Change is good when it effects a real improvement; but variations from old forms, merely to suit individual tastes, or to secure transient objects, are not for general edification. Even in matters indifferent, changes are hazardous when religion is involved.

We have been lately struck with a change, introduced into the form of worship of many of the Congregational and New School Presbyterian churches. We refer to the change from standing to sitting in prayer, and from sitting to standing in singing. These innovations have their origin only a few years back. In conversing lately with a Congregational clergyman, he informed us that in his youth every body, except the infirm, stood up during prayer, and of course sat during singing. The reverse is now quite extensively the case. It would be interesting to know the origin of the innovation. The Puritan Recorder, of Boston, one of the leading religious papers in the country, gives the following explanation:

"What was the origin of the custom of congregations sitting down to pray? The Presbyterian refers it to the length of public prayers, in the former habits of ministers. But while we would make no defence of long prayers, we doubt the correctness of this account of the matter. For in our view the prayers were shortened before the sitting began.

"As far as our observation and recollection serve us, the new custom came in with the 'new measures,' that were introduced into New England by Mr. Finney. We never saw or heard of a New England congregation sitting in prayer till we saw it in Boston, at the time when Mr. Finney was carrying forward his revival measures here in 1831. And then we had, and ever since have had the impression, that the practice came in with him—whether by his recommendation we cannot say. If we are mistaken in this, or if others can give a truer account of the matter, we hope to stand corrected. For it would be well worth the while for the public to know where and when this new custom took its beginning."

Other persons, with whom we have conversed, have concurred with the "Recorder" in the opinion that the New Measure dispensation of Messrs. Finney, Burchard, &c., introduced the change in question. What the object of these reformers was, it is not easy to explain. Was it the love of notoriety, the ambition to do "something," the itch to "leave a mark"—an infirmity not rare in reformers? Or was it found to "work best" with the system of new measures, and adopted as an expedient to carry out plans? Or was it a kind of "act and testimony" against old practices and old-schoolism in general—a partition wall over against the ruins of dead orthodoxy? Whatever was the object of the reformation, we venture a few remarks.

1. Differences in the forms of worship are generally the result of differences in theological opinion. The various denominations of Christians are usually characterized by differences in religious worship. The Roman Catholics and the Episcopalians, who approach each other in doctrine, have a strong affinity in forms. The Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, whose Confession of Faith has hitherto been the same, have had almost entirely the same usages in public worship. The Methodists have forms, which correspond to the excitements of a peculiar type of divinity. The different sects are commonly marked by distinctions which strike the eye as well as the mind. When new-schoolism arose in theology, it was accompanied by its outward badges. The new measure men were the new divinity men too.

2. One innovation leads to another. Whether the rising in singing led to the sitting in prayer, or vice versa, we do not know. Probably the former. The Methodists, who more nearly resemble the Revival men, so called, make much of their singing and postures; and the itinerant evangelists of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches copies a good many things, doctrinal and practical, from the followers of Wesley. We think it probable, if not certain, that the rising in singing was the antecedent of the sitting in prayer. The one led necessarily to the other. Other changes will follow in time.

3. Let our own ministers take warning. There is a tendency sometimes to get up something new, in the excitement of the moment. A few weeks ago we heard a young licentiate from Princeton, after giving out the hymn, say : "The congregation will please to rise in singing the fourth verse, which is a verse of praise!" We wonder if the young man thought that a large part of the hymns require standing, on the principle he mentioned. On the last Sabbath we heard another of our ministers announce : "The congregation are requested to stand in singing this hymn." At least one of the auditors, who reluctantly complied with the request, was very much puzzled to know the reason, and he is yet in the dark. There was nothing peculiar in the case.

4. The usages of our fathers in the house of God ought to be retained for these four reasons, if for no others. They are good usages. They are characteristic of our Church. Change leads—we know not where. Many devout people are always annoyed at needless innovation.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So the reasoning is (1) Change leads to more change, (2) Many devout persons are annoyed by change? This hardly seems sufficient.

Do we have biblical evidence or historical evidence from the first 100 years of church history that people universally stood for prayer?
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
Given that the 1834 article is not all that great. Consider this thread a gathering place for evidence once others come to add their insights. Did you read the FCOS article? What did you think of it?
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I didn't like the article. Seemed curmudgeonly.

But I am very curious about the biblical verses given as justification. I easily wrote off the OT references, but what of “And when ye STAND praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any” (Mark 11:25). When Jesus taught us how to pray, however, he mentioned no posture, but only the content of the prayer as important. Was Jesus assuming a posture of standing?

And what of the posture of kneeling or prostration? Many folks bowed low or fell on their faces throughout Scripture. Some even lifted up their hands. But I see nothing normative given to us for NT worship. I think it is unhealthy to institutionalize an obligatory posture if the biblical data is so murky. Whatever is done ought to communicate respect. But this may vary.

It seems the whole NT is not on postures at all but heart attitudes. This, of course, does not mean we can pray standing on our heads, but I am sure God heard Peter's prayers as he was being crucified upside down. I think the NT is largely silent for a reason.

Can a particular church or denomination such as the OPC or PCA designate what postures they deem most appropriate for what actions during a service? I suppose so. As long as we recognize that such denominational practices are somewhat removed from direct NT prescription. Fro these reasons as well, I've never taken offense when a pastor asked us to stand for the 3rd verse of a hymn or let us sit for prayer, etc. I don't see enough evidence or reason for me to feel strongly convicted either way, especially not enough to push against the norms of a particular church in adiaphora.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I didn't like the article. Seemed curmudgeonly.

But I am very curious about the biblical verses given as justification. I easily wrote off the OT references, but what of “And when ye STAND praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any” (Mark 11:25). When Jesus taught us how to pray, however, he mentioned no posture, but only the content of the prayer as important. Was Jesus assuming a posture of standing?

And what of the posture of kneeling or prostration? Many folks bowed low or fell on their faces throughout Scripture. Some even lifted up their hands. But I see nothing normative given to us for NT worship. I think it is unhealthy to institutionalize an obligatory posture if the biblical data is so murky. Whatever is done ought to communicate respect. But this may vary.



It seems the whole NT is not on postures at all but heart attitudes. This, of course, does not mean we can pray standing on our heads, but I am sure God heard Peter's prayers as he was being crucified upside down. I think the NT is largely silent for a reason.

Can a particular church or denomination such as the OPC or PCA designate what postures they deem most appropriate for what actions during a service? I suppose so. As long as we recognize that such denominational practices are somewhat removed from direct NT prescription. Fro these reasons as well, I've never taken offense when a pastor asked us to stand for the 3rd verse of a hymn or let us sit for prayer, etc. I don't see enough evidence or reason for me to feel strongly convicted either way, especially not enough to push against the norms of a particular church in adiaphora.
I've done some study on this subject for my class on the Biblical Theology of Worship. There is only one place that I could find in Scripture where anyone is said to sit to pray - David in 2 Sam 7:18, and as the Free Presbyterian Church (not to be confused with the FCoS (C)) article noted, it could easily be translated as "remained" rather than "sat". The same combination of Hebrew words is translated "dwell in the Lord's presence" in Isaiah 23:18. Standing is much more common and conveys respect. On the other hand, kneeling or prostration are equally common and these don't seem to be part of the reformed tradition, even though they were part of the Anglican and Roman Catholic practice. I know that the Puritans were adamant about not kneeling to receive the sacrament, which they thought smacked of transubstantiation. I wonder if they found kneeling in prayer too distant from the God who is our Heavenly Father, just as they found ornate houses of worship and flowery court language fit for a king inappropriate for a family gathering? I'd love to hear others' thoughts on that. The reason that it encourages lounging and irreverence in the FP article seemed unconvincing to me, given the acceptance of it as a suitable position for private devotion.

As far as the hands go, there are at least two distinct gestures in the Bible "lifting hands" and "spreading hands". The former more typically has to do with acclamation, while the latter is a clear gesture of supplication. They are clearly affirmed in both OT and NT and should continue to be part of our practice.

As far as I can see, there is far less warrant in the Bible for any particular posture while singing; I suspect the connection between the two ideas in the article is due to the (not unnatural) suspicion that few people like to stand for the whole service, so standing to sing leads people to sit in between songs, while sitting to sing allows for standing even for moderately lengthy prayers.

In terms of application, the article is not wrong in recognizing that bodily posture can convey important ideas. There is clear Biblical warrant for at least two distinct positions, perhaps three if prostration is added (and while that might be difficult in some of our churches, perhaps we should adapt our churches rather than neglect a Biblical practice?). Nonetheless, bodily posture, while significant, is less important than our hearts. The Pharisees were sticklers for getting their practices right while neglecting true worship.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Thoughts on Public Prayer by Samuel Miller has a chapter on Posture in prayer. Whilst he would agree that posture of the heart overrules posture of the body, he delivers a powerful argument for standing in prayer. He also shows it was practice of the early church and in generations following, and the decree of the Council of Nice. And this practice pertained in Presbyterianism in his generation. Biblically, historically and legitimately this posture is the norm.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Did you read the FCOS(C) article? What did you think of it?
As a clarification: this article is from the Free Presbyterian Church, not the Free Church (Continuing).

I'm not trying to be nitpicky; our denominations are alike enough that it's easy to get us confused. However, we have some important differences, and I wouldn't want things to be obscured.

It's worth noting that our practice in the Free Church (Continuing) is to stand, as well.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The Council of Nicea in 325 says this:

"Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost [i.e., the Holy Fifty Days after the resurrection feast], therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the Holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing. (Canon 20; NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils)"

But if those who love the Puritans rest their evidence for standing during prayer on this decree, what would they also say about the special days of worship in the liturgical calendar that were around even in the days of the early church that are also referenced, such as the days of Pentecost, and Easter, etc also mentioned at Nicea? After all "the Easter controversy" was not over whether to celebrate it or not but on what day to celebrate it.
 

Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
2. One innovation leads to another. Whether the rising in singing led to the sitting in prayer, or vice versa, we do not know. Probably the former. The Methodists, who more nearly resemble the Revival men, so called, make much of their singing and postures; and the itinerant evangelists of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches copies a good many things, doctrinal and practical, from the followers of Wesley. We think it probable, if not certain, that the rising in singing was the antecedent of the sitting in prayer. The one led necessarily to the other. Other changes will follow in time.
In other words, to borrow a phrase, we're all Methodists now.
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
If I might steer the discussion a bit, can we distinguish between prayer in a corporate setting as over against prayer in other settings?
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
We are told that the normative pattern of worship is:
1. we stand to praise God,
2. we sit to listen and to learn,
3. we kneel to pray.

But is that even really the normative pattern? Prior to the reformation what was the pattern? Were there pews in which to sit? Weren't the pews/benches, if present at all, along the outside wall of the sanctuary, for the elderly and infirm? In the western Church, prior to the Reformation, didn't men stand for the whole worship service?

The practice in most Lutheran Churches, which I have visited, is standing to pray, and sitting to sing. That also seems to be the historic practice in the Scottish Church.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
4. The usages of our fathers in the house of God ought to be retained for these four reasons, if for no others. They are good usages. They are characteristic of our Church. Change leads—we know not where. Many devout people are always annoyed at needless innovation.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
I wish I could remember the novel, either by Sir Walter Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson, in which the kirk door was locked at the beginning of service (thus keeping people timely), and the congregation stood the whole time, there being nowhere provided to sit. This would have been in Scotland.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
If I might steer the discussion a bit, can we distinguish between prayer in a corporate setting as over against prayer in other settings?

"Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." (WLC 178)

In and of itself, prayer in any setting is fundamentally the same. The issue wouldn't be what prayer is or what we ought to pray for, but who can pray during these two different settings.
 
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