Many people have been wondering what Rick Warren would say during his inaugural prayer made on behalf of our new president: Barack Obama. I wanted to review portions of the prayer with you - to help you consider the substance of what he actually said. I think that this is particularly important because it is easy to get caught up in the emotions of such an event and in the process leaving our analytical minds at the door.
First of all, he began well by saying:
"Almighty God, our Father, everything we see, and everything we cant see, exists because of You alone. It all comes from You, it all belongs to You, it all exists for you glory."
This introduction reflects the truth of Romans 11:36: 36 "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." He then prayed:
"History is your story. Scripture tells us 'hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One;' and You are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made."
This part of the prayer was confusing, since he merged the concepts of God's unique and electing love for the nation of Israel with that of His universal beneficence for all mankind. I would leave it to Mr. Warren to clarify his thoughts and intents on that point. But he then says the following:
"Now today, we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African American President of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land. A land of unequal possibility. Where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."
It was at this point in the prayer that I became concerned about what he was saying -
First - there is a great problem when preachers take it upon themselves to declare who is in heaven, and who isn't. Concerning Martin Luther King Jr. - it seems difficult to sustain the thought that he was a genuine believer and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It may be the case that he came to faith at the end of his life, but we must leave this judgment to God alone. While we can be thankful for Mr. King's campaigns for social equality, by itself, we mustn't assume that this was the genuine product of a personal commitment to the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ.
Beyond this point alone, I was especially surprised when Mr. Warren said that a "cloud of witnesses" were "shouting in heaven" in view of the inauguration of president Obama. That expression comes to us from Hebrews chapter 12:1-2 -
"Hebrews 12:1-2: 1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
The imagery of this language points to those heavenly witnesses who cheer the advancement of the Gospel, as well as the perseverance of all Christians in this world... For Mr. Warren to transform this expression into a claim that heaven is cheering the installment of a president, on the sole basis of his skin color is at best disturbing, and at least, it denies the original charter of the civil rights movement which sought to measure society, not on the trivial basis of the color of one's epidermis, but upon their own character, integrity, and shared humanity. By this statement alone, Warren (whether intentionally or unintentionally) elevated skin color above the message of the Gospel of Christ - this is a monumental error. I too am thankful that I live in a free nation where a person of any color can rise to the highest office in the land - but I am not thankful if it will now be skin color that will be the defining moment, rather than a person's actual character and integrity. I fear that our nation's historic relationship with bigotry is only changing it's preference by a margin of skin tone.
Second - Warren then prayed:
"Help us oh God to remember that we are Americans; united not by race or religion or blood; but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all."
The idea of race is mostly attributable to Darwinian philosophy - after all it was Darwin who popularized the expression "...the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life..." - ever since then, people have assumed that skin color denotes a distinction of race. Under this view, we would have to believe that we are not related by blood (as Warren said in his prayer). But Mr. Warren - we are related by blood, and if you prefer to use the word race at all, feel free to refer to the one human race of which we are all members - Acts 17:26: 26 He [God] made from one man [haimatos - blood] every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." Simply put, Mr Warren had it backwards - we are all related by blood as members of the one human race - but as Americans we are less related by our understanding and definitions of what freedom is and how we are to attain justice. Many in our land want the right to kill unborn children in our nation, as well there are many who wish to redefine marriage as that which includes the unnatural unions of men with men, and women with women; the sense of justice that these individuals embrace is that with which I share no allegiance.
Thirdly - Mr. Warren approached the conclusion of his prayer with the following:
"I humbly ask this in the name of the One who changed my life, Jeshua, Isa, Jesus, who taught us to pray..."
Many people were wondering if Warren would mention the name of Jesus at all in his prayer. Well, he did this - and a lot more. Notice that he employed three names - Yeshua, Jesus and the name Isa. Now, Isa is really a misnomer - it is the formal name for Jesus as found in the Q'ran and it is a name that is in some ways representative of the derogatory way in which Jesus is portrayed by Muhammad. Remember, the Q'ran denies the Trinity and therefore it denies the deity of Christ. It is therefore no surprise that they deny that Christ was crucified on the cross and that He is mankind's true hope for salvation. The name "Isa" is reflective of the derogatory teachings in the Q'ran because such a name comes not from the Hebrew (Yehoshua, or the Aramaic - Yeshua, nor is it derived from the Greek Iesous) instead it may be derived from the name Esau - a name that not only has no etymological tie to Jesus - but was a name that fell into disuse because of the historic Esau in the OT Scriptures* - of whom the Lord Himself declared - "...Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated..." Because of this, it should be no surprise that Arabic speaking Christians don't use this misnomer "Isa" - but instead they retain the important consonant [reflective of the Hebrew "yod"] by saying Yasu. This retains a central component of Jesus' name from the Hebrew root - Yasha - which means salvation. If you are thinking to yourself - this is a miniscule distinction - please know that it is not - The name of Jesus means - the Lord is salvation... And this precious name of His is descriptive of His own person and work -
Acts 4:12: "...there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
Had Mr. Warren done his homework beforehand - he could have prayed in Jesus name in the hearing of the Arabic world - but instead, he prayed in Esau's name - or in the name of the false Jesus of the Q'ran...a very poor choice indeed.
I don't know Mr. Warren - and I can't speak for his intentions in these matters - but I hope that he would consider these matters carefully, understanding that salvation, peace and justice are all very crucial concepts that must be defined correctly - by the standards of Holy Writ alone.
*There is another view which suggests that Isa might be an inversion (and therefore perversion) of the name Yeshua'. In the end this produces the same result - a derogation of the fair name of Jesus in the name of a false religion.