Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Are church prayer meetings necessary?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 3, 2013 at 5:48 am

Matthew 18: 19-20  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

The corporate mid-week church prayer meeting is all but absent in the churches of our day. The vast majority of churches no longer have one because they think it is either unpopular, irrelevant, or unnecessary.

Excuses for its cancellation abound. We often hear it said:

“The attendance is low, most people don’t come; we should not have a service that is unpopular with the people. It is a struggle for busy working people to make a mid-week prayer meeting; they don’t want it, and therefore we should cancel it.”

“Prayer meetings are irrelevant; we need to do the work of God through methods that are more relevant and impactful in meeting people’s needs and drawing them into the church. Prayer meetings are a relic of a bygone era.”

“A meeting devoted to prayer is unnecessary; we pray at church during our Sunday service and in our homes during the week, surely it is not necessary to pray more than this.”

The net result of such thinking is a dramatic reduction in corporate church prayer, to the point that prayer in the congregation is reduced to that which occurs in the morning worship, (most churches do not have an evening service on Sunday either) and focused, extended, and participatory prayer is entirely absent from the life of the church.

And yet, it is corporate, participatory, and extended prayer that is exactly what we desperately need in our day of spiritual weakness, apathy, and worldliness.

In the passage cited above, Jesus in the context is speaking of corporate church discipline, and corporate church prayer.

He expects that just as the church practices corporate discipline, that it will practice corporate prayer as well.

But must it practice it at a mid-week prayer service? Obviously, there is no command for it to do so, and it would be legalism to insist that it must. Some have prayer meetings on Sunday before or after the worship services, and some at other times.

But what must be insisted on is that the church needs to have times of focused, extended, and participatory prayer, and her failure to do so is a direct manifestation of her self sufficiency, complacency, and spiritual apathy.

We see prayer meetings of the church recorded in Acts 1:13-14, Acts 4:23-31, and in Acts 12:5,12. In each case, people did not just pray privately in their closets, but met together for corporate public prayer. The results were astounding in each case.

The early church understood the need for extended times of corporate prayer that were separate from and in addition to the regular corporate worship. We need to understand it as well. If you are thinking about canceling your prayer meeting, don’t. And if you don’t have one, start one up.

There are great benefits from doing so. Historically, revivals have begun out of corporate prayer meetings. Furthermore, they greatly deepen church unity – the people you feel the closest to, are the people you pray with the most. And most importantly, through them the Bride of Christ most intimately communes with her Lord, and receives grace from Him.

The spiritual condition of a church may be accurately gauged by her prayer meetings. If the spirit of prayer is not in the people, the minister may preach like an angel, but little will come of it. May God fill our prayer meetings with His presence, His power, and His Spirit, as His people gather to bow in His presence and seek His mercy and grace.

Pastor Max Doner
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon
.
  1. [...] Max Doner post “Are church prayer meetings necessary?” on Reformed Baptist [...]

  2. I agree with everything you said about importunate prayer, the effectiveness and power of corporate pray, and the value of a praying church body. But I am not certain that I agree with this statement, which seems to be the crux of your post. ” If you are thinking about canceling your prayer meeting, don’t. And if you don’t have one, start one up”. All the cases of corporate prayer meetings you sighted from the Bible, were spontaneous events, occasioned by direct moving of the Holy Spirit and/or Providential circumstances. None of them were regular scheduled events, and none of them were prayer meetings just for the sake of having prayer meetings. They were all deeply moving spiritual where the participation consisted of people who were moved from their very depths out of intimate contact with God to intercede for serious and special needs of the congregation. They were extraordinary events, and they were the Revival, they were not the cause of the revival, they were the evidence of it.. I have been in prayer meetings which were deader than a door nail, which were nothing more than ongoing “vain repetition” which Christ says should never characterize our prayer meetings (Matt. 6:7). My view is that corporate prayer meetings are indeed essential, but only when the Lord leads the people to do it out of some great need or through some great moving of the Holy Spirit. Scheduling them every week can turn them into a drudgery, a vain repetition and a ritual if we are not careful, and I am opposed to those things. Prayer yes! but scheduling the Holy Spirit, No! That’s just my view, and I don’t expect that any of you will go along with it. And I would never try to convince you, of the complete waste of time that useless prayer meetings can become. That is up to you to see for yourself and up to the Lord to guide you and your church. It’s not up to me to decide. It is “fervent and effectual prayer” that avails much, which we ought to aim for, not just praying for the sake of praying. My opinion only.

  3. Great reminder. Just forwarded this to our congregation.

    Is it possible to make a connection between a congregation’s commitment to the doctrines of sovereign grace and their engagement in weekly prayer meetings?

  4. Thanks, P Doner. I too forwarded it to our congregation. May it result in lasting effects across all of our churches.

  5. Thanks, Pr. Doner. I plan to present your article at our prayer meeting tonight. Where the reasons are not understood and appreciated, mere form creeps in and eventually abandonment.

  6. Earl Jackson said:

    “All the cases of corporate prayer meetings you sighted from the Bible, were spontaneous events, occasioned by direct moving of the Holy Spirit and/or Providential circumstances. None of them were regular scheduled events, and none of them were prayer meetings just for the sake of having prayer meetings.”

    My response:

    Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.

    Clearly, the early church had scheduled prayer meetings. They had a specified time and place that everybody knew about ahead of time. They did not think they were offending the direct moving of the Spirit to do so. Virtually nothing gets done if you don’t schedule it.

    That is why we have scheduled worship on the sabbath day according to the 4th commandment. God knows we need a schedule, else spontaneity would soon turn to neglect.

    Certainly spontaneous prayer breaks out from time to time. My listing of the prayer meetings that I cited in the article were simply to show that the church had meetings other than on the Lord’s Day that were focused primarily on prayer rather than being ordinary worship services – in other words, they were prayer meetings.

  7. You could just as easily argue that Lord’s Day worship was “spontaneous”…and yet no one is arguing that we should have an “open house” sort of Lord’s Day meeting! And who says that something scheduled can’t be deeply moving and spiritual? This seems to buy into the idea that form and liturgy (as if any service actually lacks them) somehow “quenches the Spirit.” If you’re going to argue based on “spontaneity,” why not do away with expository preaching through a book of the Bible? True, you can’t schedule a revival, but without scheduling the means of grace for God to use in making it happen, it won’t! Thank you, Pastor Doner, for this timely article!

  8. Great post. I have been a Christian for 11 years and for the first time my family and I have found a church that has a midweek prayer service. The other churches I attended have a midweek Bible study/service. It’s a blessing for the church to pray corporately.

  9. Pastor Doner,
    Acts 3:1 is talking about “temple activity and temple worship” not about local church practices. That is not one of the passages you sighted in your article and that’s why I did not reference it. Peter and John went to the temple precisely because it was a scheduled temple time and the Jewish laws mandated that people would be be there at that time. Peter and John went there to preach to sinners not primarily to pray with Jewish people in temple worship. They healed and man, and Peter preached, but that is hardly a verse to be used as the basis for urging people to have Wednesday night prayer meetings? I understand the tremendous value in prayer, and I love to go to prayer meetings. But to imagine that they are required or commanded somehow, is plainly to twist the idea into something that it is not. The examples which you sighted were in deed spontaneous events. I was not suggesting that only spontaneous pray is valid. But that’s what you seem to have read into my comment. I suggested that your verse selection shows only spontaneous occasional praying, and not regularly scheduled events. I also suggested that if regularly scheduled prayer meetings become “vain repetitions” (Matt 6:7) they should be disbanded not continued. Drudgery and dead prayer meetings are useless wastes of time. But if you can maintain a level of spiritual vibrancy and actual communication with God then weekly prayer meeting may be for you. But my original disagreement is not with the idea of scheduled prayer meetings it was with you statement commanding as follows… “If you are thinking about canceling your prayer meeting, don’t. And if you don’t have one, start one up”. I don’t agree with that, and I have been in many prayer meeting that should have been cancelled, because they were a mockery of what true prayer is supposed to be. True prayer is what we should aim at in all our churches, not just prayer motions for the sake of praying! But that is not the same as saying do not pray, nor is it the same as saying Wednesday is the day for all churches to pray, just like Sunday is the Lord’s Sabbath. There is a vast difference. Please do not confuse my statements, just because they differ from your excellent article. I agreed with everything in you article except the commandment for all churches to institute regularly scheduled prayer meetings. That may not be necessary or appropriate for all congregations, and that is why I disagree with telling all congregations they should do this. Prayer meeting observances are not the Sabbath. I disagree with that idea.

  10. Acts 3:1 is talking about two apostles going to pray together at a scheduled time and place. As they were about to go into the temple to do just that, they were waylaid by a beggar from going in to pray. The healing and preaching followed – but they were an interruption of their plan to go to a scheduled meeting for prayer.

    But no matter. If you are worried about some scheduled prayer meeting being less than all it ought to be, then the solution is to fix the meeting and the conduct in it, not to cancel it. God in so many ways and in so many places commands, encourages, and practically bribes His people to pray, that I cannot imagine anything other than a whole hearted endorsement of every means and opportunity to pray, including scheduled prayer meetings.

  11. Sunday Morning Prayer with my Church before the morning Preaching is one of my most loved times!

  12. [...] Pastor Max Donor posted a short article on Reformed Baptist Fellowship discussing the value and validity of holding a regular church Prayer [...]

  13. “The corporate mid-week church prayer meeting is all but absent in the churches of our day. The vast majority of churches no longer have one because they think it is either unpopular, irrelevant, or unnecessary.” – Pastor Max Doner

    Many thanks for the article Pastor Doner. But perhaps we need to touch on the one real reason why our Sovereign Lord God has allowed the corporate mid-week church prayer meeting to become all but absent in today’s churches:

    Nowhere in canonical Scripture is the church commanded to hold mid-week prayer meetings.

    Should it be any wonder then why the Holy Spirit is not spurring more believers to attend the mid-week prayer meeting, since it is not commanded in God-breathed Scripture?

    Sorry to be the one to have to tell you Pastor Doner, but the opening passage that you quoted, Matthew 18:19-20, is very much out of context here. Matthew 18:15-20 is about how believers must unite against someone who has unrepentantly hurt another believer, after unsuccessfully trying to settle the matter in private. Only the most liberal form of eisegesis can make it out to be a passage about prayer meetings.

    Exegesis, yes. Eisegesis, no!

    Yes, the church is commanded to pray. But there is no Biblical command to attend prayer meetings. Neither are there any Scriptural commands for a church to start a prayer meeting if a church does not have one.

    Since there are no explicit commands in Scripture for believers to hold prayer meetings, many passages used (or should we say “misused”) to justify prayer meetings are usually:

    1) explicit commands to PRAYER in general, but when read in their proper context, have absolutely nothing to do with the holding of PRAYER MEETINGS. So while there are clear commands in Scripture to PRAY, there are no Scriptural commands to hold PRAYER MEETINGS. Churches need to stop using commands for one thing to justify the observance of something else that is not commanded;

    2) explicit commands about gathering together, where it is ASSUMED that such a “gathering together” is in the form of a mid-week prayer meeting, but when read in their proper context, do not actually specify anything about the holding of prayer meetings;

    3) 2 Chronicles 7:14 taken completely out of its historical context as God’s specific reply to Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6 about the provisions for the sins of Israel in the Old Testament; or

    3) passages that DESCRIBE corporate prayer meetings but do not necessarily PRESCRIBE the holding of corporate prayer meetings at all. Just because something is DESCRIBED in Scripture does not necessarily mean it is PRESCRIBED by Scripture.

    So while prayer meetings are often DESCRIBED in Scripture, they are never PRESCRIBED in Scripture. Of course, prayer meetings are not explicitly PROHIBITED by Scripture either. So if a group of believers want to hold a prayer meeting, that’s fine. They are not breaking any commands by holding a prayer meeting.

    However, if another group of believers prefer secretly praying silently in private, away from where others can see them, as opposed to attending any prayer meeting, then that is even better!

    They are being all the more faithful to the Lord’s very clear and explicit command in Matthew 6:6, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” – Jesus Christ

    Notice how in the Greek, “otan proseuch” can be more closely interpreted as “Whenever” you pray? Not “Sometimes” when you pray, but “WHENEVER” you pray.

    This is as close a case as anyone can make against the holding of prayer meetings. There is however no reason to go that far, since there are no clear explicit passages that prohibit the holding prayer meetings to back up such an argument.

    Of course, some people may try to twist the Lord’s words in Matt 6:6 by commenting that in the original language, the “you” in “whenever you pray” is in the plural form. And because the “you” is in the plural form, these same people argue that what the Lord was actually telling them was that they should have mid-week prayer meetings.

    Well of course the “you” is in the plural form! That’s why the King James translates it as “thou.” Why is it in plural form?

    Because Lord was clearly addressing a crowd, teaching them to each pray secretly inside their individual closets/pantries/vaults, so as not to make a show out of prayer. How clownish we make the Lord out to be if we try to make His words sound like He intended for the whole crowd to squeeze themselves into a pantry and get a prayer meeting going!

    Should we seriously believe that the Lord intended the crowd to fit themselves into a closet, pantry or vault (“tamieion”), just to pander to someone’s vain attempt to fabricate a Scriptural excuse for prayer meetings?

    Context is everything. And so some historical context may be in order.

    The corporate prayer meeting is a wonderful Jewish tradition that most probably began after the the Southern Kingdom was exiled into Babylonian captivity. Without a temple of their own, pockets of repentant Jewish believers began meeting in “houses of prayer” or “houses of learning,” wherever there was a Jewish neighborhood. There they prayed and taught their families about the great God of Israel, whom they have betrayed with their religiosity.

    They attended these “houses of prayer” and “houses of learning” while held captive by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans. Israel suffered captivity under God’s judgement for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God’s explicit commands.

    These “houses of prayer” or “houses of learning” later on, came to be known as synagogues–the same kind of synagogues that Jesus’ true disciples would be thrown out of, or dragged out of, according to John 16:2.

    Since many of the first century Christians grew up as Jews though, it was only natural that they would continue with some Jewish traditions that would not contradict any of Christ’s teachings. And this wonderful tradition of prayer meetings continues to this day. But that’s all that it is: a wonderful tradition that does not contradict Christ’s teachings. Scripture itself does not make it any more or any less than that. So why should we?

    Again, while the corporate prayer meeting is often DESCRIBED in Scripture, it is also never PRESCRIBED in Scripture, nor is it PROHIBITED in Scripture. So in short, prayer meetings should be completely optional.

    Yes, prayer is definitely explicitly mandated by Scripture. However, corporate prayer meetings are not. Prayer then is not optional; but corporate prayer meetings, are. If your church does not have prayer meetings, there is absolutely no Scriptural command to start one.

    The idea that God will bless your church more if you start holding prayer meetings is totally superstitious, possibly carnal and is most probably a result of misinterpreting of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

    “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

    As mentioned earlier, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is part of God’s specific reply to Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6, concerning provisions for Israel in the Old Testament, when they sin. The moment we suggest that 2 Chronicles 7 is a command to the New Testament church to hold prayer meetings, we will inadvertently miss what the authors of 2 Chronicles intended its readers to be in awe of: the incomparable holiness of the one true gracious sovereign God.

    We will also be unwittingly diverting the church’s focus towards its own efforts to pray and turn from its wicked ways, instead of focussing on God’s New Testament provision to His church: Jesus Christ.

    Also if we suggest that 2 Chronicles 7 is a command to the New Testament church, what then will happen everytime the church is found disobedient? Should the New Testament church prepare to be plucked up by the roots out of the land God gave, to be cast out of God’s sight, to be a proverb and a byword to all nations, as specified in 2 Chronicles 7:20?

    2 Chronicles 7 is a tremendously powerful passage contrasting a holy God’s immeasurable faithfulness with idolatrous Israel’s unfaithfulness. Its place in redemptive history points to mankind’s inability to be faithful–it points to how God’s very own people so desperately need a Saviour, the Messiah!

    Heaven help us whenever we usurp this passage, just so that we can manipulate people into attending some mid-week prayer meeting.

    Scripture must interpret Scripture. Churches must seriously teach its members to never allow our man-made religiosity to interpret Scripture, ripping passages outside their historical or literary context. This is a much higher priority than cajoling people into prayer meetings.

    It is traditionally claimed that if the church wants to see revival, then more people must attend prayer meetings. Isn’t it about time however, to now claim that if churches truly want to see revival, then churches must more seriously attend to proper Biblical exegesis, so that each believer may rightly divide the word of truth, just as the Holy Spirit intends–just like in the great Reformation!

    It is sad, but I will not be surprised if many share this observation after attending prayer meetings for many years: most prayer meetings are really just venues where those who want to be seen as more spiritual than others, can attend, so that others can think of them as some sort of God’s-gift-to-the-church prayer-warrior. I am sure there are exceptions. But generally, prayer meetings are more driven by religious pride than by the Holy Spirit. How can a revival then come out of anything like that?

    If however the Holy Spirit does truly move people to attend prayer meetings, then let no one discourage them from doing so. It is not forbidden. However, if individuals would rather pray privately and not join in prayer meetings, then let them do so without anyone discouraging them or looking down on them, as well.

    Praying privately in secret is closer to what our Lord explicitly commands in Scripture. So let no one think any less of those who prefer to pray privately, to pray secretly, where no one else but God can hear them, because no one else in heaven or in earth needs to hear the most painful longings and heart-felt cries of the broken and the weak, but God.

    Churches need to guard themselves against modern overzealous judaizers who want to lord it over the flock, by exerting even the slightest amount of peer pressure on those who are not led by the Holy Spirit to join prayer meetings. There is absolutely no Biblical basis to make believers feel guilty about not joining prayer meetings.

    Inviting people to attend a prayer meeting? Fine. Going to attend one if you want to? Fine. But understand that nowhere in canonical Scripture is it explicitly mandated. If Scripture does not command the church to do it, the church (if it truly recognizes the authority of Scripture rightly divided) must declare it as purely optional.

    Churches must be very careful not to bind the believers’ conscience in matters where Scripture itself does not bind them.

    Who are we to make fellow believers feel that they are somehow less faithful or less biblical because they do not participate in prayer meetings, when the Bible itself does not command this tradition?

    May the LORD openly bless those who heed the Holy Spirit’s call to be more faithful to Christ’s own explicit command to pray privately, even if they do not participate in corporate prayer meetings. And may the LORD bless prayer meetings as a corporate expression of the Biblical imperative to humble ourselves before God and to pray continuously, to pray without ceasing, and not make the corporate prayer meeting an excuse to neglect continual, unceasing private prayer. Thank you very much.

    Grace & Peace!

  14. Nash, you and my good friend, Earl, said all there needs to be said! Yes, prayer-meetings are fine, but they are not at all mandated by scripture. To teach otherwise is to violate proper exegesis. It is also being Pharisaical by adding commands of man as being on the level of the commands of God. Corporate prayer is great, but private, heart-felt prayer is best. We can benefit from both, but the former is not commanded by scripture, while the latter is.

  15. Well, I see the legalism police are out in force, to save us all from the horrible prospect of thinking that it might be a good idea to start a church prayer meeting and encourage people to come to it. God save us from ever thinking that we should have to meet together for corporate prayer, though the Bible records numerous examples of the church doing so.

    The early church, in Acts 2:42 continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and in prayers, and part of what they understood it meant to continue steadfastly in prayer, is that it meant that they should go to a scheduled prayer meeting in Acts 3:1.

    But God save us from following the example of the early church – that would be legalism!! After all, we know better than any apostle how the church should carry out the mandate for prayer given to the people of God by the Lord Jesus Christ.

    It is true that an example is not a command, but it is also true that apostolic example, in the absence of a compelling reason not to follow it, is normative for the practice of the church, and ought to be followed. The apostles taught both by precept and by example – else Paul’s exhortation to “be followers of me, even as I am of Christ” in the realm of his behavior is meaningless.

    That was all I was saying in my post. The bristling hostility and defensiveness towards church prayer meetings is astounding to me. Your accusation of eisegesis is baseless, and your charge of legalism is groundless. I pity any person or pastor that thinks he is burdening his people by exhorting them to meet together for prayer. He could exhort them to do nothing better. We need more prayer, not less, and those who do not want to attend prayer meetings, seldom have much of a heart for prayer at all.

  16. Pastor Doner, There has been no “Bristling hostility or defensiveness” toward the idea of church prayer meetings. To characterize Nash, Tom or myself as “legalism police” is not accurate or fair. We are simply presenting facts which your excellent article did not mention. Nobody is against praying, and nobody said anything about policing against legalism. Nash did an excellent article presenting Biblical material which shows that Christ gave specific instructions for Private prayer in a closet. He pointed this out to show that praying in private is always normative and always commanded. Corporate prayer meetings are not commanded. They are optional if they are anything. I would also add that Christ gave commandments not to pray as the Pharisees “to be seen of men”.

    “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matthew 6:5). Obviously Christ is here speaking against a public manner of praying that had been abused by the Pharisees. This is important. It indicates that not all prayer is created equal. In this case prayer in a closet is to be much preferred to public prayer, where people turn the praying into acts of showmanship.

    Please understand that nobody is saying we should not have public prayer meetings. We are saying that they can be abused, and that they should be optional, not mandated. If you think that’s being Legalistic policemen, then you have seriously misread our comments.

  17. Pastor Doner
    Thank you for your article. I am reminded of a saying “Couples that pray together, stay together”. Perhaps the same could be said of churches, “Churches that pray together, stay together”.
    At my church we have a young couple who host a prayer service in their home and then later in the week they drive an hour one way to attend another prayer service at the church. This couple reminds me of my parents dog. My parents’ dog loves treats. Whenever you say treat my parents’ dog goes crazy. When my parents give their dog a treat he runs to the kitchen, then he pants, and then he howls until he gets his treat. He loves his treats. This young couple in my church are new believers and when you say prayer service they go crazy. They get really excited to spend time with the Lord in prayer and with the people of God because it is really encouraging to them.
    May we all have this same attitude.

  18. The issue isn’t or shouldn’t be Wednesday night prayer. The issue is the neccesity of corporate prayer on the sabbath. (Isaiah 56) That is a command. God desires a house of prayer as it is one of the things listed as how we ‘ought to behave in the household of God” (1tim 3:15) Wednesday prayer should only be a supplement and never a mandate from pastors.

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