Back in 1941 when I started school, prayer in public school classrooms was an accepted practice, but it didn’t mean much. Miss Perry was my kindergarten teacher, and she taught us the pledge to the American flag (standing) and The Lord’s Prayer (sitting). In my mind, they were both part of what we called “Opening Exercises.”

I had the belief that most of the kids were not from church-going families, so I guess that’s why this happened in one of my earliest school days. After we closed The Lord’s Prayer with “Amen,” my hand shot up: “Miss Perry, Jimmie didn’t have his eyes closed while we were praying!” Miss Perry paused a moment before responding, “How do you know that, George?” That was my first experience of suffering for my Christian testimony.

Actually, public school was the only place I heard The Lord’s Prayer. We never said it in our church. I was surprised to learn that a lot of the kids knew the Prayer already because they said it every Sunday in their churches. When, a few years later, I learned why there was this difference between churches, it gave me another reason to judge them. You see, my church taught from a theological framework called “Dispensationalism,” and in that system, The Lord’s Prayer is part of The Sermon on the Mount, which is a teaching Jesus gave, not for us in this age, but for the restored Israel in a future Millennium, 1,000 years of earthly rule after Jesus’ Second Coming. If you don’t know anything about this, consider yourself blessed! But if you’re curious, you can find this teaching in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible. So basically, my church taught me that reciting The Lord’s Prayer raised questions about whether you were really a true believer.

As I continued to hear public recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, new questions emerged:

Why did Catholics stop reciting after saying “deliver us from evil,” leaving out the powerful “For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever”? 1

Why did some people ask God to “forgive us our debts,” while others asked him to “forgive us our sins” or “forgive us our trespasses”? 2

In a 2007 L.A. Times article, Fuller Seminary Professor Dr. Clayton Schmit was quoted as saying, “There is a sense of solidarity in knowing that Christians around the globe are praying The Lord’s Prayer together, and these words always unite us.” 3 In my experience, exactly the opposite has been true: the radical differences in the way these words of Jesus have been interpreted and used symbolizes some great divides within Christianity.

And yet, there’s evidence that The Lord’s Prayer was a primary teaching of Jesus during his brief earthly ministry. It’s found in very early documents, in Greek, Latin and Syriac languages. The variations in wording and setting may be seen as proof of its originality and authenticity. It’s as if Jesus’ disciples remembered this great prayer teaching, but they were vague about where and when they had heard him say it, as well as the exact wording.

I think the opening words of the Prayer continued to frame the disciple’s sense of God’s awesome presence:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name!”

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Next week, I plan to continue looking at The Lord’s Prayer, focusing on Jesus’ enigmatic words about forgiveness.

— Pastor George Van Alstine

1 Catholics recite the Prayer from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 11:2-4), where the final Benediction is missing, while recite Protestants use Matthew’s longer version (Matthew 6:9-13), which includes the Benediction.

2 Again, this is because of the difference in the two Gospels, where Matthew (6:12) uses “debts” and Luke (11:4) uses “sins, trespasses.”

Quoted in Kang, K. Connie. “Across the Globe, Christians Are United by The Lord’s Prayer”, Los Angeles Times, in Houston Chronicle, p. A13, April 8, 2007.