Saturday, August 9, 2014

Should Protestants use prayer beads? Part 1 of 2

EPrata photo
The beauty and simplicity of the Gospel is a stunning foundational aspect of true Christianity. The supremacy of Christ because of His incarnation and sacrifice is a wondrous fact for Christians to behold. God was pleased with His Son's work on earth and His sacrificial death, and as a sign of that satisfaction, He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Our bondage to sin was now broken.

Because of Jesus' work on earth and on the cross, it means that we have His righteousness imputed to us. We don't do anything to earn it, it is a gift of grace, planned by the Father, earned by Christ, and delivered by the Spirit.

Though a true Christian's bondage to sin is now broken, our bondage to the flesh is not. We are living beings inhabiting flesh and that flesh contains sin nature. Because of this, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to help in us to resist the flesh. In our flesh we cannot achieve anything that will satisfy God (Isaiah 64:6) and in our flesh we never will. We can't. But the Spirit in us gives us the power to persist in overcoming sin. This also is stunning in its simplicity.

No it's not easy, but it is simple. The bottom line is, it's all Jesus.

Every other religion on the face of the earth rejects that simplicity. At root, they cannot and will not believe that humans in the flesh can't do something to earn our way to Nirvana, Heaven, Valhalla, or be reincarnated as a higher being on the next step up the ladder. They reject the free gift of grace (by refusing to acknowledge their sins and repent) and try to climb that ladder toward salvation by themselves.

They will always fail.

Grace Cathedral labyrinth, Interior of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.
Wiki CC. By Marlinth

CC, by Flavio~
Though ecumenism this is not new, (John and Paul fought against the infiltration and acceptance of Gnostic practices in the first century), the past ten years has seen an increased push of syncretism. You've heard of ecumenism, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as The principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches. That sounds good but it's not. That is because not all churches that call themselves Christian are actually Christian. Any church that says they follow Jesus Christ is considered Christian, even if they deny essential truths about Jesus. This includes Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, and Mormon. Yet practices from among different 'Christian' churches creep in to the true church all the time. This is because of either a lack of discernment or a lack of courage to stand and stop the creep.

There is a similar problem and it's called syncretism.

Syncretism is also alive and well. Syncretism is an effort among non-professing Christian religions and Christian religions to accept each other's beliefs and to cross-adopt its practices. GotQuestions defines syncretism this way:

Religious syncretism often takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced to an indigenous belief system and the teachings are blended.

The Catholic church does this when they evangelize an indigenous area. Missionary friends in South America tell me that where there is a Catholic cathedral, church, or chapel, there will usually be an area where the indigenous descendant Mayans can worship or sacrifice in a grotto out front, then they go inside the church to hear a sermon (and leave their money).

There is currently a Protestant craze to adopt some of these pagan beliefs and practice them inside Christianity. Labyrinths are one. Catholics adopted this contemplative technique from Greek mythology, (Daedalus, Theseus, and the Minotaur of Crete) then the practice gravitated to Greek pagan life, then Roman. What a contemplative labyrinth walker does is meander along a unicursive path to a center, then walk the path back out again. A labyrinth walk is supposed to enhance the spiritual journey of the contemplative. Learning a higher spiritual meaning rests on the contemplative person's own efforts during the walk.

Prayer circles are another syncretistic activity accepted into Christianity, where a person draws a circle and sits or stands inside it and prays. Deeper meanings are supposed to come to the contemplative by performing this technique, and again, these meanings are given to the contemplative by his own efforts. Prayer circles originate from Wicca (witchcraft). I wrote about prayer circles here, and showed it in pictures here.

The latest fad to enter conservative Christianity is prayer beads. Prayer beads are well-known in Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, and Catholic religions, among others. I read an article recently from a woman with two divinity degrees and whose husband is a Methodist pastor. She wrote on Patheos that a Protestant using prayer beads is perfectly all right. By the way, the woman has a side business of making and selling prayer beads. More on that article in part 2.

Methods and items from other religions are always wanting to creep into Christianity. Man always wants to DO something to show we can achieve spirituality on our own. Prayer beads is yet another infiltration.

What are prayer beads?

Prayer beads are used by a worshiper to mark their repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions. Beads or knots is an ancient way of counting or keeping track of goods, of history, debts owed, or the calendar.

The ancient Mayan used knots on a rope called a quipu. Spanish chroniclers concluded that quipus were used primarily as mnemonic devices to communicate and record numerical information. (source). Later, this mnemonic device was used in religion to keep track of prayers. Right, representation of a quipu.

How do the different religions use prayer beads?

Hindus use Mala beads for their 'do something,' try harder to get to the truth, spiritual techniques. About.com explains the Japa technique using Mala beads.
There are many ways to connect with the truth; some would say that not all fit into the meditation category, so perhaps it could be said that spiritual technique and meditation are several of the dynamics that get us from HERE to THERE. ... The general tools here would be a rosary of Mala (meditation beads, necklace, numbering 108). One would simply start with the first bead of the mala then chant the mantra on each of the 108 beads till we come to the last bead, then this process would be repeated approximately 93 times, which is a number over 10,000.

Mandala Mudra Prayer Beads, India, 1974, by Ernst Haas
Buddhists use prayer beads also. Japanese Buddhists, Chinese Buddhists, Taiwanese Buddhists...all use them. In some sects they are called 'mindfulness beads.' Wikipedia explains.
Theravada Buddhists in Burma use prayer beads, called seik badi, shortened to badi. 108 beads are strung on a garland, with the beads typically made of fragrant wood like sandalwood, and series of brightly coloured strings at the end of the garland. It is commonly used in samatha meditation, to keep track of the number of mantras chanted during meditation.
Catholics use prayer beads. Their bead string is called a rosary and it performs the exact function that Hindu and Buddhist and Wiccan does for the contemplative seeking various spiritual things in prayer.

Catholic Rosary beads- from Wikipedia
Rosary-based prayers are mostly Roman Catholic prayers said on a set of rosary beads. These prayers recite specific word sequences on different parts of the rosary beads. They may be directed at Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or God the Father. Somewhat similar bead-based prayers also exist in other Christian denominations.
In monastic houses, monks were expected to pray the Divine Office daily in Latin, the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church. In some houses, lay brothers who did not understand Latin or who were illiterate were required to say the Lord's Prayer a certain number of times each day while meditating on the Mysteries of the Incarnation of Christ. Since there were 150 psalms, this could number up to 150 times per day. To count these repetitions, they used beads strung upon a cord and this set of prayer beads became commonly known as a pater noster, which is the Latin for "Our Father". Lay people adopted this practice as a form of popular worship. The Paternoster could be of various lengths, but was often made up of 5 "decades" of 10 beads, which when performed three times made up 150 prayers.
Catholic rosary w/Celtic cross. source
Should Protestants use prayer beads?

After all this long explanation, I would hope that a person would readily say "no". Here are some biblical reasons:

1. In Luke 11:1 when one of the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, Jesus did not begin by saying, "Now take your prayer beads..."

2. What Jesus did say was this: "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7-8)

In that short verse, we learn that praying repetitiously is

--empty
--pointless
--and we're commanded not to do it.

3. When Catholics pray the rosary, some of the prayers are to Mary. Mary is dead. Other religions, notably Buddhist and Wicca, use prayer beads to honor, worship, or otherwise pray to the ancestors. Ancestors are dead. The bible strictly commands us not to do this (Deuteronomy 18:11).

4. This verse tells us who helps us remember the Lord's commands and His word, and it isn't prayer beads-

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26).

With so much being biblically and obviously wrong with using prayer beads in a contemplative practice, how can a Protestant possibly promote it as acceptable? Let's take a look in part 2 at how a person can take an obvious NO and turn it into an obvious YES. This will be the discernment part of the two-part look at prayer beads.




13 comments :

  1. Excellent research done, Elizabeth. What's with people and all these adornments and idols?

    Stephen

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    1. Thank you so much Brother Stephen. I guess man always wants to help our own sanctification along...to 'do something'

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  2. I actually disagree with this article except for part two where the author talks about the blog of the prayer bead seller who wrote a book and spoke about the fringe. I do wonder if the person who wrote this article even researched though on how protestant prayer beads are even used compared to Catholic rosary beads because the uses are very different. Protestant beads are not used as repetitious prayer so "Should Protestants Use Prayer Beads?" on answer #2 is moot. As far as #1 answer since the bible doesn't say "now grab up your prayer beads" - the prayer beads are used as a tool not as a commandment of such. That's like saying, well the bible doesn't say anything about "now grab up a tree and display it in your house and decorate it to celebrate my birth" but Christians do that don’t they? Which use to be a pagan practice.

    As far as the rest, it's simply using the cycle of beads as an example using the first 7 beads to say prayers praising God, then 7 confessions, then 7 intercessory prayers, and finally 7 prayers of gratitude from what I can tell. I'm sure you can change it to anything you would like but this is how most of them are done. It is not the same prayer said over and over. The point is that the beads are not used for a sacred act but they are simply a tool to be used and a reminder to pray when having them in your pocket or laying them near your bed at night and in the morning. I don't see why that should be demonized if it is encouraging someone to pray more. If you don't like the cross at the end of one you can create your own prayer beads. I personally have a medical condition that affects my short and longer term memory so this would be helpful. I use to have a giant cross I would hang from my bed post at night that reminded me to pray when I was a child. It doesn't mean I'm less of a Christian. Prayer is just not one of my strengths. Some Christians have certain gifts; prayer is not one of them. I wish it was and I always feel like I am less of a Christian because I lack in this area, so I don't appreciate the condemnation the author is writing in his blog making a generalized statement like "Christian's don't forget to pray."
    Protestant prayer beads are not a piece of jewelry worn like some others. It has nothing to do with me trying to be prideful and "showing off my beads" as I could see how that might be prideful just as it would be wearing a cross around your neck, but this would be a way to help me with my prayer life.
    And I have to say that, "Anyone who has a new and shiny idea is always going to be wrong." If this statement were true the Protestant Reformation would be wrong too, wouldn't it? After all, way back when, it too was considered to be "new."
    I think everything depends on how it is used. Obviously, we don’t want to get too wrapped up in jewelry and I get that part and I think the author meant well, but demonizing something that may help someone in their walk, but may not necessarily help you for whatever reason… I don’t think it is wise for them to suggest different. I’d say, pray about it and leave it to God and His Holy Spirit to press upon your heart if it be wrong for you to use them in the way you intend to use them. Anything can be used for good or bad. A simple tree can be brought in your house and used as pagan worship or a simple display of celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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    1. Hi Selah117,

      Thanks for disagreeing politely and raising questions I have an opportunity to answer. I truly do appreciate it.

      I do wonder if the person who wrote this article even researched though on how protestant prayer beads are even used compared to Catholic rosary beads because the uses are very different.

      I did research. Now you don’t need to wonder anymore.

      As far as #1 answer since the bible doesn't say "now grab up your prayer beads"

      However the Bible does say “When you pray, pray in this way”, commands us not to be repetitive, and advises against ritual. (Mt 6:5-13)

      As far as the rest, it's simply using the cycle of beads as an example using the first 7 beads to say prayers praising God, then 7 confessions, then 7 intercessory prayers, and finally 7 prayers of gratitude from what I can tell. I'm sure you can change it to anything you would like but this is how most of them are done. It is not the same prayer said over and over.

      That's the definition of a ritual.

      Some Christians have certain gifts; prayer is not one of them. I wish it was and I always feel like I am less of a Christian because I lack in this area, so I don't appreciate the condemnation the author is writing in his blog making a generalized statement like "Christian's don't forget to pray."

      I’m glad you feel condemned for not praying and if He used me &t this article as a tool to bring that conviction to your hear then I’m grateful. It’s the Spirit convicting you as to an important duty. Constancy in prayer is urged in the following verses: Luke 18:1; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

      This is a matter of Christian liberty, so if you want to rely on the prayer beads as a tool, then I cannot be 100% dogmatic about it, though the Bible does give hearty and frequent advice that shows it’s probably not a good idea. It would be better to rely on the Holy Spirit for the tool of prayer and not the beads, though.

      And I have to say that, "Anyone who has a new and shiny idea is always going to be wrong." If this statement were true the Protestant Reformation would be wrong too, wouldn't it? After all, way back when, it too was considered to be "new."

      You have a totally misperception about the Reformation. The Reformation was based on the fact that the Catholic Church had stolen Christianity from the faithful, polluted it with ritual, dogma, and tradition, and the Reformation brought the true Gospel back to light. What the Reformers did was refute and reject ALL Catholic dogma, rituals, (including prayer beads/Rosary!) and creeds and get the faithful back to what was originally in the bible. What was “new and shiny” was the Catholic rituals and traditions, which we know are false.

      Anything can be used for good or bad.

      I agree. So why use something “as a tool” that is identified with and used in FALSE religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and the Bahá'í Faith, when we have the Bible as a tool to help us and the Spirit to aid our walk? If you need help remembering to pray, then why not write Bible verses on index cards or Post-Its and lay then in your house and work area? Why use something that is used for bad everywhere else and import it to the pure holy faith? Why risk doing an activity Jesus warned us against (ritual and repetition)? Think about it.

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    2. I can see both sides of this. I do feel the author of the article is being a bit one-sided.

      On the argument of ritual:
      All religions, to which Christianity is not exempt, practice rituals.
      For instance: my mom always taught me to say 3 things I am greatful for everyday. To do this would be a ritual, just like reading my Bible daily is a ritual, praising Him everyday is a ritual, and attending church (not to mention the ceremony there and the sacraments) is a ritual. So to use prayer beads to praise God for seven different blessings is not repetitive. It can be a great start for someone who is feeling depressed or ungrateful or forgetful!

      As far as research:
      It is important to cite sources, especially on issues such as this. When someone asks you if you conducted research, the answer should be: "yes, and here are my sources..." Simply saying you researched does not offer validity to your statements. This is important because there are people who believe themselves to be Christians using malas, and honoring crystal healing and chakras, and feel it's still Christian and acceptable. They need to see your sources!

      On praying:
      I feel like condemned is much too heavy of a word here. Feeling convicted or reminded to do something is more appropriate phrasing, since Our Father still loves us even when we forget to pray. Not to mention, it is a common struggle in this day and age.

      On the otherhand, I'm not condoning using prayer beads. Particularly because one has to be so careful that they are not practicing "syncretism."

      New ideas are not always wrong (i.e. the rise of Non-denominational churches), but again we have to evaluate new ideas with prayerful scrutiny.

      As believers, we are going to have different conflictions and different questions. Sadly, I feel we often jump to being judgemental before we loving give a response.
      We need to be especially careful of the internet, be a use it's often difficult to distinguish someone's intended tone.

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    3. Hi Meg H.

      Thanks Meg, you raised some excellent points. I agree, the word condemnation is too strong, conviction is better. I agree with your other points too.

      I'm not sure that Christianity has rituals, at least not from the Bible. jesus commanded us not to fall into hypocritical, mindless ritual. (Matthew 15:1-2 is an example).

      The example you gave from your mom is a man-made ritual. Gratitude itself is not ritualistic, unless man-made parameters are imposed upon it with specificity and repetition as your example gave (three times every day). The only ordinances that are biblically mandated required are baptism and Lord's Supper and those have no biblical restrictions or prescriptions on when or how they are to be performed.

      I agree that Christianity like any other religion can fall prey to ritualistic behavior. Man sure does want to DO something.

      I do defend myself with regard to sources. This essay has sources linked live to the source. I always do that, because I agree with you, people need to assess whether the research is solid and the source is credible.

      Thanks again for your comments.

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  3. There is nothing to say about. Prayer beads are idols. It's that simple. and an abomination. akin to amulets. Same difference different form of the same thing. “They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans” (Isaiah 2:6, NIV). The Bible further warns us, “In that day, the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes [and] amulets” (Isaiah 3:18-20, NAS)

    http://healingamulets.com/prayer-beads.html

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  4. Well if you are thirsty for prayer,there is hymnal s with 800-900 songs...So better recite in silence this songs than to repeat same prayer over and over...God is alive and present and we should take care over conversation with Him .

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  5. The Bible tells me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. It is God's will that my mind be transformed to think like He thinks because then my actions will change! I see nothing wrong with privately repeating a mantra such as "Jesus, I trust you" or "Not mine, but your will be done, Lord" ect. Repeating such phrases will help to create a new mindset. The use of beads can be helpful in that process for those christians who struggle with a wandering mind during prayer. Using beads creates a tactile prayer experience and helps to create focus by marking the time.

    In my interpretation, Jesus tells me in Mathew chapter 6 to avoid trying to "show off" by saying lengthy and empty public prayers. Also, do not be like the pagans who repeated or "babbled" the names of their gods in their prayers hoping that they would call on the right one.

    This is very different than waking up in the morning and seeing a prayer tool laying on my nightstand encouraging me as a visual reminder to pray. If I choose to use those beads to repeat a phrase like "God is Love" and bask in the meaning of that phrase until I have made my way around all of the beads...then I think I will have started off my day in a beautiful way. My mind and spirit have been prepared to go throughout the day with a reminder of who God is and I can be quick to remember it because I spent so much time that morning in focused adoration.

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  6. 1. Prayer beads are a kind of syncreticism due to the pagan practice and Buddhist practice
    2. Prayer beads in prayer are a form of idolatry
    1 is false doctrine for Protestants
    2 is false doctrine

    Therefore Prayer beads should not be used

    1 is somewhat on mark for syncreticism, but there are many cases where wearing a physical object such as a bead does not lead to syncreticism. It seems to be assumed that catagorically prayer bead practice is syncretic. This is not the case, but it raises a good conversation.

    2 is false. The research presented here is defective. Prayer beads are more complex than this short article conveys.

    God bless

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    1. It doesn't matter how "complex" prayer beads are (and the practice looks pretty simple to me) it's syncretism and it's unwanted and unnecessary in Christianity. God condemned importing the practices of other religionsinto His faith, for example Asherah poles and golden calf worship, household tokens and idols etc.

      “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:19-20

      If you could point to exactly which scriptures I misused or which statements are "defective" we could have a better "conversation".

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  7. One thing bothered me. It is regarding the "praying to Mary" thing. I used to think that too, that Roman Catholics were praying to Mary. And then I met a Marian Priest, and asked about that. He said that many many Catholics express it that way and that generally speaking a lot of people have misunderstood what is actually supposed to be taking place. It is not praying to Mary. It is praying in the "name" of Mary. Much the same as we pray, "in Jesus name we pray." He told me it is meant to be a discipline and that any prayer in the name of Mary should be a prayer that the person praying can believe Mary would pray. In other words it is a way of disciplining the mind to pray in the right way. I liked that explanation. Being protestant I don't do it; but I like that idea. God is much bigger than us, we can learn from the most unlikely sources. Much Love!

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    1. Hi RicMac,

      Thanks for sharing that but I'll sadly have to set aside your information as it comes from a source (Catholic priest) who has nothing to say about our faith. Anyone outside the faith cannot inform us in the faith becauase their hearts are darkened and their minds are blinded.

      Also, Jesus taught us how to pray. He said in Mt 6:9:

      "Pray then like this:

      “Our Father in heaven,
      hallowed be your name."

      He explicitly told us to pray in His name. Since we know that "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name," (Phil 2:9), there is no reason to pray in Mary's name. To do so elevates her name above Jesus' which woulis sinful rebellion.

      Besides, the priest's explanation is typical of what anyone of a false religion wouldsay, the usual defensive parsing and splitting hairs. Praying in Mary's name is praying to Mary. :)

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