By Larry Ray Hafley
From Florida: `Do we have scriptural authority for `chain prayer?’. . . It is being practiced here at the college, and as it brings back memories of my days in the Baptist church, this is a matter of great importance to me.”
It is much better to hear of college students engaged in prayer than in a chain or succession of dirty jokes and immoral jesting. All agree with this, but it does not answer the question.
First, what is “chain prayer?” A chain prayer is a succession of petitions, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings delivered by two or more persons. It is a sequence of prayers uttered by various ones in order. This is my understanding of “chain prayer.”
Second, is it scriptural? It is scriptural for Christians to come together to pray (Acts 4:23-31). “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5). “He (Peter) came to the house of John. . . where many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:12). In Philippi, Luke begins the record of the events that led to the conversion of the jailer with these words, “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer” (Acts 16:16). Later, in the prison, “Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25). At the conclusion of his farewell to the Ephesian elders, Paul “kneeled down, and prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36). “And they all (disciples at Tyre) brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore and prayed” (Acts 21:5).
One way for several to pray would be for certain ones to pray audibly in succession; hence, a chain prayer. That is one means. It is not the only manner to pray, nor would it always be the most appropriate, but it is one way that several could pray. Such a method would be generally authorized.
Abuse and Admonitions
A practice is not wrong simply because it can be abused; however, some chain prayer procedure is fraught with danger. Guilt by association is not totally fair, but chain prayer has had its glory in denominationalism, Pentecostalism, emotionalism, and in unscriptural escapades of all kinds. Our inquirer opened the door for such comment when he said, “It brings back memories of my days in the Baptist church.” No, a thing is not essentially wrong because Baptists do it, but some items bear close watching due to their popular association and acceptance by known spiritual outlaws. Chain prayers under certain circumstances are one such item, in my judgment.
In times of deep emotional distress, Christians have assembled to pray, and they have used what would be called “chain prayer” as they have poured out their pleading and bleeding hearts unto the Father of all mercies. So, in moments of strong emotions, prayer offered in succession may be a natural outpouring of kindred spirits. No criticism is given of fervent prayer addressed in chain form unto God, provided, of course, that all other factors connected to the situation are scriptural.
What are the dangers of chain prayers? One may develop the idea that such prayers are the most “intimate” and “thrilling” way to approach God and that those who “merely” pray privately “don’t know what they are missing.” It is easy to use the chain prayer format to be seen of men (Matt. 6:5, 6). The environment of some chain prayer services is not wholesome. Our querist, it is hoped, did not refer to the modern day chain prayer phenomenon; at least, he did not mention it. Our reference is to the habit of some chain prayer advocates who hold hands and stand in a circle with the lights dimmed or the room darkened. Such an atmosphere is used to produce a spiritual “high.” It allows the participants to take a religious “trip” into the mysterious world of “pious” sensualism. Under these circumstances, prayer is a substitute for pot (marijuana). Since the members of the group are Christians, they are not on drugs, but their chain prayer circle is merely a subtle replacement for the “trip” pot smokers take in a dimly lit, incense filled room. I do not charge that affairs like this are what our querist has in mind. I say that this is the practice of some and that similar acts can occur; it is a dangerous trend, I fear.
“But Brother Hafley, didn’t you say earlier that deeply stirred emotions often are connected with informal chain prayers?” Yes, but the emotions were the father of the prayers, while frequently the chain prayers are the father of induced and contrived emotions. Aroused, undefined “feel goodishness” leads to all manner of wild speculations and fanciful sensations. Thus, they are not at all parallel to what was earlier described.
Summary and Conclusion
Brethren may gather and pray in orderly succession. The modern chain prayer concept is filled with perils and pitfalls. The abuses of this means of prayer are not easily avoided. The dangers of chain prayer are real and warnings should be constantly urged. “Feelings” and “leadings” of one’s emotions and impulses should be generated and motivated by the word of God. Guide your heart and life by the Spirit of God as revealed in the Book of God, the Bible. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and learn not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thing own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Prov. 3:5-7).
Beware of staged and planned piety that requires “a certain atmosphere.”
Truth Magazine, XX:11, p. 12-13
March 11, 1976