And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:27-32
A couple of years ago I was invited to pray at the beginning of the Harris County Commissioners Court. I was given few guidelines and allowed to offer my prayer as I saw fit. Before going, however, I very politely informed the person through the request had come that I would be praying in the name of Jesus. “I hope that’s OK,” I said. Her reply was refreshing and encouraging: “It certainly it. I’m glad to hear that.”
When the time came, I offered the prayer as seemed appropriate, and ended by saying, “This I ask in Jesus’ name.” I didn’t presume to say, “we ask in Jesus’ name,” though I’m certain that others there would likely agree to invoking Jesus’ name.
Sadly, however, such political incorrectness is not welcome everywhere. A colleague was invited to pray for a Boy Scouts of America event, and was told he could not invoke Jesus’ name. US military chaplains are being challenged in their public performance – outside of regular church services – to refrain from calling on Jesus’ name.
It’s not necessarily true that such prohibitions pit us in a must obey God rather than man situation. We can in good conscience decline any invitation that would limit our freedom to call on Jesus’ name. But any time we are told we cannot pray in Jesus’ name is for me a “we must obey God rather than man” moment if we have been invited to pray.
Of course the issues are bigger than that; it’s not just a matter of prayer. What of holding to traditional understandings of marriage, sexuality, decency, or morality? What of those times when we are invited or even tempted to go along with the crowd on a path of sin and ungodliness? Gossip. Sexual immorality. Embezzlement. All these offer opportunities to obey the whims of man rather than follow the ways of God.
This is not just a matter of obedience, or doing the right thing. It is an outgrowth of what God has done for us in Jesus. As Peter tells us: Jesus has been raised from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand, and offers the opportunity for us to repent and be forgiven of our sins. He has given us the Holy Spirit so that we may follow Jesus’ ways and not give in to the temptations of man.