How do preaching and corporate prayer work together
Reformation Heritage Books have sent me this snappily titled little book (just 25 pages) on a very important subject. I wanted to like this book very much for it is a subject dear to my heart. But here’s the problem: the point is, sadly, not made.
The book is, essentially, a Ryan McGraw sermon on John 14.12-14. Ryan says some very useful things on preaching and some very useful things on prayer (together with some sharply pointed application for the corporate prayer meeting, all of which – as it happens – I agree with).
But his thesis turns on the fact that Jesus words in John 14 are describing corporate prayer. He begins this explanation by saying that “the book of Acts illustrates that it is not simply prayer in view [in John] but corporate prayer.” Really? Given how much we make of the tension between the normative and descriptive in Acts, that needs to be proved. And Ryan tries to do this next: “The plural form of the verbs in John (“ye ask”, “if ye shall ask”) indicates this as well….Jesus did not tell His apostles simply to pray as individuals, but together, asking as one body. This shows that He envisioned His people praying together with one heart and one compelling purpose.”
Too much. This seems to me, at least, an exercise in rather casual exegesis. True enough, the words are plural. And true that Jesus sometimes addresses a group of believers in the singular when he is talking about private matters (Matthew 6.6 a good example). True even that this verb matched with a plural is a John favourite. But it is also true that he address groups of believers in the plural, even when he is talking about private matters (see Matthew 5.11). In fact, in the very verse Ryan is expounding (v.12) Jesus uses the plural you to describe the greater things that will be done. These are ‘Spirit empowered preaching for the conversion of sinners.’ By definition, this is a singular work. It is not a corporate activity.
In other words, I don’t think the point is made. It certainly – for me – requires more explanation. Shame though, because I’m convinced the overall point is right; it just seems to require of this particular text more than it can bear.
Which is a sober thought for every preacher.