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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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August 29, 2012

Sins, Debts, and Trespasses (and Church Politics)

                 More than any other Christian activity, worship can demonstrate the unity we have in Christ.  Gathering around the table is a visible sign of our unity in Christ.  At the same time, worship can expose the fault lines between Christians as well.  That same gathering around the table can also show our divisions, as when Roman Catholics and Protestants cannot share the bread and cup together. 

                 A more amusing fault line crops up whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer in an ecumenical setting (even in weddings and funerals).  Most of us know the King James language of the Lord’s Prayer.  We begin, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .”  Everyone is on the same page, Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian.  But as we move through the prayer, the wonderful, unified sound becomes a cacophony as “forgive us our debts” and “forgive us our trespasses” are sounded together. 

                 We Presbyterians have insisted on debts for two reasons.  First, it is the most literal translation of the Matthean text.  Secondly, the language of debt and debtor is language that fit well in a Calvinist culture and theology.  The Book of Common Prayer rendered it the easier to understand term trespasses, borrowed from Luke, and thus the Anglicans and Methodists routinely turn to trespasses. 


We’ve been using the more contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer in chapel around here lately.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and forever.  Amen

Whenever we say it, I think the line folks notice the most is “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  This is neither debts nor trespasses, and folks often feel like it is the most theologically appropriate term to use.  So, how did we get to sins when the rest of the prayer is the version from Matthew? 

It’s fairly simple:  this is a formally ecumenical version, coming out of the Consultation on Common Texts.  There was no compromise between the debts faction, who argued for textual integrity, or the trespasses faction, who argued for clarity.  So they compromised on a “none of the above” strategy, choosing the more contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke and inserting it into the largely Matthean version.  It was theology and . . . church politics.  

Categories: Theology, Worship

Tags: lord's prayer, prayer