The Lord’s Prayer: Ecumenical or Historical Text?

I confess my personal preference for the ecumenical text of The Lord's Prayer (United Methodist Hymnal, 894 and pages 10-11 in our liturgy for Holy Communion) over the historical texts used by our predecessor denominations (United Methodist Hymnal, 895 and 896). Here's why:
  1. I prefer the use of "your" over "thy." It certainly is language that is more acceptable and hospitable to people today than the ancient King James language. Besides, there is nothing particularly theological or godly about using "thee" and "thine" to address God. Clicking through the television channels the other night, I paused long enough on Florida TV preacher James Kennedy to hear him praying using only "thee," "thy," and "thine"; and I found myself isolated from God rather than brought into the presence of God.
  2. The use of "sins" rather than "trespasses" is a much better word to carry the meaning of this prayer. Yes, I know that Methodists and EUBs used trespasses for many, many years; and perhaps most of our congregations still use it. Trespassing is something I used to do as a kid when I cut across old Mrs. Scapaletti's front yard against her wishes so that I could cut fifteen seconds off my walk home from school. Trespassing is what all those deer hunters in New York and Pennsylvania do when they hop the fences on private farmland clearly marked "No Hunting" or "No Trespassing." Unfortunately, I'm also well acquainted with sin. Whether or not "trespasses" once carried additional shades of meaning, I think most of us need to ask God to "forgive us our sins." Further, we also need to place the thought in our minds and mouths that we should "forgive those who sin against us." And as for "debts" and "debtors," use of those words alone is reason to seek out a new musical setting to replace Malotte's.
  3. But the most compelling reason that I prefer the ecumenical text over the historical text is in the penultimate sentence. This two-part sentence asks God to refrain from leading us into temptation — an idea that, despite the fact that it might have meant something different in past centuries, I find repugnant today. God does not lead us into temptation. God does not tempt us to sin. There is also that unsettling word "but" as the conjunction. "But" is a word used to allow what follows it to reverse what preceded it. In other words, we ask that God might not lead us into temptation, "but" that God might deliver us from evil. It is a much stronger and more sensible rendering to say, "Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil." Doesn't this text have a compelling meaning for each of us after the terrorist air hijackings of September 11? I think of that man on board the plane who called the 911 operator just prior to the passengers rushing the hijackers. He asked her to pray "The Lord's Prayer" with him. I wonder if they knew the words of the ecumenical version.

When I'm in a church or a group and we pray "The Lord's Prayer," I always use the ecumenical version. But because the phrase lengths and rise and fall of the voice are different between the versions, I always pray the penultimate line quietly so as not to startle or disturb those around me. Some congregations and groups encourage worshipers to pray the prayer using whatever language they are accustomed to using. I know of others that make use of both versions, designating one or the other to be used in a particular worship service. I encourage others to try the ecumenical text if they usually use the historic version. I suppose the day will come when the ecumenical text will be more commonly used than it is now.

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