Christian prayer beads are only used by a few denominations. Various denominations take different stances on whether or not prayer beads should be used. The use of prayer beads is a common thing in other religions, but when it comes to Christianity there are still questions around them.
What are Christian prayer beads and why would I use them? Christian prayer beads are mostly recognized in the Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches. They are used to count prayers, repetitions, chants, devotionals, and meditation. In some cases, each bead symbolizes a particular event or concept. Prayer beads can be made in the form of a bracelet, necklace or out of knotted pieces of wool. Various materials are used to construct these beads.
This blog will explain how prayer beads became a part of the Christian faith and if the Bible supports the use of them or not.
The origin of prayer beads dates back to ancient history. Prayer beads have been used by numerous religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Bahá’í Faith, and Christianity. The first discovery of a string of prayer beads was found around 17th c. BC in Greece by the “Adorants.” Pinpointing the specific origin of prayer beads is uncertain, however, it is widely believed that the first prayer beads originated in India with Hindu prayers. It is suspected that Buddhism followed in this tradition.
Therefore, Christianity was not the first religion to adapt to this tradition. In fact, the Bible does not speak about prayer beads. Neither Jesus, not His disciples or the early church used prayer beads. Furthermore, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament was not commanded or instructed to use prayer beads.
Prayer beads made their entrance into the Christian faith in 1350 AD by the Roman Catholic Church. Accepted belief states that Saint Dominic initiated prayer beads based on a visitation of “The Blessed Virgin Mary.” The name of the rosary was given by Thomas Cantimpre. The rosary and use of prayer beads are human inventions that were not ordained by God. Most Christian denominations have not adapted this tradition because they believe it is not Biblical.
Perhaps the most widely known prayer bead is the Catholic rosary. The rosary was created with five sets of ten beads (the tenth bead is considered a decade). Following the decade is a larger bead that separates the end of a decade from the next one. The prayers “Our Father” and “The Lord’s Prayer” are represented by the large beads, whereas the prayer “Hail Mary” is represented by a small bead.
These prayers exalt Jesus’ mother, Mary, to the highest position under Jesus. The Catholic faith believes that Mary is greater than angels and all people. They also recognize her to be a co-mediator and a co-redeemer, hence their prayers to and about her. They believe that she should receive honor because they believe that she protects those who are faithful in prayer concerning all their needs.
Furthermore, the rosary is valued and honored because it is believed to have the power to remove punishment on earth for sins. Prayers to the rosary supposedly ward away evils, especially those of false teaching. A common belief is that prayer to the rosary in conjunction with sacraments of confession and prayers to the Pope will alleviate and bring complete salvation from punishment.
This is the main reason for prayer beads in the Christian faith, however, other purposes include increased concentration, structure, comfort, and a basis of what to pray for. Monks and Bishops also use a style of prayer beads to pray “The Jesus Prayer.”
Benefit of Use
The benefit of prayer beads is to follow religious practices and works with more efficiency. Prayer beads help users to effortlessly recite prayers. In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, prayers and scriptures are to be memorized. Prayer beads aid in the recollection of these things. It is also said that Christian prayer beads were assimilated into folklore stones and talismans that were thought to guard against specific things, such as illness.
Moreover, like the use of secular beads, Christian prayer beads are supposed to bring comfort and to help with worry. These beads serve as spiritual reminders for those who wear them. Additionally, prayer beads are used to aid in focus so that one can engage in communion and unity with God. As in Catholic belief, prayer beads bring reconciliation and salvation with God. They also serve as representations of Jesus’ life on earth, such as the rosary with 33 beads from the Episcopalian belief.
Today, prayer beads are continuing to be used. Prayer beads are also still used in many other world religions. Additionally, prayer beads have lost some of the spiritually that was once accounted to them because nonreligious people use them more like a trend. Products similar to prayer beads are sold without a connection to religious practice.
The power or benefit linked to prayer beads is merely based upon the belief that they have said power or ability. Prayer beads weren’t originally a part of the Christian faith, therefore, most denominations will not use them in their services or within their personal time of prayer. Some believe that the use of prayer beads is not true to scripture and that the root of prayer beads was from pagan religions. Therefore, prayer beads tend to have a negative connotation for many Christians.
Denominations That Use Them
There are a few denominations, who consider themselves a part of the Christian sphere, that uses prayer beads.
- The Eastern Orthodox Church uses prayer ropes with knotted loops of wool and the occasional bead.
- Protestant Believers have been known to use prayer beads within their practice, however, it is not congruent throughout all protestant churches.
- The Anglican Church has a style of the rosary.
- The Catholic Church uses prayer beads in the form of the rosary.
- The Episcopal Church of the United States participates with prayers modeled after prayer beads.
- Lutheran Churches have also been known to use prayer beads in their religious practices.
When it comes to whether or not prayer beads should be used by a Christian, scripture should be the first place to gather a basis. It is important to study scripture as the basis for our faith and belief, rather than the traditions of men. Especially since prayer beads have a reputation for being a part of various world religions, it is crucial to understand why and how they were brought into the Christian faith. Although other denominations use prayer beads, I will be focusing more upon the Catholic denomination since this is the predominant way that prayer beads entered the faith.
How Prayer Beads Became Used by Christians
Prayer beads were brought into the Catholic faith by Saint Dominic who believed he was met by Mary, the Mother of Jesus herself. The first thing that can be said about that is by the apostle Paul in the books of Galatians.
- Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”
This verse gives reason to believe that the rosary was not originally a part of God’s plan. Although Mary isn’t technically an angel, the messenger that claimed to be her could have been. With this in mind, we must be careful to realize what the rosary stands for.
How Prayer Beads Can Contradict the Gospel
The rosary changes the gospel because it preaches that salvation, reconciliation, and relief from punishment can come in a different way than solely through Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that these things are only possible through Jesus, His sacrifice and grace, and our faith in Him.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
Furthermore, the use of the rosary places Mary at a higher place than she is given in scripture. It also views her as a mediator. In contrast, the Bible declares that there is only one mediator.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.1 Timothy 2:5-6
Additionally, we see Jesus coming against the traditions of men because they detract from the work of God. In many ways, prayer beads have become a tradition that has the ability to lead people astray from the significance of the gospel. Prayer beads can advocate for a works mentality. True worship and thanksgiving comes from receiving grace and mercy from Christ alone. If salvation can come from our works, we have reason to boast within ourselves.
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.Mark 7:8
Should You Use Prayer Beads in Your Practice?
The scriptures above are only a few scriptures that prove that the use and belief surrounding the rosary are not Biblical. This nonexhaustive list still proves that prayer beads shouldn’t have been grafted into the Christian faith. It could be argued that prayer beads can help an individual concentrate upon the Lord, without the contradictions that come from the rosary. Christians could use prayer beads that aren’t the rosary. The conclusion comes down to personal conviction.
Personally, I believe that the origin and purpose of prayer beads does not reflect the purpose of God. However, if believers could use prayer beads to enhance their walk with the Lord, without detracting from the truth of scripture this is their choice. With this being said, be very careful. Just as the Nation of Israel was warned against assimilating to pagan practice, Christians should use the same type of caution. The truth of the scripture should always be our basis.