The full question was “Why do some religious denominations ask you to stand for communal prayer, while others ask you to remain seated, others just ask you to bow the head.
Surely, standing is inappropriate for communal prayer- thinking of acts 20:36 and acts21:5 just 2 examples which i have just read?”
To the “Why” question the main answer is probably very simple: The groups / denominations do it that way because that is their tradition, and that is what they are used to. It may also depend on what was done immediately before the prayer (for example, if the congregation has just been standing to sing, staying standing to pray makes sense, while if the congregation is sitting down listening to someone, a prayer sitting down makes sense).
However, I think this question goes deeper than just the “Why”. Many people would like us to follow in detail the examples of scripture. While these examples can form valuable guidelines, an issue with this way of thinking is that it is not always easy to see which parts of the example are just relating historical facts, and which parts should be followed to the letter. Different people will come up with very different rules from the same examples, and will decide different parts of the context are important or not important to the interpretation. For example, from the two passages cited in Acts we could draw one or more of the following conclusions:
- All communal prayers should be kneeling.
- All communal prayers should be on the beach.
- Prayers when saying farewell to a leader should be kneeling.
- We should only say farewell to our leaders on the beach.
- We should only pray kneeling when we are saying farewell to a leader who is in danger or we think we will not see again.
Some of these conclusions may seem ridiculous, yet they are all determined using exactly the same style of reasoning. While a direct command will usually be reasonably clear, an example will rarely be as clear. We need to think how many of the rules we follow should come from God’s commands and how many should come from our human interpretation of examples in scripture.
However, examples can be useful, so it’s worth considering a few more examples:
1 Kings 8 talks about the dedication of the temple. This was a highly communal prayer. While it does not give us exact details of what happened, it is worth noting that the only thing it says about the congregation is that they were standing (1 Kings 8:14). I suspect that they remained standing while Solomon knelt for the prayer, but it is not 100% clear. Solomon commenced standing with hands spread out (1 Kings 8:22), but by the end of the prayer seems to have knelt down (1 Kings 8:54).
In Joshua 7:6 – 7, Joshua and the elders fell on their face on the ground when praying before God.
In Mark 6:39 – 41, Jesus instructs the crowds to sit down, and then prays in thanks for the food (though it is not clear how much the crowd were involved in the prayer). I think he would have been standing, though it is not clear.
In Mark 11:25 Jesus talks about standing when praying, though this is probably not talking about communal prayer.
Thus, though I don’t think such examples are prescriptive, there are certainly examples of a number of prayer positions (including standing) mentioned in the Bible. I don’t see any reason given in scripture to view a standing prayer as inappropriate. It’s worth considering the reasoning of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:29 – 31. Though written about eating food offered to idols with thanksgiving to God, I think the principle can apply here: if congregations are praying sincerely to God while standing and if their prayer gives glory to God, why should we consider it inappropriate or question what they are doing? It is possible to have a prayer that is completely unacceptable to God while kneeling as a congregation, and it is possible to have a prayer perfectly acceptable to God while standing as a congregation. While there is no rule to require us to stand in communal prayer, nor do I think there is any rule that prevents us from doing it or makes it inappropriate.