Why Protestants need some saints of our own

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Saint are reminders that if you follow Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you strange." - Image of "The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs" by Fra Angelico is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1vC9kqm)

Saint are reminders that if you follow Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you strange." - Image of "The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs" by Fra Angelico is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1vC9kqm)

Saint are reminders that if you follow Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you strange." - Image of "The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs" by Fra Angelico is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1vC9kqm)

Saint are reminders that if you follow Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you strange.” – Image of “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1vC9kqm)

The only thing I learned about saints growing up Baptist in the American South was that one-day they were going to “come marching in” and I apparently wanted “to be in that number.” More than two decades later, I still don’t know what the heck that means.

Seriously, we Baptists were like most Protestants in that we didn’t think much about saints. I thumbed through a lost-and-found Bible once that added the title to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And I remember a Sunday School teacher commenting that saints were just a way Catholics engaged in idol worship. But that was pretty much it.

A few weeks ago, however, I decided to dig into the stories of these mysterious men and women some call “saints.” I’ve concluded that we Protestants could use a few saints of our own.

Christians throughout history have interacted with saints in various ways. Eastern Orthodox believers gaze at them through icons and pass down their stories via hagiographies. Some Roman Catholics pray to them and ask for their help interceding with God. While such practices might make a good Protestant squirm, we can all benefit from viewing saints like Jacques Douillet, as “those who march in front and give the example.”

[tweetable]Conduct even a cursory review of the saints and you’ll stumble over scores of misfits and outcasts.[/tweetable] They were not considered balanced or stable or completely sane by all in their respective communities. Instead, this throng of oddballs was bold and countercultural and unashamed. Saints embody what it means to follow Jesus when we are tempted to play it safe or go with the flow or opt for acceptability over conviction and commitment and passion.

Saints are, in the words of Episcopal writer Barbara Brown Taylor, “eccentric, lopsidedly love-drunk people.”

St. Christiana was a medieval woman who had a weak stomach and got nauseous at the smell of unpleasant body odors. She felt God called her to minister to low-class peasants who were known for poor hygiene. While caring for them, she’d often have to rush outside for fresh air to avoid vomiting.

St. Philip Neri, who he claimed a globe of fire entered his mouth and caused his heart to swell at Pentecost in 1544. For the rest of his life, spiritual emotion caused him great heart palpitations. Philips was peculiar, he became known as “God’s clown.”

St. Basil, who enraged the religious aristocracy by throwing stones at the homes of rich people who ignored the poor and bathing the feet of prostitutes. He was called yurodivi or “holy fool.”

St. Francis gave away all of his possessions and walked barefoot, kissing lepers and caring for those in need. He chose to live a life of poverty and renounced his father’s inheritance. He would often reemerge from days of prayer and fasting so disheveled that people would snicker and question his sanity. He was known throughout Italy as Pazzo…or “madman.”

Modern-day Protestants often lionize those who’ve lived “purpose-driven” existences or have laid hold of their “best life now.” How unlike the saints of old. How divergent from those nonconformists who dreamed dreams and saw visions, who claimed to have heard Christ whisper in their ears.

The Apostle Paul once said “Our dedication to Christ will make us look like fools.” Spoken like a true saint.

Saints are people whose stories speak to us from beneath and behind us and say, “It’s ok that you’re a little crazy.” They are reminders that if you follow Jesus, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you strange.”

Protestants could benefit from a few more of those kinds of reminders if you ask me.

  • jmurman

    Do you realize that born again believers in Christ, and those who had faith in God before Christ, ARE called “saints”?

    Do I feel like a saint? No…but God calls me one. So that’s good enough for me.

    Now what you are talking about is the veneration of people into a Catholic type sainthood. Not Biblical…so you should rule out “protestant” sainthood.

  • shane

    I think you should re-title the article: “Why contemporary evangelicals need some saints of our own.” Remember that the Lutheran and Anglican communions both observe days for saints. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches have a long tradition of reading the biographies, histories, and doctrinal writings of the saints who’ve gone before. Maybe the real issue is that evangelicals are progressively less Protestant.

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  • Kevin W

    Just to clarify Catholics do not pray to Saints they merely ask for them to petition God on their behalf. It is similar to you asking your friend to pray for you, except that this friend is in Heaven and closer to God.

  • David Lee

    We who are in Christ _are_ saints.
    Acts 9:13,32,41; Ac 26:10; Mt 27:52; Ro 1:7; 2 Co 1:1; Ep 1:1; Ph 1:1; Re 8:3

  • Jan

    There is only ONE Mediator….Jesus Christ.

  • Kevin W

    So David Lee is there any reason not to ask a saint in this world or the next to pray for you?

  • Kevin W

    Indeed their is only One Mediator…. Jesus Christ, but having another soul petition Him does not conflict in any way with the idea that there is only One Mediator. If a husband and wife both pray to God for a child is their prayer invalid because they both ask Him for the same thing? Of course not.

  • William Rhoad

    This article reflects an astounding ignorance of the general Protestant view of who is a saint, David Lee[s comment says it best – as the scriptures clearly indicate the sainthood of all true believers. It is somewhat startling that the author did not know this given his Baptist background.

  • Actually, when the Lutheran Confessions ask “Who are the saints?” the answer is “All believers in Jesus Christ, both those living on earth and those living in heaven.” There is not a strong theology of saints in the modern Lutheran tradition. Regardless of whether one recognizes “days for saints,” Lutherans speak of saints primarily as all believers and do not have a canonization process.

    The comment about Reformed or Presbyterian church’s traditions on saints is preposterous. Many Christians read Augustine, for example, but whether or not one reads Augustine has no bearing on one’s beliefs about his sainthood. If I had a dollar for every modern Western Presbyterian who has a theology of saints, I’d have a quarter.

  • There is a difference between the Pauline use of the word saint and the other use of the word saint by the church throughout much of its history. My position is not one of ignorance about the “general Protestant view” general but rather questioning or critiquing it.

    And I’m not exactly sure what a “Baptist background” has to do with anything. I am Southern Baptist, but the most recent iteration of our confession mentions saints exactly…drumroll please…zero times. Why? Because most baptists only use that word as a synonym for all believers. THAT is precisely what I’m critiquing.

    An adventure in missing the point…

  • Jan

    Praying with living spouse (where two or more are gathered) or petitioning a person who has passed??? Definitely not the same thing. Prove it by the Word of God.

  • James Stagg

    Good article, Mr. Merritt! Well reasoned and well stated. May St. Michael, St. Raphael and St. Gabriel guide you in all your work!

  • Jan

    Hmmm…didn’t know angels could be saints too! 🙂

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  • Brent

    No, that’s like asking a DEAD friend to pray for you. As in, necromancing. Deuteronomy 18:11

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  • Lee Bacchi

    Well, I am hoping that Catholics and Protestants can share some saints as well as each having their own peculiar ones.

  • Mark Rich

    Thanks for the great article, Jonathan! You’ve given me some great ideas for my sermon this coming Sunday on the wise vs. the foolish. Thanks!

  • maurice

    why is it so important to have special methods to communicate with God. Why is it so important that we need special people or methods to communicate with God. Are we humans so insecure about our relations with God that we need intermediares with God?. I have lived in this world for more than 80 years now and have seen so many methods of being special and exclusive and I have not seen anyone or anything that appeared to have a special avenue to the heart of God. Saints, evangelicals,reformists,traditionalists etc all seem to feel that they have the answer, but in the long run they all appear to fall short. So why dont we all try to be believers without the stage props? after all thats what Christ was trying to convey to us.

  • judy

    As said already “there is ONE GOD and ONE MEDIATOR between GOD and MAN, THE MAN CHRIST JESUS”. The Bible could not be more clear. No other man or woman MAY be a mediator between God and man.

    When we pray for others we ARE NOT mediators…we are asking our ONE AND ONLY Mediator, Jesus, to mediate because HE ALONE is able to hear the prayers of humans as He was able to read their minds when He was here on Earth…He alone knows our hearts…we are not able to mediate between God and man because we are all just sinful people, some of whom are saved, and none of us can communicate with one another SPIRITUALLY, which is what prayer IS. Only Jesus/God can see our hearts from where our prayer originates. Furthermore we could not die for another as mediator because our death is not worth anything…no man or woman has lived a sinless life except Jesus.

    While modern dictionaries SAY mediation and intercession are synonyms their meaning in scripture is not the same. A Biblical Mediator is not the same as an Intercessor. Jesus died an atoning death for us, the perfectly innocent lamb of God, free from sin, us making Him our Mediator. Under Him, and In Him, the ground is level at the cross, and we can only intercede for one another THROUGH JESUS…we cannot BE mediators.

    Also as noted above the BIBLE FORBIDS US FROM CALLING UP THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD so even asking dead saints to intercede for us is BLASPHEMY and Abomination. When Catholics ask the dead to intercede for them they are in fact praying to them or beseeching them, (as we pray to (ask or beseech) one another to intercede for us…but because they ask the DEAD to hear them they ARE involved in necromancy which is forbidden in Deuteronomy. 18:11 and it is ABOMINATION TO GOD. See the full text relating to this below:

    “9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth DIVINATION, or an observer of times , or an enchanter , or a witch , 11 Or a charmer , or a consulter with FAMILIAR SPIRITS, or a wizard, or a NECROMANCER . 12 For ALL that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. ”

    It is time for this teaching to be revealed to all men and not hidden any longer by political correctness. Roman Catholics need to examine these teachings and put them away as pagan falseness…Protestants do not need ‘saints’, they ARE Saints..ALL believers IN JESUS ARE saints…read your scriptures (New Testament) and you will see this is true. The Roman Catholic SYSTEM OF sainthood is NECROMANCY, NOTHING MORE and brings the just judgement from God…beware and turn from this insult to God…He will hear your repentance and will forgive but from now on go to Him through the ONLY Mediator He sent, Jesus and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and stop looking to living or dead men to save you…No one ever loved us people as much as our God…let us get this straight and, if necessary, repent and turn to Him…the ONLY true Shepherd of His Sheep and the ONLY King of His Kingdom.

  • Jan

    Thank you, Judy! Case closed.

  • maurice

    wow Judy such faith and determination, you sound as though you have personally checked in with God?. I agree with some of your comments about the RC church. They are struggling with edicts that were forced upon them hundreds of years ago, by the fanatics of yesteryear. The RC heirachy are aware of this and are trying to bring their faith regimen into the 22nd century. Certainly absolutism of the past brought about a weakening of the image of God the creator and Jesus being his only messenger. However I see this absolutism rearing its ugly head at present with the finality of evangelicals. We will all find out eventually. Me sooner than you I hazard a guess

  • maurice

    I am surrounded with the vagaries of the RC church, however its colourful and has glued together all the poor folks that suffered losses in the “Yolanda” tragedy (6,000 dead). As you will remember Karl Marx pronounced that “religion is the opiate of the masses”

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  • TM

    Just so you know, Catholics agree with you that there is only ONE mediator between God and man and that is Jesus.

    Let me make this one thing clear — the saints are NOT mediators and Catholics do NOT view them as anyone who can atone for sins. The Catholic Church has never taught that the saints may atone for us in the way that Jesus has made atonement for us. They cannot forgive our sins, they cannot change God’s will for us, they cannot heal us, etc.

    So what about them being dead? Surely that’s an issue because of the passage of scripture you quoted from Deuteronomy? Surely when Catholics ask the saints to intercede for them they are engaging in necromancy, right? The answer to this is an emphatic NO. When a Catholic asks a saint to pray for them, they are not engaging in necromancy for two reasons:

    1. Necromancy is indeed communicating with the dead, but for a specific purpose — divination, or telling the future. When the writer of Deuteronomy wrote this passage, he wasn’t thinking about our modern concepts of communicating with the dead where people do it for reasons of “finding peace” when a loved one has passed or just wanting to talk to a deceased loved one. The people who would have read this would have understood that to practice necromancy (or communicating with the dead) also involved trying to foretell the future or engage in some other kind of witchcraft. It is important when reading scripture to understand what the original author would have intended his audience to understand. Yes, the words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they must still be understood in the context of the history and culture of the people to whom they were originally written.

    2. When a Catholic asks a saint to intercede on his/her behalf, it is no different than you asking someone you know who is alive to intercede for you. Let me ask you a question: are those members of the Body of Christ who have died cut off from the Body of Christ on earth?

    Paul says in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded, that neither DEATH, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, SHALL BE ABLE TO SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That sounds like to me that death cannot separate us from each other as members of the Body of Christ because to be separated from the love of God would mean that one would indeed be separated from the Body of Christ given that Jesus Christ is God. If death separates someone from the Body of Christ on earth, then that means that either that Paul lied in Ephesians 4:4 (see verses 4-6 for more context) when he said that there is “ONE body” or that the person who has been separated from the Body of Christ on earth by their death is in hell. Furthermore, those members of the Body of Christ who have died and are in heaven are not truly dead. Consider the following scriptures —

    *Jesus says in Luke 20:38 that “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.” — Does this mean that when a person dies and goes to heaven that God is no longer God over them? That He only rules over the living? No, of course not. It means that although we die physically, our souls remain alive.

    *Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22 — “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” — The sin of Adam brought death into the world and because of his sin, we were cursed to die a physical death; however, Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly and his death was atonement for our sins so that even though we must still physically die, that is not the end of us. His atonement provided the means for our souls to remain alive for eternity and to live with Him in heaven. So through His sacrifice, we are all made alive. Our life on this earth is but a dim shadow of what is to come once we reach heaven. We are alive in body but not fully alive in the way that we will be when we see Him face to face. All of this means that those members of the Body of Christ who have gone before us in death are most certainly not dead, but alive!

    If you believe that we are not cut off from the Body of Christ in heaven and that those in heaven are perfectly alive in Christ, then why would you not ask them to pray for you just as you would someone here? It’s not necromancy or divination or some kind of witchcraft or sorcery. It’s asking a brother or sister in Christ to stand with you and pray with you about your needs. We don’t look to them to save us, just to help us out in the same way that we’d ask a physically alive friend or family member to help us.

    I hope maybe this helps clarify things a little bit and that you will prayerfully consider what I have said. Please read up on what the Catholic Church actually teaches regarding the saints. Many non-Catholics have a lot of misconceptions about what we actually believe because they’ve never investigated it or read it straight from the horse’s mouth. A good place to go is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a great basic reference as to what the Catholic Church believes about most everything. It’s not an exhaustive reference, but it’s a really good place to start. God bless you!

  • judy

    many good points but the fact remains that our faith is IN God not in one another. This focus and determination to communicate with one another is a good thing to a point, as far as bearing one anothers’ burdens, but our prayers are TO OUR GOD IN JESUS’ NAME…

    Yet at a recent funeral I heard a priest say, “until now we prayed for >>>>> now we can pray TO HER.”

    So despite what you have said, the understanding is serious error…and understand that the devils can mimic miracles…so having answers to prayers that are misdirected to the dead is no guarantee that these miracles were done by God…people of various denominations have gotten themselves into deep spiritual trouble by toying with spirits that are not of God…so be warned…

    I prefer to trust my soul and my prayers to the Triune God of Heaven ALONE…you must follow your conscience…and if you love God, your conscience will be moulded by the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit, not any church.

    The above lengthy ‘talk’ just convinces me of the ability of the Church of Rome to talk out of both sides of its mouth, saying one thing and the exact opposite in the same paragraph, so that the reader can take whatever part they believe and discard the rest…this pleases everyone except those who are aware of this tactic.

    without prejudice and hoping for the deliverance of all our souls

  • judy

    I have more comments later…in a hurry now…

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  • judy

    In reply to this comment: “Just so you know, Catholics agree with you that there is only ONE mediator between God and man and that is Jesus. – ”

    They do not practice this and therefore they do not agree with it…The Roman Church calls her priests “Alter Christus”…(other Christs). They call Mary “Mediatrix”… They call the Pope the “Vicar of Christ”…(a vicar takes the place of another)…these terms all indicate that they do not agree with me, as you say, or with the Bible.

    When they change their practices then we will see that they have actually come to agree with the Bible on this matter.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I know that drill from my time in-country:
    Those Romanists(TM) do X, so We Real True Christians have to do Not-X.
    No Popery, No Popery, Yadda Yadda Yadda.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    No Popery, No Popery, Yadda Yadda Yadda.

    Have a good time reinventing the wheel with every generation and every altar call.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’ll take the examples of the Saints — officially recognized Heroes of the Faith — over the SCRIPTURE = PARTY LINE, COMRADE I experienced in-country.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Don’t you know?
    God has Judy on speed-dial.
    I saw so many like her when I was in-country.
    Crossing the Tiber was like going over the Berlin Wall into the West.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    So what about them being dead? Surely that’s an issue because of the passage of scripture you quoted from Deuteronomy? Surely when Catholics ask the saints to intercede for them they are engaging in necromancy, right?

    Oh, I don’t know. Don’t you think a God who is outside of linear time can take after-the-fact prayers and apply them before they are prayed? And that to One who can see past, present, and future all at once, those “dead” saints are alive in their pasts?

    Didn’t one of the Epistles in the NT say “God is God of the living, not the dead — for all are alive to Him?”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Note all the ALL CAPS of SCRIPTURE(TM) and the chapter-and-verse zip codes after every proof text and paragraph. That does not leave a good impression.

  • Jan

    Judy, she is not just presented as Mediatrix, but also Co-Redemptrix.

    I was born and raised Catholic. I spent the first 8 years of my education in a Catholic school and 2 years in a convent school and YES, Mary was worshipped and put in the most central position of the faith. Except in the Mass and liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus was in the periphery of the faith being taught.

  • TM

    Pssst, read my entire thing 🙂 I agree with you.

  • When a Catholic asks a saint to intercede on his/her behalf, it is no different than you asking someone you know who is alive to intercede for you.

    It is indeed, as it is ascribing a power to hear virtually infinite amounts of mental or oral prayer in Heaven, which only God is shown able to have.

    It also ignores the manifest separation btwn the heavenly and earthly realm, and thus in contrast to God, any communication btwn created beings required both of them to be in one realm or the other, even if via a vision. And none were that of praising and making offerings to that entity from Heaven.

    It is also presumptuous to imagine, esp. for what is a common practice, that the Holy Spirit would utterly fail to provide even one example of believers praying/making supplication to created beings in Heaven when He has recorded over 200 prayers in the Bible (my count).

    OT believers/saints never prayed to angels or Enoch or Elijah, nor did NT believers pray to anyone in Heaven by God.

    And elders and angels offering prayers as a memorial to God, as in the OT, before the final judgment does not do it.

    Moreover, in the Lord’s own instructions on the manner of prayer He states, “Our Father who art in Heaven,” not “Our Mother,” and likewise the Spirit in believers cries, “Abba, Father,” not “Mama, Mother,” (Gal. 4:6)

    Meanwhile, the one persons shown making offerings and supplication to created beings in the heavenly realm are pagans, to the Queen of Heaven, which is the only one mentioned in Scripture. (Jer. 44)

    One would have a hard time in Bible times explaining kneeling before a statue and praising the entity it represented in the unseen world, and as having Divine powers and glory, and making offerings and beseeching such for Heavenly help, directly accessed by mental prayer.

    Moses, put down those rocks! I was only engaging in hyper dulia, not adoring her. Can’t you tell the difference?

  • judy

    Colossians 2:6-10 says it ALL:
    ” As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:7 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For IN HIM (CHRIST) dwelleth ALL THE FULNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY and ye are COMPLETE IN HIM, which is the head of all principality and power: ”

    Complete, perfect in Christ…get rid of everything else…we focus too much on ourselves…as Jude says:

    “And others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”. Jude 1:23 ..

    1 Cor 15:50:”Now this I say , brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”

    with additional comments from Psalm 115 1-8:

    “1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake….our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.5 They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:6 They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:7 They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.8 They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. ”

    We need Christ ALONE who only completes us.