Pseudo-Polymath wants to know, “If you do not pray to saints, why not?” He summarizes some of the reasons those who pray to saints do so. Most centrally (if I’m reading him correctly), one prays to saints to ask them to pray to God for us. Those who accept the practice often compare it to asking for a trusted Christian friend or advisor’s prayers.
He also suggests the following additional reasons to pray to saints:
- To keep alive the memory of one who proved by his or her life to be a holy person.
- To honor the image of God revealed in that person.
- To express hope that God’s image would be similarly manifested in oneself.
He concludes: “Is my [praying to saints] adiaphora or not for you!? If so, let’s talk about it.”
In fact, if this is an adequate summary of Ps-P’s practice, I have no objections to it. As I have written previously, I object to the wording of some traditional prayers to the saints that seem to grant them power in their own right to effect benefits that, properly speaking, only God through Christ can confer. As for Mary, Paul, Francis of Assisi—or Thomas Helwys or Lottie Moon!—joining their prayers with mine for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, I don’t see the big deal with that that many Protestants do.
My concerns are not christological but eschatological. Here is how I expressed it some time ago:
If we believe it is right to ask other believers to pray for us, the questions we need to settle with respect to the saints have nothing to do with the centrality of Christ or his role as God’s uniquely appointed mediator between God and humanity. Rather, the pressing questions are eschatological in nature. Do the righteous dead know what is happening on earth? Is their entire attention focused on a heavenly vision of God, so that earthly concerns are completely beyond them? Or do they exist in some sort of “twilight zone” or “time warp” in which there are no conscious thoughts at all between their death and eventual resurrection?
So, in answer to Ps-P’s question, first of all, I don’t pray to saints because I haven’t gotten my eschatology quite worked out. I suppose I probably should, but to be honest, systematic theology was never my strong suit. I’d much rather just read the Bible and believe in Jesus :-)
Having said that, however, I should admit that I see no problem praying a litany of the saints such as this one of my composing. (I might even be persuaded to use the traditional refrain.) I don’t know if such a prayer does anything in terms of enlisting the intercessions of the saints, but it certainly makes me appreciative of how God has worked in the lives of these holy men and women and inspires me to try to be more like them.
Second, and this is at least as important as the first point, I don’t pray to saints because nobody ever taught me how. My family has been rural Appalachian Baptist for eight generations. It was never even on the radar in my spiritual upbringing to ask the departed saints for their intercessions, so it never occurs to me to consider the possibility. From my frame of reference, praying to saints is kind of like eating sashimi: it strikes me as very unusual thing to do. If you love it, more power to you. And if a knowledgeable friend would lead me along—and the place checks out with the health inspector!—I would probably give it a shot.
So, here is a question in reply for Pseudo-Polymath (and anyone else who wants to chime in): What advice would you give an open-minded Protestant about baby steps into the practice of praying with the saints?
If you’ve been a Christian for the past ten or twenty years, you don’t need a cutting-edge sociological study to tell you that denominational identity doesn’t mean nearly as much today as it used to. People attend the churches where they perceive a good “fit” with the values, beliefs, and ministry opportunities that are presented much more often these days than they look for a familiar name on the church sign. That is not in itself a bad thing, although it can (and, sadly, often does) lead to a consumerist mentality that only wants what will “meet my needs.”
I’m one of the odd ones who cares about things like theology and spiritual heritage. I may yet change brands, but only for the most significant of spiritual reasons, and only because the long tradition of the new brand was compelling—not just the attractions of a particular local expression of it.
Does that make sense? I’m saying that if I ever decided to join XYZ Lutheran church, I think it should be because I have come to appreciate Lutheranism as such and not just because XYZ Lutheran church is a great congregation. Every denomination has great congregations.
Actually, my level of appreciation of several denominational families has grown to the point that I am almost persuaded to join them. Perhaps top on the list is the Anglican Communion. (My apologies to anybody who lost money betting on Rome.) Here are some of the things that draw me down the Canterbury Trail:
1. Deep Roots
Although the Protestant Reformation was spark that made the Church of England what it is today, Anglicanism has a deep sense of connection with its pre-Protestant roots. We see this in its forms of spirituality and worship, in the heroes they celebrate. Pick up a Book of Common Prayer and you’ll see commemorations of numerous saints from the ancient church, and especially ancient Britain.
2. Via Media
Part of the genius of Anglicanism is to try to find a middle way (Latin, via media) between Catholicism and Protestantism. Protestantism is at its best when it is thoroughly catholic. In fact, Protestantism is is grave danger of devolving into a cult when it is let loose from its catholic moorings (Jim Jones, anyone?) At the same time, Catholicism needs the scriptural critique Protestantism can provide.
3. Spiritual Inclusiveness
That is the terminology used on the Anglican Communion website to describe Anglican spirituality. It describes an attitude of openness to the possibility that God could be at work outside of conventional church structures:
Gregory advised his missioners … to conserve whatever they possibly could of pre-Christian—pagan, as some would label them—customs and beliefs. In other words, don’t anathematize: baptize! …. This involved more than a kind of cultural courtesy. Gregory the Great had grasped a principle ever since known to Anglican spirituality—even before there was such a thing as Anglicanism proper: that the Holy Spirit is not confined by or to various churches, but rather “blows where it listeth” (John 3.8). The pre-Christian religion of the Angles and the Saxons was not, then, a species of demon-worship to be destroyed and forgotten. It was, in its own way, a preparation for the Gospel.
I appreciate Anglicanism for trying to contextualize the gospel message over a thousand years before the first “seeker-friendly” church was started.
4. Ecumenical Engagement
The Anglican Communion has been an active ecumenical partner with Rome. They have also opened lines of communication with Baptists, Lutherans, Old Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Oriental Orthodox. They are, in fact, in full communion with many Old Catholic churches as well as the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India. This is in part the fruition of Launcelot Andrewes’ famous dictum, “One canon, two Testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period determine the boundaries of our faith.” To the extent that these efforts are centered on core gospel convictions and the earliest Christian practice as Andrewes enumerated, I applaud them all.
5. Liturgical Balance
Here, I want to make two brief comments. First, although Anglican worship is indeed liturgical, there does not seem to be much formalism, i.e., the sense that it must be done “just so” in order to be valid or proper. There is a degree of freedom in how the liturgy is performed, from Anglo-Catholics all the way to low-church Anglican Evangelicals. There are even charismatic Anglican churches, such as Holy Trinity Brompton, home church of the Alpha Course.
Second, the liturgy itself is both simple and (at least in the US and the UK) eclectic. Anglicanism maintains the simplicity and sobriety that has always epitomized the best of the Western/Latin tradition, while also looking Eastward for inspiration. (I’ve heard it said that every revision of the Book of Common Prayer has brought it in some sense closer to the practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church). The 1979 American BCP has half a dozen Eucharistic prayers in two Rites, with instructions for adding even greater variety into the order of service. There are also six forms for the Prayers of the People. I believe the new Common Worship resource of Church of England has at least as many options. While some of these are deemed unsatisfactory by some Anglicans, the Baptist in me appreciates the leeway given for diversity in worship styles.
6. The King James Bible
Yes, it has since been surpassed in accuracy by the discovery of far more reliable Greek texts, but the King James Version of the Bible is still a masterpiece of the English language. I’m not, however, listing the KJV for its literary excellence but for its approach to Scripture itself. The 1611 KJV included all the books found today in Roman Catholic Bibles, although it set apart those not found in the Hebrew canon (Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, etc.) in a separate section labeled “Apocrypha.” It was, in fact, a crime to publish a King James Bible in England that did not include these additional books! By including them, the King James translators maintained a link to their Catholic spiritual heritage; by setting them off in a separate section, they followed the lead of early translators such as Jerome who considered them “deuterocanonical.” They are there for our edification and, as the lectionary calls for it, they are read in Anglican churches to this day; but it is still admitted that they are of a different character than the books of the Jewish canon.
For an interesting take on the ecumenical challenges posed by the diversity of Christian Old Testament canons, see “On the Confusion of ‘Canon’” by Kevin P. Edgecomb.
(A side note: I really wish those who insist that the “1611 King James Bible” is the only English Bible of which God approves would be consistent and preach from a Bible that has all the books actually found in the 1611 KJV!)
7. And Finally…
A final point in Anglicanism’s favor is barely deserving of mention, but since seven is such a good, biblical number, perhaps I should include it. Before they found their way to America, Anglicanism was my family’s religious heritage. In fact, several of my forebears (back when they still spelled their name Percivale) were baptized at Manchester Cathedral in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even multiple-great-grandfathers can be wrong, of course, and if I really wanted to practice the religion of the vast majority of my ancestors, I would undoubtedly have to become a pagan! Still, there is a personal connection with the Church of England that might help make it feel more like coming home than abandoning my roots.
Since the purpose of this post is to praise Anglicanism, not critique it, I’ll stop here. I’ll refrain from sharing the reasons I prefer not to join the local Episcopal or Continuing Anglican church. Suffice it to say that, for the foreseeable future, Spitalfields remains preferable to Canterbury.
It looks like original sin predates the rise of Western civilization. The Ice Man was a murder victim. Christian theology would have predicted that any society composed of humans has dark, unpleasant aspects, but those who hold romanticized notions about “Old Europe” before the Indo-Europeans came and mucked everything up might need to clarify their views.
Actually, if memory serves I even read something similar in Walter Wink‘s Engaging the Powers. The book is in a box in my attic right now, so someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember an early chapter in which Wink traces the rise of what he calls the “domination system” in human societies and comes within a hair’s breadth of implying that these early, pre-Indo-European cultures were untainted by the Fall.
No, that’s not quite the way it works. “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). Not the bronze-age warriors who gave me my linguistic and cultural heritage, and not the neolithic farmers who provided the lion’s share of my DNA.
That’s why all of us need God’s grace.
(Also, on a somewhat related note, Native Americans didn’t always care for the natural environment, either.)
Well, sort of. The First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia was featured in this satirical feature: “TULIP VBS Brings Shocking Response from Parents.” If you knew anything about the “real” First Baptist Church, you’d bust a gut at the very possibility that Calvinism would take hold around here!
Actually, my wife ran the craft room at VBS, and I don’t remember her saying anything about total depravity or limited atonement. But then again, when they lock you away in the craft room, you don’t really know everything that’s going on elsewhere in the building…
I’m sure there will be a lot of FBC members suing the makers of Calvinix over this.
This month‚Äôs special topic is ‚ÄúAlmost Persuaded.‚Äù I‚Äôm challenging Carnival participants to confess something they admire about a different Christian group or denomination so much they they would almost consider changing churches. Let it be stipulated that we are all very happy in our own faith communities and that our deepest theological convictions would keep us from going anywhere else. But whom do you see doing something so right that, if other more crucial matters could be resolved, you‚Äôd likely find yourself drifting their way?
If you have written (or intend to write) a blog post on this or any other topic pertinent to reconciliation among Christians, let me know.
This effort will almost certainly fail, which may well be the most compelling reason to make the attempt, as visibly as possible. It is the kind of thing people should link to every time there are stories of mosques opening with great fanfare in Rome or other important historically Christian areas and speakers go on about “religious freedom and tolerance.”
(H/T: David Koysis)
Check out Kim Fabricius’ “Ten Propositions on Faith and Laughter” over at Faith and Theology. Be sure as well to check the comments. Along with Jesus Creed, Faith and Theology has some of the most astute commenters in the godblogosphere.
For the record, I’m in total agreement with Michael (must be at least three times this year!): “Never trust any preacher or theologian without a sense of humor.”
|You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan,You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists|
I took this quiz a little over a year ago. I still think some of the questions are worded strangely, and I still wish there were a “Baptist” category (and an Anabaptist/Mennonite and an Eastern Orthodox and an African American Protestant, etc….). Still, it’s probably mostly accurate.
For anyone out there who aspires to write adult Bible study curriculum, here are some things you really, really ought to keep in mind:
1. Don’t give me super-Christians. Tell me about how the people in the Bible struggled with real problems, like the problems people face today. Life isn’t a sitcom and tough issues can’t be resolved in thirty minutes. Don’t submit lessons that imply that they can be.
2. Two words: Word count! By its nature, curriculum writing has to be very disciplined. There are a certain number of pages available and you have to fill all of them—no more, no less. Please at least pretend to have read the writer specs I send you.
3. Don’t try to impress me with your large vocabulary. I don’t impress that easily. And at any rate, I’m not your audience, Sam and Sally Christian are. Their eyes glaze over if you hit them with one too many eschatologicals, ramifications, or juxtapositions. Just write plain English.
4. Give me a full bibliographic citation of anything you quote. You know, page numbers? I’m sure you’ve heard of them. And while we’re on the subject, don’t try to tell me that the editor of your favorite Bible dictionary actually wrote the entry on “Mephibosheth” you’re citing. I know better.
5. Just tell the story. Don’t get bogged down in “matters of introduction.” I’m sure the comments on the authorship of Ephesians you dug out of your old seminary class notes are dead on, but be honest: you haven’t used them since you graduated, have you? You have precious little space to work with (see #2 above); save it for telling me something substantive about the assigned text.
6. Trim, trim, trim. Phrases like “Paul wanted his readers to understand that…” can almost always be deleted in their entirety. If you do it, I won’t have to.
7. Teach me something. May I be frank with you? I’ve read all these passages before. I read them in developing the scope and sequence and I gave them another cursory glance while preparing your writer specs. I know what the basic thrust of the texts are, but I want you to have looked at them more carefully than I have. Show me something I missed. You’ll get my attention—and probably another assignment down the road.
This message is a public service announcement. It has not been precipitated by any writer whose work I am currently editing. Honest!
Here is the worship script for last night’s “vespers” service [along with my annotations]. As I said previously, the theme was feeding the hungry, with particular emphasis on our church’s Crisis Closet ministry. For reasons I’m not quite sure I understand, we drifted into a service with a rather “Celtic” feel in terms of texts and music.
Also, I was not terribly surprised when‚Äîyet again‚Äîa Baptist experiencing this kind of Communion service for the first time described it as “the most meaningful Communion experience I’ve ever had.” It’s really not that hard to do a “meaningful” Communion service in Baptistland, seeing that we usually do it so poorly :-(
Anyway, for those who may be interested, here is what we did.
[We gathered around tables in the fellowship hall, which helped the entire service feel more like a meal.]
Refreshments and Fellowship
Hymn: ‚ÄúLet All Things Now Living‚Äù (Tune: ASH GROVE)
Words of Welcome
Special Music [Acoustic guitar. Touching lyrics, sung by someone who believed them. Wow.]
[Exodus 16:13-26; followed by the traditional dialogue:]
The word of the Lord!
Thanks be to God!
Acclamation (Tune: We Will Glorify)
Hallelujah to the King of kings, Hallelujah to the Lamb;
Hallelujah to the Lord of lords, who is the great I Am.
Matthew 14:13-21. I might have gone with the response, “Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ!” but decided not to push the issue. We used the same congregational response as with the first reading.
[Sylvia, the coordinator, spoke about our church's Crisis Closet ministry.]
Affirmation of Faith
I believe that bread comes from grain that grows in the wind and the rain with the farmers‚Äô help far from the eyes of city folk.
I believe that bread comes from love: the love of God, the love of the farmer, the love of the baker‚Äôs hands, the love of those who bring it to me.
I believe that bread can be and should be broken and shared and given to all people until all have enough and then some.
I believe that Jesus loved bread and took it and broke it and blessed it and fed his disciples and asked them to feed us forever.
I believe enough in bread to want it from Jesus, to want it to nurture me, to want his life through it, to want to give life through it.
I believe that his body as bread feeds me and as part of his body I want to be bread for others.
I believe the Spirit will help me as will the people of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn: ‚ÄúAll Who Hunger, Gather Gladly‚Äù (Tune: HOLY MANNA)
All who hunger, gather gladly, holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering. Here in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness, all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal. Taste and see that God is good.
All who hunger, never strangers; seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming. Here, in joy, we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered in communion‚Äôs love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal. Taste and see that God is good.
All who hunger, sing together; Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing. Here, in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from this table live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal. Taste and see that God is good.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts!
We lift them up to the Lord!
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
[The Eucharistic Prayer is drawn mainly from Ray Simpson's Celtic Worship through the Year. I prefer to offer the Prayer extemporaneously, so I can't guarantee this is exactly what I said, but it is what I was aiming for:]
High King of the universe,
you brought forth the earth;
you breathe wisdom into all your creatures,
until we reflect your love.
With grateful hearts we cry out
to your tender Lamb,
slain before the world began,
perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Who, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread, gave you thanks, broke it
and gave it to his disciples,
saying: Take, eat, this is my body,
which is given for you.
After supper he took the cup, gave you thanks,
and said to them: Drink, all of you;
this is my blood of the new covenant
which is shed for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Therefore, Heavenly Father,
with this bread and wine
we remember the life our Lord offered for us.
By the power of your Holy Spirit
may these gifts be for us Christ‚Äôs body and blood.
Feed us with the bread of heaven;
may we become drunk with your holiness,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord‚Äôs Prayer
And now we pray as our Savior taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, etc.
[We received the bread individually, then held our cups until all could receive at once after reciting together the following:]
He gives bread to the hungry,
And to the thirsty, water from the living spring.
Words of Dismissal
Heaven is entwined with earth. Alleluia! We have taken the divine life into ourselves; therefore we may boldly say:
I rise up clothed in the strength of Christ.
I shall not be imprisoned,
I shall not be harmed;
I shall not be downtrodden,
I shall not be left alone;
I shall not be tainted,
I shall not be overwhelmed.
I go clothed in Christ‚Äôs white garments;
I go freed to weave Christ‚Äôs patterns;
I go loved to serve Christ‚Äôs weak ones;
I go armed to rout out Christ‚Äôs foes.