Sunday, January 29, 2006

I Believe in the Communion of Saints

Well, well, well.

First off, some background of the discussion:

The Original Thread about St. Joe

Recent Comments on the Saint Joseph Statue, near the bottom.

Second off, A, thanks for your spirited defense of my monotheism. Ecclesiastes 4:11

Third off, Mr. B., welcome to the Grenz. You are obviously new here. I have to admit - I am so relieved that you are some random person in cyberspace who happened upon my little blog. If you had been another friend that I had offended out of my life, I am not sure I could have borne it. So many people, it seems, get so woomped up about what I do and say. It hurts so badly sometimes to have people jump to conclusions and to judge me without even the common courtesy of a conversation first.

Just a week or so ago, I had a friend ask me about why St. Joe was on my blog. I explained it to her, and she got the joke and ended up laughing along with me. It's amazing how suspending judgment lubricates relationships!

That said, here are some further thoughts.

I have deep and growing appreciation for traditions other than my own and will try to remain very slow in labeling them "idolaters." The fact of the matter is that if you add up Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Christians, the majority of Christ-followers throughout the history of the Church have had a reverence for the saints that goes beyond anything American evangelicals have.

From my limited (and willing to be taught) understanding of the doctrine of praying to the saints, I find it intriguing but not compelling. My basic understanding is this - No person of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican traditions sees the saints as gods. (Set aside the question of Mary for a moment). If they did see, St. Francis or St. Joseph, for instance as gods, that would certainly be idolatry, but they don't, and so it's not.

Rather, they see the saints as having two things: 1) an area of concern, like St. Joseph has for the homeless, and 2) access to God. It seems prudent, then, to ask these saints to give voice before God to their concern.

Logically, how is this any different from any evangelical prayer meeting? I have often been asked to pray for people's needs. Why? Because, as a pastor, people think (misguidedly) that my prayers get through better than other's. If my prayers get through, how much more so would Jesus' own father?

The biblical grounding for such a practice is the language of Hebrews 11-12 and the crowd of witnesses that surrounds us on our journey of faith.

Like I said, I find this intriguing, but not compelling. What I find compelling is that there is not a single incident of imploring the saints in the Bible. And so, I don't pray to saints.

Ultimately, with all historic, orthodox Christians through the ages, I affirm the Apostles' Creed, which includes the phrase, "I believe ... in the communion of saints." (Whatever that means, right?)

All that said, let me conclude with one more comment. I don't know how to handle everyone's expectations for my life, theology, and behavior. I am sorry - more sorry than anyone knows - when I offend someone. But I cannot live with anyone as my God, but the Father who chose me. I can't follow anyone's example, but my Lord's who saved me. And I cannot have anyone's voice in my head, but the Spirit's who seals me. I am so incredibly thankful that he is more forgiving of my missteps and misspoken words than many of his children are.


A said...

Yeah . . . what he said.


A said...

Kind of ironic that I was the first one to ask the *question* about praying to anyone but the Trinity in the original thread. I had forgotten about that.

Mr B said...

MR B here,

The basic problem about praying to saints as I see it is that they are viewed as an intercession. That is if you pray to St. Anthony that you lost something, he then goes to the heavenly father on your part and asks for help. That intercession role is Jesus' and putting someone else in that role is idolatry.

What about praying to Mary?

Secondly we are using statues and beads to pray, that is praying to a made made object (fashioned by man that is) instead of praying in the spirit with the Holy Spirit to the Heavenly Father. Finally I think we are starting to see the end results of praying to icons as the orthodox church calls them, and that's the veneration of mary. As I'm sure your aware of, there is a move within the catholic church to put her on equal footing as Jesus. I think they're calling it A co-redemprix but I could be wrong.

I may be seeing things black and white and I leaped before I looked on the other thread to which I have asked for forgiveness. While it doesn't seem Mr. A is accepting it, I ask for forgiveness from you. While you cannot live your life in fear of others, you do need to avoid area's that can lead to others to sin. We may disagree on this one issue, but I thought it would be safer to remove a link then risk finding out later from the Lord that some of his lambs fell into sin because of. Is it likely probably not, but if it were me, I'd rather not take a chance in disappointing the Lord. I made an allusion to posting to an adult site in a prior comment, it may have gotten lost but its appropriate here. That is, would you post a link to one of those adult sites, I don't think so - why because its blatant sin and you don't want to be included in that, nor do you want to cause someone else who may have a problem there to fall into sin. What's the difference between that and not praying to God but to a dead person who cannot help you.

Robb said...

Mr. B,

Thanks for the comments.

You say that putting anyone in the intercessory role in prayer is idolatry. What about asking another living-on-earth person to pray for you, like in prayer meeting? That certainly isn't idolatry. But consistently applying your logic, it would be, right?

I think you have set up a strawman argument that is easy to blow down. No one is praying to a statue, but rather praying to God and asking living-in-heaven peopel to do the same. The St. Joe statue, in fact, gets buried upside down under your for sale sign. (You don't find that image amusing?)

Your adult site example seems like apples and oranges to me. Presuppositionally, I don't see asking a saint to pray for you as sin. I don't think it's a very profitable activity, but I don't think it's sin. And so, the very funny and absurd St. Joe link will stay on the Grenz until our house in Michigan sells. (If you feel so strongly about this, you could always buy our house in Michigan and speed up the removal process!)

Also - about your previous post about forgiveness. I certainly offer you my forgiveness for harshly condemning me before you waited for my answer to your question. I hope your love will cover the multitude of my sins as well.

Sandy Mc said...

Well, this is probably an *unwelcome* comment because I know as men you must *defend*...but I am wondering whether "good" was done in equal measure with the time and energy invested in this "discussion" Mr B, if you are around, maybe you may go first.

Let's look at this in response to the log in the eye story... I am looking for encouragement today.

jayrod said...

well. i feel this is as good a time as any to jump in.

Robb, i found your blog about a year ago because we both share a great admiration for the late great Stanley J. Grenz. i stop by daily. you never let me down.

a short introduction:
I'm a Texas boy, born and raised. I am a student at Truett Seminary. I'm studying Theology and Pastoral Ministry. At a time to be determined later I hope to find myself with a PhD in Philosophical Theology teaching at the University level and pastoring a small house church. i am most certain that doing so could make me happy.

i grew up Catholic. For now, i imagine you would find me somewhere in the middle of the abyss that is Catholic and Protestant diaogue. While i dont think that makes me any kind of authority, i believe it affords me a more considerate perspective.

while i won't address the issue of what i think about mariology or the intercessions of the saints, i will make a brief comment about the assumptions being supported by Mr. B.

Mr. B,
While i know you might not be the popular kid at this particular blog (i do most definitely applaud your desire to offer perspective), i am more than certain that you are not a lone ranger in regard to your sentiments involving certain practices within the Catholic faith. In other words, i am saying that it is a prevalent practice among Protestants to take such a stance as yours. Which unfortunately i believe is by all means:


i'm not sure, but did you equivocate linking an adult website to Robb's linking of St. Joseph in the sense that they both lead someone to fall into sin? there has to be better examples than that...

sweet lord... do you really think you have it all figured out? You do understand that with a few clicks on your keyboard you declared the Catholic Church to be an institution founded upon sinful practices. A practice which by the way has been proof texted in scripture many times (which i will admit is open to interpretation) and as well supported by the likes of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine (to only name a few whom you might be familiar with because these boys were also integral in formalizing the canon of scripture that you hold near and dear). But you however thought their ideas and beliefs were analogous to porn.

somebody phone the pope, mr. B's got some insight...

there is deep, thoughtful, practical and dare i say prayerful reasoning behind the intercession of Saints as it is practiced by many faithful Christians throughout the world. you should seriously take that in to consideration next time you speak, because as a follower of Jesus i would hope you aren't that exclusive when it comes to how you interact with the world.

i unfortunately do have more to say when it comes to this conversation, but for the sake of our sanity in this ragid community of believers i must get back to the real reason for turning on my laptop: an essay on biblical inspiration.


Robb said...

Sandy, I am sorry this thread seems like a macho waste of time to you. Sometimes that's what men do best.

Jared, welcome. You are among friends.

Robb said...

Jared, as I have posted today, my knowledge of the details of the Catholic doctrine of the intercession of the saints is sketchy at best. If what I have said is an inaccurate portrayl, would you mind giving all of us a short primer? I would love to learn from someone in the know. Thanks.


courtney said...

okay, I'm adding my two cents because as a Prod. married to a Catholic, this has certainly come up in discussion....First of all, the veneration of Mary is something that primarily was generated by a blending of cultures in the Hispanic church (and if you understand how women are treated in some of those cultures, you would understand why). Any Catholic who is a real, honest to God practicing Catholic doesn't in any way condone the worship of Mary. It's like when some over-exuberant Pentacostal church goes over the top and totally forgets the two other memebers of the trinity (in a way). I'm rather suprised by Mr. B's take on the use of statues and beads by the Catholic community and wonder if he's ever used praise music to meditate or the use of the cross in his home to remind himself of the Ultimate Sacrifice? man made items to be sure. The rosary is a means of meditation, a focus tool if you will. ANYTHING can BECOME an idol when used in the practice of worship---it is the age old problem of what happens when you include man into anything--it gets screwed up. But, I have to say, I'm getting pretty sick of berating the Catholic Church for practices that we (as PRod's) are guilty of too. Have doctrinal discussion, absolutely. Paint an entire body of people out of the picture, are you crazy? I've been in Baptist Churches that were more guilty of idolatry and witchcraft (see Galatians) than many a Catholic church. grace grace grace for God's sake and ours!!!!

Sandy Mc said...


I know what you said is sad but true ;) hope my *giggles* came through. I guess my comment was more aimed at guys who spend time going on time consuming web searches to find people to attack. Carry on...

Robb said...

Court, I was hoping you would chime in on this one. Your experience certainly gives you a lot of insight.

I think all traditions have to be careful of the unintended consequences of their beliefs or practices. It is easier, however, to see the flaws in someone else's system rather than your own.

Weaves said...

I probably should've just stayed away from all this but...

Now I feel guilty for being anonymous all this time. I am Paul Weaver/Weaves/Rocket Weavesmail. I was a huge fan of Rocket Ismail when he played at Notre Dame. We had season tickets back then.

The biggest reason I come to this site is because Robb makes me think. Do I always agree with him? See my comments, I apologize for anonyminity of them, on the Eminem post. I love to be challenged to think even if I don't agree.

St. Joe has bugged me. But in all truth so does the cross that hangs at the front of our church especially when someone points at it when referring to Jesus. I'm not a fan of having some symbol represent God, like any symbol could come close even one as impressive as the cross. I know St. Joe is not doing that here. I know St. Joe is a joke. I do think it's absurdly funny that some people bury him upside down in their yard. And I think it's funny when someone crosses themselves when a person is driving a car crazily. So I get the joke. The reason St. Joe has bugged me is I was afraid that the joke wasn't clear.

One last thing. Praise music was commanded by God. None of the rest of these things were.

So I'm posting this as Weaves to get over the anonymous issue. It will include a link to my boring blog which anyone is welcome to view. But after this I'm going back to being "rocket" because I'm still a fan.

A said...

Welcome Weaves. I think we'd all agree that Robb makes us think. I think that is the point. This blog has many purposes. One is to engage in dialogue together to find truth. None of us have all the answers, but together we get closer. As long as those who engage in the discussion are really thinking, and approaching whatever the topic du jour is with an open mind and fair spirit towards others, all is good.

It just didn't seem fair to have an attack that most of us perceived as unwarranted levied by someone anonymously who didn't seem to really want to engage thoughtfully in a give and take in the realm of ideas.

Glad you're here, no matter what name you post under.

Mr B said...

Looks like I'm the sole voice in the wilderness regarding this issue. Does this mean I’m wrong in this, perhaps. I’ve been wrong on a lot of items and I have a lot to learn in being a disciple of Jesus.

Unlike what Mr A said “someone anonymously who didn't seem to really want to engage thoughtfully in a give and take in the realm of ideas.” I do, and have continued the conversation but it seems Mr A stills seems angry with me even though I have profusely apologized. I did my part in asking for forgiveness, if he fails to respond that is his problem. I was biblical in coming forward and stated that I had sinned.

I have since tried to engage in a thoughtful give and take debate as to why I think praying to saints is.

I do appreciate all of the input and postings regarding this issue but I'm unconvinced. Perhaps I'm looking at this purely in a black and white perspective and life itself is seldom black and white.

First as I have offered, there is only one who will intercede to the Father and that is Jesus. This is quite different then asking someone else for prayer. Doing that in essence is having another individual bring the request(s) to the Father through the son. But praying to a saint (if I understand the concept) means he then petitions the father on your behalf. Where is Jesus in then that act? 1st Timothy 2:5 comes to mind: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men.” Also John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” While this is dealing with eternal life, I think its appropriate that understand that we cannot approach the Father unless we are covered by the Blood of Jesus. We approach the Father using his righteousness not that of a saint.

As for justifying the prayer to saints using Hebrews 12:1 (and including Hebrews 11) it only states that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. By faith (Hebrews 11) many servants of the Most High did amazing things and looked forward to the coming age which we are now in. I do not see any reference to having them petition our needs to the Heavenly father. In fact Hebrews 12:24 states “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” Again in this chapter it is showing him as the only mediator between man and God. Are we to go around this mediator to the Father using someone else?

I question the act of putting someone else in front (or in place ) of Jesus and isn’t that people are doing when asking St. Joseph to help sell their house, or St. Anthony to help them find a lost item? At the very essence why aren’t the prayers through Jesus and the holy spirit good enough that people feel compelled to pray to another sinner? What additional action could asking a saint do what we cannot, as sons of the Most High can enter into his presence by the blood of Jesus. Romans 8:26 tells us the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us, if we have his spirit doing that why should we pray to a created being instead of the creator?

As for the statement of using a man made item as a focus tool is definitely walking on a slippery path. It can be done, but others have slipped. It is true putting anything in front of the Lord is idolatry be it an object like a statue, or material possession or even a person. But using a man made object to help your prayer life is risky. Isn’t that what we have the Holy Spirit for? Helping us pray to our Heavenly Father? Additionally the old testament is repleat with condemnations and the early church (AFAIK) never used rosary beads or wooden crosses. If those first generation Christians some of who walked with Jesus didn’t use/need them why do we? Finally lets look at the prayer life of those early Christians. Do we find the Apostle Paul asking King David for help with the thorn in his side. Or did the apostle Peter pray to Jeremiah when he was locked up in jail?

Now as for the comments that in a few clicks I have condemned the catholic faith is funny. While there are true Christians in the catholic faith and I believe the God the Father is using that denomination as he is others, that doesn’t mean there are not facets to that denomination that are wrong. I can also make that same argument with Baptists, Assembly of God, and others. The church is made up of sinful imperfect people and the institutions show that. Just because many people practice something doesn’t justify the rightness of it.

A said...

Mr. B,

After our spirited exchange last night and a good night's sleep, I decided to forego any further back and forth as it seemed unlikely to produce any productive or positive results and it is not my desire to promote discord and strife.

Others have put forth their thoughts today, contributing to a larger discussion, and that now has a life of its own.

As far as me being angry with you or not accepting the forgiveness you put forth, I was never angry nor did I think you did anything toward me that required an apology. I beleived your initial statements regarding Robb engaging or promoting idolatry and being offended by the presence of the St. Joseph link are probably worthy of seeking forgiveness from Robb. But I have nothing against you personally or otherwise, I was simply advocating on behalf of a dear friend who at the time needed a little support. Maybe I was being St. Joseph for him. (Yes, that was intended to be a joke.)

Sandy Mc said...

I am going to share a couple things too, even though the wisdom here probably puts me out of my league. I do want to state upfront that my husband was "born Catholic" though has since accepted Christ. My brother-in-law professes to be Catholic too (minamally practicing) well as my great aunt and uncle. I love all these people, and have a great a admiration for anyone who sincerely practices their faith as that seems to be a step up from all the religious posers out there.

That said, I would like to ask a couple things. Even with the Bible and our ability to "know God" from the text contained in it, how can we REALLY ever humanly know the answers to the questions being pondered here? Robb and A...being emergent thinkers, what is the direction one who aspires to such thinking should take? I am wondering if the "agree to disagree" model is the only answer here.

Seems to me the "basic problem" Mr B stated in his first post in this thread reflects a deeper issue. I would toss out this: for those people who personally know so little about the true Biblical message regarding Jesus as their one and only intercessor...can we really hope that they know enough to RECOGNIZE their prayers through other *methods* as idolatrous?

Maybe we should all stop and pray for them.

Robb said...

Mr. B,

You are right - I don't see theology in a strict "black and white" sense. My thinking about how to categorize theological beliefs has been deeply influenced by -shocking- Stan Grenz. In thier book Who Needs Theology? Grenz and Roger Olson suggest a three tierred approach to theology. I have adapted it a bit and come up with this:

There are certain theological beliefs that have been affirmed by all Christians everywhere throughout the ages. I call these Christian or core beliefs. They would be at the center of three concentric circles. If you deny them, you are no longer an orthodox Christian. My list of essentially Christian beliefs would be very short: the Trinitarian Nature of God (which includes the diety of Jesus); the Gospel Story of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and eventual return; the Truth found in Jesus, as witnessed to in the Bible, God's inspired and authoritative word; the Transformation of our lives when we come to Jesus by grace through faith; and the Hope of life everlasting.

Secondly, there is another circle of beliefs that I call Confessional. These are beliefs that bind churches together. Logically, it only makes sense for believers who affirm similar things to worship together. In this circle are significant and important but non-essential doctrines such as mode of baptism, charismatic gifts, church polity, etc. Orthodox Christians can disagree on these things in a loving way, but it just wouldn't make sense for them to have church together.

Thirdly, I think that there is an outer circle of beliefs I call Convictions. These are beliefs that different Christians can have, but it does not necessitate them parting fellowship in any way. Bible version preference, music preference, order of salvation, and other issues would fall into this category. You and I can disagree on these, argue about it, but still sit together in worship on Sunday with all the grace and truth we can muster.

I am not sure where the veneration of the saints would fall in this structure for me, probably in the second, Confessional, category. I agree with just about all of the biblical reasoning you have put forth. I just don't think it is that big of a deal. If another believer in Jesus wants to address a saint, I basically think he is wasting his time and should cut to the chase with Jesus himself. But I also do not think it is a matter of idolatry nor something that requires my condemnation.

There is that old adage about majoring on the majors, and I just don't think the saints issue is a major.

Does that make sense?

courtney said...

Robb, thanks for the clarifications with the 3 levels. This discussion has taken on a life of it's own in the pastry shop this week with my assistant, not just dealing with the issue of saints but also how to oversee the differences between us to act as one body in Christ. The need to deliniate between the essentials and the preferences has never been more important to believers than now. my comment on praise music wasn't about whether or not it was commanded by God, so much as the fact that it is a tool that--as someone living in the Music City--I have seen take on it's own form of idolatry. point being, God-ordained tool or not, Satan is alive and kickin' and can be pretty sneaky in tripping us up even when we are SURE we're doing the right thing....okay, croissants are ready