Veneration of the Saints has a long history in the church. Due to misunderstandings (cultural, interpretive, arrogance, ignorance), it has often been a source of claims of heresy and idol worship. It has been abused and misshapen into disguised pagan worship. In addition, there is also the practice in other religions and traditions that have a form of ancestor worship. While there is no question that veneration of saints and even ancestors has been twisted into false teaching, this is one of those many cases of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
This becomes significant as the stories of the saints and martyrs of the church are not (generally) part of Evangelical Protestant worship or practice. There are some minor exceptions. There was a popular song by Michael W. Smith about Cassie Bernall who was shot and killed because she would not deny Jesus to the shooters at the Columbine High School. There are some famous missionary stories such as End of the Spear about missionaries who died in the field, but whose murders later repented and turned to Christ. By and large, though, the concept of saints and martyrs is talked about in generalities.
Martyrs, in many respects, are easier to talk about than saints (though many saints were martyrs). The “romantic” concept of dying for one’s faith, especially here where we are free and protected, pervades Western Christianity. It’s not romantic for those who go through persecution and martyrdom.
Saints are harder. Part of this is the historical Protestant antagonism towards Roman Catholicism and the central place the Virgin Mary and the Saints have in Roman Catholic practice. Sadly, though, we (as Protestants) have lost 2 important things when it comes to how the saints fit into our practices.
First, saints are a great example to follow. Just like us, they aren’t perfect. Just like us, they try to be like Jesus but often failed. We can all say (and probably do) we can’t measure up to Jesus but it’s harder to say that about saints (though we still try). Their lives are also worth reading about as they had struggles just like we do, and they provided some of the greatest reflections on God.
Second, the legacy of saints is far-reaching. Many saints weren’t “official” saints, but that Sunday School teacher that put the seed of Jesus in our heart. It could be that believer that just loved you where you were at. It could be a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor whose life drew you to Jesus. When we recognize the legacy of saints, we often learn about ourselves, and we see more of God in us due to all the streams of faith that pour into our lives. This gives us not just head knowledge, but heart knowledge, and a place to belong.
1) What are your first thoughts when you think about saints? Why do you think that is?
2) Who are some so-called “real” “church” saints you can think of? What were they famous for? What do you think their legacy is?
3) Who are some “real-life” saints in your life? What made them that way? How did they change you?