The word saint has several meanings within the various denominations. According to the Catholic Church, a saint can be anyone in Heaven, who form the great cloud of witnesses. This can include any of our loved ones who have previously passed away. However, the title “Saint” is a person who has been formally canonized by the Church.
Do protestants believe in Saints? When speaking of the word Saint that other denominations pray to, the answer is no. Protestants do utilize the word saint in other variations, however, they do not believe in praying to the Saints, and term this as idolatry.
Variances of the word Saint
The term “saint” is used in many different ways within the various denominations.
When capitalized, Saints refers to a person who has been officially declared a Saint by the Catholic Church as a holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the Grace of God. These include individuals such as St. Michael the Archangel, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Christopher, and St. Catherine of Siena. Those who are in Heaven who were not formally canonized are titled “saints” because of the fame of their holiness.
Within the Catholic Church, a saint (lower cased) is anyone in Heaven- whether recognized on Earth or not. This includes our relatives and friends who have passed away- even those who have not always lived the perfect lives but who continued to move forward and proved pleasing to the Lord. So, the number of saints is immeasurable. The word saint can also denote living Christians and can be used as a term of endearment between individuals.
In the Protestant church, the word “saint” is used in a general sense to refer to Christians. This stems from Paul’s New Testament references to anyone within the Body of Christ, or those who are professing to be a Christian. He refers to them as “saints” in numerous places in the Bible.
Within the Protestant faith, “saint” can also be used to refer to a born-again Christian. This is within the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. So, for those of Protestant faith, this term can be used to refer to Christian individuals who are alive or dead and in various stages of their walk with Christ. They do not, however, acknowledge Saints.
Catholics Praying to Saints
The Roman Catholic Church supports intercessory prayers to Saints through their doctrine. This also plays an important role in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. There are some Anglo-Catholics who also believe in these prayers.
Intercessory prayers are an application of the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints. It is believed that martyrs pass immediately into the presence of God and can, therefore, obtain the graces and blessings for others.
Intercession and invocation are set forth by the Council of Trent which teaches us that,
“…the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliant to invoke them and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour.”
There are Intercessory prayers said to those saintly persons who have yet to be canonized. Evidence of the miracles that have happened as a result come into play when the formal beautification and canonization process takes place that make them Saints officially.
The Catechism states that the Saints are more closely united to Christ and that those who dwell in heaven fix the church more firmly in holiness. They do not cease the intercession with the Father for us as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men.
Some scholars within the Catholic Church have reinterpreted the invocation and intercession of the Saints with a more critical view toward the medieval tendencies of imagining the Saints in heaven distributing favors to those they wish instead of seeing devotion to the Saints as a means of response to God’s activity in us through these creative models of Christ-likeness. Most Catholics, however, believe that Saints bless everyone equally, and it is just necessary to pray to them and ask for these blessings.
Protestants take on Saints
Intercessory prayers are those prayers said on behalf of others to a deity. If we pray to Jesus, though He is part of the Trinity, we are using Him as a Intercessor to reach God. Praying to Saints is said to be similar in that they “pass” these prayers on to God.
Most modern Protestant churches reject the intercession of the dead for the living but are in favor of the intersession of the living for the living. Along those lines, Protestants reject the Catholic and Orthodox practice of asking the deceased saints to pray for them. The stated reasons are because it is communicating with the dead and dishonors Jesus.
Protestants feel that there is no need for a mediator to take their prayers to God. However, some ask the question how is this different from asking your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for you when the need arises? The Bible tells us to pray for others, but never explicitly tells us to ask others for prayers when we need them. So- is this Biblical? How do we know that God wants us to ask others for intercession and not the Saints?
The Argument for Prayers to Saints
Protestants feel that praying to Saints is wrong in that we need no intercessor between our prayers and Jesus. They have also stated that this is a form of idolatry. They feel that the Saints in heaven cannot even hear our prayers, so what is the point of praying to them? However, scripture shows that those in heaven are aware of our prayers. An example is given in Revelation 5:8 where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” So, if the Saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then obviously they must be aware of our prayers.
Some people have made the argument that in this scripture the prayers are being offered directly to God and not to the saints. Even if that is the fact, this only strengthens the fact that the saints can hear our prayers, even when they are directed to God.
This passage also shows that the Saints in heaven do actively intercede on our behalf. John tells us that the incense they offer to God are our prayers. This means that they are offering these prayers mentally or interceding for us. However, are these the prayers that we say to Jesus, or the intercessory prayers that are being said directly to the Saints?
Protestants also feel that intercession by the Saints violate the sole mediatorship of Jesus. Paul says: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). This scripture stands against Saints for the Protestant Church.
Asking a person to pray for you does not violate this mediatorship. Christ is the mediator between man and God because only He is both man and God. He is the only one who can bridge the two. Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant just as Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant. Praying to Jesus ensures that God hears our prayers.
The intercession of other Christians, which is what the Saints in heaven are, does not interfere with Christ’s unique mediatorship because in the four verses preceding 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul states that Christians should intercede:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and pleasing to God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1–4).
This shows these actions to be good and pleasing to God and not something that would anger Him.
Another argument is that God has forbidden contact with the dead. However, he actually gives us this permission. When He has Moses and Elijah appear with Christ to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). God is, instead, forbidding necromantic practices of conjuring spirits. (Deuteronomy 18:10-15).
This indicates that we are not to conjure the dead for the purposes of gaining information, looking instead to God’s prophets. This refers to having a séance as opposed to actually asking a relative who has passed to talk to Jesus for them. Of course, in today’s society we do not see a lot of seances being performed. So, what does this mean for us? Protestants would say this means not seeking out the intercessory prayers of the Saints.
Still another argument comes from the fact that Saints are people and not God. If millions of Catholics are praying to Saints, how can they hear and respond to all of those prayers if they are, essentially, human? God, being all powerful, has this ability. How can we believe that Saints do as well?
The answer to this argument is varied. Some remind us that Saints are no longer human, and heaven is not the same as earth. And, of course, Saints are not omniscient as God is, but through God willing it to be so, they are able to communicate with others- both in heaven and on earth. So, Catholics would argue, it is so because God wills it to be.
The biggest question that comes up is why would we want to pray to Saints when we can simply pray to Jesus? This brings the question back to then why would Christians ask other Christians to pray for them if they are praying directly to Jesus? If there is power in our prayers to Jesus and no mediator is needed, if praying to Saints mean nothing, then why do we ask others to pray for us? The most popular answer would be that there is power in prayer. Christians pray for each other- that is simply what they do.
Paul encourages Christians to intercede in many things and directly asks others to pray for him in several scriptures- telling them that he was praying for them as well. Jesus has also asked us to pray for others, and not just those who asked us to do so:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44 King James Version (KJV)
One would assume that since the Bible mentions praying for others so frequently, that it would be understood the simplicity in which one can communicate directly with the Creator. Why would there need to be prayers sent to Saints when we can speak directly with Him? One benefit may be that when we are weak and our faith is lacking, we can rely on the faith of the Saints to strengthen our prayers. Those who have ascended to heaven are now free of their earthly distractions and can be more devoted to God that those on earth.
“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit” (Jas. 5:16–18).
Christians in heaven are more righteous than those on earth since they have ascended, meaning their prayers would have more effect than those on earth. Christians on Earth, even if living a Godly life, still have the opportunity to sin. This means that the Christians who have ascended and have had their sins forgiven have become more pure and closer to God than those still residing on earth.
The Catholic Church encourages us to pray directly to Christ with our most pressing needs. The prayers said during Mass, which are the central act of Catholic worship, are directed to God and Jesus and not to the Saints. This does not mean, of course, that we should not also ask other Christians, including those no longer on earth, to pray with us as well.
Critics continue to worry that Catholics will go to hell by offending God with idolatry by praying to, lighting candles for and offering gifts to statues of Saints. They state that this goes against the Commandments. Most specifically:
- “You shall not have any other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
- “You shall not make for yourself an idol or any image which is in the heavens above or in the waters which are under the earth; you shall not bow down and serve them because I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:4).
By making statues of saints who they worship, they are also committing polytheism.
Critics also state that praying to saints are calling upon spirits of the dead, which is forbidden in many passages of the Bible. Since the saints are dead, anyone contacting them is breaking biblical laws. The Bible does not instruct the honoring of saints or requesting of their intercession and forbids keeping their relics. These are things that would be displeasing to God in the eyes of the Protestant Church.
Even the Catholic Church teaches that a Christian can only worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No other creature deserves such adoration. They reject the worship of anyone but God and reject the worship of statues, even of Christ or Saints.
The Church does allow praying to saints to ask for the intercession with God. It also allows ones to make statues to remind a person of Christ or Saints. Just as in the Bible the Old Testament where the Lord directed believers to make items that covered the Ark of the Covenant, and Moses making a Bronze Serpent to set upon a pole. These were not objects of worship, but symbols.
Regardless of the explanations of the Catholic Church, Protestants still feel that praying to Saints, in any capacity, is wrong. They feel that it borders on idolatry and that there should be no intercessor for your prayers to Jesus. They feel that those who pass and go to Heaven have no further bearing on our lives on earth and should not be a part of religious ceremonies or our day to day lives. If you ask a Protestant if they believe in saints, they will tell you that they are surrounded by saints, as that is what they refer to other believers as. So, in order to discuss Saints with them, you have to be specific. Of course, when you do, you may be in for a surprise at the feelings that they have towards the practice of believing in and praying to these canonized individuals.
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