“What on Earth are Good Protestants to do with Saints?” -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 44:0 (NA 2012)
Article: “What on Earth are Good Protestants to do with Saints?”
Author: David A. deSilva


“What on Earth are Good Protestants to do with Saints?”

David A. deSilva*

Protestant Christians, I have observed, tend to be uncomfortable when it comes to “saints.” “Saints” belong to our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, or to our Anglican and Episcopalian sisters and brothers who like to think they’re Protestant but really aren’t. Their churches are named after saints. Their churches are adorned with images of saints. Their liturgies speak of living worshipers joining their prayers with the prayers of “all the saints” who have gone before, who make intercession for us who still struggle in faith on this nearer side of death. This, in turn, only increases Protestant discomfort around “saints,” since, despite Jesus’ prayers for unity in his Church, there are still some pretty strong boundary issues between many Protestants and Catholics

Besides, as my Protestant brothers and sisters often object to singling out certain persons as saints, aren’t we all saints? Don’t the New Testament Scriptures consistently speak of all the redeemed together as God’s saints (e.g., Rom 1:7; 15:26; 16:15; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1, 15; 5:3;)? Doesn’t the practice of singling out certain people as “saints” more especially worthy of remembrance and attention violate the democratic ideal of the people of God? Perhaps, but let’s face it: Christ shines through some saints far more clearly and brightly than others. In this life in which we are constantly searching for reliable models of what Christ looks like when he takes on flesh afresh in his servants—of what it looks like when it is no longer a particular person who is living, but Christ is living through that person (Gal 2:19–20)—identifying those people through whom Christ shines through most brightly is of great value. Sacred places, the places to which people are drawn and whither they gather in the hope of encountering the divine, have been called “thin places” between earth and heaven. In a similar way, saints are “thin places.” More exactly, they are “thin vessels,” extra fine china through which the glow of the treasure of Christ radiates so strongly that it illumines our path as we continue forward (2 Cor 4:7).

I think it’s also very important that such saints be dead. While we li...

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