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What Luther Says

A Lutheran Response To Catholic Saints

Back to school for the kids (and even me!) as well as the start of a new job caused me to miss some pretty big news out of Catholicism recently.

Apparently, Mother Teresa was canonized a couple of weeks ago...

Mother Teresa Declared A Saint Before Huge Crowds In The Vatican 
Vatican City (CNN) Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who devoted her life to helping India's poor, has been declared a saint in a canonization Mass held by Pope Francis in the Vatican. Pope Francis delivered the formula for the canonization of the Albanian-born nun -- known as the "saint of the gutters" -- before huge crowds of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on Sunday morning. Applause broke out before he completed the formula of canonization, in which he declared "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint."

This is one of those areas where we Lutherans differ significantly from our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.

How so exactly? I mean, after all, we Lutherans do celebrate "All Saints Day" in Christ's Church. Isn't that the same thing as what Catholics do when they canonize (i.e., "make a saint") a person for sainthood?

Well, I found one Lutheran who attempted to broach this very same subject by suggesting that maybe we Lutherans are wrong on this.

Invoking The Saints (As A Lutheran) 
Of all the theological differences we Lutherans have with our separated brethren from Rome and the East, the issue of invoking the saints always seems to cause our “reformation” blood to boil the most. In my capacity as an Active Duty Army Chaplain it is one of the first issues my Protestant chaplain colleagues cite in their theological angst against Roman Catholicism. This issue is, and I’m not sure why, one of the most divisive issues that remains between our communions. But why? What is it about this practice that is so theologically offensive, or for that matter, biblically inconsistent? (And let’s be clear, no Christian of any stripe prays TO the saints. The practice has always been one that asks the saints to intercede FOR us to the Lord. It is Christ and Christ alone who answers our prayers.) 
I can understand why our Reformation forefathers thought it necessary to take on the cult of the saints. Devotion to the saints of the Church in the 16th century had clearly taken priority over the One on whom our faith rests, Christ Jesus the Lord. The focus of the Church’s practice at this time was not on the One mediator between God and man, but on those sainted figures who lived their lives in fierce devotion to this mediator. For several historical reasons, it’s not surprising that this turn of focus occurred. It is, I think, similar to the abuse concerning the sale of indulgences. And it is why those committed to the reformation cause fought so valiantly to reorient the Church’s focus to the blood of Christ shed on Calvary and not on the merits of the saints.

Now, I realize he came right out and admitted that he was only trying to start a discussion on the matter and nothing more. However, for me, personally, this is a clear cut, open-and-shut case (or, at least, it should be) since our Confessions are crystal clear.

Thankfully, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), shared this on his Facebook page, which echoes my sentiments on the subject...

A few thoughts from the Apology of the Augsburg Confessionon on the Day of the Canonisation of Mother Teresa.

4] Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, 
5] Matt. 25:21, 23. The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace 
6] truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. 
7] These true honors the adversaries do not require. They dispute only concerning invocation, which, even though it would have no danger, nevertheless is not necessary. 
8] Besides, we also grant that the angels pray for us. For there is a testimony in Zech. 1:12, where an angel prays: O Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on 
9] Jerusalem? Although concerning the saints we concede that, just as, when alive, they pray for the Church universal in general, so in heaven they pray for the Church in general, albeit no testimony concerning the praying of the dead is extant in the Scriptures, except the dream taken from the Second Book of Maccabees, 15:14. 
Moreover, even supposing that the saints pray for the Church ever so much, 
10] yet it does not follow that they are to be invoked; although our Confession affirms only this, that Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. But since neither a command, nor a promise, nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures concerning the invocation of saints, it follows that conscience can have nothing concerning this invocation that is certain. And since prayer ought to be made from faith, how do we know that God approves this invocation? Whence do we know without the testimony of Scripture that the saints perceive the prayers of each one? 
11] Some plainly ascribe divinity to the saints, namely, that they discern the silent thoughts of the minds in us. They dispute concerning morning and evening knowledge, perhaps because they doubt whether they hear us in the morning or the evening. They invent these things, not in order to treat the saints with honor, but to defend lucrative services. 
12] Nothing can be produced by the adversaries against this reasoning, that, since invocation does not have a testimony from God's Word, it cannot be affirmed that the saints understand our invocation, or, even if they understand it, that God approves it. 
13] the adversaries ought not to force us to an uncertain matter, because a prayer without faith is not prayer. For when they cite the example of the Church, it is evident that this is a new custom in the Church; for although the old prayers make mention of the saints, yet they do not invoke the saints. Although also this new invocation in the Church is dissimilar to the invocation of individuals. 
14] Again, the adversaries not only require invocation in the worship of the saints, but also apply the merits of the saints to others, and make of the saints not only intercessors, but also propitiators. This is in no way to be endured. For here the honor belonging only to Christ is altogether transferred to the saints. For they make them mediators and propitiators, and although they make a distinction between mediators of intercession and mediators [the Mediator] of redemption, yet they plainly make of the saints mediators of redemption. 
15] But even that they are mediators of intercession they declare without the testimony of Scripture, which, be it said ever so reverently, nevertheless obscures Christ's office, and transfers the confidence of mercy due Christ to the saints. For men imagine that Christ is more severe and the saints more easily appeased, and they trust rather to the mercy of the saints than to the mercy of Christ, and fleeing from Christ [as from a tyrant], they seek the saints. Thus they actually make of them mediators of redemption. 
Article XXI

This is most certainly true.

To summarize, here's a brief commentary from Rev. Eric Andersen that's comforting...

Commemorating The Saints 
Satan’s always working to confuse our theology. If he can’t knock us off the horse on one side, he’ll try to knock us off the other. He’s done a really great job when it comes to commemorating the saints. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say: “We’re Lutherans! We don’t commemorate saints! That’s too catholic!” But that would be to fall off the horse on the other side. Now, of course we don’t want to imitate the Roman error whereby we seek the so-called “merits of the saints.” Christ is the world’s Redeemer, the only mediator between God and man. To look to anyone or anything but Christ alone for salvation is crass idolatry. But that doesn’t mean we forget about the saints entirely. After all, we believe “…in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” don’t we? As Lutherans, in accord with the Church’s faith in every generation, we believe, teach, and confess that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to their calling (Augsburg Confession, 21). 
Remember, a saint isn’t someone we go to in prayer so we can get a little extra favor in God’s eyes or to get help in selling our house. A saint is one who has been made holy. This is what the Holy Spirit has done for you in Holy Baptism, where the flood of Christ’s own blood has made you holy, right, and good before your heavenly Father (LSB, 596; st. 4). We remember and give thanks to God for the lives of the saints every Sunday in the Divine Service when we gather at the Lord’s table with “angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven.” Who is that company of heaven but the saints? After we commune, we sing the hymn of Saint Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”). Next, we pray that the love of Christ would not only fill our own cup but runneth over, that we would live “in fervent love toward one another.” This is a prayer that we would regard and treat one another as saints. As St. Paul says, "So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).  
To despise the commemoration of saints is to sever our communion in Christ, to forget how indispensable are the other members of Christ’s Body. When we confess our faith in the communion of saints, we confess the vitality of our fellowship with one another, both with the saints who live here with Christ on earth and the saints who live with Him in heaven. Forgetting about the saints is just as bad as seeking their merits. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is just as bad as drowning the baby in the bathtub.

I hope you find that as helpful as I did.

At the same time, it's still a tricky topic, isn't it?

We all have a Catholic family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor who talks about praying to the saints and about asking the saints to pray for them, don't we?

I liked this response from another Lutheran Pastor...

Do not fall into the trap of slandering them, accusing them of intentionally worshiping the saints. Most priests will say that the “proper teaching” is that they are only asking the saints to pray for them. It’s kind of like asking a friend, so they say. Why not ask someone who is obviously closer to God than we are? Who can be closer than His Mom? If you read some of the prayers, you will note that many of them are very clear, saying things such as “pray to Christ for us” and “pray for us.” Some are a little more questionable and seem to ascribe power to the saints that Jesus ascribes to the Holy Spirit. I’d go with Jesus’ teaching first… How can the Saints have the divinity that belongs to God alone? But what do Lutherans think? 
In short, the answer is: The Scriptures do not cite any (positive) example of invoking the dead, they do not promise that the dead can help us or hear our prayers, and yet, Scripture is abundantly clear when it comes to invoking the name of the Lord, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). Why not simply trust in what Lord has said? Why not pray to Him as He asks us to do, teaches us to do (Our Father), and models for us in the life of Christ (Gethsemane, and more)? This has been the Lutheran position since the dawn of the Reformation. 
For an official source, see the document known as the Defense (or ‘apology’) of the Augsburg Confession. The Confessors state: Moreover, even supposing that the saints pray for the Church ever so much, 10] yet it does not follow that they are to be invoked; although our Confession affirms only this, that Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. But since neither a command, nor a promise, nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures concerning the invocation of saints, it follows that conscience can have nothing concerning this invocation that is certain. And since prayer ought to be made from faith, how do we know that God approves this invocation? Whence do we know without the testimony of Scripture that the saints perceive the prayers of each one? 11] Some plainly ascribe divinity to the saints, namely, that they discern the silent thoughts of the minds in us. 
-- Rev. Robert O. Riebau

Or, to put it another way, Rev. Gary Hall wrote that because a Christian is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then "all things" includes all the *saints* too, but let's remember that The Lord’s Prayer asks nothing of the saints, but looks to God for all things. So, while we can look to the saints as an example, we cannot look to them for aid and help.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, it's one thing for us to honor the saints that have gone before us (as we should), but something else entirely to pray to them for intercession on our behalf.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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