Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

Know any good saints? 24 Oct 10

Know any good saints?

Are you sick of saints yet? They are a troublesome group. The church at Corinth was full of difficult saints according to Paul. But he made the astonishing assertion that although many of them had been amongst  the worst of the immoral, greedy and corrupt, they were nevertheless now in the group that God regarded as saints. Despite the fact that many of them were in conflict with Paul himself.

Paul had a different understanding of saints to the one we have been hearing about this last week. A saint was someone God had made holy by forgiving their sin because of the death of Jesus. Their sainthood had nothing to do with how well they behaved or what they did.

A century or so later, some of the martyrs were singled out and revered because of the extreme dedication they showed. After the persecutions died down others tried to copy their dedication by harming themselves in extreme ways to show their dedication.

In the middle ages some thought that  these “saints” and others, like the apostles, and especially Mary, had more merits than they needed to get to heaven. By definition, they were already in heaven and their spare merits could be applied to others to make up for what they lacked. New criteria were gradually developed to work out if a certain person was a “saint” in this sense – miracles were one of the requirements.

Not only could the extra merits be applied (by the Pope) to others (especially to help them out from what in the eleventh century developed into the idea of purgatory), but these saints could also pray for you, it was alleged, since they were in heaven.

The Reformation rightly opposed these distortions of the gospel. Our Anglican Church regards such things as “a fond thing vainly invented”, and “repugnant to the Word of God” (Article 22).

In truth there are millions of saints alive on earth right now. Everyone who trusts in Jesus’ death as the means for their forgiveness, and thus their holiness, is a saint.

And these living saints can pray for you. Because they have direct access to God by the Holy Spirit. Not saints in heaven, but saints on earth.

How many do you know? Have you asked any of them to pray for you? Have you offered to pray for any of them? Probably yes.

Would you like to pray specifically for one or two other saints? Would you like to join with others to pray for each other’s needs and friends? Who knows what miracles might follow.



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