Did Protestants discard the idea of saints?

A saint in everyone

The Rev. Perry Sukstorf, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Mo.: While the term Protestant has had many different meanings, connotations and definitions over the years, this question of the saints, specifically the acts of venerating and praying to them, was one of the touchstones that sparked the Reformation of the 1500s.

Upholding the faith and life of an exemplary Christian is a good thing to do. But by the Middle Ages, the common people thought sainthood was beyond their grasp. Being a saint was no longer about one’s faith in Christ, but about the outward works and life of a believer and whether they were blessed with a miracle.

But reformers saw in the Scriptures that this sainthood belonged to all the faithful, not just a few.

In fact, Nov. 1, All Saints Day, is a prime example of how all of Christendom remembers those who have died as believers in Jesus. And so the reformers used that existing feast day in the church to educate their people and to give them hope again, to assure them that their faith was not in vain.

“Simul justis et peccator” (at same time saint and sinner) is the Latin phrase used over and over in the reformers’ writings to explain how a sinner, when simply baptized through water and the Word, is actually washed clean by the blood of Jesus so that God sees not the sinner, but the saint. In the Lutheran expression of Protestant Christianity that I believe in, we see the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River as a symbol of Christ’s actual cleansing of the souls of all believers.

King David (of David and Goliath fame) said in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.” That new creation through faith in the promised Christ is what allows David to continue with the sure and certain hope that his sin with Bathsheba is no more. He then prays, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.”

And God did this for David. Just as he does it for all believers.

A direct line to God

The Rev. Marcia Fleischman, Broadway Church, Kansas City: I visited Lourdes recently while on sabbatical in France. I found myself reacting to the amount of time, energy and money people spend to go worship another person’s mystical experience instead of developing their own.

The original Protestant movement did discard the Catholic tradition of worshiping the saints. This comes from two different beliefs. The first belief, and the strongest, is that Protestants believe in a direct connection with God.

No priest or saint needs to intervene or intercede with the Holy One. Each person can present all concerns, needs and issues to God directly. The Baptist tradition, known as the Baptist freedoms, maintains the “Priesthood of the Believer,” stating that each believer goes directly to God, no priest or saint needed. Prayer is directed to God, confession is directly given to God and forgiveness is received directly from God.

Veneration of the saints is for intercession between God and the saint on the person’s behalf. An example from the Catholic prayer “Hail Mary,” is “Pray for us now…”

The second Protestant belief is that the believer is referred to as a saint. The Apostle’s creed affirms the “communion of saints.” This is the gathering of believers. We are all saints. No one is supposed to be elevated over any other. No one is revered more than others.

Elevation of one gift that comes through the indwelling Spirit over any other is called gift exaltation, which can diminish all those who don’t have that gift. Elevating a person’s life, like a saint’s life, over other lives can have the same effect.

At Broadway Church, which was previously a Swedish Baptist church, the 6 a.m. Christmas service re-enacts light coming into the darkness by Saint Lucia lighting candles. The Swedes adored her and were inspired by her story, but do not pray to her or worship her.

Sometimes, the best advice I was given was to “stay inspired.” The stories of saints, Christian heroes we can honor, can create that inspiration.