Reflection for All Saints’ Day 2013

evia all saints

(excerpt from a doctoral paper written in 2008)

Sanctification is not a sign of growth in righteous behavior, but it is a solid truth for those redeemed in Christ. Sanctification is first a sign of salvation and not just ethical behavior. Sanctification is the work of God signaling God’s ownership of all Christians. That is why the scandalous Corinthians can be called by Paul “saints” and those for whom Jesus Christ became their sanctification. While sanctification is completely a gift from God, not something to be morally attained, it does require a human response. Because believers are sanctified already, we are to pursue sanctification in all aspects of living.[1] “Sanctification is both a divine gift and a human task.”[2]

The nature of the church also brings meaning to the doctrine of the saints. In the Patristic Age, four marks of the true church were developed to differentiate from heretical groups: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. The Roman Catholic understanding of the church being marked with holiness centers more on the sacraments and on holy individuals (saints). The Eastern Orthodox Church also places a high level of importance on the saints in heaven and the Virgin Mary in particular as holy. Protestants tend to interpret the church’s holiness as its set-apartness and dedication to God and serving Him.[3] In a Trinitarian fashion, the church is holy in three senses: they are the people of God, the body of Christ, and posses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is baptism that marks or separates the church as holy unto God. But in our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ Jesus there is an eschatological tension. A life of holiness is given to us through Jesus; however, it is still not completely present. We are holy, but at the same time, not yet holy. It is the continual living out of our baptism that makes us ready for life in the kingdom of God.[4]

Much like the saints that comprise it, the church is holy because God makes it holy. There are no self-made saints and there is no church made holy by herself. Even baptism does not automatically create holiness in men, but it is dependant on a holy God and a faith-filled response by man. “It is God who distinguishes the Church, sets it apart, marks it out for his own and makes it holy, by winning power over the hearts of men through his Holy Spirit, by establishing his reign, by justifying and sanctifying the sinner and thereby founding the communion of saints.”[5]


[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 563-565.

[2] James Leo Garrett, Jr, Systematic Theology, (North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press, 2001), 400.

[3] Ibid., 516-523.

[4] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1984), 127-130.

[5] Hans Kung, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 418-419.

All Are Saints

 

All Saints’ Day is a widely celebrated event in the Christian world. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints. It is also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas (from which we get the word “Halloween,” from “All Hallows Eve”). All Saints is celebrated on November 1 by parts of Western Christianity, and observed the first Sunday thereafter in our church. It is a day to honor all the saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us in the faith.

Among the people of God, those who possess extraordinary faith have always been looked upon highly. From faith-confessing martyrs in the first century to compassion-filled servants in the twentieth century, it would seem that some believers have been given an extra portion of Christ-like strength and humility. But how does the Bible define the saints? The term often used by Paul in the New Testament to identify the church is hagioi. This term indicates separation for and dedication to God.  It is not, however, the amazing accomplishments of one’s devotion that allows entrance into sainthood. It is the singular redemption obtained through faith in Jesus Christ that creates saints out of all believers. All believers, great and small, are saints.

When Paul used the word “saint” in his writings (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1) it was rarely used to describe individuals. It is primarily used as a picture of the elect people of God who are sanctified and redeemed in Christ.  There is also confusion as to the final destination of the saints after this earthly life. Do some experience the fullness of God’s presence while lesser ones are left out? Roman Catholic dogma and a blend of other religions have left some believing in a hierarchy of saintliness in heaven. The biblical account leads us to believe otherwise. All God’s people, or saints, are assured of a restful paradise until the renewal of all creation. Joining God in paradise is not the final destiny for the saints – the bodily resurrection is our essential hope in eternity.

There are also several passages that clarify that it is not personal accomplishment that achieves sainthood. The dying criminal hanging on the cross near Jesus confessed faith in him (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus promised him entrance into paradise that very day. Similarly, the church in Corinth is addressed as the sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). From the content of Paul’s letters we see Corinth was laden with immorality and factions. However, these spiritual troubles do not preclude the church from being a collection of the saints of God. The understated truth is that sainthood is less about achieving personal piety and more about simple faith in the redeeming work and power of Jesus. It is enough to be found in Christ and covered by his grace.

A saint is not a higher-order Christian. Through baptism, we have joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, making us saints now and saints to be in paradise. Our goal on earth is to join with Christ in the recreation of the world now, which anticipates the ultimate recreation of heaven and earth and the bodily resurrection of Christ’s faithful followers.