How Reformation Christians View Saints

Christians of the Reformation sometimes overreact to the false teachings on Mary and other saints found in some churches. As our school children beautifully adorned our Annunciation Choral Vespers this evening with singing and Bible reading, I had opportunity to reflect on the joyous respect Reformation Christians have for the saints of old.

Beginning with Holy Scripture, we find that Mary is "highly favored" and the Lord is with her (Luke 1:28). Mary is a model of Christian faith in her passive response to the message from God: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, says of Mary, "Blessed is she who believed" (Luke 1:45), and ever since, all Christians have seen in Mary an example of faith – a message the Reformers would pick up on in the Sola Fide slogan ("faith alone"). Finally, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mary says that "all generations will call me blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me" (Luke 1:48f). We continue in obedience to God's Word by calling Mary blessed and remembering how God had mercy on her – and through her Son, on us.

Moving to the great Reformation statement of faith, the Augsburg Confession, we find this in Article XXI, on "The Worship of Saints":

Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling....

But the Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor [1 Timothy 2:5–6]. He is to be prayed to.

This is an important and healthy distinction. We remember the history of the saints because this is nothing other than reading the Bible and taking note of how God worked through people in history. We honor their examples of faith (just as we honor, in the secular realm, notable figures of the past who did great things for our country, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln). But we do not pray to them or worship them.

Reformation Christians, therefore, praise God for His mighty deeds through His saints, and we honor them, according to the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." To reiterate, we do not worship them or pray to them, but we do see God's wonderful working in their lives. Their service to Christ, and faithfulness in adversity, becomes a model for us in our own struggles.

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