“Pope Francis Canonizes Controversial Saint Serra” read a CNN headline.
Last Wednesday more than 20,000 people converged on a Washington basilica to witness the canonization of Junipero Serra by Pope Francis on his first trip to America. This was hailed as historical since Serra is the first to be canonized on US soil.
However, some Native Americans are objecting because they contend that Serra’s achievements are nothing to celebrate. They say he created a military-backed mission system that thrived on brutality and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
I object, too, but for other reasons.
Our word of the week, saint, is used 61 times in the New Testament.
Dr. Thayer defines the Greek word as those persons who are “set apart for God.” In a moral sense the word means, “pure, upright, holy.” The word is often translated “holy.”
In Catholic theology “sainthood’ is confirmed upon a person following his death by the Pope. “This occurs at the conclusion of a long process requiring extensive proof that the person proposed for canonization lived and died in such an exemplary and holy way that he or she is worthy to be recognized as a saint. The Church’s official recognition of sanctity implies that the persons are now in heavenly glory, that they may be publicly invoked and mentioned officially in liturgy of the Catholic Church.”
Actually the Bible speaks of living Christians as saints. In his letters to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi, Paul identifies them as saints. (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:2; Col. 1:2; Phil 1:1). No where is there a special ceremony or canonization for departed saints. Neither did the first century Christians ever pray to saints or through saints. Prayer is offered directly to God (Heb 4:16) through our own mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Bible speaks of three special relationships of saints.
(1) Saints enjoy a relationship to God.
To the Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”
Believers are called through the Gospel. We belong to God. We are a part of his eternal purpose. He has an inheritance for the saints. The word “holy’ in the Old Testament spoke of that which was uniquely set apart for God.
The tabernacle was holy. It was different from other buildings. The Sabbath day was holy. It was different from other days. The nation of Israel was holy. They were different from other nations. Christians are holy. They are different from other people. They enjoy communion with the only One worthy to be called “Our Father.”
(2) Saints share a relationship with each other.
Our Christian walk involves a mutual interaction with other saints. The book of Ephesians says we are “fellow citizens with all the saints,” calls us to express “love for all the saints,” to engage in the work of “equipping the saints for ministry,” and to “keep on praying for all the saints.” (2:19; 1:15; 4:12; 6:15)
As we grow closer to God and mature as Christians, we develop a deeper fellowship with other saints.
(3) Saints sustain a special relationship with the world.
We are called to be different from the carnality, sensuality, and secularism of the world’s deeds, desires and direction. Christians are commanded to develop a different mind-set. A different moral compass. A different perspective. And a different motivation. (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Thess 4:4-8; Col. 3:1-2; 1 Pet 1:3).
I once heard a lady say, “I’m not a saint. But I’m no sinner.” Well, you are one or the other. And by the Father’s grace, the choice is yours.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman