Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

A look into the mind of one of the most random, crazy people in all the land.

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Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hail Mary Full of Grace

For a Lutheran, the title of this blog seems odd....almost as though I'm "un-Reforming" back to Rome. Perhaps this is correct, perhaps it isn't. I am most assuredly still Lutheran. I am still within the Missouri Synod. Let me now defend my position and discuss why it is under attack by some and defended by others. I have been told officially by the synod that because the doctrine is not expressly biblical, it can be a matter of personal, pious opinion, but not to be officially urged or endorsed in others.

Let me start with several theological statements which have clear teachings in Scripture and expounded in the creeds by those who were present during the first seven ecumenical councils which nearly all orthodox (little o) Christians accept:
1. All believers are united in Christ (Eph. 2:19-22, Rom. 8:9, Rom. 12:4-5, Eph. 4:3-6, Col. 1:18, etc.).
2. The Church, whose head is Christ Jesus is held together by the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3-6, Rom. 8:9, etc.).
3. The Church of Christ cannot be broken and we are all one body through the Spirit ("As each of us has one body with many in Christ we who are many form one body"-Rom. 12:4-5).

From these three points one can understand and accept the third article of the Apostle's Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the ressurection of the dead, and the life everlasting. Amen. The explanation given in the Luther's Small Catechism is: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true."

But is this explanation complete? Take a good long look at one phrase within the creed....communion of saints. What does that mean? The explanation here is that it is the whole Christian church on earth. But Scripture asserts that the body of Christ is unbroken forever because we are one body(1 Cor. 12:25-27)! If this can be agreed upon that Scripture teaches this, then the way is clear to move on to my point.

St. Paul encourages the saints on earth to pray for each others' infirmities, and indeed the Epistle of James says that "The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest"-James 5:15-18 NRSV. We see from this that we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. We also see that faithful prayer is effective (though in what manner this has to do with it affecting God's final decision is another matter which is discussed elsewhere in Scripture).

So: We are told to pray for the saints on earth. We know we are connected to the departed saints by the power of the Holy Spirit with Christ as our head. Can the departed saints hear our prayer? Many if not most Protestants would say no, the dead do not hear our prayers and many would argue they are not concerned with us, citing the time when Saul asked the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of Samuel. This is found in 1 Samuel 28:3-24. We were also told not to bring up the dead. However, (unless my translation NRSV is off) the language used by Samuel in his response to Saul is not, you know the rules, but he was angry because Saul had called him up and "Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy?" He is not mad at him for bringing him up but that he brought him up after the Lord turned his back on Saul. It stands that if Saul was still within the Grace of God Samuel would not have had a problem with it, though obviously without the use of witchcraft.

Is there a biblical mandate against praying TO the saints? Yes there is. Christ is the one mediator for us, and prayer is directed towards God alone. However, the asking of intercessory prayer within the power of the Holy Spirit is not directed solely at the saint but through the saint to God while you yourself pray to God as well. It is the asking of saints throughout the body of Christ to join in prayer with you. Is it necessary, most likely not. Is it not allowed for? No, it is.

For starters, let's discuss what most people think of when they hear "intercession" or "invocation" of the saints. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church basterdized an early church belief that the saints prayed for us after their earthly death. Their prayers were powerful as James says because they have been freed from their sinful flesh and are alive in Christ and united to us via the Holy Spirit. A brief list of fathers who I know believed in the intercession of the saints is St. Augustine, St. Basil the Great, St. Cyprian, Gregory of Nyssa, and St. John Chrysostome. The bastardization began with the invention of Purgatory, a location where souls of Christians go after they are in the Church to have their actual sins cleansed (Christ has removed Original Sin through His sacrifice). It was also thought that since we are full of sin, those saints who have gone before us and attained full glorification and are in Heaven could pray for us and the souls of our dead loved ones in Purgatory. We were not good enough to pray to God Himself according to this theology. This further went on to lead to the concept of indulgences which led to the idea that you could pay to get into Heaven, or that you had to behave yourself in order to enter Heaven and this was on your own without God. Further, the intercession of the saints whom the church had simply honored and venerated were made into beings with divine abilities and who were to be worshipped, and thus began the "Cult of the Saints" (I know this is a VERY brief history of the development of these doctrines and I do not specifically go into the application of their merrits on those who pray to them which I do not accept....I'm not writing a book here :-)).

I am referring to the invocation of the saints as practiced in the early church. They pray for us because they are connected with us in the communion of saints and nowhere in Scripture is the instruction to pray for each other to stop when one dies on earth and enters into Heaven.

What of Scriptural evidence? Well, we have the body of Christ being unbroken. We are connected to the saints and we are instructed to pray for each other which would include having the departed saints pray for us, for is it not written: "There was to be no want of unity in the body; all the different parts of it were to make each other's wellfare their common care. If one part is suffering, all the rest suffer with it; if one part is treated with honor, all the rest find pleasure in it. And you are Christ's body, organs of it depending on each other" (1 Cor 12:25-27). Upon earthly death, we are not departed from the rest of the saints, for indeed during the death of the Apostles it does not follow that Christ would tear an organ off and throw it away to be later reattached. In fact it should be noted that upon His death Christ was unbroken in physical body, obviously fulfilling prophesy but also mirroring how earthly death does not break the body of Christ.

Let us look at three other examples: 1. The Crucifixion of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, 2. The resurrection of Lazarus, and 3. The Transfiguration of Christ.

1. In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, when Christ dies, we are told that the saints who fell asleep rise from the tomb bodily (among other very miraculous signs). When Christ rises from the dead three days later, the formerly dead saints appear to people in the city. Now several members on have told me that this does not mean they "talked" to the saints living on earth, but this is foolishness as I'm sure they weren't zombies who walked around aimlessly.

2. When Christ raises Lazarus from the tomb Lazarus again can talk and interact with people even though he will die again. It seems that through Christ death is reversible even on earth. A formerly dead saint is talking to living saints.

3. At the transfiguration of Christ, two individuals appear to Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop; Moses and Elijah. One of the members of Lutherquest informed me that because the disciples do not speak with them, it should close the book on the subject of interaction with departed saints, but this is far from the truth. For starters, the disciples were too surprised to react, but this is a smokescreen. Look at who appears. Moses died, but Elijah never did! He will die after he appears before the end of the world as the Revelation to Saint John says. Here we have a living saint (though whether he is on earth or not is not unquestioned) conversing and interacting with a departed saint THROUGH CHRIST with whom all things are possible.

These three passages should show that it is not so cut and dry as to claim that it is specifically spoken against, and its practice in the early church shows that it was a widespread practice. It has been argued that this is an ancient pagan practice, but I'm sure that Saint Paul writing to the church in Rome would have addressed this if it was so prevalent in a manner like, "Do not be like the foolish Gentiles who pray to their dead thinking they will help them, but instead pray to Christ alone for only He is capable of helping you." This is not the case.

As for the three instances I have shown you, it is not as blatant an institute of Christ as Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, but it could be interpreted that He is indeed allowing for it. I still hold that to deny the prayers of the saints in Heaven for the saints on Earth in general is to deny the power of the Holy Spirit to keep the body of Christ as one and introduces two limitations, one to God and one to the saints themselves. One limitation is that earthly death breaks the body of Christ, and the other is that the saints in Heaven still have their earthly senses rather than their spiritual one through Christ who shows them what He wills.

As to the idea that individual saints can be asked to pray for us, that is more open to interpretation. It should without a doubt not be condemned outright. The question now is do we simply feign ignorance because it is not mentioned in Scripture, or do we look to the Fathers who through the power of the Holy Spirit preserved the Word of God and the Truth of Christ from a multitude of heretics. I choose to believe that the Holy Spirit did not take a 1400 year vacation between the end of the New Testament and the Reformation. What do you pray for? Are we the church of Luther or Calvin but the Church of Christ?

Prayer: In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Guide my conscience to the truth of your Word. Help me to realize and revel in my connection to the saints who have run the race and who are my witnesses along with all the church on earth. Blessed Virgin, pray for me so that I may meet life as you did, with unwavering faith in God and His holy and divine plan. Grace and peace be to all the company of Heaven and earth. I pray this that it is not my will that is done dear Lord, but yours. I pray this through the power of the Holy Spirit which keeps me in the One True Faith, now and forever, Amen.


Blogger Tony said...

You ever gonna apply to seminary?

3:30 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

HAH! Most likely one of these days :-P. I hear you're coming down to Chambana next weekend! I'll hopefully see you then!

8:23 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Actually, that might have to be postponed because just after I decided that, everything else conspired to say, "No, not that weekend, loser." Maybe later. We'll see.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice! Where you get this guestbook? I want the same script.. Awesome content. thankyou.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting site. Useful information. Bookmarked.

12:02 PM  
Blogger cheryl said...

Hi Chris,

Cool Blog...I think I'm going to bookmark it.

You're right that to imply that Scripture indicates that the saints in heaven are aware of us. Every glimpse of heaven we are given in Scripture in regards to the saints, indicates that they are very much aware of things. Not only that, but the idea itself stems from the Mystical Union (ie Union with Christ). I've had the same experience with some of the individuals on Lutherquest, so I know what you're talking about. My opinion, is that they are dead up wrong. Not only that, but it continues to amaze me, how anyone can say that the saints are not aware of us, given the enormous biblical support for the idea.

But you are right too in that there is a difference between intercession and invocation (a difference that alot of RC and EO don't really acknowledge).

You said:

These three passages should show that it is not so cut and dry as to claim that it is specifically spoken against, and its practice in the early church shows that it was a widespread practice. It has been argued that this is an ancient pagan practice, but I'm sure that Saint Paul writing to the church in Rome would have addressed this if it was so prevalent in a manner like, "Do not be like the foolish Gentiles who pray to their dead thinking they will help them, but instead pray to Christ alone for only He is capable of helping you." This is not the case.

I really wish invocation could be pushed back as far as Paul. Unfortunately, from the Confessions perspective, that is percisely the problem. The doctrine of invocation is too late, to be considered without a doubt Apostolic (whether by Scriptural standards, or Traditional standards).

The examples I have found go only as far back as the fourth century. Now does that mean that prior to the fourth century, they didn't invoke the saints? No. Of course not. Invocation of the saints could for all we know, have been taught by Peter, Paul and John! But that's the thing, we don't know. Hence the Confessions agnostic stance on the issue. I'd give my right arm, to be able to substantiate invocation as a doctrine going back to the Apostles, (whether through Scripture (which would be ideal) or through the Apostolic fathers, ie Polycarp, Ignatius ect.) If you have found anything along those lines, or if you find anything, drop me line on one of my blogs K?

1:02 AM  

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