Thursday, June 2, 2011

Apologetics toolbox: Communion of saints III

First, let me apologize for the little hiatus in my posting. Actually, I’ve posted almost as much in the last three months as I did in 2008, 2009 and 2010 combined, so I’m happy the “writer’s block” lasted no longer than it did.

In Part I, we argued that God does make saints, and that we’re all called to sanctity as part of our call to faith. In Part II, we tackled the “praying to saints is necromancy” argument; as Jesus told the Sadducees, “The Lord is God of the living, not of the dead” (Mk 12:27).

So okay, there are saints that are already with God in the heavenly kingdom. That doesn’t mean they can hear our prayers, though, right? In the last post, I dismissed the question out of hand. Frankly, there’s no good Scriptural argument to say saints can’t hear prayers; one passage — Revelations 5:8 — tells us that they pass on prayers meant for God, which argues that they can hear prayers, even when the prayers aren’t directed to themselves.

Jesus the “One Mediator”

Given the lack of Scriptural arguments against saints hearing prayers, there’s an indirect approach to the matter: Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). We can even back this up with another freebie proof-text: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12).

The problem with the first citation, however, is that once again we’re dealing with an out-of-context fallacy. Let’s look at the statement where it occurs:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle … and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles (1 Tim 2:1-7 NIV).

Let’s drill into this a little more:

As members of the Body of Christ, our union isn’t simply one of mutual allegiance but an actual sharing of spiritual attributes with one another and with Christ. “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:24-26 NIV). Because of our divine adoption and membership in the Body of Christ, we are not only called to be brothers with Christ but co-heirs with him as well (Rom 8:16-17).

As part of this divine adoption and membership in Christ’s body, we share in Christ’s role as eternal high priest (Heb 4:14-16), offering sacrifices through Christ (1 Pet 2:5) on behalf of others. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev 5:10 NIV; cf. Rev 1:6). It’s precisely in this sense that our prayers are intercessions; for, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1). Let me repeat: Prayers are intercessions.

In 1 Timothy 2:5, St. Paul says “There is one God” because there are no other gods. Prayer to other gods is therefore vain by definition. But even within the context of other religions, there is no figure like Christ, who acts as nexus and mediator between God and man by being himself both God and Man. What St. Paul is saying, then, is that our prayers on behalf of non-Christians,[1] especially those in positions of authority, are good things because non-Christians do not know whom they should be praying to for their salvation. But by praying for them, we are interceding for them.

Our first point to remember is: Sainthood is the result of justification through God’s sanctifying Grace. Our second point is: Those who die in God’s friendship go to Heaven, yet remain in communion with the living Body of Christ.

Now, if those who have died in Christ are truly alive and in heaven, then it follows that they can pray … not only with us but for us as well. We need not infer that they have magical powers of their own, but rather that, because of their holiness, they have influence with God. It still stands that God is free to refuse. But if the collected prayers of Christians who live in this world are efficacious, then how much more power they have when joined with the Christians already in heaven!

So the orthodox Christian teaching on sainthood is not that saints are mini-Saviors or alternative Redeemers. Rather, such power as they have comes, like ours, through their membership in Christ’s Body, through their inheritance of their share in Christ’s high priesthood and mediation between God and Man. Because their bodies have passed, it doesn’t follow that their shares have diminished; not even death can separate us from this adoption (Rom 8:38-39).

Point to remember: The prayers of all Christians, including those who have died in Christ, on behalf of others are intercessions made efficacious by our share in Christ’s high priesthood.

[1] What about the Jews? That’s another subject for another time!