Monday, February 18, 2008

Would the Vatican Make Samson a Saint?

Poor Samson and Rahab. Under new Vatican guidelines methinks the Old Testament saints (see Heb. 11:31-32), a lust-driven womanizer and a Jerichoan whore respectively, wouldn't make the cut (via USA Today emphasis mine):

It's getting more difficult to become a saint.

The Vatican, which has more than 2,200 potential saints in the pipeline, says it wants bishops to exercise more "rigor" and "sobriety" when it comes to choosing someone worthy of beatification, according to the Associated Press.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, chief of the church's sainthood office, tells reporters that candidates must have a "true reputation for holiness" in order to warrant consideration.

DPA, the German news agency, has a detailed overview of the rules.
Now, by no means am I excusing or condoning sinful behavior, and certainly not sexual immorality, but true sainthood is an office and/or quality that is NEVER earned by personal moral merit, it is ALWAYS bestowed by God's grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Ultimately, it depends on Christ's merit and Christ's work.

The only person with a perfect "true reputation for holiness" in the entirety of human history is Jesus Christ, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and there is none righteous, no, not one. [Rom. 3:10, 23; Psa. 14:1]

What's more, the Bible is replete with references to "saints" who were, when addressed as such, living, breathing, and most assuredly still-sinning believers.

We sin -- fall short of God's holy perfection -- every day, intentionally or accidentally, in thought, word, deed, and motive. Sure, we strive by God's grace to grow in holiness, as we are called in God's Word, but our saintliness is never, biblically speaking, a subjective function of our personal sanctification, rather it's the objective forensic declaration of God at our justification. [I Peter 1:14-21; II Timothy 1:8-14]

Look no further than Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. That's a screwed up church if ever there was one. You had people getting drunk at communion, their worship services were completely chaotic, there was a dude in the church openly and proudly sinning sexually by sleeping with his father's step-mom, and the Corinthians had the nasty habit of filing lawsuits against one another, dragging each other before bewildered pagans in Roman courts, among other problems.

And yet, despite all that, Paul calls the people in the church saints, even as he admonishes them to get their act together. Indeed, in his opening greeting, he calls the Corinthians "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." [I Cor. 1:2;]

God sees the end from the beginning and completes the good work He began in us. [Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:2; Rom. 8:31-39] It's He who declares us righteous in Christ and who, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the washing of the Word of God sanctifies us in this life until we conform to the image of Christ Jesus. [Eph. 5:25-27]

That's what being a real saint is: clinging for dear life to Christ's finished work on the cross, trusting in Him as we live out our lives in the world, but not of it. [Col. 1:21-23; II Peter 1:3-11; I Cor. 5:6-13; 6:18-20]

[A closing prayer for all who trust in Jesus as their Savior]: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for saving us not by virtue of our self-perceived merits, but by the perfect merit of your spotless, holy Son. Thank you Jesus for living the perfect obedient life I couldn't live and dying the death I deserved to die so that I could spend eternity glorifying you.

Thank you for adopting us and sanctifying us, cleansing us from sin by your shed blood, renewing our minds to conform more and more to your image by the washing of your Word. Thank you that none of this is because of our striving, effort, or any goodness inherent in us. It is all of grace, lest any man boast. We bless your Name, Amen.



Moonshadow February 21, 2008 at 11:48 PM  

I found this litany of Old Testament saints. The only judges listed are Deborah and Samuel. No foreign harlots listed. Mostly prophets, the bunch.

Canonized saints are supposed to be worthy of imitation, like Saint Paul: "Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me ... just as I also am of Christ." (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1).

There's an awareness, 'though, that there are more saints in heaven than have been formally declared. "D'uh," I know, I know.

Then, if prudence suggests and Scripture supports Samson as a saint for you personally to emulate, don't let the Vatican's silence keep you from it.

Hebrews 11 just reminds me of the gracious human tendency to recall people better than they were in life, especially if, like Samson, they died well.

I suppose I should read more before commenting (like I see you use the ESV but I quoted the NASB), but over here quickly by way of Reformed Chicks. ("Hug a Calvinist" is a humorous suggestion ... and I've done it ... once, only once!).


Tertius February 22, 2008 at 12:35 AM  

Thanks, moonshadow.

My point remains that a saint is nothing more than someone who is justified in Christ alone, by no virtue of merit of his/her own. The fruit of salvation will be evident in the life of a believer over time, and as such bear witness that we can and should emulate to the extent that it is consistent with Christ-like character, agreed.

But my post was not so much opposing stricter Vatican policies on veneration as restating why I disagree with veneration in the first place: it robs Christ of the glory due Him alone and makes a mockery of scriptural doctrine on the scope of Christ's sacrifice and what it accomplishes for the believer.

It's because of the atoning work of Christ I'm sealed with the Holy Spirit, with which I cry, "Abba, Father." I'm adopted into God's family, my heavenly Father wants to hear my prayers because I come before His throne clothed in Christ's righteousness, not shielded from view by the imperfect moral achievements of a predecessor in the faith.

To say my prayers through the mediation of saints rather than through Jesus Christ, my great High Priest, would be to treat with contempt the scope and efficacy of the suffering by which He has purchased unto Himself His bride the church from every nation, tribe and tongue.

Moonshadow February 22, 2008 at 8:09 AM  

I appreciate your reply ... it's very articulate and well-written (and well-taken).

why I disagree with veneration in the first place

That's a whole 'nother issue which one ought infer but is obscured in the original post. If you care not about canonical saints, why lament or criticize a stricter policy in declaring them?

Myself, I'll invoke them only at corporate, public prayer as a reminder that what Christ did for them, he'll do for me. They are his "mighty deeds" of old. I respectfully disagree that recognizing them is a mockery of Christ's accomplishments, since it's only through Christ, they are recommended and acknowledged.

I hope to keep reading here ...

Moonshadow February 22, 2008 at 11:30 AM  

Forgive me, I just noticed something in your original post: why did you misquote Eph. 5:26, which reads in the ESV: that he [Christ] might sanctify her [the Church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word

Why omit the word "water" from your original quotation?

Does this verse not speak of the rite of Christian baptism, a ritual over which the words of Scripture are pronounced: "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?"

I had blogged this verse as a legitimate inquiry earlier this month, so I appreciate your answer. Peace of Christ to you.

Tertius February 22, 2008 at 11:56 AM  

The passage says that Christ "loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word..."

We see in the high priestly prayer (John 17) that Christ prays that the Father will:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

I argue the washing of water with the word is making an illustration of the sanctifying work that the Word of God has in our lives, not merely of the witness of our baptism as an external act of obedience testifying to an inward regeneration.

Tertius February 22, 2008 at 12:05 PM  

"Myself, I'll invoke them only at corporate, public prayer as a reminder that what Christ did for them, he'll do for me. They are his 'mighty deeds' of old."

While it's true that God's faithfulness is to all generations and remembering his mighty deeds of old can bolster and encourage our faith, I would argue that it's not what "Christ did for them, he'll do for me," but "he already has done for me."

I put the action in the past tense, drawing back to eternity past in my election in Christ and 2000 years ago to Christ declaring on the cross, "It is finished."

I think Paul makes the argument well in Romans 8:28-39.

Moonshadow February 23, 2008 at 1:49 PM  

the washing of water with the word is making an illustration of the sanctifying work that the Word of God has in our lives

OK. Peace of Christ to you.

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