Back in the 1990s, at a church I once served, we did a thing in worship we called "Children's Conversation." Every year, the Sunday before Halloween, I found some clever way to remind the kids to be careful when out Trick-or-Treating. I always said, if you choose to go out, please do it safely. It really was, I thought, quite innocuous.
Well, one year, we had a woman worshiping with us for the first time. She had been invited by a neighbor, who was a regular worshiper. That's a great thing we like people to do. Well, this woman told her friend, the next day, that she would not be back to our church because the pastor should not have even mentioned Halloween. Halloween, she said, was demonic, so, I suppose, guilt by association.
Once again, tomorrow, much of our culture will be focused on candy, costumes, and things that go bump in the night.
Halloween gets its name, I believe, from "All Hallows' Eve," or "All Saints' Eve," which is the night before "All Saints' Day." November 1 is the day Roman Catholics celebrate their saints. We, as Protestants, do not mark "All Saints' Day." It is neither Biblically nor theologically appropriate.
Instead, as Protestants, we mark October 31 as Reformation Day. "All Saints' Day" has no place on our calendar. Saints do occupy a place in our Protestant worldview, with a huge difference in understanding that we'll see when we get to Philippians 4:20-23.
Reformation Day remembers one of the greatest moments, not only in church history, but also in the history of the western world, when Martin Luther nailed the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as “The 95 Theses,” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
As the title suggests, in his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of asking payment - called “indulgences” - for the forgiveness of sins. At the time, a Dominican priest named Johann Tetzel, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X, was in the midst of a major fundraising campaign in Germany to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.
Thus a revolution was sparked.
Here's a perfect summary of Luther's work:
LUTHER RECAPTURED THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS, SHOWING ALL PEOPLE THAT THEIR WORK HAD PURPOSE AND DIGNITY BECAUSE IN IT THEY CAN SERVE THEIR CREATOR.
- Robert Rothwell
Here's the practical application of that.
Several weeks ago, a few mainline Protestant churches in Tecumseh joined together for a blessing of the pets. Several Covenant Church folks asked my, ironically, why we don't bless pets. Someone even asked if I would bless a new carriage house he was helping build. It was then I realized, if I could monetize blessing all kinds of things, I could open up a new, lucrative income stream. It would be my side-gig.
Anyway, we all know how silly that is. We are a priesthood of all believers. You can bless your own pets. Clergy blessing pets reinforces something very un-Protestant-like. Neither you nor your pets need someone dressed up in fancy vestments to speak a word of blessing over them. When Luther also translated the Bible into German, he put the Word of God in the hands of the people. And those people, the saints of God, have all the tools they need to go down to Old MacDonald's farm and bless animals to their heart's content.
Did you catch the key phrase in what I just said? It pushes back against the mindset Luther was trying to reform. Saints of God. It breaks down
boundaries that were put in place for control and prestige. It was a threat
to authoritarians everywhere. Remember, the Protestant Reformation was also part of a cultural revolution. We are all saints of God. Here's something you might want to write down:
DEVOTED FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST ARE NUMBERED AMONG THE SAINTS OF GOD.
Are you a saint? That's a loaded question. How would you answer? What weight is carried if you say you are a saint? I love the answer a little boy gave when asked what a saint was. He said saints were multi-colored people who block out the sunlight, and he didn't really want to be a multi-colored person who blocked out the sunlight.
We have a different understanding of what it means to be a saint from the stereotypical one first embraced by the Roman Catholic church. That one, which is probably the first to come to mind when people are asked about what a saint is, is nothing but an unbiblical superstition. Here's an example of what I mean.
One of the things Roman Catholics embrace is that saints have special
work of interceding with God for the souls of people who are captive to the pain of purgatory. Without getting lost in the details, basically, as you pray to the saint, you are pleading with that saint to ask God to release the one you love from the pain of purgatory. In fact, you will often see candles lit at the feet of saints in Roman Catholic churches. The burning candles represent a continuous pleading with the saint to convince God to let your loved one out of purgatory. Being a saint sounds like a good gig, if you can get it.
How, you might ask, can I apply for that job? It's not easy. You have to exhibit unparalleled devotion to Jesus Christ, as defined by Roman Catholic theology. This involves absolute adherence to all the rites, rituals, and practices of the church. It doesn't hurt to be associated with some sort of earthly miracle or another. You must earn your stained-glass status.
Our cultural understanding of sainthood, fueled by ancient superstitions, might inhibit us average folks from considering ourselves saints. Saints are people who exhibit exemplary behavior throughout life. They are long-suffering in hardship. They put up with the shortcomings of others in ways
that earn them the title, saint. Saint is a hard-earned and well-deserved
title. So, the whole idea of sainthood can be a wee bit uncomfortable for us.
But wait. What do you think was Paul's favorite word for Christians? You are right…saint. He uses saint over sixty times in his letters. And when he does, he doesn't differentiate or designate or discriminate. As in our passage today, "Greet every saint in Jesus Christ." Here are the final verses of his Letter to the Philippians:
"To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."
Greet every saint…and all the saints greet you. Those are his words. Those are Paul's words, without hesitation or qualification. It's not just the pastors or the elders or the deacons or the teachers or the overseers or the yard clean-up team or the musicians or the ushers or the audio-visual team or the nursery volunteers, and the list could go on; it's not just these people Paul is talking about. No, saints are those whose names have been written down in the Lamb's Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.
Paul ends his letter to the Philippians the same way he began it…reminding them that they are saints.
So let's talk about saints.
The word translated as saint is "hagios" in the plural, or "hagioi" in the singular. It means, literally, "set apart ones or sanctified ones." That definition right there, sanctified ones, tells us everything we need to know about sainthood. How are we sanctified? Not through good works. Not by anything we do now or have done or will do tomorrow. We are sanctified, or made holy, through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. We are made holy because he received punishment for our sin. So, who is a saint? How are saints made? Why can Paul open and close his letter to the Philippians addressing them all as saints? Because Jesus Christ died for them and he called them to follow him and they believe that he is their Savior. They are numbered among the saints because their names have been written down in the Lamb's Book of Life.
So, here's the best, simplest way to define a saint:
A SAINT IS ONE WHO HAS BEEN SEPARATED FROM SIN UNTO GOD FOR HOLY PURPOSES.
A saint is anyone who has been separated from sin to love and to worship and to serve God.
I love what it doesn't say about sainthood:
Sainthood isn't earned through good works.
Sainthood isn't granted to those who manifest supernatural powers or abilities.
Sainthood isn't conferred on a select few.
Saints don't intercede for us regular folks.
Saints aren't prayed to.
Saints aren't holier than other believers.
The definition of a saint, therefore, is a quite simple one. As Paul says in
Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Being a saint isn't based on what you do. Being a saint is based on what has been done for you. Saint is the title that has been won for you through Christ's death on the cross. How good is that?
Before we close with the application of our sainthood, one final word on how utterly meaningless it is to think sainthood is a title set aside for only the finest of people. Look at what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
"Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those 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, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
- 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Do you get it? Corinth was one of Paul's most problematic churches. They could, at times, be just awful. But even the Corinthians were saints. With all of our failures and foibles and problems, we are saints.
So, what's with being saints? What do saints do?
First, and foremost, saints worship God. It's right there in Philippians 4:20. "To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen."