What makes a saint?

Some 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, the common understanding of sainthood is stilly mostly influenced by Roman Catholicism.  We might vaguely know about the need for miracles, or that the process involves steps like beatification and canonization.  These things often cloud the broader understanding of what actually makes a saint.  Rather than it being about religious celebrity or those who have made significant impacts or even those who were martyred for their faith, in the New Testament, sainthood is simply a synonym for discipleship.  When Paul writes about the saints, he isn’t even necessarily talking about those who have died in the faith of Christ, but rather all who have sought the kingdom and its righteousness.

A seminary classmate of mine was fond of saying that our hymns best show our heresies.  This was usually in response to that line in “Hark! the herald angels sing” that invokes the gnostic heresy when it says, “veiled in flesh, the godhead see.”  “For all the saints,” one of the classic All Saints’ hymns might not tip-toe into heresy, but it certainly exacerbates our profoundly misunderstood theology of sainthood in the line, “we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”  Even those saints that we honor with specific feasts like Francis, Nicholas, or Mary Magdalene feebly struggled from time to time.

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The saints of God

The life of faith, the only qualification necessary for the title of saint, is a daily struggle.  It requires us, as Joshua challenged the tribes of Israel, to choose this day whom we will serve.  Will we seek after the Kingdom of God or the kingdoms of this world.  Will we subscribe to a theology of God’s abundance or fall into the trap of our own scarcity.  Will we look at the world in love or fall back in fear?  These choices must be made, with God’s help, daily, if not minute by minute.  As another classic All Saints’ hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God,” says, “the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

Dear saints of God, what will you choose this day?

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The Gift of Accountability

I’m a sucker for Hymn #686 in the 1982 Hymnal.  “Come thou fount of every blessing”, written by a Baptist Dissenter named Robert Robinson, speaks to the power of both sin and grace in the lives of the faithful.  The line which most resonates with me this week is “… prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”  This is, for most of us, the life of discipleship.  We follow, sometimes very closely, to the will of God, but like the ancient Israelites, like the Apostles, like followers of Jesus throughout the generations, we soon fall victim to our own self-interests.

We forget that every good and perfect gift comes from God.  We begin to rely on our own power and intellect.  Before long, we have wandered far from the kingdom of God and are neck deep in our own sin, pride, envy, and greed.  Each of us is prone to wander, which is why James takes some time to remind those who are in the confines of grace to reach out to those who have gone astray.

“My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20

Accountability is one of the key reasons why Christianity can not be done in isolation.  If there is no one but ourselves to call us back from our wandering, then we may never find our way back home.  God works through the Church, through Christian friends and family, to find us when we’ve gone astray.  That is a great gift for all of us who wander, but James reminds us that there is also a gift for those who go seeking after the lost.  In seeking, we find, not just those who are lost, but that which has been lost within ourselves as well.  That’s the two-way gift of accountability.  That’s grace.