Somebody up there, pray for us

Allan Creech, a very catholic protestant, has a post here about praying to saints. He does a great job explaining our differences and letting us see points of commonality.

Here are his definitions of how protestants and catholics look at death and heaven. I think they are very informative. Among other things he is basically saying, if you would ask your grandmother to pray for you before she dies, why not after she dies?

Protestants = (generally speaking) When someone dies, there is immediate judgement and "sentencing," reward and punishment. Boom! If you have faith in Jesus, you "go to heaven" and in that same swift trip you are glorified, fully and completely transformed (if there is any thought of transformation at all this is when it happens) into the perfect Image of Christ and are ushered into the fullness of the Presence of GOD, without measure, forever. There is also then a separation from the rest of the Body. Maybe it's better to put it like this, a graduation from the Church to something else, the heavenly choir perhaps. There is no more interaction with any of the Church on earth. It's either not allowed or is somehow ontologically impossible, I'm not sure. There's not really any one set theologically worked out argument for why this is. Perhaps there may seem to be the one - that the contrary is not explicitly laid out in Scripture, or is interpreted as not being so.

Catholics = people are still members of the Church when they die, still able to participate, are still being worked on as a matter of fact (but that's another issue altogether isn't it). Catholics believe someone who is "in heaven" is able to hear us and are also able to continue to pray for us to God for help in whatever situation. They believe that a person who is "over there" has, logically, a bigger perspective and greater knowledge, and can intercede perhaps better than someone here. OK. They are NOT called on to believe that such persons have the ability to send powerful help down out of themselves. We're talking about intercession here. It's the continuation of how the Body of Christ works here on earth - I need help, I ask Liz to pray for me because I'm not the complete Christ in myself, she does, this prayer interacts with the great economy of God's Life moving back and forth between the great divide and things happen, somehow. If it doesn't, then let's just all shut up and ke se-frikin-ra, things will just happen and whatever. So, there's that.


Mx5 said...

Being raised Roman Catholic, and converting to evangelical Christendom at 19, I feel like I have a little bit of understanding of the whats and wherefores of both sides of the issue.

I was taught as a little girl that since God was so busy with judgment and wrath and all that, that the best thing I could do was pray the rosary to Mary, so she could intercede on my behalf to her Son, Jesus. She's the mediatrix of peace, medaitrix of all grace, and co-redemptrix with Jesus. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blessed_Virgin_Mary)

As a born again believer, I struggled with what 1 Tim. 2:5 said about there being only 1 mediator between God and men, and it wasn't Mary or my deceased grandmother or neighbor. It was Jesus. I beleived that one meant one, so that eliminated all the others.

Then there's the problem with omniscience. It was certainly implied to me in my catechism that praying to a patron saint or loved one was not only the right thing to do, but was expected. They had the power to change God's mind, and make things happen here on earth. As a 19yr old reading the bible for myself for the first time, I couldn't understand how we could gain omniscience and even omnipotence after death. How would my grandmother know if I was praying to her? How could she gain that power? Why didn't the bible mention that critical thing?

Since there is no indication in the bible that we should pray to others who have passed on, I am thinking the whole concept was pretty much an idea of men, not God. It doesn't seem advisable to me to apply logic ("It's the continuation of how the Body of Christ works here on earth", according to Creech). When Cornelius dropped to the ground to worship Peter in Acts 10:25-26, Peter stopped him and said, "Stand up; I too am a man." If we continue as the Body after death, then we are still human, right? If there was more help available to us by virtue of the intercession of our departed friends and family, why would God neglect to mention this? Is Jesus that weak that he needs intercessory help? These are just a few of the struggles I have with the issue.

As you know, I'm not one to think that church tradition should speak with equal authority as the scriptures, so Creech is right in his post that there is a great divide between evangelicals and catholics on this issue, and we do talk past each other. It's not a war, just a conversation ;-)

David Baxley said...

I would have of agree with just about all mx5 said and also one more. In 1 Samuel 28 Saul realizes God is not listening to him anymore so he decides he needs to get Samuels help. But Samuel is dead. Saul doesn't try praying to Samuel (which to me says something about the validity of such a practice) he consults someone to raise his spirit, which was sin.

(See Deut 18:10-12
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead)

All this tells me that communicating with the dead is something God detests and should not be part of our Christian life, even if the one we want to communicate is a Christian in heaven. It does not matter if we call it prayer or not it still appears to be something God says is not to be among us.

David Best said...

The purpose of my linking to this post isn't to argue for or aganst praying to saints, it's to broden people's horizons and inform them of a perspective they may not be familiar with. I chose to use this particular one because it treats farily both sides of the issue.

+ Alan said...

David asked if I might want to come over and speak to some of the comments here. Let's see what we can do. It's always interesting to me, the arguments that come up about this particular subject. These aren't new for sure. I'll try to be as brief as possible considering the context - blog comments.

First, mx5's reference to being taught something about God being "too busy" and all that. Whether it was a parent, grandparent or priest, this was simply bad folk theology passed down to you, which is unfortunate. That kind of thing is pretty common. There are tons of things that Catholics come to believe, make up to believe, or "are taught" by someone in their particular culture, which have no foundation in Truth or in anything that the Catholic Church actually teaches the faithful to believe. They just don't and so that kind of puts that out of the picture for any real theological conversation about something like this. I'm certainly not trying to be disrespectful to someone's parents or to mx5, I'm just saying that what was taught there was not Catholic teaching on this subject in any way, shape or form.

I won't address the Mary as, well anything, here because that's not what we're talking about.

The "one mediator" thing is probably the most common argument used to say that we shouldn't pray to Saints or ask them to pray for us. The problem is that you probably don't have to go very far in either direction in your Bible to find something very explicitly stating how we need to pray for one another, instructing us to act as, hmmm, "mediators" between our siblings and God. ---- Sure it is, you can't get away from the simple, logical definition of mediator. If you pray for David because he is sick or so that he will be able to study well or write well for a paper, you have acted as a mediator between David and God. So, what's the point? The point is, that no one is saying, as Catholic teaching goes anyway, that anyone should be replacing the role of Jesus as the One Unique Mediator, in the way that He alone is. Now, do we, at any time, share in His Mediating role, as integrated members of His own Body?? Good question. I think we do, and I think it's Scripturally sound to say so. Does that mean we are Saviors? No. Does it mean that we are gods? No. Those leaps are what's called "getting carried away." No one is talking about anyone but Jesus providing the Grace required for our ultimate Salvation. Can we help one another tap into that Grace provided by Jesus alone? Certainly we can and do. We are instructed to do so. That's part of what being the Community of the Faith is about.

Oh boy, we get to talk philosophy and metaphysics! Awesome. "How can they hear us?" That's always an interesting one to me. Why would you even ask something like that? Probably because you want to add to the case against the concept because you're mostly worried about someone being a replacement mediator I think. Is anyone really worried about a creature, a person, replacing God on His throne because they somehow might become more omnipotent or omniscient than He is? I'm not. This pretty much will never happen. It would be ontologically impossible. So, no worries. Now, here's another question - what is the nature of something like omniscience? Is it the same as omnipotence? Veeerry interesting questions. If we want to talk metaphysical philosophy, we can talk about what it might mean to be in eternity, with God, in that dimension where God exists and which is not bound by time or space. In such a discussion, we might think about Scriptures like "we will know as we are known" for instance and think about what that means for a person in the heavenly realm. Very possibly, it can mean that we enter a realm of omniscience because of being unbounded, or perhaps we share the knowing of God because of our connection to Him in Christ. It makes logical sense. And there is really nothing to contradict it in Scripture and certainly not in the Tradition of the Church through the ages (let's not forget that one).

The Tradition and Scripture thing is important in a discussion like this - I said as much in my post. If you're about having to have every little tidbit of what you believe spelled out explicitly in the Bible (of whatever canon you have chosen to believe is accurate of inspired Scripture), then I've already lost you and will likely never get your ear. But if you realize that even the fact that you believe there IS a canon of inspired Scripture is part of the Tradition of the Church, then we might be able to talk.

On the Samuel thing, I also think there is a misunderstanding. This is a different order of business with the "dead" that we're talking about there. That forbidden stuff is a matter of someone trying to control their surroundings by bypassing God and His Way by tapping into something which couldn't even do that if they tried anyway. Saul wasn't "praying to" Samuel. He went to a Medium, a God bypasser, in order to force Samuel to do something for him that God has already forbidden. That's what Witchcraft is, trying to force nature or someone to be like you want it without reference to God or His stated Way of Life. So, we're not talking about Witchcraft or Necromancy or anything of the kind. If someone is trying to get some dead person to do something for them "on the side" and sneak past God, then OK, they need to stop it right now and realize that they're engaging in something which is absolutely dangerous and useless and unChristian (and which, by the way, the Catholic Church condemns rather strongly).

Asking my siblings in the heavenly dimension to intercede for me about something I need prayer about is consistent with the ancient doctrine and teaching of the Church called the Communion of Saints - that we are all still one, in whatever realm we find ourselves, still One Body of Christ. It's consistent with how we are instructed to behave with one another while we are sharing realms. And it can be very helpful to us if we believe those who have passed over to have, then, inherently, a bigger clue on things than we do. And especially if we get rid of this mistaken, I believe, idea about "heaven" as a far away "place" like a city of some sort, in which the dead are isolated and, for some odd reason, not allowed to pray any more or have any knowledge of their siblings sill fighting the battle on earth. The Body of Christ is not separated from itself in that way. I'm not sure it can be.

Whhhewww, OK, that's probably as good as I can do in here. Hopefully, it made some kind of sense. I don't expect anybody to shake their heads and go "well of course, Alan is right, what was I thinking?" Ha! Hopefully it just acted to clear something up if nothing else. Peace to all in this house.

Mx5 said...

You might be surprised at how many evangelicals came from a broader horizon spiritually than what we now practice. In reality many of us have come away from very spiritually broad backgrounds, which the Lord has narrowed over the years, by virtue of studying the Scriptures, praying through and wrestling through issues ourselves.

Alan, thanks for the response. Still the questions of how do they hear us, how do we know they hear us, and is this something God encourages - in terms of asking someone to pray for us post mortem - are still all on the table. Since I'm a sola scriptura gal logic alone when dealing with spiritual matters isn't a strong case. It seems to me that you're taking the Body concept to a level it wasn't intended by God, but I do have a feeling we'll have to agree to disagree on that, too. No great surprise there.

To be frank, I'm not "worried" or threatened about anyone becoming more omniscient than God. The metaphysical question to me seems completely reasonable. Am I praying to the sheetrock or can grandma really hear me? How can she discern me from all her other loved ones? If this happens, why wouldn't there be any indication at all of this in the Bible? It seems kinda important... In fact, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, as an example, wouldn't that be a great place for Jesus to have mentioned that concept of praying/ interceding for others on earth after we die? Yet He didn't. You can see where I'm coming from. I'm just not seeing satisfactory answers that can be supported scripturally, which is again our sticking point.

While we will disagree on these issues, I did want to say that I appreciate the tone of the response. I do get tired of the "oh you poor ignorant evangelicals" tone of some orthodox/ mainline thinkers. I didn't sense that at all in your post, and that is very refreshing! Blessings.

David Best said...

Mx5, I know you have a very broad background. It's good to have you around here because of that. Conversations like this one are of the primary purposes of this blog. This is precisely what i want to take place.

David Best said...

For the record here, I don't pray to saints nor would I suggest that one should. However, I don't think that someone that does is bordering on satanic practices. I think they are technically mistaken, but I don't think it is a spiritual problem, other than all bad theology being a spiritual problem, which is a problem I think we all struggle with. God is bigger than our theology.

Though I don't support praying to saints I think venerating people is a good thing. It is sometimes taken too far by the Catholic church, but I don't think it is taken far enough by Evangelicals. Same thing with tradition. Too much in Catholicism, not enough in Evangelicalism.

David Best said...

last thought,

Disagreeing is good. I don't like the kind of ecumenism that says, "O were all really just the same." Were not, and we can't be, nor should we. Where I disagree with some people though is over the implications of our differences. I'm not saying we should worship together, that just wouldn't make sense. (or could it) But we are not enemies.

What I like to do with people and ideas I'm not familiar with is to try and find out exactly where we disagree. I want to ask, "how did you arrive at this conclusion? what were your presuppositions? how did you get there? what might some other possibly larger implications be?"

This helps me see where we disagree but also agree all the more clearly. In this case, obviously we disagree about praying to saints, but in a sense that isn't even the issue, the question is why, and how, and is there anything I can learn from this?

In my case, I had no idea why catholics prayed to saints before I read this post. Now I do, and I like what I heard concerning Allan's view of the body of Christ. I don't completely agree with it, but it aguments my own developing view. It's something I tuck away for use at a future date. I don't think it has to in any way impinge on the sovereignty or Lordship of Jesus Christ.

However, I am an Evangelical, I am committed to putting the Bible first, so I won't change the fact that I don't pray to saints, it's not in the Bible, but I have shifted my understanding of saints and the Catholic view of the Church. I learned something, and that is a good thing. It is one more way in which I am loving God with all my mind. Additionally, it allows me to better understand and communicate with people that are Catholic.

Mx5 said...

Well said, David. It seems to me that we never really stop learning (or shouldn't, anyway).

+ Alan said...

Thanks for the post David. Glad I was able to spark some thought. I appreciate the way you have handled it. Disagreements like this can get ugly sometimes, well, often. Hopefully we can spur some thinking and talking about something like this without simply throwing out automatic condemnations from either side. Peace.