Should we pray to saints or just to God?
I recently was asked about the Roman Catholic practice of praying to saints: is this biblical and is this something we should do? I figured that we'd tackle that question here, because there's something very beneficial to be gleaned from a conversation about this.
Now, the person who asked this question was told that even though this practice isn't described in the bible that, well, the trinity isn't in the bible either. We believe in the trinity, so we should believe (or could believe) in praying to saints also. Let's just attack that trinity parallel first. It's true, the word trinity is not in the bible. However, the trinity is a solution, it's a culmination to many things the bible teaches. Because the bible teaches three things, fundamentally, about God.
The first is that there's one God. The second thing is that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father. It teaches a third thing, the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God. We have to have a doctrine (a view or a teaching) on God that encompasses these three facts. That is, in fact, the trinity. The trinity is a pulling together of all the bible teaches about God being one being and three persons. It affirms and teaches this. The trinity comes from scripture. It's not something absent in scripture. It's a name given to something that's present.
However, praying to saints is just flat out not in scripture at all. We shouldn't make something an official practice or say it's beneficial for Christian living, if it's not taught, explicitly, in scripture, especially when, as we'll see, it's an actually dangerous teaching.
The first thing I want to say about praying to saints, is that pretty much universally, even in other non-Christian religions, prayer is viewed as an act of worship. Biblically speaking, we should worship no one besides God alone. This would exclude praying to anyone, whether on heaven or on earth. Now, this is probably not going to end the conversation or be very compelling. It would be helpful to be able to provide more evidence and more reasons.
Christianity and the bible do not have this category of people who are extra special or better than other people who are going to heaven. This concept of having saints and then other Christians just doesn't apply. If you're in Christ, if Christ has paid for your sin on the cross, you are a saint. There's no delineation, there's no other grouping or separating out within that.
As a Christian, any good works we do are actually not of our own creation. Ephesians 2 says that, "God prepared them in advance for us to walk in them." When God looks at us and sees an innocent, non-guilty person, that's not because of us, that's because of Jesus. Any righteousness we have is credited to us. It's not innately ours. We don't deserve it. This idea that there're some people that are worthy of being praised or prayed to because they're somehow better, misunderstands what it means to be justified in Christ. That's the first problem.
On Praying To People
But the second problem is that the bible never tells us to pray to anyone besides God, whether they're on heaven or on earth. One thing I don't understand about this view where people pray to saints, is: why do we suddenly start praying to good people when they're dead? When their body is in the ground even if their spirit is in heaven with God? Why can't we pray to other people on earth? I think, that's because it's more, obviously, blasphemous to pray to another flesh and blood human being. But the Bible never tells us to pray to anyone besides God.
But another problem with praying to people in heaven is how would they even hear you? You don't suddenly become omniscient, all knowing, when you die. How could a person in heaven even know you were praying to them? Being all knowing is an attribute of being God. It's not an attribute of his created beings like us. We don't become Gods when we die. We don't suddenly take on the attributes that make God impart who he is.
Now, let's say just for a conversation sake, that people in heaven do know everything that happens down on earth and who's praying to them and all of that. That would have to be granted to them. God would have to do that. But we have no indication that he does. In fact, why would God set up a system where people pray to someone besides him when, he alone, is worthy of our worship and prayers and adoration and supplication and all of those things? Well, he wouldn't.
The second thing is something like number two, but Catholics pray to Mary. Since she isn't God, how could she possibly hear the prayers of thousands or millions of people, praying to her at once, in different languages? She can't. She's not God. This idea that some human essence and human soul can somehow know what's happening down on earth and know everything that anyone is praying and thinking to them, is totally without biblical foundation.
They Can’t Help You
Another point, and this is the biggest one, is let's just say, for the sake of argument, that people in heaven can hear our prayers. What could they possibly do to help us? If we pray, asking for peace, how can that person grant it? They can't. If we pray, asking that they help us with an interpersonal situation at work, they can't help us. If we pray that they would forgive us of our sins, they can't do that. What could they possibly do that Jesus can't do? Why on earth, pardon the pun, would you choose to pray to someone who's a created person instead of the God who created everything? There's nothing they can do that Jesus can't do better. Praying to them is actually a waste of time, in a way. It's going with, if it's even possible at all, the least effective option. Because when I want something accomplish, when I want someone to hear my plea, I want to go to the king who is all powerful. I don't want to go to a created being who, the only reason they're in heaven is because the king saved them. That doesn't make any sense. Go with your best bet, go with God.
But there's another problem. It's actually blasphemous and idolatrous to worship someone besides God. To worship a thing besides God. That's exactly what praying to someone is. It's trusting in someone in heaven to do something for me besides God, and it's an affront to who God is and what he accomplished on the cross. The bible says that God is zealous for the prayers of his people. It doesn't say that he's zealous for them to pray to other created beings. Because in every other case in scripture, that's idolatry. It doesn't suddenly cease when that person's body is in the ground, but their soul's in heaven. They're still a created being.
Two more related points. Catholics believe that Mary helps mediate between us and God. She's kind of our go-between. That's one of the reasons they pray to her. They believe she's a "co-mediatrix" with Jesus. But this is the role of Jesus alone. "There's one God and mediator between God and man," we see in 1 Timothy 2:5. Not two, not Jesus and a another created being. No. Jesus and Jesus alone. He alone is our high priest, not Mary. Even one of the foundations for praying to Mary is built on a gross distortion of biblical truth, of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Praying to her to mediate between us and God, the father, is further idolatry. It's trusting in her to do something that only Christ alone can do.
Now, sometimes Roman Catholics will separate out the type of worship that's happening. It's a certain type, it's a lesser type, so it's not true worship. But, I think, this is a distinction without a difference. Because when you see someone kneeling in front of a statue of a saint and praying and bowing their head and rubbing some beeds, what could that be, besides worship, if it were anyone else having those actions done to/for them?
I hope this has equipped you to think more clearly about praying to people or anything or trusting in anything besides God in a spiritual sense. This is a very important issue. Because at its foundation, it's an authority issue. What does scripture say versus what does the Roman Catholic church or other denominations say? What is going to drive and define how we see our Christian practice? Is the bible authoritative and sufficient for faith and practice or is the church? Scripture says that it is God-breathed. Nothing the church says or does is God-breathed, it does not have that same authority. We should not base our life and our spiritual practice on something the church, a man made institution, says in such a grave area where the practice actually leads us into idolatry and blasphemy.
This is a topic that when we talk with people, we need to approach with grace, because oftentimes, we do base our life on what authorities tell us and that's not always wrong. But we do need to understand their evidences and their reasons for why we should do things. If they're poor, if they're bad and especially, if they're un-biblical, we shouldn't follow the practice.
Until next week, I look forward to talking with you on Unapologetic.