Friday, September 14, 2012

Praying To The Dead?: Part One

It wasn't too long ago that a friend of ours, when discussing the nature of our new monastic ministry asked if we prayed to the dead.  I gathered that she was referring to the photo of votive candles posted on our website (you know, the bank of candles that you might find in a Roman Catholic Church?).  At first I casually laughed off the question, but later found myself giving pause to the theological implications that such a question raises, especially among those of us who are in more liturgical/sacramental expressions of the church universal.

Although votive candles, or vigil lights are often lit to demonstrate special devotion or to make an appeal to a specific saint, more often than not, the candles are lit as a visible sign that prayers are being said for a specific purpose.  Any well-trained Catholic would tell you that there is no magic in the candle themselves, rather they are used as a sign to engage the praying person with the light of Christ; the ascension of smoke symbolizing the incense that rises before the throne of God, that is the prayers of the saints.  The lighting of the candle helps the intercessor to imagine his or her pray as a small flame, that when joined together with other small flames, a noticeable light is made which may attract a heavenly response.
Now, back to the question of praying to the dead.  Do Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican believers actually pray to the saints?  And is there any Biblical precedent for this?  Let us explore the matter.

Growing up as an evangelical fundamentalist, the thought of Roman Catholics praying to their patron saints or to the virgin Mary was laughable to me.  I would snidely remark within myself how foolishly deceived these poor Catholics were.  It wasn't until my "conversion" into a more liturgical/sacramental faith did I even consider the possibility of such prayers even being valid.  My beloved Bishop was patient to teach me that when catholic believers invoke the saints in prayer, they are not actually praying to the saints, but rather asking the saints to pray with them and for them, as we might ask a friend or family member to do the same.  He continued to show me very graciously that the Scriptures do in fact attest to the validity of entreating the dead in Christ to pray with us and for us, and that the practice is not only valid, but a powerful means of intercession.  Here is what I have learned:

#1. When confronted with the question of whether it is Biblical to pray to, or with, or for the dead, many fundamentalists would point to the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy18:11 that says "to conjure spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead" is detestable and an abomination to the Lord.  In looking at this passage, we must consider two things: 1) This Old Testament command was given prior to the Resurrection. This in no way invalidates the command for today mind you because such practices remain detestable to the Lord, however, because of its pre-resurrection context, it cannot be associated or attached to the practice in discussion here as we will soon discover.  2) The passage was written in the context of other evil practices related to witchcraft and sorcery, all noted demonic activities.  The Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox view of praying with the saints (the dead in Christ) could not be further away from consulting witches and psychic readers who are in deed guided by the demonic.

# 2. In Mark 12:18-27 the Sadducee's (a Jewish Sect who did not believe in the resurrection) tried to trap Jesus by asking Him a question about marriage in the afterlife.  His response was not only brilliant, but very pertinent to our discussion.  He said to them, "Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?  For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.  But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?  He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.  You are therefore greatly mistaken."  Not only were the Sadducee's rebuked for their ignorance of Scripture, the entire fundamental basis of their theology was dismantled.  In light of this, it would be wise for the dogmatic theologian to consider the whole counsel of Scripture on a subject matter before he proves himself a fool, as did the Sadducee's!

# 3. In Matthew 27:51-53 a mysterious passage appears.  It states that after Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, that "...the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of their graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."  It is evident from this passage, that when Christ died, he brought freedom from the grave to those who were asleep in Him.  In other words, those whose faith was counted unto them as righteousness because they looked forward to the coming of Messiah, were raised from the dead soon after Christ Himself rose.  These saints now had access to the throne of grace in the heavenly realm because of the blood of Jesus! 

2 Corinthians 5:8 brings a bit more simplicity and clarity to the above passage stating that: " be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". Therefore, in light of this passage and others that attest to the living faith of the "dead in Christ", we can safely conclude, that the dead in Christ are not dead at all, but very present to the Lord and to us!  We, through Jesus Christ can say again to those who deny the present resurrection and to the dogmatic religionists of our day that indeed, God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living!  For He is a living God!  But the question still remains, is praying with departed saints a Biblically acceptable practice in new Testament Christianity.  Stay tuned for part two of "Praying to the Dead?" as we try to unpack Scripture, the testimony of the early Church fathers, and the experience of the Church throughout history.

In the Lion, In the Lamb,


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    Is it a sin to pray to the Virgin Mary and other dead saints?

    Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go Satan! For it is written,' "You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

    Praying to any person or anything is worship.

    WORSHIP DEFINED: To revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion. Adoring reverence or regard.

    Any worship of anyone or anything other than God is sin.

    The Virgin Mary is not God nor does she have the power to grant petitions of prayer. If men could pray to dead saints and get them answered, then why not pray to saint Moses, saint John The Baptist, saint Abraham, saint Job, saint Enoch, saint The Thief on The Cross or any other dead saint?

    Dead people cannot hear your prayers and if they could they would not have the power to answer them.

    Prayer is worship and only God deserves our worship.

    God knows our every thought. God is aware of every sin we commit. God knows our every move.

    God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Those are the attributes of God and what you would need in order to answer prayer.

    Neither the Virgin Mary, Moses, John The Baptist nor any other dead saint has the attributes of God. They cannot hear you nor can they answer YOUR PRAYERS.


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    1. Steve,

      Thans for your comment. However, it is obvious that you did not take the time to thoroughly read and examine this article, or it's Scriptural/Historical context. Perhaps before you make such brash statements regarding an article, you should embrace a little more investigative integrity. Perhaps you might find some corner of truth that you are not yet familiar with. Blessings, and come back any time! ~ Mark