Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Praying to the Dead? Part Two

It's ironic that on All-Hallow's-Eve I am writing about praying to the dead.  I know, it sounds a bit morbid, or at least medieval for our modern minds to perceive the possibility that praying to the dead could actually help our walk with Christ; however, my hope is that you may gain a clearer understanding of an ancient practice so that you also can enjoy the benefits of communing with those who have gone before us in Christ.  If it sounds too spooky for you, just bare with me and keep reading! 




In the 8th century, the Church appointed November 1st and 2nd to be feast days honoring the dead in Christ.  November 1st was set aside to honor the saints and was thus named All Saints Day, and November 2nd was termed the Feast of All Souls, in honor of all those who would soon become saints.  It was evident by the institution of these Holidays, that the church highly valued the saints that had passed on to be with the Lord. 

For all of the accusations of syncretism and pagan origins that are so often hurled at the church for its adoption of various Holidays, I might remind us that we arm chair theologians may have the convenience of historical scrutiny, but we lack the cultural context and understanding of the Holy Spirit's guidance of His Church during that particular point in time.  We might also be wise to consider Psalm 116:15 which states, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints."   Could it be that the church was simply trying to emulate this verse by giving proper honor and observance to those who had fought the good fight of faith?

Although these Holidays have recently become overshadowed by the commercialization of Halloween, it is important to remember and bring into our own experience the life and times of those heroic Christians who have gone before us.  It was an early tradition that on the eve of All Saints Day, Christians in the British Isles would hold vigil to remember the dead and to celebrate the fact that "Death is swallowed up in victory."  By memorializing the "dead in Christ", we do not worship them, we simply honor the life in God that they led. It would be unjust to create a culture of honor only for those who are physically present among us, for by ignoring the "dead" in Christ, we ignore the victory that was won by Christ.  By honoring the saints we proclaim Christ's victory and shame our enemy by echoing the prophet Hosea who first said, "O Death, Where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"  Honoring the dead in Christ brings the reality of Christ's present risenness into our midst, and serves to "re----member" the mystical Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Apostle's Creed (also known by early Christians as the Baptismal Creed), perhaps the oldest credal statement in Church History, affirms the reality mentioned above, in that it clearly states the following: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints...".  The historical church has taught that the communion of saints "is the spiritual solidarity which binds the faithful on earth...and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head..." (newadvent.org)  Now, if I may, I will try to explain why we evangelicals have such an aversion to "praying" or communing with the "dead" in Christ.  

The Roman Church had taken its veneration of the dead to a perverse extreme during the middle ages, as it did many of the sacred traditions of the church during that time of her separation and independence from the greater catholic church in the east.  As a result, the reformers, in an attempt to purify themselves from anything "Roman Catholic", threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  Communing with the saints, iconography, certain sacramental elements, the sign of the cross, liturgical forms and prayers, incense, and many of the great traditions practiced by even the earliest church were relegated to defiled antiquity.  As a result, most Protestant Evangelicals today are not only divorced from any form of worship that existed prior to the Reformation, they are deprived of the rich traditions and sacred graces that empowered the church for a millennium and half prior to the Reformation.

If you're still not convinced by history and Biblical precedent, that engaging the saints in prayer is something that is Biblically relevant, then please allow me a few more Scriptural references that might sway your opinion, if not get you curious enough to do your own research.  In Matthew 17, Jesus took His closest friends up to a mountain to pray; and there, Moses and Elijah appeared before them.  Then Scripture tells us that Jesus was talking with them.  Next, a voice from heaven came out of the clouds and said, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."  Everything that Jesus did on earth was pleasing to the Father, including talking with the "dead".  Now, we know that Jesus was not worshipping Moses and Elijah as Peter was tempted to do on the mount of transfiguration, however, we can ascertain that Jesus was receiving encouragement, counsel, and prayer from His heavenly visitors.

I would like to make it clear that Christ is our only mediator and that every individual believer can approach the throne of Grace boldly. Furthermore, we need not the help of the saints in order to have access to God.  However, just because we have free and unlimited access to the throne of God by the blood of Jesus Christ, does not mean that we do not need the prayers of our friends and family, thus we often entreat them to pray for us.  For Jesus himself taught us that there is more power and presence in prayer when we join together with others in agreement.  Why not ask those who are unencumbered by the restraints of time and worldly pressures who are always and already praying before the throne of God (Revelation 4:4,10,11; 5:8-10,13; 6:9-11; 7:9-12) to intercede for those of us who are not yet there?  "Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." should be asking of those who are cheering us on, for their prayers!  God bless you friends, and until next time, I will be...

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

Mark Whitten

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