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Don’t Ditch Santa, Part 1

Scripture and history prove pagans don’t own Santa. The early Church does.
| Dec 19, 2013 | No comments | Series:
Santa Claus, per many well-meaning Christians' imaginations.

Santa Claus, per many well-meaning Christians’ imaginations.

When I was a boy I enjoyed Santa Claus at Christmastime. I loved fantasy and devoured anything with ghosts, goblins, and other fun myths and legends. I loved to use my imagination.

Then around high school, some Christians I trusted — ones who I realize now misused Scripture to justify and condemn according to their own preferences — got their hooks into me.

Fantasy and Harry Potter? They were of the devil, I “realized.” I was also sure that Santa can only “take Christ out of Christmas.”

I was under these delusions for much of high school and college. Only little by little, starting with some Christians I met in the Army and afterward with other good Christian friends I made, did I realize how far astray I had been lead in my youth.

Please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use discretion when it comes to the choices of media and stories in which we partake. What I am saying is that we should not condemn things as against God or a sin if they actually are not so.

Santa vs. Jesus?

In Christmas celebrations all too many Christians, sadly and misguidedly, seem to thrive on pitting Santa Claus against our Lord and Savior Jesus. They act as if it is an “either/or” proposition. Santa is “secular,” they say. Well, if he is secular, then that is largely the fault of society which has made him into a secular symbol.

But in the history of Santa going all the way back to Saint Nicholas himself, he was very much a religious, even Christian symbol. All of the more recent secular aspects to St. Nick are really window dressing our cynical age has foisted upon him.

“What’s this?” you ask. “Santa isn’t ‘Christian’ at all. He’s the fat guy in the North Pole who gives gifts. He takes the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.”

I could continue with the false arguments and epithets, and false they are, as you will soon see as we trace the Christian lineage of the figure.

My standard is now to apply the Scriptures and do research (Biblical and otherwise), not just the prejudice of myself or someone I admire as a guide. It is this standard that has allowed me to enjoy Harry Potter and other fantasy again. It is this standard that caused me to become interested in Santa and to enjoy the myths about St. Nick once again. And it is this standard, and the desire to defend this legend, that has inspired me to write this two-part series for SpecFaith.

When I learned the details that I am about to share with you about the man and the legend of Nicholas, I became even more determined to refute the false arguments against this wonderful figure of imagination, peace, and service to God in the harshest time of the year.

Birth of a legend

dontditchsanta_saintnicholasThe story of the true Saint Nicholas begins around 1,700 years ago. Nicholas, who was eventually made a saint by the early post-Apostolic Church1 was a contemporary and personal acquaintance on several occasions of Constantine, the Christian emperor of Rome.

Before Constantine’s rise to power, the empire was divided amongst four emperors. The four agreed to persecute the Christian communities in order to strengthen their hold on power. Three of the emperors, Diocletian, Galerius, and Maximian, embraced this idea of persecution with gusto. They instituted the final, yet also one of the worst, persecutions of Christians in the history of Rome. In this environment one of the youngest bishops of a large city or anywhere, Nicholas of Myra, rose to prominence.

When the persecution began, the young bishop could have fled to safe havens, including the part of the empire coincidentally overseen by Constantine’s father, Constantius. Constantius didn’t really agree with the policy, as evidenced by his lack of vigor in enforcing it. Barring some minor church burnings for “show,” he did nothing, and certainly avoided implementing the large-scale persecution enacted elsewhere in the Empire.

But Nicholas chose not to flee. He knew that if he escaped, the hunt for him would make the tortures and interrogations exerted on his flock much worse than they already would be.

So he stayed where he was in his home and awaited the inevitable arrest. When the Roman soldiers came, he calmly went to face torture and perhaps death. While many Christians would prove false and recant their faith under the flames, floggings, and other tortures of Rome, which were so hideous that the word “brutal” can not even begin to describe them, many more did not. Among these was Nicholas of Myra. After his confinement ended, his reputation for deep, unwavering faith in God soared.

Upon his release, the foundation of the myths would really be laid with random acts of kindness that Bishop Nicholas performed for others. Though some of the stories may not be true, there is enough commonality among so many varied accounts that most historians believe many are indeed factual. Often Nicholas gave gifts anonymously, and when caught he made the thankful recipient swear to never tell a soul during Nicholas’ lifetime. He insisted they thank God, not him. The Bishop took very seriously Christ’s admonition that God should get the glory and that He would reward us for what we did in secret.2

Super-saint?

What really cemented the myth of Nicholas was that after his death the belief spread that his name could be successfully invoked by people in distress. It was not always seen as somehow “heretical” to invoke the name of a dead saint, as it was later on when the process of making someone a saint (and thus worthy of prayers) and most other functions of the Roman Catholic Church became increasingly corrupt before the Reformation and counter-Reformation. In the early post-Apostolic church people believed that if someone who had gone to be with the Lord was petitioning God in prayer in Heaven for us and God answered, that petitioner was a “saint.”

Granted, the process is more complicated, and there were other ways to be considered a “saint,” but that is the essence of how Bishop Nicholas was eventually recognized as one.

For those who object: Yes, it is true that all Christians are saints in the sense of being saved. But at the time the Church held basically two definitions of the word. These were the universal sense of all believers being a saint upon salvation, and the specific sense just noted, in which folks were made a saint not by official proclamation, but by popular belief.

Next week: How did the spiritual figure Saint Nicholas “become” the secular Santa Claus?

  1. As opposed to the corrupt processes that began around the year 1000.
  2. Matt. 6: 2–4.
Timothy Stone is an Army veteran who served in combat operations in Iraq. He can be found in his free time reading way too much manga, comics, and speculative fiction, as well as other genres. He above all is a horrible sinner saved by the grace of God, and hopes he can bring glory to His Savior and Lord. Read his reviews of fantasy and other books on GoodReads.

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Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Though you could say that the veneration of particular saints is a holdover from polytheism. That’s the thing, though. A lot of Christian (or “Christian” in the sense that it’s Western European) traditions are pagan in origin, or at least not, strictly speaking, from the Bible (ie, <i>Paradise Lost</i>). But I don’t think this is a problem as long as we are aware of it.

Paul Lee
Member

Right, because the only alternative would be to demolish all cultural distinctiveness.
 
Evangelical missionaries say that Western Christians must not try to convert people to Western culture, because Jesus is for all people, and God can redeem elements of pagan culture. So, it’s inconsistent for Christians to get upset because elements of Western culture were originally pagan. It’s good to find Christian relevance in pre-Christian traditions.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Amen.

Because “This is my Father’s world.”

We’re all just living in it.

Julie D
Guest

*obligatory Inklings reference* Christianity is the true myth, but other myths reflect aspects of it.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I don’t think this is true. From the earliest times, it was established that saints were normal people, not deities that Christians baptized and turned into a pseudo-pantheon. I think that there’s a strand of folk belief that tries to make saints into those things, but the origin and concept of them has always been that of fellow humans who we honor and respect due to their holiness. The abuse of such is something entirely different from the older traditions that came before.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I think the peasants wouldn’t have made that distinction. Or possibly most of the population, since for the longest time, the general population wasn’t that educated. It’s just switching from praying to the fertility god for a good harvest to hitting up the patron saint for farming, whoever that is. The train of thought is much the same.

Paul Lee
Member

The stuff about the 4th-century church is extremely interesting to me. I hate the fact that Evangelism is so dismissive of church tradition. I started crossing myself with my thumb on my forehead when I read in Wikipedia that that’s how the ancient church did it, even though my tradition doesn’t do crossing at all.

merechristian
Member
merechristian

Well, I don’t think it was really a cross-over of polytheism here, in that the Church at the time. Though the people at the time didn’t necessarily read the Word themselves, due to lack of literacy, or access to widespread copies, they heard it read often. They were not ignorant of the Scriptures. Also, given how they had endured persecutions for refusing to have anything to do with polytheism, I tend to think they would be on guard against it if they thought this was similar. Certainly Constantine thought it not to be polytheistic, as he had staked his earthly kingdom, and (I believe he sincerely knew Christ) eternal soul on the truth of the monotheistic Christian faith. I assume he would have caught such polytheistic trends, if they were there, given his background as a Roman citizen from a powerful family.
 
I can’t really solve some of these debates in this two-part piece, nor am I going to try that impossible feat. I will just say that my own view is similar to Bainespal in finding out certain facts of where the Churches practiced concepts long before their corruption, and so I’ve had to at least consider some views. Doesn’t mean you automatically accept them, you might or might not, but you have to consider them, I think.
 
Myself, I view the word “pray” in two contexts. One is supplication to the God of the Universe, transcendent above all things, and the other is to make a request of another person. Or more specifically, to pray to someone that they may ask God to help you, or use them to help you. I just think of it this way, that I don’t believe that those in Heaven are only concerned with watching and praying to God for vengeance on those who persecuted them and could care less about earth otherwise. Why not assume they would pray for us too if we ask them to do so, all the way in Heaven?

Austin Gunderson
Member

Because “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5), and because “in everything by prayer and supplication [we are to] let [our] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6), instead of to other intermediaries.  If it’s acceptable practice to pray to saints in heaven in order to relay messages to God, then why not also pray to earthly saints for the same purpose?  How quickly this notion degrades into the idea that other people besides Christ can somehow improve my standing before my Maker!

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

Simply, Jesus is our sole Mediator.

Jesus is not our sole Intercessor. The rest of the Timothy text you quoted , read in context, makes that clear:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

Jesus is our sole Mediator in that only He was able to atone for all our sins, as He is both God and Man – no one else could bear the weight of our sins, and this was His role as Mediator, as Paul acknowledges in the same sentence.

But the rest; of the text you quoted shows that Paul called us all to act as intercessors, even as we ask the saints to be our intercessors (and even as Abraham interceded with God for Sodom, saving Lot in the process) – so to try to use this as an indictment against asking for the prayers of others, living or dead, is fallacious.

A Mediator is one who resolves disputes between two parties (in this case, the two parties to the Covenant between God and Man).

An Intercessor, in the Christian sense, offers prayers to God on behalf of others. Any member of the Church, living or dead, can do the latter but not the former.

Austin Gunderson
Member

Can the dead in Christ pray just as we do?  Of course they can.  Might they even pray for us?  I don’t see why not.  But can we pray to them?  Ah, now there’s the rub!

When I ask a living brother or sister in Christ to pray for me, I am, as you say, asking them to intercede before God on my behalf.  But do I ever go into my closet alone, close the door, and whisper to my friend who lives in another city to pray for me?  Of course not — I pick up the phone!  Because my friend’s not omnipresent, it’d be futile to “pray” to him while he’s alive upon this earth.  And does this state of affairs change when my friend dies and joins Jesus in heaven?  By no means!  Omnipresence is an attribute of God.  Not even glorified man can think to attain it.  A distinguishing characteristic of created beings is that they are finite.  They cannot be everywhere at once, they cannot hear everyone at once.  They are never a mere thought away.  But the very concept of saints to whom we can pray breezes right past this fundamental distinction.  I mean, nowhere in scripture do people pray even to angels, and they’re specifically labeled as God’s messengers and ministers!  (Heb. 1)

But why would I even ask a fellow Christian — especially a deceased one! — to pray for me without first petitioning God Himself, Whose own blood purchased my right as a member of His royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) to “draw near the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16)?  The redundancy is staggering.  Not only is this idea found nowhere in the pages of scripture, it ignores the whole point of Christ’s atonement.  I don’t need to rely on other human beings.  God Almighty Himself, the Creator of the universe, has stooped His ear to meet my mouth!  I am to “cast all [my] anxieties on Him, because He cares for [me]” (1 Pet. 5:7).  Through Christ, I can enjoy the same relationship with the Father already enjoyed by His Son, Who talked directly and continuously with God during His time on earth.  When Christ taught us to pray, what were the first words out of His mouth?  “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).  Not “Our brothers and sisters in heaven.”  Our Father.  The only One with the ability to hear us in all times and places.  The only One with the power to grant our requests.  The only One Who knows the mysteries of our lives.  He who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs.  The wielder of life and death.  God.  Our Father.

Why on earth or in heaven would I pray to anyone else?

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

“I don’t need to rely on other human beings”

Why not do both? 

As 1 Timothy 2:1 and James 5:16 and Romans 15:30 say, Christians should pray for each other. James 5:16 ties the effect of prayer to the righteousness of those offering the intercession. We know nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27), so the saints (i.e., all those who have entered Heaven) have achieved spiritual purity, so their prayers would be heard. They also offer powerful examples to us in how to conform our lives to Christ.
 
As Christ says in Luke 20:35-36, saints are as angels.  If angels can hear our prayers (as you said, they are God’s messengers) the saints are also able to do so. If Jesus has commanded us to pray for each other, and as the intercessory prayers of the righteous are effective (again, James 5:16), why would He not grant those in Heaven the limited capacity to hear prayers – which is far from omniscience, despite what you wrote. The saints hear us (only) through the power of the Holy Spirit, through whom all things are possible.

But there is an even greater, and a very un-Biblical flaw in your reasoning for finding an “un-redundant” method to prayer, Austin, to which I respectfully call your attention. Do you not know that Jesus will hear ALL prayers, whether offered through the saints, or your family, or your pastor, or you alone? ALL prayer is indirect, as Matthew 6:7-13 tells us:

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

 
So, Jesus has told us that He already knows what we are going to pray, before we ask it. One would think that means that there is no point to praying – what would be the point? – but He then tells us, okay, then here’s how you should pray.

Think about that.

Jesus already knows what you are going to say, but wants you to say it anyway. Jesus does not want us to be efficiency engineers, trying to calculate the most “efficient” or “purest” or “non-redundant” method to pray. An omnipresent, omniscient God also doesn’t need to use angels as messengers, but He frequently does. He likes to use created beings (angels, saints, us) to do his work, although it’s not really necessary. That’s how God works.

Prayer is not about efficiency. It’s a transformative process which is about conforming our will to God’s will and (also important) drawing ourselves closer in communion to other believers.  Living and dead, as we know the Church continues in Heaven. Pray every way you can, whenever you can, Austin. We all should.  That includes intercessory prayer, asking others to pray for us.  We ask others to prayer for us, out of humility. We should pray for others, out of charity. All methods of prayer help us grow in Christ, and we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to say only some need be used. 

You may feel you do not “need” to rely on other’s prayers to God on your behalf, or that it is somehow “redundant,” or feel that you should only use the most efficient method, but the Bible tells you that you should. I realize you have defined your own beliefs which you feel are truthful, but as a Bible-believing Christian, I have to believe the words of Scripture, not yours.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I hardly think that the recipient of my prayers is somehow an incidental ingredient.  I do not pray to God because it’s the “most effective” method; indeed, He rarely answers my prayers in a manner I can anticipate.  No, I pray to God because He’s the only One worthy of my prayers.  He alone is God, and there is no other.  In praying only to God through Christ, I’m not being individualistic or antisocial or anti-communal; I’m simply acknowledging reality.

I agreed with you in the first paragraph of my preceding comment that the dead in Christ are able to pray, and likely willing to pray for us.  That’s not an issue here.  The question is whether we who remain on earth should be spending our time praying to them.  I say “No” for two reasons: first, it’s impossible, and second, it’d be pointless.

You ask why God wouldn’t grant those in heaven the limited capacity to hear prayers.  Before I answer that rhetorical question, I must point out that it doesn’t constitute scriptural evidence.  There’s no verse associated with it.  It’s nothing more than imaginative conjecture.  But back on point — the reason that God wouldn’t grant those in heaven the limited capacity to hear prayers is because He desires our prayers Himself.  If I spend time praying to a human being, the opportunity cost is time spent with my heavenly Father.  Why would He want that?  Being prayed to would do nothing for the supposed human recipient — as you pointed out, those in heaven have already achieved “spiritual purity.”  The sole remaining supposed beneficiary would be the pray-er himself, but the pray-er is failing to develop a relationship with anyone!  He’s not communing with God, Who can actually respond.  He’s not communing with the supposed human recipient, because that recipient, even if able to hear, is still finite and thus incapable of responding beyond the gulf of death.

You claim that “ALL prayer is indirect.”  I have no clue what you mean by this.  When I address my prayers to the Father, I address Him directly, and He hears me.  There is no intermediary aside from Christ, in Whose perfect blood I’m drenched.  He is the only Way to the Father.

The necessity for prayer is beyond me, Arizona (if that’s your real name).  As an umpteen-point Calvinist, I believe that God wrote the entire history of everything before the dawn of time.  I believe not only that He knows what I want before I ask for it, but that He predestined me to have that precise desire at that precise moment.  I believe He’s absolutely sovereign.  Why then does He tell us to pray — to Him exclusively, I might add — over and over and over again throughout the length and breadth of scripture?  The only reason I can imagine is that He knows the best means of relationship-building is communication.  With that in mind, why would I want to spend time building one-way relationships (which is the only way I can think to describe whatever might develop between living and dead humans)?  No, instead of praying to people who have no power over me and who may or may not even be listening, I’ll pray to the God Who holds the universe together by the word of His power, and Who, through Christ, is guaranteed to listen to everything I pray in His name.

P.S.  Aside from the Transfiguration, which occurred for a very particular purpose, what’s the only example of a living human communicating with a dead one in all of scripture?  That would be found in 1st Samuel 28.  It’s not a very positive example.

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

“P.S.  Aside from the Transfiguration, which occurred for a very particular purpose, what’s the only example of a living human communicating with a dead one in all of scripture?”
 
Hey, did you hear about the mathematician who proved that all odd numbers are prime numbers?
 
Here’s how he did it:
 
“Let’s see, 1 is a prime number…3 is a prime number…5 is a prime number…7 is a prime number…9 is just statistical variance…11 is a prime number…”
 
So, yes. Jesus, a living Man (fully God, fully man) communicated with the dead, and so did the apostles who were present. To exclude an instance (an enormously important instance, as we’ll see) that doesn’t fit your argument doesn’t obviate it. You’re simply making a decision to exclude it. 
 
It did indeed happen for a special purpose –  to announce the most important event in history, and thus in the larger sense, to help us conform ourselves to Christ, As does prayer to those in heaven, Austin (if that’s your real name – what kind of weirdo uses a place name as their first name?) (j/k.)
 
First, we are called to imitate Christ, so communicating with the saints as He did isn’t wrong. Nothing He did was wrong.
 
Second, we also see that Christ initiated contact with the faithful departed in a manner unlike anything we see in the Old Testament. Why is this? While we do not see the faithful under the Old Covenant initiating contact with the saints, who lacked the developed understanding granted to the faithful with the Revelation of Christ under the New Covenant. Christ establishes a new way of relating to those who have passed before. He is literally changing the rules of the game.
 
“You ask why God wouldn’t grant those in heaven the limited capacity to hear prayers.  Before I answer that rhetorical question, I must point out that it doesn’t constitute scriptural evidence.  There’s no verse associated with it.  It’s nothing more than imaginative conjecture.”
 
Gotta disagree. In Revelation 5:8-14, we see the intercessory communication between those on earth and the saints as the prayers of the saints are delivered to God by the 24 elders, and later in Revelation 8:3-4 as the prayers of the saints are delivered by the angels. It seems like common sense that the prayers of the saints are those they have received from those on earth, based on the scriptural evidence that the saints (whom we know from scripture are still members of the Church, and perfected beings) are doing what good Christians are commanded to do – to pray for each other. (Romans 15:30) This is New Testament Christianity, the New Covenant in action.
 
“But back on point — the reason that God wouldn’t grant those in heaven the limited capacity to hear prayers is because He desires our prayers Himself.  If I spend time praying to a human being, the opportunity cost is time spent with my heavenly Father. ”
 
He still gets them, as Jesus points out in the verse I cited earlier. Prayer is like Love – it’s not a zero-sum game or a pie where a slice given to someone else is a slice Jesus doesn’t get, or where we have to calculate the “opportunity cost” of prayer time.
 
“Being prayed to would do nothing for the supposed human recipient — as you pointed out, those in heaven have already achieved “spiritual purity.”  The sole remaining supposed beneficiary would be the pray-er himself, but the pray-er is failing to develop a relationship with anyone!  He’s not communing with God, Who can actually respond.  He’s not communing with the supposed human recipient, because that recipient, even if able to hear, is still finite and thus incapable of responding beyond the gulf of death.”
 
Again, you are communing with God when you pray, God can actually respond, the issue of the “finite” nature of the saints and angels js one we will talk about below, and the beneficiary of prayer is supposed to be the prayer, Austin. God does not benefit from your prayers. The prayers are for your benefit, as well as anyone else for whom you are praying or acting as an intercessor.  Again, prayer in community is important.
 
“[The only example] would be found in 1st Samuel 28.  It’s not a very positive example.”
 
It’s also not the only example, and it overlooks the positive examples we see elsewhere in the New Testament where the faithful on earth initiate contact with the saints in Heaven, as in Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12, and the great cloud of witnesses (the faithful departed) encouraging them to run the race of faith set before them. As part of the New Covenant, they approach the Kingdom of God not with terror and trepidation as of old, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” That New Covenant, as the Bible tells us, puts us in a new relationship with those who have passed before us – the spirits of the righteous made perfect. By the act of the Transfiguration and His unprecedented communication with the faithful dead, Christ is teaching a new way we relate to them through the New Covenantal relationship.
 
Lastly, 1 Samuel 28 is an interesting chapter. It’s also irrelevant to our discussion. The Bible condemns necromancy, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and spiritualism throughout. That’s not what prayer to God, using a saint as an intercessor, is, anymore than asking your (living) brother or your (living) pastor to pray for you is.
 
That’s an important thing that readers of this forum will probably recognize – the difference between miracles and magic. Miracles work through the power of the Lord. Magic is attempting to control the universe through the power of the magician, or by harnessing the power of unclean spirits, or by trying to force God to do what the magician wants – it’s an attempt to work around God.  
 
J.K. Rowling understands this quite clearly, as she said in her interview with Oprah: ““I’m not saying I believe magic is real—I don’t. But that’s the perennial appeal of magic—the idea that we ourselves have power and we can shape our world.” 
 
That is the sin we see in the use of the Witch of Endor. It denies our need for God, and focuses our attention away from God and the community of the Church and onto our selves.
 
Miracles work through God, as when Moses challenged the Egyptian magicians. They were able to duplicate some of his miracles, so we know that magic and miracles can look alike. But they’re not, and the effects of magic are pernicious.
 
“Omnipresence is an attribute of God.  Not even glorified man can think to attain it.  A distinguishing characteristic of created beings is that they are finite.  They cannot be everywhere at once, they cannot hear everyone at once.  They are never a mere thought away.  But the very concept of saints to whom we can pray breezes right past this fundamental distinction.  I mean, nowhere in scripture do people pray even to angels, and they’re specifically labeled as God’s messengers and ministers!  (Heb. 1)”
 
First, the last statement is not actually correct. In Psalm 148, which is a prayer, as well as elsewhere in scripture, we the faithful address a prayer to the angels, asking them to pray with us: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!”
 
Secondly, as the amount of prayers offered at any one time, by all the believers on earth (and, heck, for all we know, other sentient creatures in the universe), is not infinite. It’s a finite number. Large, but finite. You don’t have to be omniscient to deal with a large amount of data, just very capable. 
 
I’d also have to say that your idea that all created beings are finite is not fully correct. They exist because God created and preserves them, as He does all things, so in that sense I suppose you could argue that saints and angels are finite beings, but both creations exist outside space and time (although capable of influencing our universe) and thus operate from a perspective outside the limited perspective of us creatures living in the here-and-now. For the purposes of our discussion, they do not operate in a finite set of circumstances.
 
We know from scripture that Heaven’s time is infinite time. If you’re living in God’s domain, one of the perks is you get to use the infinite amount of time you have available.  That may not be scriptural, but it certainly seems like common sense. Like Wyatt Earp’s advice for accurate shooting, as a saint or angel working in infinity you get to “move slowly all of a sudden-like.”
 

Austin Gunderson
Member

LoL!  Touché on the question of names.  Shoulda seen that one comin’.

Obviously, you and I disagree completely regarding the purpose of the Transfiguration.  You assume that, through it, Christ was modeling behavior as He did with most of His other earthly activities.  You say that “we are called to imitate Christ, so communicating with the saints as He did isn’t wrong. Nothing He did was wrong.”  I absolutely agree with that last sentence.  But just because Christ did something doesn’t mean that we should presume to imitate Him.  Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves.  Does that mean I should expect to do the same?  Christ turned water into wine.  Does that mean that my friends should come to me in order to save money on their wedding?  Christ walked on water.  Will that work for me just ’cause I’m a Christian?  I think not.

You’re absolutely right when you say that miracles are manifestations of God’s power.  With that in mind, is it possible for God to cause me to walk on water?  Absolutely; nothing is impossible for God.  But to leap from saying that something is theoretically possible in rare instances to claiming that it’s possible for all Christians at all times just ’cause Christ did it once … that constitutes a massive fallacy.

What was the purpose of Christ’s miracles?  Was it not to identify Him as God Incarnate?  And what is the purpose of the spiritual gifts given to His Church?  Are they not intended to make each of us useful in a specific capacity as members of the Body of Christ?  The catalog of such gifts in 1st Corinthians 12 doesn’t even come close to itemizing ‘communication with the dead.’  We can’t just go around appropriating for ourselves the power to perform every single miracle demonstrated by Christ.  The Transfiguration did indeed, as you say, “announce the most important event in history,” but that doesn’t make it a template for you and I.

(And, to get into the nitty-gritty of the passage, the apostles who were present didn’t, in fact, communicate with the dead.  Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus (Matt. 17:3).  Peter then addressed Jesus, not Moses or Elijah (Matt. 17:4), and while he was still speaking, the bright cloud of God’s presence overshadowed them all and whisked both Moses and Elijah away (Matt. 17:5-8).  At no point do Peter, James, or John interact directly with Moses or Elijah.  Nor would the whole episode have made much sense if they did.  The Transfiguration was primarily a demonstration of the glory and majesty of Christ, not an affirmation of the inter-death community of believers.)

Also, I really don’t think that Psalm 148:1-2 counts as an example of a prayer directed at angels.  Why?  Well, just read the rest of the psalm.  The psalmist goes on to “pray” to the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens, waters above the heavens, great sea creatures and deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, beasts and livestock, creeping things and flying birds.  If that isn’t pantheism — or at least animism — then I don’t know what is!  ;-p

I think what rankles me about your reasoning in general is that it appears to dramatically narrow the distinction between creature and Creator, ascribing the physics of divinity to finite human beings.  You say that “saints and angels … exist outside space and time (although capable of influencing our universe) and thus operate from a perspective outside the limited perspective of us creatures living in the here-and-now. For the purposes of our discussion, they do not operate in a finite set of circumstances.”  But this is simply not so.  The saints in heaven may exist “outside space” (though that doesn’t mean they are without spatial constraints) but they certainly don’t exist “outside time” — indeed, they await the cosmic consummation same as we do: “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”  (1 Thess. 4:16-17)  And as for the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, those you seem to think we can pray to just ’cause they’re identified as “witnesses,” scripture says this: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”  (Heb. 11:39-40)

Just ’cause one’s life is eternal doesn’t mean one has stepped outside of time or can somehow peruse the span of history like an open book.  That’s God’s prerogative as the only infinite Being.  Eternality doesn’t equate to infinity.  “Eternal life” simply means life that goes on and on without ending, as measured in units of time.  The past is still set, the future still unknown.  Were I to step beyond that paradigm and pass beyond time itself, then I would truly be infinite.  I would be like unto God in substance, not merely in temperament.  This is impossible.  In fact, it’s the very first lie in recorded history: “You can be like God.”  No I can’t.  There is only one God.  My adoption as His son doesn’t change that in the slightest.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I can confirm there there’s no Biblical evidence that saints in Heaven join God in His eternity. In fact, several texts allude to the saints there experiencing time — including Revelation’s mention of silence in Heaven for “half an hour” (Rev. 8:1) and the fact that martyrs in Heaven long for God to avenge their deaths later (Rev. 6: 9–11).

Furthermore, even if saints in Heaven were outside of time, God will someday resurrect this Earth and Himself dwell among man on Earth. This renewed universe will clearly experience time. So will the saints who dwell upon it. Time is not an evil. “Time shall be no more” is a spiritual-sounding line from a song, not Scripture. Our final destiny is not a timeless “spiritoid” void, but a physical world.

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

“Obviously, you and I disagree completely regarding the purpose of the Transfiguration.”
 
Not really, but see below.
 
“You assume that, through it, Christ was modeling behavior as He did with most of His other earthly activities.  You say that “we are called to imitate Christ, so communicating with the saints as He did isn’t wrong. Nothing He did was wrong.”  I absolutely agree with that last sentence.  But just because Christ did something doesn’t mean that we should presume to imitate Him.”
 
It’s not presumption to follow His example inasmuch as we are able. I am not able to take on the sins of the world on the cross, as I am but a man and He is both God and Man. I can, however imitate Him, in my own feeble way, by offering my own sufferings up and by following His commands.
 
“Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves.  Does that mean I should expect to do the same?”
 
You and I should certainly try to feed five thousand hungry men, and more, although we lack His ability to perform a miracle. We can try do so through our own humble abilities – like giving to the local food bank.
 
“Christ turned water into wine.  Does that mean that my friends should come to me in order to save money on their wedding?”
 
You and I should certainly obey our parents’ wishes, if they are good and just ones, just as Jesus did in performing that miracle.
 
“Christ walked on water.  Will that work for me just ’cause I’m a Christian?  I think not.”
 
You and I should certainly seek to calm chaotic, life-threatening  situations by following the example of Christ, just as He calmed the waters.
 
Can I call the saints to appear and converse before me and my friends, as Jesus did? No. Can I offer up a request for them to pray for me, even as I should pray for others (and as I must forgive others, if I wish to be forgiven myself, as Christ ordered)? 
 
Absolutely.
 
“You’re absolutely right when you say that miracles are manifestations of God’s power.  With that in mind, is it possible for God to cause me to walk on water?  Absolutely; nothing is impossible for God.  But to leap from saying that something is theoretically possible in rare instances to claiming that it’s possible for all Christians at all times just ’cause Christ did it once … that constitutes a massive fallacy.”
 
See above.
 
“What was the purpose of Christ’s miracles?  Was it not to identify Him as God Incarnate?”
 
Yes. A sign of His power, and also as acts of charity.  Christ could have as easily identified himself as God Incarnate by writing that message in flaming letters in the sky a thousand feet high, then splitting a mountain in two.  That He chose to do so by healing the lame, the sick, and (initially) by making wine for a party at the direction of his mother, instead, tells us that God is not only powerful, but loving, which is why I’m glad I follow the one true God. A sign of that loving is caring about others and praying for them, as we are commanded to so.  I may not be able to cure the lame, but I can certainly pray for them. All members of the Church, living or dead, can and should.
 
“And what is the purpose of the spiritual gifts given to His Church?  Are they not intended to make each of us useful in a specific capacity as members of the Body of Christ?” The catalog of such gifts in 1st Corinthians 12 doesn’t even come close to itemizing ‘communication with the dead.’  We can’t just go around appropriating for ourselves the power to perform every single miracle demonstrated by Christ. ”
 
See above. One does what one can.
 
“The Transfiguration did indeed, as you say, “announce the most important event in history,” but that doesn’t make it a template for you and I.”
 
Sure it does.
 
“(And, to get into the nitty-gritty of the passage, the apostles who were present didn’t, in fact, communicate with the dead.  Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus (Matt. 17:3).  Peter then addressed Jesus, not Moses or Elijah (Matt. 17:4), and while he was still speaking, the bright cloud of God’s presence overshadowed them all and whisked both Moses and Elijah away (Matt. 17:5-8).  At no point do Peter, James, or John interact directly with Moses or Elijah.”
 
Communication can be one way (a radio broadcast is communicating with me), and being present as a witness is a form of 2-way communication – we can presume the saints  saw the apostles and could read what they were thinking in the same way we can understand what someone is thinking even if they don’t speak out loud, so yes, the apostles were communicating by listening, at the least.
 
“Nor would the whole episode have made much sense if they did.  The Transfiguration was primarily a demonstration of the glory and majesty of Christ, not an affirmation of the inter-death community of believers.)”
 
Primarily, yes. But if we do not succumb to the temptations of binary thinking, we find that God may multi-task in what He is teaching is. Actions contain more than one message. As this was a radical change in our relationship with the saints, it would seem to be just what I said.
 
“Also, I really don’t think that Psalm 148:1-2 counts as an example of a prayer directed at angels.  Why?  Well, just read the rest of the psalm.  The psalmist goes on to “pray” to the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens, waters above the heavens, great sea creatures and deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, beasts and livestock, creeping things and flying birds.  If that isn’t pantheism — or at least animism — then I don’t know what is!  ;-p”
 
As I don’t believe the Bible promotes pantheism or animism (and I suspect you don’t, either), we are left with the option that “prayer” has many meanings. It can mean “worship,” which is due only to God, but it can also mean “to humbly request,” and it is frequently used in that way both in the Bible and in our day-to-day life – When I politely ask that “I pray that you will consider my request,”   or even “pray, tell,” I don’t mean that I worship the person to whom I am talking.  The writer of Psalm 148 is offering a prayer – that is, a request – to the angels, and poetically, to all creation to join in his praise of God.  Just as some Christians offer prayers to the saints. 
 
That’s not the only example of a prayer to the angels in the Psalms, obviously – Psalm 103:20 is another: 
 
Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
 
“I think what rankles me about your reasoning in general is that it appears to dramatically narrow the distinction between creature and Creator, ascribing the physics of divinity to finite human beings.  You say that “saints and angels … exist outside space and time (although capable of influencing our universe) and thus operate from a perspective outside the limited perspective of us creatures living in the here-and-now. For the purposes of our discussion, they do not operate in a finite set of circumstances.”  But this is simply not so.  The saints in heaven may exist “outside space” (though that doesn’t mean they are without spatial constraints) but they certainly don’t exist “outside time” — indeed, they await the cosmic consummation same as we do:“the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”  (1 Thess. 4:16-17)”
 
Pretty sure that space and time are connected, Austin. Time measures, and is measured by, the movement of material things. If life in the spirit is non-material, it is difficult to explain how time affects that. If you’re outside of space, you’re outside of time. I see no scriptural warrant for your view. The view in I Thessalonians does not address this issue, but describes Christ returning to earth.
 
“And as for the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, those you seem to think we can pray to just ’cause they’re identified as “witnesses,” scripture says this: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”  (Heb. 11:39-40)”
 
Sounds like a reference to the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant to me.
 
“Just ’cause one’s life is eternal doesn’t mean one has stepped outside of time or can somehow peruse the span of history like an open book.”
 
And you know this how…? 
 
“That’s God’s prerogative as the only infinite Being.  Eternality doesn’t equate to infinity.  ”Eternal life” simply means life that goes on and on without ending, as measured in units of time.  The past is still set, the future still unknown.  Were I to step beyond that paradigm and pass beyond time itself, then I would truly be infinite.  I would be like unto God in substance, not merely in temperament.  This is impossible.  In fact, it’s the very first lie in recorded history: “You can be like God.”  No I can’t.  There is only one God.  My adoption as His son doesn’t change that in the slightest.
 
 
Sure. There is only one God. The very meaning of my given name comes from a rebuke from the Archangel Michael, who  when offered the chance to become like God by Lucifer, is said to have challenged: “Who is like God?” (מיכאל‎ ). We also know that God is eternal, which no one else is – we had a beginning, the angels had a beginning, the saints had a beginning, the universe had a beginning. Only God is eternal.
 
(Semantic differences here, as I am using your definitions here in the opposite way (though assigning values in either fashion is probably appropriate, as long as we both recognize that there is a difference) – to me, as I use the terms, “eternal” means infinite going infinitely backward and forward, without end or beginning. “Infinite” as I use it means forward, without end. In this sense, only God is eternal.)
 
But, we have the testimony of John that says (1 John 3:2)  the opposite of what you seem to be claiming, that our respective ontological states mean that we cannot share in God’s perspective in any way: on the contrary,  after the Second Coming, God will give us the opportunity to share at least some of the attributes of God, as we shall share at least some of His divine perspective: 

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”
 
So, by sharing in the Beatific Vision, we shall share some of His perspective, and this gives some scriptural warrant to the argument that angels and saints will have – let’s say, an enhanced perspective, like a baseball player who can read an incoming pitch better and faster than you or I.  It does’t seem unreasonable at all that angels and saints would be far more competent at – to use a prosaic term – multitasking, than us.  
 
Nor would one need to have infinite capacity to receive a gift that comes from an infinite being, as logic tells us. As St. Thomas Aquinas said succinctly, the ability to perform actions that transcend nature comes from “a created light of glory received into the created intellect” – that is, it would require infinite power to create the power (grace) to empower finite saints and angels to act beyond their given natures, but it does not require infinite power to passively receive that grace, any more than any other form of  infinite grace we receive from an infinite Maker.
 
So, no, you can’t be God. But yes, the Bible tells is that God can give us the gift of sharing His perspective, to some degree. 
 
Is there some sense  of the passage of time in Heaven?  Is it experienced the same way as we experience it by the angels and saints?  Is space itself in all its dimensions (which apparently includes time) viewed in the same way from their perspective, or do they see slightly more?  We don’t know, yet.  Time also involves change, and we might expect to see change in Heaven, perhaps in the gaining of knowledge by the saints.   Time also seems to be part of God’s plan for us, just as the ultimate reunion of body and soul is, so perhaps there is a sense of time passage, even if not as we see it. Saints may live with time, but no longer under its pressure, like the athlete who can accomplish and sense far more in a short duration than you or I can, or the way time seems to slow down in perspective during a high-adrenaline crisis. Time is likely to be felt, if not in quite the same way, after the Second Coming and the New Earth. None of these possibilities prevent the ability of the saints to respond to multiple petitions at the same time – that just seems like a picayune objection.
 
Obviously, you and I are just spitballin’ ideas here, as neither of us have advanced claims for which there is clear scriptural warrant on this issue. (That is, do saints and angels in Heaven have an infinite vision – that is, do they see the whole timeline, rather than only specific points along it? Or are they only granted partial clarity, to see those points that are necessary to their mission?)  The reality, of course, will be different than anything you and I can picture. We have been given the information that is sufficient for salvation, in your view and mine. The rest is just interesting to discuss, but unknowable at this point in time, and space. We have more pressing concerns in our lives as Christians, I say.
 
We’ll have to agree to disagree on this, Austin.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

You don’t pray to, you ask them to pray for. A lot of the problem is that most people think the visible part of Catholicism that is wrong is actually right. It’s not any different from asking a friend in real life to pray for you. It’s just that this friend is with Jesus instead of by your side.
 
Most people see the talismanic or folk prayers like the St. Jude’s Novena, but those I think are the equivalent of the prosperity gospel for us evangelicals. The reality is more mundane. 

Austin Gunderson
Member

I agree that we’ll have to agree to disagree.  And I appreciate your thoughtfulness during this discussion.  You haven’t convinced me of your view, but you have forced me to think mine through quite carefully, and for that I’m grateful.

For the purpose of winding down our debate before total intellectual exhaustion sets in, I’ll limit this comment to answering your last few rhetorical questions, and refrain from going ‘on offense.’

You ask how I know that eternal life doesn’t thrust one beyond the temporal constraints of past, present, and future.  Aside from the verses I cited from Hebrews and 1st Thessalonians, there are also the verses from Revelation referenced by Stephen in his comment above, which describe the passage of time in heaven.  You say that Hebrews 11:39-40 pictures the transition from Old to New Covenant as experienced by the dead in Christ.  But that’s precisely my point: the dead prior to Christ had to wait before being made perfect (whether ‘being made perfect’ refers to their spiritual or physical resurrection is unclear, but in either case they still had/have to sit tight within the constraints of time).  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is even more emphatic: the dead in Christ will not attain physical resurrection until the Second Coming, when they will be united with all those believers still alive on earth at that time.  All this will happen in a single glorious instant of time — an instant for which the dead in Christ will have been waiting for however long it’s gonna take to get there.  One can’t simply exit and then reenter time; that doesn’t even make sense.  The events of exiting and reentry would, by definition, constitute discrete demarkations on a timeline, and the interval between them would be as measurable as that between one week and the next.  The only alternative would be for the dead in Christ to exist simultaneously in a temporal and non-temporal state (because a non-temporal state has, by definition, no temporal parameters).  Such an explanation would swiftly become both prohibitively messy and theologically unfounded.

Some of our differences on this issue can probably be chalked up to semantics.  Your definition of “eternality” as a temporal line and of “infinity” as a temporal ray (as expressed in geometric terms) helps to clear up some distinctions.  For myself, I try to define “eternity” in the context of scripture (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:30; John 3:15) to mean a temporal ray, and “infinity,” since it’s not a term that appears in scripture, to express God’s residence beyond time (which, while not an explicitly-stated characteristic, is in my view the only logical explanation for a vast bulk of scriptural passages which I won’t get into here).

You ask, “Is there some sense  of the passage of time in Heaven?  Is it experienced the same way as we experience it by the angels and saints?  Is space itself in all its dimensions (which apparently includes time) viewed in the same way from their perspective, or do they see slightly more?  We don’t know, yet.”

I’ve responded to most of these questions above, but I’ll take this opportunity to make an additional point.  Nowhere in scripture are we told that exclusively spiritual beings (as you and I will become when we die) are without spatial or temporal constraints.  Indeed, we are told the opposite.  Everything about heaven recorded by John in Revelation is described in physical terms, some of which are quite detailed (though esoteric).  The passage cited by Stephen is particularly incontrovertible:  “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”  (Rev. 6:9-11)  This exchange tells us several things.  First, we’re told that the martyrs beneath the altar are exclusively spiritual beings who haven’t yet attained their physical resurrection (they’re called ‘souls,’ and at this time the earth has yet to be cleansed of evil).  Second, we’re told that they exist firmly within the constraints of time (they ask how long they’ll have to wait for vengeance and are told to keep hold of their patience for a specified duration).  Third, we’re told that they exist within spatial constraints (not only can John see them as discrete individuals, but they’re also awarded articles of clothing).  In fact, they have every appearance of ‘spiritual physicality.’  Obviously they’re not physical beings, since they’re still waiting for the Resurrection, but that doesn’t mean they’ve somehow transcended spatial or temporal limitations.

So that’s part of why I’m convinced that human beings will never exit time — either in this life or the next, or during the interim between.

I probably haven’t managed to refrain from going ‘on offense’ in this comment, but I’ll totally understand if you don’t wish to continue the debate.  And I certainly won’t assume that you don’t have a rejoinder for every point I’ve made here — so no worries on that account.  😉

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

You’ve expressed yourself and your views quite well, Austin. No rejoinders, I just hope that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas.
– Mike

Austin Gunderson
Member

And you have a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

Austin, if you had a blog, I would totally read it! I always look forward to finding you comments here. 🙂

Austin Gunderson
Member

Ha!  Thanks, Lauren.  As it turns out, I do have a blog.  The catch is that it only gets updated about once a year.  ;-p

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I’m also, at absolute best, wary of any kind of “praying to saints.” As Austin mentioned, Biblical prayer is always, only, to God Himself, with no one else in between — no pastors, no priests, no Biblical heroes, no early-Church heroes.

Yet we can still recognize and even honor them for their achievements, Heb. 11-style!

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Polytheism is a belief system that’s hard to remove. My dad has a friend from high school who is involved in missionary work in Mongolia. He said that it’s not a problem to get them to believe in and worship Jesus, but they put Him in the pantheon next to Buddha and the traditional animistic gods and spirits. They don’t really get the idea of monotheism. They think it’s a better idea to have an arsenal of powerful deities to invoke, because they (general they, I don’t know the stats on individuals’ beliefs) do believe in a lot of superstitious stuff like curses and angry spirits.
So while people who were already monotheistic Christians were probably monotheistic, I think the people who converted from whatever kind of polytheism probably held on to some polytheistic assumptions of how the world worked.

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

I thank God every day that He set me free from the bonds of Catholicism.  The world preaches Bible believing Christians and Catholics are the same and nothing could be farther from the truth. Christians need to study what catholics believe because we are doing them a disservice by not sharing the gospel with them. 
We do not teach our children that Santa is real but we do use him as a story character of care and giving. Jesus is at the forefront but in todays culture (even home-schooling our kids) it takes an effort to make Him the reason for Christmas. 
 

Paul Lee
Member

I don’t think anything in the post was promoting Catholicism over Protestantism or Evangelical Christianity in any way, so I assume your reaction is based on a distrust of church history and tradition.
 
I think it’s wrong for Evangelicals to dismiss all of the history and tradition of Christianity that occurred between the Apostles and the Reformation as “Catholic.” I also disagree with you about Catholicism, but that’s a different debate.

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

I did not say the author was promoting Catholicism over biblical Christianity so that was not my point. In no way do I reject history either but as you may know history has been rewritten so many times you can pick which past you want to believe. Christianity was still active from the apostles to the Reformation but they did not rule governments or change the course of nations as Catholics did. They changed lives one at a time. The Reformation was a catholic thing, not involving the Christians at the time. The Protestant movement (of which I am not a part) came from that. 
Again, to think your Catholic co-workers and neighbors are true followers of Christ because CNN calls then Christians is doing them a disservice.  Study from their own writings what they believe and you’ll see differently. However the best thing to do is share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them and find out directly what they think. I think you’ll be quite suprised. I have a book at HR corporate which chronicles their hatred for me and the gospel. I also was kicked out of my family for years because i converted to Christianity. Doesn’t sound Christ-like to me. 

Paul Lee
Member

Christianity was still active from the apostles to the Reformation but they did not rule governments or change the course of nations as Catholics did. They changed lives one at a time.

Christianity is lived out by individual Christians, one transformed life at a time. But even when the Catholic Church was most corrupt, I am confident that individuals within the Church did indeed live out transformed Christian lives.
 
The schismatic factions that broke off from the Church before the Reformation weren’t necessarily wrong. But if any of those factions had come into power and changed the course of nations, they probably wouldn’t have done much better than the Catholic Church did.

The Reformation was a catholic thing, not involving the Christians at the time. The Protestant movement (of which I am not a part) came from that.

How do you know that the Reformation did not involve true Christians at the time? I agree that the Reformation began as a theological reform within the tradition of the Western Church, which is probably why you call it a “catholic thing.” But you haven’t proven that true Christians never existed within the common tradition that Catholicism and Protestantism share.
 

Again, to think your Catholic co-workers and neighbors are true followers of Christ because CNN calls then Christians is doing them a disservice.
 

I don’t know who the “true followers of Christ” are, and I believe that only God knows exactly. Of course I don’t trust CNN to tell me what Christianity is, but I use the common definitions of religious terms so that I can communicate with everyone. (And because the Evangelical terms carry a lot of baggage for me; I’m personally very cynical of Evangelical-sounding language.)
 

Study from their own writings what they believe and you’ll see differently.

If you are willing to point out which writings and which beliefs you are referring to, we can continue this discussion on more objective grounds. However, it seems pretty clear that the Catholic confessions profess Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the incarnate Word-Made-Flesh. Catholicism’s creeds hold that Jesus is the source of salvation and the focus of human destiny, as far as I can tell. (I’m glancing at the Catechism of the Catholic Church right now.)
 
I’ve heard that the biggest problems that Evangelicals have with Catholicism is what individual Catholics profess, not with the formal creeds and catechisms (even though there are points of major disagreement there). I would agree that cultural Catholics who don’t believe the foundational creeds of their church are not true Christians. (If Catholicism insists on claiming the unbelieving multitudes who were born into the Catholic culture, it invites criticism such as yours, but that still doesn’t prove that many Catholics are not believing Christians.)
 

I also was kicked out of my family for years because i converted to Christianity. Doesn’t sound Christ-like to me.

I’m sorry for your trials, and I’m glad that you found real faith. But our experiences don’t prove universal truths. (If my experience proved a universal truth, then personal salvation would be unknowable. However, I see many brothers and sisters who rejoice in the assurance of being saved, and I do not reject their testimony.)
 
I think it’s sad if we let the widespread religious baggage that many Christians and even non-Christians carry bar us from the beauty and glory that God has wrought over the centuries through the tradition of the mainstream church — the great Reformed creeds, the Wesleyan hymns, the splendor of cathedrals, a wealth of faithful art and literature, the solemness of liturgy.
 
Question: Do you have a problem with the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed? I know they both mention a “holy catholic church,” but aside from that, do you think the creeds lead people astray from Christ in any way?

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

No problem with them. However in my 30 years of witnessing to catholics (including a couple of priests) I have only met two Catholics that actually believed them. From the outside looking at Catholicism one can find truth (just like with the jehovah witnesses) but when one looks deeper they will find endless unbiblical dogma and many cult practices. My experience with my family is not rare but common. Why if devoted catholics claim to be Christians, are they so hostel towards them? 
You seem to have an issure with Evangelicals.  Does that mean you do not believe in evangelizing?  That’s what it means doesn’t it? And who cares about traditions anyway? For me it’s all about what God says in his Word. It’s the only truth we have and we can only know this if the Holy Spirit has freed us and opened our heart and mind. There are some traditions that are ok and some that take us away from God but for Catholics it’s tradition over God’s Word. Trumps it every time. 

Paul Lee
Member

From the outside looking at Catholicism one can find truth (just like with the jehovah witnesses) but when one looks deeper they will find endless unbiblical dogma and many cult practices.

Catholic writers such as G.K. Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and J.R.R. Tolkien are evidence to the contrary. Chesterton wrote of his deeply personal faith in Christ and of his increasing commitment to orthodox tradition in his book Orthodoxy. Hopkins’s poems such as “God’s Grandeur” express a very Biblical understanding of God and His work. Tolkien upheld the Gospel in the last section of his essay “On Fairy Stories.”
 
Chesterton, Hopkins, and Tolkien were not merely loose cultural Catholics. They were deep thinkers and, as far as can told from their writings, sincere seekers of truth. (Chesterton and Hopkins were also converts to Catholicism, having chosen it deliberately after years of consideration and earnest searching.) I think the shallow cultural element of Catholicism is the part that can look most cult-like and heretical.

You seem to have an issure with Evangelicals.  Does that mean you do not believe in evangelizing?  That’s what it means doesn’t it?

I sort-of have an issue with Evangelicalism. I know that evangelizing is an important part of the mission that Christ charged the church to accomplish, but I don’t think Evangelical ministries do evangelism much justice. Honestly, I dislike the concept of evangelism as a deliberate activity.
 
My distaste for evangelism is almost certainly wrong. It comes from my experience trying to be an evangelical, four-point Sinners’ Prayer wielding zealot. Zeal was the only way I could hide my insecurity enough to enter into deliberate conversion conversations with people, and I presented the Gospel badly — not to mention the fact that I believed even then that the four-point plan of salvation culminating in a pre-written prayer was stilted and humanized and wrong.
 

And who cares about traditions anyway?

I do, because tradition is all I have. I don’t have a testimony of arriving at the truth after years of walking in darkness. My parents had Evangelical conversion experiences; I grew up in Evangelicalism. I was “saved” when I was five or six, but I was so impressed with the critical importance of my personal salvation story that I spent my childhood desperately begging Jesus to save me, over and over again, fearing that I never really got it right. (I know it’s not up to me to “get it right,” but as a child I obsessed over the words of my prayers. When I was a little older, I constantly re-evaluated my beliefs, attitudes, and intentions until I practically drove myself insane.)
 
I capitalize the word “Evangelical” because to me, the word describes one particular tradition and movement within Christianity. Your use of the word to simply refer to the Christian act of making disciples is less burdened and probably better.
 
However, I’d like to point out that I can use the word “catholic” in an unburdened, generic way, as well. I’m sure you know that “catholic” means “universal.” I can rejoice in a “holy catholic church” (as the creeds say). The word “catholic” has no religious baggage for me, even though I’m not disagree with several points of Catholic theology and practice.
 
There’s more I can say about this. My cousin grew up Catholic — when I was still in my Evangelical zealot phase, I used one of my tracts to share the Gospel with him, and he indicated a desire to receive Jesus as his savior and prayed the prayer at the end. He then asked me if Catholicism was Christianity, and I knew that I couldn’t help him resolve that question. I knew he would have to discover the relationship between his faith in Christ and his Catholic religion on his own. He stayed Catholic. He got confirmed. That was years ago; I don’t know what he believes now. I respect him enough to let him seek truth without pestering him with questions about it.
 
(You might say, “If you love him you need to ensure the salvation of his soul, no matter how much you might have to bother and offend him.” But I no longer believe that it’s my duty to see to the eternal destiny of anyone’s soul — only to seek truth and to seek Christ and to encourage my brothers and sisters to do the same through genuine love and fellowship.)
 

For me it’s all about what God says in his Word.

But doesn’t the Bible itself value tradition? Look at the genealogies! Look at the commands for the Old Testament stories of redemption to be passed down from generation to generation! Look at the New Testament church’s commitment to preserve the tradition of the Apostles from the corruption of outside influences such as Gnosticism!

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I know those feels about evangelism, except I’ve come to a place with more active dislike. It becomes a special guilt and feeling of inadequacy for introverts. As if we want to approach strangers for some awkward Jesus-bombing. And I just don’t think that most of it — the flyers and pamphlets and impersonalness — is at all effective.
 
But, bainespal, sometimes I feel like I need to find out where you live and stuff you with Prozac until you stop flirting with despair so much. And I’m not sure how to make that sound caring and not just creepy. You keep giving this impression of circling the drain, and I keep fighting the urge to spew things that only really had meaning to me after my Prozac kicked in, which most likely won’t be anything helpful to you, like “Life doesn’t have to feel like a giant pile of bullcrap” or “(Legal) Drugs are awesome. Druuuuuugs, man.”

Austin Gunderson
Member

notleia, that comment definitely qualifies for an Aww/Eww Award.  ;-p

merechristian
Member
merechristian

As Bainespal noted, it is not my intent to solve these debates. I am not trying to argue anything, just to ask folks to consider what the early church believed. I think that some knowledge of the early church and modern humility is needed.
 
As for how these issues of saints is, it is the heart that matters in this area. If one believes they are praying to that person in place of God, or in equality with the Lord, that is wrong. But if they are asking for help the way they would someone else to pray for them, that is fine by me. I am not understanding how the idea of those in Heaven praying for me, or asking them to do so, is unbiblical, so long as the heart is right.
 
I firmly believe that Christians gone to be with Christ do not care only for the vengeance on sinners, and think not a whit of their loved ones, or of others in the world. Moses and Elijah asked about the death and Resurrection of Our Lord, and the Word says there is rejoicing in Heaven when someone is saved. What? The Christians there don’t care, or are told not to join in rejoicing for those saved on earth? I just do believe that there is enough in Scripture to, along with the early church’s record, believe that those in Heaven do know of our problems and will pray for us, or to be used to help us. Who knows? I am not sure what is what, but that they do know and pray, rejoice, etc., I have no doubt.

As for the uncertainty on the issue of saints, that is fine. I’m not saying anything, but just to consider things more in historical context.

merechristian
Member
merechristian

Most of all, I’m asking folks to just consider the life and work of the man Saint Nicholas, the myth he started, and how it is a Christian myth, not a pagan one just to give up on and not use. It can be such a boon to Christians if used properly and, as Stephen would put it, “redeemed”.

Arizona Mike
Guest
Arizona Mike

St. Nicholas is also known for punching out the gnostic new-age hippie Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Far from being a fat, jolly old elf,  St. Nicholas was a hardened man who, as Timothy points out, endured years of hard time in a Roman prison for his faith, and wasn’t going to stand by while Arius claimed that Jesus had never really incarnated but was only a disembodied spirit.  St. Nicholas was a hard case.

St. Nicholas’s anonymous gifts were also done to prevent young girls from being sold into prostitution to satisfy their parents’ debts. Younger daughters were also sold into prostitution so the family could raise money for a dowry to marry an older daughter into a wealthy family, a survival of a pagan tradition. Something to think about when giving gifts at Christmastime – the tradition began as a cardinal act of charity to prevent slavery. Like St. Patrick and St. Augustine, St, Nicholas seemed to have spent a lot of time trying to protect young girls from human trafficking –  an imperative for Christians, now and then.

St. Nicholas also is said to have tracked down a pagan serial killer (as we would call him now) and rescued three children he had kidnapped and was about to kill and eat. According to various versions of the story, he either rescued the children or raised them from the dead through the power of Christ, and converted the repentant abductor (or more likely, based on his performance at Nicaea, beat the crud out of him first.) He is the patron saint of kidnapped children and those who look for them. There is a carol about this that most French children knew and sang at Christmastime – or used to, at any rate.
 
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

You know what this begins to sound like.

  • St. Nicholas’s tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.
  • Superman wears St. Nicholas pajamas.
  • St. Nicholas can delete the Recycling Bin.
  • Death once had a near-St. Nicholas experience.
  • St. Nicholas is the reason Waldo is hiding.