Pope Francis, I am a Saint


The Roman Catholic Church has long believed in a process called "canonization," where the notable and truly extraordinary Christians are posthumously venerated. Canonized saints may be prayed to for guidance and looked on as examples by those of us still struggling in this fallen world. The requirements for sainthood is, in short, for the deceased to have lived a general life of holiness, to have performed at least two verifiable miracles, and to posthumously receive a papal decree which adds the subject to "the list" at least 5 years after death.
And last week Pope Francis "approved sainthood" for Mother Teresa, which will be finalized by September 4 of this year.
There is no question Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived a truly exemplary life. The former Nobel Prize winner’s incredible deeds of both service and sacrifice for the "least of these" has been well documented; and as her work to this day is continued in over a hundred countries by thousands of sisters, it would be safe to say Mother Teresa left a mark on the world.
Mother Teresa
I do not question the greatness of the life of Mother Teresa. She was a giant who sacrificed more in her life than I will ever hope to in mine. Her sacrifice and love should be honored and remembered and her legacy deserves to be celebrated. I do however completely reject the Roman understanding of “sainthood.” I would even qualify it as dangerous. Here is why: 

1. "Sainthood" differs from the Biblical understanding. A cursory glance of the New Testament will reveal to us that the apostles had no such process for awarding the "St." title before a name. Paul begins six of his general epistles "to the saints" of the church he was addressing, and the term is used interchangeably with faithful believers (Rom 15:25, 1 Cor 1:2, Eph 5:3). This implies that at least Paul's understanding of sainthood was not an elite class of super-Christians, but just your normal, everyday, run of the mill--Christians.

2. "Sainthood" creates a higher tier class of Christian. Simple deduction infers that if there are a select few of us who are canonized saints, a large majority than is not. Process of elimination. Because "Sainthood" creates a tier one believer (the saints), there is by definition a tier two believer (the rest of us), and yet the Scripture makes no such distinction. Paul, full of  apostolic authority himself, went even further and reversed it all when he declared that he was the least of all the saints--not the greatest (Eph 3:8). The ground is level at the foot of the cross for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28); there is no room for a competitive hierarchy before our Savior.

3. "Sainthood" dangerously elevates the works of man. I reject the idea that if I am holy enough, close enough to God, and do enough good works—that I therefore have a special status before God. It is both idolatrous and man-centric to affirm that I will be venerated, adored, and prayed to because of the really good deeds I have done in my life. Do not get me wrong, there are many Christians in history (saints if you will) that I look to as incredible examples. I yearn to have the zeal of a Whitefield, the conviction of Luther, the sacrifice of Hudson Taylor, the love of Corrie Ten Boom. History and Christian tradition are chalked full of men and women who have "fought the good fight" and who are examples we would do well to follow.

But we need to remember, as my former Pastor frequently said, "The best of men are men at best." There is no one righteous, no not one. There is no one who does good. Apart from the immeasurable grace of God through a Redeemer, we are all filthy sinners, fully deserving all the wrath of hell. There is nothing we have that has not been given from above (John 3:27).

4. "Sainthood" deflects glory from God. Any legitimate goodness in my life or in the life Mother Teresa is a testimony not  to individual, innate goodness, but to the work of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. As previously stated, Mankind is too utterly depraved and broken to get credit for any goodness that proceeds from his or her life. Elevating certain exemplary Christians to a "Class A" status of veneration deflects from the glory of God, because it is God alone who is worthy of all glory, honor, and power. If good works are evident in my life, praise God. If good works are evident in a Christian's life long ago, praise God. We can celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us, but we can do so by giving glory to God.

The truth is: I am a saint not because I have done two miracles or because I have lived a general life of holiness or even because I have been recognized by religious people. I am a saint for one reason and one reason alone: Jesus Christ has declared me righteous through His death and resurrection. To God alone be the glory.

"It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." Eph 2:8-9

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