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The Saints of old and persecuted Christians today

By Patricia Paddey

The first time I told another Evangelical I was taking a course called “The Lives of the Saints: Then and Now,” the response to my enthusiasm for my subject was less than enthusiastic. An arched eyebrow. A slight tilt of the head. A look of mild distaste. And then, a one-word reply that communicated restrained surprise. “Really?”

1868223HighResI felt properly put in my place. Evangelicals don’t, after all, venerate Saints. We don’t invoke them, or ask them to intercede for us. I know that. But does that mean we have to ignore their role in Christian history? In our history? Particularly the shared part of Christian history –when all genuine believers were truly part of “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” (to put it in the words of The Apostles’ Creed) because there was only one church.

Long before East and West went their separate ways, long before the Reformation, long, long before there were Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists and Mennonites – there were just Christians. And Christians respected  saints.

It began with the Bible. While both Testaments refer to saints, context indicates different understandings of the term in the Old and in the New.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words used to denote a saint imply a person who is pious, holy or godly. If Jesus ever spoke of saints, the gospels do not mention the fact. Other New Testament writers, however, refer to saints frequently, and while the Greek word they use also denotes a person who is morally blameless, consecrated or holy, context suggests that the word is used to designate believers or Christians in general. The fact that all believers were called saints during the New Testament period says more about their standing as redeemed souls (due to the saving work of Jesus Christ) than it implies about any inherent goodness on their part.
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