In the Old Testament, the word for saint is Qaddish, which means holy and it applies to both people and objects used in the worship of Yahweh. A saint is therefore a person who strives to avoid evil and live a holy life. In the New Testament, the word for “saints” is hagios, meaning holy ones. The word saint is used only once in the Gospels, Matthew 27:52. In Acts and several of Paul’s epistles, the word “saint” is used to describe those who believe in Jesus. By the time we get to Revelation, the final book of the Bible and the book with the most references to the “saints” (13), the word “saint” is further defined as holy people who believe in and profess Jesus of Nazareth as Christ the Messiah and have lived lives of witness to the saving grace of God in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It is this final definition of “saint” as contained in the book of Revelation that led the early church designate a small group of people as “saints.” They included the Apostles, Gospel writers, and martyrs of the faith. Eventually, the “saints” became “Saints” with a capital “S” to set them apart from the Biblically accurate description of “saint” as believers who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This led to the worship of these special people, wherein the problem lies with Lutherans and other Protestants.
Don’t get me wrong here. Lutherans do not have a problem with the “Saints” per se. In fact in traditional Lutheran Liturgy, Gospel readings are introduced as “the Gospel according to St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John.” We name our churches St. Andrew, St. Timothy, St. Peter, St. Paul, among a myriad of others. We recognize the musical contributions of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”), St. Ambrose (“Savior of the Nations, Come”), St. Francis of Assisi (“All Creatures of Our God and King”). We look for inspiration in the writings of St. Augustine and Athanasius. We commemorate various Saints with Lesser Festivals: St. Michael and All Angels, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Catherine of Siena among many others.
What do have problems with are 1). The idea that the “Saints” (capital “S”) have earned special honors from God and somehow have achieved the special status from God 2). That their “extra” points can somehow be transferred to those who have not achieved “Sainthood.” 3). That because of their special status, they can serve as intermediaries between humans and God.
Lutherans and other Protestants teach that all believers are saints. This most certainly does not mean that the saints are perfect. Scripture clearly shows the Disciples of Jesus as flawed human beings who do not always understand Jesus’ teaching nor do they always do as Jesus would have them do. In fact, one (Judas) betrays Jesus, another (Peter) denies he even knows Jesus, none but John is present at the crucifixion, Thomas doubts that Jesus is resurrected without proof, among other epic fails. They did their best to comprehend and act on what they were experiencing, but remained average, everyday people with flaws-- warts and all. But the important thing to remember here is that they were chosen by God to witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. It is on this witness that their “sainthood” rests. They professed Jesus as the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God. They shared what they saw and heard with others and did their human best to be Christ-like. This too, is what makes each and every believer a “saint.”
The Lutheran Confessions and Luther himself, answer the question, "How did the saints become saints?" by saying, "through the Holy Spirit, who through the Word of God, the Gospel, imputes to us believers the holiness of Jesus Christ, won for us on the cross, freely granted to us by God, and received by faith." (Dr. Richard P. Bucher, http://www.orlutheran.com/html/saintlc.html)
“Our confession approves giving honor to the saints. This honor is threefold. The first is thanksgiving: we ought to give thanks to God because he has given examples of his mercy, because he has shown that he wants to save humankind, and because he has given teachers and other gifts to the church. Since these are the greatest gifts, they ought to be extolled very highly, and we ought to praise the saints themselves for faithfully using these gifts just as Christ praises faithful managers [Matthew 25:21, 23]. The second kind of veneration is the strengthening of our faith. When we see Peter forgiven after his denial, we, too, are encouraged to believe that grace truly superabounds much more over sin [Romans 5:20]. The third honor is imitation: first of their faith, then of their other virtues, which people should imitate according to their callings.” (Apology article XXI) (http://www.hereiwalk.org/2010/09/27/some-thoughts-on-saints/)
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession also states: "But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2:1: 4] If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc." (Apology article XXI)
Scripture clearly states we do not need intermediaries to be in a right relationship with God: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27)
Believers, those alive today, those who have entered eternal rest in the arms of our Gracious and Loving God, along with those who will come after us, are the Saints of God! So I say, “Happy Saint (Fill In Your Own Name) Day!
Love the Lord, all you his saints! (Psalm 31:23, NRSV)
In His Love and Service,