The Saints are not Watching Us

The unbiblical nature of Catholic sainthood has been discussed in a previous post. Popular Catholic apologists, however, are (predictably) trying to support this error with selected Bible verses. One of them wrote:

If it is objected that the dead saints cannot hear us, we reply that God is fully able to give them that power – with plenty of supporting biblical evidence: 1) the “cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 describes; 2) in Revelation 6:9-10, prayers are given for us in heaven from “saints”; 3) elsewhere in Revelation an angel possesses “prayers of the saints” and in turn presents them to God … The saints in heaven are clearly aware of earthly happenings. If they have such awareness, it isn’t that much of a leap to deduce that they can hear our requests for prayer, especially since the Bible itself shows that they are indeed praying” (The One Minute Apologist p. 121).

The theological aberration here is glaring. To assert “that God is fully able to give them (dead saints) that power” to answer our prayers presupposes that God has somehow delegated some of His attributes to spirits of the dead. This is theologically objectionable.

For instance, if I’m praying to St. Raphael or St. Joseph to help find me a wife, he would first have to know who I am. We didn’t live in the same century and he obviously can’t understand my language. There would also be thousands of men from around the world praying to the same saint at the same time for the same request, all in different languages.

Since this “saint” has a specific role in helping single men find a bride, he would need to be able to process all these requests or sort out those praying with a wrong motive. There’s no human, whether living or dead that can listen to 100 people let alone help them at once. It’s beyond any human ability.

Not to mention that St. Joseph – not God – is the one doing the work (just like when St. Anthony searches out lost items). For these saints to know about anything we might need or want to ask from God, hearing our thoughts or our words spoken in private, they would have to be gods.

Only God can possess all knowledge of human affairs, problems, thoughts, and words. So, technically, these “saints” would need to be at the least, quasi-omniscient and quasi-omnipotent demigods to be able to know, hear and do what have been ascribed to them.

Second, this apologist has thrown in a red herring. The dispute isn’t about what God is able to do or not do. If He wanted, He could have made saints intercede on our behalf in a Christianized pantheon of gods in heaven. So the real issue is: has God given the saints power to hear prayers? The answer is no.

Prayer is an act of worship, and it’s to be offered to God. Praying to any other being, whether in heaven or on earth, is a violation of the first commandment – acknowledging another God. It’s the height of disservice to argue that praying to some spirits on the other side for supernatural, individual and personal help is “just asking them to pray for us.”

Before I examine the “proof texts” this apologist presented, I need to bring up a statement he made elsewhere:

Protestants try to explain this away, because they seem to fear the notion that saints in heaven and earth have an organic connection. They want simply to “go straight to God” and bypass all the mediating functions of the saints… The saints are alive and they love us!” (The Catholic Verses pp. 136, 137).

It is actually Roman Catholicism that attempts to explain away what God has made very clear in His Word that there is only “one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (1Tim. 2:5). The idea of “mediating functions” of saints is totally unbiblical.

God has “reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ” (2Cor. 5:18) and “through him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). We don’t gain access to God through a myriad of spirits. It’s an affront to God to replace the closeness to and relationship we should have with Him with greater closeness to other invisible personages treated as intermediaries.

An analogy commonly given is: God is like an earthly boss and if we need a raise from him we need to go through levels of bosses as intermediates. This conflicts with the revelation of the Fatherhood of God. Jesus said “the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:27). Christ removed the dividing wall of hostility sin created between God and man. Through His blood, we who were once far from God have been brought close (Eph. 2:13-14).

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father’” (Rom. 8:15). Through Christ, every Believer can have an intimate fellowship with God. This blows the heresy of an “organic connection” between dead “saints” and the living into ashes. Let’s take a brief look at the proof texts given:

Hebrews 12:1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us…”

It’s assumed that the “cloud of witnesses” here refers to saints in heaven observing events on earth. This passage comes after Hebrews 11 where faithful men and women of old were referred to. The term ‘witness’ doesn’t imply one who is observing events, but one who testifies or witnesses by one’s life.

This passage is simply saying that the faithful people were witnesses to God’s faithfulness by their own lives, and since we have their testimony, we are to run the race with patience and joy. There is no justification to make this teach that saints in heaven are watching and hearing us.

In fairness though, some Pentecostal preachers also misuse this text to teach that “all the other believers who have ever died are watching us from the grandstands in Heaven as we run our spiritual race.”

No one who takes Heb. 12:1 in its context, without reading into it a preconceived idea of the dead observing the earth will arrive at such a conclusion. You can’t juxtapose the words “witnesses” with “spectators”. Marcus Dods has this to say:

“Martu,rwn [meaning] ‘witnesses,’ persons who by their actions have testified to the worth of faith. The cloud of witnesses are those named and suggested in chap. xi; persons whose lives witnessed to the work and triumph of faith, and whose faith was witnessed to by Scripture, cf. xi. 2, 4, 5… It is impossible to take ma,rturej as equivalent to qeatai [spectator]. If the idea of ‘spectator’ is present at all, which is doubtful, it is only introduced by the words tre,cwmen … The idea is not that they are running in presence of spectators and must therefore run well; but that their people’s history being filled with examples of much-enduring but triumphant faith, they also must approve their lineage by showing a like persistence of faith” (The Expositor’s Greek New Testament (IV: 365).

Revelation 6:9-10. When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?

From this passage, did you come across anything like “prayers [that] are given for us in heaven from saints” like Rome’s defenders want us to believe? Here we see martyrs asking for God’s vengeance and judgement on the wicked for murdering them. In response they were given a white robe and told to wait a little longer for the rest of the tribulation saints that will be martyred (v. 11).

Where is the evidence that they have knowledge of what is happening here on earth? What they know is that God is just and will punish sin, which we too also know here on earth, since God’s Word says it (Gen. 18:22, Ps. 9:8). The fact that they were informed that more martyrs will join them shows us that they didn’t have this information naturally. They would have known this if they were observing events on earth.

This verse doesn’t picture anything even remotely like the saints in heaven praying for us and our problems much less hearing us or helping us to find a wife, husband or missing pair of shoes.

Another proof text used is: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Rev. 8:4)

Biblically, everyone who is saved is a saint. The Greek word for saint is hagion and it means holy ones. There are holy ones both in heaven and on earth, so it’s Catholic anachronism to assume that “prayers of the saints” refer only to holy ones in heaven.

It was actually an angel that was presenting the prayers of God’s people before Him. Nothing here supports praying to saints, or that saints in heaven have knowledge of earthly events much less answer our requests.

These modern Catholic apologists are digging a pit for themselves whether they realize it or not. On the one hand, they attack private interpretation of the Bible, telling us only Rome can interpret the Bible for us. And on the other, they trot out verses (which by the way are out of their contexts) from their own private interpretation; verses which their church have never infallibly interpreted.

So when a Catholic trots out these “proof texts,” a good question to ask is: Has your church “infallibly” defined these Bible verses for you? Finally, he wrote:

Asking a saint in heaven to pray for us no more interferes with the unique mediation of Christ than does asking a person on earth to pray for us. We always pray in Christ, through his power, and to him, whether it is directly to him, or by means of another person or angel, in heaven or on earth (The Catholic Verses, p.143).

Asking a friend to pray for you is not and will never be relevant to Jesus’ role as a sole mediator. Jesus’ role as mediator is essential and necessarily different because He has a ground to stand on as mediator that no one – including Mary – can ever possess.

Interestingly, Santerios and Voodoo adherents also pray to the same “saints” Catholics do, and we all know they are not connecting to the God of the Bible through them. If you are accessing the same “friends on the other side” as occultists, what does that say about your belief system?

To say that you believe Jesus as a unique mediator, that you always pray through him but then say in the same breath that you need other “mediating functions” of spirits of the dead and angels is serpentine forked tongue rhetoric. The Biblical prohibition of contacting those who have passed from this world is unmistakably clear.

Have you observed that all these Catholic arguments are not compelling to any serious Bible student? They are not meant to be. They are just meant to have enough appeal to keep an average Catholic who wants to believe the lies of Rome in a state of faith.

Advertisements

An Analysis of the Cult of Image Worship

We are all familiar with the central roles religious images – statues, icons and works of art – play in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Stories of miracles and supernatural feats are so hinged with the cult of images that it’s obvious that one can’t survive without the other.

Such stories have been crystallized in many Catholic legends (e.g St. Mary of Egypt, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Faustina Kowalska etc.) and there’s no shortage of such today – from the spurious to the curious to the grotesque.

In 2014, the Associated Press reported on an “oil weeping” statue of Mary in a small town in Northern Israel which attracted over 2,000 pilgrims. There have also been stories of statues or icons of “Jesus” and the various “saints” weeping blood, oils or water, nodding, blinking, effective miraculous cures, or surviving a disaster.

When Catholic believers listen to these tales they punctuate the air with chants of “Holy Mother pray for us!” while deliberately piping down on their own critical faculties to deny obvious questions.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says that “through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likenesses they are” (8:636)

The Catholic Catechism (2132) also says: “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, ‘the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,’ and ‘whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.'”

We need to ask: why would any Christian kiss or kneel to worship an image in the name of God? How do Catholics know for sure that the images they venerate are really the “likenesses” and “prototypes” of the persons they portray? Have they physically seen Jesus, Mary or the “saints” before? Did they pose for a photo shoot?

If the honour or worship rendered to an image passes to its prototype, what then stops one from worshipping the rocks in one’s backyards since one can paint a supposed image of ‘Christ’ or the ‘saints’ on them? Different portraits of Jesus or Mary have been produced by different artists in different nations at different periods of history. Certainly, all these artistic renditions can’t be representations of the persons alleged. This is a fraudulent development.

Church history shows how the cult of images developed. The early Christians while not adverse to art, had no images of Christ. This is evident in the writings of the early church fathers who denounced religious images. For example:

Melito (d. 180 A.D.): “We are not those who pay homage to stones, that are without sensation; but of the only God, who is before all and over all, and moreover, we are worshippers of His Christ, who is veritably God the Word existing before time” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers III, 579).

Irenaeus (c. 125-202 AD): “They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world…” (Against Heresies 1:25:6)

Tertullian (145-220): “But some one says, in opposition to our proposition of “similitude being interdicted,” “Why, then, did Moses in the desert make a likeness of a serpent out of bronze?” The figures, which used to be laid as a groundwork for some secret future dispensation, not with a view to the repeal of the law, but as a type of their own final cause, stand in a class by themselves … It is enough that the same God, as by law He forbade the making of similitude, did, by the extraordinary precept in the case of the serpent, interdict similitude. If you reverence the same God, you have His law, “Thou shall make no similitude” (Of Idolatry, Ch. 5).

Origen (c. 185-254 A.D): “But Christians and Jews have regard to this command … ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me: thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath … It is in consideration of these and many other commands, that they not only avoid temples, altars, and images but are ready to suffer death when it is necessary, rather than debase by any such impiety the conception which they have of the Most High God” (Against Celsus, 7:65)

Lactantius (c. 250-325 A.D.): “Wherefore it is undoubted that there is no religion wherever there is an image. For if religion consists of divine things, and there is nothing divine except in heavenly things; it follows that images are without religion, because there can be nothing heavenly in that which is made from the earth” (The Divine Institutes, 2:19).

Notice from these quotes that the only groups of people who venerated images purported to be of Christ were heretics who had mixed Christian elements with occult Gnosticism.

The Synod of Elvira (305/306) prohibited images as a hindrance to the spiritual worship of God. Ambrose, Jerome and Eusebius made references to people making images of “Christ” or “saints” in their time but they were seriously frowned upon. Epiphanus for instance, wrote:

“…I came to a villa called Anablatha and, as I was passing, saw a lamp burning there. Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person” (Jerome’s Letter, 51:9)

Catholic scholar, Ludwig Ott noted that: “Owing to the influence of the Old Testament prohibition of images, Christian veneration of images developed only after the victory of the Church over paganism” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Tan Books: Illinois, 1974, 320).

Even when images were introduced, several emperors condemned their use as heresy and ordered them destroyed. In 784 A.D. Tarasius who was an advocate of images, became the Patriarch of the East and the Synod of Nicaea in 787 ascribed reference to images and worship to God through them.

This practice was sanctioned in the West through the Synod of Frankfurt in 794. Even then, several emperors, Catholic bishops and others were still opposed to image and relic worship. After 850, the cult of image worship began to grow in churches along with stories of “miracles” performed through them.

In 1188, it was declared that a denial of images was a denial of God. In 1225, it was said that Christ was not Christ unless He was graven. Thomas Aquinas said in Summa Theologiae that an image of Christ claims the same veneration as Christ Himself. At the Council of Trent (1551-1552) idolatry was finally made a dogma (compulsory belief) for Catholics and so it remains till date.

What the Bible Says

In Scripture, none of the inspired writer ever mentioned the use of images in worship to God in the tabernacle or temple rites except when Israel was backslidden and served pagan gods. The Bible denounced religious images as the works of man’s hands; imitations of creations, made of dead materials and a foolish worship (see Lev. 19:4 2 Kgs. 18:4 , Isa. 44:8-20; 46:6-7 etc.). The second commandment in the Decalogue says:

You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them” Exodus 20:4-5 (New American Bible)

This commandment has been slyly eliminated from the Catholic Catechism because of its implications on Catholic dogma. To properly bury the verse in the rat’s nest, they split the tenth commandment into two – making the part about not coveting your neighbour’s wife into the ninth and the rest, servant, etc. was grouped together to form the tenth.

Catholic doctrinal books also intentionally use the review of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy instead of the original giving of the commandments in Exodus. These efforts prove that Catholic leaders too are aware that God’s commands condemn their use of images in worship.

You saw no form at all on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire. Be strictly on your guard, therefore, not to degrade yourselves by fashioning an idol to represent any figure, whether it be the form of a man or a woman…” (Deut. 4:15-16 NAB)

I shall pronounce my judgements on them because of all their wickedness, since they have abandoned me, offering incense to other gods and worshipping what their own hands have made” (Jer. 1:16 New Jerusalem Bible)

To whom could you liken God? What image could you contrive of him” (Isa. 40:18 Jerusalem Bible)

These were directives given to God’s people in the OT denouncing images made of God or any divine figure. In the NT, the same commands were given to Christians forbidding them from “Christianized” image worship:

Therefore, my beloved, avoid idolatry 1 Cor. 10:14 (NAB)

Others must stay outside [heaven]: dogs, fortune-tellers, and the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, and everyone of false speech and false life” (Rev. 22:15, NJB).

God doesn’t need to go into semantic acrobatics or manipulation of terms. His Word is clear that any worship or veneration offered to an image is idolatry. Plain and simple. We spurn His commands only at our own peril.

During a discussion with an ex-Catholic friend, Rita, years ago, I asked, “What was the main factor that led you to reject Catholicism?” She answered, “Every time we prayed towards an image, something in me would ask, ‘Is this not idolatry? Is this not an abomination before God?’ Sometimes when I voiced out my inner protests, they would defiantly tell me it’s not idolatry. But their explanations couldn’t drown my inner voice. It was when I looked into the Bible, that I realized that God had been tugging at my conscience all along.”

This “Christian” idolatry persists because many religious people want to walk by sight rather than by faith. They want God or Jesus to be portable and manageable; in a form that they can see, touch and kiss rather than serving Him in spirit and truth. The cult of image worship is simply a continuation of the traditions of pagans who made images of their deities.

The Catholic Encyclopedia‘s article on ‘The True Cross’ says “in the first ages of Christianity, when converts from paganism were so numerous, and the impression of idol-worship was so fresh, the Church found it advisable not to permit the development of this cult of images, but later, when that danger had disappeared…the cult developed freely.”

The bigger the tales of miracles wrought through these idolatrous images, the bigger the income generated for Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and the greater the number of souls led into spiritual bondage. But God must be worshipped as He has prescribed in His Word not as we insist He should be worshipped.