Why don’t Protestant Christians worship Mary and the Saints?
The New Testament applies the term “saint” to all Christian believers.1 Nothing in Scripture implies there might be a special category of “Saints” (capital S) who have special powers of intercession and are actually worthy of worship on the basis of their virtue and sanctity.
When Cornelius the centurion fell at the feet of Peter to worship him, Peter said:
Stand up; I myself am also a man (Acts 10:26 nkjv).
On another occasion, Paul and Barnabas miraculously healed a crippled man at Lystra. When the amazed citizens prepared to worship them as gods, Paul and Barnabus tore their clothing to show their dismay, and declared:
Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them (Acts 14:15 nkjv).
Yet once the firsthand witnesses of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection passed from the scene, it may have been difficult for many Christians to understand just how unique His ministry and character were. Each successive generation of Christians saw remarkable individuals face death as martyrs, defend the church from false teaching, and live heroic lives of self-sacrifice and self-denial. These figures became role models for the church and became respected above all their contemporaries. Along with confidence in the resurrection probably developed a sense that the community of the saints might continue on to the other side of the passage from this life. Unfortunately, there was also the influence of religious syncretism.2 Millions of pagans converted to Christianity and brought some of their worldview and religious concepts into the church.3
None of these reasons are sufficient to justify a practice that so seriously distorts the relationship between believers and their Redeemer. To elevate a select group of “Saints” to the position of mediators worthy of worship (however the term worship is qualified),4 is to overlook the scriptural declaration that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 nkjv). It also ignores the depravity that infects every believer in Christ. No fallen son or daughter of Eve is comparable to the sinless Son of God. To assume that a human being has achieved such spiritual status that they deserve worship of any type glorifies the creature rather than the Creator.
Setting Christians on a pedestal by referring to them as a Saint also seems to violate the principle of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10). Every Christian believer can approach God directly through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 4:14-16). Setting a specific category of “Saints” on a higher level than other believers also ignores Paul’s teaching that no one member of the body of Christ is more valuable than the rest (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
- “In the NT . . . saint is applied to all believers. It is a synonym for Christian brother (Col. 1:2). Except for Phil. 4:21, it is not used in the singular, and even there it reflects the corporate idea—‘every saint.’ The saints are the church (I Cor. 1:2). In Ephesians, where there is strong emphasis on the unity of the church, ‘all the saints’ becomes almost a refrain (1:15; 3:8,18; 6:18). The Apostles’ Creed enshrines this significance of the word in the statement, ‘I believe in the communion of saints’”
(E. F. Harrison, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.967).Back To Article
- Religious syncretism involves the blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new religion that contains elements of all of them.Back To Article
- “The cult of saints and martyrs grew rapidly in the fourth century, another example of the blending of the old paganism with Christianity. Chapels and even churches began to be built over the tombs of martyrs, a practice which influenced church architecture. Competition for saintly corpses soon degenerated into a superstitious search for relics. In parts of the East it sometimes became a fight for the bodies of saintly hermits, still alive but expected to expire shortly. The cult arose among the people, but was approved and encouraged by the great Christians leaders of the age—Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine. Ambrose, for instance, discovered the bodies of several forgotten saints.“The Christian historian Theodoret boasts that in many places saints and martyrs took the place of pagan gods, and their shrines the place of pagan temples. Some saints were claimed to cure barrenness, others protected travelers, detected perjury, foretold the future, and many healed the sick. The shrine of saints Cyrus and John, physicians who in their earthly practice charged no fees, near Alexandria, was particularly popular. To the shrine of St Felix of Nola, who detected perjury, Augustine sent two clergymen who had accused each other, to discover which was lying” (Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity).Back To Article
- The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to the worship of Mary and the Saints, but distinguishes between higher and lower forms of “worship,” the worship of God and the worship of Mary and the Saints.In other words, Catholics honour God in His saints as the loving distributor of supernatural gifts. The worship of latria (latreia), or strict adoration, is given to God alone; the worship of dulia (douleia), or honour and humble reverence, paid the saints; the worship of hyperdulia (hyperdouleia), a higher form of dulia, belongs, on account of her greater excellence, to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic Encyclopedia, Article on Beatification and Canonization).At the level of popular religion, it is hard to believe that such clear distinction is made. Most who pray to Mary and bow before her images are probably not aware of any distinction between worship as “dulia,” “hyperdulia,” and “latreia.” For that matter, the terms “dulia” and “hyperdulia” don’t even appear in the New Testament.
Although the Greek Orthodox Church distinguishes between worship given to God alone and a lesser form of worship given to the Saints, it considers it appropriate to use the Greek term often used in reference to worship of God and of Jesus Christ in the New Testament (proskyne, proskynein, and its other forms, including proskynesis) (Matthew 2:2; 4:9; John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 7:43; 8:27; 24:11; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 15:4, etc.) in reference to the Saints:
In the Orthodox Church the worship (latreia) given to God is completely different from the honor (tim) of love (agape) and respect, or even veneration (proskynesis), “paid to all those endowed with some dignity” (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. III, 40). The Orthodox honor the saints to express their love and gratitude to God, who has “perfected” the saints. As St. Symeon the New Theologian writes, “God is the teacher of the Prophets, the co-traveller with the Apostles, the power of the Martyrs, the inspiration of the Fathers and Teachers, the perfection of all Saints” (Catechesis, I). (from an online article of the Archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament points out that “The New Testament uses proskynein only in relation to a divine object. . . . The thought of God’s transcendence forbids any weakening of the term in the NT. Peter rejects proskynesis in Acts 10:25-26. Even the angel forbids it in Rev. 19:10. The gesture is expressly mentioned in Acts 10:25.” Back To Article