Book Plunge: The Cult of the Saints

What do I think of Peter Brown’s book published by University of Chicago Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

I got Peter Brown’s book in an attempt to try to further understand the treatment of saints in church history. How is it that the treatment of the saints that we have today came about? Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of Brown’s book looking at that.

Brown instead focuses greatly on a kind of two-tiered system. Heaven and Earth were seen as boundary markers and the two were quite separate. This could be a clue still to how the movement came about. It wasn’t the saints in Heaven that were often thought to bring the blessings, but rather it was the bodies of the saints on Earth. One would visit the tomb of the saint instead and his body was supposed to bring blessings. (Why else would there be relics that were supposed to be body parts of the saints?)

This could also have come about perhaps from the idea of the need of intermediaries. Jesus can seem too great to approach and obviously, one cannot go to another god since Paul already explained for us that there aren’t any. While some Christians prayed to angels, perhaps even they were too great. What about another human mediator? What about the dead saint in Jesus who died? Could we not go to him?

While many of us could quote Scripture on how we can boldly approach the throne of grace and such, that does not mean much if the average layman is not able to read those books. Again, much of this is speculation on my part. Brown doesn’t spend much time on this kind of question as he does on the interactions that took place.

There are accounts also of miracles that took place at these locations. These extend to modern times as one can see from reading the work of Craig Keener, but I don’t really see this as a proof since many miracles take place in Protestant evangelism. Beyond that, there are also reports of miracles in other religions. It is fine to think the true religion can express itself in miracles, but as the Old Testament even warns, miracles alone are not the sign of the true religion.

Another warning to the reader is that many parts of the book that contain quotations can have those quotations in another language. Sadly at times, these quotations do not come with translations so if you do not speak the language, then you are stuck without knowing what it means. Perhaps you could use a Google Translator or something of that sort, but few of us will take the time to do something like that.

Brown’s book is relatively short, but it is packed with scholarship. The content is a little over 100 pages, but the notes section is still quite lengthy which is something I like. I always want to go and see how well the author has interacted with material and constant interaction is a good sign to me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Communion of Saints

What does it mean to speak about the Communion of Saints? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our day and age if we live in the West, we’ve really lost sight of community. This is why we often have what I call a Lone Ranger Christianity. We tend to think that we can do it all on our own. In the apologetics field, I often see this with people who think they have to be authorities on every subject. In the end, they will end up being authorities on none. They know enough to go a little bit further than most, but they don’t know enough to go deep on a topic.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to apologetics. This applies to many of us in the Christian community. When you meet someone who wants to avoid the fellowship of fellow Christians in a church and chooses to just be a Christian on their own, then you are dealing with someone who thinks that this is actually possible. It’s not. We are commanded to be a body, to be a family, to be a unity.

When we think about the Communion of Saints, we are not thinking about Communion as is practiced in most Protestant churches today, though that is an example, but we are thinking something along the lines of the cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12 with numerous examples in Hebrews 11. We are thinking of the heroes of the faith who went before us and we are also thinking about our brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom are having to pay the ultimate price for Jesus right now.

When the church comes together for a Communion it is where we celebrate what really unites us and what is that? Consider what is often said. “The body of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you.” In each case, we are pointing to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. This is what unites us. This is our common bond. We are a body that has many members in it and we all serve different roles. Not everyone is an apologist, or an evangelist, or a teacher, or a counselor, or a minister, or a missionary. We might all be called to do some of that type of work on a certain occasion, but that does not mean it is necessarily our life focus.

What unites us most is our neediness. We are all people who realize that we are in trouble and we are in need of a savior and we have chosen to place our trust in Christ and call Him Lord. At least, we say we call Him Lord. The question we have to ask ourselves today is if we just say that or if we really live like it is true, and part of the reason the Christian church is not being the salt and light in the West that it could be is that our individualism makes it that we are more often unknowingly seeking to make ourselves the Lord of Jesus. Our faith is a great way for us to meet our goals and be successful rather than a way for us to bring about the success of the Kingdom of God.

This is also why church history is so important. When we look back, we can see several saints who went before us and see how they lived their lives and learn from their wisdom, and granted this is something I need to do a lot more of as well. None of us are islands in Christianity. We’ve all got to where we were before by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and we owe them a great debt.

Remember today that you are part of a body. Go through the epistles and look at the “One Another” commands that are given. How many are you following? Are you observing the fact that you are part of the Communion of Saints?

In Christ,

Nick Peters