Monday, February 22, 2010

Mary MacKillop Australia's First Saint?

I hear it is official, Mary MacKillop is to be declared Australia's first saint ( Pope Benedict 16 is to declare this in March. This has been received with great joy in Australia. She certainly seems to have been an amazing women, healing lung cancer and leukaemia, a founder of the Catholic order of the Sisters of St Joseph in Penola, South Australia in the mid 1900's. She was a caring women, staying strong in the faith, helping people until her death. Apparently Garry McLean, who runs the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre, is relieved that at long last Australia has a saint. He is on record as saying, 'it's fantastic for a country to have its first saint.'

Now I don't want to demean her legacy at all, she certainly deserves honour for her great achievements. Indeed, she most likely deserves her status as a saint. But the problem is, that the whole canonisation, saint-thing, stands in the face of the biblical definition of sainthood.

A saint is a 'holy one' (e.g. Phil 1:1). The term is used through the Greek OT (LXX) of God's holy people (e.g. Lev 11:44; 19:2, 37; 20:7; 21:7, 8; Num 6:5 (Nazirite); 16:7; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; Judg 16:17; 2 Kingdoms (Kings) 4:9; Hos 12:1; Is 30:19). It is used in the NT numerous times of believers (e.g. Acts 9:13; Rom 1:7; 15:24, 31; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:15; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1, 18; 3:5, 18; 5:3; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2, 26;  2 Thess 1:10; Heb 6:10; Jude 3; Rev 11:8). It is clear in these uses that all believers are saints. That is, one who has faith in God and Jesus for salvation and as Lord, is a saint. Sainthood is not the privilege of certain great Christians who perform miracles and serve well. It is the privilege of all.

To be a saint is to be a holy one, sanctified, consecrated to God, set apart, chosen. It means to be declared holy, so that one can live to be holy. From the least of God's people to the greatest (defined by the greatest servant), all believers are saints. So, Australia has had millions of saints since its inception. Even before the European came to the great land, those Aborigines who worshiped God by faith (cf. Abraham, Melchizedek), were saints (not by religion, but by faith). So, good for Mary MacKillop and the Australian Catholics, but it is misguided. There is no rank and status in the Kingdom, we are all God's people, all saints, if we name Jesus as Lord and saviour.

Saint Mark, Out.


George said...

I can see where your coming from, but like many issues I am coming to realise that they are not worth 'dividing' the body of Christ over (and I know that is not your intention). I guess in conjunction with this practice (of Sainthood) is how those of a different persuasion view the practice of asking those who have departed to be with Christ already to pray for us.
If Mary MacKillop had a gift of healing in her earthly life, is there not still value in approaching her still? Are we not all part of the one body?

Just some thoughts *smile*

george the disciple whom Jesus loves

Dr Mark K said...

It certainly is not my desire to divide over insignificant issues.

The problem with your comment is that the biblical data gives absolutely no indication that prayer to the deceased is an option. In the OT, such things were repudiated. Consulting mediums was utterly rejected (Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deut 18:11; 1 Sam 28:3-9; 2 Kgs 21:6; 23:24; 1 Chron 10:13; 2 Chron 33:6 etc). The best example is when Saul seeks out dead Samuel through the medium of Endor, with devastating consequences for himself and the nation.

There is NOTHING in the biblical narrative from start to finish of praying to the dead. God is the only object of worship and prayer.

This is where I cannot accept the teachings of Roman Catholicism and other variant forms of the 'faith' who suggest we can pray to the dead, to Mary etc. They are humans and not gods. This is a violation of the prohibition against idolatry.

I believe you are also mistaken to say that Mary MacKillop could heal. She may have been used of God in some healings, I have myself. But she and I cannot heal. God heals. He alone. His Spirit imparts the power to heal, but it is his power, and not ours. So, we should go direct to the healer and not to an unnecessary intermediary.

The only intermediary is the mediator Jesus who is God-Man.

So, while I hear you about unity, there is a point at which grace and truth collide. The truth of the gospel rules out sainthood, rules out prayers to the dead or to Mary.

Where does that leave those who do participate in those things? Now that is the question I cannot answer. I will leave that to God. But I will say this, Paul had strong words for those who violated the centre of the gospel especially in 2 Cor 11; Phil 3; Gal 2-6 etc. Jesus warned against such deviations. So, I am concerned for them and especially those who teach such things.

The thing is, that when we start canonising people and praying to them, we are no longer in the peripheral matters of the faith. We are at the dead centre, the truth that all who have saving faith in Christ are holy through the work of Christ, not some. There is no hierarchy in the kingdom; no one is holier than another. We are all one in Christ, all holy by status, all saints, all equal in his sight.

More fundamental is the idea of praying to the dead. We cross a line when we do this, worshiping the created not the creator. Rom 1:18-31 has some really strong stuff on this. He sees this as the essential problem of sinful humanity who have turned aside from worship of God to worship of creatures of various forms. The ultimate expression of this is self-worship and the worship of other people. Praying to a person, dead or alive, violates God's exclusiveness and for that reason, humanity stands under God's wrath.

As for me, I will go with Paul...


George said...

I truly dont know one way of the other (nor do I think it is crucial that I do), but this is also an interesting perspective
The comment that prayer to the departed does not imply that they come 'between' us and the Trinity was pertinent I think? Are we lost to our brothers and sisters in Christ when we die (till He comes again) I don't know? Is asking you to pray for me while you live any different to asking you when you after you die? Will you care less - I hope not, will God listen to you more than me - no. It is interesting at least *smile*

Dr Mark K said...

Hi George. We are not lost to our brothers and sisters, we are one in Christ. As for whether I can communicate with them, I think not. Why would we need to? The new covenant teaches that we can go direct to the High Priest. I don't need their prayers. I have enough living brothers and sisters on planet earth to pray for me. Does the power reside in us, or in God? In God right. So, why flirt with such ideas when the Scriptures from start to finish name God as the only object of faith and prayer? I am not going to stand in judgement over others who do such things, but I am very concerned that they are crossing a line. I am not saying that they are lost to God, that is his business. For me, I am confident in God and only need one high priest, Jesus. I have the Spirit who intercedes for me with groans words cannot express. When it is too much, I go to my brothers and sisters who pray for me. That is enough.

I looked at the video. Nice homily. He represents an intelligent articulator from an alternative view. I like what he says about being one person, body and soul. His idea breaks down, because God does heal the body sometimes, even where the soul is messed up. But, I still get him.

The brilliant thing about the healing of the cripple in the Mark 2 text is that the people associated sickness with sin. When Jesus healed the man he demonstrated to them that he was forgiven. The controversy was that no man could forgive, that is the prerogative of God.