I was directed to this blog entry that provides a response, of sorts, to a brief comment I offered about praying to “St. James” for my conversion. I wondered out loud just what St. James is supposed to do for me. Is he supposed to contradict himself relating to the second chapter of his epistle, found in Scripture? Of course, that was meant to communicate the fact that those who cannot give a scriptural response to the commentary I have offered in print for years (The God Who Justifies pp. 329-354) are barking up the wrong tree to attempt to circumvent scriptural truths through prayers to authors who, in reality, are not hearing a word they are saying and who would not intervene even if they could. I likewise asked what James, or Jerome, or anyone else, is supposed to do. Do these saints send down some kind of grace? Send angels? Just what is the nature of this activity from beyond? Or are they just going to pray for me? But to what end? Isn’t God already doing His best? Don’t I have my libertarian free will? All of these questions were meant to raise issues I have expanded upon in many other forums (including the recent series I did reviewing my debate with Patrick Madrid on the veneration of saints and angels).
In an article titled “More Heat But No Light from James White,” a Roman Catholic (former atheist) named “Devman” (might the URL indicate his name is Devin Rose?) commented on this single paragraph. He identifies my response as “ridicule,” and surely, when you start asking just what Roman Catholic piety is supposed to accomplish, with its myriads of prayers, candles, rosaries, novenas, and processions replete with statues and the like, the result cannot help but sound like ridicule. One is reminded of this video:
In today’s culture you are not allowed to speak the simple truth about this kind of activity: it is idolatry, plain and simple, and no amount of truth-twisting and word-smithing is going to change that. In any case, before responding to his actual claims, I would like to thank him for setting himself apart from Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples, Mark Shea, Steve Ray, and the whole host of lesser-known Roman Catholic apologists by referring to me as a “Refomed Baptist Protestant apologist.” Unlike the large majority of his compatriots, Devman has chosen the high road, skipping past the mind-numbing cavil of “anti-Catholic.” In fact, in an earlier post he actually suggested people compare Shea’s book with mine, Scripture Alone! Congratulations are in order. Now on to his comments. He writes:
His remarks are disingenuous, for he well knows as a professional Protestant apologist what the Catholic Church teaches about the communion of saints, yet instead of accurately portraying that belief, he deliberately caricatures it.
My remarks are anything but disingenuous. Yes, they were brief, and were meant to use irony with a dash of sarcasm, but as I noted above, they have a purpose that is meant to get someone to think. Yes, I well know what the concept of the communion of saints involves, but that wasn’t my point, was it? My point was to ask what praying to James is supposed to accomplish in light of the fact that 1) James didn’t teach what Roman Catholics suppose he did, and 2) what kind of “influence” can a saint in heaven exercise over someone such as myself? And given the emphasis upon a form of libertarianism that is vital to the existence of the entire sacramental system, what would be involved in praying for my conversion to Romanism in the first place?
So how did I caricature this? We go on:
We ask a saint in Heaven to pray for us, and by God’s Providence and facilitation, they can hear us and respond by praying to our Father. It is not much different than asking a fellow Christian to pray for you.
Oh, but it most definitely is different, and that is the whole point. The common Roman Catholic assertion that praying (note the word, it is important) to saints is “not much different than” asking a fellow Christian to pray for us is simply fallacious. I am not “praying” to my fellow Christian. Prayer is an act of worship. Roman Catholic practice has robbed prayer of its exalted position (by allowing it to saints, angels, and in particular, to Mary), and we have successfully debated this topic in the past. There is this little problem of the fact that just announcing the idea of the “communion of saints” does not amount to a valid way around the fact that there is a fundamental separation between those who are alive in this world, and those who are alive in the next. The “communion” part is due to our union with Christ, not due to some kind of ease of communication! You simply do not find the saints on earth communicating with the saints in heaven (and no, my Roman Catholic friends, having the prayers of the saints in bowls in apocalyptic language does not provide you a foundation for such a concept). So, you can try to gloss over the fundamental problems with such a non-apostolic practice by mere analogy to my asking a fellow believer to pray for me will not do.
It is not “magical” when you pray for me and God hears and answers by giving me grace–it is wonderful and amazing and beautiful, but it is not some kind of conjuring; rather, it is how God has created the world and us and made it possible for us to be in communion with one another.
So, does this mean that Devman is offering the following answer to my question? That when person X prays to saint Y for me, that saint Y then prays to God and God is then convinced to give grace to person X? Is this grace that God would not have given otherwise? And what does this grace do? Does it help person X convert me? Is that the idea?
I do not get the indication (and I could surely be wrong) that Devman has listened to the debate with Patrick Madrid on these subjects, for he offers the same reasoning that we have examined many times before:
One obvious objection is that the canonized saints in Heaven are all dead people, and surely dead people can’t hear us, so it is at best a waste of time and at worst some kind of sorcery to ask them to pray for us. However, in Luke 20:38, Jesus says in his reply to the Sadducees that “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Further, in Matthew 17 suddenly Moses and Elijah appear before Jesus during the Transfiguration: “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” Connecting the two Biblical dots here can tell us that by God’s grace and power human death does not end communication (or communion) between them and God and living persons. These are only two of the many passages in the Bible which directly or indirectly support the communion of saints.
Biblical dots. Thus the infallible Church creates her dogmas? Not clear hermeneutical conclusions based upon careful handling of the text, but “biblical dots”? Of course the saints in heaven are alive. No one has said otherwise. But where is the evidence that Christians are to pray to them? Sure there are lots of emotional stories, but how about some biblical evidence? And notice the equivocation of terms, “death does not end communication (or communion) between them and God and living persons.” Where is there any communication inherent in recognizing that the saints are alive in God’s presence? Are we seriously to believe that the unique, one-of-a-kind event of the Transfiguration itself is a meaningful foundation for communication with those who have passed from this life? Do I really need to point out that there is actually no example of communication between the apostles and Moses and Elijah, that it is limited to Jesus, and hence would not, even if it was pressed far out of its meaningful context, support such a concept?
As for this being some invention of “modern Roman Catholicism”, history is against Mr. White. My friend Tom posted a few months back about one example from the 7th century of praying for those who have died.
Seventh century? Who has ever denied that by the seventh century all sorts of unbiblical traditions were as popular as popcorn? What I had written was, “but it is still striking to ponder how far from the mindset of the inspired writers modern Roman Catholicism truly is.” I had used as my example…what? An example from modern Roman Catholicism. So why change the subject of what I was addressing?
So what is one to do? Avoid polemical apologists like Mr. White and find charitable and reasonable persons with whom to engage in dialogue. Oh, and definitely pray for James White and ask the saints to pray for him.
Yes, avoid that guy! It looks like that memo went out a few years ago to all the Roman Catholic apologists. They would like to tell you that is because I’m such a mean, terrible, horrible, nasty person: but that would require that you not actually watch any of the nearly three dozen debates we have done over the years with Roman Catholic apologists. Oh, but wait, here’s one: let’s see who the mean “polemical” apologist is here:
Or, how about this one?
I would invite Devman to examine all five debates I have done with Mitch Pacwa and then defend this words in light of the reality of the record.