Thought for the Month (November 2010)

Dear Friends,

Like Easter and Christmas, Halloween is another Christian festival taken over by commercial interests, and taken over in a more unpleasant way than usual! From a Christian standpoint, 'All Hallows E'en' was originally the 'vigil', a night of prayer and fasting held before the day of the annual feast of 'All Hallows', now more commonly called 'All Saints Day'.

In the early Church, it was the custom to hold a time of fasting, followed by a feast day on the anniversary of the death of the local Christian Martyr; and, towards the middle period of the Roman Empire, sadly, we know that there were a large number of Christians who died for their faith. Eventually, as the Church became older and more widespread, there were so many Saints Days that some rationalisation was thought necessary, so official Saints Days and other 'days of obligation' were set up churchwide to lessen the confusion. All Saints Day itself was proclaimed a 'Holy day of obligation' by Pope Gregory III about the year 740 AD during the consecration of a chapel in St Peters Rome to 'all Christian Martyrs gone before'; it has remained on or about the beginning of November ever since.

So how does a Christian come to be recognised as a 'Saint'? For many years this was only through martyrdom! But as persecution faded and the 'Church' became more established, centralised and bureaucratic, any outstanding Christian personality could be 'raised to Sainthood'. In the Roman Catholic Church, this is still so today as we have seen recently with Cardinal Newman.

But what of those of us who stand in the Protestant Reformed tradition? We do not go in for this business of 'Saints'. Or do we? When 'Saint' Paul writes to newly converted Christians in the Churches springing up around the Mediterranean, he addresses them all as 'Saints' (e.g. 2 Cor.1, Rom.1), and so does Luke in Acts 9. So in the early Apostle's eyes we are all 'Saints'!

The word 'Saint' comes from the Latin verb 'sancire' which means 'to consecrate'. A Saint is a consecrated person, set apart and 'Holy', and this is just what every Christian is. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is saved to eternal life. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and walks in His ways is a Saint and becomes an assured part of the great 'Communion of Saints' both here and in heaven.

But what about any number of our friends and neighbours who are as yet 'unsainted'. What sort of future do they face? Does it matter if a person is not a 'Saint'? And should their lack of sainthood be of concern to us? As we Christians approach the season of Advent, which is the anniversary of the birth of our salvation, and which, through the Grace of God, enables us all to become Saints, may I leave you with some thoughts to ponder for an All Hallows E'en vigil? Saint or not? Hell or Heaven? Or, put in the words of the Halloween prankster, 'Trick or Treat?'

Bob Webb

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church