Jorge Bergoglio, who styles himself "Pope Francis", today declared that an Albanian woman named Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, who was usually called "Mother Teresa", was now a saint. This completes a long and convoluted process. It also causes a great deal of confusion in our muddled theological world. We are often told that Ms. Bojaxhiu is a exemplar of Christian behavior but what are we to think about her canonization and ascension to Roman sainthood?
There are many who are probably irritated and even angry that these questions are being asked. Can't we just appreciate the work she did and let the poor woman rest in peace? If it were simply a matter of reflecting on her life of service I would agree. When it comes to the Roman process of sainthood however, I think it bears examination because so many people seem very confused by what this means in the same way many evangelicals are confused by the papacy. As I wrote in my post Da pope ain't my papa, a post that generated more comments than any other post in a long while, I think it is important for Christians to be crystal clear about what the church of Rome teaches, especially in a day and age of compromise, and contrast that with what the Bible teaches. We are living in the end days of American Christendom and many Christians are looking for any allies we can find, whether Roman Catholic or Mormon or Donald Trump, anyone and everyone that can help preserve our political influence and worldly power. I have no use for those who will jettison the Gospel that so many Reformers, Magisterial and Radical alike, lost their lives in defense of. The blood of the martyrs cries out from the halls of history and I don't think they would be impressed with our newly discovered ecumenical pragmatism.
CNN put together a nice infographic on the Roman process of sainthood (culminating in often dubious claims of miracles) in a piece 'Troubled Individual' Mother Teresa no saint to her critics.
It is actually much more complex than that but this serves my purpose.
What does the Bible teach about becoming a saint? The Bible uses the term "saint" or "saints" on many occasion in both Old and New Testament. It is critical to note that no one is ever called "Saint" as a title. The church did not call them "Saint Peter" or "Saint Paul" or "Saint John". Paul often referred to himself as "Paul, an apostle" but never as "I, Saint Paul". In the Scriptures all born-again believers are saints. I put together my own infographic to show the Biblical process of sainthood:
A lot simpler, no? Also note that becoming a saint doesn't require the permission or approval of any man or man-made organization. I have made this point before but it bears repeating. When men create barriers between you and God they are doing so because it gives them control over you. The church of Rome has been the master of this for centuries. Often the struggle to maintain this control has resulted in torture and death for Christians who refused to bow the knee to the "throne of Saint Peter".
I like how Tim Challies puts it in his post What Does It Take To Be Made a Saint?. Tim writes:
But perhaps we can at least say this: We are saints who have no need of saints. All who have believed in the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone have already been declared saints by God (see Romans 1:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, 2 Corinthians 1:1-2, and Ephesians 2:19-21). We are God’s holy people, called by him and to him. Jesus Christ is the full and final mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5) who invites us to confidently approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) believing that his Spirit is already interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27). We are the saints of God who have no need for the intercession of saints who have gone before.
We are saints who have no need of saints. I love that because it is what the Bible teaches us. There is one Mediator between man and God, Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). We need no other mediator like a saint or a pope or any other human being who presumes to stand between God and His people. Ms. Bojaxhiu may or may not be in glory with the Lord today. I don't know if she is and neither do you. I do know that her status has nothing to do with whether or not a man-made organization with a history of violence and heresy says she is a saint or not.
None of this should be seen as diminishing or denigrating what Ms. Bojaxhiu spent her life doing. I freely recognize that in her own admittedly imperfect way she spent her life trying to care for the very poorest among us and my own paltry efforts are laughable in contrast. What it should be seen as is a caution for Christians to not be so eager to gloss over historical differences that men and women died to defend and the critical importance of what the Bible teaches and just as importantly what it does not.
Teresa of Calcutta sainthood protestant evangelical mother teresa roman catholic canonization beatification