By what title are Christians referred to the most in the New Testament? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is not ‘Christian.’
The Roman Catholic Path to Sainthood
You have likely heard of the ‘saints’ of The Roman Catholic Church. If not familiar with the concept in general, you have at least heard some of their names: St. Valentine, St. Patrick, St. Nicolas, etc.
According to The Roman Catholic Church, how does one become a saint?
Step One: Be dead for five years
You don’t want to start somebody on the path to sainthood prematurely, because who knows what skeletons you had in your closet.
Step Two: Have your life works and character investigated
Leaders in The Roman Catholic Church will do an internal investigation by reviewing everything and anything they can find on you. Additionally, they will interview people that knew you. If you pass this very thorough background check, you gain the title of ‘Servant of God,’ but at this point, the title of ‘Saint’ is still a ways away.
Step Three: Impress the Pope
If the Pope agrees that the findings of the investigation point towards a life lived with ‘heroic virtue,’ then you are promoted from a ‘Servant of God’ to ‘Venerable,’ which means, ‘worthy of extreme respect.’
Step Four: Perform a miracle after you die
After you die, somebody, or better yet, a group of people, need to pray to you for a miracle. If you perform a miracle, and the leaders of The Roman Catholic Church determine that you did, you complete the process called ‘beatification’ and are promoted yet again, this time from ‘Venerable’ to ‘Blessed.’
Step Five: Perform another miracle after you die
After you are considered ‘Blessed,’ you need to answer another prayer by performing at least one more miracle. After that miracle has been verified by the leaders of The Roman Catholic Church, the canonization ceremony (a special Mass) is held, which officially and publicly inducts you into the ‘Saints’ hall of fame. Congrats!
* Exception to this final step: If you are a Martyr and die for your faith, performing only one miracle after death is required. *
The Bible’s Path to Sainthood
The beginning of Paul’s greeting to the church of Ephesus, recorded in Ephesians 1:1 reads, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”
Notice the words, “To the saints who are…in Christ Jesus.”
Did you know that Christians in the New Testament are called those who are “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus,” more than they are called anything else. The term ‘Christian’ was rarely used, and when it was, it was likely used as a derogatory title.
So then, according to the Bible, what is the path to sainthood? To be “in Christ.” If you have placed your faith in Christ, then you in fact are a saint. Congrats!
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner
Martin Luther penned a Latin phrase that summarizes the Christian experience, it reads, “simul justus et peccator,” meaning, ‘simultaneously saint and sinner.’ We are a saint in the sense that we are justified through Jesus’ substitutionary death for us, but we are still sinners who are going through the sanctification process of becoming like Christ on a daily basis. You know, until we go through the process of glorification at death that completely cleanses us from our sin.
The S(aint) Jean Vanier
In 1964, Jean Vanier, a Canadian-born Roman Catholic Theologian befriended two developmentally disabled men in France. After getting to know them, he visited their living facility, which was more like a prison than a hospital. He was not okay with that, so he did a very practical thing. He invited them to live with him in Christian community.
Following his example, decades later, there are 100+ homes that became like his. These homes are referred to as L’Arche (Larsh) Communities. L’Arche is French for ark, as in Noah’s Ark, metaphorical for taking in those that would otherwise perish.
Interestingly, Jean Vanier lived in his original L’Arche home until he died in 2019. When Vanier died, the Pope said of him, “[Jean Vanier] had a unique insight into the mystery of suffering, into the mystery of the cross, and into the mystery of those discarded by the world.” It was widely assumed that Vanier was on the fast-track to sainthood in The Roman Catholic Church. That was until, some of those skeletons came marching out of his closet. You can read about them here.
Even the most holy saints still struggle with sin. There is one sinless human (Jesus) and then there is everybody else. There are no super-saints. All humans will eventually let you down, except for Jesus. If you want to elevate anybody for their holiness, it should be Christ and Christ alone.