Christianity Today publishes an extract from John E. Colwell’s book, The Rhythm of Doctrine: A Liturgical Sketch of Christian Faith and Faithfulness.
Colwell thinks evangelicals should adopt Catholic teaching on the communion of saints. They should be seen not merely as “witnesses” who testified to the faith in their lives, but as “witnesses”–spectators–of our lives, too.
If the Spirit mediates genuine communion between the saints it is quite unthinkable that either one should be careless of the other.
Only by virtue of such mediated unity, surely, can the church truly be deemed the church at all. The church is the communion of the saints, the community of those, then and now, who participate in the Son by the Spirit. Here and now we are invited to participate, through the mediating presence of the Spirit and alongside those who have gone before us, in the triune communion and conversation of heaven.
There is nothing in most evangelical theologies that would prevent adoption of such a view–if you believe in the immortality of the soul, and perdurance of consciousness after death, this seems reasonable.
Why does he think evangelicals have not gone along with it?
At a popular level this neglect is probably rooted simply in reaction to what are perceived (by evangelicals) to be the excesses of the cult of some saints amongst Roman Catholics—evangelicals generally are repulsed by morbid relics and instinctively repudiate the notion of praying to anyone other than God.
More fundamentally, however, this neglect probably derives from Reformation disputes concerning the doctrine of purgatory, the authority of the Church (to declare someone a “saint”), the nature of merit, and an expectation for realized practical holiness.
But this begs the question–if the saints are conscious, in heaven, capable of hearing us, and connected with us, should these other teachings not follow? Should not believers turn to them, invoke their assistance, engage in conversation with them?
And if we do that, we’re back to talking with the dead, something Scripture prohibits time and time again. But such communication with the dead is what the cult of the saints is all about. They’ve been said to talk back, and this has furthered the development of Catholic teaching about purgatory and the sacrifice of the mass.
If you believe in the natural immortality of the soul, what’s to keep any evangelical from walking down this path?
Is the immortality of the soul Biblical, however?