Blog 146: 3.20.23 - 3.20.27
In these paragraphs, Calvin continues to refute traditional notions of the veneration and intercession of the saints by surveying some of the scripture texts and incidents typically cited in support.
Two things are particularly striking in this discussion. The first is his focus on the trustworthiness of God. For Calvin, this is one of the key points where theology, experience, and practice come together. We pray, we experience God's goodness, and our faith is strengthened because we know that, as God has revealed himself, so shall he be; and we can therefore rely on him being the same God tomorrow as he is today. This, in turn, reinvigorates our prayer life.
The second point Calvin makes is that prayer springs from faith, and faith from hearing God's word. The connection between God's trustworthiness and his word is thus clear; as is also the connection between a healthy prayer life and a healthy church life. Where is it we hear God's word? It is in church, when the word is read and then faithfully proclaimed by the preacher; and thus church, the corporate gathering of believers under the sound of the word, is the crucible out of which true prayer, the prayer of faith, will emerge.
A number of contemporary applications arise out of this discussion of prayer, intercession, and the veneration of the saints. The first is that prayer has a context, a foundation, and a content. Its context is the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; its foundation is his sacrificial blood and current intercession in heaven on that basis; and its content is God's word, his promises, his revelation. This is a million miles away from the Oprah Winfrey-style sentimental garbage that talks about prayer, and about praying, but gives no cognitive context, foundation or content to such beyond a sappy hope that everything will turn out right in the end and, in the meantime, everyone will kiss and make up.
Second, it surely relativises the cult of the great leader which is so rife in many evangelical and Reformed circles. True, the prayer of a righteous man availeth much; but there is only one righteous man, and he sits at the right hand of the Father. The idea that some have that there is something special about being in the presence of a particular pastor, or some special blessing associated with the ministry of a particular leader, while is potentially dangerous. It is not the pastor who engenders faith; it is the word of God, and that is the monopoly of no single man; and it is not the quality of the pastor that makes the intercession effective; it is Christ who does so, and he is wherever two or three Christian nobodies gather in his name. As Protestants, we need to make sure that have not excised the Catholic veneration of saints, only to replace it with the veneration of authors, speakers, and other gurus.