In a post written by Scott Richert (which you can read by clicking here), the author describes a change in the definition of “saint.” In the New Testament, the word refers to those men and women who followed Christ and “had been so transformed that they were now different from other men and women and, thus, should be considered holy.” But later, as the church grew, a saint was someone who “lived a life of extraordinary, or heroic, virtue, beyond that of the average Christian believer.” In other words, in the early church, saints were the everyday followers of Christ who had experienced redemptive transformation and could be considered holy; whereas later the term referred to those who had demonstrated heroic or extraordinary virtue.
The word “saint” is derived from the Latin sanctus which means holy. The Methodist movement which led to the establishment of the Methodist church, was considered part of a holiness movement. Taking the lead of the apostles, St. Paul and other writers in the New Testament, the Methodist movement sought to make saints out of all of its followers, rather than singling out only the most heroic or extraordinary actions. Everyday saints.
I do not dispute that the early church martyrs and evangelists who risked, and sometimes lost, everything, deserve the title of saint. By the same token, people who were simply “nice” without a noticeable faith might not deserve the title. But somewhere in between there are, and have been, many, many Christians who led fairly normal lives without heroic or extraordinary actions who nevertheless felt the transforming hand of Christ’s sacrifice and were able to quietly but effectively pass that touch on to others. You don’t have to be a martyr to be a saint, but you also need to be more than just a self-contained believer. The grace of Christ is not meant to be trapped within; it is meant to be spread about.
On All Saints Day we sing the words of William How and music set by the great English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams of the timeless hymn “For All The Saints.” In it we sing tribute to all who confessed their faith before Jesus, then entered the world fighting for that faith. The music is stirring and heroic, but the hymn celebrates all of the everyday saints, those whose names aren’t written down in famous books or carved into the sides of buildings. An everyday saint might not be front-page news, but without them, the world would truly suffer. We can aspire to be many things but being an everyday saint really ought to be at the top of the list.
Salmon Creek Church
A United Methodist Ministry
“Where all who seek the grace of God are welcome.”