Saints and angels
Christians are worshipping saints and angels like never before. What’s going on?
Their worship or adoration goes back many centuries. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches have extensive histories of honouring and praying to angels and saints in heaven.
They have long taught that each person has a guardian angel actively engaged in guidance and protection, granting answers to prayer and miraculously intervening in real time on behalf of Christians. The glorified saints are also considered able to interact with believers on earth today.
Though the Bible does not endorse or promote this worship and invocation, these churches do; and by their traditions trump the proscriptions on such teachings and practices found in the Word of God.
But now some Protestants (maybe we should really say ‘neo-Protestants’) have been embracing the concept that angels and saints in heaven get heavily involved in the life of believers on earth.
In particular, Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, has written a book entitled When heaven invades earth. His message is that heaven invades earth through the agency of glorified saints. Yes, he is not talking about the incarnation of Christ (John 1:14), he means that purified saints are in ‘these last days’ engaged in empowering Christians to do mighty things, and especially healings.
It is all about power. Johnson’s key phrase is: ‘The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’. As he describes it, saints who are a part of the ‘mystical body of Christ in heaven’ are eager to be joined with the ‘mystical body of Christ on earth’, as in a marriage between a man and a woman.
And when such a union occurs, then real kingdom power is unleashed, with virtually unlimited scope. When this is fully realised, the great branches of the Christian church are united. He envisions the great cloud of saints in heaven becoming one with the believers on earth. Christians, he teaches, may now avail themselves of the power of the Spirit, angels and saints.
One may wonder where he gets this teaching from. He attempts to justify it from Hebrews 12:18-24, and in particular from verses 22-23: ‘But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect’.
But the Hebrews passage is not about that. It is about the contrast between approaching God on an old covenant or new covenant basis. The first is impossible to sinful humans, for God reveals himself by his moral law as having awesome and threatening holiness (vv. 18-21). The second is wonderfully open, even to the worst sinners, because of the death of Jesus Christ our mediator for our sins (vv. 22-24).
Johnson’s doctrine that the departed saints are eager to engage with and empower believers on earth finds no support at all in any biblical text. Yet, according to his strange interpretations, purified saints – ‘the great cloud of witnesses’ – have been rewarded by God with authority to intervene in the affairs of Christians alive on earth today. They can work power-miracles in the ministries of those Christians who understand and seek their empowerment.
Christians should seek this impartation or anointing, and so bring healing and words of knowledge and prophecy to the body of Christ on earth.
This is heady stuff! Pastor Johnson appeals to Matthew 10:41: ‘The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward’.
But the context there is plain enough. Jesus is saying those who receive his followers are receiving himself and will be rewarded with hearing the gospel message. But Johnson uses the passage to promise empowerment from the departed saints.
Bill Johnson certainly knows his view is not shared in the Christian community, and so issues a warning. He realises that most biblically based Christians will have been taught that trying to communicate with the saints in heaven is a demonic deception perpetrated by the devil.
But such hesitancy, Johnson warns, will only cut you off from communion with and the benefits available from the powerful working of saints.
Certainly, the Scripture is the barrier that Johnson must overcome. In chapter 6 of his book, he concludes with this revealing statement: ‘Those who feel safe because of their grasp of Scripture enjoy a false sense of security. We all have the Holy Spirit, but to follow him, we must be willing to follow him off the map – to go beyond what we know’.
For Johnson it is not the Word of God, but the new move of the Spirit that matters. It is all about power and not faithfulness to the Scripture. Christians who adhere to the Bible are belittled as being stuck in old revelation and not able to follow the leading of the Spirit into new regions.
So, let the Scripture go; follow the new anointing; receive the new impartations; be empowered by the purified saints!
How could it all come to this?
For those who all too eagerly swallow the idea that God is doing new things in these ‘last days’, any new direction is possible. Christians are ready to travel ‘off the map’ and will tap at any price into what God is doing. And Johnson is typical of those who position themselves as direction-givers on that new map – to tell us exactly what God is doing now.
Amazingly, thousands are believing these things and their numbers are growing, not only in America among Charismatic and Pentecostals, but in Latin America and Africa.
But what we must also understand is that not all spiritual power is from God. The power gurus of Hinduism, like Osho or Muktananda, seemed to perform amazing power miracles. Power is deceptive. The magicians of Egypt were temporarily able to imitate the power of God, as they demonstrated to Moses.
Are all those who propound communion with departed saints in order to acquire their power evil persons bent on misleading the people of God? Not necessarily. But demonic deception and human error are both real.
In the church at Corinth Paul realised there were men who had a ministry running counter to what he had been commissioned by Christ to preach. From the reports that Paul had received he understood the dangers involved. Here is how Paul described the situation: ‘For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
‘And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness’ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). An ‘angel of light’ may have amazing knowledge and power. Maybe too those who are sure they cannot be tricked are most vulnerable to being tricked.
We are not to seek out departed saints to pray to or angels to worship (Colossians 2:16-20). When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, his key words in the Lord’s Prayer were ‘Our Father in heaven’, not ‘Our angel’ or ‘Our saint’.
As born-again followers of Jesus, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have the written Word of God to instruct us. We have all we need. We are already empowered with the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the cross and resurrection. And God will bring in his kingdom in his own time – whether Jesus returns tomorrow or in a thousand years.