Jimmy Akin has an interesting article about former Pope John Paul II’s progress on getting canonized a saint. Not that JPII is advancing the cause, of course, but that his supporters are pushing the Vatican to name the recently departed pope a saint immediately. As in now.
I wanted to comment because a statement in it ties into my recent post answering questions from a Reddit thread enumerating questions we theists supposedly can’t answer (but we really can). That previous article was on questions that tied specifically to the soul’s eternal destiny, and Akin touches ever-so-briefly on that.
Akin’s article had a statement that dropped my jaw with regard to determining eternal destiny. Before I give my thoughts on that statement, let’s begin with asking why the Vatican would have an interest in thoroughly investigating a potential saint before canonizing him.There are three points to bear in mind.
First, the term “saint” in the Bible is used synonymously with “the elect.” That is, the writers were speaking of Christians: those who followed our Lord. It follows that a Roman Catholic saint, if they’re using the term consistently (and there’s no reason to think they aren’t) is in heaven. Jimmy says as much when he notes:
Canonizations aren’t meant just to settle the question of whether someone is in heaven. They are also meant to hold up to us an example to follow. If a person did not set a good example then they should not become a canonized saint, even if they are in heaven. (emphasis added)
And that leads right to our second point. We understand that not everyone who has verbally declared their allegiance to the Lord actually allies with the Lord. These people might even do great things outwardly in God’s name that seem to confirm that they belong to Jesus. But Jesus notes:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Mt 7:21-23)
The key is knowing God; having that one-on-one, dynamic, life-altering relationship with him. That takes time to foster and develop, as any relationship would. Just before saying that not everyone who claims his name would be his elect, Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). Jesus tells us how we can know the difference:
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7:16-20)
Good fruit and bad fruit may not always be self-evident, and likely many people will flock to false prophets. I note in my review of Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis that he quite often mixes timeless truth with doctrinal poison. However, the astute will be able to discern the good from the bad, because ultimately, the bad will come out no matter how well the wolf tries to hide it. It may not, however, come out until after the person has died.
And that leads neatly to the third point:
There have been any number of people dressed in sheep’s clothing right up to the end of their lives — even very publicly known people — who were later revealed to have been ravening wolves inwardly. Imagine the damage that would be done if, upon the death of the person, the wave of public sentiment for this apparently sheep-like individual resulted in an instant canonization, only to have his wolf nature revealed later.
That leads us to the amazing statement in Jimmy’s article. What would happen if the Vatican canonized a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing?
One might say argue that papal saint canonizations are infallible and so it would still be guaranteed that the individual is in heaven. (emphasis added)
There you have it. We can be guaranteed a person is in heaven if the Roman Catholic Church says so.
It seems that the Roman Catholic Church, in service to the supposed “Vicar of Christ” designation, has taken upon itself the task of deciding who is and is not in heaven. The problems with that are obvious.
There are some things which God has reserved solely for himself and for his own glory. This is why I’m such an ardent defender of traditional predestination as the first Reformers understood it. It is God’s decision alone who will be called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:29-30). This decision was made from the foundation of the earth, in eternity (Eph 1:3-6). We don’t participate in that.
We do, however, participate in our sanctification. So, yes, when Akin speaks of a man-God cooperative effort at the end, I agree wholeheartedly with that. But at the end of the day, the only thing that guarantees our position in heaven is the blood of Jesus, shed once for all, through which we can call ourselves sons of God.
At the end of the day, this is a personal struggle of which only God knows the true outcome. So, I would have to join with the late Cardinal Dulles in his doubts on whether a canonization is infallible. The issues that would raise have the makings of a whole new blog post.