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Pastor Kevin's Blog

Should we observe "All Saints Day"?

For many Christians around the world, today is “All Saints Day.” As Protestants, how should we feel about this day? Should we observe it? Some do. Should we not? Some don’t.

I found this answer from John Witvliet helpful. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin College.

Q. All Saints’ Day sounds so Roman Catholic. Why does our Reformed church celebrate this day? Doesn’t this betray our roots?

A. The sixteenth-century Reformers abolished all celebrations related to saints. They had deep pastoral concern for people who believed that the saints could offer prayers on their behalf. The Reformers saw this as a direct challenge to the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement for sins and priestly intercession.

Yet New Testament Christians rightly recall with thanksgiving and joy the “cloud of witnesses” that precede us in faith. The writer of Hebrews 11 lists a whole gallery of those of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). We give thanks for these saints not because of what they can do for us, but because of what Christ has already done through them. Whether we acknowledge biblical figures like Abraham or Sarah, Mark or Mary, or more recent saints like a wise parent, mentor, or teacher, we remember and are led to pray “all praise and thanks to God.” That’s why even Reformed Christians love to sing “For All the Saints.”

Today we don’t have to worry too much about people in the Protestant church being tempted to pray to saints. But we should worry about a church that is remarkably oblivious to its history and a culture that looks down on the elderly and wise. We are susceptible to what C. S. Lewis called a “chronological snobbery” that assumes that history has nothing to teach us. In today’s church, deep pastoral concern should lead us to be grateful for occasions to praise God for faithful Christians who have gone before us, including significant people in our own lives.