Relics of the Saints
Q: Recently the Vatican has distributed pieces of clothing that had been worn by Pope John Paul II. Why do Lutherans shy away from the practice of relic collection?
A: Lutherans aren’t the only ones. Many Christians have concerns about relics and sacred places becoming idols. Misunderstood or misused, relics can improperly stand between man and God. Instead of leading us into deeper devotion they may replace focus on the Lord with an emphasis on these various “souvenirs of the saints.” If people are to use relics properly in their devotional lives, they cannot think that possession, contact, or viewing imparts some great blessing, whether of faith or of healing.
We can see how the Lord worked through the Exodus and elsewhere in the Scriptures to lead his beloved Israel away from idolatry and its trust in false gods. We also note how quickly they constructed the golden calf (Exodus 32) and how often in Judges “everyone did what was right in his own eyes (17:6)” as soon as the religious leaders relaxed or lost their focus on the Lord.
Such attitudes and behaviors possibly led God to take the actions He did when Moses died. Israel already showed an inclination toward false worship. How much more temptation might the tomb of Moses become, acting as a magnet for veneration and worship? Therefore, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab ... and [the Lord] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. (Deuteronomy 34:5-6)”
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #524:3