In the Protestant tradition in which I was raised, we did not pay much attention to All Saints Day. In fact, I don’t think I had heard of All Saints Day until I was a teenager and learned that “Halloween” – which, ironically, we did celebrate every year with costumes, jack-o-lanterns, and trick-or-treating – was a contraction of “All Hallows Eve”, celebrated on the “eve” of All Hallows (or All Saints) Day.
I suspect that All Saints Day, which has been observed on November 1st since the 8th century, is largely ignored by many Protestant churches for seeming “too Catholic” and in fear of making idols of saints, an accusation that is often directed at Roman Catholic believers. However, in recent years, I have found myself drawn spiritually to this observance.
One reason for my new-found appreciation for All Saints Day is that I draw strength from the witness of those who have gone before me. Hebrews chapter 11 is widely recognized as the “Faith Hall of Fame”. In this chapter, the writer of Hebrews gives us a brief summary of what faith is, then recounts examples of men and women who achieved righteousness by faith – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, and Samuel and the prophets. Then, in light of those great examples of faith, the writer gives us that great exhortation in the first two verses of chapter 12: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that we can draw strength from the faith of those who have gone before – so that we too can run with endurance the race set before us. The testimonies of those who have remained faithful through trials and tribulations help give us courage to face our own circumstances.
Another reason to remember the saints who have gone before us is that the faith we observe and practice today has been handed down to us by those godly men and women who lived by faith in their own time – sort of our own “faith family tree”. Dennis Kinlaw has said that no one’s salvation begins in his or her self, but everyone’s salvation begins in someone else. Though we must lay hold of our faith for ourselves, it is always built upon the faithfulness of others. Someone shared that faith with us, and through their testimony and the conviction of the Holy Spirit we were led to belief. The day we trusted Jesus as Savior can be traced through generations of faithful believers, all the way back to the Great Commission itself, when Jesus called His followers to go and make disciples of all nations.
On All Saints Day I think with fondness of the many, living and dead, who make up my own “Faith Hall of Fame”: my godly grandparents, those under whose preaching ministry I have sat, the teachers who invested in my life, the great writers and theologians who have helped guide my spiritual growth and understanding, the mentors who have had such an impact on my life. As I remember that great “cloud of witnesses”, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and sing with the hymnwriter: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
How about you? Who is in your “Faith Hall of Fame”?
~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair