Witnesses to Christ


There is nothing so simple in scripture that it cannot be twisted into something false. Even the Gospel itself can be perverted.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church promoted the cult of relics. Items would be placed on altars for pilgrims from all over Christendom to come venerate. These items were things like pieces of wood that were said to be bits of the Cross, a skull said to be the head of John the Baptist, a container of milk said to be from the breast of Mary. The Church taught that visiting these relics helped to burn off sin, thus lessening time spent in Purgatory.

One of the most famous pilgrimage routes (a cynic might note the pleasant climate) was Spain's Camino de Santiago which was said to lead to the relics of St. James of Zebedee. The scallop shell became the symbol of this pilgrimage because of myths that sprung up around James' reported late-life ministry in that area where the scallop shell was abundant.

It was considered a good work to feed and give shelter to passing pilgrims. As a result, a subculture emerged of people who would wear a scallop shell and walk around getting free food and shelter from villagers without ever visiting the relic sites. Some have suggested that these medieval vagrants were the source of the word “sauntering,” derived from “saintering.”

All of this is silly. First of all, our sins are entirely covered by Christ. No pilgrim journeys are required, nor are our works salvific. We can look to the past heroes of the faith, but we must do so to their true purpose, which is solely to point us back to Christ. Hebrews 12:1-2 says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Life in this fallen world is inclined to misdirect our focus and we sinners are prone to wander. But God's word, which came to us via his saints, encourages us to set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:1-2).



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