Why are Lutheran Churches Named after Saints? Get the Facts


Churches in the Lutheran tradition are sometimes named after saints, like “Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church” or “Saint Luke’s Lutheran Church.” Many people are aware that Lutherans don’t have the same view as Roman Catholicism about saints, so why do they name their churches after them?

Some Lutheran churches are named after saints to honor the lives of Christians from the past. In Lutheran teaching, the term “saint” can be applied to any genuine Christian. Using the term doesn’t imply that any Lutheran church is in theological agreement with the Catholic church on the doctrine.

Why do Lutherans believe the term saints refers to any Christian? What exactly is the difference between the Lutheran and Catholic view on the doctrine? Keep reading to learn more.

Lutheran church sanctuary
“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:7 (ESV)

What do Lutherans believe about saints?

Lutheranism believes the term “saints,” as it’s used in the Bible, refers to any believer, not just especially revered or influential ones. In the Old and New Testament, writers use the term to describe God’s people without mentioning any kind of canonization or codification process for sainthood, like is found in the Catholic church. Bible verses in which the term is used include:

  • Psalm 30:4, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” (ESV)
  • Daniel 7:27, “the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (ESV)
  • Romans 1:7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” (ESV)
  • 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” (ESV)

When a church in the Lutheran tradition names their building after a saint, it reflects the way the term is used in Scripture alone and doesn’t suggest that it agrees with the Catholic teaching on the doctrine. Other Protestant traditions name their churches after saints, too, including those in the Reformed and Anglican traditions. Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational churches are less likely to name their churches after saints.

What is the literal meaning of “saints” mean in the Bible?

The Lutheran teaching on saints emphasizes that Scripture only uses the term to describe believers in general, and not a unique class of believers. A person doesn’t have to have made a global ministerial impact or have miracles attributed to them to be nominated for sainthood, according to the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible.

  • The Old Testament Hebrew word translated “saints” refers to people who are faithful and set apart to God: “he pious, godly, those of the people who were faithful, devoted to God’s service.” [1]
  • Similarly, the New Testament Greek word often translated “saints” means holy: “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate” [2]

When the term saints is used in either testament it refers to faithful followers of God, most of whom would be considered “regular” or “average.” In the Lutheran tradition, God through Christ makes people saints, not Church leadership.

Lutheran saints church
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” Psalm 30:4 (ESV)

Does the Lutheran church honor saints?

The Lutheran church honors saints, but not in the same way the Catholic church does. Lutheranism, like other Protestant traditions, remembers the saints to honor their devotion and service to God, and to learn from and emulate their holy lives. The saints of previous generations are important to Lutherans, but they don’t interact with them, pray for them, or revere them in ways they believe are meant for God alone.

  1. In Lutheranism, saints “are not mediators of redemption.” Lutheranism teaches that believers, through Jesus Christ, can approach God directly in confession or with prayers of petition.
  2. In Lutheranism, “prayers to saints are prohibited.” The redemption Christ won through his death and resurrection enabled people access directly to God. This access isn’t based on the sinner’s righteousness, but on Christ’s. To approach God through other means disregards Christ’s sufficient victory and righteousness. [3]

Lutheranism’s 16th century Augsburg Confession reads,

“Our Confession, however, simply declares, that the Scriptures do not teach the invocation of saints, or that we should seek aid at their hands. Now if no command, promise, or example can be produced from the Scriptures to establish this doctrine, it follows that no one can rely on it. For, since every prayer must proceed from faith, how can we know that the invocation of saints is pleasing to God, when it is not enjoined upon us in the Word of God? How can we be assured that the saints hear our prayers and the prayers of each one in particular?” [4]

Augsburg Confession, Article XXI(IX)

Lutheranism honors saints in three ways

  1. Lutherans honor saints by thanking God for them. God is the one who called, strengthened, and sustained believers in previous centuries to live holy lives of devotion. Like believers today, God upheld faithful men and women in the past and ultimately, thanks must go to Him.
  2. Lutherans honor saints by learning from them. People can learn from believers in previous centuries through biographies and literature that they wrote. Christians can read about the lives of people like Martin Luther, Mary the mother of Jesus, John Wesley (who is highly respected in the Lutheran tradition), and many more. Lutherans can also read the classic works of well-known believers like Augustine’s Confessions or John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  3. Lutherans honor saints by imitating their faith and other virtues. Christians today can not only learn objective truth from believers in previous centuries, but they can also learn how to live a life that is pleasing to God. Reading Confessions for example can help a reader understand Christian theology, but it can also inspire them to leave a life of sin and pursue holy living.

The Augsburg Confession reads,

We do not deny in our Confession that the saints should be honored. This may be done in three ways: first, by thanking God for showing us examples of his grace in the lives of the saints, and for supplying the church with teachers and other gifts. Now as these gifts are great, we should highly esteem them, and praise the saints who made good use of them, as Christ in the Gospel praised the faithful servants, Matt. 25:21,23.” [4]

Augsburg Confession, Article XXI(IX)

The Lutheran Calendar of Saints

The Calendar of Saints in the Lutheran tradition organizes the church’s remembrance of believers who lived in previous years. Days set apart for a saint is done so for the three reasons cited above: thanking, learning, and imitating. Below are examples of from the Lutheran Calendar of Saints.

DateSaint Honored
January 15Martin Luther King Jr. (not to be confused with Martin Luther the German Reformer)
January 28Thomas Aquinas, theologian and philosopher
February 18Martin Luther, founder of Lutheranism
March 2John Wesley, founder of Methodism
March 17Patrick, missionary to Ireland
March 22Jonathan Edwards, American pastor and theologian
April 9Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century martyr
May 27John Calvin, French Reformer
June 29Apostles Peter and Paul
August 15Mary, mother of Jesus
August 28Augustine
September 29Michael, archangel
October 4Francis of Assisi
October 31Reformation Day
November 1All Saints Day
November 25Isaac Watts, hymn writer
December 6Nicholas of Myrna (i.e. “Saint Nicholas”)
December 19Adan and Eve
December 26Stephen, first Christian martyr
[5]

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel has been in Christian ministry for 25 years. He has been an Associate Pastor and a Senior Pastor. Currently in higher education, Daniel has taught more than 25 different undergraduate courses in Bible and theology-related topics.

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