Saints and other Moral Exemplars
Commitment to Christian faith in Jesus entails responsibility to other people. Many stories in the gospels of Jesus show him assisting people who were under-privileged, sick, distressed or outcast, and the New Testament commands his followers to respond in the same way to such needs. The extent of Christian engagement in social action will vary though: some evangelical Christians might say that the Church’s main task is to focus on people’s spiritual welfare, while others argue that Jesus did good to all who were in need, regardless of the recipient’s spiritual status.
Although all Christians aspire to live like Jesus, there are some whose lives show special spiritual maturity or influence. Christians such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Father Kolbe all provide positive examples of Christian dedication and commitment. Other examples include William Wilberforce (1759-1833 slavery), Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845 penal reform), William Booth (1829-1912 alcoholism & poverty), Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965 under-developed nations), Fr. David Randall (1947-1996 HIV/Aids) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931- apartheid activist).
The term ‘saints’ is used in the New Testament to refer to all Christian believers; however there have been some Christians down through the ages who have set a particular example of faith, especially those who were martyred for refusing to deny their allegiance to Jesus. Such examples have been immortalised by the Church by giving them the title of ‘saint’, and often attributing to them special status as guides for travellers, or patrons of particular countries etc. Special procedures have been developed for identifying modern saints, and these include evidence of a particularly holy life, the attribution of miracles to them, etc. Many protestant denominations are reluctant to give such special status to past Christians, believing that such recognition detracts from a central focus on Jesus.