John E Colwell is director of post-graduate studies and tutor in Christian doctrine and ethics at Spurgeon's College, a Baptist institution in London. He explores what a theology of the worshipping church might look like in his new book, The Rhythm of Doctrine: A Liturgical Sketch of Christian Faith and Faithfulness. The chapter on "The One Who Invites Us Into Communion" is especially appropriate for All Saints' Day—November 1.
Probably the only awareness of All Saints' Day popularly amongst evangelicals is in response to the commercialization and distortion that is Halloween, but an acknowledgement of the Christian festival itself, or indeed of the festivals of any of the "saints," is rare amongst evangelical Protestants.
At a popular level this neglect is probably rooted simply in reaction to what are perceived (by evangelicals) to be the excesses of the cult of some saints amongst Roman Catholics—evangelicals generally are repulsed by morbid relics and instinctively repudiate the notion of praying to anyone other than God.
More fundamentally, however, this neglect probably derives from Reformation disputes concerning the doctrine of purgatory, the authority of the Church (to declare someone a "saint"), the nature of merit, and an expectation for realized practical holiness. As the Reformation proceeded, so a (proper) emphasis on original sin tended to degenerate amongst some Protestants into a thoroughly negative expectation regarding the possibility of spiritual growth or practical holiness.
It is not, however, that evangelical Protestantism lacks its heroes of faith: from Foxe's Book of Martyrs—devoured with almost equal zeal to Scripture in early ...