Note: Since some Protestant denominations use saints in a different way than Catholics, references to saints will be Christians who have died in Christ and no longer with us on earth.
Many people answer this question with a "no". While they are not completely wrong the answer can also be "yes". It depends on which sense of the word the person is using. Amongst Catholics, it would be ok to say we worship the saint however around Protestants the correct answer is no. Venerate is the more appropriate term though worship, in the older and Biblical sense, is acceptable as well.
The Protestant argument:
Premise 1: Only God should be worshiped.
Premise 2: Any other type of worship is idolatry.
Premise 3: Catholics worship Mary and the saints.
Conclusion: Therefore, Catholics are idolaters.
Let’s start off with the definition of worship (from Dictionary.com):
1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
2. formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage: They attended worship this morning.
3. adoring reverence or regard: excessive worship of business success.
4. the object of adoring reverence or regard.
5. (initial capital letter) British. a title of honor used in addressing or mentioning certain magistrates and others of high rank or station (usually preceded by Your, His, or Her).
As you see there are different definitions of worship. This is nothing new for Protestantism overall as #5 suggests. In Protestant England, judges are/were called “Your Worship.” It is an honor bestowed upon the judge not a type of worship belonging to God alone. It is about intention. As Catholics, we know the difference between prayer to the saints and prayer to God. In our prayers to the saint,s we are petitioning them to petition God on our behalf, since God has honored them with salvation. This is no different when we pray (politely request) to our brothers and sisters here on earth to pray on our behalf. With God, we are showing Him the reverence that He is due as well as petitioning Him.
You may then get a question along the lines of why pray to Mary or the saints. This takes many forms such as the saints are dead, can’t hear us or cannot do anything for us.
The new Protestant argument:
Premise 1: Prayer should be directed to God alone.
Premise 2: Saints are dead; they can’t hear us or do anything for us.
Conclusion: Therefore, prayer to the saints is futile since only God can answer our prayers.
So the contention here is whether saints are alive, can or cannot hear us, and whether they can petition God. Let’s tackle this in parts.
1. The saints are alive:
Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Matthew 22:32: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living”
If God is the God of the living then either He is not God of those who die in Christ or those who do die in Christ are alive. The passage in Romans tells us that upon death we will not be separated from Christ. If we are all joined together in Christ as Ephesians 2:19 says, then the former cannot be true which makes it true that those who die in Christ are indeed alive.
2. The saints are aware of what is happening on earth:
1 Corinthians 4:9: “because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.”
Revelation 6:9-10: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”’
When I think of spectacle I always think of watching a Manchester United game. There are very few games I enjoyed more than a game under Sir Alex Ferguson. Reading the passage from 1 Corinthians I always imagine the angels and saints with a bird’s eye view of the whole world at one time. The interest the angels and saints have in us makes us a spectacle because of this interest. They care about what is happening on earth as Revelation 6:10 shows. This isn’t incidental but because “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
3. The saints can petition God (we can reiterate Revelation 6:9-10 here as well):
James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”
Revelation 8:4: “and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.”
Whether you take James 5:16 as talking specifically about those who have passed on it is hard to argue that a person on earth would be more righteous than a person already in heaven since they can sin no longer. However, Revelation 8:4 is specific to those who have passed on since the context is about heaven.
When we search the Bible, all three of the Protestant contentions prove are built upon sand while the Catholic position is built upon a solid foundation. The saints are indeed alive, they are most likely more alive than we are, the saints are aware of what is going on here on earth and they can petition God.
Ultimately it comes down to this. God has elevated these people and saved them. Turning our backs on something that God has elevated has proven time and again to be the wrong route to go. Therefore, to honoring something which God has shown honor to be completely congruent with the Bible and with God’s intention.
Premise 1: God honors the saints.
Premise 2: We in turn should honor which God has honored.
Conclusion: Therefore, we should honor the saints as God has honored them.
If you have a suggestion for an apologetic article please leave me a comment and I will do my best to get to it or a similar topic.