Reformed Reflections

The Reality of Angels

Number One

God hath neither appointed nor revealed it (the ministry of angels) for nothing; he expects a revenue of praise and glory for it; but how can we bless him for it when we know nothing of it? "This ministry of angels, then, is that which, with sobriety, we are in a way of duty to inquire into". John Owen. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Vo1. III, p. 255

What place do angels have in Reformed theology and spirituality? How often do we think about angels? How many sermons have you heard on the theme of angels? In his book, Angels: God's Secret Agents, Dr. Billy Graham remarked that he had never heard anyone preach a sermon on angels. Reformed angelology is a terribly neglected subject. We don't seem to take the world of angels seriously. Why are so many oddly silent while our postmodern culture is weirdly fascinated by them? Books on angels are best sellers. Tony Kushner won a Pulitzer Price for his play, Angels in America, in which an angel visits a man with AIDS. Even Hollywood has become intrigued by the subject. In It's a Wonderful Life, for example, the apprentice angel Clarence restores hope to a man on the verge of suicide. Angel artifacts have become big business with "heavenly profits" asserts the Los Angeles Daily News. There are angel catalogues, angel seminars, angel pins, angel newsletters and angel sightings. A survey revealed that three out of four young Americans now believe in angels. But this faddish attraction to angels does not necessarily mean that droves of people have turned to God. This new trend is more of a New Age phenomenon than a return to Christianity as many are not only infatuated by angels but also by UFOs, the so-called "unidentified flying objects. "

Dr. Richard De Ridder, who served as a missionary in Sri Lanka from 1956-1960, said that what deeply impressed him was - how irrelevant so much of traditional Reformed Theology was to these people and their situation, and how seldom this theology spoke to their real needs. He noted, for example, that the questions which concern Satan, the demons, angels, charms, etc. are not of great concern, nor do they receive much attention in the West. Yet these were living issues to the Christians of Sri Lanka, surrounded as they were by animism and the continual fear of the spiritual realm. The greatest joy De Ridder experienced was to proclaim the victory of Christ over the powers of evil and see the shackles of slavery to elemental spirits broken by Christ. We had the same experience in the Philippines. For the Filipinos the spiritual world was as real as the physical world. And Christians rejoiced in the power of Christ which had delivered them from the fear and bondage of evil powers. They also gloried in the reality of good angels. And so they should. In the Biblical worldview the emphasis is on the nearness of the spiritual world. And the angels are among its innumerable inhabitants.

It seems that the prevalent thought in Western Reformed spirituality is: "What can angels do for us since God has given us His Son?" But Scripture gives a different impression and we are spiritually the poorer for it if we don't pay heed to the vital role of angels. God gave not only His only Son but also the angels. He does not want to be seen and acknowledged apart from His angels. (John 1:52; Mat. 26:53f. ) Our Lord never said that angels no longer have a function in redemptive history.

But angels are not the prerogative of Christians only. In some form or another, they are found in many religions, sects and cults. They all recognize the reality of a spiritual world.


Angels as supernatural celestial beings play an important role in Jewish thought and literature from the earliest Biblical times; yet in orthodox Judaism angelology never became a major systematic branch of theology. Marc Gellman, rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Dix Hills, New York, says that in Judaism there are two kinds of angels: the angels who are human beings recruited as messengers in the service of God and angels who inhabit heaven and who are not and who never were human beings.

The development of angelology advanced in post-biblical apocalyptic literature, especially in Enoch, Jubilees, The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Oracles. The world of angels took on a bizarre and chaotic form; their numbers were astronomical and their variety almost endless. A highly developed angelology is also found in the Talmud where angels are given many different names. In Kabbalistic (mystical branch of Judaism) angelology appeals to angels were made in the form of amulets and incantations. In traditional liturgy Jews still address "ministering angels" and the "angel of peace" in the hymn Shalom Aleikhem ("Peace be to you"), which is recited after the Evening Service on Friday night. However, modern Judaism regards allusions to angels in Scripture and extra-Biblical literature as of poetic and symbolic significance only.


Islam teaches that angels are endowed with life,speech and reason. There are four archangels; Gabriel, the angel of revelations; Michael, the patron of the Israelites; Israfil, the angel who will sound the last trumpet on the last day; and Izrail or Azrail, the angel of death. Angels are inferior to human prophets because all the angels were commanded to prostrate themselves before Adam. Every Muslim is attended by two recording angels, one of whom records his good actions, and the other his evil actions . There are also two angels called Munkar and Nakir, who examine all the dead in their graves. There is also a chief angel in charge of hell, who has his own subordinates. The angels have many duties. They intercede for men and act as guardian angels. Eight angels support the throne of God.

Strange doctrines.

Strange doctrines appear even in the heretical fringes of Judeo Christian thought. Swedish scientist and founder of the Church of the New Jerusalem, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) held that angels were once men. Current television prosperity gospel preachers have enlisted angels in the service of men rather than of God. Myriads of angels are supposed to be at the beck and call of the faithful. And if the angels don't perform for you, the fault is yours. They only will work for you if you don't doubt. "Prophetess for profit" Gloria Copeland teaches:

Your words put the angels to work on your behalf to bring to pass whatever you say. . . . The angels are waiting on your words . . . . They will not work without words. . . . Your last words either put the angels to work or force them to step back, bow their heads, and fold their hands. Your angels are waiting for you to give them words to pass.

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Angels.

The Roman Catholic doctrine of angels is greatly indebted to the teachings of Dionysius the Pseudo - Areogapite, the name given to an author who probably lived in Syria in the fourth or fifth century A. D. His works, which include The Celestial Hierarchy (describing the mediation by angels of God to man), made a significant impact on medieval theology. He taught that God is related to the world by a fixed order of nobility of angels corresponding to the hierarchy of the church (bishops, priests, and deacons).

The first angel to have a chapel and a mass dedicated to him was St. Michael. This mass may have led Alcuin (c. 735804) to compose a "mass to obtain the prayers of angels". A mass of St. Gabriel appeared in Paris in the thirteenth century and the feast for St. Raphael emerged only slightly later. In 1561 Pope Pius IV consecrated Michelangelo's church in the Baths of Diocletian to Mary and the Seven Archangels.

The worship of angels in Roman Catholicism did eventually receive a prominent role in its spirituality. Although the angels do not receive the same worship as God, they still are exalted. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that "the Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being." And the angels also have an mediatorial role between God and man. The famous counter-reformation Council of Trent (1545-63) taught that angels intercede for men and that "it is good and profitable to invoke them suppliantly. . . for the purpose of obtaining benefits from God through His Son Jesus Christ."


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