In his lectures on Colossians, Jim Jordan takes a short rabbit trail to talk about our communion with the saints, including the saints in heaven:
Hebrews 12 says that when we come to church — and at other times, because heaven is really always open to us — we have communion with the angels and with the saints in heaven. So … you can talk to them, can’t you? If they’re all around us, we can ask them to put in a good word for us, can’t we?
But if you’re in Christ, you’re as close to the throne as you can get. Dying and going to heaven doesn’t put you any closer to God than you already are. You may feel the closeness more, but you’re not any closer.
On Wednesday night, we share prayer requests. So if we’re all in heaven, why can’t I ask Saint Athanasius to pray for me? Why can’t I ask Mary to pray for me? We’re all in the same room, aren’t we? Lots of branches of the church have made this case. When Orthodox and Roman Catholics “pray” to the saints, this is what they have in mind.
The Protestant response is this: When we’re in worship, we’re in heaven with the saints and angels — and with all the other Christians in the world. But can I stand here and ask Robbie Peele in Atlanta, right here and now: “Robbie, please pray for me”? No! He can’t hear me. It’s true that we’re together, but it doesn’t follow that the saints can hear us. Theologically, we’re all together. But we have no reason to think that Athanasius can hear us.
Theologically speaking, the mistake is this: The reason we’re all together is not that we’re all in the same room and so we can now approach Christ. Rather, we’ve all approached Christ and now, as a result, we’re in the same room. Jesus Christ is the connecting point for the church. The connecting point for all of us in the room is not this way: I’m connected to you and you’re connected to me. The connecting point is through Christ and back. We’re connected to Athanasius through Christ and back. If you want to communicate with him, you have to go through the central trunk line, through Jesus Christ. For all I know, the departed spirits do run errands for Christ (as Samuel is assigned to come back and speak to Saul). But we can’t talk to them directly. Everything is through Christ. It is through Christ that we have access to angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. You can’t talk to them.