A Catechism on Angels
At the Sursum Corda (“lifting up of hearts”) of the Prayer Book service of Holy Communion, the priest invites the people to join in a heavenly chorus:
Therefore with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name, evermore praising thee and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.
But is this language of angels and archangels in heaven just a quaint metaphor, a literary flourish?
No it is not. Some years ago, I wrote a book titled Angels of Light: Powers of Darkness: Thinking Biblically About Angels, Satan, and Principalities. Here is a brief catechism of my findings:
Do angels exist?
Angels exist, unequivocally. So do Satan, demons, and “principalities and powers.”
Are angels distinct personalities, or are they impersonal entities?
Angels apparently have personal names, though only a few are revealed to us. The archangels’ names – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (in the Book Tobit) – all link them to God (’El). Satan may have had a divine name but as a ruined angel, he is known only by title (“Adversary,” “Evil One,” Prince of this World”). Principalities and powers, as I see it, are a corrupt and faceless cosmic bureaucracy.
Do angels have bodies?
Angels are spiritual and heavenly, not flesh and blood. Unlike the Holy Spirit and demons, angels do not indwell human bodies. Since in the resurrection we shall become “like angels,” we may infer that angels, like the Risen Lord, possess a kind of spiritual body.
Do angels and devils have the same origin and ending?
Yes, all angels were created by God in the beginning. The “elect” angels (1 Tim 5:21) praise God for ever and ever; the rebellious angels are tormented forever in the lake of fire.
Can we know anything about angels? How much?
Yes we can, because the Bible is God’s Word, and the Bible teaches us some things about angels but gives us only a glimpse of their unique nature and life.
Why do we need angels?
The Bible teaches us that angels are guardians and guides for individuals and for the people of God, and they prepare us for heaven in praise and worship.
Must we believe in angels to be saved?
Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not through belief in angels (Gal 1:8). But why would we not want to believe in these gracious messengers of the gracious God?
In the weekdays to come, we shall look at some other features of the teaching of the faith concerning the angels.
Ye holy angels bright,
Who wait at God's right hand,
Or through the realms of light
Fly at your Lord's command,
Assist our song,
For else the theme
Too high doth seem
For mortal tongue.
My soul, bear thou thy part,
Triumph in God above,
And with a well-tuned heart
Sing thou the songs of love;
Let all thy days
Till life shall end,
Whate'er he send,
Be filled with praise.
From Richard Baxter, “Ye Holy Angels Bright”