Reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Tonight’s perusal of one of my favorite journals, First Things, found me casting interested eyes upon the most recent effort by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, this one entitled, “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life.” It is a very good read, though some may find it wanting (e.g., could the evangelical arguments have been a bit stronger?). Whether those from the evangelical tradition could have made a stronger presentation is debatable, but there are definitely some things that prove themselves helpful to this evangelical pastor living in a strongly Catholic community. Here are a couple of take-aways:

First, as a proponent of the Bible I have every reason to honor Mary not only for her role as Theotokos (“the one who gave birth to the One who is God”), but also as the very first true disciple of Jesus Christ. Too often when talking (arguing?) with Catholics about Mary we evangelicals tend to diminish her person and role. Let me be brutally honest: I have tended to diminish her; have even come off pejorative in select audiences of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Besides demonstrating a haughtiness unworthy of so great a Savior, this has undoubtedly proven divisive. The fact is there is much about her to honor. She is a better disciple than I am, immediately contrite before God’s messenger and willing to be the handmaiden at the Lord’s every call. If I am the shadow of the religious Zechariah who seemingly had all of his religious I’s dotted and T’s crossed but who would dare question the Lord’s work in his life and the life of his wife Elizabeth, Mary is the special contrast to such religious sanctimony: teachable and immediately available. There is much I can learn from Mary.

Secondly, as a pastor in a strongly Catholic community The Blessed Virgin Mary can be for me one of the points of common ground drawing us together for still greater Kingdom-causes like the advancement of life or the care for the down-and-out. She becomes one more bridge connecting our hearts together, an opportunity to offer mutual respect, and therefore a catalyst for still greater dialog regarding the greater One, Jesus Christ. In other words, perhaps my Catholic friends would be more open to hearing from me about Jesus and the Gospel if they knew that I was willing to appreciate with some intentionality the mother of our Lord that they so deeply honor. What I have to gain is honest dialog and the potential to understand one another on a heart level. What I have to lose by too easily dismissing something so important to their piety is the opportunity to enjoy mature fellowship. Maybe they could respect my clearly different convictions about Mary if they knew I understood theirs—and from their perspective.

When Paul was at the Areopagus it became readily important to him to make a connection with the community by finding a place wherein there could be real common ground. Clearly with my Catholic friends Jesus Christ the Lord should be our primary common ground. But in a theological world wherein more common ground might be desired, the Blessed Virgin Mary provides a helpful additional point of collaboration. As the writers of the statement remind, it was that great evangelical scholar J. Gresham Machen “who published a classic study of the virgin birth of Jesus in 1920, [and] recognized this common ground and declared that the gulf between Rome and the Reformation was negligible compared to the abyss that separated both traditions from others who eviscerated the historic Christian faith.”

Amen.

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In speaking of Catholic friends, check out this blog post at Will Mancini’s Clarity Evangelist regarding Mother Theresa and vision.

Comments

  1. dan says:

    You are loving Ann. I think Catholics need to rediscover the word of God. Evangelicals are showing us how to love the Bible. There is a disagreement whether the Church can teach, clarify, or define anything that was not already written in the scripture – such as clarifying the role of the mother of God. The RC Church claims it has the authority to do just that from Jesus Christ -which is in the Bible. We all agree the Bible can never be contradicted by anything taught by men. That is unanimous. The problem is that every Christian has a different interpretation of the scriptures! That fact alone has brought a lot of Evangelicals into the Catholic Church. There are some common objections heard that the C church is teaching some things not Biblical…but on the main points of the Real Presence, the sacraments, the liturgy, right and wrong, and authority, there has never been a flip flop in 2000 years. And when Protestants theologians, ministers, leaders convert to Catholicism by the grace of the Holy Spirit they do ultimately see the truth in what they used to formerly not understand. This is not something that can be reasoned through all by yourself. It takes the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit seems to be using Evangelicals where they are at doing a wonderful job of bringing souls to Christ. But in the meantime all Christians can be working together the best they can to do Gods will and seeking more common ground.

  2. Ann says:

    I think most Catholics don’t know what the Roman Catholic Church really believes and teaches. The average Catholic person in Fargo-Mhd doesn’t even know that the Catholic church teaches that Mary is a forever virgin, that she was sinless and ascended into heaven and that she is a co-redemtrix. This belief system has no common ground with evangelical biblical Christianity. This is an extra- biblical belief that was made up by man with help from the Devil. We must lovingly bring the Catholic back to God’s word and His word only, not traditions of men and the Roman Catholic Church.

  3. Arne says:

    Thank you, Matthew, for a humble and constructive comment on our Lord’s mother. I know have not read as much on Mary as would help me understand her better, but the little I have read has put me on the path that you are on (but farther ahead than I). But your observations make me wonder if we evangelicals either harp on or avoid other issues / doctrines out of fear or pride rather than a genuine desire to hew to biblical imperatives.

  4. Michael says:

    Matthew,

    I would love to read this study. I just finished reading “Christianity and Liberalism”. Its a short read but good. I was impressed with his boldness in drawing lines on Orthodoxy in a way that would surely have upset some of his moderate Protestant peers.

    As for Mary, I agree that we need to find common ground with Catholics. I would love to hear how you have witnessed to Catholics and how you approached issues of Canon Law, Papal authority (apostolic), the eucharist, mass, etc. I really would like to learn how to better communicate and evangelize to those Catholics who perhaps do not know Jesus but know tradition, etc.

    James White (Alpha & Omega Ministries) has some apologetic works published about this very issue but I still find I am missing some of the tactical parts.

  5. Terri Fincher McCormick says:

    As a former Espicopalian, I did like the way that church viewed Mary…an important part of the life of Christ, a disciple, and favored among woman. I had no problem with any of that. Indeed, I see much in Mary to emulate.

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