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