Honoring Mary, The Mother of the Savior, in a Truthful and Biblical Way

HONORING MARY,  The Mother of the Savior,  in a Truthful and Biblical Way

 

If there is a topic that provides ongoing division between Protestant and Roman Catholics today it is the topic of the person of Mary.

Catholics are accused of “worshiping her”,   Protestants of ignoring her.

Yet, in the Christmas story narrative never before nor after, has any individual been asked to carry out such a Divinely miraculous task as Mary was.  To supernaturally conceive a child, who would not only be the Messiah, but God Incarnate, was no small thing.

Beyond the Christmas narrative, we should not forget that she was also given the task to nurse, care for, protect, teach and prepare her Divine Son until He reached adulthood and took on the task that HE was sent to do.

Surely God saw something in Mary above all other women alive at the time.  No doubt her obedience and submission pleased God as she cooperated with His plan.

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”  Luke 1:38

Before I address a sound biblical approach to honoring Mary, I will address some doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church that is troublesome to the rest of Christianity:

  1. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

This is the Roman Catholic teaching that Mary (not Jesus) was conceived as a baby without original sin.  In a nutshell, that she was born sinless, in a state of full grace.

If a Roman Catholic had to cite a scripture it would be the greeting given to her by the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28.  The Catholic version of the Bible reads “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

This translation comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible produced by St. Jerome in the 4th century in which “gratia plena” is used in regards to Mary.

Catholic teaching states that since Mary was “full of grace”, then she had to be without sin.  The Roman Church takes it further stating that if she was “full of grace” then she was full of grace from the moment of her conception, thus she was “immaculate” at her conception.

Strange that so much could be extracted from a short two word phrase.  The problem is that a major doctrine is made from the Latin translation of the original Greek.  At that, it is a MIS-translation.

The Greek word used to address Mary is “kexaritomena” and simply means “highly favored” or “made acceptable”.  It never means “full of grace”.  The expression “full of grace” or “plaras karitas” is used only twice in the New Testament;   once concerning Jesus, and once for Stephen at the time he was stoned to death.  While we all know Jesus was conceived without sin, no one is using the expression to make the same claim about Stephen.

The NRSV English Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament, “And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.  Luke 1:28

The truth is that scripture says absolutely nothing about an Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Furthermore, the Ante-Nicean Fathers, who wrote profusely in the early church defending the doctrines of the Church teach nothing of a sinless Mary.  As the idea began to surface centuries later, great thinkers such as St. Benard Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, John Dun Scotus, all argued against such a teaching.

The tradition was first visited in 1439.  Pope Pius IX formulated Catholic teaching on this in 1854.  However it was among medieval,   Latin monks that this teaching really began to develop.

When traditions contrast with Scripture, then Scripture is the higher authority every time.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23

10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;”  Romans 3:10

Paul the great theologian never provides an exception here.  Only Christ is identified in the New Testament as being without sin.

  1. THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY

This is the teaching that Mary was assumed into Heaven both body and soul at the end of her life on earth.  In some Roman Catholic circles, it is taught that she never died, but was assumed into Heaven like Enoch or Elijah.  Others believe that she actually died, but like Christ, rose bodily on the 3rd day and was assumed into Heaven.

Scripturally speaking,   the Bible backs the possibility of God assuming someone directly into Heaven.  He has done it before.  However, the scripture gives no evidence whatsoever that this was the case with Mary.

In fact, Mary is never mentioned again after Acts chapter 1.  One would think that such a monumental event would have been recorded or referred to by the writers of the New Testament who were writing their epistles long after Mary would have been dead and gone.  We have only silence.

Catholics have used Genesis 3:15 for scriptural support.  When God promises that through the “seed of the woman” (Jesus) the head of Satan would be crushed, Catholics assert that the woman (Mary) would rightly share in His victory.  Such a position of course is stretching a very plain scripture into more than what it is.

During the 6th century there were certain apocryphal books that were circulating with wild stories concerning the death of Mary.  Some claimed that at her death, the 12 Apostles were transported to her death bead on pillowy, white clouds.  Another story tells of Thomas, who arrived late, went into her tomb, upon opening it found an empty tomb, only Mary’s grave clothes were left behind.

All of the books depicting Mary’s death or resurrection have long been declared apocryphal.  However the Eastern churches did adopt the tradition of commemorating her “falling asleep” with a feast day.  As the tradition moved West to the Roman church it began to develop into more.

In the 8th century Pope Leo IV declared a feast day.  Pope Pius XII declared Mary’s assumption a “divinely revealed dogma” in 1950.

Again, this teaching did not develop from the early Fathers nor from Scripture, but rather is a uniquely Roman Catholic dogma with little to no merit.

 

  1. MARY’ PERPETUAL VIRGINITY

This is the teaching that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, never having consummated her marriage with Joseph.  Catholic teachers will go as far as saying that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, her womb remained unbroken and intact.

Scripture does first introduce Mary as a virgin.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,”   Matthew  1:23

The beauty of the Incarnation is that Mary, a virgin, was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and conceived.  This was miraculous.

The scripture however, never teaches that she remained a virgin the rest of her life.  On the contrary, notice the following verses in the Catholic New American Version of the Bible:

 “He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named  him Jesus.”   Matthew 1:25

 

 “Is He not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not His sisters all with us?”  Matthew 13:55-56

 

It must be pointed out that the expression “to know” is consistent through the Bible to refer to sexual union.  To understand it so in all other Biblical references, then dismiss it here is an abandonment of responsible scriptural study.

In addition, the understanding of “marriage” from the earliest of times is that man and woman become “one flesh” once they come together in sexual union.  Jewish marriage was not a ceremony conducted by a Rabbi or Priest, but an agreement between two families, which was consummated by the sexual union, followed by celebration.

The verses make sense then that Joseph agreed for her to be his wife, but did not KNOW her until after she gave birth.

The passage in Matthew 13 is clear upon reading it.  However, Roman Catholics argue that the word “brothers” is also used for cousin or distant relative.  While this may be true, consider this.

Matthew could have used the Greek word for “cousin” (anepsios), but he did not.  It would seem if he wanted to emphasize Mary’s perpetual virginity he would have.  He could have used the word “suggenes” which means “relative” but he did not.

Matthew used the Greek word “adelphos” which means BROTHER.  It makes sense in context since the two people in question , Joseph the carpenter, and Mary his mother are immediate family.  It follows that “brothers” would be in associated with the mentioned parents.

The Word “adelphos” is used again when his mother Mary seeks Jesus out along with His “brothers” in Matthew 12.

Why would Catholics redirect scripture to mean something it does not?

Mostly due to an apocryphal book called “The Infancy Gospel of James” which had many alleged details about the life of Mary.  It was long rejected as not having been produced by James and marked with contradictions within the text and against the scriptures.

Yet, some of the themes made their way into Roman Catholic thought nonetheless.  By the 7th century Roman Catholic councils were affirming the teaching that Mary remained a perpetual virgin.

It should be pointed out that there is nothing heretical about believing that she remained a virgin.  It should also be pointed out that if Mary had normal sexual relations with her husband she would have been no less holy as sex within marriage is not sinful.

The bottom line is, earliest Church Fathers asserted the Virgin birth, but not continued virginity.  The scripture strongly suggest that Joseph and Mary resumed a normal marital life,   as normal as one could raising the Messiah that is.

The three Catholic teachings above have led to other doctrinal conclusions by Roman Catholics such as THE CORONATION, that is the belief that Mary was crowned as Queen of Heaven by the Trinity upon her arrival.  Most recently there has been language leaning towards naming Mary as CO-REDEMPTRESS with Christ.  This is just a matter of time.

Do non-Catholics need to shun everything Mary in order to avoid falling into excessive glorification of her?  Absolutely not.

Like all of the Old and New Testament saints, we can look at her with admiration.  We can use her obedience as an illustration and example for our own lives.

We can also be sure that her reward must be great for her obedient act and servanthood to Christ as His earthly mother.

We can say she was highly favored.  We can acknowledge that she was blessed among women.  We can be thankful that she said  “yes” to the amazing plan of God.

The Unnecessary Christmas Controversy

The Unnecessary Christmas Controversy:

This was not a big issue when I was a Pastor in rural Texas. But since being overseas where people from all walks of life, backgrounds and religious influence converge, I often am put in the position to take a position on certain topics.

One of those topics is that of Christmas. It is my favorite time of year. I am a Christmas buff. I love the music, the smells, the food, the feeling, the childhood memories of it. Most of all, I love the message:

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelled among us…” John 1:14

There are those who have approached me with very strong opinions that we as Christians should have nothing to do with Christmas. The argument is that most of the traditions are of pagan origin, and that Jesus was not born December 25th.

Some have drawn a line in the sand so deeply, that they have a blanket condemnation on all who observe Christmas, and they make it their mission to either educate, convert, or condemn the Christian who observes Christmas.

It should be pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Christians observe Christmas around the world, in every denomination, in every nation without forfeiting their salvation, productivity, or their blessings.

My position: IT IS AN UNNECESSARY CONTROVERSY THAT SHOULD BE LEFT TO THE CONSCIENCE OF EACH BELIEVER

Here is why:

THE BIRTH DATE of Christ:

It is 99.9% most likely that Jesus was not born on December 25th.

So what?

(Though early church fathers have a pretty convincing Biblical approach to His birth being in December)

The amazing message: That His virgin birth was foretold. That He coming first as a babe born in Bethlehem, that He was God Incarnate, the Creator of the World, that His birth was in response to God’s profound love for the world, is worth taking time out reflect and celebrate.

If men seized the time of December to pause, reflect and celebrate this amazing gospel truth, so what?

Sure, this message should not be for just once a year. But as a Pastor, I have never relegated it to just once per year. I preach elements of this message all year long, as do most Pastors I know.

What is amazing is that people get caught up in a debate over a date on the calendar. What does the scripture say about it?

The observance of days, feast, and festivals should not be a legalistic thing:

“16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. ” Colossians 2:16-17

The observance of a special day or not to observe is a matter of conscience:

“5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;[a]and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” Romans 14:5-6

I observe Christmas, to the Lord. Others choose to not observe a day to celebrate His birth. I am fully convinced in my mind. The instruction is that we not turn these things into disputes, or a matter of judging one another. THAT is the real teaching concerning the observance of special days, and feast.

Calendars are a human invention. Especially the calendar we observe in the West. To think that the Timeless God, the God who lives outside of the confines of time and space, is pulled down into the petty disputes of dates and times among men is to not fully understand a sovereign God.

Pagan Origins:

Do elements of the Christmas season have their root in paganism? Yes.
As do much of the etymology of many words we use every day,. (think twice before using the word “fortunately” lest you find yourself giving credit to the goddess Fortunas), as does the names of the days of the week, and the months of the year, as do also other common days we like to give attention to: Valentines, etc…

One thing is for sure. THE MESSAGE of the Christian observance of Christmas is the foundation of the gospel message to the world!

Fact: most people who observe Christmas, have no clue whatsoever of the origins of say, Christmas trees, or other Christmas traditions. It is not a stretch to say that no Christian in the modern age practices ANY Christmas tradition in homage to ancient pagan beliefs that are thousands of years removed from the modern tradition.

Does the Bible give us New Testament guidance in how we should treat and respond to the paganism around us? Paul did to the Corinthians.
The Corinthians were Christians surrounded by paganism and idolatry. It was almost impossible to escape the influence around them.

Even food bought in the market often was food that was first offered as offerings to idols in the pagan temples, then sold as a profit that funded the pagan temples.

There were people in the Corinthian church who made a big issue over Christians purchasing this food, and eating it since it had been used in pagan worship.

Paul gives a guiding principle:

Pagan idols are to gods that do not exist…thus are of no account to the Christian.

“4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.” I Cor. 8:4

In other words…we know there is only One God. Idols are man made, lifeless, and not gods at all, thus the eating of the food that had been offered to them was not honoring any god…because no other God existed.

Christians with this knowledge could partake with a clear conscience.
Just as we know that whatever pagan gods of centuries past were honored with traditions were not gods at all…in truth…these ancient pagans have passed away…but God is the God of the nations, the One known to the World….long after these pantheistic idols and gods have passed away and forgotten in history.

IT WAS ONLY THOSE WEAK IN THE FAITH that stumbled over this issue. Paul writes:

“9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? ” I Corinthians 8:9-10

In other words, if someone who was not strong and settled in their faith thinks that you eating food once offered to pagan idols is a confirmation that these idols are valid and to be worshiped…then don’t eat in front of the weak.

This liberty Paul gave to the Corinthians most certainly applies to traditions, removed from paganism by centuries, since we the Church know that those idols and gods were nothing…not gods at all…no power, no substance, no reality. Only Our God, and the message of His Only Begotten…that is real…that is Truth.

Observing Christmas today, is not in danger of plunging anyone who is weak into idol worship or following false gods. My observance does not lead anyone to worship the goddess Diana or depart from the True God. On the contrary, my observance of Christmas is one of the few times in the year that I have the eyes and ears of the world, to freely tell them the gospel message. I preach the Incarnate Word!

Which leads to my third point:

Using Christmas to Preach the Gospel:

Jesus taught us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Paul also claimed to become all things to all men for the purpose of winning men to Christ.

Paul applied amazing wisdom, when he used a PAGAN ALTAR in a pagan country as an illustrative foundation to preach Christ!

“for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” Acts 17:23

Surrounded by Greek temples to multiple gods, Paul sees an altar, built by pagans, pagan offerings offered on it by pagans, and part of the pagan society and culture he was a missionary to….but He seizes the moment to preach Jesus!

He did not endorse paganism. In fact, he tells them that up to this point they in their pagan ignorance had built this altar.

Paul takes the ignorance of paganism…and uses it to present Christ!

How do we not see, that if there is ever a time of year people are open, and somewhat willing to hear about Jesus it is at Christmas time?

If we were wise as serpents….we would ignore the ignorance of how the secular world approaches Christmas, and instead turn it around by preaching the amazing message that unto us, A Child was born, unto us a Son was given, …this child called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father….born miraculously of a virgin…fulfilling the plan of redemption by becoming the perfect Lamb that would go to the cross!

Really? Shall we instead become contentious…become the party of “do not”, and be the finger pointing party of division and controversy?

Or, shall we use the wisdom of Paul, and use this platform called Christmas to be lights?

Lights, or wet blankets, the choice is ours.