Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Devotion to Mary

Ok, I'll continue examining the issues that launched the protestant reformation. My second post listed the issues, and I have now taken a look at 4 of the 9 main points of initial debate. My goal here is not to promote the catholic position, but I want to try to understand the point of view of my brothers and sisters who hold strongly to a different position. I want to consider if the differences are big enough for me to continue to 'protest'. I don't want to continue the protest that was started 500 years ago, if I don't even fully understand the issues.

The first website I've found that clarifies their position some is this one:
http://www.chnetwork.org/journals/mary/mary_4.htm
It explains how the term latria in latin refers to worship that is rightly offered to God alone. The word dulia in latin, or veneration, refers to an honor due a created person - the type of honor given an athlete, musician, actor or student at an awards ceremony. This is the kind of devotion catholics feel is appropriate to give to Mary. Hmmm... I've never heard it explained that way before. If we have no issue honoring athletes, musicians etc, we should have no issue honoring all of our Bible 'heros' in the same way. Wikipedia has a similar explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration

I found another interesting article explaining Martin Luther's devotion to Mary. He defended the phrase "Mother of God", and defended the use of the "Hail Mary" prayer from the faithful. He also defended the idea of immaculate conception, that she was without sin, before it was official catholic doctrine, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=788

Wow, that was new info. I guess protestants are able to overlook Martin Luther's different view on this issue, and don't question his faith. If one of the founders of the protestant reformation held to this doctrine, how can it be one of the key concerns of the movement??? I'm confused.

I'll postpone comments about prayers to Mary for a future post "intercession of and devotion to the saints" - which is next on that list of issues that started the reformation.

One further concern I've had with devotion to Mary - and the saints. Sometimes I've wondered if by putting so much focus on Mary people miss out on seeing God? But if you consider a sports team - the team is likely happy if it has a superstar that is world renown - a superstar like that brings more fans to the whole team. In the same way God may be OK when we honor the superstars of our cherished Bible stories. ??

I think there are bigger issues facing the church today that we should work together on - and not let differences like this be a reason to keep two Christ followers from loving and supporting each other.

7 comments:

steve janz said...

Hey Jon,

A couple of thoughts. I think you may have misrepresented Luther's view/position. It might be valuable for you to do more research on Luther's position - and maybe you have (e.g. www.ntrmin.org/Luthers%20Theology%20of%20Mary.htm or www.ntrmin.org/Respone%20to%20Armstrong%20on%20Luther%20and%20Mary.htm). Seems from your writing though, that you've only based your findings on a catholic website.

Furthermore, there are other things that I, along with many "protestants" with strong reform convictions, would disagree with Luther on, or Calvin, or Knox or any number of other reformers or puritans for that matter. These men are not infallible, nor ever claimed to be. At the end of the day, it has to be the Word that dictates what we believe or not - not what someone (however admirable or respectable they are in our eyes) says or believes. If what they say and believe lines up with the Word - celebrate it and pronounce an "amen" to it! If it contradicts the Word - boldly expose it as heresy (with the full knowledge and discernment that there are some beliefs and doctrines that carry a whole lot more weight to them than others)!

Just a few thoughts...

I'm likely not going to be making a bunch more comments from here on out Jon.

Mercy on you brother.

mrjhutton said...

Hi Steve, thanks for taking the time to follow my thoughts here. I trust you understand I am not promoting this catholic position to the point that I am becoming pro-catholic. I'm just questioning if I personally feel so strongly about these differences that they are issues that I personally should protest. I am struggling with the fact that I have been protestant for so many years, making judgments about catholics, yet I am ashamed to admit that until recently I had never taken the time to really analyze their points of view.

Yes, I had read parts of that same article you list, but was having a hard time following his logic... James Swan made the claim that Luther changed his views on immaculate conception by the end of his career. But then 2 paragraphs later he quotes this from Luther 1532 (later in his career - which to me still sounds like Mary was without sin - or at least her flesh and blood had no sin - it didn't read like a huge shift to me).

"Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are…For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person."

I think I understand your 2nd point as well. I also understand there are likely no two protestant theologians that agree on everything - even though they would all claim the Bible is their final authority. So what are our chances at any sort of unity? Somehow we have to learn to love, respect, and encourage each other, look for the fruit of the spirit in each other, despite some of these differences. I'm thinking this issues of giving honor to Mary (if done in a way acknowledging that she is not equal to God) is an issue I no longer need to strongly protest.

God bless.

steve janz said...

You make some good points Jon. I agree with you that if someone believed in some of these teachings in “moderation” (might be a poor choice of words), it wouldn’t keep them out of heaven (e.g. Martin Luther, or a practicing Roman Catholic). I believe that unity can be achieved - there may be minor issues of disagreement, but on the major stuff, there needs to be agreement. And on the major stuff, I’ve always held the position that the RC church has the majority of the big pieces right. The biggest one though, they have wrong, and that was the big concern back in the 1500’s during the reformation. So, Jon, one more longer epistle for your consideration :-)

I think the big issue of the reformation isn’t found directly (indirectly yes and linked to the primary issue, but not directly) in the 9 issues that you’ve listed in your first blog .

The big issue of the reformation and the big piece of the puzzle that was exposed during the reformation can be summed up with this question: “How am I justified - how do I get to heaven?” A person may be skewed on certain matters or beliefs in the context of their faith, but if you get this primary issue wrong, you’re screwed... for eternity. I think that the greatest tactic of the enemy is to mix a lot of truth with a few lies that would ultimately land people under the divine wrath and judgement of God. That personally is the biggest compulsion for me when I talk with Roman Catholics or people of other faiths. I have Catholic friends who I absolutely believe are genuine followers of Christ - trusting only in Christ and His work for the merit of their salvation. But I also know many many more (substantially more) who are basing their salvation on their baptism as a child and the sacraments they partake of. It concerns me Jon, to think that you might be so concerned and so desperate in looking for common ground and unity on things that may not really matter when we stand before God, that you overlook the biggest issue at hand: how do I get to heaven?

The Scriptures are super clear: there is nothing in and of ourselves or anything that we can do that will make us righteous enough to be acceptable before our Holy God (Gal. 2:15-21, Heb. 10). Only a personal faith in the finished work of our substitute, Jesus.

So that’s where the “solas” of the reformation come in. It was the strong belief of the reformers that our salvation, our acceptance before God, our ability to be born spiritually, our becoming the children of God, our entrance into heaven, is based solely on the fact that we are justified by grace only though faith only in Christ only. That Jon, is foreign in the official teaching of the RC church. You will find them talking about grace and faith being necessary for our salvation for sure, but you will never find, in the official teaching of the RC church, that it is grace and faith only the that will bring redemption and new life and be the entrance into heaven and the “becoming” the children of God.

What you will find, is a process of things to be done in order for you’re acceptance before God to be complete (and now you’re list of 9 protests come into play - namely the sacraments/baptism/the mass/purgatory, prayer for the dead, etc.). What makes this so dangerous and such heresy (aside from the huge fact that such thinking and practice will lead someone to eternal hell), is that is relegates the work of Jesus on the cross to a secondary position - even nullifying the work of the cross: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law (or my own effort), then Christ died needlessly.” Gal. 2:21

That Jon, is the real issue of the reformation and I believe continues to be the issue with the official teaching (to be distinguished from individuals of course) of the RC church today too!

I challenge you Jon, in your conversation with Roman Catholics, to pose this one, simple question and see what the response is (without any initial prompting or definition or commentary from you). I believe that the response to this question will reveal a ton and shine a spotlight directly on the basis of someone’s faith - right or wrong (by the way, this is also a good question to pose to anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus words are true, that many will say in that day “Lord, Lord, did we not... I never knew you!” I believe strongly that there are many in our evangelical circles today too who aren’t saved - who don’t have this right. They’ve never really dealt with their sinfulness and the condemnation that befalls them without the grace and mercy found only in the finished work of Jesus on the cross - and they are basing their salvation on a prayer they may have said or on growing up in the right family or church). So here’s the question to pose: “What would you tell me I need to do, to get to heaven?”

How am I justified? - that Jon was the primary issue of the reformation. The other issues you’ve listed may or may not be matters for protest today. If I am depending on something more than only the finished work of Jesus on the cross for my acceptance before God though, that certainly needs to be protested!

Once again Jon - good dialoguing with you. Mercy and grace on you brother,

Steve

mrjhutton said...

On the faith vs works issue I think scripture is clear we need both. And in practice a true Christ follower on either side of this issue will have both.

James 2:24 "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."

James 2:17-18 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."

And even Jesus words in the full verse of Matt 7:21 that you were quoting above "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.".

And Matt 25:34-35 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"

The words "faith alone" are only found in James 2:24, and are making the point that we can not be saved by faith alone. So to be fair to all scripture I will not use that language in ways protestants have. I believe justification is through faith which leads to works. You can't have one without the other.

In practice I agree there are likely many who call themselves catholic, who are hoping to get to heaven based on some steps they've taken, who shouldn't have that assurance. There are likely also many who have said a prayer in protestant churches, and have been told they are saved. But if they have gone on with their lives rejecting Christ, they also should not have that false assurance. Faith without works is not real faith.

God bless.

steve janz said...

"I believe justification is through faith which leads to works. You can’t have one without the other." is absolutely right Jon and we totally agree on that (this also honors and upholds the finished and complete work of Christ’s atonement on the cross and that being the only basis for acceptance before God). The true believer who has been justified will always have a demonstration of works in his life - how could he not, for the Spirit of God is living in him now. A person’s life without works is a clear evidence that he has not been justified - that’s the very point, contextually, of James 2. The issue and emphasis in that text though, is not about our works making us righteous and acceptable before God (a proper hermeneutics compels that conclusion). Exegetically, the context of this text has everything to do with those who espouse an “easy believism” stance - that all a person needs to do for salvation is believe the facts of the gospel intellectually, and that’s all - nothing more, no works to prove or be evidence of faith... and so James addresses this dangerous and erroneous thinking/teaching (hence the reference to demon’s “believing”) which condemns and leads people to hell as well.

By the above statement you make Jon, you are agreeing with reform terminology wether you use the "alone" verbiage or not. This is vastly different than believing that justification and our acceptance before God is through faith and works - something that, in all fairness, is taught in the Roman Catholic catechism.

mrjhutton said...

I'm glad to hear you think we are in a agreement on the concept, just differ on the wording. I think that is a big part of the divide that happened during the protestant reformation as well.

When protestants say 'justification' I think it refers to a one time event, and sanctification is the ongoing process after. I think catholics see both justification and sanctification as ongoing:
http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1991/9109chap.asp

Here is the wording that the lutheran church and catholic church now agree on in thier 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification':

(3.15) "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

Doesn't that sound close to what we believe as well?

And again from that joint declaration:

(37) "We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit."

I think we are not far off from their official doctrine on this. In practice there may be larger differences between many catholics and these teachings... but then we should be there to encourage them to live their faith.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

... and henceforward all gebnerations will call me blessed.

Herself, in Holy Bible.