Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Mary and the evangelical mind

In the November 2009 edition of First Things, a Roman Catholic journal on religion, culture, and public life, the Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) article: “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life” addressed the issue of Mary, which is an important to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.   It was very balanced and well thought out in my opinion. Previously, I have heard the defense for Mary from a Catholic point-of-view but what stands out most in this article was the evangelical admission of ignorance of doctrinal beliefs held by Catholics regarding Mary.

Despite all this common ground, however, both Marian dogma and Marian devotion remain contentious issues. Evangelicals understand that the Catholic Church does not equate adoration of God (latria) and veneration for Mary (hyperdoulia). It seems to many Evangelicals, however, that the devotion of some Catholics to Mary can obscure the preeminence, unique sinlessness, and sole salvific sufficiency of Jesus Christ as well as the common pneumatological ground of worship for all Christians who pray “through Christ in the Spirit.”

Emphasis on Mary’s intercessory role, coupled with prayers to Mary, can create confusion between adoration and veneration—and risks leading people away from, rather than to, the Savior. This is especially true in contexts where devotion to Mary is a deeply ingrained part of cultural identity. We do not think this is the intention of Catholic teaching as expressed in Lumen Gentium, and Catholic members of ECT have addressed in helpful ways exaggerations of Marian piety. In an age of syncretism and radical pluralism, the recent statements by Pope Benedict XVI declaring Jesus Christ the one and only Savior are an encouragement to all faithful Christians. We acknowledge that there is little Evangelical reflection on any of these Marian themes, certainly nothing commensurate with the vast Catholic literature in the field. This stems from Protestant neglect of Mary, born of a conviction that the Catholic portrait of Mary exceeds its biblical warrants. Full article…

The mysterious claims of apparitions of Mary at Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe have occasionally caught my attention, hence, the mystique behind Mary.  However, deep inside, I admit that I have secretly held Marian teaching with a slight contempt, simply because it seems like Mary’s humanity should be so obvious to us as Christians.  We regard her as a person not without sin, therefore, the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is unnatural to the evangelical mind.  I have read and heard many Catholics address her as The Blessed Virgin Mary.  To address her as such gives us evangelicals a funny feeling inside because the concept of her being so blessed would almost stand on the verge of idolatry.  That is why evangelicals do not even go there.

We ask ourselves: “Is Mary really that blessed that she should deserve the title The Blessed Virgin Mary?…and why Mary, and not Peter, Paul, James and John?”  Sure Mary was blessed to give birth to Jesus the Christ but she was still only a human being.  However, the more I think about this, I don’t think I would have any problem with this title of honor.  However, what seems to give us evangelicals problems concerning Mary is the adoration and veneration given to her; herein lies the underlying fear.

I know the ECT article addressed this, but protestants, in general, do still get the impression from Roman Catholics that Mary is so highly regarded as a saint that the veneration of her as a saint could lead one to worship her, and pray to her as a secondary mediator after Jesus.  Evangelicals and protestants do not pray to Mary, let alone to any other saint.  In the evangelical mind, it would be on the verge of idolatry to pray to anyone else but to God Himself.  As evangelicals, we have always been taught that the only mediator and intercessor between humans and God is Jesus Christ himself.

I have no trouble with Mary’s virgin birth.  In fact, Mary’s virginal concept is an orthodox doctrine that evangelicals cherish.   It is actually seen as a bellwether test of orthodoxy, and it is usually included in many of our statements of beliefs.  However, this doctrine of Mary’s virgin birth is not on the forefront of the evangelical mind.  Should it be?