A Baptist’s reflection on the Blessed Mother of Our Lord.
[[How a Baptist should regard Mary from Scripture: That is, more highly admired than any other woman]]
For those of you who are ignorant of the Church’s Calendar, today is the Roman Catholic feast day remembering the Immaculate Conception of Mary. As an heir of the reformation, I do not pretend to subscribe to each of the dogmas of Mariology. Yet, for a tradition that holds such figures as Abraham, David, Peter, and Paul in such high regard, we should not withhold from Mary the high honor she is due.
Consider, first of all, the marvelous truth that she conceived, bore, and raised the incarnate, Eternal Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and Omega, the great I AM. God the Father trusted her to nurture and admonish and guide His Son as He grew in wisdom and stature in the Father’s own sight and the sight of humanity (Luke 2:51-52).
Consider also the encounter between Mary and Gabriel. Gabriel, a glorious angel who walks in the heavenly presence of the Triune God, greets this young woman, as “Full of grace.” (Luke 1:28-29, ‘Favored’, but compare with Eph 1:6 for the weight of this term). Gabriel observes that the Lord is with her. Gabriel would know. Notice how she responds with complete humility, “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38). She didn’t object to the word of the angel, she simply acknowledge her lowly position and marveled at what sounded impossible, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
Consider Elizabeth’s high praise of Mary, “Blessed are you among women [which can be read as a superlative], and blessed is the child you will bear [pretty sure that’s a superlative]. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord [what Lord did Elizabeth know but YHWH?] should come to meet me? Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:42-45)
Notice what is found in her beautiful prayer, “…he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations shall call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48). This young woman child who has been greeted by an angel from heaven can only marvel at God’s amazing grace that He would choose one so lowly. When was the last time you called Mary “blessed”?
Consider the hour of our Lord’s death. While many of His friends had fled in fear, Mary fulfilled her maternal obligations and lovingly suffered the pain of watching her son be tortured and murdered. To His last breath, Mary remained faithful to her Son. (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40, 47; Luke 23:49; John 19:25). Oh, how she must have prayed at the hour of His death.
Even after His death, Mary continued to honor her Son and Lord (Matt 27:61; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55-56). Though others were resigned to fear, she sought to serve God, even in His death. As a result, she became one of the first preachers of the Gospel. Mary preached the Gospel to the Apostles (Matt 28:1, 8-10; Mark 16:10 [read in harmony with the other Gospels placing Mary the mother of our Lord with Mary Magdalene]; Luke 24:10).
Returning to the cross for a moment, consider our Lord’s words to John, “Behold you mother.” (John 19:27) While you could object that these words were only for John. Consider how else Jesus could have entrusted the Church to His Mother. There were no other representatives present. To the one disciple, whom he loved, that was present, He says, “Behold your mother.” And, as we would expect, the mother of the Church is soon seen praying for it after our Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14). There she is, with the apostles, praying constantly for gift of the Spirit.
[[I think the above paragraphs should be relatively uncontroversial. Aside from the proposed reading of John 19:27, I basically was summarizing what the New Testament clearly says about Mary. The follow paragraphs are provocative proposals, which I would not consider set conclusions in my own mind.]]
Some of you who read this have from time to time asked me to pray for you. Me. An arrogant, sinful, foolish, distracted, doubter. You could have prayed straight to God Himself, and yet you asked me to pray for you. Certainly most of you have at one time or another asked for prayers from a pastor or spiritual leader. You have asked for our intercessory prayers on your behalf.
If you are not a heretic, you also believe in the “communion of the saints” (See Apostles’ Creed, Heb 12:1, many passages on the unified body of Christ), which includes the cloud of witnesses who have gone on to heaven before us. We know from Rev 5:8 that these saints are in prayer. And unless you have an idiosyncratic view of the intermediate state, you believe in the consciousness of disembodied (i.e. ‘dead’) souls.
Now, if our communion with the saints is not broken by death. And you ask living saints (small ‘s’) to pray for you, what prevents you from asking a saint in heaven to pray for you? I admit, I am not comfortable asking a dead saint to pray for me. But, I’m not sure there are good Biblical reasons not to do so.
[[If you read closely, the preceding three paragraphs are a proposed argument for asking the saints for intercession based on the doctrine of the communion of saints. It is not an argument that we should do so, but that there are possible reasons for it. Objections could be that the Scriptures do not explicitly say the saints are aware of our words or thoughts here on earth and the limits of the human being to listen to only a finite (and small) number of people at one time. Arguments in either direction (for or against ‘prayers’ to the saints) are from silence. Below is the application of the general idea of prayers to saints, to the specific case of Mary.]]
Now, if you ask me to pray for you because you think I have a mature faith and that God listens to you, wouldn’t you also want to ask a pastor, fully devoted to the ministry of the Church to pray for you? And if you would ask a minister, who is encumbered with x number of other tasks, would you not ask a victorious (i.e. deceased) saint, who has nothing else to do (so to speak), to pray for you? And if you will ask a victorious saint to pray for you (a big ‘if’ for most), would you not also want to ask the very mother of our Lord, who undoubtedly knows His soft spots, and undoubtedly has His ear, to pray for you? She’s been known to get good results in the past (John 2:1-11).
[[So then, how would a Baptist understand prayers to Mary? Keep in mind that much of this prayer is quoting scripture.]]
Hail Mary [if Gabriel greets her “Hail (‘rejoice’), why wouldn’t I?]
Full of grace [that’s what the Bible says]
Blessed are you among women [says her aunt]
And Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus [can I suggest you not disagree with this line?]
Holy Mary [Don’t tell me you think you’re holy in Christ, but Mary is not. Whatever you believe about her life, you must believe she has not sinned in the last 1950 years]
Mother of God [Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t God]
Pray for us sinners [you are a sinner]
now [You can join her if you’d like]
And in the hour of our death [okay, I guess this would keep her busy, but she certainly prayed for Christ in the hour of His death].
Behold your mother.
[[Of course I do not believe Scripture teaches we should pray to Mary. I think it leaves open the possibility that we could at least ask her to pray for us. Remember if you object that only Jesus can intercede for us, then you can never ask other people to pray for you. Scripture clearly teaches that people should pray for each other. The question largely comes down to whether the saints in Heaven are aware of our current struggles on Earth. At the very least, you should have great admiration for the woman who humbly took the task of bearing, raising, and nurturing the Savior of the World.]]