I would be delighted if someone honored my mother. Yet somehow some people feel if they honor Jesus’ mother they are dishonoring Jesus. It has always seemed natural and right to honor those who are outstanding servants of God. Even though I full heartedly respect the conscience and mind of all Christians, it is hard for me to understand how honoring God’s heroes is offensive to God. Confusing honor and worship may be the problem. Christians have little difficulty honoring godly pastors and people of their church families.
Most Protestants understand Mary as an ordinary woman who was called to perform an extraordinary task — to deliver to the world its solitary Savior, while remaining a virgin; God himself (“the Holy Spirit will over shadow you”) impregnating her. Universally Protestantism has adamantly defended this miraculous virgin birth upholding the foundation of Christianity — Jesus is the Son of God.
This belief in the virgin birth is found in all Christian sects and denominations as the basic premise for understanding and believing in Jesus as divine; as able to redeem humankind from sin. So it is that all Christians celebrate unity in Mary’s divine role of bringing to the world its Savior.
Yet even more Christians (the non- Protestants of the world) have beliefs about Mary that go far beyond just a virgin birth; beliefs that go far before 16th century introduction of Protestantism to the world.
A summary of these ancient and still popular beliefs (held by some 80 percent of Christians — Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Catholics, partially by Lutherans and Anglicans): 1) Mary was always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Christ. The New Testament Greek terms “brother/sister” refer to any blood relative. If Mary had other children, where were they at the crucifixion crises to comfort their mother? How do we explain Jesus on the cross entrusting his mother to the care of the Apostle John? 2) Mary was exempt from original sin, (Immaculate Conception) — called by the angel Gabriel, “full of grace, the Lord is with you”, countering the obvious contradiction of God’s sinless Son being born from a sinful mother. 3) Mary never died but was taken up into heaven bodily (Assumption), reasoning that God would not have the flesh from which his son received human life to see corruption. Also there is no record of Mary’s death or place of burial.
Most all Protestants find these above three beliefs about Mary as preposterous, sustained by obscure and remote evidence; interpreted as worshipping Mary instead of Jesus. However, we Christians dare not violate the basic command of Jesus that we are to have love and unity, therein respecting all Christians in what seems true to them.
Although most all Protestant leaders today see appropriate reference to Mary only at the Nativity scene, it is interesting that chief Protestant reformers — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and John Wesley — held to Mary’s permanent virginity as well as honoring God’s numerous saints of the past.
In any case, a firm commitment to church unity is the prerequisite for us all to belonging to the church. May our different traditions and beliefs about Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well revered holy people in general, never deter us from Christ, his church or his Kingdom.
For me, my love for God compels me to give honor to those close to God.
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology
firstname.lastname@example.org blog at inspirationsandideas