For Mary’s month I’m posting some excerpts from the book called Mary-A Catholic-Evangelical Debate that I wrote with fellow Bob Jones graduate David Gustafson. (who comments on this blog)
In yesterday’s post David displayed a particularly extravagent dedication to the Blessed Virgin written by Stefan Cardinal Wyzinski. It seemed to David that such devotion to Mary must necessarily detract from the proper devotion to her Son.
The problem with your analysis is the “either-or” mentality. You assume Marian devotion must take the place of proper devotion to the Lord. Let me use an analogy to show you how strange this charge seems to Catholics. Try to imagine what it would be like if you discovered that another Christian group thought Evangelicals were in grave error because of your emphasis on the Bible. These fictional Christians say rather aggressively, “You evangelicals stress the Bible to the neglect of Jesus. You call your churches ‘Bible’ churches and have ’Bible’ colleges instead of ‘Christian’ churches and colleges. Inside your church you don’t have pictures of Jesus, you don’t have any crucifixes; and you don’t have the Stations of the Cross. Instead, all you have is a big central pulpit to preach the Bible. The New Testament says that the early Christians “devoted themselves … to the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42) and that the way to remember Jesus and proclaim his death is through the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24-26); yet you Evangelicals have the Lord’s Supper once a month, or even less often, and the main feature of your church service is a long Bible sermon. You have removed the cross of Christ and replaced it with the Bible.”
“You even have a formal doctrine named sola Scriptura. This man-made dogma is a later distortion and addition to the Christian faith—something that is unheard of both in the Scriptures themselves and in the early church. This dogma (which you treat as infallible) states that the Bible and not Jesus is the only source of Truth. You teach your children to memorize Bible verses instead of receiving Jesus in communion. You teach them to sing, ‘The B-I-B-L-E, / Yes that‘s the book for me. / I stand alone on the word of God….’ Notice how they are not to stand alone on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), but on the Bible instead! Evangelical preachers say that there is no way anyone can come to God without believing the Bible. They declare their undying love for the Bible instead of Jesus. They say how their lives are totally dedicated to preaching the Bible instead of the cross of Christ.”
If someone were to make this charge a good Evangelical might well snort with dismay and bewilderment. How could someone so misunderstand his position? Surely they are doing it on purpose! The good Evangelical would patiently explain to his critic, “You have misunderstood completely. Sola Scriptura doesn’t set the Bible in opposition to Jesus. It does exactly the opposite: it helps us to glorify Jesus. Don’t you see that we love the Bible because it gives us access to our Savior? It’s true that we believe people need to know the Bible, but that’s because the written Word and the incarnate Word are inextricably intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. It is really Jesus we worship and proclaim through the Bible. If you just look at our whole practice and teaching with an open mind you would see how misguided and mistaken you really are.”
To your dismay your critic dismisses your explanations. “No, no,” he says as he sadly shakes his head. “That all sounds very plausible, but you will never convince me. I just know that you worship the Bible instead of Jesus, and all your clever word play just goes to show how blind you really are.”
Now perhaps you understand how Catholics feel when Evangelicals say similar things about their Catholic understanding of Mary. We reply, “Are you serious? How can you possibly make such a fundamental and basic mistake about what we believe? We don’t venerate Mary on her own, but because she has given us our Savior and because she constantly leads us to him. If you took time to study our whole teaching and practice you will see how this is true. We admit that some Catholics may over-emphasize Mary, just like some Evangelicals may take extreme views on the Bible, but when you see the full picture you can’t make such a terrible mistake.”