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Hail Mary?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 20, 2023 12:01 am

Hail Mary?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 20, 2023 12:01 am

The Virgin Mary was chosen by God for an important role. Should we then venerate her? Today, R.C. Sproul teaches us to seek a proper, biblical understanding of the mother of Jesus.

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The main purpose of the affirmation credibly in church history of Mary's being the mother of God was motivated by the church's desire to say something more about Jesus than they were about Mary, to make clear their assertion and confession of the deity of this one who was born of Mary. To bring up Mary among Protestants can easily stir up suspicion, questions, and controversy. In reaction to the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, we often prefer not to speak of Mary at all, that is unless it's Christmas.

I'm Nathan W Bingham and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind. Perhaps more often than any other time of year, during Christmas, the Advent season, we hear sermons and maybe even sing songs that mention Mary, but outside of Christmas she's generally avoided. So what is the controversy with Mary and do we lose anything if we ignore a study of Mary?

Today's message is from a series with R.C. Sproul simply titled, Mary, and you can learn how to request complete access to it along with four other complete series and a new Advent devotional when you visit Well, here's Dr. Sproul to introduce us to the topic of Mary.

When I was a boy, I used to work in a shoeshine shop with a very dear friend whose name was Ned Barbarich, and all the boys referred to Ned as Uncle Ned because he had such a wonderful influence on looking out for us in our youth. And Ned belonged to the local Roman Catholic Church, and every evening when I was shining shoes in his shop, he would have the radio on next to my shoeshine stand and devoutly and religiously it was Ned's custom to listen to the broadcast of the rosary. And so I would shine shoes actually in tempo with the recitation of the rosary, which as a Protestant I didn't know before I had this job, and I would listen to this every night as the program would come on and the person on the air would say the rosary and would begin with the words, Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Which words I trust we will recognize come directly from the pages of the New Testament itself. That portion of the rosary reflects the words that Elizabeth used when Mary visited her during both of their pregnancies. The second portion of the rosary goes something like this, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.

Amen. Now that portion of the rosary does not come directly from the pages of the New Testament and has been a point of dispute and controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants for centuries, and I think we're all aware of that. And I think that it's strange that when I hear Protestants object to it, the statement they object to more than any portion of it is the form of a dress in the rosary in which it is said of Mary, Holy Mary, Mother of God. It's that phrase, Mother of God, that often grates upon Protestant people, and it's a strange thing to me that there is that resistance because though the term or the title Mother of God is not given directly to Mary in the New Testament, it is a well-attested and accepted descriptive term for Mary in historic Christianity. The title Mother of God is expressed in the Greek by the word theotokos, and it is integral to the ecumenical creeds of the early church dating back as far as the fourth century. And historic Protestantism in its theology has always embraced the propriety of the use of this term theotokos or the phrase Mother of God as applying to Mary, not in the sense, of course, that Jesus derived His divine nature from His mother. Protestants have never believed that, nor has the Roman Catholic Church ever taught the deity of Mary and that Jesus received His divine nature from her. Rather, the phrase Mother of God and the term theotokos in the Greek refers to this simple affirmation that the child that Mary bore was indeed God incarnate, that the child Mary nurtured and reared in Nazareth was indeed God incarnate, and Jesus had a mother.

Even though Jesus was God incarnate, Jesus was God incarnate. He had an earthly mother, and His mother's name was Mary, and she was, in this sense and in this relationship, genuinely the Mother of God. And I have to say parenthetically here that the main purpose of the affirmation credibly in church history of Mary's being the Mother of God was motivated by the church's desire to say something more about Jesus than they were about Mary, you know, to make clear their assertion and confession of the deity of this One who was born of Mary. And so I would say to my fellow Protestants that we ought not to be in opposition to this use of the phrase Mother of God. Now the rest of the verse, of course, does have considerable controversy in it, the appeal to Mary to be an intercessor for us, to pray for us now, to pray for us at the hour of our death.

That's linked to the broader controversy of the intercession of the saints and so on that has been an ongoing debate between historic Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, but it is not our view today to get into that question. Rather, we're focusing our attention today and in the days to come on the biblical role of Mary and Mary as an exemplar for Christian imitation, that Mary gives us an example of godliness as a woman, as a mother, and as a human being that transcends even the distinctions between man and woman and mother and father, but as a person, as a human person, she is a marvelous model of godliness for our consideration. Now I will spend some time today looking at some of the other areas of great controversy, however, about Mary, which I believe sadly have caused a woeful neglect among Protestants of the value of Mary as a model for our behavior. So often this happens in controversies that we literally throw out the baby with the bathwater, because we disagree with the Roman Catholic Church's view of one aspect of Mariology, that therefore we tend to react to the other extreme and almost have a negative view of Mary, which is totally inconsistent with the biblical paradigm.

Now in the 16th century, at the time of the Reformation, one of the chief issues focusing on the role of Mary was the question of the propriety of the so-called veneration of Mary, and Protestant theologians were very jealously concerned to bring reform to worship in the church and understanding that one of the greatest threats to pure worship that is rooted in Old Testament history and is seen as one of the primary and fundamental sins of human nature is the distortion of worship that involves any kind of idolatry, and idolatry has to do with the ascribing of worship to anyone or anything that is less than the only true God. And often Protestants accuse the Roman Catholic Church of committing idolatry with respect to the veneration of Mary, and often in derogatory terms use such language to describe this as Mary-a-la-tree. Now listen carefully to that word, Mary-a-la-tree. This term Mary-a-la-tree would describe a practice of an idolatrous worship of Mary. The Roman Catholic Church has never embraced Mary-a-la-tree, you know, in any formal or official way. They do have Mary-a-la-gee, and there's a big difference between the tree and the g here. Mary-a-la-gee simply refers to the study of Mary, her identity, her role in the life of the church.

Mary-a-la-tree is the charge that she is venerated to the point of idolatry. Now the Roman Catholic Church made the distinction very clear in her history between worship and service, appealing to two different Greek words that are very important, and I want to take the time to go over those words. There is first of all the word latria, L-A-T-R-I-A, and latria is the Greek word for worship. And the word idolatry comes from the Greek idola latria, or the giving of worship to idols. Now the term dulia comes from the Greek word for service.

The noun doulos refers to a servant, a bondservant, or to a slave. Now what the Roman Catholic Church has taught historically is that Mary is not to be venerated in the sense that she is to receive latria. Latria is to be given to the triune God alone. But Mary is to receive dulia, a kind of service from the people of God. And in terms of the churches explaining the function of the saints, they have maintained that dulia is to be ascribed to all of the saints, but not latria. That is, the church does not sanction the worship of saints or the worship of Mary, but that there is a certain honor that is to be given to the saints, an honor that rises above normal levels of respect, a special honor that is to be given to the great saints of the ages who have contributed merit to the treasury of merits and can participate in intercession for us, all of which was controversial in the sixteenth century and still is. But the point is this function is determined or defined by the Roman Catholic Church in terms of being a kind of service or dulia before the saints. Now, with respect to Mary, she's not only a saint, but she is in a sense a super-saint. And the service that is to be given to Mary is a kind of super-service that we owe to her. And so the Roman Catholic Church has a third distinction here. In addition to the distinction between latria, which is worship, and dulia, which is service, there is also the concept of what is called by Rome hyperdulia. I think you all know what the prefix hyper means.

It's a matter of intensity. It's a matter of emphasis, of speciality, so that the point of the church's view is that Mary is to be honored not only by receiving the dulia of the people, but she is to receive hyperdulia, which is more than dulia but less than latria. I mean, sometimes people get annoyed with these fine distinctions that are made in theology, but this is an important distinction that we need to be aware of. Now, the magisterial reformers of the sixteenth century were not satisfied with this. Calvin, for example, argued that the distinction for practical purposes between hyperdulia and latria is basically a distinction without a difference, that for the rank-and-file person in the church, this distinction is so subtle that the practice of people will inevitably manifest a kind of actual worship of the Virgin Mary or the mother of God. And that was the concern that the reformers had, that the people, by giving homage to the statues and having shrines to Mary and even backyard grottos in her memory, will easily step over the line between hyperdulia, if such a line really exists, and latria. And so they resisted the elevation of Mary to such an exalted place in the life of the church. Now, this question is an ongoing question of controversy, not only between Protestants and Roman Catholics, but also within the structure of the Roman Catholic communion itself. For example, much attention was given to the role and function of Mary at Vatican Council II. And at the beginning of the council, John XXIII, who was the residing pope at that time that the council was called, was careful to approach these issues within the Roman Catholic communion about the role of Mary. In this manner, he insisted that though the council would address the proper role of Mary in the life of the church, of the church, that her role would be addressed under the heading of ecclesiology rather than under the rubric of theology. Now again, that's a distinction that may be lost on a lot of folks, but it was very important to the pope in the convening of Vatican II, because by that designation and by that restriction, he was saying, we want to make it clear that the role of Mary in the life of the church is connected to our doctrine of the church and not to our doctrine of God, because Mary is not God. That's the point that the pope was stressing there, and I think we need to say that very clearly. Now, a second point that I want to make before we finish today is this, that the dispute over the role of Mary in church history and in church thinking and theological thought as well as ecclesiastical thought has been intensified since the sixteenth century. I think we need to be aware that the vast majority of official definitions of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to the person and work of Mary have been codified, that is, they have been declared de fide through papal encyclicals in the last hundred and fifty years, including such doctrines as the perpetual virginity of Mary, the sinlessness of Mary, the immaculate conception of Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, and the coronation of Mary as the queen of heaven. These were issues that had not been decisively defined by the sixteenth century.

Now, another parenthesis and a little caveat here. When the Catholic church in recent times defined, for example, the bodily assumption of Mary, the church wasn't saying that now for the first time we're creating a doctrine of faith regarding the bodily assumption of Mary or the perpetual virginity of Mary or the sinlessness of Mary, or any of these other controversial matters, but the church was now making clear and defining that body of faith which they believed has been historically the tradition of the church. So, they weren't creating new doctrines, but were simply confirming that which has been part of the fabric of the life of the church for centuries. In other words, the idea of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven is not a brand new concept to recent Roman Catholic thought, but it's been around for quite some time. But the decision to make it dei fide, that is a matter of the faith of the church, was ratified in more recent time. Now, it's not our purpose in this series to examine all of these theological issues.

In the brief time that I have left, let me just explain a couple of things about them. The idea, for example, of the immaculate conception of Mary is often misunderstood by Protestants to refer to the virgin birth of Christ. The immaculate conception does not refer to the virgin birth of Christ, nor does it refer to the birth of Mary.

It refers to the birth of an extraordinary reception of a pass in a NFL football game, in a playoff game, in the 70s between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, when in the last seconds of the game, this astonishing catch of a deflected pass was made by Franco Harris, who then scored the winning touchdown, and has since been called the immaculate reception, not the immaculate conception. Rather, the immaculate conception refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. And this was part of the Roman Catholic theological understanding of what needed to take place in order to ensure that Jesus' child would be born without the taint of original sin. The generator of the human nature of Jesus, the Father, if you will, in crass terms, was the Holy Spirit, who is sinless. But in order to ensure that Jesus be born sinless, it was viewed by many that his mother would also have to be born without original sin, and in order to assure that, they have the doctrine of her immaculate conception.

So, just to clarify that, these are some of the issues. And what we will be looking at, and I'm really addressing Protestants here, is that in spite of these controversies that are serious, we need to get beyond them to look and see what the biblical portrait of Mary is from which we can surely be instructed and edified. It's human nature to look to heroes and heroines as encouraging models and examples for us to give us added strength in the struggle that we have as Christians.

We remember the author of Hebrews, who gives us the roll call of the heroes of the Old Testament, and then says to us, seeing that we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses, then we are exhorted to strive even to the point of shedding our own blood to be faithful in our Christian life. And I think that the church has been greatly enriched by one of those witnesses who stands out among women, even as Elizabeth declared biblically, Hail Mary, full of grace, because here is a woman who had an extraordinary measure of grace. Blessed art thou among women. No woman has ever been more supremely blessed than Mary, the mother of Christ. Blessed art thou among women. As the New Testament declares that Mary would be called blessed by all generations, and it is important for us as we grope and grasp for heroes and heroines in our own day that we look to those people that God has raised up for us to be examples of godliness. Chief among women who have ever walked this planet, in my judgment, is Mary.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I had never heard of anyone teach on Mary until I listened to this series for the first time, and as he was well known for doing, R.C.

Sproul carefully and fairly represents the various views and errors, while also encouraging us not to ignore this prominent figure in the Bible and in the life of Jesus. Request this entire series, which includes a Q&A with Dr. Sproul, along with four other complete series when you give a gift of any amount at In addition to these five series, we'll also send you this brand new Christmas devotional titled The Advent of Glory. So call us at 800 435 4343, or give your year-end gift in support of Renewing Your Mind at, and request The Advent of Glory and access to five complete series from R.C. Sproul. We all probably have favorite Christmas hymns, but did you know that there are songs in the Gospels that celebrate the coming of the Messiah? That's what R.C. Sproul will consider tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-20 02:40:14 / 2023-12-20 02:48:11 / 8

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