Recently, on Twitter, the pope said, “Let us entrust the new year to Mary, mother of God, so that peace and mercy may grow throughout the world.” Now the question becomes is: How should Christians think about this? Behind this is the Roman Catholic Church’s concept of Mariology, doctrine about Mary; and also, the authorities that we as Christians have in our lives. Is it just scripture alone that is the highest infallible authority in the possession of the church, or does the pope also speak for God? Does the Roman Catholic Church speak for God?
There are several issues here to think about and talk about together. The first is: Should we entrust the year to Mary, and what would that even mean? To step back a little bit, let’s ask: What would it mean to entrust our lives, entrust the passage of time, to a person who is dead and yet in heaven with God? What would it mean? What are they going to be able to accomplish? It’s interesting, because the Roman Catholic Church encourages people to pray to Mary, that she is a co-mediatrix with Jesus, and she helps mediate on our behalf.
Let’s just ask the simple question: If I could pray to Mary or I could pray to Jesus, under what circumstances would I ever choose Mary? Or: Under what circumstances would I choose anyone besides Jesus, and how would that make sense? If you can ask God for something, why would you ever ask anyone else for that same sort of thing? You wouldn’t. That doesn’t make sense. So why would I entrust the year to someone who’s not God, who is just in the same state I’m going to be in one day when I die? I wouldn’t, not if I could entrust that year to God.
Because Mary is incapable of affecting things down here on earth. Mary is incapable of hearing our prayers here. How could a human being who now lives in heaven with God hear and understand all the prayers that are coming at them? They couldn’t. There’s no evidence that we suddenly gain this new skill and ability of being able to hear prayers in multiple languages at the same time just because we die. That’s an attribute of God, not of man.
I’m not going to entrust the year to a person besides God. I think it’s interesting that Paul’s speech that he gives at the Areopagus in Acts 17 actually has something here to say. Here’s what he says.
”The God who made the world and everything in it is the lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples made by human hands. Nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation to inhabit the whole earth, and he determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.
”God intended that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he’s not far each of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring. Therefore, being offspring of God, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by man’s skill or imagination. Although God overlooked the ignorance of earlier times, he now commands all men, everywhere, to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
There is a lot in there. I want to be sensitive to the original context here, but one thing Paul’s saying here is it’s in God that we live and move and have our being. Without God nothing would exist. Nothing would continue to exist except for God’s sustaining influence. “He holds all things together,” Colossians 1 says. Why would I pray to Mary instead of the God in whom I find life and breath and in whom my life has meaning? Why would I entrust that to Mary instead of the God who holds all things together? That doesn’t make much sense.
It’s also interesting here that Paul goes on and says that “the divine being is not like gold or silver, or an image formed by man’s skill or imagination.” When we entrust our lives to something, that’s an act of worship. Why would we entrust that to another human being, something God created? It’s interesting, when we put worth, that type of worth, and trust, in something that’s created instead of the creator, that’s idolatry. That is denying what alone is due to God and giving it to someone else. This fits with the Roman Catholic concept of praying to and worshiping Mary (even though they might deny that term or say it’s a lower form of worship that they give to Mary). Nonetheless, it is worship and adoration that’s given to someone instead of God, that is rightly due to God, praising and entrusting ourselves to the creation rather than the creator.
What does Paul go on to say here after he says that the divine being is not like us, not like things, not like things we could create or could be formed by our imagination? He says that “God has overlooked ignorance in earlier times, but he now commands men everywhere to repent.” Repent of their what? Repent of their denial of God and his sovereignty. Repent of their blasphemy, of their idolatry. I think this also applies to how people look at Mary. They need to repent for trusting their forgiveness of sins, for trusting their year to Mary.
It’s not just Catholics who struggle with this. We all need to repent from our idolatries. Maybe that’s a trust in ourselves. Maybe we don’t have an issue in trusting in Mary. We actually have an issue in trusting in our own sufficiency, in our own goodness and our own righteous to commend us well to God. Maybe we have a problem in our own self-sufficiency, that we implicitly deny the role that the Holy Spirit needs to take in our lives in order to produce good works. We should trust this year to Jesus, trust God in his sovereignty to accomplish his purposes here on earth and for his kingdom. We should be careful of our idolatry.
The last thing I want to look at in this statement from the pope is for us to consider if peace and mercy could even come through Mary. If we’re supposed to entrust the year to her so that “peace and mercy can come,” is that even possible? We’ve addressed this from the other standpoint: why go to Mary when you could go to Jesus? But is it possible for peace and mercy to come from her?
What is mercy? Mercy is the withholding of something that is due. If there is a punishment, if there is wrath due for some action, mercy would be the withholding of that. What wrath or punishment does Mary owe us human beings? None. Who is the only being that has the authority to have wrath towards us or to have punishment towards us for the wrongs we’ve done? Who are we accountable to, in other words? God. We are accountable to God. He is the one who would mete out punishment on us or on Jesus on the cross. But, this concept of Mary being involved in that doesn’t make much sense at all. You can’t grant mercy that’s never been yours to grant, if the punishment was not yours to grant.
It’s interesting, because 1 Timothy 2:5 through 6 says, “There is one God and mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Through whom can mercy come? Who is the go-between between God and man (which is what a mediator is)? Jesus Christ, not Mary. Once again, why would I go to Mary over Jesus Christ? If he’s the one mediator, why would I go to someone that scripture says is not a mediator? Now you start to see why the Reformation was such a big deal, why it can’t be over, why it needs to continually be on our minds and in our approach as we talk with, well, everyone, but especially Roman Catholics.
Because my question, “where in scripture does it say that we should go to Mary over Jesus” won’t go very far with a Roman Catholic. Scripture is not the only source of spiritual authority for the Roman Catholic. The teaching magisterium of the church is. The pope is. Tradition is. This is why one of the doctrines that came out of the Reformation was sola Scriptura: scripture alone is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church. We get led astray when other authorities come in and we put them in a position parallel to or above scripture, when we let our other authorities sit in judgment over scripture.
I hope, as you listen to this, become more convinced that we need to be very certain of what our authority sources are, very certain that we aren’t trusting for our peace with God, for mercy to come through our own works, through our pastor, through a priest, or through the hope, or through Mary. The only person peace can come through is the man, our savior, Jesus Christ. Through Christ alone, peace with God is found.
I would encourage you all the more, as this new year comes upon us, to take seriously the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The Reformation wasn’t a mistake. It shouldn’t be over. The differences are more important than they have ever been. The differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism is not one denomination to another one. They are different religions with different ideas about who God is, different ideas about what worship is. If Protestants are right, Roman Catholicism has institutionalized idolatry and blasphemy. The Roman Catholic church has said very similar things about Protestantism. They’ve said that people who hold to justification by faith alone are anathema—they should be cursed and cut off from God, and many other things.
It used to be that people had an understanding of the differences, and the differences mattered, but the differences should still matter today. Because issues of what is worship, who is God, how is man saved and justified, how is he sanctified, are important issues. To say nothing of what our authorities are. What do we base our life on? Who has the ability, if anyone, to speak for God? We need to take these issues seriously as we go into 2017. We need to not shy away from taking stands that are convictional and maybe controversial. We live in a day where disagreement is taken to be hate, where we all just try to proverbially link arms, sing Kumbaya, and get along.
Truth has an object in order for it to be truth, and community and unity have to be around truth, or it’s not truth and unity. It’s just sticking your head in the stand. We can’t do that. We need to care enough about maintaining fidelity to Christ and his word, that we take tough stands, we speak truth to people who may be confused, who may be have grown up in the Roman Catholic Church their whole entire lives and don’t know the differences, don’t actually understand the Gospel.
We can’t just overlook them because they think they’re Christians, because they claim to be Catholics. We can’t say, “Well they don’t need me to talk with them about the Gospel.” They very probably do.
In the same way you should talk with your neighbor who goes to a Protestant church and claims to be a Christian; you should have a conversation about the Gospel with that person too. You may find you believe the same things, and there’s a fellowship that can be found there as you’re able to have a new Christian friend. Or you may find that they don’t actually know what the Gospel is. They could be very confused about it. Either way, let’s not shy away from having those conversations with people, because God will work through that to accomplish his purposes as we entrust this year to him and not to Mary, not to ourselves, and not to anyone else.