Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Evangelicals: Look Deeper. Do Not Be Afraid.

I've been thinking a lot about the blessed virgin, our mother. Both because of Christmas and the readings of the season, and because of a heartbreaking women's Bible study about I attended earlier in December.

I did my best to represent her at the study. I knew I was walking into fire, so DiDi and I prepared in advance. I dug out my Mary binder, reminded myself of writings of the early church fathers and the reformers, and prayed. I identified the key points I wanted to make, and coached myself on keeping my mouth shut as much as possible, other than to stick to these minimal points.

It was more painful than I expected. I think it was even harder for DiDi though; I've been through it before, but this was her first time hearing so much disrespect after coming to understand who Mary is.

The study takes place in a non-denominational evangelical church with baptist roots. The doctrine of sola scriptura is flown like a banner when needed to direct discussion away from dangerous areas. But only then. If issues of Marian doctrine are raised, like the historic ancient understanding of her perpetual virginity, then the Bible-alone flag is tossed into the arena, shutting down further discussion or thought. But history and tradition are readily turned to by the authors of the study materials and by the group leader when the information agrees with their point.

It is, in effect, selective scriptura.

There is no way I could view Mary as this group does, and as hundreds of thousands of evangelicals do; the insignificant girl who just happened to bear Jesus. But I figured the best way to take on the discussion would be to approach it the way they did, by looking at the Gospel accounts alone. I'd disregard her interconnection to the old testament ark and covenant, and references to her in the book of Revelation.

And so we approach this girl, from the perspective of sola Evangealion.

Immediately we run into problems in evangelical doctrine. For example, how can scripture alone believers think that she had other children? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that she did. Scripture lists brothers and sisters of Jesus a number of times in many different contexts. But it never, ever uses the phrase "son of Mary" other than when referring to Christ himself.

So if we are sticking with scripture alone, why is there such mass acceptance of something that is extra-scriptural?

Evangelical tradition.

But here's a more interesting question. The question of whether Mary and Joseph ever actually completed the multiple steps of the ancient Jewish marriage process. In that day, the marriage contract was created at the time of betrothal, followed by a year-long waiting period (or more), followed by the actual marriage and celebratory feast.

Clearly Mary and Joseph were contracted to marry. But Luke 2 tells us that they were still only betrothed when they went to Bethlehem to be registered. According to Luke, they were not married at the time of Jesus' birth.

There is no scriptural reference to Mary and Joseph's actual wedding. There is no record of her ritual preparations, of the ceremonial waiting, of his stealing her away in the night. No record of his spending seven days with her in the chamber prepared in her father's house, whereupon the marriage would be consummated. There is no description of a wedding feast.

If I subscribe to the doctrine of sola scriptura, I would be wrong to assume that the marriage was completed. There is no record of it. It would be an assumption to think that it had been.

And weddings were a big deal; just look at the recounting of Cana.

Weddings are such a big deal that Holy Writ repeatedly describes our relationship with God as marital. The church is the bride. The Lamb's supper is a wedding banquet. Jesus first miracle took place within the context of a wedding celebration.

Weddings were a very big deal. Marriage was a big deal. Ceremony and ritual were a big deal.

They still are. Our God is a God of covenantal relationship. But the wedding of Mary and Joseph? Never mentioned. Never described.

How does the evangelical mindset deal with this? What implications does it have for the extra-scriptural belief that Mary and Joseph had children?

And why should it be wrong to contemplate these questions?

Extra-Biblical dogma is alive and thriving in the evangelical world. Every denomination has tradition, just as the Roman Catholic church does, except few people point it out to them. Most of the faithful don't even know it, they simply accept what they are taught, assuming these beliefs must be scriptural because the church they attend says they rely on the Bible alone. They accept it as they are fed it because they love Jesus and want to be His faithful followers. When questioned about the foundations for various traditions, many react with fear or defensiveness, unwilling to even enter into discussion.

But it is not wrong to question. It is not wrong to dig. It is not wrong to look to history and the church fathers and doctors when asking the Holy Spirit to grant us revelation about His holy word.

And it is not wrong to venerate the holy mother of God himself. 

As for me and my house, we will follow the lead of the archangels. We will not be afraid. And we will call her Full of Grace.

7 comments:

Pranayama mama said...

Matthew 1:24 -- When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

s.m. deWitt said...

P-mama: Legally she was already his wife; the contract had been signed at the time of the betrothal.

Documents from the early Christian era say that Mary was consecrated as a virgin to the temple as a very young child. And that the betrothal contract with the aging Joseph was for the purpose of protecting her and acting as her guardian, which was apparently common for these girls.

Within this context, the Matthew passage reads as "Go ahead and do what you contracted to do. She is who you believed her to be. Protect her and keep her.

In any event, Matthew mentions none of the wedding process that was standard for good Jewish families. Not a single part.

And Luke says they were merely "betrothed" when they went to Bethlehem, which had to have taken place after the Matthew passage.

Personally I don't know what happened, because the Bible doesn't say.

And that's the point.

MARIE2MARIE said...

I hear nuptial language in this passage. Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
Luke 1:34, when Mary asks the angel how she will conceive a child, the angel responds: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."
I believe Joseph took on Mary as his wife and cared for her and about her, but it was not how we think of as a typical marriage relationship. For it to be so she would have to divorce God himself.

Pranayama mama said...

How do you know that Joseph was aging (aside from the fact that everyone is aging)? And I really think I'm missing the point.

s.m. deWitt said...

P-mama: I responded to your question in today's post. Peace!

s.m. deWitt said...

Oops, forgot to say what the point was!

My point, in the post and in my follow-on comment, is that there is much the Bible does not explicitly state. In this case, it doesn't say that the wedding took place, but the vast majority of Christians believe that it happened, even sola scriptura Christians.

My point is that where the Bible doesn't provide specific details, the church, history, and tradition fill in the gaps.

Which is OK. It is necessary. Catholics, the Orthodox variants, and Anglican communions admit this outright, understanding it to be simple reality. The Evangelical stream however denies it, despite themselves standing strong on tradition that cannot be borne out by scripture.

This bugs me.

If a denomination or an individual truly believes that the Bible is the sole source of God's truth to us, then all tenets of faith should be developed solely on what is stated within the scriptures.

And that just isn't the case. It can't be the case.

God didn't expect it to be the case.

He didn't leave us a book. He left us a church, which after several centuries, compiled a book through the Spirit's direction. His Holy Word is infallible. But it doesn't describe every event of Jesus life and teaching, nor does it provide every detail of the events that it does describe. For these areas, He asks us to use the minds created in His image to study, research, and contemplate through His direction. And He expects us to turn to the church He did leave us, for assistance and insight.

That was my long-winded point.

Max Weismann said...
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