The Scripture tells us that the shepherds came to adore the infant Jesus in the stable. Luke further tells us that Mary "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" This description has formed the church's thought down through the centuries. Mary is loved but in no church is she co-equal with Jesus. Some evangelicals insist Roman Catholicism teaches Mary is a co-redeemer but this is not the case, not if the dogma of the church is read carefully.

Roman Catholic teaching about Mary includes four dogmas, several of which became dogmas of the church in the last few hundred years. These dogmas are: Mary's Immaculate Conception, which kept her from original sin; Mary's sinlessness; Mary's perpetual virginity; and the Assumption (her body went directly to heaven after her death). Only the dogma of perpetual virginity is taught by the Orthodox. Many Orthodox theologians and Christians also believe in the Assumption but they do not consider it necessary to make this a dogma of the church. And the Orthodox have a different understanding of Mary and sin. They teach that she was the most sinless natural person ever but this is again not a dogma. The Orthodox are willing to say that she probably did display the human foibles of the fall, such as impatience and anger.

Protestants generally reject almost all of these teachings. Most regard Mary as a good mother to Jesus and think little else about her. By default this position gives her little, if any, serious respect, much less devotion.

2441707836_6b8a14cb41_m All of this can be seen in the debate about Jesus' brothers. One Bible trivia game asks: "How many natural brothers and sisters did Jesus have?" The answer takes the reader to Mark 6:3 and says he had at least six natural siblings. But both the Catholic and Orthodox Church have held since antiquity that Mary had no other children with Jesus. Martin Luther and John Calvin, interestingly enough, believed the same based on reading the Bible. How can this be?

In the ancient church Joseph was always understood as "the betrothed" in order to emphasize that he undertook to protect Mary and Jesus but Joseph and Mary never consummated their relationship. An ordinary interpretation of the Scripture's references to James as Jesus' brother says that Joseph, as an older man, had several children from a previous marriage. The other siblings mentioned in Mark may have been members of Joseph's family, perhaps cousins. Or they all could have been offspring from a previous marriage.

Before you reject all of this as strange consider that Jesus referred to the apostle John, from the cross, as Mary's new son, which meant he was being charged with taking care of Mary. John was possibly Jesus' second cousin. It was not unusual in the culture for close relatives to be referred to in this way.

Tomorrow: Jesus siblings. How should we think about them?

Related Posts


  1. James K August 8, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Dear John
    As a Bible student I do not doubt the immaculate conception of Jesus. When Mary questioned about this matter to the angel, he answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.–” (Lk1:35) It is a great mystery that God became a lowly human being. Because of modern science we have more detailed knowledge about the process of conception, which is the result of the combination of the two sets of DNA. I have no doubt that Jesus’ conception went through this process. That means Jesus lowered himself to less than a single cell. I guess nobody knows exactly what happened at the time of conception in Mary’s womb. I only guess that the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary and sent a new set of DNA. And this was the beginning of forming a single cell in Mary’s womb. After nine months the baby Jesus was born into the world as God Incarnate. Just a thought.
    James K

  2. Janet S August 8, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I’m Catholic. Your article overall is accurate and fair, but there are a few mistakes: there are 4 Marian dogmas 1) perpetual virginity 2) Mary is mother of God or Theotokos (declared at the Council of Ephesus in the 400’s) 3) Assumption 4) Immaculate Conception. (You left out the mother of God dogma.)
    The Orthodox agree with Catholics on all but one of our dogmas–the Immaculate Conception. They have a similar belief, though, in that Mary was sinless after the Annunciation. Also, while it may be true that the Orthodox have not declared these as dogma, it is also true that they have not declared any articles of faith as dogma since the Eastern Scism (11th century).
    You’re right about Luther and Calvin who believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Also Luther believed in Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
    Anyway, you have an interesting blog and seem like a fair person.

  3. Mike Anderson August 8, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Two comments:
    (a) There is a serious typo that should be corrected: the debate is whether Mary had other children with Joseph, not with Jesus (paragraph 4).
    (b) As a Protestant evangelical, increasingly looking to embrace a more catholic faith, even open to a fresh understanding of Mary, I still do not understand why we should give much credence to dogmas that have no basis in Scripture. It is one thing for the church to have authority in interpreting Scripture; it is another altogether for the church to add dogmas which speculate on what is not written, what is between the lines. Mary is, by the witness of Scripture itself, to be considered blessed among women for all time. No arguments there. But the Assumption of Mary? Could someone offer even an allusion to this in Scripture?
    As for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, I’m interested to know if this didn’t spring from gnostic leanings – as though it would have polluted Mary’s personhood to have been sexually active after the birth of Jesus. I do not mean to speak disrespectfully of our Lord’s mother, but I’m not. If her and Joseph married, consummated marriage the only way it can be consummated, and continued to build a natural family, she is just as blessed and favored of God than if she remained a virgin, and Jesus’ divine-human status is in no way compromised.
    Enjoying the series.

  4. pyodor August 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    “I have no doubt that Jesus’ conception went through this process.”
    Hi James,
    It is true that we owe to modern science the knowledge that “in general” the process of conception is closely related to the combination of the two sets of DNA. This knowledge is also useful in many cases. However this knowledge does not guarantee that EVERY possible conception should follow the same pattern.
    A proof by experimental science is fundamentally different from a mathematical proof. One can demonstrate that the sum of ANY two even numbers is even. But he can’t prove using earthly experimental science (if such a notion as proof could be applied here at all) that EVERY possible conception follows the pattern of the combination of two sets of DNA because we can always argue that we haven’t yet seen a conception that doesn’t follow the pattern of the combination of two sets of DNA. So to claim undoubtedly that Jesus’ conception went through the same process of the combination of two sets of DNA, one has to first establish that EVERY possible conception follows the pattern of the combination of two sets of DNA and that is why we don’t see any conception that doesn’t follow the pattern of the combination of two sets of DNA. But that is very very difficult to do in earthly experimental science that it is impossible to do.
    In conclusion, we can’t know using earthly experimental science if Jesus’ conception went through the same process of the combination of two sets of DNA. I think we should leave Jesus’ conception at that. Not only does this make Jesus’ conception more mysterious but it also gives theologians and bloggers more to write about Jesus which in return leaves us, readers, more in suspense waiting for a next intriguing story about Jesus.

  5. Dozie August 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    “Most regard Mary as a good mother to Jesus and think little else about her.”
    I am glad for the careful wording of your claim. In deed, some Protestants think and teach that Mary was a bad mother. One Protestant apologist, Eric Svendsen, asserts in his writings and on the radio that Jesus publicly rebuked his mother and that he actually distanced himself from his mother (Mary).
    The real dilemma for Protestants is attempting to determine who Mary really is. The climate where individual Protestants wake any day and make dogmatic claims about Mary is strange to the Catholic mind and is most unhelpful. Catholics have done their home work and have presented a unified position on the person and role of the Mother of God. Rather than throwing stones at the Catholic Church, Protestants will do well to devote some time to think soberly about the person of Mary.
    For Protestants to be in the position to credibly counter Catholic teachings on Mary, they must demonstrate not only credible scholarship in this area but also the availability of a climate and culture of reflection and discernment on issues of deep theological consequences. Otherwise, Catholics would be justified to dismiss their arguments (like the ones made by Svendsen) as mere babbles.
    That Protestants have the bible and claim to practice “Sola Scriptura” theology and at the same time sound discordant on the question of Mary, as they do on most Christian doctrines, is shameful and should boggle the mind of Protestants and Catholics alike.

  6. Hodge August 12, 2009 at 2:35 am

    What fascinates me about this type of claim, as I’ve heard it quite a bit before, is that RC and Prot ecumenism can be somehow accomplished even ever so slightly by the issue of Mary.
    What I find interesting is that both Leo and Luther agreed on this subject, and yet such an amount of venom has never been spilt as between these two.
    The issue that divides is Soteriology, not Mariology. Mariology only becomes a factor when it intersects with Soteriology. Until RCs and Prots agree on the subject of monergism vs. synergism and their relation to justification/sanctification through faith, there will be no more unity between them than between JW’s and Evangelicals.

  7. Chris Criminger August 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Everyone,
    I just want to say that Evangelicals and Catholic have been working together for a long time and we even worship together at times. Some ecumenical settings has even had Evangelicals and Catholics partaking of the Eucharist together. The old divisions are simply that, old. It is wondrous to spend time in sweet fellowship with the other half of their Christian families. We have been long lost siblings for way too long.
    I have also been worshiping with the Eastern Orthodox and what an interesting blend of mystical union and iconic worship. It is true that Evangelicals will often rightly not be involved in inter-religious services with the likes of JW’s or Muslims or Buddhists.
    But Evangelical minded Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox come from the same root—-Jesus Christ and of those who refuse the right hand of fellowship or resist any kind of inter-communion with fellow saints of God are not only missing out but missing the heart of joy and unity of the gospel of Jesus Christ prayed for himself.

  8. Hodge August 13, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I would like to know upon what basis you would dis-fellowship from JW’s, but extend the hand of fellowship to RC’s?
    Most evangelicals have a very superficial view of the gospel, so I would expect many of them to fellowship with RC’s. The fact that they do does not have any bearing on what they ought to be doing.
    Most would state that RC’s and Evangelicals agree on Christology, whereas, the JW’s and Protestants do not.
    But the reason why Christology was seen as so important was because of its bearing on soteriology. If soteriology must be so correct as to have correct Christology, then one cannot have fellowship with JW’s because they distort the gospel. But upon what basis do you combine the fellowship between two groups have different versions of the gospel according to their soteriology then?
    Evangelicals want to have their cake and eat it too; but in the end their views are inconsistent.

  9. Chris Criminger August 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Hodge,
    I am an Evangelical in conversaton with Catholics (obviously you must not be). I would encourage you to read at least some works like the joint document between Catholics and Lutherans (did you hear that, Lutherans) as well as Mark Noll’s thought provoking work, “Is the Reformation Over?” A challenging topic to think about.
    To be blunt, I have more in common with Evangelical minded Catholics and Orthodox than I do with fundamentalist or liberal Protestants.
    Yes, there are some differences between us but our commonality in Jesus Christ is so much greater.
    The sad reality of the situation is it seems like Catholics simply look at Protestants as “separated brethern” which often means second class Christians or not fully Christian until we return to Mother Church.
    And then Protestants turn around and say to Catholics that they are not spiritual heirs of Christ at all and treat them not as part of God’s family but as part of a great false religion. Therefore Catholics (and usually the Orthodox get it as guilt by association) are not brothers in Christ at all.
    The questions that Protestants have hardly ever revisited are:
    1) Did the Catholic-Protestant split really need to happen?; (2) Is schism truly justified today and why?; and (3) How did good fruit (the protestant reformation) come from a bad tree? (Catholicism).
    It seems to this observer that when Protestants condemn Catholics or their history, they often unwittingly are condemning themselves.

  10. Hodge August 15, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your comments, but you didn’t actually address my question.
    I’ve read all of the works you suggested. I’ve taught Church History and Historical Theology, so I’m aware of the issues involved.
    Let me address your questions as follows:
    1. If the Gospel is the central issue in separating from others who claim to believe in Jesus (like JW’s), but distort it into a different gospel, then the Reformation should have happened, as it is consistent with the early Church’s trajectory in separating based upon distortions of the Gospel in both Christology (the nature and actions of the Savior) and Anthropology (the nature and actions of the saved). To ignore differences of gospels in order to ecumenically unite is not Catholic, and the Reformers were Catholic.
    2. The same differences remain and were never removed from genuine orthodox/Catholic Christianity. If anything, Prots/Fundamentalists/Evangelicals, etc. have moved toward the RC position; but genuine Reformed/Catholic Christianity remains divided based upon the historic issues which still exist. Therefore, separation is valid between Reformed Christianity and the RCC.
    3. The premise here is off on this question. There is a misunderstanding on when the official RCC began. Both synergism and monergism exist in the visible Church from the time of the Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian controversies. Official stances are not taken until the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (i.e., Trent) in the 16th Cent. Hence, the Reformation’s view of the Gospel has a direct lineage to the early Church. It did not come out of the bad seed of synergistic RC, since that would be anachronistic. The real question is how is possible for two good seeds to come out of two different gospels when only one true gospel exists? Does this not imply that one gospel, no matter how lenient you might think God may be toward those who hold a wrong view, is false? How can you have a true church from a false gospel?
    My primary reading is in the Fathers, so I am always amazed at the myth that is perpetuated even by Prots that the RCC is somehow the predecessor of the Reformers when in fact the Reformed argument stems from the Bible as it was interpreted through the Fathers (even when the Reformers themselves didn’t always realize it).
    Now that I’ve answered those questions, can you answer mine? Upon what basis would you separate from a JW/Arian church, which holds a theological belief which affects how we view the gospel, but believes in Jesus nonetheless, and then turn around and join hands with another group, which holds a different theological belief that affects how we view the gospel, based on their believing in Jesus?
    In other words, if your standard for who is a Christian and who isn’t is based on a generic statement that someone believes in Jesus, then why not join hands with JW’s and Mormons?
    If it is based on belief in the “right” Jesus, then does this not display a misunderstanding for why the right Jesus matters (i.e., precisely because it affects how we view the Gospel)?

  11. Chris Criminger August 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Hodge,
    Your my kind of guy if you teach church history and historical theology and read the church fathers (I am a student of history so I think this is exactly what needs to happen).
    After saying that, I can’t help but wonder if John and I appropriate the historical material differently than you? (from some of the posts I’ve read from you) since we read primary sources as well as are in conversation with both Orthodox and Catholics.
    Hodge, you may be way ahead of me in all this but I do wonder if you are reading the primary sources and not secondary sources and are you personally in conversation with Orthodox and Catholics? I ask this because I think its difficult to do justice to others with out firsthand relationships rather than book knowledge. How many Calvinists or Arminians think they know what the other believes and why does the other have such faulty logic until we actually speak to them face and to face (and as iron sharpens iron).
    The JW’s and Mormons first off preach a different Jesus. Do you actually think Catholics believe in a different Jesus than Protestants? Do you believe in the Christology of the Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedon creeds?
    Secondly, and here is where it does get tricky, synergism and monergism are not that far a part as some people try to make them (like Republicans and Democrats, people act like there is a world of difference while a whole lot of us don’t see much difference at all). The Eastern Orthodox show a synergistic view of salvation so I don’t know how people can intepret the first two centuries for example as monergistic when Augustine and later Reformed theology interprets some of this a little differently.
    As I said before, one should look at the document of justification (issue of salvation) for example between Catholics and Lutherans. Do you think that is a false view of the gospel?
    In the end, the early church fathers more represent Catholic theology in certain ways than Protestants would like (inspite of what Calvin and some of the Reformers say).
    At least you are reading the early church fathers, most Protestants ignore them all together.
    Since I believe Christianity historically is represented by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant (what history books say this not to be the case?), then why do you believe the Catholic Church is a cult like the JW’s and Mormons? What is the false gospel that Catholics teach and preach? The last time I looked Catholics believe that salvation is in Christ by grace through faith but please enlighten us.
    I know this is an inner debate between Evangelicals and Protestants but I believe it is very important as you probably do to who are our brothers and sisters in Christ and who is not?

  12. Hodge August 15, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Hi Chris,
    I’m not sure if I’m communicating as well as I should here.
    My point is this. Most who advocate ecumenism don’t deal with the question I am attempting to pose to you, so I am wanting a straight answer to it, as I see it as the crux of your position.
    My point is that the Christological controversies of the early Church are seen as important by the orthodox because the identification of Christ affects the way one views the Gospel (BTW, they are not seen as important by many of the heretics and ecumenical advocates in the early Church–for them, the orthodox are troublemakers and dividers).
    The Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian controversies were viewed as issues of genuine orthodoxy precisely for the same reason (i.e., it affected how one viewed the Gospel).
    If a view is determined to be heretical based on whether it affects one’s view of the Gospel (i.e., it gives you another Gospel), then how can you join two groups which have two different views of the gospel?
    The monergistic view of the Gospel causes that line of Christianity to believe in justification as a result of sola Gratia via sola Fide, which produces works that can in no way be meritorious toward a justification already applied.
    The synergistic view of the gospel causes that line to believe in justification as a result of sola Gratia via faith and works.
    How are these two in any way the same Gospel?
    When I mention JW’s or Mormons, therefore, I’m wondering if you are not understanding why the early Church thought that having another Jesus was an issue for separation? Another Jesus distorts the Gospel. Hence, it is having another Gospel that makes having another Jesus an issue of orthodoxy versus heresy.
    It is the same with the Anthropological controversies. The issue is another Gospel, not just another Jesus.
    The problem with the cults isn’t that they have another Jesus as much as they have another gospel (ironically, the same synergism one sees in the RCC and EOC). Some cults have the right Jesus, but the wrong gospel. Others have the wrong Jesus, which distorts the Gospel, and the wrong anthropology, which distorts it further.
    My point is simply that those who often seek for ecumenical unity assume the theoretical position of Athanasius in the Christological controversies, but really assume the ecumenical attitude of Eusebius and Constantine when it comes to not understanding how it affects the view of the Gospel. Thus, in attempting to unite on the basis of a generic claim to a generic Jesus through a generic gospel, ecumenism ends up being a persecutor of orthodoxy, rather than those who uphold it.
    Ecumenism ran Athanasius out of his church precisely because it had a superficial view of the Christological controversies (i.e., it was simply a matter of different sides of the same coin and semantics).
    My point, then, is that once a person understands why we unite in the real Jesus, he or she will also understand why we divide over different gospels.
    And as it stands right now, most evangelicals are simply trained to think that Christology is an issue of orthodoxy, but have little understanding why. Hence, those same evangelicals have no clue why the Prot Reformation occurred, and why it is still a crucial issue of orthodoxy.
    The separation from JW’s and Mormons from the evangelical community, therefore, is inconsistent with ecumenism. I, therefore, would like you to reconcile this for me, and tell me why it is you would separate from one and fellowship with another.
    Telling me that they have another Jesus does not tell me why this matters according to Nicean Christianity.
    Hopefully, that’s not more confusing. I’ll try to clarify anything that I can. Thanks again for the discussion.
    BTW, I was born an RC and attended an EOC for a year in my undergrad. I find the modern RC and EO as oblivious to this importance as modern evangelicals, so I’m not sure how conversation helps when the blind lead the blind, so to speak.

  13. Chris Criminger August 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Hi Hodge,
    I do see your point on the inter-relationship between Christology and the gospel and vise versa. I will say how one does or sees history, even with just a little shift, like a pebble in the water can end up miles apart at the end of one’ historical exploration.
    You seem to make orthodoxy the main issue whereas I make catholicity the main issue (this is at least one point of contention as I see it why we can arrive at very different conclusions).
    The Gnostic and Arian problem was not that they were in control or not simply orthodox enough but they were not Catholic enough. I won’t get into Arius because I think the problem in the early church was not really Arius but Arianism which as you say distorted both Christology and the gospel but also like Gnosticism, was not Catholic enough in their theology either.
    This is not just Ecumenical versus those who are not ecumenical but catholicity vs. those who don’t seem to be very concerned about the catholicity of the church.
    I think you have it backwards when you say the orthodox are seen as troublemakers and dividers. It was the Gnostics and the Arians for example that were the troublemakers and dividers and the Orthodox Catholics if I can use that term were trying to unite the church as one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.
    I suspect you are Reformed in how you set forth the monergistic and synergistic views of the gospel. I don’t disagree necessarily with how you put these things but I think you put things in a way that favors a monergism that sounds like pure grace and faith and a synergism that sounds like possibly a works-righteousness faith, or faith plus works salvation.
    Am I close? Put like this I don’t disagree that you have two different gospels as you suggest but I don’t think those identifications do real justice to the inner workings of each of those two views. I mean one might as well pit Paul’s gospel of faith without works against James faith without works is dead. They must be preaching two different gospels then by such logic? All I am saying is things I believe under the surface fit together much more closely than you want to present in the monergistic and synergistic views. (If I had your view on how these two depart from each other, then you are right, they are two different gospels.)
    I simply have heard too many debates between monergists and synergists that are more divided by vocabulary and emphasis on one aspect of salvation versus another than the two are as different as two different species of animals.
    The way this debate happened among Evangelical Protestants was for example “the Lordship-Salvation debate” between Zane Hodge and John MacArthur. People often do understand the salvation by grace and Lordship issue differently but I don’t remember either one or sides saying the other group preached a different gospel. They did say there were some important deficiencies between one group or the other.
    In the end, when I read the early church fathers of the first two centuries in particular, before Augustine, there is a strong case to be made by history and the Eastern Orthodox on a synergistic understanding of the gospel. I know to some Reformed folks this just seems like heresy from their perspective. Can I least suggest that both groups denounce an easy believism on the one side and a works righteousness on the other?
    I know this is hard to hear because works is in the equation. But nobody is saying from either side of this divide that works is not initiated first by grace. The grace of God is what empowers Christian works, not self-righteous motivated ones—-please hear that!
    Through ecumenical conversations, I believe the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant tribes all believe in a theology of grace. How grace works and how works fit into grace is where some differences reside but these differences I don’t believe are insurmountable as some folks would like us to believe.
    Feel free to press me on any of these issues. I know I was brief on your point about Christology and the gospel but I do get your point.

  14. Hodge August 17, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Hi Chris,
    There are other issues we could discuss in your post, but I wanted to stay on this one thing we’re discussing.
    Please read my contrast between the monergistic and synergistic views of salvation. You will see that I said that all positions are via grace. Mormons and JW’s also believe that everything is by grace. No one believes he or she does not need grace in order to receive justification. So if your only requirement is that someone believe that the Gospel includes the prerequisite of grace, then we are back to the question: Why not accept Mormons and JW’s into fellowship?
    Secondly, I think we may have a different definition of what is considered “catholic.” Catholic to me means the universal Church which is united through orthodoxy. The Fathers would not have divided what is catholic from what is orthodox.
    I agree with you that the Arians were the dividers and troublemakers, but that is not how the early ecumenists saw it, and they were in the majority. Hence, this is from whence Athanasius’ contra mundum comes. The ecumenists have always joined with the heretics, and with them, have been the persecutors of the orthodox (cf. Erasmus debate also with Luther). The claim that you made concerning that the monergism and synergism debate is merely about semantics and how one looks at the issue is the continual argument of the ecumenist from every generation. This was Eusebius’ argument to Constantine. Do you accept Eusebius’ argument or Athanasius’? I can see Eusebius’ argument. I just don’t believe it. I can see Erasmus’ point. I just don’t believe it. I believe that theology matters when it affects are views of the Gospel.
    If one side says that someone must have faith in Christ in order to receive justification before God, and another says that a person must have faith and continue through a system of meritorious works in order to complete the salvation, and if he or she doesn’t complete it, then purgatory awaits to complete it in the hereafter, no matter how much grace is believed to be necessary to complete it, these are two completely different gospels.
    In fact, I would say that most major religions today incorporate Jesus into them and believe that divine grace is needed in order to accomplish salvation. According to the logic of ecumenism, as long as they have a generic confession concerning Jesus and some sort of belief in grace, they should be considered brothers in Christ. If you don’t believe this to be true, what is the cut off? What is required to be a Christian beyond a magic incantation spoken in the air that “Jesus is Lord”? And are you concerned in any way that you may be condemning people in the long run by falsely affirming them now?
    These are some honest questions that I have. I am not stating these sarcastically. I really would like to know your answers to these. Thanks again, Chris.
    Take care.

  15. ColtsFan August 18, 2009 at 2:49 am

    Thanks again, Chris and Hodge, for the rich discussion.
    I enjoyed the “give-and-take”, point-counter point type of discussion.
    Some of us (like myself) are simply not well-read in this area.
    So for me to sit back and watch 2 guys being fair and charitable to each other, while arguing for their respective positions intelligently, was a blessing.

  16. Chris Criminger August 19, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Hodge and all,
    I tried to write a response earlier today and it would not go through. If it was because of length, I will turn my last response into two parts.
    I wanted to give a proposal of what governs my ecumenist understanding of things (Hodge, feel free to offer your own proposal).
    This discussion started with theological reflections of Mary and has ended with remarks concerning history, salvation, and ecumenism.
    Hodge seems to see ecumenists in the worst light. They are the supporters of Arianism, behind Erasmus’ debate with Luther, and if I heard you correctly, the persecutors of Jonathan Edwards. Notice that no where does Hodge ever really historically back up these claims.
    When John and I speak of ecumenism, we speak of one immersed in the Great Tradition of the church. We are speaking or orthodox ecumenism rooted in the catholicity of the church. We are speaking of the early church fathers, ecumenical creeds, orthodox catholicity of the ancient church. We are not speaking about people who sided with the opponents of the church or kept their mouths shut while Arianism ruled for twenty years. Nor does it do justice to view Erasmus as some kind of ecumenical compromisor going against Luther when Erasmus himself was at odds with his own Catholic Church with the reforms he was proposing. If the only true heirs of Christ are those who end up on the schism side, then our ecclesiology, and any kind of ecumenical hope for the future, is doomed from the start.
    So here are four areas that govern my concerns as we talk about issues that are near and dear to me.
    1. The visible unity we have in Christ: First Corinthians has much to relate to these issues in informing one’s ecclesiology. Paul simply does not oppose other factions, but he very idea of factions. His opponents is anyone who would compromise the unity of the church. The church;s unity is apostolic unity, grounded in the unity of those entrursted with the Word of the Gospel. Paul speaks about a preaching the cross and its implications to the Corinthians. Jesus and Paul were both willing to die for unity (John 11:52; Eph.2:14-16) There is a thin ecumenicity that looks for the least common denominator and glosses over differences and there is a thick ecumenicity based upon a deep commitment to the ancient ecumenical tradition. This is a vision for ‘full communion’ rather than ‘one world church.’
    More to come . . .

  17. Chris Criminger August 19, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    2. A theology of the cross: The cross keeps us humble, broken, repentant, and never self-satisfied.
    The cross exposes our God-substitutes, our self-serving religiosity, our self-deceptions, our shattering failures. The cross puts everything to the test.
    The cross of Christ exposes our smug elitism, pride, our human pretensions against others. The cross calls us to self-renunciation as it heals, restores, and brings unity and reconciliation.
    3. Catholicity: As one studies the early church fathers, catholicity meant more than universal or general. It also meant complete and whole. Catholicity pertains to the wholeness of faith making all people complete- connected to Christ.
    A catholic Christian was an orthodox Christian. Cathilocity has to do with the faith which has been received, a doctrinal link which ties the church to its apostolic and ancient roots. Catholicity is not something that any individual or congregation establishes.
    4. The Great Tradition: The Holy Spirit has worked in every generation and every time epoch. There is not a time when God did not have a people or Christ’s words of being with his church always has failed.
    The Great tradition, especially the Patristic tradition is where many of the great doctrines of the church, liturgies for worship, even the canon of Scripture arose from this context. Ecumenical orthodoxy was solidly based in the classic Christian faith.
    I believe JW’s and Mormons fail all four of these areas—unity of faith in Christ, theology of the cross, catholicity, and the Great tradition of the Church.
    Let’s look at the last one for a moment. JW”s reject Trinitarian catholicity and reject Jesus as incarnate God. One does not have to set some rules to exclude this group. Their mutated nature excludes themselves from the catholicity of the faith always believed and handed down through the centuries.
    Mormons are polytheists who also reject Trinitarian catholicity and believe by grace and good works, a human person can become a god.
    Neither of these two know Christ, sectarians reject catholicity, choose their own god-substitute rather than submitting to the cross of Christ, and are against the ancient ecumenical Tradition of the Christian faith.
    Catholic theology holds to all four of these pillars. It has been suggested that the Catholic faith adds human merit to salvation, especially in regards to purgatory.
    Here is what the official Catholic catechism teaches about merits:
    “Merit: The reward which God promises and gives to those who love him by his grace perform good works. One cannot ‘merit’ justification or eternal life, which are the free gift of God; the source of any merit we have before God is due to the grace of Christ in us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p.888).
    Nor do I see how purgatory is a salvation issue since purgatory is only for the already saved!
    Protestants may not like this final cleansing part but the person’s salvation is already secure in Christ. Unless someone wants to make a belief in the doctrine of purgatory a salvation issue, this issue misses the mark as well.
    Since much of this discussion hits the doctrine of justification, I will end with a quote from N. T. Wright:
    “Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith impels churches, in their current fragmented state, into the ecumenical task. It cannot be right that the very doctrine which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong at the same table (Gal.2) should be used as a way of saying that some, who define the doctrine of justification differently, belong to a different table . . . The doctrine itself is the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family.
    Of course there will be difficulties. Of course we must still have doctrinal debates . . .
    One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. One is justified by faith by believing in Jesus.”
    (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, pp.118-119).

Comments are closed.

My Latest Book!

Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!

Recent Articles