Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Biggest Hang Up With Ancient Christianity

Almost without exception, when I tell my friends I converted to Orthodoxy, they ask me, "So, do you pray to Mary?" If I say I do, then in their minds, I am not really a Biblical Christian.
But, is that really true? Certainly, everyone has the right to interpret the Bible anyway they like, and all churches will have a foundational system, whether formal or informal, on the way to approach the Scriptures. As you will see below, the Bible certainly supports the practice of praying to Mary.

First of all, do Christians die? In the beginning, God told Adam that if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. In fact, he did not die physically for a long time, but he did die spiritually. In the same way, Christians die physically, but they never die spiritually. When the Sadducee's tried to trap Jesus in regards to the resurrection, he said in Matthew 22:31-32:

"But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
One can conclude, then, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not dead. In another passage regarding the resurrection, Jesus is speaking to Martha:
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:23-26).
I think His point is clear: Christians shall never die.

I guess it could be argued here that Jesus is saying we will never die after the resurrection. But, that would seem to contradict what He said to the Sadducees. He said He is the God of the living, and since even His own resurrection had not yet occurred, then His statement must mean the righteous do live after their physical death, and will later resurrect physically as well.

But, because they live spiritually, can we assume we can pray to them; that we can ask them to intercede for us? Isn't that a bit of a stretch? Before I continue with some more biblical references in this regard, let's ask this question: When we die, do we become greater or lesser? Do our capacities, powers and talents increase or diminish? Paul said, "To live is Christ, to die is gain". When Jesus is judging the ones whom He gave the talents to, to the ones who were faithful, He gave more. Another passage states the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable. From these passages, I think the biblical case can be made that we become greater when we die. Who we are is magnified in Christ.

With that said, how do we know if the citizens of heaven can pray for us? We know for certain we can pray for each other here on earth, so if we become something greater after death, then there is no reason to believe we stop praying for people once we enter heaven. Even Jesus still prays for people! If He is our Lord and we follow Him in all things, then this aspect of our afterlife in the interim, before our physical resurrection, means interceding for others, even as He intercedes for us.
Let's look at some other interesting scriptures. 1 Peter 2:4-5:

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men but chosen by God and precious, you also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
If we are "living stones" being built up a "spiritual house", then this ministry, this calling, this state of being could not possibly end at our physical death, as we are a spiritual household. This next passage in Ephesians drives this point home:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building , being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Paul re-emphasizes that we are a spiritual household. We are being "fitted together"; we are growing, and our foundation is Christ, the apostles and the prophets. If there is any doubt about this new city, this heavenly city, then these next verses out of the book of Hebrews will illustrate how it all ties together:

By faith [Abraham] dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise, for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 11:9-10, 14-16; 12:22-24)
If this is my country as a Christian, why would I not ask my spiritual brethren to help me by asking for their prayers? Like Abraham, I dwell by faith in my promised land, whose builder and maker is God. But, even though it is by faith I dwell there, this passage indicates it is a real place – it is Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and I am a member of this spiritual household as a fellow citizen with the saints. As the book of James states, the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. And I, dwelling amongst the most righteous ones, would much rather have one of these triumphant victors, who have run the race and obtained the crown, pray for me than anyone else on earth. And Mary, the first of all saints and honored by her Son, is certainly a most effective and fervent intercessor in this eternal, undying and glorious heavenly country – the Kingdom of God.


Grace said...

Amen and amen! This is very a very well-reasoned argument, and I hope it makes things a little clearer for the Mary-challenged. As I've said often, I was very flaky and uneducated in my Protestant days, but for some reason, I had the anti-Mary thing then, too. I don't know where it gets its vehemence from.

Nicodemus said...

Thanks, Grace, for the kind words. I think one of my friends made a good point on something that needs clarified - he said,

"I disagree with the statement that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible anyway they like. It must be received as the Holy Spirit reveals it. He will lead us into the truth that is contained within as we seek God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength."

I let him know that what I was trying to emphasize in a nice way was people will bring their own interpretations to the Bible, and that interpretation is often a result of how they have been trained by their particular church.

There have literally been thousands of people, both past and present, who were sincere believers that have vehemently expounded what they believe God has shown them to be the truth of the Bible - they believe the Holy Spirit has led them to their particular brand of theology.

How do we know who to believe? In reality, we only have our own backgrounds as our foundation for sorting out what we will believe is true and what we will reject as false. In other words, how do we know what we know? Someone had to teach us, and their teaching laid the foundation for our understanding and interpreting the Scripture.

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