Thursday, December 29, 2016

Evaluating My "Berean Radar"

I went to church last Sunday, which was Christmas Day.

The person preaching to us was drawing parallels between Mary and the church.  The angel calls Mary blessed in Luke 1:28, for example, and there are New Testament passages that call the church blessed.  The preacher was probably drawing these parallels to edify the church.

The parallels caught my attention because I have been reading the Catholic catechism as of late.  In section 492 of the catechism, we read the following: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person in ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy, and blameless before him in love.'”

Immediately, as I read that passage, whatever Berean radar exists or remains within me went off.  I recognized that the catechism there was quoting Ephesians 1:3-4.  But Ephesians 1:3-4 does not mention Mary.  Rather, it is about the church.  To quote Ephesians 1:3-4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (KJV).

Ephesians 1:3-4 says “us,” not Mary.  Is the Catholic catechism misinterpreting this passage, or trying to pull a fast one on us?

Before I interact with that question, I should explain what I mean by “Berean radar.”  I am alluding to Acts 17:11.  The Bereans heard the apostle Paul’s message and “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (KJV).  What I was taught growing up and in conservative Protestant churches and settings is that we imitate the Bereans when we test religious teachers by Scripture: we see if their teaching accords with the Bible, and we check the references that they make to the Bible for ourselves to determine if they are interpreting the Bible accurately.

To cite a few more biblical texts, there’s Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (KJV).  And there’s Revelation 2:2b: “thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (KJV).

Back to the catechism!  I find my “Berean radar” to be helpful and unhelpful.  Let me start with where I find it unhelpful.  I could read section 492 of the catechism, compare what it says about Ephesians 1:3-4 with what Ephesians 1:3-4 actually says, conclude that the catechism is inaccurate, ascribe to the catechists deceptive motives, conclude that I shouldn’t read more of the catechism because it is false teaching, and pat myself on the back, seeing myself as a good Berean.  But I would rather not go that route.  I want to understand why section 492 of the catechism is interpreting Ephesians 1:3-4 as it is.  I am sure that the authors of the catechism have read Ephesians 1:3-4 and are fully aware that it concerns the church.  Why, then, are they applying the passage to Mary?  I find a search for understanding the catechism’s interpretation to be more interesting and fruitful than simply dismissing the catechism with a proof-text.

It turns out that the Catholic catechism, on some level, does associate Mary with the church.  According to section 966, Mary is a prototype of what will happen to other Christians: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians…”  Section 972 makes another connection: “In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what we will be in the homeland at the end of her journey.”  The section goes on to quote the 1964 Catholic document Lumen gentium: “…the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (LG 68).

My “Berean radar” can hinder a search for answers, and that can be unhelpful, but where can being a good Berean be helpful?  I do believe that doctrines should be tested according to how well they fit with the narrative of Scripture, and whether they have Scriptural support.  And, from an academic perspective, not only a religious perspective, I also believe that what interpreters say about biblical teachings should be compared with what the biblical teachings themselves say.  How do I hold together my ambivalent Bereanism?  I will not thoroughly answer that question right now, except to say that I prefer Bereanism that enhances understanding, as opposed to dismissing perspectives too casually.

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