There’s Something About Mary


Among the initial series of questions I receive from a serious inquirer about our Anglican faith is “What do y’all believe about Mary?” I welcome this question because it provides a way to demonstrate the “via media” (middle way) of Anglicanism. From our vantage point, on one extreme is a recent Pope who promoted Mary as a Co-Redeemer. And on the other extreme are those who see any devotion to her as idolatry and who rarely if ever mention her. Most Anglicans are able to find a middle, more balanced way.

To clarify, we do not see her as Co-Redeemer nor as our Mediator. The Scripture is quite clear on this point. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” ( I Tim 2:5). So we don’t have to go through Mary to approach God. And while her role in our salvation story is pivotal as the Theotokos (Mother of God), she in no more our Redeemer than is Joseph.

But second we honor her, for we are to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7). There are three holy days throughout the year that are connected to Mary directly and four when you add Christmas.

We honor her in fulfillment of her prophecy that all generations will call her blessed. (Lk 1:48). We honor her for her remarkable obedience when the will of God was revealed by the angel. We honor her because she was favored by God. (Not only did the angel say to her “Hail o favored one…” but when she was troubled by this greeting he assured her that she had indeed found favor with God ref. Lk 1: 28-30). We honor her for her wise counsel. When she was at the wedding in Cana she told the servants concerning Jesus, “Do whatever He tells you.” Her wise words should ring in our ears every day.

Hebrews 11 gives a list of heroes of the faith. Such heroes should inspire and encourage us. They are certainly more edifying as role models than sports figures or movie stars. For many Mary is the quintessential role model. When God revealed His plans through an angel, which no doubt turned her world upside down, she simply responded, “Be it unto me according to They Word.” We should pray for such humble willingness.

Because of the breadth of Anglicanism there in not universal agreement beyond what was mentioned above about her role in our lives. Some read the Articles of Religion literally and so they do not believe in the invocation of the saints. Others read in the Revelation to John of the incense in heaven representing the intercession of the saints and so they do believe that she and others in glory pray for us. Therefore some will pray a traditional rosary, others will recite biblical passages using an Anglican rosary, and some do neither. You will also not find agreement about her immaculate conception, her perpetual virginity nor her assumption into heaven. Because none of these doctrines are provable by Holy Scripture, Anglican clergy may not teach them. Individuals are free to hold them or not. We find room for disagreements on such beliefs that are not essential to the faith to be healthy.

Some argue that there is no difference between veneration and worship and so honoring saints is idolatry. This puritanical reasoning is shallow. Even a child can discern the difference between venerating our country by placing a hand over his heart and praying to God as an act of worship. Similarly we easily discern the difference between the reverence that we give to Holy Scripture and the worship we give to God. The two acts are completely unrelated. So with saints, both the living and the dead, we give honor but we reserve our worship for God alone.

Emergency Baptism


Since baptism is a Sacrament are the laity allowed to baptize?

Yes. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer states “In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism according to the following form. Using the given name of the one to be baptized (if known), pour water on him or her saying, ‘I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”

This is followed by the Lord’s Prayer and any other appropriate prayers. The person who administers the emergency baptism should inform the priest so that the baptism may be properly registered in the Church. If the one baptized survives then there should be arranged a public celebration of the Sacrament with a priest presiding and all elements of the baptismal rite used except for the administration of water. This allows the person to make a public confession of Jesus, receive chrismation, and be received by the Body of Christ. I once had the privilege of doing this for a woman who had been given an emergency baptism by a nurse just after her birth and she completed her baptism some 50 years later.

Why the Crucifix?

Christ the King Crucifix

I once had a person confront me in an angry tone concerning my crucifix. “Why do you still have Jesus on the cross? Don’t you know that He rose from the dead?” In an attempt to diffuse his anger I palmed my forehead and said, “When did that happen? No one ever tells me anything anymore.” It didn’t work.

I still don’t know why that person was so exorcised about a crucifix but I do know it bothers some. So here are some explanations, offered in form of a palm branch. In the end if you still want an empty cross then God bless you because the point here is that both symbols are valid.

First, yes we know that Jesus is not still on the cross, just as you know He is not still a babe in the manger. The idea is that there are monumental events in Jesus’ life that are important to commemorate, such as His birth and His death.

Second, a crucifix reminds us that it is not the cross that saves us rather it is Jesus’ sacrifice that saves us. A crucifix points us to Him rather than to the instrument of His death.

Third, a crucifix reminds us that there is no Easter without a Good Friday. Parallel to that thought, there is no forgiveness without repentance and there is no crown without a cross. These are important reminders to avoid the kind of triumphalism that we see in the health and wealth heresies. His pain puts our pain in proper perspective.

Fourth a crucifix confronts my pride. As we see Him on the cross we ask why. And the answer is that He is on that cross for my sins and for the sins of the whole world. He has come for the ill and seeing Him on the cross reminds us that we are in need of the Physician.

Customs and Traditions: On Tradition

Fiddler on the Roof


In some parts of the Body of Christ tradition is suspect. They have read Jesus speaking against the traditions of men and so they believe that all traditions are wrong. But a distinction must be made between the traditions of men that contradict the Word of God and traditions given by the Holy Spirit that apply the Word of God. The Pharisees’ objection to Jesus healing on the Sabbath is an example of the traditions of men. From God’s perspective it is never wrong to end suffering. That is what love does. By contrast St. Paul is obviously referring to holy traditions when he commends the Corinthians saying, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” An example of a holy tradition today is that only Bishops may confirm and ordain. While there is no specific verse in the New Testament to make that point, it was the Apostles who laid hands on people to impart the Holy Spirit and to ordain. Bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles, have followed this pattern since ancient times. Holy tradition therefore prevents priests from taking the place of a Bishop and in this way things are done, as Scripture commands, decently and in order. (I Cor 14:40).