A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook lamenting the fact that Protestant Christians completely undervalue Mary, the mother of Jesus. In response, another person (who is a Protestant himself) added that she’s not only undervalued, but almost completely forgotten. In addition to all this, just a few months ago a fellow student of mine in a History of Christianity course expressed the same sentiment: why do we not pay much attention to such an important figure in the life of Christ? This got me thinking. Rather than just dismissing such questions, I think it’s wise that we stop and actually think about these issues, because they are revealing of what we truly believe. So if someone asked you why Protestants undervalue and ignore Mary, the very mother of Jesus, how would you respond?
First of all, lets face the facts: Protestant Christians give way less attention to Mary compared to our Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters. Apart from a mention in the sermon once per year during the season of Advent, Mary really doesn’t play a big role in the Protestant Christian life. Why is that?
Well, I think the best place to start is to ask ourselves why we pay attention to the things that we do, and then see how Mary fits into those priorities. One of the comments made by my friend who regrets Mary’s undervalued position was that we tend to be way more interested in studying people like Peter or Paul than in studying Mary. So why do we pay more attention to them than to her? I think the simple answer is that there is more in Scripture by/about Paul or Peter (or Abraham, Moses, or David) than there is about Mary, and that this consideration is the main factor that influences how much attention Protestants give to a person. Perhaps this seems to you an unsatisfactorily simple answer, but I think it’s the best one. The more there is in Scripture either by or about a person, the more attention we give them.
This is a simple truth, but there is good reason behind it, and it reflects a deeper belief that reveals what is truly of value to us. The reason that we pay more attention to those who play a bigger role in Scripture is because the thing that we value most highly is knowledge of God and living to please Him. We learn these things from Scripture. This is the very reason we study the Bible. The more we can learn from a person in Scripture about who God is and how to please Him, the more attention we give to that person. This, then, is the proper foundation from which we must address the question of how much attention we give to Mary.
Protestants only give as much attention to Mary as we do because there is simply not that much written by/about her in Scripture, and thus we have comparatively less to learn from her than we do from others (such as Paul, for example). For us, it’s all about growing in the likeness of Jesus – in knowledge, faith, maturity, and most importantly, love. There is certainly much to learn from Mary, and we do value her, insofar as she is able to teach us by her example of love, humility, grace, and faith. We do not venerate her for her own sake, but only for what we can learn from her.
Perhaps some Protestants do need to pay greater attention to Mary. But let’s make sure that we only do so for the sake of what is truly valuable, that we might grow in the knowledge and love of God.