Vessels of Clay — 2Cor 4:5-7

Vessels of Clay

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
(2Cor 4:5-7)

I recently had a Roman Catholic friend tell me that God told him to tell me that I should pray the rosary. My commentary speaks to the meaning of being a “vessel of clay” and what Jesus says about to whom we may pray and how we should pray. I am sharing this commentary, because there is a movement to bring Roman Catholic practices into evangelical churches. Please take the time to read this even if you aren’t inclined to pray the rosary, because it will likely be offered to you or to someone you know. It is extremely important to pay attention to the source of the light that fills you in preparation for doing the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I was born into the Roman Catholic Church and was raised with reverence for Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have learned that reverence to Mary in the way that it is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church is goddess worship and idolatry. The two greatest forms of idolatry in the Roman Catholic Church are the reverence/worship of Mary and the adoration/veneration/worship of the consecrated communion substances. Mary has been elevated to the same level as Jesus as co-redeemer. She has been given the title that the pagans use for goddess worship — Queen of Heaven. She is considered to be a mediator through whom we should pray so that Jesus will hear and respond to our prayers. Roman Catholic tradition teaches that Jesus cannot resist the petitions of his mother and will honor her prayers made on our behalf. Thus, making our petitions to Mary is much more powerful than praying directly to Jesus.

For those who are unfamiliar with the rosary that Roman Catholics use, it is a series of prayers assembled in a repetitious pattern. Rosary beads are used to keep track of the sequence of repeated prayers. The set of rosary beads consist of large and small beads arranged in a circular strand. There is a Roman Catholic style crucifix connected to the circle by a short strand of beads. The beads in the circle consist of five groups of ten small beads separated by large beads. The Lord’s Prayer is recited while holding a large bead and the “Hail Mary” prayer is recited when holding a small bead.
The Hail Mary is a prayer to the Virgin Mary – the Mother of Christ Jesus. The Hail Mary is recited ten times after the Lord’s Prayer is recited once, while praying within the circle of beads. There are also certain mysteries that the person is to focus the mind upon as he or she prays.

This is The Hail Mary prayer.
“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

When considering my friends request, I had to consider two questions:
What does the Bible say or not say about Mary?
What does the Bible say about prayer and worship and command us not to do in relationship to prayer and worship?

The Bible provides basic information about Mary. She was a virgin. She was engaged to be married to Joseph. She was visited by an angel who told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would become pregnant. She would bring forth a son who would be the Messiah, and his name would be Jesus. She is mentioned when Jesus was twelve years old and he was interacting with the teachers of the law in the temple. The first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is when Jesus turned the water into wine. He did so at the encouragement of his mother Mary who also was at the wedding feast. Mary was also present, in some cases with her other children at certain events in the ministry of Jesus. She was mentioned as being at the cross during the crucifixion and being in the upper room when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. No mention is given to her as having a status other than a woman. The Bible does not tell us to reverence Mary, to pray to Mary, or to use Mary as a mediator through which we should pray to Jesus. The Bible does not call her the Queen of Heaven, does not give her divine status, or tell us that we can or should pray to Mary. The bottom line is that the Bible tells us that Mary was a virgin and that after His birth, she had a husband and they produced other children. Mary is now a dead woman, a vessel of clay, like all the rest of us, and she is probably in heaven with all other Christian believers.

So where do all the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church concerning Mary originate? It is not from the Bible, but from Roman Catholic tradition. Many centuries after the resurrection and after the Roman Emperor Constantine made a decree that all of Rome must become Christian, there was a slow and systematic transformation in Roman Catholic dogma concerning Mary. She was transformed from a human woman to the ever-virgin divine mother – the Queen of Heaven.

In Roman Catholicism, Roman Catholic tradition holds equal weight with the Bible. If the Bible says something is true, then it is true. (I fully support the truth of all scriptures in the Bible.) However, the Roman church also states that if we, the Roman Catholic Church, say that something is true, then it is true, because we are the one true church and the Pope (Vicar of Christ) infallibly speaks for Christ. I find nothing in the Bible that supports the Roman Catholic Church in its dogma of being the one and only true church – where the Pope is the only legitimate spokesperson on the earth for Jesus Christ. Similarly, the divinity of Mary, her perpetual virginity, and her divine status with Jesus is not supported by scripture. Mary worship and papal infallibility are created by man.

I spent many hours of my life praying to Mary when I was a Catholic child and while I was an adult Christian mystic deeply engaged in Gnosticism. When one prays to Mary, one may have a perceptible spiritual experience, however, it is important to examine the experience to avoid confusion. There is a great difference between the type of “spiritual experiences” that one has with Mary and a true encounter with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know this prior to my salvation.

2Cor 11:14
“…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

When I was a young man with emotional pain, I experienced a mothering peace fill my soul when I prayed to Mary. I believe there is a spiritual being who answers to the name of Mary, but it is not the woman who carried Jesus in her womb. The being that comes to meet those who open their hearts to Mary and pray to her is a great being of light. This being distorts the gospel message as contained in the Bible and gives us a distorted picture of Jesus. This great being of light appears warm and loving and kind. It promises to be with us always, but it never encourages us to draw closer to Jesus. It never shows us how to walk on the narrow path that Jesus tells us to walk. This great being of light will not tell us to repent and ask Jesus to change our hearts. This great being of light that goes by the name of Mary is Satan himself. This is a very hard thing to say, but I know it to be true, because of what I have experienced and what the Bible teaches. When Mary speaks, she says things such as, “There-there little wounded child, it’s all going to be OK. God loves you. I always love you just the way you are. I will protect you and help you. You are being tested, but I am here to help you with the tests. No matter what happens I will be here for you. I will show you what to do. You can always trust in me. I won’t let you down…” Sometimes she doesn’t say anything; she just offers comfort by her peaceful loving smile.

Quite often unconfessed sin lies at the root of our agitation and difficulties in life, but Mary does not lead us into repentance. Instead she offers comfort to us when the Holy Spirit is convicting us of sin. She might tell us to confess to a priest, but she will not bring conviction which leads to repentance. Repentance is not simply confessing our sins to a Roman Catholic priest and being absolved of those sins by the priest. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin. It results in concrete observable change in our nature and lifestyle. I can honestly say that in the forty years when I prayed to Mary and revered her as the Queen of Heaven; nothing changed in my life. I was just as much a sinner at age forty-six as I was when I was six. Mary was an obstacle to my true repentance.

The great being of light known as Mary stood as a warm beacon of loving light in my life. Her open mothering arms and her unconditional acceptance of me with my many problems and sinful habits was so inviting – so compelling – so magnificent. However, this is not how God works in the life of a sinner and is most certainly not how He works in the life of a Christian.

When God comes close to us, we feel His power, we see our sins, and we fall to the ground in fear, because we experience the clash between the flesh and the divine glory of God. (This is authentic revival.) Real God encounters result in life changing and permanent transformation. Real God encounters ignite a burning desire to repent for habitual sin and to become more holy. True encounters with the Holy Spirit cause a kind of restlessness in the soul, which no longer takes comfort in earthly pleasure, but yearns to be fed by the Word of God and longs for more Godliness. This was quite different than my thousands of encounters with the being known as Mary. At the knee of Mary we learn that God is kind, loving, and good. This is true, but not the complete truth. She teaches that God is unconditionally present. This is a lie. She does not mention that God is also angry and filled with wrath against those who perpetuate sin in their own lives, encourage sinful behavior in others, and refuse to repent. Mary might encourage confession of sin, but not true repentance. Confession is not the same as repentance. Confession only means telling a priest that we are sorry for doing bad things, and being willing to pay the price of penance by saying some prayers to Mary. Permanent change is not expected. On the other hand, repentance comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, and there is typically deep sorrow and an expectation of systematic and permanent change. We become willing to hand over our resentments, bitterness, hatefulness, habitual anger, and selfishness directly to Christ Jesus and to ask for His Holy Spirit power to change our hearts and minds. As vessels of clay, we have no power to bring about permanent reform of the flesh and of the mind on our own. This power comes to us through the Holy Spirit when we submit to the Lordship of Christ Jesus. Mary cannot save us from our sins or save us from hell.

I recently noticed the following Old Testament scripture from Jeremiah the prophet when I began to re-examine my experience of Mary.

Jeremiah 7:16-20
16 Then the LORD said, “As for you, Jeremiah, do not pray for these people! Do not cry out to me or petition me on their behalf! Do not plead with me to save them, because I will not listen to you.
17 Do you see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?
18 children are gathering firewood, fathers are building fires with it, and women are mixing dough to bake cakes to offer to the goddess they call the Queen of Heaven. They are also pouring out drink offerings to other gods. They seem to do all this just to trouble me.
19 But I am not really the one being troubled!” says the LORD. “Rather they are bringing trouble on themselves to their own shame!
20 So,” the Lord GOD says, “my raging fury will be poured out on this land. It will be poured out on human beings and animals, on trees and crops. And it will burn like a fire which cannot be extinguished.

God spoke this warning to Jeremiah so that it would be spoken to the Jews. Goddess worship is nothing new. It is a common part of all pagan religions. It was common among all the peoples who surrounded Israel and Judah, and the Jews continually allowed goddess worship to be integrate into the religious practices that had been given to them by Jehovah. Goddess worship is alive and well in the world today and it has infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church. It comes from paganism. God didn’t accept goddess worship before the time of Jesus and He still does not accept goddess worship. God’s nature does not change over time. His Old Testament distaste for idolatry remains. I see nothing in the Bible that indicates that we should believe that Mary is divine and should be worshipped, yet, this is the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

To pray to Mary and to worship Mary is the sin of idolatry. Praying the rosary is a sin of idolatry even if the rosary contains the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is good and true, but when it is mixed in with prayers to a dead woman who is called divine, then we are blaspheming God himself.

I offer this as a warning, because the Roman Catholic Church has a long term plan to create a one world religion. They are courting all Protestant denominations, especially evangelical churches, to bring them into a common religion under the headship of the Pope. They are also courting Muslims, because Jews, Muslims, and Christians all point to Abraham as their father in the flesh. Roman Catholics are not just another denomination, which should be unconditionally accepted as part of the body of Christ. Their practices and beliefs prevent salvation, and promote idolatry. The Roman Catholic Church was apostate at the time of Martin Luther and the Anabaptist reformers, and it continues to work in opposition to the teachings in the Bible. A smiling welcoming Pope who extends open arms of inclusion to people of other denominations and other religious systems does not change the idolatry in the church.

Jesus made this very clear statement in John 14:6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

The only way to God the Father is through Jesus, and the only way to Jesus is through salvation. Mary does not reign in heaven along with her son. She is not a co-redeemer. Jesus does not passively sit on his throne awaiting her instructions. Mary was a virgin vessel of clay whose womb contained the greatest light that has ever been upon the earth. Nevertheless, she was born as a Jewish vessel of clay and she died as a Christian vessel of clay. I expect to see her in heaven, but she will not be seated on a throne beside a subservient Jesus. She will be lying on her face with the rest of us worshiping the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sincerely,
John Thomas

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4 thoughts on “Vessels of Clay — 2Cor 4:5-7

  1. John,

    It is easy enough to write the following sentences for any Christian group X, for their particular value of Y:

    My heart aches for those who are trapped in the X church. They believe they are secure Christians because of Y, but their church is not faithfully following Jesus. I do not hate Xians.

    You could substitute “Presbyterian,” or “Methodist,” or, of course, “Mennonite,” even your favorite Mennonite brand. All churches and denominations have at least one fatal flaw–they are comprised of fallible human beings “bruised and broken by the fall.” I am saddened that your experience in the Roman Catholic church, just as I am saddened by flaws I see in the Mennonite church that have caused many to stumble. I should also be grateful for the grace God has extended to God’s people through the Catholics and the Mennonites.

    Let me suggest that we use the “a simple desire” space as a place to focus on the scriptures, not the flaws of other denominations and churches; let’s make it a place to write and meditate about revealing the truth and the saving grace of Jesus, “the knowledge of the glory of God,” as Paul puts it.

    Will

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  2. Scott Yoder says:

    John,

    I have heard rumors of the Roman Catholic Church (one world Religion), You can see the signs of this plan already starting.

    I challenge all to start paying closer attention to whats being taught, start asking the questions, Do the research, check the Sunday school materials, the authors and there beliefs. Look to the Bible for answers and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth.

    The truth leads to the narrow path of Jesus and only Jesus.

    Scott Yoder

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  3. John Thomas says:

    Hi Will,

    “I will grant you that the Catholic Church shares a large number of Biblical beliefs with evangelical Christianity: the inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinitarian nature of God, the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ, as well as His crucifixion and resurrection. In fact, we have no doubt that there are a number of born-again Christians within the Catholic Church. These Christians properly understand the biblical doctrine of salvation, and have developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, many of the official doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church are either un-Biblical or extra-Biblical. In fact, the Catholics use a different Bible than Protestants. Their Bible has more books within it, which accounts for some of the differences in Catholic doctrines. Furthermore, the Catholic Church has traditionally held that salvation can be attained only through observance of their sacraments. Therefore, they have set themselves apart as the only true church, and we must contend for the faith.” (Quoted from an apologetics website, which I found after I wrote my post. You may wish to visit this website for additional information about Mary.
    http://www.contenderministries.org/catholicism.php

    I respect the fact that you established this blog and have defined its purpose as, “…A place to write and meditate about revealing the truth and the saving grace of Jesus, “the knowledge of the glory of God,” as Paul puts it.” Did I write something that contradicts scripture? Is it wrong to warn Anabaptists of practices that are coming into Anabaptist churches, which oppose Justification by Faith and the worship of false Gods? No church group, whether large or small, is free from error. My post was written as a warning to Anabaptists and not to condemn Roman Catholics. I removed my prayer from the end of my post, because it may have compromised the clarity of the message. You are most certainly right that it is easy to cast stones at the beliefs of any Christian group. The Anabaptist founders did not agree on all points of theology or doctrine, however, most Anabaptist leaders were in agreement that it would be better to faithfully suffer and die for their understanding of scripture than to submit to a state church or the Roman Church, which promoted practices that violated scripture. I believe that when we compare and contrast our beliefs with the beliefs of others, such as the Roman Catholic Church, we become better able to understand Anabaptist distinctives.

    John

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    • John,

      The early Anabaptists–as we have been learning from Reading the Anabaptist Bible–used the same scriptures as the Roman church. It’s useful to remember this.

      Evangelical Christians, too, want everyone to be in “one world church.” That is why they are called evangelicals.

      I agree with you that some Catholics get it wrong in how Mary is honored. I agree with you that there are Mennonites who skirt the line–and at times, cross over the line–of “goddess worship.” I disagree that this is either a huge problem in the Mennonite churches or that this comes as a result of how Roman Catholics venerate Mary, or that this is part of some papist conspiracy to create the One World Religion. The later, in fact, is a literally a damnable lie, and I caution you (and Scott Yoder) very strongly against spreading it.

      But, and again, we Mennonites have problems enough of our own. Let us seek to encourage one another to faith and good works.

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