Methodism is one of the historic branches of Protestant Christianity. The tradition values doctrines like the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and sanctification or growing in spiritual maturity. But what do Methodists believe Mary? Do they pray to her like other traditions do?
Methodists don’t pray to Mary like Catholics do. Methodists honor Mary as the biological mother of Jesus Christ, and seek to mimic her humility and devotion to God, but they don’t engage her in petitionary prayer. Like other Protestants, Methodists believe that only God should be the recipient of a believer’s prayer.
Methodists believe Mary is theotokos — but what does that mean? What’s the difference between the Methodist and Catholic view of Mary? What did the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791), teach about Mary? What did he believe about Mary that many Methodists today don’t? Keep reading to learn more.
What exactly do Methodists believe about Mary?
In general, Methodists have a high view of Mary, but they don’t believe the same about her as Catholics. Methodists view Mary as theotokos (“theos” = God, “tokos” = childbirth), which means she is “the one who bore God.” Some traditions translate the phrase, “Mother of God.”
It’s important to note that two different traditions may use the phrase “Mother of God,” but have different definitions of the term. For example, if a Methodist used the phrase, it wouldn’t have the same implications as if a Catholic used it. See the comparison table below to see the differences that exist.
|Was Mary herself conceived without sin? (i.e. the Immaculate Conception)||no||yes|
|Was Mary sinless?||no||yes, she choose not to sin|
|Was Mary predestined to become Jesus’ birth mother?||views vary||yes|
|Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was born?||yes||yes|
|Did Mary remain a virgin her whole life?||some Methodists say no, but Wesley said yes (see below)||yes|
|Did Mary’s obedience to God reverse Eve’s disobedience?||no||yes|
|Was Mary taken bodily into heaven, bypassing physical death on earth? (i.e. the Assumption of Mary)||no||yes|
|Is Mary a co-mediator along with Jesus?||no||yes|
In Methodism, Mary is honored as the birth mother of Jesus, which is in harmony with the affirmation of the Council at Ephesus in the 5th century A.D. Since Jesus was both human and divine, some belief systems attribute divine attributes to Mary. Methodists believe Mary was an ordinary woman who exercised extraordinary faith and devotion to God.
Why don’t Methodists pray to Mary?
Methodists don’t pray to Mary because they believe that prayer should only be directed to God. They base this conviction on verses that instruct and encourage believers to offer thanks, make petitions, and articulate confession to God alone through Jesus, who is their one and only mediator. Bible verses that are used to support this belief and practice include,
- 2 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (ESV)
- John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (ESV)
- Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (ESV)
Methodists honor saints, including Mary. They are encouraged by their stories, impacted by their testimonies, and mimic them in their obedient devotion to God. Like other Protestants, Methodists enthusiastically celebrate the lives of believers who are no longer living on earth, but they don’t revere them in the way that Catholicism teaches.
What did John Wesley believe about Mary?
John Wesley expressed great respect for believers no longer living on earth and believed it was important for churches to recall their biographies and testimonies. Yet he believed that certain Catholic doctrines about Mary crossed the line and were unbiblical.
As the comparison table above shows, Wesley and other early Methodists didn’t believe the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary. Wesley believed these doctrines were unbiblical and didn’t support teaching them in Methodist churches.
Did Wesley believe Mary was a perpetual virgin? Yes. Unlike some Methodists today, Wesley believed that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Those who believe this doctrine argue that Jesus was Mary’s only biological child and his siblings, mentioned in the Gospels are his half-brothers and sisters. Wesley wrote,
“I believe that he was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.” Wesley’s Letter to a Roman Catholic in 1749, emphasis added
Did Wesley believe in the Assumption of Mary? There is no evidence to suggest that Wesley believed that Mary was bodily taken into heaven, avoiding physical death. However, a small number of Methodists hold this belief. Most Methodists don’t believe the doctrine is biblical, yet some argue that since it doesn’t contradict the direct teaching of Scripture is a permissible belief and within the boundaries of Methodist thought.
“We Protestants (for the most part) tend to say something to the effect that, if it is not found in Scripture it is not held to be required as an article of faith. Thus, the assumption of Mary would not be held as an article of faith (i.e., as a required doctrine).
However, in as much as the Scripture does not say that Mary was not assumed into heaven, and, in as much as we do have other instances of some sort of “assumption” in Scripture (e.g., Elijah, as mentioned, before), there seems to be nothing that would require that a Protestant Christian could not have a private “opinion” (in the Wesleyan sense of the term) that agrees with Rome or Constantinople (at least regarding Mary’s assumption).”Stepp, Todd (23 December 2009), Theotokos; Mary, Mother of God, Wesleyan/Anglican Society
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