by Al Maxey

Issue #468 ------- December 16, 2010
Certain thoughts are prayers. There are
moments when, whatever be the attitude
of the body, the soul is on its knees.

Victor Hugo {1802-1885}
Les Miserables

Reflecting on the Rosary
May Christians Use Prayer Beads?

Over the years I have had a number of people ask me about my thoughts on the Rosary, and the use of Rosary beads, by those who profess faith in our Lord Jesus. Is such a practice a sin? Similar questions have to do with having a cross on or in the church building, or Christians wearing a cross. What about paintings or statues of Jesus, Mary, the Twelve, or other religious figures? What about someone making the sign of the cross (as one might often see those doing within the Roman Catholic faith)? A few weeks back we had a couple of baptisms here at our building (a group of brethren from one of the smaller congregations in a neighboring town asked if they could use our church building that Sunday evening), and our own congregation assembled with them to encourage these new brethren. Just before one of these disciples was immersed, he quickly "crossed himself," and was then lowered into the waters of the baptistery. I'm sure many people noticed this, but I am proud of the Christians present that evening, for not a single person had a negative comment to make (although I know of places where such an act would have practically called for an Inquisition and a burning at the stake).

This question is really much bigger than beads and crosses, paintings and statues! It has to do with whether or not there is ever a legitimate place for various visible and tangible aids to the practice and expression of a Christian's devotion! Does God approve of the use of such material objects as practical aids to our spiritual worship? Frankly, this issue is not quite as simple as some might want to make it. There are a number of factors that must be considered.

First, it must be noted within the context of this study that the use of prayer beads is most certainly not a uniquely Christian phenomenon, nor did their use originate within Christianity. The vast majority of the religions of our world, whether they be ancient or modern, have long employed various forms of "knotted strands" to help facilitate the prayers of their adherents. One of the exceptions to this is Judaism, where such aids were considered by the rabbis a form of paganism. The actual origin of prayer beads (or objects of similar design and purpose) is uncertain, and has been the focus of a certain amount of scholarly debate, although many think they may have first developed, along the more familiar lines known today, among the ancient Hindus (who used them for reciting mantras and to help them focus their breathing rates during meditation). These are also rather common among the native American tribes, African tribes, in Buddhism, Islam, the Bahai faith, and on and on. Christian prayer beads are most generally associated with Roman Catholicism, and it is widely believed that they were first introduced (as they are used today) by St. Dominic (1170-1221), founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Order), after a supposed visitation by the Virgin Mary. Such religious objects did not carry over into the majority of Protestant churches, in part as a reaction against the perceived abuses of Catholicism. A number of these reformers regarded the use of such objects and icons as being little more than paganism with a Christian veneer. John Calvin (1509-1564) "rejected materialism and ritual, feeling that the faithful should read and analyze spiritual texts in direct relationship with God, rather than simply memorize set prayers," repeating them by rote. Thus, Calvin rejected the use of prayer beads as being contrary to the above stated spiritual goals.

The word "rosary," first used by Thomas of Cantimpre (1201-1272), a medieval writer, preacher and theologian, comes from the Latin word "rosarium" (meaning "rose garden" or "garland of roses"), as it was common for many to string beads made from crushed rose petals to be utilized to count their prayers. The Rosary is divided into sections known as "decades," each of which is preceded by an "Our Father" and followed by a "Glory be to the Father," with a number of "Hail Marys" within each. To each of the decades is attached one of the "mysteries" (sacred events) in the life of Jesus Christ. There were initially only three "mysteries," with each one depicting five events in the life of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Pope John Paul II, in October of 2002, introduced a fourth "mystery" to the Rosary. Each of these four "decades," and their five events (with a bead on the Rosary representing each), are:

The vast majority of the above events have tremendous spiritual significance for all disciples of our Lord Jesus, however two of them will be regarded as somewhat offensive, and perhaps even heretical, by those who are not of the Catholic faith: the doctrines regarding the Assumption and Coronation of Mary as the "Queen of Heaven." These two are simply not biblical teachings, but are rather dogmas of later leaders within the Roman Catholic Church!! I personally reject them as false teaching, and those who pray these sections of the Rosary are, in my view, giving a voice to lies!! Further, there are promises associated with the faithful reciting of the Rosary, promises said to be made by the Virgin Mary herself. For example: [1] To all who recite my psalter (Rosary), I promise my special protection, [2] He who calls on me through the Rosary will not perish, and [3] I will deliver from Purgatory, in the space of a day, those souls devoted to my Rosary. There are others, but you get the idea. Although it is ostensibly focused on Jesus, the reality of the Rosary is that it is far more focused on Mary.

Pope Paul VI declared that the praying of the Rosary was a powerful means of reaching Christ Jesus "not merely with Mary, but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary." Cardinal Newman has stated, "The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son." One Catholic web site, which is devoted to the history and purpose of the Rosary, stated: "In general, the Rosary has two main purposes: first, as a vocal prayer it is a petition, through Mary, for grace and mercy. Mary is the channel through which all grace comes to the world and is constantly interceding for us with her Son before the Throne of God. Hence, it is most fitting that we petition God for grace and mercy through her and her Son. It is part of God's plan that grace come to us through Mary, and therefore, petitioning for grace through Mary follows the divine Plan. This is the first purpose of the Rosary. Second, as a contemplation of the mysteries (i.e., the meaningful supernatural episodes) of the lives of Jesus and Mary, the Rosary is meant to make the truths of Christian faith live in the minds of the faithful." This veneration of, and virtual deification of, Mary is something that I personally have an extremely hard time stomaching, as it is completely contrary to the Truth of God's Word. Thus, I can in no way endorse or condone the stated purposes of the Rosary.

But, let's take this a step further: What about the utilization of prayer beads conceptually?! Would it be sinful to make use of some tactile device to help one focus on one's prayers or meditations? Does the fingering of beads (or any other object) really negate or invalidate the devotion of one's heart if the only purpose of said objects is to help focus the heart?! I knew a man, for example, who used to place several pennies in his pocket when he had the prayer in the Sunday assembly, as it served to help him remember the number of things he wanted to pray for that morning. Would this man be a "son of perdition" for his pocketed pennies?! The real question here is, as was noted at the very beginning of this study: Is there ever a legitimate place for various visible and tangible aids to the practice and expression of a Christian's devotion? Does the Lord God approve of the use of such material objects as practical aids to our spiritual worship? Frankly, I believe the answer is a resounding "YES."

What do you think the physical elements of the Lord's Supper are?! Are the bread and wine aids to the remembering of greater spiritual realities? Of course they are! What do you think the water in the baptistery is all about? Does God really need water to "wash away" sin? Of course not. It is merely something physical that conveys to our hearts and minds something spiritual. What about a book filled with numbered songs to help us sing? Is such an aid helpful in the focusing of all our hearts in worshipful expression? Is such an aid sinful? If so, how? What about the use of PowerPoint presentations in the preacher's sermons? Is such an aid sinful? If so, how? What about instruments to aid us in our singing? Is such an aid sinful? If so, how? And if so, where did GOD ever say so?

In the preparation of my PowerPoint slides for my weekly sermons on Sundays, I have often used paintings and depictions of Jesus, the apostles, and other figures from the Bible. Are such aids, that I've used for the purpose of helping people grasp the thoughts I am seeking to convey in the lesson, sinful? Some think so! In the December, 2010 issue of Rocky Mountain Christian, Dr. Denny Petrillo (in his column where he answers readers' questions) was asked: "Denny, I would like to see you address the problem of Church of Christ congregations using images, idols and icons. We seem to see them more and more (e.g. crosses on buildings and inside of buildings). I would hesitate to attend a lectureship at a congregation using images of Jesus. That tells me they are not very sound." This reader goes on to talk about adult Bible class materials using "images of Bible characters such as the apostles." Some of our brethren obviously have a huge problem with ANY kind of visible, tactile aid to our expressions of devotion. And yet, our God Himself has given His people many such aids to help His people focus their hearts and minds upon spiritual realities. Denny pointed this out, saying, "God commanded the Israelites to build images. The Ark of the Covenant is one of many examples in the Old Testament where God gave instruction to build images. ... The Ark had on its top the figures (images) of two Cherubim. The veil that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place had portrayals of Cherubim on it." Denny also mentions the bronze serpent God instructed Moses to form in the wilderness, to which the Israelites were to look whenever bitten by serpents (Numbers 21). True, they later made an idol of it, but its original purpose was NOT sinful. Denny concluded his response by declaring, "I do not believe that one could condemn the creation of religious symbols. Even our Lord's Supper includes that which represents the body and blood of Jesus. Depicting the Apostles, Jesus, Moses --- or any Bible character --- is not sinful. Building a church building that includes a cross on its steeple is not a sinful practice, unless that cross becomes an object of worship and veneration. Wearing a necklace that has a cross on it does not make it an idol."

I believe the principle is the same for such aids as prayer beads. Some simple aid to help someone focus their thoughts and prayers is not sinful in itself, in my view. Yes, like the bronze serpent, such objects can come to be venerated, and in the abuse of these objects one may indeed find himself or herself at odds with the Lord. However, just because something may have been abused and/or misused does not make it, if used as it was originally intended, sinful. I personally do not approve of what the Rosary is today. Frankly, I believe it to be extremely close to idolatrous in its veneration of Mary and in the belief by many that praying the Rosary can actually generate and impart specific blessings!! However, the concept of some such aid to one's prayers I find no fault with in principle. To quote Denny Petrillo: "It just shows that man needs to be careful. So, as we create various images of Bible characters and symbols, we should always keep them in their proper place and perspective." I would echo this caution with respect to other aids that may help facilitate the expressions of our devotion unto our Lord God, whether these be used individually and privately, or collectively and publicly.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I want to offer my thanks to you for your ongoing work on behalf of many of us who have managed to finally allow the blessed light of freedom in Christ to shine on us. I had to erase my whiteboard of biblical knowledge and begin all over again, and the journey has been nothing short of amazing for me and my family. May God continue to bless you in your mission to bring the sweet message of liberty in Christ to those starving for it.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Brother Al, In this age of rising violence a wise man must prepare himself to defend his family and his home. I have serious reservations about any man who is not prepared to do just that. Many people have the false impression that Christians are to be peace-loving in all circumstances and passive in the face of the worst, most vicious assaults. As the late author Robert A. Heinlein said, "An armed society is a polite society." I agree. Just as God gave man to be a free moral agent, He also gave man the right and responsibility of self-defense! The words "to love, honor and protect" are as true for me today as they were when I made that vow to my wife. How many robberies, rapes and murders could have been prevented if the man of the house (or the woman) would have truly been prepared to meet force with force?! Retired LTC Dave Grossman said it best: "There are only three kinds of men in this world: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs." I am not a wolf, and I refuse to be a sheep!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for dealing with a most sensitive issue! When I entered the service I struggled with the thought that I might have to take the life of another human. This troubled me much more than the thought of losing my own life. Like many who have served, I have come to terms with the necessity of what war brings. The current thing that troubles me is that many people who now demand the right to carry a weapon do not seem to have the maturity, and the resultant decision-making ability, to ever truly handle this extremely awesome responsibility. The consequences of this, as you know only too well from your own time in the service, as well as in combat in the Vietnam war, are dire and long-lasting. Al, please keep on opening our eyes to a better understanding of the true depth of God's revelation to us!!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Brother Al, I am crackin' up here!! My wife and I just completed our Concealed Carry Class this last Saturday! I had one of the members of the congregation ask me on Sunday how I could possibly justify the taking of another man's life. I will forward this issue of your Reflections to him as part of my discussion. We miss you guys and the beautiful sunsets reflected on the Sacramento Mountains. Blessings to you from St. Louis.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I want to thank you so much for another well-thought-out issue of Reflections. I love the way you study and use God's Word in teaching others how it applies to us today. I had never really reflected on the Exodus 22:2-3 passage. So, thanks to this week's Reflections, I have now gotten yet another lesson from the Bible. No matter how much one thinks he may know about the Word, there is always something else one can learn and apply in one's everyday life. "We don't have a gun problem in this world, we have a people problem."

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, "Deadly Force" -- a troubling aspect of life; an event I pray I never meet, and that I never have to use such a life-altering action! It would be with a person until the day that he "crossed over." I really liked your comments on a topic most people think very little about, as most people simply hope they never come face-to-face with such a threatening situation. It is a situation one must really prepare for beforehand -- being properly trained and mentally prepared to know what one would do when faced with such a situation. Sadly, most never prepare. Very well-done lesson, Al. It blessed me!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I have struggled with this question for 50+ years. I am aware of some of the extreme positions our British brethren have taken. I know of a church that demanded all soldiers who fought in WWII make a public confession of wrong when they returned home and wanted to be reinstated in their congregations. I also know that some of our brethren in Canada were physically tortured for not going to war. One good friend of mine even had to pay a monthly fine for staying on his farm and not going to fight in WWII. These objected because of convictions, not because they were cowards. I have memories of my father going before judges in Canada to allow these brothers to have the same privileges that the Amish people were granted, but to no avail. David Lipscomb was a conscientious objector, and he went so far as to abstain from voting so he wouldn't have anything to do with government. It is an old question and certainly deserves a full discussion. I basically agree with your presentation. Thanks for what you do. I truly profit from your writings.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, This particular Reflections on the use of deadly force was "good timing." I was just having a conversation last week about this subject with a Jehovah's Witness with whom I work.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, Your Reflections today reminded me of the pacifist Quaker minister who surprised a thief in his house in the middle of the night. As he brought his hunting rifle to bear on the intruder, the Quaker minister said, "Pardon me friend, but thou standest where I am about to shoot."

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, I found your latest Reflections interesting. I understand your argument, but I cannot agree that it is what Jesus taught. The human tendency is to fight back and protect ourselves and others from evil, but love does not do that. Love seeks the good of the evil person. I am simply not comfortable sanctioning the taking of another life for any reason (and I was in the army, a major, for 18 years, so know about evil). Just my thoughts.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Bro. Maxey, This morning I heard an individual make a statement that has me thinking. The person making the statement was the doctor in New Jersey whose wife and daughters were brutally murdered a couple of years ago. The criminals broke in and beat him; they molested his wife and daughters, then burned the house down. He escaped by crawling out the basement window to a neighbor's house, but his beautiful wife and daughters died!! A news reporter asked, "Do you forgive these men?" He said, "How do you forgive evil?! If someone steals a car, one can forgive! But what happened to my family was evil." Is there a difference in "evil" and "sinning"? This really made me think, and any thoughts you have would be helpful. Thank you for teaching me so much with your weekly Reflections. I find that your writings broaden my own thoughts to views that my little brain could never have conceived. I really do hope that you have a blessed Christmas, and that 2011 is the BEST EVER for the Maxey family!! May God bless you!

From a Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, So much of this topic relates to the heart (attitude) of the individual. If I use deadly force out of malice and hatred, it lessens or cheapens the act as one of loving protection of the lives of others, even if the act itself is legally defensible. I know some folks who carry a concealed weapon who actually scare me a little because of their attitude and approach. It seems they are actually looking for a reason to use their weapon!! On the other hand, others have carefully thought this through and will only use such deadly force when there is absolutely no other option. I appreciate you cautioning your readers to know the laws of their own state, as there are many conflicts between the states on when and where such force may be used. One man I know, who is a firearms instructor, tells all of his students to have a good lawyer, for even when deadly force is justified, it may still take a court to sort it all out. I would add that anyone who contemplates ever having to use such force should take courses in self-defense and tactical weaponry, which work as much on attitude as proficiency with a weapon! Sadly, most don't, which is why too many gun owners end up becoming statistics (having their guns taken from them and used on them). Our family has discussed this topic at great length, and we thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

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