Sunday, August 10, 2014

Exploring Religions - Christian Science

An abridged version of this essay will go out in my father's newsletter for Gatebreaker Ministries in the fall. Though this is hardly exhaustive, however, it is much more detailed and expressive and personal than the article I wrote for Gatebreakers. 

Located right in the heart of downtown Boise on the corner of 10th and Bannock is a trendy little coffee shop known as “The District”. With its vintage furniture, fair trade coffee, and novelty menu items such as cardamom and lavender lattés, The District has all of the characteristics of the hipster-brand coffee establishments that have been springing up all over the Northwest.

The District has become quite popular, and it is especially frequented by members of the twenty-something Christian community. And, as cliché as it is, one of this demographics’ favorite pastimes is to discuss philosophy, religion, or politics while sipping on cappuccinos.  We believe we can solve the world’s problems by simply turning over ideas and conversing about solutions. The conversation always turns back to Jesus, of course, and we grow with excitement as we ponder the relentless love exhibited by the cross and wonder at the power of the resurrection.  The passion inside of us bubbles up to overflowing, and we realize that we don’t need to solve the world’s problems. They have already been solved. We simply need to deliver the world that message.

One Wednesday evening, having just finished such an exchange, I left the District and began walking to my car. I felt equally inspired and dutiful, and my thoughts were still occupied with the prior conversation. As I walked, however, my attention was drawn to a sign on a building I had never before noticed. It read “Christian Science Reading Room”. My curiosity was sparked. Venturing nearer, I recognized a Bible in the window display. It was surrounded with several informational pamphlets and another book entitled “Science and Health” by Mary Baker Eddy.

Curiosity had had led me to that spot, but a more powerful force now held me there. Though God has given me a deep passion for studying different religions that has led me to educate myself about various belief groups, I realized that I knew next-to-nothing about Christian Science. I felt an undeniable tugging on my heart from the Holy Spirit, and I knew I needed to go inside. Whatever this religion was, I needed to learn about it.

So I went inside. As it’s name implied, the “reading room” was a designated building for both reading and contemplation. The texts of choice? The Bible - the very same Christian Bible that I have read and studied throughout my life - and Science and Health, a guidebook and interpretation of the Bible written by Mary Baker Eddy. A kind man at the front desk greeted me hospitably and was more than willing to answer any of my questions regarding Christian Science. He seemed pleased (and perhaps even slightly surprised) that such a young girl had wandered into this seemingly quiet religious venue.

Of course I had many questions, and these questions opened the door to a genuine conversation regarding our respective faiths. My purpose was not to convert this kind hearted man, but instead I endeavored to understand him and what he believed. He grew up in the Church of Christ, Scientist, and had dedicated his life to its claims. He gently corrected my assumption that Christian Science was related to Scientology – a religion that has recently become popular due to some of its celebrity members. The two religions, in fact, have almost no similar properties, but they are commonly associated.

Like a child on her first day of school, I did my best to soak up every bit of knowledge that my instructor was trying to teach me. He explained that Christian Science is centered on the belief that man is not physical, but spiritual. According to Science and Health: “Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual”(S&H 468). Growing up in a charismatic tradition, I am in no way taken back by the idea that man is spiritual. And the idea that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:7) is entirely Biblical and foundational to Christianity.

I was surprised, however, by what I was told next. Based on the understanding that man is spiritual, Christian Scientists claims that matter - such as bone, blood, and flesh - does not exist. In accordance with this, Christian Scientists believe that sin and sickness do not truly exist.  The consequences of sin and sickness, therefore, are only real as long as humans believe that they are. Therefore medicine is not encouraged.

My new friend continued to explain that Christian Science recognizes the importance of Jesus as a “way-shower”. Jesus was, in fact, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:16), Science and Health, however, teaches that Jesus was not himself God, but the son of God. "Jesus is the name of the man who, more than all other men, has presented Christ, the true idea of God, healing the sick and sinning and destroying the power of death" (Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, 473:10-17).

When I inquired after the trinity, I was informed that Christian Science doesn’t affirm the trinity. The threefold nature of God is recognized by this church as “Life, Truth, and Love” (Science and Health, 331:26-332:3). They do not believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, however. I was informed by one of my Christian Science friends that the Holy Spirit of the Bible does not refer to a person but instead to “divine science”.

If you are confused at this point, don’t worry. I was too. I felt as if I had entered a sort of metaphysical, humanistic world. Which is pretty much exactly the kind of world that Science and Health really teaches.

What confused me the most, however, was not the doctrine of this sect that was completely foreign to me. What confused me the most was the fact that all of its claims were based on the Bible – and that they kind of made sense. Moreover, this man I had been speaking to was so completely convinced that he had the truth. With all of the compassion he could muster, he held it out for me to take.

As all deep thinkers must constantly do, I wrestled with these thoughts and attempted to sort out truth from falsehood. There was truth present in what he was telling me…. But there was falsehood, too. And if what he was saying wasn’t false…. then I was the one who was wrong.

However, after grappling with these ideas for a time, attending a Christian Science church service for more information, and studying the Bible and Biblical resources, I was able to more readily discern the major flaws in the Christian Science doctrine.

Though I accept the idea that man is spiritual as Biblical and believe that we are made in the image of God, (Genesis 1:26), this idea has been taken to the extreme in Christian Science. Anything taken to the extreme can be hazardous.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no place in the Bible that Jesus heals anyone by telling him or her to deny the reality of sickness (Gatebreakers, 161). If Jesus truly was the “way shower” and sickness really is a false reality, wouldn’t Jesus have explicitly said this to his followers?

Lastly, not only do I believe that the Bible supports the Trinity, but I also cannot adhere to any doctrine that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. This fact is supported in John 1:1 and John 1:14 to name just two of several scriptural backings.

Perhaps most importantly, I was struck by something that my friend said - very casually - during our conversation. “Jesus showed us how to use God to be the best versions of ourselves”. “Use God”? His word choice in this case was unintentional and subtle but incredibly telling. How can we…. mere human beings… claim to use God? Or even have the audacity to try to do so? ANY religion that puts me on the same level as God is one that I cannot possibly accept or adhere to.

Still, I am disturbed by how faithfully people cling to these doctrines… and to other religious doctrines for that matter. I have been actively studying Mormonism for quite some time now. I have had conversations with the kindest and most devoted Muslims. A Jehovah’s Witness missionary came to my door the other day with a warm smile and a message that he would take to the ends of the earth. All of them thinking they have the truth.

And I think I have the truth. I know I do, actually. Because Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the answer. The simple gospel. The way to the Father. Kingdom reality. He is the only thing that makes sense after all of my questioning and philosophizing.

I will not go so far as to claim I have the whole truth. I think that is an ignorant claim for any Christian to make. There are so many ways to interpret the Bible and even Christians disagree on fundamental things like hell and salvation. And I can’t answer all of the many questions that arise in my mind about universalism and such… accept that I believe that God judges the heart. So I pray earnestly that the people I speak to will seek and find the love of Jesus.

In his book Metaphysics, Aristotle wrote: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This is exactly what I aim to do as I embark on this new journey of studying other religions. I have to reflect on ideas that are messy and difficult, and as I seek after truth my faith will be challenged…. And hopefully strengthened.

My purpose in writing this is not only to inform readers about Christian Science. It also is to encourage people to be bold and loving in the face of religions that contradict their own. We are called to be a light in the darkness, and conversation is a key component to spreading the love of God. Of course we must approach these conversations with heavenly wisdom (James 3:17), but we should also approach them with love and genuine interest. We are called to be missionaries in our communities, and sometimes this can be as simple as showing interest in what others are interested in. Instead of fearing ideas that are different, we need to equip ourselves with knowledge of the Bible and engage in conversations and relationships with people of other faiths.

Sometimes we need to step out of our coffee shop conversations and step into the real and messy world. It is there that we will be challenged and stretched. It is there that God will work through us and in us. It is there that we will see our faith in action.