Finding the common touch with a Christian Scientist

Christian Science appeals to both the scientific method and a particular view of reality in defending its claims to present the truth about God and man, sin and suffering. The author, a former member, shows how these relate to the atonement so that we may relate more knowledgeably to Christian Scientists.

Jan Haluska is an assistant professor in English at Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists in Collegedale, Tennessee.

 

Picture yourself at a party. The hostess is witty, and the other guests are affable. Midway through the pleasant evening you find yourself seated beside a gentleman who mentions that he is a Christian Scientist. What now? Of course, you can stick to sports and the weather, or you can ask him a few polite questions about his religion. If you do the latter, his answers will be so foreign to orthodox Christian doctrine that you may get entangled in a discussion that prompts the hostess to organize an emergency game of charades.

 

Let me suggest a more acceptable alternative. You can simply concentrate on the beliefs you and he have in common for the joy of mutual witness—as long as you know something more than average about Christian Science. Popular wisdom centers largely on the catch line "Christian Science is neither science nor Christianity." Many people regard the religion as a cult of kooks whose value system appears to be inverted. That kind of attitude will do no good in your conversation with a real-life adherent of Christian Science.

Actually, a few years ago the gentle man at the party might have been I. A member of that church until my late twenties, I served as president of my local Youth Forum, conducted worship services as first reader of the Christian Science Society at my college, and did so again as first reader in the English language services in the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Heidelberg, Ger many. Though no longer a student of Christian Science, I am grateful for the many blessings I received during those early years.

But to get back to the subject, an orthodox Christian needs some back ground before he can share his faith with a Christian Scientist. Therefore let's examine that catch line more closely.

First, let's try to understand Christian Science's claim to be scientific. Christian Science bases its claim to be scientific on its use of the scientific method, which we learned about in our high school chemistry, physics, or biology course. In using the scientific method, we looked at the evidence, formed a hypothesis, and tested it to a conclusion. Mary Baker Eddy, whom church members call "the Discoverer and Founder" of Christian Science, hypothesized that since evil has neither power nor reality, sin and sickness cannot stand in the face of clear thinking founded on God's power and goodness. "The cause of all so-called disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health. . . . Without this ignorant human belief, any circumstance is of itself powerless to produce suffering." —Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, p. 377. She goes on to say that by concentrating on the truth of God's power in all situations one can rid oneself of this "ignorant human belief."

Christian Science emphasizes the next step in the scientific method by testing its hypothesis in seeking healings through the use of such thinking alone. Christian Scientists call these demonstrations. Let's look at a few demonstrations that I can attest.

My family became Christian Scientists based on an incident of healing when I was about 1 year old. My mother was suffering from acute anemia, and I had scarlet fever. A Christian Scientist neighbor gave my mother several of her journals. Reading them, my mother became convinced that there is no disease and that this truth could make us free. My father, returning home from work that evening, found a healthy wife and child!

My childhood was studded with such incidents. Not all were as spectacular of course, but they -were unmistakable. Even later, demonstrations were part of my life. While in Army basic training I faced a test of markmanship that would determine whether I would remain with that company or begin training all over again. The morning of the test was foggy, but, typically Army, we had to shoot anyway. For me it was just one more demonstration; each time a target popped up, a narrow tunnel would clear in the mist. I finished with the highest score on the range that morning.

I must admit that the demonstrations did not always come—I wore glasses and visited the dentist. Still the success rate was enough to establish credibility. Psychiatry does not cure all mental patients, and economics fails to predict some monetary phenomena. Yet both are called sciences. Mrs. Eddy advanced the claim directly: "The charge of inconsistency in Christianly scientific methods of dealing with sin and disease is met by something practical—namely, the proof of the utility of these methods; and proofs are better than mere verbal arguments or prayers which evidence no spiritual power to heal."—Ibid., p. 355. In other words, if it doesn't always seem to make sense, the fact that it works should convince the observer anyway.

Accordingly, the Christian Science Church is careful to document demonstrations of "scientific mind-healing." Testimonies of healing that are published in the Christian Science Sentinel and the Christian Science Journal must be confirmed by reliable witnesses. Thus Christian Science believes it has as decent a claim to scientific credibility as many commonly accepted sciences.

And what about this religion's claim to Christianity? We should begin by recognizing that Mrs. Eddy asserted a Biblical basis for her beliefs. She wrote, "As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life.—Ibid., p. 497. Yet she made no secret of the fact that Christian Scientists are to read their Bibles in only one particular way: "The one important interpretation 'of Scripture is the spiritual."—Ibid., p. 320. In Mrs. Eddy's view, for example, Genesis presents a mostly false picture of Creation and its aftermath, the crudeness of which moves us toward a picture of man as being entirely spiritual, not material at all. In this view, man is utterly perfect now.

To understand why, we need to glance at Platonism, which holds that if we were to destroy every example of a certain item—say every chair—in the world, the idea "chair" would remain intact and would be as perfect as always. Therefore the ideal is more real than the material to a Platonist. A Christian Scientist sees the ideal as the only reality and matter as having no actual existence whatever. Because man exists, he is entirely ideal, spiritual, perfect. He is consequently free from both sickness and sin and needs only to realize it.

Of course, that leaves no room for the atonement through blood that orthodox Christianity teaches. In fact, "the efficacy of the crucifixion lay in the practical affection and goodness it demonstrated for mankind." —Ibid., p. 24. Thus one's hope rests not on the death of God Himself but on the sacrificial example of an ideally perfect man, according to Mrs. Eddy. Christian Scientists hold firmly to the conviction that Jesus was not God: "Christ is the ideal Truth, that comes to heal sickness and sin through Christian Science, and attributes all power to 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 the sinning and destroying the power of death. Jesus is the human man, and Christ is the divine idea." —Ibid., p. 473.

Man's salvation, then, lies in realizing his own perfection and by faith hanging on to the "divine idea" of man which Jesus presented. That idea is called Christ. All this is very far from main stream Christian thought.

Yet it is oddly akin to the central dogma of another great religious system. Consider some verses from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture that so moved men like Emerson and Thoreau: "14. From the world of the senses . . . comes heat and comes cold and pleasure and pain. They come and they go: they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul. 15. The man whom these cannot move, whose soul is one, beyond pleasure and pain, is worthy of life in Eternity. 16. The unreal never is: the Real never is not. This truth indeed has been seen by those who can see the true. 17- Interwoven in his creation, the Spirit is beyond destruction. No one can bring to an end the Spirit which is everlasting." —Juan Mascaro, Jr., trans., Bhagavad Gita (New York: Penguin, 1982).

Let us compare that with another statement by Mrs. Eddy: "Truth demonstrated is eternal life. Mortal man can never rise from the temporal debris of error, belief in sin, sickness, and death, until he learns that God is the only Life.

 

The belief that life and sensation are in the body should be overcome by the understanding of what constitutes man as the image of God. Then Spirit will have overcome the flesh." Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, p. 289. (Italics original.)

Certainly all great religions of the world have areas of agreement. But it is striking that the Bhagavad Gita would require much less "spiritual" translation for a Christian Scientist than does the book of Genesis. Christian Science does not lie within the generally recognized boundaries of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the man at the party reads the same Bible that you do and would be blessed by participation in a pleasant conversation of mutual witness. How can you engage him in a sharing time while avoiding the terms whose meanings illustrate the great gulf between your thinking and his Creation, grace, death, man, Christ?

Perhaps the only way to do it is to begin where Mrs. Eddy herself does. On the first page of Science and Health she writes: "The prayer that reforms the
sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible with God." This "absolute faith" in the power and goodness of God is worth talking about; after all, it is the linchpin of any Christian theology, not just the Christian Scientist's. The apostle James tells us that he is prepared to show his faith by his works. The committed Christian Scientist will be delighted to do the same. If you can show him that you also have experienced God's love, guidance, and protection through prayer, you will have established a basis for rapport. Simply asserting your belief in these things by rejoicing together in such texts as Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:13 would help. You might notice with him how Jesus, standing at the tomb of
Lazarus, gave thanks for the miracle before it had physically occurred and how well that illustrates Paul's definition of faith as "the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Christian Scientists find their attention drawn to the story of Lazarus very often in the daily study helps provided by their church.

Once the two of you have established a relationship, you might explore a few differences in a gentle way. If you feel that refusing medical help in favor of prayer amounts to presumption, you might turn to the temptations of Christ in the wilderness and consider with him just at what point true faith will decline a miracle. His church directs him to avoid debate, yet he may share some challenging ideas on the subject.

By skirting the traps inherent in the wide divergencies between Christian Science and the more orthodox Christian denominations, and by concentrating on the great common theme of faith lived daily, you both can share the fellowship of them that love Him. That is, after all, one of the great joys open to those who would follow our Lord. It is worth seeking.


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Jan Haluska is an assistant professor in English at Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists in Collegedale, Tennessee.

October 1984

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