Christian Science: The Simple Theology of Jesus
Betty Carson Fields, C.S., of Atlanta, Georgia
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
I don't often use taxis, but when I do I'm prepared for lively conversation. Taxi drivers are wonderful! Not long ago I took a cab from an airport, and the driver, who was about college age, immediately launched into conversation. He asked me if I'd come to town on business or vacation. 1 told him I'd come to give a lecture on Christian Science. Well, then we were off. He asked me, "What does Christian Science teach?" I sensed that he really wanted to know, and so that I might know where he was coming from, I encouraged him to talk about himself. He said he was Jewish; that he'd grown up with the idea that Jesus was responsible for all the sufferings of the Jews at the hands of non-Jews throughout history. He'd felt that Jesus was an evil man, but recently he had seen a film that had prompted him to buy a copy of the New Testament. And for the first time he had read in the gospels the simple story of Jesus. And he'd been deeply moved. But ever since he'd been trying to find the answer to some disturbing questions. Several earnest Christian friends of different denominations had tried to evangelize him from time to time, and he had come up against the doctrine of original sin, and salvation through vicarious atonement, and many other points of strongly held conviction, for which he'd been able to find no certain base in Jesus' teachings. "Why," he asked, "Since Jesus' life was so loving, was there so much dissention in the Christian churches largely over questions that Jesus himself didn't even raise? Since his teachings were so simple and clear, why were the doctrines he'd been plied with so dogmatic and complicated?" I suggested that the problem might in part be one of interpretation.
Spiritual view of Bible reveals divine law
One often hears, "The Bible doesn't need interpretation ‒ it's perfectly clear." Actually everyone interprets what he reads. The person who accepts the literal word is choosing to interpret the Scriptures literally. Every minister in every sermon interprets the Bible text and guides the understanding of his flock. Christian Scientists seek the spiritual meaning of the inspired word.
This spiritual view reveals evidence of divine law operating throughout human history and coming into clear focus in the life of Jesus. It lifts the gospel story from the realm of mystery and dogma and places it within the light of reason.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science writes, "Christianity is a divine Science."1 Now there's a starting point for the thinker! She supports this interesting view by pointing out that the Christianity of Jesus is based on a divine law, a law that is available today as in Bible times, and this is the basic premise of Christian Science. This is not just one more religion, it's primitive Christianity. It leads the seeker through the maze of conflicting theories and complex theological doctrines to the very heart of Christian teaching and practice, and shows that practical obedience of Jesus' teachings is a present possibility. This is why we claim it's primitive Christianity.
It's true that Christian Science differs on a number of points from some popular religions. The question is, "Does it differ from the theology of Jesus?" Or does it, as Christian Scientists aver, fulfill the prophecy of Jesus himself? Let's look and see.
Here are some questions to start with.
First. Who was Jesus? What was his identity? What was his purpose? What did he teach about God? About man? What about all the healing activity in the gospels? Did they have a purpose beyond compassion? What was the theology of Jesus? What did he teach? About heaven and hell? Sin and salvation? About eternal Life?
Does that sound like enough for an hour's work? Obviously I can't go deeply into all this today, but perhaps we can consider together some ideas that may refresh and enliven our concept of Christianity.
Let's consider first Jesus' identity and his purpose.
Jesus emerged upon the human scene just about eighty generations ago (if you consider twenty-five years a generation). His people were the remnant of that Hebrew band who had followed Moses out of captivity in Egypt some fifteen centuries earlier; who had risen to become a nation under David and had fallen into disunity and eventual captivity after the death of King Solomon. In the centuries since their return from exile in Babylon, they had rallied under inspired leaders time and again, only to fall again under the hand of one aggressive nation after another. Now, three decades after Jesus' birth the Jews were worn thin with oppression and poverty and yearning for a saviour.
I've heard people say the Biblical struggles of the Jews are simply not relevant to our religious life today. But the truths revealed through those struggles are timeless and universal. Christian Science teaches that, figuratively, the children of Israel represent the whole human race. Their experiences are typical of all human experience. It's not strange that they were unable (with a few rare exceptions) to see themselves in this light or to imagine that the mission of the promised saviour would be not a national renaissance, but the awakening of all men to a correct concept of God ‒ to a spiritual rebirth. "I am come that they might have life,"2 Jesus said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."3 This then is the answer to the question of Jesus' purpose. He had come to teach men the nature of God.
Jesus defined God and man
Jesus spoke of God as Father. This was a new concept to many. But he didn't stop there. He defined God as Spirit. Now what could he have meant? What's the nature of Spirit? Was Jesus reverting to mysticism, placing God beyond the possible knowledge of men?
No, he wasn't because he went on to say, "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."4 Spirit, then, Jesus saw as something comprehensible. So what is it? Well, it's absolute good, but it's not something material. It's not something the five physical senses can bear witness to. It's not mysterious for all that. Love is perhaps the most easily grasped concept of Spirit. Love, expressed, can be seen and responded to; but Love itself is pure Spirit. Life, self-existent, is tangible in its manifestation, but Life itself is Spirit. And, of course, divine Mind, infinite intelligence, the unseen source of every genuine idea, is Spirit. Divine Love, Life, Mind, Spirit, are names for God. They help clarify our concept of God.
Although these terms refer to something invisible, indefinable to material sense, few people are likely to challenge the statement that absolute Love, Life, Truth do exist as spiritual reality and acceptance of that statement does no violence to intellectual integrity. This is what writer of the epistle to the Hebrews referred to when he spoke of "evidence of things not seen."5
But this raises another question. Can we actually know something that is outside the focal range of the physical senses?
Christian Scientists say yes. We certainly can know God. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you."6 He certainly didn't mean under your ribs ‒ within the blood stream. Could Jesus have been suggesting that the physical body is no more the essence of man, than the visible world is the essence of creation? The consciousness of man, not materially visible, but very real to each of us, is where we find the kingdom, and spiritual sense is the means by which we know God.
What is spiritual sense? How do we develop it? Simply by recognizing, responding to, and expressing the qualities and attributes of Spirit, of unadulterated goodness. Here is an understanding of God that holds to no heritage of paganism or of superstition, and it's demonstrably true today as it was in Jesus' applied theology. Because it was right here that the uniqueness of Jesus' purpose became evident. Here was no ordinary prophet. Jesus had come to demonstrate God to mankind. To define God by actual proof. Doing this he also defined man and once and for all he established the indissoluble unity between man and his Source.
How did he do all this? In a unique way. Ultimately the only way in which it could be done. He lived the nature of God, which is the true saviour, the Christ. The infinite power of divine Life, the unlimited resources of Spirit he expressed as naturally as he breathed. In doing this he demonstrated the actual nature and potential of man as the child of God, spiritual, indestructible.
Healing demonstrates true nature of God and man
I'd been thinking of this one day quite early in my study of Christian Science when I suddenly had the opportunity to prove the present practicality of Jesus' example. Our daughters were both preschoolers at the time. One night after I'd put them to bed, instead of silence I began to hear stilled giggles and thumps to which I decided to turn a deaf ear. Suddenly there was a crash and a cry. I ran in to investigate and found that the little one apparently having been boosted into the air had landed on the floor on one shoulder. Her collarbone was obviously broken. My husband was out of town. I didn't drive a car and I knew no one I could call for help. But as I picked up the little girl and comforted her I felt an overwhelming sense of presence and the love of God. A verse from the Psalms came to me, "He keepth all his bones: not one of them is broken."7 And a statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, "Bones have only the substance of thought which forms them."8 It was an instance of spiritually illumined thought making reality visible. I clearly realized her indestructible identity as a child of God. She was as flexible as thought, incapable of fragmentation, an idea invulnerable in Mind, God. She'd stopped crying almost immediately. After a little loving time with them both I tucked them in bed again. In the morning she needed help with dressing, but there was no pain. I made a sling to support her arm and off we went to kindergarten. (I was teaching a kindergarten at the time and the children were with me). The little one was and remained quite free of discomfort. The incident occurred on Monday night. When her father came home on Friday morning the healing was complete. She was playing, even dressing herself, with no difficulty. A couple of years later she had to have a medical examination to begin school. The doctor said, "I see she'd had a broken collarbone." I asked how he could tell and he showed me under the fluoroscope. He said, "You see that the bone is thicker where it's mended. Nice mend," he said.
Here, then, is the answer to the question of what Jesus taught about God and man. He taught that God is Spirit, and that man, His likeness, is spiritual, as eternal as God. His healing activity was the natural outcome of his understanding, and he demanded of his followers the same evidence. This is the freedom that comes from knowing the truth and demonstrating it.
Christian Science shows that healing was an essential part of Jesus' theology. From the very beginning of his ministry he healed and taught his followers to heal, not simply because so many people were sick and in need of healing. Medicine had been available for centuries. But he didn't use medical methods. He healed as evidence of the actual nature of God and man in demonstration of the radically different kind of thinking he was urging on mankind. Not misery now and heaven later, but the evidence here and now of the indissoluble unity between God and man, and of the Christ-power inherent in that unity.
Jesus represented God to man
Mary Baker Eddy defines Christ as, "The divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error,"9 the error of believing that life is mortal; that mind is brain; that love is sexual excitement; and that truth is a negotiable commodity.
Jesus demonstrated by his life that this fleshly concept of man, vulnerable to evil and to death is a false concept of man.
Through the activity of the Christ he corrected the distortions of sin and disease and poverty, and the kind of thinking that had produced them.
Jesus showed that man exists to reflect God. "Ye are the light of the world,"10 Jesus said. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."11 There's heaven again ‒ perfection, the reality of being. Whatever our human condition, status, or age, in reality we are every single one of us an essential part of creation. Our purpose is to make reality visible. And making reality visible is what healing is about, whether we're concerned with world economics, international or business relations, physical health or family or even crime. This is an area where we're apt to feel so helpless, but are we? Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago my husband and I were spending a long holiday weekend in a cabin in the Georgia mountains. Our two daughters and their husbands were visiting together in another state. As I was about to fall asleep one night I was jarred awake by a sudden sense of something amiss concerning one of the girls. I am not given to superstitious imaginings, and because I'm not, though I quietly reasoned that the young people were all together and safely at home, I got down to some very specific praying.
The first chapter in the Christian Science textbook is entitled "Prayer." And many people including Christians of other denominations have learned from that one chapter how to communicate with God with a freedom they never dreamed possible. Mrs. Eddy points out that Jesus taught his disciples to pray affirmatively. The Lord's Prayer affirms the nature and the power of God. It affirms man's relationship with God and acknowledges God as the source of supply for all our needs. It's as natural for us to turn to God in prayer as it is to breathe. So I claimed now for each of us the protection inherent in our individual relationship with God. I knew that omnipresent Love, all-knowing, all-wise, was enfolding each of us, meeting every need. There is a hymn by Mary Baker Eddy in the Christian Science Hymnal that begins:
O gentle presence, peace and joy and power;
O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love that guards the nestling's faltering flight!
Keep Thou my child on upward wing to-night.12
I prayed this prayer with all my heart and I was comforted. Then I settled down to sleep. I don't know how long I'd been asleep when I was awakened with a sense of that daughter's name having been shouted at me. Now even for a Christian Scientist this was a very unusual experience. I was now wide awake. I began to pray again with this same hymn. The second verse reads:
Love is our refuge; only with mine eye
Can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall:
His habitation high is here, and nigh,
His arm encircles me, and mine, and all.
And then I saw what I needed to know. I had prayed for me and mine. Now I prayed for all. I knew (and spiritual knowing is one form of praying that Jesus taught) that God's kingdom, His "habitation high" is universal and is come ‒ is here. No one is excluded from it. Within that kingdom, that divine consciousness, everyone's identity as a child of God is fully known, every need is met abundantly.
I really felt the warmth of Love, an active Presence, and I knew that all mankind was enfolded in it. God's law was in operation and all was well. The Christ was present here and now.
On Tuesday morning on returning to her work at the university, my daughter was met by a security guard. He told her that in the small hours of Sunday morning her office had been broken into. Would she please come and identify her loss? The outer door of the complex of offices had been burgled and the door to her private office had been removed from its hinges and was leaning against the wall. Nothing else had been touched. There was no disorder. Though there were a number of expensive portable items and a dish of money sitting on her desk they were just as she had left them. The file cabinets had not been opened. This story is something of a legend in that department, at least the part of the story that they know. But we who know the rest of it feel certain that here was visible evidence of the activity of the Christ demanding and bringing about a change of thought and action.
This is the way in which we each, through a correct understanding of the nature of God and the true nature of man, can effectively curb criminal impulse and intent. God's law is imperative and it is instantly available to correct and protect.
Theology ‒ the science of God
Ultimate reality is God, intelligent good, and the infinite manifestation of this perfect goodness. The apparent void between reality seen in these terms and the manifold miseries of human life was something that deeply concerned Mary Baker Eddy from her youth. From earliest childhood to maturity she prayed. She read and studied the Bible; she investigated a good many human systems that seemed promising, but ended nowhere. She was no dabbler in religion. She approached the subject with the diligent interest of the research scientist, and the spiritual devotion of the true Christian. She became convinced that the solution to the problems of mankind, including the overcoming of sickness, sin, and want of every kind, lay within the teachings of Jesus if one could find the key. She persevered until the light dawned and in a moment of divine revelation she was able to penetrate the overlapping doctrines of the centuries and discover in Jesus' theology the divine Science she sought.
Beyond the man-made doctrines of original sin, inherited guilt, and vicarious atonement through a super-human sacrifice, she saw the radiant Christ bringing to mankind truth and rationality, not mystery and dogma, but Science, an intelligent view of God who is the very source of intelligence. "It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle," she later wrote, "which produces apparent discord, and the right understanding of Him restores harmony."13
In the light of this discovery the Bible was now as relevant as today's news, and so much more helpful. She had realized that Jesus had revealed through his teaching and practice a theology revolutionary in its simple practicality. The term "theology" Noah Webster defines in part as "the science which treats of the existence, character and attributes of God, His laws and government. . ."14 Jesus' teachings spiritually understood, did indeed constitute a Science based on laws ever available and subject to demonstration. But the practicality of this statement had to be proved before it could be usefully presented to a skeptical humanity. Mrs. Eddy began applying her understanding of the Christ-method of healing through divine law and she was successful. Sick people were healed. Blindness, deafness, lameness were corrected just as they had been in the earliest days of Christianity.
Hanover Smith was eighteen years old when he was healed by Mrs. Eddy. He had been born deaf and dumb. His parents had tried medical means to correct the situation, and he had been in an institution for the deaf and dumb, when "finally, his mother took him to Mrs. Eddy, who healed him quickly." He became an earnest worker in the Christian Science movement.15
After several years of accumulating such evidence of the correctness of her discovery, Mrs. Eddy gave it to the world in her book entitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In it she says, "Christian Science and Christianity are one."16 This was a spiritual breakthrough. Not just a future hope, but salvation here and now.
But I can imagine someone saying, "What about eternal salvation? What about salvation from hell?" What indeed! Christian Science teaches that hell is a feeling of being separated from God, alienated from God, even rejected by God. Isn't that hell? Salvation then, means the assurance of living eternally in the presence of God. Loved, protected, defended, known of God, that's heaven.
Jesus in wonderful figurative terms and graphic word pictures tells stories that make these spiritual and unspiritual states of consciousness clear and memorable to his listeners.
Man is the loved child of God
He told a marvelous story about a father who had two sons. The younger, restless, eager to make his own way, took his inheritance and travelled into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. (There's a whole book in those six words.) And when he had spent all, when he had run out of those resources which he had been freely given, he began to look around him. He realized there was no help to be had where he was. The whole land was in a state of famine. What a sensitive analogy that is. Then the young man came to himself. He remembered his father's house. And he remembered his father. Let me read this from the Bible: And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.17
Is there any indication here that the father remembered every sin committed by the son? That he'd been keeping score? The father simply recognized his loved child. He identified him at once. He knew his needs and had provided for them. The best robe, the shoes, even the ring signifying authority belonging to a member of this family were waiting for him. No condemnation. No recrimination. Just redeeming love.
Think of the message of this parable. And think of the theory that emerged after Jesus' crucifixion, that God had required the blood sacrifice of his beloved Son to buy forgiveness for the sins of men. Can you reconcile them? I can't.
That theory is a hold-over from paganism. What a cruel perversion of the nature of God, and His view of His creation. Jesus' own theology was entirely opposed to this view. Never in his teachings did he offer himself as a scapegoat or a sacrificial lamb on the altar of God. His view of God was entirely different. He came to show the way to the Father's house, not to buy it for us. He said, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."18
If God's love, then, had always been ours for the asking, what was the purpose of the crucifixion? Was there a purpose? There certainly was. Just as the story of the prodigal showed the redeeming power of the Father's love, Jesus' life had demonstrated the saving power of God's law in every avenue of human experience. The highest purpose of Christ Jesus was not to sacrifice himself on the altar of a merciless God. It was to prove "that neither death, nor life, . . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."19 God is Love, and God is Life, and we are forever inseparable from God.
Jesus demonstrated man's immortality
Jesus could have avoided the cross. He could simply have left town and stopped talking about God, but he didn't. By submitting to a public crucifixion he publicly demonstrated man's immortality. His indisputable evidence of the indestructible nature of life has pointed the way to freedom from fear of extinction ‒ of dissolution. Paul said that Jesus delivered "them who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage."20 Now finally, and forever, men could see the nature of life as the eternal expression of God.
Now we don't hope for immortality. We know there is no death for man, ever. "I am come that they might have life,"21 Jesus said. The prodigal had found the way, but there was more to that story.
Joy essential to salvation
There was another son who bitterly resented his brother's return to grace. He was angry and wouldn't go in to join the celebration. Now what kept him out of the father's house? He certainly wasn't a spectacular sinner like his brother. Could his sin have been self-righteous exclusiveness? Perhaps he had never claimed for himself the substance of his inheritance. Perhaps he had just, day after day, plodded doggedly along the path of duty, joyless, uninspired and uninspiring. And now he stood outside, cold-hearted and resentful. And Jesus' story continues, "Therefore came his father out, and entreated him . . . And he said, . . . Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."22 Imagine living within the warmth of that love and not responding to it except in terms dutiful and routine. How dreary and how very sad.
The keynote of the kingdom is joy, represented in this story by music and dancing. Did you realize that joy is a vital part of the theology of Jesus? Isaiah, whom he quoted often, said, "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."23 They're bottomless wells, but without joy we remain parched, unfruitful.
Salvation, then, depends on our recognizing and delighting in the ever-presence of the Father's love. We are saved and safe forever when we realize the kingdom of God within us and live richly within the kingdom. That's what Jesus came to show us.
Christianity is an eternal Science
Now I realize that to some dear Christian friends the view point I've offered will be a new one. Perhaps even one that seems to run counter to some cherished concepts. But remember most people were deeply shocked when Columbus first stated his view of the earth.
A young man said to me one night, "You asked me to keep an open mind. Have you ever wondered if Mary Baker Eddy might have been wrong?" I said, "About as often as I've wondered if Columbus was wrong about the earth being round, and for the same reason. He proved what he claimed to know. So did Mrs. Eddy." In Science and Health she says, "You can prove for yourself, dear reader, the Science of healing, and so ascertain if the author has given you the correct interpretation of Scripture."24 She also says, "The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity."25
Truth doesn't have to come with a roll of drums or as a stunning emotional experience. It doesn't come expressed in statements of great intellectual complexity, (at least not ordinarily). Those simple words in Genesis, "Let there be light: and there was light,"26 were not followed by a series of chemical formulae. It's not necessary to know the formula or process in order to enjoy the light. It isn't necessary to know exactly how Truth will accomplish its work in a given instance, but it is possible to know with assurance that truth specifically applied to any erroneous concept will correct it. Infinite Mind is expressed in infinite variety ‒ and it's expressed to us in terms simple and comprehensible. There's no secret. No esoteric knowledge. No magic formula.
Science and Health contains the whole of Christian Science. As with any science, consistent study and self-discipline enable us to progress in demonstrating it.
There's no need to spend weary hours searching for a missing clue to the solution of any problem, however distressing. I remember as a small child being given a prize for attendance in a Protestant Sunday School. It was a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, with colored pictures. There was one called "The Man with the Muckrake." I've never forgotten it. It showed a man diligently raking garbage, his attention engrossed exclusively in his task. Above his head, within reach and right within his line of vision if he had looked up, was a crown.
You don't have to search for a cause or clue. In any case you'd never find the solution to your problem in the rearrangement of matter or circumstances, but in the rejection of both as causation. Remember that salvation as Jesus taught it, is not a one time experience, however precious, but a lifetime commitment to the acceptance of spiritual values and the rejection of the material counterfeit. It's simple. It isn't necessarily easy. Although others can be helpful, no one can take one step of the way for us, but no one can obstruct one step of our way. No one can think one thought for us. No one can keep us from thinking for ourselves. That's what salvation means. We are free to choose life.
Jesus, through his exemplification of the Christ, has mapped out the way, and has taken every step before us. Mary Baker Eddy in Christian Science has revealed the scientific basis of his applied theology. She's explained it in terms practical and demonstrable. Christian Science is not a Johnny-come-lately. It is the simple theology of Jesus, God ordained, God endowed. God's gift to men. And it belongs to everyone!
1. Miscellaneous Writings, p. 16
2. John 10:10.
3. John 17:3.
4. John 4:24.
5. Hebrews 11:1
6. Luke 17:21
7. Psalms 34:20
8. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 423
9. Ibid., p. 583
10. Matthew 5:14
11. Matthew 5:16.
12. Miscellaneous Writings p. 389
13. Science and Health, p. 390
14. Noah Webster, ed., American Dictionary of the English Language, Theology
15. Clifford P. Smith, Historical Sketches, (The Christian Science Publishing Society
Boston, 1941), p. 83
16. Science and Health, p. 37
17. Luke 15:20, 28
18. Luke 12:32
19. Romans 8:38
20. Hebrews 2:15
21. John 10:10
22. Luke 15:28, 31
23. Isaiah 12:3
24. Science and Health, p. 547
25. Ibid., p. vii
26. Genesis 1:3