Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Christian Science" as compared/contrasted to Christianity ("Scientific" or not)

One of my relatives asked the lovely Carol about this distinction. What is the distinction between Christianity and Christian Science?

Here's my whack at it. As I understand it, "Christian Science"—the quotes are bugging me; let me call it ChriSci instead—ChriSci teaches that sin and disease are illusions. If whenever you eat something you vomit it up, and your body temperature is over 39°C, then you don't have stomach flu or food poisoning; what you have is an error in your thinking. (This article in a blog authorized by the ChriSci church agrees with that; wikipedia's explanation is rather stark by comparison.)

I've only given a very small piece of ChriSci's teaching, and though I don't believe in ChriSci, I don't think I've misrepresented it.

In contrast, Jesus Christ talked a lot about something he called the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). It's the first thing Jesus preaches in Mark's gospel: "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15) The good news is simply that into this sorry dark world, a place with real disease and real evil and suffering, God's kingdom is coming. This Kingdom of God is a place where people willingly obey God in every aspect of our lives, where women are not abused, where slaves are set free, where the poor are respected rather than being exploited. Here is a passage Jesus quoted early in his ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed...
Luke 4:18 (quoting Isaiah 61:1)
That's why we call it "good news."

Note that a key distinction between ChriSci and Christianity is that Jesus talked about sin and disease and suffering as real. He never said they were illusions.

Now how is this kingdom coming? How close is it? Well, if it's where people willingly obey God in every aspect of our lives, then one part, my "sphere," is as close as my willingness to obey God in every aspect of my life. To the extent that I obey God willingly and completely, I welcome the kingdom into my life; to the extent that my obedience is grudging or incomplete, I reject this kingdom.

And something very special about this kingdom is that even for incomplete, not-always-competent subjects (like me) of the kingdom, the King is crazy in love with us. He promises to forgive all our sins and to make us clean. Sometimes it seems like a really slow process, though of course that is not his fault.

When I was younger I thought of the gospel as "You and I have a chance to escape the eternal condemnation we so richly deserve." I still believe that! But when the gospel enters my life, the good news shouldn't be only for me; it should be good news for everybody that has to put up with me.

As I believe it was, now over 30 years ago. And to the extent that I walk more closely to Jesus, obey him more completely—in other words, to the extent the gospel is fully in my life—it's still good news to the people who have to put up with me today. And for that, well,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Collin,

As a Christian Scientist myself, I thought I would weigh in on this discussion. First let me say, I appreciate your sincere efforts to determine what the differences are. Yet, to me, Christian Science IS Christianity. It is simply the "science" of the Christ - in that we believe the works Jesus did and taught were based on divine Law that is still applicable and usable today.

Following his healing the sick and the sinning, Jesus stated "go and do ye likewise" and "Greater works than these shall ye do because I go unto my father" etc.

While the quotes you referenced and attributed to Wikipedia and related articles may have been accurate (I have not read them), your comment quoting these that Christian Scientists believe that sin and disease are illusions needs some clarification.

By no means do Christian Scientists ignore the suffering in the world in some positive thinking type ignorance. Quite the opposite, Christian Scientists are alert to the challenges facing themselves, their communities and the world, and strive daily to handle these through an understanding of God as all-powerful, and infinite, as Jesus taught.

In his Life, Jesus met the evidences of sin and disease with dominion in every instance, healing the sick, raising the dead and bringing salvation to barren lives wherever he went. These evils vanished in the presence of the Christ, and this same Christ can make evil lessen and dissappear today with an understanding of God and his relation to man.

Following are the beliefs held by Christian Scientists for your review. These are found in its textbook written by Mary Baker Eddy.

1. As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life.

2. We acknowledge and adore one supreme and infinite God. We acknowledge His Son, one Christ; the Holy Ghost or divine Comforter; and man in God's image and likeness.

3. We acknowledge God's forgiveness of sin in the destruction of sin and the spiritual understanding that
casts out evil as unreal. But the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts.

4. We acknowledge Jesus' atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man's unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death.

5. We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter.

6. And we solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure.

collin said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and sincere comments! I think we have significant differences in what we think on some key issues.

We acknowledge God's forgiveness of sin in the destruction of sin and the spiritual understanding that casts out evil as unreal. But the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts.

The problem isn't that we believe in sin; rather, it's that we are sinners. We sin in our thoughts and in our words, in our deeds and what we fail to do.


I think the summary of what I consider the key difference between Christianity and other philosophies/religions/whatever is this:

Jesus Christ is God; the rest of us are not.

Something I find missing in your five key beliefs is an acknowledgment that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, died as a ransom for us sinners.

As the apostle John wrote, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." We must confess our sins (our sins are real; the problem isn't just "belief in sin"). And if we do confess, he will forgive and cleanse -- he will not help us to understand that sin was never real in the first place or anything similar to that.

May the Lord bless you, and may you find truth in Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).