Mary Baker Eddy
“Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.”
Mary Baker Eddy, born in 1821, died in 1910, was the founder of the Christian Science movement. She had radical ideas about the nature of reality and salvation, which she articulated in her major work, which is entitled, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, first published in 1875. Four years later, she founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, which today has branch churches and societies around the world. In 1908 she launched The Christian Science Monitor, a leading international newspaper, the recipient, to date, of seven Pulitzer Prizes.
She was born Mary Baker, in New Hampshire, and from the beginning she was a sickly child. She did not get much formal education because she was sick so often. She was constantly going to doctors but they were not of much help.
In 1843, at the age of 22, she married George Washington Glover, and they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, which was in those days a booming city, but in those days, yellow fever was the summertime scourge of the Low Country. Everyone who could manage to do so left Charleston in the summertime and moved to more healthy places, like York. Apparently young George Glover did not get the word because he got Yellow Fever and died after less than a year of marriage, three months before the birth of his son, who was also named George.
His young widow, Mary, went back to New Hampshire to live with her parents, but a few years later her mother died. Still suffering from recurring bouts of illness, Mary had no choice but to place her son George in the care of compassionate neighbors.
In 1853, Mary Glover married Daniel Patterson, an itinerant dentist. The marriage was a disaster. He was unreliable and unfaithful. He promised to adopt her son George, but he never did. Finally, he abandoned her in 1866, and, she divorced him in 1873 on grounds of desertion.
Struggling with chronic illness compounded by personal loss, Mary Patterson was preoccupied with questions of health. Regular medicine did not seem to work for her, and she tried what we would call today “alternative medicine.” At one point, she experimented with unmedicated pellets (now known as placebos), and she concluded that a patient’s belief plays a powerful role in the healing process. While investigating such new cures, she continued to seek comfort and insights in the Bible. She especially liked to read of the healing miracles of Jesus.
A turning point occurred in 1866 when a severe fall on an icy sidewalk left her in bed in critical condition. Once again, she opened the pages of her Bible, and this time she read the account of the healing of a woman in Matthew 9:20-22. This sparked a new revelation for her. Eventually, she referred to this as the moment when she discovered Christian Science. That moment of revelation was followed by nine years of intensive scriptural study, healing activity, and teaching, culminating, as I said earlier, in the publication in 1875 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In this book, she marked out what she understood to be the “science” behind Jesus’ healing method.
Of course, Christian Science is not “science” in any sense that we might define that word. What Mary concluded was that matter was an illusion, a figment of our imagination. Death and disease were also part of that illusion. When Jesus spoke to the woman in Matthew 9, he said in effect, I have not made you well, your faith has already made you well. To Mary Baker Patterson—that was her name at the time—Jesus was saying you have perceived the illusion of disease, and your perception has destroyed that illusion so you are well. Disease is not real. You just think you are sick, and because you think you are sick, you are sick. Matter is not real. You just think matter is real and because you think matter is real, you think you have a body that can get sick and die, but, in fact, all that is just an figment of your imagination.
You see Mary Baker Patterson’s summary statement in the bulletin today. “My first plank in the platform of Christian Science is as follows: "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual" (Miscellaneous Writings p21, downloaded from http://mbeinstitute.org/PWIntro.htm).
Now if this is true, disease is just something we imagine, and therefore the worst thing we can do for the treatment of disease is to go to a doctor or medical professional—because the doctor treats our body as if it were real and the doctor treats our disease as if it were an actual problem that he needs to help us solve. Thus, the doctor reinforces our illusion, which only makes things worse. Thus, Mary Baker Patterson would say that the medical establishment is part of the problem.
Christian Science teaches that sick people should never go to doctors. They need to pray and have faith and by their faith they will be healed, but the major part of their “healing” is to recognize that they were never physically sick at all, because there is no body to get sick.
Now let me say that I have some sympathy for Mary Baker Patterson. By the way, in 1877, she married one of her students, Asa Gilbert Eddy, who seems to have truly loved her, but he died 5 years later. Mary never had much luck with men. In any case, Asa gave her the final version of her name—Mary Baker Eddy. As I said, I have some sympathy for her. Life was not kind to Mary Baker Eddy. Her three marriages were either short or unhappy, and she was apparently sick all the time. I can understand why she would want to conclude that her body was an illusion. Her method of reasoning, however, seemed to be: If I don’t like it, it is imaginary. If you want to try that, let me know if that works for you.
And there seems to be some question about her constantly reoccurring sicknesses. There is a letter in existence from a doctor who treated Mary, and he says that she tended to over-dramatize her physical problems. She was diagnosed as what nineteenth century medicine called a “hysterical woman.” In her mind, she magnified her symptoms, and thought she was far worse off that she actually was. Today we would probably say most of her illness was psychosomatic.
Understand that a person suffering from psychosomatic illness is not a hypocrite. They are not faking their symptoms. They are sick, but the cause of the sickness is not the body, it is the mind. Strangely enough, that is exactly what Mary Baker Eddy concluded when she read about the healing in Matthew 9. The woman had been sick for 12 years. Mary could certainly identify with that. Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” To Mary, he was saying that the sickness was in the woman’s mind, and when the woman believed she was not ill, she was not ill. Mary applied that insight and it seemed to work for her. She was healed. That is great. So far so good. But then Mary made a colossal mistake. Because she was healed by recognizing that much of her problem was in her mind, she leaped to the conclusion that all the material world is imaginary. It is almost like she was saying because my illness was imaginary, the whole world must be imaginary. Talk about a leap of illogic. She seems to be saying the world is about me. Whatever applies to me must apply to everyone. Talk about a selfish outlook.
But let us say what good we can here. The church has always believed in healing by faith. Your faith can make you well. I absolutely believe that. But there is nothing in that statement that would lead us to conclude that disease and death are imaginary. In fact, the church has always concluded just the opposite. Disease is real, but disease can be cured by faith and prayer. And there is nothing about faith healing that says that God cannot heal through human medical techniques. It is fine to pray for healing, but God’s answer may be: Go to the Doctor.
Further, Mary Baker Eddy seemed to regard death as evil, but in traditional Christian thought, death is the natural end of the cycle of life and a going home to God. there is a time to live, we say, and a time to die. There is a time to enjoy this physical life and a time to go on to a better life. By the way, Mary Baker Eddy, the lady who believed death was an illusion, died on December 3, 1910. She was buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If I were a devout Christian Scientist—which I am obviously not—but if I were, I would say that she did not actually die. She only appeared to die, it was just an illusion.
This way of thinking, Mary Baker Eddy’s way of thinking, did not originate with her. It is at least as old as the church itself. It is called Gnosticism.
Many varieties of Gnosticism existed in the ancient world, in the early centuries of the church. Generally, however, the Gnostic movement taught that human beings are divine souls trapped in an illusion created by an imperfect god, and therefore our purpose is to escape the illusion. As I said, you can see that this is pretty much what Mary Bake Eddy taught.
In 1945, a whole library of Gnostic documents was discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. In recent years, these documents have been translated. They seem to date back to the second century, and they have pretty much changed our view of what was going on in the church in the second and third centuries. We now realize that Gnostic ideas were far more of a challenge to the church than we had previously thought, and this is important because Gnostic ideas are very different from the traditional Christian view of salvation.
Gnostics think that we have a divine soul and this world is a prison for the soul. It is the ultimate prison because it is an illusion. But to say it is an illusion does not help us because everyone believes in the illusion. Many Gnostics thought that the illusion was created by the evil God of the OT. The good God of the NT then sent Jesus to us to show us how to escape from the prison of the OT God. I know that this sounds a little weird to you, but bear with me on this. In Gnostic thought, Jesus does not die for our sins on the cross. In fact, Jesus did not die at all, he only appeared to die. He was showing us the way out.
In the American Gnosticism called Christian Science, Jesus is referred to as the “Way-shower.” He is an example set before us, and if we follow his example, we will learn our way out of the shadows.
So Jesus is much less to a Christ Scientist than he is to a traditional Christian. Yes, Jesus is our example also, but much more than that. The church does not deny the reality of the material world. This body is real. Pain and suffering and death are real. Sin is real. God is holy and pure and our sins have created a barrier between us and God so that we have no relationship with God. We are not a divine soul desperately trying to escape from an imaginary world—that is what the Gnostics would say. Instead, we are a condemned soul desperately searching for some way to please God, and finding none. But God in his mercy gave us a way out—not a way out of an imaginary world, but a way to be reconciled with God in spite of our sinfulness. That way centers on Jesus Christ. Christ died a real death. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that he endured the “most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died; was buried,” and then it says “On the third day He arose from the dead.” (VIII, 4) In Gnosticism and Christian Science, there is no Easter. Christ did not die, and, therefore did not rise from the dead. Therefore, he is no savior. The Gnostic does not speak of having faith in Jesus, but of having faith in the way that Jesus supposedly showed us.
But that is not what the Bible says at all. Salvation is in and through Christ alone, that is biblical teaching. It is not following Christ that saves us, that would be something we do. That is equivalent to saying that we are saved by our works and deeds, and as I pointed out to you last week, the apostle Paul is adamant in maintaining that there is no possibility that an imperfect human being can please perfect holy God.
Salvation then becomes something God does, not something we do. We are saved by Jesus. Our part is to have faith in Jesus not just as teacher and friend, but as savior and lord. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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