Lights on: An interview with Tom Stewart

by
July 30th, 2016

Tom Stewart is a man on a mission. His goal is that followers of Mrs. Eddy’s religion, such as he himself once was, “would no longer be confused about what Christian Science is, and that they be freed from its deception, and come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

Pursuant to that goal, he has rediscovered, annotated, and republished the lost classic from 1909 by Baptist pastor I. M. Haldeman, Christian Science in the Light of Holy Scripture. The book is now available on Tom’s website, ScriptureLight.org, or through Amazon. I enjoyed getting to know the Delaware-based engineer, husband, and father when he visited Denver not long ago, and we followed up with this interview by email.

John Andrews: Tell me about the interplay of Christian Science and biblical Christianity in your life.

Tom Stewart: Growing up as a child I remember going to Christian Science churches with my family in the different cities we lived in. I had my own copies of the King James Bible and Science and Health that the CS church sold as a set, com¬plete with a case to carry them. These books were mysteries to me as a child… I did not understand very well the doctrines contained in them. The main interplay I experienced growing up was truth vs. error, and reality vs. unreality.

Science and Health was totally confusing to me, but I was drawn to the classic Bible stories: David and Goliath; Daniel in the lion’s den; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace; Jesus healing people of various diseases and even raising Lazarus from the dead. The stories were very con¬crete and literal, which I liked. All I understood as a child about the Bible was that many miraculous things happened to people long ago in far away lands, and that the chief miracle worker was a man named Jesus.

How that related to my life was unclear. Christian Science claimed to be able to heal people in the same miraculous way that Jesus did. I knew that I was not experiencing any miraculous healings in my life. When I was sick or injured, I was treated by standard medical means or treatment was neglected. I was allowed to go to a doctor because my father was not a Christian Scientist. My parents had an agreement that if one of the children was seriously sick or injured that Christian Science healing would be attempted first, and if no satisfactory result was produced after a reasonable time had passed, then I or my sister was taken to a doctor.

The Christian Science approach to teaching the Bible was to pick and choose a large number of discrete passages and cobble them together into the “Lesson” for the week, combined with teachings from Science and Health. I never encountered any Christian Science teaching or readings where large, contiguous sections of the Bible were taught. I understand now why this was done. If CS encouraged people to read large sections of the Bible, the readers would begin to understand that what CS teaches and what the Bible teaches are very different.

The bottom line for me in my experience of Christian Science was that I felt like a failure. Other people were good enough to receive healings via CS, but not me. I thought that the reason I did not receive any healings was that there was something uniquely wrong with me. The other possibility was that Christian Science was not true.
It was hard for me as a child to believe that it was not true, because my own mother was so convinced that it was true, and so force¬fully promoted Christian Science. My father was rather silent on the topic. He was an agnostic, and did not claim to know a lot about religion. He did attend church with my mother to support her, as did my sister and I.

Perhaps the example of my parents growing up left the door open for me to doubt CS. My mother was completely convinced that CS was the best thing ever; my father was not convinced. I grew up with that dichotomy.

JA: How did you get past that? Was there a tipping point?

TS: When I was a teenager my mother developed an intestinal blockage. She was not able to drink or eat anything; she would vomit out anything she ingested due to the block¬age. After a few days of watching my mother starve and dehydrate, my father convinced her to seek medical treatment. Reluctantly my mother went to the hospital and was operated on successfully. That surgery saved her life. I am sure she would have died if she had continued to pursue a Christian Science healing and reject standard medicine.

This event when I was growing up had a big impact on me. It frightened me and showed me that Christian Science did not deliver a healing when my family needed it most, but standard medicine was able to help my mother. It left me confused: Was Christian Science real or not? Christian Sci¬ence, for all its self-promotion and grandiose claims, did not help my mother, one of its most fervent followers.

One would have thought my mother would have been happy to be back to normal, but for her this was a catastrophic failure. My mother had been a Christian Science practi¬tioner who claimed to heal other people by her skills and knowledge of Christian Science. She had to resign from being a practitioner, and was embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed, and depressed that she had failed to heal herself and had to give up being a practitioner.

Christian Science had no comfort to offer her; she would have to deal with her failure and disappointment herself, because Christian Science does not recognize anything bad in the world. To CS, badness, evil, failure, sin, death, sickness are not real. So why comfort somebody about something that isn’t real?

The CS view was that my mother had failed to be a good practitioner; I felt that CS had failed her.

When I left home to attend college I determined that I was never going back to a Christian Science church. I had already felt like a failure as a Christian Scientist, and I was not drawn to any other religion. I was happy to imitate my secular father and work hard at school and try to get a good job working as an engineer after college.

I enjoyed college mostly, although I had some rough patches, especially the first couple of years. I eventually earned pretty good grades, made some good friends and felt more successful in life than I had living at home with my parents. I also discovered that I had a core emptiness that I could not purge out of my life, by my own efforts. I know now that God had put a longing for Himself inside of me. I did not know then what was going on.

I had a Christian roommate, and some Christian friends during my last two years at college. I knew there was something different about them, that they were a lot more loving and forgiving than I was. I wanted that love and peace in my life, but didn’t know how to get it. I felt guilty about how selfish and self-centered I was, but I did not know how to get rid of that guilt.

My friends never explained anything about the Bible to me. I visited their church, but I did not understand what was going on during the service. I knew the music was moving, and the people were loving, but I had still not learned about Who Jesus really was, or why I needed to follow Him.

JA: So the ingrained thought-patterns and theological deficit of your Christian Science upbringing didn’t readily yield?

TS: That’s right. When I was in college I injured my knee while practicing for the wrestling team. After that I was unable to fully straighten my right leg, run or wrestle. I prayed that God would heal my leg. Here was another chance for Christian Science to step up and prove its worth! My mother had taught me to deny the reality of my injuries and sickness growing up. I needed to “know the truth” about my circumstances, that God had never created a broken knee with torn cartilage, and experience the healing that would surely follow according to Christian Science.

I tried to deny the reality of my injury, but my knee did not cooperate. I had a real injury, no matter how much I claimed it wasn’t real. Eventually I needed surgery to restore the functionality of my knee. I felt like a failure as a Christian Scientist, but I was happy my knee was working again, and I could return to normal activities.

After I graduated from college, I moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone and started working in a very unfulfilling job. I was in an up-and-down relationship with my girlfriend, who lived hours away from me. I was really struggling with loneliness and feeling that happiness was an illusion. I was absolutely miserable, and had no idea what to do to make anything better. One night when I was 24 I prayed alone in my tiny apartment. I didn’t know if God was real, but I prayed: “God, if You are real, would you please help me, and reveal yourself to me?”

Soon after that God guided me to a church that taught the truth of the Bible. I was surprised to learn that the Bible was one coherent book, with a number of themes running through it. The central theme of the Bible was the story of Jesus, the Savior of the world. I learned that Jesus was not just a man, as Christian Science taught, but that Jesus was actually God come to earth in human form.

I learned that Jesus came from Heaven to earth on a rescue mission: He provided a way for people to be forgiven of all their shame and evil behavior, no matter how evil a person had been. He did not come primarily to heal people of physical disease. He came to save people from their sins. The healings were to prove Who Jesus was, that He was God the Son, and only He could save us from our sins.

I was never taught anything about sin in Christian Science, because Christian Science teaches that sin does not exist. My parents taught me their version of right and wrong which was loosely based on the Biblical Ten Commandments. I did not know they were teaching me God’s standards; I thought those were my parents’ standards and I was free to make up my own standards when I became an adult. So I drifted from God’s standards and suffered for my foolish, sinful choices and actions.

So by the time I attended church after college, I did not have to be convinced that sin existed or that I had committed sins and was therefore a sinner. I knew those things intuitively, and I knew that my sins were the source of my guilt. I felt like a veil had been pulled back from the Bible, and that I was being taught its true message for the first time. Not long after that I prayed to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was still confused about healings, because people were healed in the Bible. I didn’t know if God still healed people today in miraculous ways as CS teaches.

Eventually I came to understand that God can heal any way He wants to: whether by medicine, miracles, or the normal healing processes of the human body. He can also choose not to heal a chronic or fatal illness… He cannot be forced to heal someone through Christian Science or any other means. Clearly God doesn’t want to heal everyone all the time, or no one would ever die. It took a long time for the confusion about heal¬ings to clear up for me.

After I recognized that CS did not truly teach the Bible, it was pretty easy for me to reject CS doctrines. It was not so easy to deal with my mother, who was involved in Christian Science up to the day she died. We eventually came to a truce; we did not discuss our religious faith very often because it always led to conflict between us.

JA: What lasting effects, for good or ill, have you experienced from growing up in Christian Science?

TS: The good effects of Christian Science were that I grew up in a generally moral environment. My parents did not drink, smoke, or lead immoral lives. I met some nice people in the Christian Science church.

But a a young person, I felt like a failure because I never received a healing through Christian Science. As an adult I was angry for a long time watching the terrible effect had on my mother. She experienced so much unnecessary suffering because of her in-volvement with Christian Science. It is a horrible thing to watch people you love trapped in Christian Science.

I think growing up around Christian Science led me to have an unrealistic outlook on life, an expectation that bad things or unpleasant consequences were not real or could be prayed away, that there was always a rainbow at the end of my troubles. At its core, Christian Science is a denial of reality. When I tried to deny reality in my life in a major way, it ended very badly, and led to a lot of suffering for myself and others that I won’t go into here.

JA: What has the Haldeman book done for you, and what do you hope it will do for others?

TS: The book Christian Science in the Light of Holy Scripture was a guide and a light to me, wiping the confusion away about Christian Science, and exposing the facts about Christian Science — that it is not Christian at all, but is actually anti-Christian.

I knew intuitively that Christian Science was unhealthy by my life experience. But Dr. Haldeman showed me that its teachings were false, and why they were false, and also clarified what the Bible actually teaches.

Christian Science is difficult to deal with for the average person. It claims to follow Christ, and to heal people as Christ did, and quotes the Bible frequently. That sounds really good to the average Christian person, and even to the typical non-Christian. Most people I talk to know very little about Christian Science; they tend to confuse it with Scientology.

Christian Science mixes truth and error together in a sophisticated blend that many people do not know how to address. What Dr. Haldeman has done is contrast the teachings of Christian Science and biblical Christianity so plainly and starkly that any objective person who reads this book would realize that Christian Science and biblical Christianity are totally incompatible.

My hope for the readers of the book is that they would no longer be confused about what Christian Science is, and that they be freed from its deception, and come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

JA: What accounts for the hold Christian Science has on people, and what can help break that?

TS: Matthew 24:24 reads “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Miracles are the big draw to Christian Science, but also the appeal of heaven on earth without death, sickness, sin, evil or anything unpleasant. I think once someone has experienced a miracle through Christian Science, or even heard about one happening to somebody else, it is hard not to want another miracle.

I believe the source of the miraculous power is Satanic. In Luke 13:16 Jesus tells us about a deformed woman He is about to heal: “Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” If Satan is able to “bind” people with illness, isn’t it logical that he could also “unbind” a person through a “miracle”. I don’t know why God has given Satan these kinds of powers over people, but that is a separate question.

JA: Mrs. Eddy said her favorite Scripture was the First Commandment, Exodus 20:3. What’s your favorite, and why?

TS: I think my favorite verse at this point in my life is He¬brews 12:1-3, which reads: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with per-severance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

I like this verse because it uses an athletic race metaphor for the Christian life. We each have a race given to us by God, and we are not to be entangled in sinful entanglements or worldly distractions, because we can’t run with all those tentacles around us. While I am running, I am to focus on Jesus, who ran before me, and overcame anything I am going to face. I am commanded not to get discouraged or lose heart along the way, which is easy for me to do. This does not have to be a burden for me, like a death march. It can be a joyful journey if I focus on Christ while I run.

JA: With biblical illiteracy so much worse now than in the early 1900s when Haldeman wrote, what are the consequences for the church and for the wider society?

TS: I think Haldeman has thrown down the gauntlet for us; we need to be more biblically literate if we want to defend our faith coherently against Christian Science or any other false teaching. We are without excuse for our biblical illiteracy. We have so many more resources for Bible study than he did 100 years ago, yet we don’t read our Bibles. One of the things I really like about Dr. Haldeman is his passion for our Lord and for the Bible. His logic is so compelling, and his passion for Jesus and God’s truth is so strong, that

I am drawn to read more and then join him in his zeal to declare the truth to others. So I hope this book challenges people to dig deeper into God’s word. One challenge people can try is to read the entire Bible in one year. There are free plans that people can download, or many Bible apps have these plans built in. So there is no reason why we can’t have the same passion and zeal for God’s truth as Dr. Haldeman did. We just have to make it a priority and see how God will make those small seeds of faith grow in our lives.

JA: In what terms would you suggest that we as former Christian Scientists pray for ourselves, and how might we pray for those still following Christian Science?

TS: In praying for ourselves I think the Lord’s Prayer is a good guide. We should be praying that God’s will be done in our lives, and throughout the world. So often I pray for my will, but I don’t always pray for God’s will, which is frequently different from my will.

Christian Science teaches that unpleasant realities can always be dispelled by “knowing the truth,” which really consists of denying reality. The Bible never asks us to deny reality; it asks us to turn to God for help in the realities that we face, and leave the outcome to Him.

So I pray that I will accept the unpleasant realities in my life and not deny them. I do pray that God change those realities to be more pleasant if He wants to, but I need to submit in humility to His sovereign will if He does not want to, as the Apostle Paul did with his “thorn in the flesh.” Jesus also experienced the unpleasant realities of life many times in His earthly ministry, culminating in the Garden of Gethsemane trial and His scourging and crucifixion. So accepting the unpleasant realities that God allows in my life and other peoples lives, with gratitude, is a key prayer for me.

For those still following Christian Science, my prayer for them is that they would read the Bible in large, contigu¬ous passages, and not read it the way the Christian Science church presents it to them, all chopped up and cobbled together so that it makes the Bible incoherent. I pray they would love God’s Word, and love God’s Son Jesus. If they do that, they will be on their way to freedom from Christian Science.

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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