How I learned Jesus loves us

by
September 4th, 2016

I was asked to put down on paper my conversion to orthodox Christianity. I was happy to do this for two reasons.

First, admit it: I am usually happy to talk about myself. But second and more seriously, I hope it will be helpful to others who may find themselves struggling with the question of just who is Jesus? There is no more important truth to clarify for it has eternal consequences.

The denomination I belonged to for the first 26 years of my life was Christian Science. This was a denomination that was very popular in the first part of the 20th century. In fact, its rise was described by some news sources as “meteoric.”

It came about at a time where there was a growing general challenge of traditional religious views, and at a time when the traditional church did not always respond well to this challenge, putting out a somewhat gloomier view of life than the Bible actually teaches.

Editor’s Note: Doug Dahl, a new contributor, writes from Marysville, Washington, where he helps wife Margo raise their seven children, pursues a business career, and edits his own devotional website, AQuietWater.com.

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Another major factor in its popularity was the poor development of the medicine at the time. Christian Science has a heavy emphasis on spiritual healing and abstaining from or minimizing medical care.

Mr. Quimby and Mrs. Eddy

It is a belief system started by philosopher Phineas Quimby who first used the term Christian Science in 1863. It began as a philosophical system of counseling and healing. Quimby’s core ideas were taken by Mary Baker Glover who later after remarrying became Mary Baker Eddy. She was an enthusiastic student of Mr. Quimby, coming to him after suffering through a great deal of ill health and personal conflict.

After Quimby’s death, Mrs. Eddy added to his philosophy an additional element of her version of Christianity. Her Christian ideas appear to have come from several sources including Mother Ann Lee of the Shakers (listed by Joe Carter, editor of First Things as the most influential figure on American religion of all time) and transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott.

Mrs. Eddy would eventually claim her book Science and Health as a divine revelation from God. And she would claim her discovered “divine science” to be the spiritual representation of the second coming of Christ. Mrs. Eddy taught Jesus was a “way-shower” that could be emulated; he was not the hypostatic union of God and Man as traditionally understood by theologians.

She taught Jesus had not come to save man, because she didn’t accept that we’re unable to save ourselves from the effects of original sin due to the fall. In her viewpoint, Jesus did not come to relieve man of a “single responsibility” in working out our own salvation. Man could overcome sin, sickness, and death like Jesus himself did.

Christian Science is not as well known today. But in its heyday, it was such a factor in the popular culture to gain the attention of well-known authors Mark Twain and Willa Cather (who wrote under the pen name Milmine). The ideas taught by Quimby and promoted and advanced by the Christian Science movement are also actively found today in the New Thought movement and in such New Age movements as Southwestern Seminary (originally named after Quimby himself). CS is also listed by several historians as a forerunner of today’s popular Word of Faith movement seen on TBN with its millions of adherents.

While growing up, I went to church regularly and was blessed with caring parents who in almost every way exemplified what is good about America. I was taught the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. I liked going to Sunday school and learning about God. I certainly liked it a great deal more than going to public school.

I admired most of the people I knew in the church. My grandmother, whom I loved greatly, was a Christian Science practitioner whose job it was to pray for people in the way Christian Science taught. When I was a little boy, by all accounts I was healed of very poor hearing.

Me, a Bad Person?

When I was in the 6th grade, I had the opportunity to attend a camp in the Colorado mountains called Adventure Unlimited. As a generalization, besides the church itself, Christian Scientists tend to congregate around two para-church organizations. One is Adventure Unlimited, which offers a nationwide youth program and runs the camp in Colorado. The other is a school for Christian Scientists called Principia in St. Louis, Missouri.

I enjoyed camp, and to this day I am very grateful for a chance to spend this time in what is an idyllic spot. It was halfway through my first session at camp when I had a sudden realization that impacted my life from then on. I became keenly aware that I was a bad person. (Orthodox Christians would use the term sinner, but we did not speak in those terms at the time). I knew I must change and needed to focus more on God. It was an impactful point in my life, leading to a distinct refocusing of my personality.

At this same time, we moved from the small town in eastern Oregon (now almost a ghost town) to the Washington DC area. There I became active in a local chapter of Adventure Unlimited in Northern Virginia. The chapter had a good group of young people, and I grew to like and became very active in Christian Science. The group was open and encouraging to others and seemed markedly distinct from the people that I knew at school who were divided into cliques, cautious in friendships, and like most young people engrossed in popular culture.

Before I finished high school, our family moved on to Salt Lake City and the home of the Mormons. But with very few Christian Scientists in the area, there was not the same supportive group of young people as I had found in Virginia. I eventually went on to the University of Washington were I was active in the local Christian Science College Organization, which everyone simply called “the Org.”

For them I served as a reader (leader of a weekly Bible study essentially), and I was also a leader in my local fraternity (a unique experience that I would not necessarily recommend to others) as well as belonging to the Navy ROTC unit that was paying for my tuition. I enjoyed the Org and had several good friends, most of whom had dissimilar backgrounds to my own. Yet overall I often felt lost, floating between the more wholesome Org and the often immoral members of the fraternity.

It was at the University of Washington that for the first time, I had any contact with orthodox Christians. I was curious what they believed but never felt comfortable talking with them about religion. I did have one roommate my freshman year who outwardly challenged my beliefs in a few brief outburst of dismay that I could believe such things, but beyond that we never had any real conversation.

Most people, Christians or not, simply ignored my beliefs and seemed to focus in more on whether I drank alcohol or not. I remembered one person claiming to be Christian showing up at the Org. At the end of our conversation, I remember pointing him back to the importance of Jesus when he expressed a complimentary interest in eastern religions.

I remember one time when we had set up a booth about Christian Science at our student union building encouraging new students to join our group, there was a Christian group with their own booth next to us who I distinctly remember picking up their booth and moving it away as far from ours as far as they could get. No one ever even came over and asked, just what do you believe anyway? But then again neither did we ask.

A Struggling Christian

After graduating from college, I became an officer in the Navy. During this time I continued to attend various Christian Science churches. I found them a mixed bag – from big empty buildings with a few senior citizens, to a very friendly and active church in New Orleans where I was befriended by many kind-hearted people. My friends at the time were fellow officers on the ship I served on and were either Catholic or non-religious. Strangely, there was a good-sized contingent of Christian officers on the ship.

The very best officer I ever knew in the Navy was a Christian, who was also the most struggling. It was actually this struggling officer (who was relieved early) whose faith actually struck me the most. His personality and faith were awkward to me, but he seemed genuine in his commitment to Jesus. I even attended church with him once. I occasionally attended Protestant services while at sea when possible. Strangely, no one, not even the Protestant chaplain onboard our ship for a short stint, ever asked me what I really believed about Jesus and why.

I returned back to Seattle after the Navy. Things were not clicking with Christian Science. Except for a couple of old friends, people seemed different. The churches seemed emptier and the church members aging. The young adults that I came across seemed self-absorbed in existentialist pursuits. An “ideal couple” that I had known from org days had gotten divorced.

I remember sitting with a group of Christian Scientists who were talking in positive terms about a new political leader who had just gotten elected. I thought this was odd. The candidate was aggressively pro-abortion and had other political views that went against what I believed were basic beliefs of the Bible. It was a lonely time without the Navy or fraternity buddies, and overall life was not going particularly well.

I later moved to a town outside Portland, Oregon, for a new job. I attended a Christian Science church there at first, but there was no one I connected with. One afternoon, I found myself at lunch with a group after church who began talking about their actual belief in UFO’s, which I felt was a fraudulent superstition. I never went back to church again.

I then made a significant mistake. At a time in my life when I had the most free time and opportunity to search for what was ultimately true about Christianity and Jesus, I didn’t. I fell instead into a period of what I define now as modest hedonism, and though I did still read my Bible occasionally I was mostly disinterested in the things of God. I was too distracted by the things of the world.

I found a new group of buddies at my job and dived into skiing and golf (not bad things in themselves) on Sunday among a myriad of diversions. I participated in some events that I regretted and was later repentant about, but mostly I just dabbled away my time except for one event.

Namely, I met and married my wife Margo (who had given her life to Christ as a girl but had little to do with religion as a matter of practice) during this time. However, our focus was not on Jesus. I only recall one conversation that we had about religion at all – though she remembers me reading my Bible fairly consistently.

Bible as Real Revelation

However, God is merciful. He had always been seeking out the boy who knew he wasn’t good and needed God. After the birth of our first child, we were out walking after Christmas and ran into Alexa Ritchie, an old friend of Margo’s. She later stopped by and asked Margo to come to church with her. Her husband was the music director of Crossroads Community Church in the Vancouver, Washington, area.

My first reaction, knowing nothing about evangelical churches, was that I thought it was odd someone could make their living simply playing music in a church. Margo went one Wednesday evening and liked it, and she asked if I would go next Wednesday. I went more out of curiosity than anything else.

It was fascinating to me. They sang praise and worship for at least 45 minutes followed by a sermon about the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. I left with the first steps of a different view of Christianity. These people actually believed the entire Bible was historical, accurate, and it was direct revelation from God to man. Scripture was not, as CS argued, just a book of life lessons, spiritual applications, and a record of those with a supposedly lesser understanding of God since the “divine science” taught by Mary Baker Eddy had not been revealed yet.

We began attending on Sunday, and I began listening to two local pastors on the radio – Pastor Bill Ritchie (the pastor of Crossroads) with an infectious passion for God, who showed me the reality of Jesus as savior and God as personal, and Dr. Ron Mehl whose gentle style did a wonderful job of showing that God was still the God of love and healing that I had grown up believing in.

I also listened to programs like Focus on the Family, which showed us how to live life as a Christian. These were extensively helpful to Margo and me in our marriage and in raising our children.

In a way, it was as if a new world suddenly exploded on me. But in another was it wasn’t completely as if I had discovered a new Jesus, but it was an unfolding realization of who just exactly Jesus Christ was. He was more loving, larger, and he was more important in significance than I had believed. Jesus was truly Immanuel, literally God himself with us, and his primary purpose was greater than showing us how to be better spiritual people and emulate him.

Jesus is factually, not figuratively, our savior, I learned. The entire Bible from the protoevangelium in Genesis 3 on is about his redemptive mission to save me and you from ourselves despite ourselves. I felt a freedom from the burden to prove God (something I had felt before), or demonstrate his reality, to other people. Though out of gratitude and through him, I still try to do works to glorify him and hopefully draw others to him. I was now an orthodox believer in Jesus Christ, and I was saved from my sins only by the blood of Christ alone and would go to heaven only through his works and not my own.

Not Just Perception

I had wandered away from Christian Science due to some suspicions of the accuracy of Science and Health and primarily from a collection of small disillusionments with myself and with those around me in the CS movement. These situations, along with a growing disappointment in how things were going for me, had opened up a wedge in my thinking because the truth claim of the Christian Science interpretation of the Bible had always been based on how it had helped others in healing and in life. My unorthodox beliefs before had staked their authority on how successful my religion was for me or others. But when it appeared not to help practically as well as I thought it should, the luster wore off.

Orthodox Christianity, however, rests not in the example of its proponents but in the historical truth of who Jesus was and the accuracy of the Biblical text despite whatever Jesus’ followers may or may not act, claim, or do. Mrs. Eddy’s book Science and Health starts off with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She quotes the line that “nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Perceptions and thinking can be extremely powerful things in our lives and Quimby, Mrs. Eddy, and others have correctly recognized that and capitalized on it, but Christian truth does not depend on the behavior or demonstration of ourselves and others to legitimize it. Again, that does not mean we do not do “good works.” It is an undisputable fact that followers of Jesus, despite serious faults in many cases, are responsible for most of the good in Western civilization that has brought this world what it knows of freedom and liberty, as well as laying the foundation for a vast percentage of its prosperity and even good health care.

The Creed and the Solas

But what do I mean by orthodox Christianity? I mean the Nicene Creed and the five solas. In vastly different places, cultures, and time periods followers of Jesus Christ have all come to agree on exactly who Jesus is and sum it up in the Nicene Creed. They did this because throughout history people have been trying to change Jesus away from who the Bible shows he is. This is what the Nicene Creed says about Jesus:

And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.

In the middle ages, Christianity had wandered away from the Bible in favor of traditions and individual leaders’ opinions that were very often contrary to the Bible itself. The church was brought back to the truth of God by what is known as the Reformation and summed up in the five solas. Followers of Jesus were burned alive for proclaiming these five basic points:

1. Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
2. Sola fide: “faith alone”
3. Sola gratia: “grace alone”
4. Solo Christo: “Christ alone”
5. Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”

I saw a video the other day that caught my eye. It starts off by showing a pattern between other religions and orthodox Christianity. Other religions start with a private moment or revelation by an individual and that individual then goes out and spreads the word about this revelation.

Christianity, on the other hand, starts out as a public event with the public unfolding of God through the Jewish people, the public birth of Jesus, the public teaching of Jesus, the public death of Jesus, and the public resurrection of Jesus, and the public Word of God (Bible). It was the public that went and told the world.

All of today’s other major religions and unorthodox “Christian” religions are based on special knowledge revealed to an individual (Gnosticism). They also deny original sin and depend on the person’s performance for salvation (Pelagianism).

I would suggest a couple of lines of inquiry to explore if you are seeking the truth about Jesus and belong to a religion that does not subscribe to the Nicene Creed and the five solas, instead following a leader who purports to have special revelation not available to all in the Bible.

** One thing that was helpful to me was just reading the book of John unfiltered with no commentary for a couple of weeks.

** Also helpful may be an investigation into the history and character of that religion’s leader by a more neutral source. Mrs. Eddy in particular was a very complex individual, and due to passionate opinions pro and con, it is hard to get a completely honest reading of her.

After investigating some of her claims about herself, I certainly can confirm she had as good of a rags-to-riches story as ever told. But there are many other aspects of her life, besides just theological differences, that would call into question that she was the one called by God to deliver to the world a new and unique interpretation of the Bible akin to the second coming of Christ.

Jesus Paid It All

I do not believe that my time in Christian Science was all for naught. I spent a lot of time with caring loving people who have done a lot of wonderful things for myself and others. I am extremely grateful to them and that cannot be understated.

But I do realize others have had painful experiences, and the failure in some cases to seek reasonable medical care (a separate nuanced subject on its own) has had devastating impacts on individuals and families. I believe good medical care and prayer are absolutely combinable and see nothing in the Bible that would indicate otherwise.

I still believe that God is love. I still believe that God heals in amazing ways. I still believe that we can grow in our relationship with Christ here on earth, and we will spend eternity with him in an active heaven.

But ultimately what is important is what is true, and no matter how good or kind we are on our own, we all fall short of what God wants from us. I think most of us realize this. I am unable by my own efforts to save myself from my mistakes and sins. To have to become as spiritual as Jesus on our own is an incredible burden – we are unable to carry it.

I will never be able to earn the right to stand in front of a Holy God by my thinking or effort. All my works are as rags (Isaiah 64:6), but through faith in Jesus Christ as my savior and the blood of Jesus, my Holy God sees me as he sees Jesus, righteous in front of him. The entire Bible written over 1500 years
by 40 different authors points in absolute unwavering consistency to this point.

And because of this work of Jesus only will I spend eternal life with him. It is a free gift worthy of incredible rejoicing, but it is a gift that must be humbly accepted. “My ways and not your ways,” says God to the prophet Isaiah. For many of us, our pride keeps us away.

Jesus is seeking after you with zealous love and the truth about who he is. He is knocking right now. It is time to call out on his name and accept this unearned gift of salvation that is open to all, from the so-called best of us to the worst of us. He will cover all your sins and welcome you into his heaven. As the old hymn states, “Jesus paid it all.”

You can rejoice in that and do not have to prove him right to the world. You only need to respond to his love. And he is love, and he loves you and hates evil with an unquenchable fire. No matter where you are in life it is not too late to repent and call on Jesus. I would encourage you to contact me at doug@aquietwater.com or anyone at the Ananias site if you have any questions. We would like to tell you much more.

The author can be reached at doug@aquietwater.com

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