Taking stock, 200 days in

by
July 3rd, 2018

Editor: Tanner Johnsrud, formerly a well-known Christian Science practitioner in St. Louis, left CS in late 2017 after he came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. He told that story in a previous post. To follow up, we asked Tanner to reflect on the good and not-so-good legacies of his years in CS, as best he can at this early stage.

Loving the Bible & Prayer

Tanner writes: Let me first start by talking about the good. I grew up with a great love for the Bible. My family would frequently spend hours reading the Bible Lesson. As a young boy I used to listen to records of Bible stories put out by the Christian Science Publishing Society. I loved those Bible stories.

The Ten Commandments were always emphasized at home and in Sunday School. And I am very grateful for many of the moral and ethical lessons I learned through my Christian Science upbringing.

As time went on I grew in my love for the Bible. My parents had a number of tapes by Cobbey Crisler, a Christian Scientist who would give talks on the Bible from a CS perspective, without ever mentioning Christian Science. I used to listen to those tapes for hours on end.

When I was in high school at Principia, I would frequently use whatever extra money I had to buy Bible study materials from the Prin bookstore. And I am so grateful that my Christian Science teacher had a great love for the Bible, and constantly emphasized the Bible – albeit from the perspective of Christian Science.

As Christian Scientists, our first impulse in all things was to pray – as we understood it. I am so grateful that the Lord’s Prayer was a constant part of my life. This emphasis on prayer and on trust in God has been a wonderful legacy in my life. Growing up I consistently heard my parents pray “Father.” So constantly turning to our Father in prayer, whether silently or audibly, was always natural to me.

Minority Perspective

Having grown up a religious minority, as it were, I never felt ashamed of being in the minority. Our culture in this country is becoming less comfortable with Christianity, and believing Christians are beginning to recognize they are minorities in our culture.

I hope my background as a religious minority will help give me the courage and strength to stand unashamed of the gospel amidst the rapid changes in our culture today. Being a religious minority has also made me more focused on the importance of religious liberty, and more aware that we should not necessarily put our trust in the government to protect those liberties.

Constructively Grateful

Unlike many former Christian Scientists, I didn’t leave because of a bad experience. I wasn’t mistreated. There wasn’t something that went unhealed. I am grateful to say that I don’t feel bitter about my many years as a Christian Scientist.

I have so many happy memories from nearly 20 years at summer camps for Christian Scientists, and from Principia. There are so many people I love who are very devout Christian Scientists, and I treasure those people deeply.

That said, have there been negative effects from my years in Christian Science? Sure. I’ll touch on just a few of them. Some of them are very specific to me, particularly with my experience as a practitioner for so many years.

For these reflections, let me take a constructively grateful approach: Rather than complaining about some of the bad effects CS has had on my life, I’ll share some of the areas where I see that the Lord has brought much-needed healing to my life since becoming a Christian.

Pride Humbled

So let me start with the big one. Pride! As Christian Scientists, we were taught that Christian Science is the “final revelation.” The Christians had part of the truth, perhaps. But they were missing Mrs. Eddy’s revelation. And because they didn’t have her revelation they had a great many things completely wrong, and Christian Science had it all right – or so we thought.

This is quite an assumption, when out of 7 billion people on the planet, there are fewer than 100,000 Christian Scientists, and when Christian Science looks very different from Christianity at any point in its history.

For decades, even before I started coming to a greater love for the Bible and Christianity, I had serious disagreements with many of my fellow Christian Scientists. There were so many places where I saw what they were saying as not in line with how I saw Mrs. Eddy’s teachings and conflicting deeply with the Bible.

Thus I felt as if I was one of only a handful of Christian Scientists who really “got it.” I had – or so I thought  – the correct spiritual understanding which made me part of a de facto spiritual elite. I was one of a couple hundred people, I reasoned, out of 7 billion people on the planet, who really understood spiritual truth.

Others certainly saw me as part of a spiritual elite. Even at our conversion, several friends were upset because to them, I had been “the best practitioner” or had given the most inspiring talks. Can you imagine the sense of pride all of that fosters?

As I grew in loving the idea of grace, I came to see that I could contribute nothing to my salvation, and that salvation is all entirely of grace. That began bit by bit to dismantle my pride. (I still have a long way to go – but through the power of the Holy Spirit, there have been some great forward strides.) Imagine the tremendous humility, freedom, and joy to know that I contribute nothing to my salvation, and that it is all of God’s grace!

That pride also plays out in the life of a Christian Scientist practitioner in so many other ways. Every time the phone rings, you have to be prepared to meet the need, whatever it might be, whether for a student wanting to pray about an upcoming math test, or someone calling because they have been in a serious accident.

I certainly believed that I would always have the right answer, and I would always be able to meet whatever the need was. If someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would always be able to have an answer by the end of the day. This builds a very sinful type of self-reliance, rooted in pride, and assumes that we will always be able to fix everything and always have the right answers, and do it all ourselves.

Narrowness & Naiveté Outgrown

Another area where God has brought a lot of healing is in naiveté and intellectual narrowness. If Mrs. Eddy said something, then I just accepted it as an absolute and unquestioned fact. I didn’t research things for myself. And, likewise, different things that I was taught through the years, or were a part of CS lore, I just accepted and unthinkingly passed on to others.

My naiveté and my pride went hand in hand. I had pride, not just in myself, per se, but in Christian Science — I thought that Boston was the spiritual center of the world — and I thought that the decisions of the Board of Directors and the readings at The Mother Church had a direct and discernible impact on world events.

For instance, I wholeheartedly thought that the publication of an article in the Sentinel in the 1940s affirming that Mrs. Eddy fulfilled Biblical prophecy was the turning point in World War II, and that the tide shifted that week. But as I looked more into the history of World War II in order to prove that point, I found this wasn’t the case. But my pride and naiveté encouraged me to just accept as true anything that I thought supported Christian Science.

As another example, I had heard that in February 1866 (when MBE fell on the ice) there were all sorts of astronomical occurrences that were “signs in the heavens” – including a polar axis shift, two full moons in the month of February when there shouldn’t have been any and a spectacular arctic aurora.

For years I just accepted these as true without checking them out. But eventually, I learned that the axis shift hadn’t happened and a February with two full moons happens like clockwork every nineteen years. Most CSers aren’t as heavily immersed in the mythology as I was, but we all accepted things as true because we were told them without checking.

God worked on me continually and has developed more of a Berean spirit in me (see Acts 17:11) – that is, a habit of checking all things to see if they are so, and most importantly testing all things against Scripture to see if they are true.

Isolated No More

The spiritual life of a Christian Scientist is isolated both de facto and by design. You are supposed to be alone with your books. You don’t share your problems with others, or accept other people’s problems as true. You have a one-on-one connection with your Father-Mother God and that doesn’t involve or include anyone else.

This reflects Mrs. Eddy’s insistence upon limiting interaction among Christian Scientists so as to ensure the purity of her teaching. If Christian Scientists don’t talk about CS amongst themselves, they don’t have the ability to develop their own ideas  – or to question Mrs. Eddy’s.

Mrs. Eddy didn’t have friends, she had followers and servants. This is so completely contrary to the life of Jesus, and to the life that Jesus wants for us, as the Bible shows again and again. And yet, as Christian Scientists, so many people unwittingly have adopted her ethos when it comes to friendships.

Living a life of constant denial, both of problems in your lives, and problems in the lives of others close to you is emotionally stultifying. I had accepted the teaching that most emotions were a form of error. And even emotions, generally, were viewed with great distrust.

I remember, when I was dating a woman many years ago, being asked by a practitioner if I loved her, and I said yes in a noncommittal sort of way. And I was asked if I was in love with her, and I didn’t even know what the right answer was supposed to be. Rest assured, I am very much in love with my wife, and I have known that is the right answer since we met.

Many – but not all – Christian Scientists take a very stoic approach to life. Even as a Christian Scientist, I saw that this tragically robs them of a complete emotional life like we find in the completely perfect human, Jesus. Anyway, for years before becoming a Christian, I had been reading the writings of Jonathan Edwards and Tim Keller, as well as reading through the Psalms regularly, which helped me develop of more complete emotional life. And this has only continued to develop more in the lives of both my wife and myself.

My life as a Christian Science practitioner was very isolating. I spent all day every day in my apartment or my house. I had very little real-world interaction with people. I felt like I needed to be available for those rare practice calls at any time day or night, which definitely meant not being involved in more worldly activities – like even going for a walk.

Almost all of my interaction with other people was on the phone or at church. That is hardly a healthy way to live. I certainly didn’t have any non-Christian Scientist friends. How would I even meet a non-Christian Scientist, almost all of my interaction with people was through my work as a practitioner or through church?

Again, this is just my own personal experience, but the way friendships operated in my life wasn’t very healthy. Early on I found that when I would ask friends for help, or even displayed emotional, moral, or spiritual weakness in any way, they didn’t know how to deal with it – because I was supposed to be the practitioner, I was supposed to be the one who had it all together.

So I didn’t open up as I should have about different problems in my life because I was supposed to have it all together. Even with my close friends who would have understood at different points, I didn’t share different challenges in my life, because I didn’t want to burden them, and as mentioned earlier I also had a great deal of pride.

After my conversion, some of my friends and family complained that I hadn’t shared any doubts or concerns with them. I hadn’t even shared any doubts or concerns about Christian Science with my own wife! A major reason behind that was not wanting to shake the faith of anyone else by putting forward any doubts. But another factor was just a deep culture of isolation that exists de facto amongst many Christian Scientists and Christian Science practitioners.

Within Christian Science culture, virtually everything is secret – or at least “confidential.” You don’t discuss who your teacher is, the teaching you have received, the practitioner you are working with, or the physical and moral problems you are facing. So much of this arises from fear of someone else’s thoughts intruding upon your demonstration.

And so out of fear, pride, and guilt, Christian Scientists don’t talk to one another. They don’t share one another’s lives, bear one another’s burdens, and comfort one another in sorrows. This is far different than our new church home where people come together to share in one another’s lives, and to help one another, and be there for one another in the joy and the triumphs as well as in the sins and the sorrows. And above all, we come together to worship God!

Despite the deep isolation I felt as a Christian Scientist, every year I felt such joy and fellowship and a sense of family at my Christian Science association meeting. I was so grateful to have that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood in my association – but such a gathering was only once a year. Now, however, my wife and I have the wonderful privilege of experiencing that every week at church – in a far greater, deeper, and more lasting way. And we know this will only continue to grow.

One of the biggest surprises in coming into a Christian church is that people ask you how you are doing – and they mean it! They want to know how you are, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, and they genuinely do care and love you. It is a joy to have friends who care about what is going on in our lives, and ask how they can be praying for us and supporting us. Christian fellowship is such a joy and a privilege.

Cultural Superiority Cast Off

Pride plays out in all sorts of ways. Pride sometimes takes the form of a self-love expressed in a love of those most like yourself.  Now, I am the farthest thing from a racist, and I have always worked against every form of overt racism. I did, however, believe that the period of Mary Baker Eddy’s life and that of her “early workers” was the spiritual and cultural height. After all, this gave rise to the period of what she called the “final revelation.”

Thus I subtly accepted the idea that late 19th-century America and Great Britain were culturally superior to all others.  I thought that as Christianity and Christian Science spread around the world, it would transform cultures to ultimately look more like the United States of 1910 – albeit with better technology and better quality of life.

Many of Mrs. Eddy’s closest followers believed in the Anglo-Israel theory – and I think you can make a strong case that Mrs. Eddy herself did as well. The Anglo-Israel theory essentially argues that the Anglo-Saxon people are literally the lost tribes of Israel and are, in a way, spiritually superior.

But God began to show me otherwise.  I got increasingly uncomfortable with some of these elements I saw in Christian Science culture. In my branch church, while I was First Reader, we had the American flag on the platform. I was deeply uncomfortable with it, and wanted it removed. Not because I don’t love America  – but because I knew that Christ’s kingdom is so much bigger than America.

You can’t just associate His church with being American – as so many people in our country do. But Christian Science is an essentially American religion. And the new Reader in my branch church, succeeding me, gave a testimony about how important she believes it is to have the American flag on the platform.

After my conversion, I recognized that I was just part one small part of the worldwide body of Christ and that none of us are part of that body of Christ because of any merit or superiority on our part. God delights as much in the praise of the sub-Saharan African, or northern Indian, or Mongolian Christian as he does in the British, American, or Dutch. In fact, He seeks to be, (and will be!) worshipped by people of every nation, people, tribe, and tongue.

Rethinking Health

On the health front, I’ve still never been to a doctor. Even just a few months before our conversion both my wife and I said that we would rather die than receive medical treatment. So this is all very new to me. I went to the dentist last week for the first time in over 20 years. They will have to do several thousand dollars worth of work on my teeth. And we will have to do several thousand dollars worth of work on my wife, as well. That is, of course, greatly disappointing and frustrating.

I have been overweight (and known it) for many years  – which certainly entails all sorts of health problems. My wife and I had talked about this issue for years. I felt like I couldn’t turn to diet or exercise because it was a material remedy, and more to the point, an exercise in will-power. After our conversion, I began eating better and taking walks around the neighborhood in the evening. I lost over 35 pounds in the first month.

I had thought that Christian Science, rightly followed, brings the best health and healing. But in CS we were taught to deny the evidence of the physical senses. This led, time after time, in my own life, to not really taking care of myself. Yes, I would pray about whatever the situation was – but as often as not, I wouldn’t give it immediate “treatment” – I would just be in de facto denial.

And I saw this more times than I can count in the lives of other Christian Scientists close to me. Many Christian Scientists feel tremendous guilt for having a physical problem of some sort, or they think they should just be able to work it out on their own. As a result, many Christian Scientists don’t seek help, whether from a practitioner or a physician, until the problem has advanced to a severe degree. This is not taking proper care of yourself. And paying a practitioner to be in denial on your behalf isn’t taking care of yourself, either.

As a Christian Scientist, I had believed that I was following God’s true path for health and salvation. I had thought that Jesus essentially taught Christian Science – that he taught his disciples how to heal. And they went about Israel essentially practicing Christian Science healing.

I thought this until I started reading the New Testament on its own terms. I realized that Jesus never gave instructions on healing. The apostles didn’t talk about healing, they talked about Jesus. Paul, John, and Peter weren’t writing about healing, they were writing about the salvation that comes by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

Gnosticism removes the emphasis from Jesus, and tries to make it about some other teaching that you don’t find in the Gospels, but that they attribute to Jesus. Many gnostics are uncomfortable in their own skin and prefer to retreat into the life of the mind. (This is a growing tendency in our increasingly digital age.) They take their own discomfort with their bodies or the created world and infer that the creation itself must be bad. They think that God could never make something so low and base and disgusting as this material creation.

When we start doubting the goodness of God’s creation, we come to find ourselves doubting the goodness of the Creator. Historically when people began doubting the goodness of the creation, they began doubting the goodness of the Creator, and then they began dividing up the Bible into the good New Testament God and the bad Old Testament God.

But the perfect triune God has made this wonderful creation for us as a precious gift. And we must treat it as such. The forests and seas and air are part of that beautiful creation that we must protect and steward. But so too are our bodies. (This is something I am just now learning). As a result, taking care of ourselves – mind, body, and soul – is very important.

God has given us the Sabbath as a gift of rest and refreshment – because after six days our physical bodies need the refreshment, as well as our minds and hearts. God knows us, He knows how He has made us. And He made us very good – both body and soul. We should delight in what our Creator has made.

Jesus came in the flesh. The second person of the Trinity came in the flesh as a little baby with all the bodily needs and functions every human baby has. He ate, drank, breathed, and was fully human. John tells us:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (I John 4:1-4)

Jesus was fully flesh and blood, fully human. To deny that is antichrist. He lived a fully human life, and died a real death. He didn’t just appear to die. He actually died. And on the third day, he actually rose from the dead. And he rose from the dead with a body that could be seen and felt and all the rest.

Jesus’ resurrection body is the first fruits of our resurrection. We will one day be raised from the dead and receive new bodies that can be seen and felt – though these will be incorruptible. As Christians, our hope is not just for heaven – but for the new heavens and the new earth. And in the new earth, we will experience a new creation. It will be a creation that is seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled. And we will delight in the abundant goodness of that creation.

A Start

There are many other effects of CS in my life, good and not so good. This is just a start on naming a few I’m particularly aware of right now. They might be similar to, or quite different from, the experience of other former Christian Scientists. I am sure a year from now, or ten years from now, there will many more things to add to the list.

I know that there are current Christian Scientists who are reading this blog. Some of you have reached out to me. You may not agree with my theological conclusions, but you may agree with some of the problems I found in my own life.

If so, it might be worth asking yourself why these problems originated – why they extend beyond my own life into the larger CS culture. And if you believe, as I did for many years, that Christian Science culture could be reformed, ask yourself: How can CS culture be reformed without losing the essential teachings of Christian Science?

To other former Christian Scientists, I would say that you are not alone. And you don’t have to be alone in working through the problems that have arisen as a result of living a lie. It is a CS tendency to try to work it all out on your own. But that shouldn’t be the way. There are so many people out there who would love to help you. Connect with other former CSers and with those without a background in CS.

And I would say being in a good church is so helpful. It has been an immeasurable blessing to our family. And I would encourage you to do the same. Even if you are not sure about religion or the truth of Christianity right now, being in a group of people committed to loving one another as Christ Jesus really teaches us is such a healing blessing.

There have been so many wonderful healings and blessings in our lives since becoming Christians. We have so much to be grateful for. And we know that those healings will only grow and increase as we continue in our walk with the Lord.

 

 

 

The author can be reached at tannerjohnsrud@gmail.com

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