‘Faith of fathers’ can mislead

March 30th, 2009

Are family reasons keeping you in Christian Science? Most of us feel a natural reverence for “the faith of our fathers.” But what is this really about? Although honoring our parents according to the Fifth Commandment is never optional, family loyalty is not a sufficient reason for accepting a particular belief about God. Whereas a true faith is to any person’s credit, no one’s personal endorsement — whoever he is — can make something true. God is no respecter of persons, nor should we be.

St. Paul told the Galatians (1:13-16) that being “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” was his mistaken reason for persecuting the Christians. All that changed when he realized that God had “called me by his grace” for a different allegiance and purpose. Human ancestry was overruled by the heavenly Father “who separated me from my mother’s womb… to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.”

On trial before the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24:10-21), Paul said bluntly: “This I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.” In other words, his Lord is now Jesus, who had called himself the Way, and whose followers named their religion by that same word — yet he still asserts the new religion’s continuity with Israel’s ancient faith. For in this speech Paul goes on to describe himself as “believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and hav[ing] hope toward God… that there shall be a resurrection of the dead.”

These are the only two places in the New Testament where the idea we commonly call “faith of our fathers” is specifically mentioned. Each only half-endorses the idea. Interestingly, Mary Baker Eddy associates herself both of them. But she contradicts Paul’s theology in doing so.

At Tremont Temple in 1885 (Mis. 96), replying to one of Boston’s leading clergymen who had charged her with teaching “a creed of pantheism and blasphemy,” she paraphrased Acts 24 with insistence that “after the manner of my fathers, so worship I God.” Her remarks on this occasion described God, Christ, and man in terms that the Bible doesn’t contemplate and 1800 years of believers didn’t profess, however. So the bow toward tradition here seems more of a cover than a genuine confession.

In her own estimation and in the eyes of her students, was she Jesus’ servant or his successor? Mrs. Eddy’s biographer Robert Peel, relating the Tremont episode in Vol. II, pp. 155-156, notes that the Christian Science Journal’s writeup of the affair called her “the faithful messenger of the Second Coming.” Peel also surmises that she must have felt as the Lord himself did, according to John 1: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Blasphemy indeed, might well have been the reaction of her accuser, Rev. Cook.

Mrs. Eddy’s departure from inherited faith is also clear when Galatians 1:14 is truncated in the chapter on Recapitulation, her classbook, so as to omit Paul’s reference to the revealing and preaching of the Son: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace… I conferred not with flesh and blood” (SH 478). Here again, as she so often does, Mrs. Eddy cites the Bible in a manner where ostensible agreement veils her distortion of its plain intent.

Paul saw himself as honoring the old Jewish beliefs yet venturing beyond them at the impulsion of his personal encounter with Jesus, the prophesied Messiah. Mrs. Eddy claimed to honor the old Christian beliefs even as she dethroned Jesus from the supreme position Paul assigned him. I love and honor my Christian Scientist forebears, but I must reject their embrace of the Eddy doctrines because I love my Lord and Savior more.

Never since Abraham has been it been enough for the people of God to simply worship as our parents and grandparents did, period. He expects each of us as individuals to hear Him, walk humbly with Him, and be holy as He is. He makes no exceptions. (See Deut. 6:4, Micah 6:2, and Lev. 19:2.)

In coming out of Christian Science, not without fear and trembling, we of the Ananias circle have had to take seriously Jesus’ warning not to put family ties ahead of him. To you as a Christian Scientist now, we put the question Paul finally asked his Galatian friends: “Who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7)

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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