No freedom but in Jesus

September 2nd, 2014

“I was free born.” With these words in Acts 22:28, the Apostle Paul is making a purely political point. He is comparing notes with the centurion, a naturalized Roman, on how the two obtained their citizenship.

Mary Baker Eddy’s use of his statement as if it proves something theologically or ontologically (SH 227:17) is very revealing. Her incomprehension of how utterly lost mankind are, her devaluation of Jesus’ saving work, and her unreliability as a biblical interpreter are nowhere better illustrated than by this howling misquotation — and by the extended discussion of freedom and slavery in which it occurs, pages 224-228 of Science and Health.

In this brief post I won’t attempt to analyze those five pages line by line, though it’s a project worth your time for anyone wishing to put Christian Science to the test. The overall thrust is that slavery or bondage or oppression is of our own making, a product of false belief — “because some public teachers permit an ignorance of divine power” — and that freedom or liberty or dominion is therefore within reach if mortals will just accept Mrs. Eddy’s portrayal of things and “assert their freedom in the name of Almighty God.”

She makes analogies to the abolition of slavery in the United States and to the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, casting herself by implication as another Lincoln or even another Moses. She repeatedly invokes “the rights of man,” a concept beloved of Americans but unknown in Scripture. She does not mention Jesus except briefly near the end of the passage, pages 227 and 228, and then only as a teacher and exemplar, not as the Savior by whom alone our bondage to sin is broken.

“Truth makes man free,” she says at 225:3, paraphrasing Jesus’ promise in John 8:32. But the metaphysical abstraction just floats there (as it does on the walls of Christian Science churches), untethered from Jesus’ warning in succeeding verses that we’re all slaves until the Son himself personally liberates us.

Whereas Paul well understood this doctrine of man’s hopeless bondage and Christ’s gracious redemption, as he makes clear in such passages as Romans 7-8, Galatians 4-5, and Colossians 1-4. Even when born again and specially commissioned as an apostle, Roman citizenship and all its rights notwithstanding, he continued to struggle with the sinner’s unfreedom, a predicament he couldn’t think himself out of. “With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Only in Christ Jesus was he made free from that servitude (Rom. 8:2) and liberated from the carnal mind with its living death, its enmity against God (Rom. 8: 6,7).

Contrast Mrs. Eddy’s lofty but empty platitude, bloodless and ultimately powerless, “Love is the liberator” (SH 225:21), with Paul’s tough-minded emancipation proclamation in Colossians, explaining how the Son has “delivered [freed] us from the power of darkness” with “redemption [ransom, the slave-price] through his blood” (Col. 1:13-14).

The gnostic heresy of self-salvation, confronted in Colossians only to reappear eons later in Christian Science, is refuted with Paul’s reminder that the cancellation of “ordinances against us [our slave papers]” required not just an assertion but a transaction, the sacrificial death and victory of Jesus, who “nail[ed] it to his cross… spoiled [the enslaving] powers… and triumph[ed] over them” (Col. 2:14,15).

“The enslavement of man is not legitimate,” protests Science and Health (228:11). With that we can agree. But it is not imaginary either. It is a fact, the very real consequence of the Fall, humanity’s rebellion against God. Attempting to think our way free, the Eddy approach, doesn’t work. We need a Savior to set us free, and we have him in Jesus Christ.

For all the freedom-talk of my 50 years in Christian Science, I remained shackled to my own fallen and sinning self, “the old man” (Col. 3:9). Only when I came to know and trust the God who died for me, rose for me, reigns for me, intercedes for me, and will return for me, did I really come to know “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21, quoted out of context at SH 227:24).

As mentioned, we Americans are powerfully stirred by the idea of liberty as a birthright. So it may be jarring to find C. S. Lewis saying the opposite: “I was not born to be free. I was born to adore and obey.” But this matches my experience, and probably yours.

My adoring and obedient submission to the Lord Jesus became the doorway to whatever spiritual freedom I now enjoy — and that freedom is not the license to do as I please, rather it is but the capability and commitment to do what pleases my God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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