By Charles Burke
I was born into a family of Christian Scientists. Both of my parents attended the Christian Science Church. My grandfather was a longtime Christian Scientist who served in various church positions, including Reader and as his state’s Committee on Publication. I spent many afternoons during my childhood in the Reading Room where my grandfather was the attendant.
The greatest influence in my life as a child was my grandmother, Marie Burke. Grandma Marie was the most faithful and dedicated Christian Scientist that I have ever known. She was a practitioner since before I was born, and she strived to teach me Christian Science principles throughout daily life. With her, I attended Sunday School, went to weekly testimony meetings on Wednesdays, and studied the Lesson from Science & Health and the Bible on a regular basis. At her urging, I joined a local church and The Mother Church as soon as I was old enough to do so. At an early age, I committed to memory such Christian Science staples as the Scientific Statement of Being and Mrs. Eddy’s definition of God. I strived to know the unreality of the material world around me, and I sought (with my grandmother’s help) to heal myself of various ailments that came my way.
Although I did my best to live as a good Christian Scientist, striving always to “know the Truth” about illness and other circumstances, I recognized from a fairly early age that Christian Science is an unusual religion. While I didn’t have much exposure to other churches during my youth, it was apparent to me (particularly as a teenager) that our congregation was very small and very elderly compared to other churches. I was also reasonably certain that other churches didn’t have members with very visible physical ailments that the congregation tried to ignore. Everyone around these church members seemed not to notice their physical deformities, but I couldn’t help but stare at them and wonder why they couldn’t be healed. One of my most vivid memories from a childhood in Christian Science is an elderly member of our congregation who had a grotesque growth on her nose that slowly spread, over the years, to other parts of her face. Her suffering was clear, and yet nobody ever offered her any comfort (indeed, nobody ever even spoke of her condition).
Although the Church’s unwillingness to acknowledge obvious and unhealed illnesses among its members was troubling to me, the thing that bothered me most was the inability of Christian Scientists to deal with the death of church members. This became vividly apparent to me when, when I was twelve years old, my father died. My family, particularly Grandma Marie, was utterly devastated by his death. We would go through weeks at a time when it was clear that nobody considered life worth living anymore. The main coping mechanism, to deny the reality of his death, was completely ineffective and unbelievable. Incredibly, the members of our local church never said anything to me about my father’s death. The subject was completely ignored; it was as if they were afraid to speak of a death in the congregation. Although only a child, I sensed something terribly wrong with the Christian Science adults around me who seemed so completely unable to come to terms with death. For years after my father’s death, my grandmother intensely studied Mrs. Eddy’s teachings on death. She would, periodically, tell me how her study was going. The study was unending – she was always studying, searching, and striving for an understanding of what happens after death. She never found the answers that she was looking for.
When I was in my early twenties, I again learned from firsthand experience the failings of Christian Science in the face of death. My grandmother became very ill. For months she sought a healing in Christian Science, but as she continued to weaken she turned to the medical profession in a desperate effort to save her life. This was a shock to me. All my life, my grandmother had instilled in me an inherent distrust of doctors. Yet, faced with the prospect of death and unable to find any healing on her own, she abandoned the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy and put her trust in the medical profession. Unfortunately, her condition was so severe by the time she went to the doctors that they could not save her. My grandfather and I sat at her bedside for two days while she died. Grandma Marie regained consciousness on several occasions during those two days. During these times I spoke to her, looked into her eyes, and sought some comfort or source of strength to deal with her death. But all I saw was death and despair. She was dying, she was scared, she didn’t know what was going to happen to her, and I had no idea what to say to comfort her. I have never experienced such hopelessness as I experienced in that hospital room. My grandmother expressed to me her fear of death, and she sought desperately to cling to life, but I did not know of anything I could say or do to offer her hope in the face of her imminent death. Our local Christian Science church offered no comfort whatsoever. In fact, not one person from the church ever even visited us in the hospital. They told me later that they didn’t want their thoughts to interfere with her healing, but I recognized that this was just another sign of the reluctance of church members to face the reality of death. My grandfather sat in the hospital room with me and quoted from Mrs. Eddy, claiming that my grandmother was not seriously ill and that she would get up and walk out of the hospital any minute. His heart, however, was not in it. Nobody could listen to my grandmother’s increasingly labored breathing and not recognize that she would soon be dead.
Mrs. Eddy teaches in Science & Health that, “if the student adheres strictly to the teachings of Christian Science and ventures not to break its rules, he cannot fail of success in healing.” (page 448, lines 26-28). My personal experience, and common sense, testify to the falsity of this teaching. My grandmother adhered to Christian Science as strictly as was humanly possible, and yet she could not be healed. Mary Baker Eddy also died, proving that even she could face a situation where no healing was possible. I have come to realize, through my grandmother’s death, what was consistently ignored by the church – that no matter how much success one can claim in healing, and no matter what the source of that healing might be, at some point healing will fail and everyone will die. Many years later I discovered a verse in the Bible that explains this simple but important point – “it is appointed unto men once to die.” (Hebrews 9:27).
After my grandmother’s death, I had no interest in ever returning to the Christian Science Church. All my life I had been taught that healing was a paramount goal in life, and all my life I had been taught that Christian Science was the true source of healing – but now I had learned that there was something much more important. My grandmother did not need physical healing so much as she needed eternal hope. Her health problems were so severe that she was going to die no matter where she sought healing. What she needed, and never found, was an answer to the question of how to face death with hope. The Christian Science Church offered her no hope, nor did it offer me anything of real value.
I did my best to forget about God for a long time after leaving Christian Science. Many years later, however, my wife began taking our children to attend a local Christian church. I went along for the sake of family unity. One Sunday, I opened a Bible during the service and began to read the New Testament. In the following weeks, I paid little attention to the sermon because I was so absorbed in reading the Bible. Of course, as a former Christian Scientist, I assumed that I was already knowledgeable about the Bible. After all, I had read the Bible, along with Science and Health, as part of the Weekly Lesson. However, things were very different this time. This time I was reading the Bible straight through, like a book, and without something like Science & Health to give me a “key” to the Scriptures. I simply read and understood the words of the Bible as I would read any other book. Reading God’s Word in this manner changed my life in the most profound way possible.
It didn’t take much reading of the Bible to discover that I wasn’t going to find the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy in this book. Jesus never taught that one should deny the reality of material things, and he certainly never taught that everything is mental. As I read the Bible, I came across many verses that I knew from Christian Science, but it was now obvious that those verses had been taken out of context in the Christian Science Church. As I read, the central message of the New Testament was presented in very clear and unambiguous terms — sin is real (not just mental) for all people, sin separates us from God, Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we can be reconciled to God, and God wants us to accept this free gift through faith. As I read the Bible, I was immediately and consistently confronted with this teaching that I needed to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from my sin. (Matthew 1:21, John 3:16, Acts 16:3-12, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:1, 6, 8, Romans 6:10, Romans 10:9, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Cor. 5:21, Titus 3:5-8,1 John 1:7-8). Otherwise, by not confessing Jesus, I was condemning myself to eternal separation from God. (Romans 6:23, John 3:17). These teachings were so consistent and so clear throughout the Scriptures that I could not believe that they had never been taught or explained to me in the Christian Science Church.
I gave my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ soon after I began my reading of the Bible. I confessed my sin to God, I asked for forgiveness, I accepted the fact that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins, and I confessed to God my most heartfelt belief in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures define these actions as the most important ones that a person can ever take – this is what the Bible calls being “born again” (John 3:3, 7) and being “saved” (John 3:17, John 10:9, Acts 2:21, Acts 4:12, Romans 5:10, Romans 10:9, Romans 10:13). Contrary to Mrs. Eddy’s teachings, the Bible makes it clear that not everyone is a child of God. Only those people who receive Jesus Christ, and believe in Him, have eternal life as His children. (John 1:12, John 11:25)
Since I was saved, God has brought incredible changes into my life and into the lives of my family members. One of the most profound of these many changes is what my grandmother sought for so long and what is so absent from the teachings of Christian Science – I now have the absolute assurance and confidence of eternal life with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 17:3)
Death is not something to be feared, and its reality is not to be denied. The Bible teaches quite clearly – and common sense tells us – that we are all going to die. Denying the reality of death won’t make you any better prepared to face it when it comes. Only belief in Jesus Christ can offer hope of life with God after death.
To anyone involved in the Christian Science Church who reads this testimony, I ask you to please consider one question. Where will you spend eternity? Since I was saved, I have talked to Christian Scientists from all over the United States and I have asked them this question. It is rare that I meet a Christian Scientist who has ever given any in depth thought to such questions of their eternal fate. Moreover, there is no satisfactory answer to this question in Christian Science. The focus of Mrs. Eddy’s teachings is, of course, upon physical healing. However, Jesus specifically taught that we should not be preoccupied with physical sickness or injury. Instead, Jesus taught that we should be concerned much more about our eternal souls than about physical healing. Consider the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
My grandmother thought she knew how to heal her body, but when she faced death, she was forced to acknowledge that she did not know how to find healing for her soul. I can still see her face in that hospital room, the fear of death in her eyes, pleading with me for hope. Don’t wait until you are on your death bed to think about the most important question facing you – where will you spend eternity? There is hope, there is salvation from sin, and these are found only in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) Confess your sin, believe in Him, and be saved.