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Let the Christ Break Down the Walls
Metaphysical Application Ideas for the Christian Science Bible Lesson on

“Doctrine of Atonement”
For October 14—20, 2019

By Craig L. Ghislin, C.S. Glen Ellyn, Illinois (Bartlett) / (630) 830-8683

The Golden Text emphasizes reconciliation. Reconciliation is generally defined as the bringing together or reuniting of two alienated parties at variance. Reconciliation from a traditional Scriptural standpoint means bringing sinners back into a state of favor with God after a “natural estrangement or enmity” (The Student’s Reference Dictionary). I think it somewhat odd to use the phrase “natural estrangement or enmity” when describing the relationship between God and man. Can God and man ever be estranged, or alienated?

To material sense it seems so, and that’s where Jesus’ mission comes in. Jesus’ atonement reconciles us to God. It shows us what being at one with God looks like. Of course, in reconciling man to God, man is the only one who has to change his position. As theologian Adam Clarke (c1760-1832) says, “… the grand object of the Gospel is to make a complete change in men's minds and manners; but the first object is the removal of enmity from the heart of man… The enmity in the heart of man is the grand hindrance to his salvation.” This is the enmity between the so-called mortal man, and the real man of God’s creating. Making that change on our own may seem a daunting task, but fortunately these changes are wrought through God’s love for us, and the transforming power of the Christ.

Breaking Down the Partition Makes Peace

Perhaps one of the most comforting ideas for humanity is God’s great love for us – irrespective of how messed up, or far from Him we might feel. As the Responsive Reading tells us, “Even when we were dead in sins”, or as The Amplified Bible puts it, “(slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He [God] made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ.” The Epistle mentions those once “far off” as being “made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Those who are “far off” comes from a Latin phrase, procul a fano, which literally means, “far from the temple.” Our English word “profane” is derived from it.

According to Mark Dunagan, Pastor of The Fifth Street Church of Christ in Beaverton, Oregon, the phrase “wall of partition” referred to a literal fence that forbade Gentiles to enter portions of the temple. He writes:

“This fence (surrounding the Temple) which prevented any Gentiles from proceeding into the inner courts or the temple included warnings. Posted prominently along this barricade were large signs, chiseled into stone, with red paint to make the warning more bold: ‘No Gentile may enter inside the enclosing screen around the Temple. Whoever is caught is alone responsible for the death which follows.’” (Quoted from H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 233).

If you were a Gentile in those days, you would certainly feel less than welcome. On top of that, from the theological view of the time, only those who were able to offer sacrifices in the temple (the Jews) were considered to be “nigh God” or approaching Him. The Gentiles were forbidden to even enter the temple, and therefore, were unable to sacrifice, thus, making them “far off.” So, Gentiles suffered a double rejection. Not only were they not permitted to enter the temple, but consequently they couldn’t get closer to God.

This is a cautionary tale to us today. Have we built any barriers around our “temple” or church that would forbid entrance to outliers? Have we mentally justified that partition based on the belief that we are closer to God than the rest of the world?

In addition to the literal partition in the Temple, figuratively the “partition” stood for “the law.” So, Jesus’ atonement broke down the law which would separate Jew, or those “nigh,” from Gentile, from those “far off.” Through Jesus’ atonement—his demonstration of oneness with God—he opened the way not only for unrestricted fellowship, but unrestricted access to God as well.

Do you relate most to the Jew or Gentile? Do you feel privileged and protective of your closeness to God to the point where you don’t want any “stranger or outsider” defiling your “temple”? Or, do you feel more like the Gentile —forbidden to enter the temple for one reason or another?

A controversial Presbyterian minister of his time, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) reports that in ancient times, the outliers or those considered “strangers” were permitted into cities, but had precious few rights. They needed citizen sponsors to conduct business, and had no say whatever in management of the state. They were simply tolerated spectators. This separation carried into religious life as well. But Jesus, reconciled all of us to one God. There were no more “strangers and foreigners.” Everyone is a “fellow-citizen with the saints.” The bottom line of Jesus’ atonement was to bring everyone together in peace. He reached both sides, bringing those with divergent views together, as well as bringing everyone on both sides closer to their oneness with God.

So, what’s the message for us? If our churches are truly to be considered, “the household of God” it’s incumbent upon us to open our doors mentally and physically to everyone, and prayerfully support the message on most church signs that read, “ALL are welcome!”

Section 1: Demonstration

Whether we think we are already nigh to God, or feel far from Him, the rules are the same. What is required to reconcile with God? The Scriptures tell us that the only things God requires of us are: “…to do justly”—that is give all that’s due, to God, to others, and to ourselves; “…to love mercy”—that is, to not only do what justice requires, but also, to be merciful, kind, benevolent and charitable; and “to walk humbly with God”—that is, to recognize our need, and that we can’t do anything without God’s aid (B1).

The Scriptures indicate it’s more about what’s in your heart, than what rituals you perform. Do we have any rituals today that we believe either qualify, or disqualify us from closeness with God? Both the Old and New Testaments remind us to love God supremely with all our heart and soul, and that loving others is “…more acceptable to God, and more useful among men, than all the rituals of the ceremonial law, than any sacrifice whatever” (John Gill, 1697-1771) (on citation B2).

Traditionally, atonement is considered as God giving us His son to atone for our sins, even though we have done nothing to deserve it, and that we are in fact, incapable of doing anything to deserve it (B3). The apostle John says Jesus’ atonement enables us to, “live through him” that is, through following his example. We think we’re alive, but without the Christ we are, in fact, “dead in sins.” Measuring God’s love for us by standards we can relate to, John points out the depth of sacrifice God gives to us, by sending His “only begotten son” to be the “propitiation for our sins.” “Propitiation” is another word for “atonement.” John concludes, if God gave His only Son for us, shouldn’t we be as loving to each other? According to Barnes, this love is, “the only way that we can show that we have his Spirit.”

What does Mary Baker Eddy say? Jesus showed us the path to reconciliation by revealing what Christly love is (S1). In Christian Science, atonement exemplifies our unity with God, and Jesus taught us the way (S2). He taught us how to “escape from evil” (S3). The key is “to turn from sin and lose sight of mortal selfhood,” which allows us to “find the Christ” showing us the real man, and our relation to God. Losing sight of mortal selfhood is something few are naturally inclined to do. So-called “mortal selfhood” is always fogging up the picture of who we really are. We discover our true selves by walking in Jesus’ footsteps, which often goes directly counter to natural inclinations. (S4).

Although to human sense it seems that man and God are separated and need reconciling, the fact is that we are always at one with God (S5). But talking and theorizing about this isn’t enough. We have to demonstrate this oneness in our daily lives (S6).

Section 2: Forgiveness

As we’ve mentioned, Jesus’ example takes us in directions that can be outside the comfort zone of human nature. A prime example is Jesus’ practice of forgiveness. One of the biggest obstacles to forgiveness is personal sense, or the belief in a selfhood apart from God. It’s the mortal selfhood that Mary Baker Eddy suggests we turn away from. The mortal selfhood is inherently sinful, and self-centered. Turning away from these self-centered states allows us to transcend human nature and practice forgiveness.

The knee-jerk reaction most of us have when wronged, is to get back at the individual we believed has wronged, or hurt us. There is an old adage, “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” Overcoming self–centered thinking is truly a divine accomplishment. The Master was supremely unselfish. He didn’t even claim his teachings as his own. He said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (B5). As theologian Adam Clarke points out, “anyone who puts Jesus’ precepts to practice will know that the teachings are from God, because they are so contrary to human nature and inclinations.”

Almost five centuries ago John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote a statement that could have been written yesterday:

“We need not wonder…that the doctrine of the Gospel is received by very few persons in the present day, since there is so little of the fear of God in the world. Besides, these words of Christ contain a definition of true religion; that is, when we are prepared heartily to follow the will of God, which no man can do, unless he has renounced his own views.”

Human nature is so engrained that to most, it makes sense to “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But Jesus breaks the mold in teaching us to love even our enemies (B6). That’s much easier said than done. To add to the impact of this teaching, Jesus says that reconciling with our brothers is a precursor to prayer. The point being that if we pray and others have something against us, rather than turn up our noses, remaining blind to our own trespasses, we should have the self-knowledge to honestly admit our wrongs, and then with a clear conscience we can approach God. Jesus also tells us that if we forgive others, God will forgive us (B7). This was as remarkable to the disciples as it is to us today. Peter asks his Master, “How many times shall I forgive my brother?” Jesus replies, “until seventy times seven.”

Putting Jesus’ reply into context, Adam Clarke tells us that, “It was a maxim among the Jews never to forgive more than thrice: Peter enlarges his charity more than one half; and our Lord makes even his enlargement septuple.” Barnes explains, “The meaning is, that we are not to limit our forgiveness to any fixed number of times.”

Mary Baker Eddy tells us that Jesus aided in reconciling us to God by giving us a “truer sense of Love” which transcended the commonly accepted ways of thinking (S7, S8). The key to loving both neighbors and enemies is the realization the there is only one Mind, and that Mind is God (S9). As long as we operate from the standpoint of many minds, competition and selfishness wedge their way into the picture. Selfishness, injustice, and revenge are just the opposite of what the Lord requires of us—to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (S10). We can’t be both kind and selfish at the same time, so selfishness must give way to kindness (S11). The human mind will resist that, so it will take some work, but selfishness is emptiness, and kindness is fullness, so the emptiness must yield.

Our textbook cautions us that we will experience betrayal and defamation of our characters until we learn to let spirituality rule through the letting go of a material, personal sense of ourselves (S12). As we find our atonement with our Christly natures, we’ll overcome our negative propensities, and gain that higher, truer sense of Love that Jesus exemplified (S13).

Section 3: Everyone Is “Nigh unto God.”

While many feel like strangers—far from God—Paul felt just the opposite. For him no circumstance on earth, in heaven or hell, visible or invisible, nor past, present, or future can separate us from the love of God (B9).

The story of the palsied man is a lesson in opposites (B10). The scribes and Pharisees who thought they were closest to God were actually far from understanding Him; whereas, those carrying in the palsied man—even though presented with what seemed to be no way to get their friend to Jesus—had faith that couldn’t be thwarted. Adam Clarke points out that the scribes were “the literati of that time” and that their worldly knowledge “rendered them proud, envious, and obstinate.” This attitude blinded and separated them from seeing the value of Jesus’ teaching. Scottish-born theologian, and contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy’s, Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910), highlights the contrast between the intellectual aloofness of the Pharisees, and the man’s devoted friends—those who were “so convinced of the healing power of the Christ that no obstacle could detain them or dissuade them from their purpose.”

Jesus must have sensed that the palsied man felt some sense of distance from God as a result of his sins. Jesus’ response wasn’t one of judgment, condemnation, and shame. Instead, he removed the barriers in the man’s thought, and opened the way to healing by forgiving his sins. The arrogant scribes and Pharisees found Jesus’ loving approach an affront, but Jesus cut right through that as well. He proved the healing presence of God by curing the man.

Jesus didn’t just talk about man’s oneness with God; he demonstrated it with his healing power. He didn’t allow dogmatism, or creeds to stand in the way of healing (S15). Just as we need to be sure as Christian Scientists, that we are not unwittingly placing walls of judgment and aloofness that would keep seekers from coming to our churches, we also need to be sure that we aren’t inadvertently placing barriers to healing through intellectualism, and beliefs of theological superiority.

As Jesus and Paul knew that nothing could separate God and man, Mary Baker Eddy points out inseparability from God as a foundational teaching of Christian Science. As we’ve pointed out several times in these Mets, Mary Baker Eddy tells us, the doctrine of Christian Science isn’t that we can’t be deprived of God, but that God can’t be deprived of us! —“divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation or object” (S16). Are you ever tempted to think when you or someone else is struggling for healing, that there must be something wrong in thought that’s causing the delay? All that does is justify the problem. The “genuine Christian Scientist” isn’t looking for reasons to support the problem, he’s “adding to his patient’s mental and moral power, and is increasing his patient’s spirituality while restoring him physically through divine Love” (S17). As noted earlier in this Lesson, “the supremacy of Spirit…annuls the claims of matter” (S18). The marginal heading for citation S19 is “Radical changes.” That’s just what happens as we embrace our oneness with God and “rise into newness of life.”

Section 4: A Remarkable Mission for the Salvation of All

Regardless of one’s theological perspective on the crucifixion, Jesus’ travail certainly demonstrated a love for mankind hitherto unknown. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (B12). As Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, it is rare enough that someone is willing to die for a righteous man, or a friend, but Jesus died for the love of everyone including his enemies (B13). Paul touches on a range of levels of human thought. Adam Clarke elaborates:

“those without strength, are the weak and dying unable to resist sin and unable to do good or get out of their sad situation;

“the ungodly, are those without true knowledge of God, therefore, not partakers of the divine nature

“the sinners are those constantly missing the mark of happiness, and taking the wrong path to get there

“the enemies are those who have active or latent antipathy and hostility toward God and holiness.”

Everyone in these categories, and anyone along the continuum, are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ sacrifice. The magnitude of Jesus’ supremely unselfish act is compounded by the fact that Jesus did nothing wrong to deserve the wretched treatment he endured. Patiently bearing punishment for wrongdoing is one thing, but patiently suffering for doing good raises the bar considerably (B14). Jesus’ submission to the cross went way beyond mere human goodness.

In his letter to the Galatians (B16), Paul encourages us to follow Jesus’ example in some degree. While we aren’t expected to give ourselves to be crucified, we are being asked to “crucify” our sins. As Clarke says, “…if a man be not turned away from his iniquities, even the death of Christ profits him nothing.” Martin Luther (1483-1546) writes, “True believers are no hypocrites. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts…. To resist the flesh in this manner is to nail it to the Cross. Although the flesh is still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is bound and nailed to the Cross.”

There is no doubt that Jesus’ ordeal completely redefined the meaning of love for mankind (S20). It is difficult to imagine such love being conceived of and demonstrated without divine impetus. Beyond his teaching and preaching, he proved the power of divine Love to heal sickness and sin, and overcome every obstacle including the threat of the grave (S21). He truly “taught mortals the opposite of themselves” (S22).

Traditional theology is shackled by the limits of human reasoning, and therefore conceives of God in only the highest human terms we can understand. To convey the magnitude of Jesus’ atonement biblical authors used the analogy of God giving His only Son to suffer, and save us from our sins. Mary Baker Eddy points out that this is an entirely man-made theory (S23). Scientifically speaking, Truth knows nothing of suffering or sin, and destroys all error through Love. Every time we suffer and turn away from error, and every effort we make to follow Jesus’ example gives us a taste of what he did for us, which in turn brings us closer to understanding our inseparability with God (S24).

Sometimes Christian Scientists avoid facing, and even discussing difficult situations, but our textbook tells us “we need Christ, and him crucified” (S25). This means we have to face the rough spots as well as the smooth ones “until all error is destroyed.” We can’t just theorize about it. We have to prove the promise, “Love must triumph over hate” (S26).

Section 5: Reconciliation with Each OtherNobody is “apart, or far off”

What a change in thoughtfrom walls of partition keeping undesirables out of the temple, to the joyful recognition of brethren dwelling together in unity! (B17). This advancement on thought is from the Old Testament, showing that the concept of unity had always been incubating even while the “partition” was up.

In citation B18 there are some interesting things to look at. First of all, in the phrase, “provoke unto love and to good works” the word “provoke” had a different meaning than we think of today. To us it means to irritate and incense, but the original meaning was to “arouse, to excite, to call to action.” According to Barnes, the Greek word literally borrowed the medical term “paroxysm.” It’s meant to convey a vehemence of affection among the faithful. By contrast, the author urges us not to forsake assembling together “as the manner of some…” Who are the “some?”

Again, according to Barnes, they could be those who neglect worship for fear of persecution, or have a lack of interest, or who doubt the need for it, or those who object to a certain preacher, or members in the congregation. Barnes then makes a very poignant statement:

“Religion is social; and our graces are to be strengthened and invigorated by waiting together on the Lord. There is an obvious propriety that people should assemble together for the worship of the Most High, and no Christian can hope that his graces will grow, or that he can perform his duty to his Maker, without uniting thus with those who love the service of God.”

In citation B19 Paul makes a very interesting request. He asks that church members take care of each other. He just wants us to be kind. Paul commends Priscilla and Aquila because they had put their own lives on the line for him. These early Christians took to heart Jesus’ example of laying down his life for us. They were to treat Phebe as becometh saints”—that is, that they would treat her with that humanity, courteousness, Christian affection, and respect, as became them who were saints by calling and profession” (Gill). How are we doing on that score? As Dunagan observes, and most of us know, “church is not always the welcoming institution that it ought to be.”

Love is all-inclusive, knowing no separation by gender, class, race, or nationality. Heaven plays no favorites. All are equal in the sight of God. If true Christianity were practiced, all oppression would cease (B20). The Bible closes with a simple statement of praise to God for showing us, through Jesus, a model “exceeding abundantly above” anything we could imagine on our own! (B21).

Jesus founded his church—the Christian community—on healing sickness as well as sin (S27). We can only unite with this church community to the extent that we love (S28). Christian Scientists can agree with all other Christian denominations that Jesus is indeed our savior (S29). Everyone can practice healing (S30), and as we follow Jesus’ example we will be elevated beyond human nature, thus breaking down the walls of partition, and uniting with all mankind (S31). As with the closing Bible citation, our textbook echoes a word of praise and glory (S32). Not just the “wall of partition,” but the stone itself has been rolled away—opening the path for us to rise above all limitation and separation to realize our unbroken at-one-ment with divine Love.

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