Church of Thyatira: overcoming tyranny with purity

June 29, 2016

I was wondering what inspiration I could take from today’s readings after hearing the news about another airport bombing.  Our first hymn is #161 where we sing of God’s ability to get rid of “stones or tyrants’ thrones,” and the Bible readings also address injustice. If anyone has inspiration to share, there is a “leave a reply” button at the end of this blog.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” is the message that is given repeatedly to each of the seven churches in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. That message is paraphrased: “Real identity is wholly spiritual. Listen that way” (Revelation: The Prophecy and Fulfillment of Man by George Denninger, p. 28). In today’s readings, there is a warning about “that woman Jezebel,” the Bible’s symbol for the opposite of real womanhood.

“The condition to be corrected in Thyatira is uncovered by the use of an allusion to Jezebel, queen of Ahab of Samaria, daughter of the renegade king of Tyre. Jezebel came to her new kingdom of Samaria determined to wipe out the worship of the one God. . . . Because of her dominating and manipulating actions, the word Jezebel has forever been symbolic of that type of thinking. If permitted by the individual to hold sway, it brings ruin and disaster. If it is curbed and denounced and silenced, there is hope for growth and progress” (Studies in the Apocalypse of John of Patmos, by Edyth Armstrong Hoyt, p. 35).

These readings do not include the most familiar Jezebel atrocities, such as killing all the Lord’s prophets and scaring Elijah into the wilderness until he was restored by “a still small voice” (I Kings 19:12). Instead, I’ve included the story about Naboth, a new character for me, who is also the subject of a wonderful Sentinel article from 1945 about the courage of the “little people,” the Naboths who stand up to tyrants.

In the New Testament readings, did you notice that the healing of the Phoenician woman’s daughter follows Jesus’ parable about how your uncleanliness comes not from what you take in, but from what comes out of your body? Jezebel and this Phoenician woman were both taken in from outside Israel, but it was Jezebel’s words and evil heart which defiled her, not her foreignness. In contrast, it was the Phoenician woman’s words and pure heart which shattered the prejudice to her foreignness and brought healing to her daughter. A truly contemporary tale!

A few years ago, our Time for Thinkers Book Club was preparing to read The Book of Revelation, and I received a call from a n occasional participant who was concerned about whether we should read that book. She had heard there were all sorts of superstitious and scary things in Revelation, so why did we want to read that book of the Bible? I admit to being surprised by her question because I believe Mrs. Eddy thought the study of Revelation to be foundational to Christian Science. There is a chapter in Science and Health entitled “The Apocalypse” which is her exegesis on Revelation.  And, in speaking of her early education in the Christian churches, she wrote:

“Such churchmen and the Bible, especially the First Commandment of the Decalogue, and Ninety-first Psalm, the Sermon on the Mount, and St. John’s Revelation, educated my thought many years, yea, all the way up to its preparation for and reception of the Science of Christianity” (Message to The Mother Church 1901, p. 32).

Yes, reading Revelation is more obscure than other sections of the Bible, so I find commentaries helpful.  Here are some comments on a few difficult passages in Revelation from Christian Science Bible scholars:

Rev. 2:22 implies that as adultery (fornication) is associated with a bed, so adulteration of true teachings and domination in the church puts to sleep and kills (Hoyt, p. 35).

Rev. 2:28 – The morning star is a reference to the Christ in the New Testament. So the reward for overcoming domination and manipulation is the dominion of the Christ, the morning star, completely annihilating every offending thought as a piece of pottery is broken when dropped (Hoyt, page 36).

Rev. 2:19 – The milk of the Word leads to sharing, and sharing leads to service, and service leads to faith, and faith grows into patient practice. Practice, as a living faith, is a greater work than the object of your first lessons (Denninger, p. 26 – 27).

Rev. 2:25 – If you already know something of truth, cling to it with all your might, and that good seed will grow into divine freedom (Denninger, p. 28).

Rev. 2:26-27 – You must strive to master these insidious hidden evils in yourselves, until everyone in the world breaks the fetters of believing in a mind apart from God. Your old beliefs will eventually be seen as fragmentary notions without entity, for God alone governs man (Denninger, p. 28).

Church of Pergamos: “stumblingblocks”

June 22, 2016

Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

I would not change it.

These lines are from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” and the first three lines are also quoted in Science and Health (p. 66).  Today’s readings on “stumblingblocks” are much like Shakespeare’s sweet adversity, and here’s some history to go along with the Bible stories.

Last December, we had readings from the Book of Numbers about Moab’s King Balak who wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam was prevented by his wise talking donkey.  (It is one of my favorite stories, and you can find it using the search bar under “Angels: Intuitions of Blessings.”)  Although Baalam could not curse the Israelites, he did find a “stumblingblock,” which was to have Balak send in foreign prostitutes, and there is a reference to this sensualism as a stumblingblock in the church in Pergamus.  “The stumbling block of sensual thinking is always disastrous to spiritual growth” (Studies in the Apocalypse of John of Patmos, by Edith Armstrong Hoyt, p. 34).

Pergamos was a noted center of Roman emperor worship, and the reference to “Satan’s throne” (Rev. 2:13) may refer to either the temple of the Roman emperor or to the monumental altar of Zeus, both at Pergamum (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 2158).  Pergamos was also the location of the Aeschylapium or College of Medicine. (Hoyt, p. 34)

In both the church of Ephesus and Pergamos, there is a reference to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. When the Gentiles became Christians, the Jerusalem Council ruled that they did not have to observe all the Jewish law, but the Gentiles did have to “keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication” (Acts 21:25). The Nicolaitans did not adhere to these rules, resulting in controversy in the early church.

I was trying to think of a contemporary equivalent to ancient Christianity’s food debate, such as not eating meat in front of a vegetarian. But then I remembered a recent conversation with an artist friend who had attended many gallery openings which only served wine and cheese. She was aware that many of her friends were struggling with alcohol addictions, so we talked about some non-alcoholic beverages she might substitute at her own art party, such as pretty creative fruit water, etc.  I admired her alert concern for those facing this stumblingblock and for her desire to build up others. It is a perfect example of Paul’s comments in I Corinthians which are paraphrased here:

Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well. (The Message,  I Cor. 10:23)

In reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I also realized that this discussion didn’t have to be limited to food at all, but that it could refer to stirring up controversy.  Of course, this argumentative attitude made me think of many national political and social debates.  The following article applied Paul and John’s disdain for the Nicolaitans to our own church:

“In her Message to The Mother Church for 1900 (pp. 12, 13) Mrs. Eddy writes, “Nicolaitan church presents the phase of a great controversy, ready to destroy the unity and the purity of the church.” If faced with the heat and confusion of controversial views, the body of members should unanimously detect and resist the attempt of error to becloud their vision of the true Church and church member. The unity of Truth and true thinking affords protection from this mischief-making influence. The self-importance of mortal mind, evidenced in a tendency to cling blindly to personal views, must be unmasked and made to yield to the far greater importance of serving one’s church with alertness, teachableness, and always in the spirit of Truth and Love. So doing, the entire membership may take refuge from the pettiness of mortal mind in the grandeur of divine Mind.” (Violet Ker Seymer, “Church and Church Member,” from the February 1934 issue of  The Christian Science Journal)

Here is another article about idolizing personality:

“When one’s sense of Truth has been adulterated by mental malpractice, one falls into the danger of personality,—of seeking good through persons and of believing that one’s own personality is good. Accepting adulation, taking to one’s self that which belongs to God, offering gifts or yielding obedience and adulation at the shrine of personality, is equivalent to eating “things sacrificed unto idols.” (Caroline Getty, “The Seven Churches,” from the October 1917 issue of  The Christian Science Journal)

This is a wonderful verse to ponder in the King James Bible:

“We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness.” (I Cor. 1:23)

Here’s one translation of that verses:

“While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.” (The Message)

And in an essay on “How to Understand Science and Health,” Mrs. Eddy wrote,

Truth is, and ever has been, simple; and because of its utter simplicity, we in our pride and selfishness have been looking right over it. We have been keeping our eyes turned toward the sky, scanning the heavens with a far-off gaze in search of light, expecting to see the truth blaze forth like some great comet, or in some extraordinary manner; and when, instead of coming in great pomp and splendor, it appears in the simpleness of demonstration, we are staggered at it, and refuse to accept it; our intellectual pride is shocked, and we are sure that there has been some mistake. Human nature is ever the same. The Jews were looking for something transcendently wonderful, and the absence of it made the Christ, Truth, to them a stumbling-block. It was foolishness to the Greeks, who excelled in the worldly wisdom of that day; but in all ages of the world it has ever been the power of God to them that believe, not blindly, but because of an enlightened understanding. (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 469)

Orlando – the brotherhood of man

June 15, 2016

My planned readings were on the stumbling blocks facing one of the churches in Revelation. However, due to the tragedy in Orlando, I felt that I should do some readings on man’s friendship and brotherhood which extend beyond the physical appearances of sexuality, nationality, or religious beliefs.  I usually post my readings on Wednesday mornings, but I thought I would send them out ahead of time in case they should provide some comfort.

The Bible readings have three stories about friendships with those we would certainly describe as diverse in today’s language. The first, Ebed–melech, bravely saved the life of the prophet Jeremiah when the weak King of Judah was too afraid of disagreeing with his advisors to follow Jeremiah’s God-given instructions. The second, Ashpenaz, disobeyed the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon so that the Jewish captives (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) could keep their faith’s dietary laws. The third, the eunuch of an Ethiopian queen, was baptized by the Apostle Philip for proclaiming his belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  In Miscellaneous Writings, Mrs. Eddy answers a question about the salvation of this eunuch, and I am quoting part of it below as it is a wonderful essay on the transition from firm believing to understanding to the miracle of grace. (The entire essay is available at the end of the readings.)

“This is the Father’s great Love that He hath bestowed upon us, and it holds man in endless Life and one eternal round of harmonious being. It guides him by Truth that knows no error, and with supersensual, impartial, and unquenchable Love. . . . To believe thus was to enter the spiritual sanctuary of Truth, and there learn, in divine Science, somewhat of the All-Father-Mother God. It was to understand God and man: it was sternly to rebuke the mortal belief that man has fallen away from his first estate; that man, made in God’s own likeness, and reflecting Truth, could fall into mortal error; or, that man is the father of man. It was to enter unshod the Holy of Holies, where the miracle of grace appears, and where the miracles of Jesus had their birth, — healing the sick, casting out evils, and resurrecting the human sense to the belief that Life, God, is not buried in matter. (Miscellaneous Writings p. 77-78)

Here are some interesting comments found in the notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 38:7 “The eunuchs” is often used of court officials indicating how highly in Judean court life such persons of ambiguous gender could ascend. Some scholars, however, suggest that the term has two distinct meanings (“official” and “eunuch”). There is no indication, however, that the “eunuch” was a social pariah. (4th edition, page 1116)

Daniel 1:5 Three years are cited by Persian texts as the time required for gaining knowledge of religious concerns. (page 1234-35)

Hmm…I wonder if Mrs. Eddy considered this with her Bylaw regarding Readers’ terms of three years, or perhaps it had to do with the length of Jesus’ ministry?

Church of Smyrna: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

June 8, 2016

Decoding the terms and symbols in Revelation is key to understanding the problems of the seven churches. In Smyrna, the reward for overcoming is that he “shall not be hurt of the second death,” which is a term found only in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. (Rev. 2:11)  Mrs. Eddy references “second death” several times in her writings, including this explanation next to the marginal heading “second death”:

Death will occur on the next plane of existence as on this, until the spiritual understanding of Life is reached. Then, and not until then, will it be demonstrated that “the second death hath no power.” (SH 77:9)

In the Bible readings, there is an interesting contrast between the “fountain of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6) and the “lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). This reminds me of the familiar story comparing the Sea of Galilee, which receives and gives water, and the Dead Sea, which receives water but has no outlet. Or as Paul quoted Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Another symbol with the Church of Smyrna is “Gog and Magog.” (Rev. 20:8)  Edyth Armstrong Hoyt provides this explanation:

Gog and Magog first appear in connection with the wilderness wanderings of the Children of Israel. There the prince Gog of Magog appears with an army surrounding the camp of the Israelites. But they are driven back. Ezekiel makes use of this symbolism in his 38th chapter. In the Revelation vision before us, Gog and Magog appear as the perversions of the Truth (Ezekiel’s application). Like an army they surround the camp of the saints. The last attempt of the resistant beliefs is to seem to rally numberless perversions of the Truth, “as the sand of the sea,” to attack the children of spiritual victory. But “fire came down from God, out of heaven,” symbolizing the spiritual purification of thought which completely destroys all suggestions and attacks of the perversions of Truth, as Gog and Magog were destroyed when the children of Israel were aroused to resist the aggressor suggestions. Studies in the Apocalypse of John of Patmos, p. 89

The “synagogue of Satan” refers to the animosity between the Gentiles and converted Jews. Since Abraham, the Jews had defined their worship a certain way, and now the same rules didn’t apply to the Gentile converts to Christianity. And we think our churches are having an identity crisis due to the changes in our 21st century ways of worship!

To churches that are spiritually rich but materially poor, there was this comment in The Christian Science Journal:

To the Christians at Smyrna, John expressed his sympathetic understanding for the poverty they had endured but, he also assures them, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” If a Christian Science church is today struggling with poverty, let the members recall and obey this command; then the reward it promises will be theirs. Their individual faithfulness to the teachings of Science will be manifested in abundant supply for right activities, among them more generous contributions to the finances of their church. (“What the Spirit Saith unto the Churches,” by Warren G. Luedemann from the June 1961 issue of The Christian Science Journal)

On the readings page, there is also a link to the podcast, “MBE Mentioned Polycarp,” who was a disciple of the Apostle John, became Bishop of the Church in Smyrna, and was later martyred there.

This week’s subject matter seemed really dense theologically to me, but I also hope it has increased my storehouse of understanding about eternal Life.  As Mrs. Eddy wrote, “We look before our feet, and if we are wise, we look beyond a single step in the line of spiritual advancement.” (SH429:8)