ATONEMENT

In a Communion Address in January 1896, Mary Baker Eddy writes -

“Divine Science has rolled away the stone from the sepulchre of our Lord; and there has risen to the awakened thought the majestic atonement of divine Love. The at-one-ment with Christ has appeared — not through vicarious suffering, whereby the just obtain a pardon for the unjust, — but through the eternal law of justice; wherein sinners suffer for their own sins, repent, forsake sin, love God, and keep His commandments, thence to receive the reward of righteousness: salvation from sin, not through the death of a man, but through a divine Life, which is our Redeemer.” (Misc Writings, Page 123)

In his biography of Mrs Eddy, Robert Peel writes of her -

“For this age, she held, truth was to take form as a universal science than as a personal saviour”. (Years of Authority, Page 326)

“Atonement” was a little-used word at the time of Tyndale's translation (the first Bible printed in English). Tyndale used the word to translate Hebrew concepts of sacrifice, repayment, appeasement, reconciliation. The most numerous Hebrew word so translated is Kippur, as in “Yom Kippur”, the Day of Atonement.

The middle-English root is “at on”, or “at one” and therefore the reading of atonement as at-one-ment is not a modern fanciful invention. It seems likely that Tyndale's vision of attaining oneness with God was spiritually in advance of thinking which was voiced in Moses time. Through a process of reversion, Tyndale's “at one” word has with exposure, accumulated to itself the connotations of materialistic homage – appeasement by sacrifice, repayment of debt etc. Though frequently appearing in the early books of the Old Testament, the word “atonement” only occurs once in the King James translation of the New Testament - in Chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, in a detailed discourse on sin, grace and salvation. In other translations of this verse, the Greek is rendered “reconciliation” which is appropriate for the context.

So the higher meaning of Tyndale's word lay centuries, dormant waiting for Christian Science (and other new Christian denominations) to return it to its “at-one” status. The Merriam Webster dictionary gives a special definition of atonement in the context of Christian Science.

And in the history of the word “atonement” is encapsulated the conflict between the old and the new theologies.

In the old theology, man is the servant of God, he selects his most unblemished lamb to be slaughtered on the altar, and with it buys God's blessing or pardon.

In the new theology, man's real status is as son and heir of all that is Godlike. The task is to realise that status. This does involve sacrifice, but not in a mechanical sense - the sacrifice is an integral part of an individual's spiritual realisation. “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”. (Galatians 5:24)

Jesus' bodily sacrifice did not take away our sins. He died “for our sins” - yes - because of our sins (and more directly of the sins of those who went before us, returning hatred for his teaching of at-one-ment or Immanuel).

During his ministry, Jesus asked that any faithful follower of him should “deny himself”. The notion of “self” which so readily occupies the forefront of our thinking must give place to an understanding of one-ness with the divine. And this is how we elevate our sense of being, from the status of miserable sinners, to that of “children of God”.