what their itching ears want to hear – new wine-old bottles, Mary Baker Eddy & Luke 5:36-39

Back in May, when I wrote about Ms. Eddy and alcohol, I came across a parable that was largely overlooked by my Sunday School teachers, it comes from Luke 5:36-39 and it talks about wine.

“And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”

—Luke 5:36-39, King James Version

Ms. Eddy refers to this parable in Chapter VI, Science, Theology, Medicine (114:12) when she states

As Mind is immortal, the phrase mortal mind implies something untrue and therefore unreal; and as the phrase is used in teaching Christian Science, it is meant to designate that which has no real existence. Indeed, if a better word or phrase could be suggested, it would be used; but in expressing the new tongue we must sometimes recur to the old and imperfect, and the new wine of the Spirit has to be poured into the old bottles of the letter.           (emphasis mine)

Ms. Eddy seems upset by the limitations of language, which is understandable:  there are many ways to interpret what she has written, some read her works and come way with the sense that God is LOVE! in big, bold confetti caps, while others come away cowering in terror at the Unreality of Mortal Mind.

The wine/bottles parable is referred to again in Chapter X, Science Of Being (281:27282:1)

Divine Science does not put new wine into old bottles, Soul into matter, nor the infinite into the finite. Our false views of matter perish as we grasp the facts of Spirit. The old belief must be cast out or the new idea will be spilled, and the inspiration, which is to change our standpoint, will be lost. Now, as of old, Truth casts out evils and heals the sick.

It is obvious to the early Journal contributors that Christian Science is the New Wine that Jesus was talking about. The Christian Science Journal, Volume 16  By Mary Baker Eddy April, 1898 (1) has “A Timely Topic” by F.S. Wilbur (p. 29-31) that talks about this parable in relation to Christian Science:

According to F.S. Wilbur, Ms. Eddy was “impelled by a power not her own to “provide new bottles for the new wine” — obviously Christian Science on both counts. A bit of boasting that echos Ms. Eddy’s sentiments, and promise of a lasting permanence and preservation of these ideas.

The take on new wine/old bottles takes an interesting turn in The Christian Science Journal, Volume 37, April 1919 (2) has “Qualification for Healing” by S. Ella Schelhamer (p. 179-181), which echos sentiments that send chills down my spine:

… she saw there had been murmurings and rebellion and a fixed belief in the reality of matter, with its resultant sin and sickness, that must be relinquished before the healing could be realized.  It is obvious that the elimination of belief in the pleasures and pains of sense must precede human receptivity to Truth. On page 15 of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” Mrs. Eddy writes, “Without a fitness for holiness, we can not receive holiness.”

Ms. Schelhamer goes on to repeat the wine/bottles parable, then continues.

Though smarting under the tyrannical control of materialism, wether in the guise of sin, sickness, or mental disturbance, the length of the journey from inharmony to harmony is determined by the willingness to divest thought of materialism. Even the righteous desire for healing must be superseded by the stronger desire to know more of God, to learn His will and obey it, and when such becomes the state of consciousness there unfolds to the individual the knowledge of the ever presence of all-power of God.

What Jesus “said” made sense, even outside of the context of a parable, putting new wine into old wine skins will cause them to break. Ms. Eddy’s follower’s 1898 claim that she discovered a new wine, and created a new bottle for it is a rather bold one.

The tile of the 1919 piece, “Qualifications for Healing” is enough to turn my stomach. Only the qualified are worthy of being healed. I’m unsure where Ms. Schelhamer is going when she uses the new wine analogy. The Eddy quote about holiness makes sense in this context, but I am unsure what new bottles the new wine of Christian Science is supposed to be going into. The material body is an unreal vessel, so are we filling a spiritual body? How do you get a “new” spiritual body? Is this “new” spiritual body a reference to Revelation 21:5? (3)

Ms. Schelhamer raises more questions than answers, also how are we to know God’s will? The idea of “Angel messages” is problematic, as 2 Timothy 4:3 reminds us to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (New International Version). (4) How do we know that Christian Science, and Ms. Schelhamer’s opinions on it, are true? Jeremiah devotes all of chapter 7 to false religions (5), and the notion that Christian Science is a “false” religion is often used by more “mainstream” groups.

There are a few more Journal and Sentinel articles that discuss the new wine/old bottles predicament, but as they are tucked safely behind the Mother Church’s pay-wall, so I will instead turn to the sadly now defunct New Wine New Bottles blog, based on the premise that perhaps it is time for a New Christian Science movement. New Wine links to the Next Generation Fellowship movement in St. Louis, and regularly called out the Christian Science movement for lacking in adult Sunday School classes, dull music, and archaic ritual.

New Wine New Bottles makes for an interesting read, and at one point I heartily agreed with the idea of reform movement. Now, while I’m sure it appeals to some, my path has led me in a different direction. I don’t see why Christian Science has to make things so complicated. It is really quite simple: when I want wine, I buy new wine in new bottles, when the bottles are empty, I put them in the recycling bin.

Further Reading & Bible Commentaries

End Notes

  1. http://books.google.com/books?id=ta1LAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=old+wine+new+bottles+christian+science&source=bl&ots=z4wyqNc2lF&sig=IrLFqcC38dGOW_6MWOaqmZJGnaI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jJzOU5nrLsr8oASbtoL4Bw&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=old%20wine%20new%20bottles%20christian%20science&f=false
  2. http://books.google.com/books?id=StMWAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA180&lpg=PA180&dq=old+wine+new+bottles+christian+science&source=bl&ots=pAS2eElh-N&sig=I9q7zzgc3ZqletsIyicm83bEo7w&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jJzOU5nrLsr8oASbtoL4Bw&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=old%20wine%20new%20bottles%20christian%20science&f=false
  3. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation%2021:4-6&version=KJ21  And He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said unto me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
  4. http://biblehub.com/2_timothy/4-3.htm
  5. http://biblehub.com/niv/jeremiah/7.htm

I did a quick google search for Ms. Schelhamer, and according to the archives.com records, she shows up in 12 census records and there is no record of her birth or death – I did not pay for membership, but I did get a screen shot of the free results:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.18.14 AMScreen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.14.44 AMEither Ms. Schelhamer was a perfect Christian Scientist, she was never born and never died, or Ward 38, Chicago, Chicago City, Cook, IL didn’t keep the best records.