One of the sweetest thoughts in the Course, for me, is this:
All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. (T-5.IV.8:2-3)
Lately I've been seeing that filtering of the past in a new way. I've been realizing how much truth and light reached me while I was a practicing fundamentalist Christian, truth that I cherish now in the Course, but which came to me through the Bible and various Christian teachers before I ever heard of the Course-before it was even written.
Actually, in the years I am speaking of, I didn't refer to myself as a fundamentalist; I thought of myself as "an evangelical Christian." Even within traditional Christian circles, the word "fundamentalist" has a bad taste to it. It conjures up images of pulpit-pounding preachers of hellfire who wear shiny suits, sport pompadour hair, and lecture their audiences about all the sinful things they must avoid. I was a college graduate; I convinced myself that my Christianity was respectable and intelligent.
Of course, I had a lot in common with those fundamentalists that I disdained. I believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. I believed that salvation came through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. I believed that Jesus was God the Son (which set him apart from the rest of us), and not simply the Son of God (as we all are). I believed that the devil existed. I believed that sin was real, and that everyone was born in sin, cut off from God, and had to choose salvation through Jesus Christ to be born again to eternal life. As I grew older, some of those beliefs began to morph; for instance, toward the end of my active participation in Christian churches and groups, I had come to believe that a person could choose salvation without consciously accepting Jesus Christ. And I was close to believing that no one would spend eternity in hell. But, by and large, until I had studied the Course for several years, my beliefs were well within the orthodox, conservative Christian camp.
I still consider myself, at heart, a Christian, although I have strayed far from the accepted pathways. As a Course student, I acknowledge Jesus as my spiritual leader, and I proclaim the Christ in everyone. Yet I am not the same kind of Christian I was before; I no longer believe any of those things that I listed in the last paragraph. Many Christians consider them to be "fundamental" Christian truths-even many who, while not accurately described as fundamentalists, are still largely conservative in their theology. They would probably say that no one who does not believe those things could be considered to be a Christian.
For the sake of this article, then, let me distinguish between traditional Christianity and Course Christianity. When I use the term "Christianity" without qualification, I will be referring to traditional Christianity, but I do not mean to imply that Course students are not (or may not identify themselves as) Christians. I will use the terms "Christian" and "Course student" as though they were exclusive, even though I realize they are not. When I refer to my time as a Christian I mean my time as a Bible-centered, evangelical Christian; when I refer to myself and others as "Course students," I mean people who consider the Course their primary spiritual path, while recognizing that many Course students are still practicing Christians as well.
Yet as I look back now, I can identify quite a few points at which God's light had shone through traditional teaching and reached me. Putting that another way, there were quite a few things I learned as a Christian, and from other Christians, that I carry with me still, things that I find either reinforced by the Course or at least consonant with it. I often think that, as Course students, we have more in common with our born-again brothers and sisters than we realize. I want to honor that commonality in this article by identifying a number of such gems of truth from my Christian past.
The points I mention here do not exhaust the treasures from the past; they are merely representative. These are points that come to mind when I ask myself, "What truths did I learn as a Bible-based Christian that I still cherish today as a devoted Course student? What truths from the Course came to me as reinforcements and affirmations of truths already familiar to me?" Some of these points came from particular Christian teachers, and some came directly from the Bible, but all of them represent points of truth shared by the Course and evangelical Christianity.
No Consciousness of Sin
I'll begin with a realization that came to me from an amalgam of many sources, but which arrived in my conscious mind with all the force of a revelation: it is possible for us to live with no consciousness of sin-or, in Course terms, to recognize that we are guiltless because that is God's Will (see W-pI.93.6:1 and throughout that lesson). This realization came to me one day during 1969, thirteen years after my initial born-again experience. It really was the culmination of much Bible study and reading of scores of books, but it crystallized for me in a few words from the New Testament book of Hebrews, words that contrast the ineffectual animal sacrifices of the Old Testament to the perfect work of Jesus Christ:
1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? (Hebrews 10:1-2)
(All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible [NASB] unless otherwise noted.)
What struck me in particular as I read that passage were the words "would no longer have had consciousness of sins." The biblical author was clearly saying that if sacrifices had really worked to remove sin, the worshipers would have been guiltless after offering them; all consciousness of sin would have been gone from their minds, and they would have had no further need to offer sacrifices. Instead, the sacrifices were offered annually, proving that sin had not been permanently dealt with. Then, he goes on to say that the perfect sacrifice has now been offered in Jesus:
11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, …
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-12, 14)
(The capitalized words are a quotation from the Old Testament (Psalm 110) that the writer is applying to Jesus.)
Students of the Course know that Jesus, in the Course, repudiates this interpretation of his death (see T-3.I. and T-6.I), so atonement by sacrifice is something the Bible and the Course definitely do not have in common. The commonality that I see here is this: both the Bible and the Course say that God has arranged things so that, no matter what we may have done or left undone, it is possible for us to be freed of all consciousness of sin.
Traditional Christianity, and in particular evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, very strongly emphasizes the complete forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ: "through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you" (Acts 13:38). He offered the definitive sacrifice that dealt with sin "for all time." The basis on which Christianity offers forgiveness is vastly different from the Course; indeed, the Course dismisses the idea that Jesus died for our sins as "upside-down," an "unfortunate interpretation, which arose out of projection" (T-3.I.1:5-6). Instead, it bases forgiveness on the fact that, since what God created cannot be changed, sin must be unreal; it must not exist: "There is no sin; it has no consequence" (W-pI.101.6:7). Being without sin, of course, we are also without guilt.
Although Christians proclaim forgiveness on what the Course considers a mistaken basis (Jesus' sacrifice), still, forgiveness is being proclaimed, and within Christian circles many people hear that message and receive it. Course students and traditional Christians share a belief that God's Will to forgive is so strong that He would move Heaven and earth to do so, allowing absolutely nothing to stand in its way. Well, perhaps not quite "nothing" where traditional Christians are concerned, because most do believe that a majority of the human race is doomed to hell. I might state more accurately that traditional teaching includes a profound but limited expression of divine forgiveness, while the Course expands that to make it unlimited and absolute.
To be honest, I found most Christian churches to be riddled with guilt and sometimes based on fear (trying to scare people out of hell into Heaven by threat of eternal punishment). The incredible freedom from all consciousness of sins was a message in scarce supply. It was and is still proclaimed here and there, but many miss it, even those who consider themselves to be "saved." Christians who live without consciousness of sins are rare indeed-but the same could be said of Course students!
I learned the truth of complete forgiveness while still a Christian, but when I encountered it in the Course, it became a centerpiece of my spiritual repertoire.
Only One Person in the Universe
Perhaps my favorite Christian author, and a man I regard in many ways as a spiritual father, was Norman Grubb. Brother of Sir Kenneth Grubb (an Anglican Church leader and prominent figure in the World Council of Churches), author of many books,1 and Director of the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (WEC), Grubb was a unique figure. While remaining staunchly fundamentalist at the core, he opened himself to a wide variety of influences that included New Thought Christianity authors such as Thomas Troward (widely read in Religious Science) and even Sufi mystics. I attribute to him most of the open-mindedness in myself that led to my eventual acceptance of A Course in Miracles. I was privileged to hear Norman in person on a number of occasions. I had several personal consultations with him, and, in 1964, even met with him in his own home in Fort Washington, PA, where he lived near the headquarters of WEC. He died in 1993 at the age of 95. Many of his writings can be viewed on the web at www.normangrubb.com and at www.unionlife.org. Course students with a strong background in biblical Christianity may find some helpful material there to aid them in integrating their former beliefs with the Course.
In The Key to Everything, Norman wrote:
Essentially from eternity there has been only one Person.
This is difficult to realize. Yet throughout the Word of God it is underlined.
God was before all: He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega.
He is love.
He is inconceivable beauty.
He is the all.
If that is so, then the link between Him and us, whom He has created, is the link between the One and the means of manifesting or making known the One. In other words, our relation to Him is that of containing Him in such a way that He may be recognized.
I still recall the sense of wonder and rightness I had when I first read his statement that there is only one Person in the universe. The idea was radical and startling, yet it resonated to the core of my being. "Of course!" I thought. "The Bible says that God is All and in All (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 3:11), so we are really all in Him." The Amplified Bible renders the last phrase of Ephesians 1:23 as, "Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere [with Himself]." I soaked up such passages like a sponge, relishing the vision of God's infinite Oneness.
A. B. Simpson, who founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, , once wrote in a song: "All in all forever, only Christ I sing. Everything is in Christ, and Christ is everything."
Perhaps neither of these writers went quite as far as the Course does in developing this idea, but the seed certainly was there. The Course says:
God is All in all in a very literal sense. All being is in Him Who is all Being. You are therefore in Him since your being is His. (T-7.IV.7:4-6)
I cannot imagine a clearer, more categorical statement. When the Course says something is true "in a very literal sense," there is absolutely no wiggle room left to claim that this is figurative or does not mean quite what it seems to say. The second sentence confirms the first; everything that is, is in God because God is everything that is. To be at all is to be in God. On this basis the Course declares our salvation accomplished; there is nowhere else we could possibly be but in God! There is no "place beyond the infinite" (T-29.VIII.6:2).
In paragraph 5 of Workbook lesson 169, we read about the time when we have been restored to total conscious union with God. In that level of experience, when we have moved from perception into full knowledge, all that is necessary is "God is." (Norman used to say, "God isn't a doer; He's an Is-er.") Nothing else means anything, because in conscious union with God we realize that there is nothing else but God: "In His Being, He encompasses all things" (W-pI.169.5:2). All is God, and therefore anything else-any other word-means nothing. That experience of oneness is our destination, our goal. In that union:
There are no lips to speak them [words], and no part of mind sufficiently distinct to feel that it is now aware of something not itself. It has united with its Source. And like its Source Itself, it merely is. (W-pI.169.5:5-7)
Nothing exists outside of God; all His creations are part of Himself. Since that is true, it means that from the Course's point of view, all of reality is in God. I am in God; you are in God; your favorite enemy is in God. There is, quite literally, nowhere else to be, because all being is in God. God is, and only God is.
All else that the Course has to teach us is based upon this single, profound fact. It colors everything the Course says about forgiveness and salvation and the healing of relationships. Yet, I first heard it from Norman Grubb, a Christian missionary.
Living as Expressions of God
Another of God's messengers for me was a British preacher by the name of Ian Thomas-Major Ian Thomas, as he was always billed, for some reason. He, too, wrote a number of books that influenced me, and I enjoyed attending a weeklong conference he gave in New York City. He presented a view often identified with the Keswick conferences, a well-known annual conference on "higher Christian living." The book that first drew my attention was entitled The Saving Life of Christ. Its thesis was that the true central focus of Christianity was not on Jesus' death, but on his resurrection (compare that with the Course's statement, T-3.I.1:2). He quoted the Bible verse "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10, KJV). He pointed out that focusing on Jesus' death and on escape from hell was a mistake; we were meant to go far beyond that to the experience of Christ living in us and through us and as us. It was "much more" than mere escape from punishment.
Major Thomas's speech was full of startling aphorisms and memorable phrases. One such phrase I have never forgotten was that God created Man as "the human vehicle of the divine content." In his talk illustrating the Christian life with parallels to the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, and eventual arrival at the Promised Land, Thomas said something like this: "God did not bring us out of Egypt and then leave us to be dumped in the wilderness [the equivalent of being 'saved' from hell by accepting Christ as savior, and stopping there]. His intention is for us to enter into our inheritance," which meant to be "wholly filled and flooded with God Himself" (Ephesians 3:19, Amplified Bible), a passage Thomas loved to quote.
As a result of my early tutelage under Grubb and Thomas, the Course's ideas that we are "among the ministers of God" (W-pI.154.title) who are meant to join Jesus in his crusade to undo the ego everywhere, and that we are people through whom God reaches out to the world, seemed like familiar notions. The Course says: "The Holy Spirit teaches you to use your body only to reach your brothers, so He can teach His message through you" (T-8.VIII.9:1). "You must see the works I do through you, or you will not perceive that I have done them unto you" (T-11.VI.9:3). And perhaps most exactly paralleling Thomas's teaching: "If God created you by extending Himself as you, you can only extend yourself as He did" (T-7.I.5:2). We can be nothing but the human vehicle of the divine content; that is our only function.
The Importance of the Mind
I forget what teacher first pointed out this teaching in the Bible to me, or whether, perhaps, it was something in the Bible I discovered for myself (I think not). However I received it, the message of these passages has stayed with me:
The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
What I understood from these two verses was that spiritual growth consists of renewing the mind. Patterns of thinking were to be repaired, and by renewing the mind we would be wholly transformed. The mind is thus the key to our spiritual growth; change the mind and everything else changes. As the Course says, "Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T-21.In.1:7). It very clearly says that our behavior is the result of our thinking (see T-5.II.12:3), and urges us to change our mind (T-4.IV.2:1). It calls itself "a course in mind training" (T-1.VII.4:1).
The first verse I quoted above is about our choice of what occupies our mind. If you substituted the word "ego" for "flesh" in the verse and substituted "that listens to" for "set on," it would read almost like a quotation from the Course: "The mind that listens to the ego is death, but the mind that listens to the Spirit is life and peace." The Bible verse presents the same dichotomy we often find in the Course: which voice are we listening to? That decision will determine whether we experience life or death.
The second verse implies that transformation, or enlightenment, consists of a process of undoing the mind's old thoughts and replacing them with new ones, as the Course often teaches. Because of this background, what the Course had to say on the subject was not unfamiliar to me.
You may be surprised to hear that I learned anything about meditation in fundamentalist Christian circles, but in fact, my first exposure to it was at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a bastion of evangelical Christendom. Two evangelical Bible teachers, Frank Currie and Bill Gothard, taught me that the meaning of meditation is (to quote a phrase Currie had his class memorize) "sharing with the Lord His own Word, prayerfully, and with personal application." By this they meant taking the words of Scripture and turning them into personal prayers, adapting them to my specific situation, life, and needs. This was to be done, not only in a morning quiet time, but as one lay down to sleep, while walking from place to place, and whenever one had a moment during the day. They also taught that spiritual success was guaranteed to those who meditated in this way. I won't go into the specifics of how this was derived from careful comparison of a number of Bible verses in the Old Testament, but it was a revelation to me at the time.
If you have read what I have written in Bringing the Course to Life or in several places in the Workbook Companion series, you can probably recognize that I believe this is precisely what the Course, particularly the Workbook, instructs us to do with its words. We are told to remember a sentence and to repeat it over and over during the day, applying it to the situations of our lives. Many of the exercises it gives us are either prayers or almost like prayers; it presents meditation practices that usually begin and end with words (though designed to take us beyond words) and that use phrases to recall the mind to its purpose in seeking the light within. The four-fold pyramid of practice includes morning and evening quiet times, hourly remembrances, frequent reminders, and responses to temptation. The Course tells us that meditation is a very important spiritual practice. Although it uses the actual word "meditation" only once, in W-pI.124.8:4, it presents it as "a major goal of mind training" that "must be accomplished" (W-pI.44.3:3-5).
That brings up the whole area of the general pattern of spiritual practice. The Christians I associated with, particularly in college but afterward as well, emphasized the importance of a daily quiet time, spent in reading the Bible and prayer. I worked my way through a three-year Bible study course called "Search the Scriptures" that was designed for daily devotional Bible study-that is, Bible study applied to one's own life rather than purely academic study. I devoured a little booklet by C. Stacy Woods, then the leader of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, titled Quiet Time. It drilled me in the concept that the key to spiritual growth was a daily time spent with God. Going to church wasn't enough; doing good works wasn't enough; reading books wasn't enough. I had to spend time working on myself and applying the words of the Bible to my own life.
That beginning served me well, and I maintained a morning quiet time for over forty years, even after I dropped out of the Christian circles that taught me to do it and moved on to New Age books, Eastern religions, and the Course. The content changed, but the habit of daily practice remained, and still remains.
Admittedly, not all Christians practice a daily quiet time, but thousands do. Quite possibly the percentage of Christians who take time daily to study and pray compares quite favorably to the percentage of Course students who do so! Clearly, this is something the Course considers a basic for its students, even after completing the Workbook (see M-16.4-5). I owe much to my Christian heritage for training me in this way.
Salvation is a Collaborative Venture
Finally, even in evangelical Christianity, there were some who emphasized the corporate nature of salvation; the ultimate intention of uniting all things in Christ. The Course expresses the idea with the words I use to title this subtopic. The Bible says that the eventual goal is the uniting of all into "a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22, NASB). It speaks of uniting us as "one new Man," with Christ as the head and the rest of us as members of the body-a corporate body. Read carefully, it can be seen in the New Testament that Jesus' intention was not individual salvation, but the formation of the church, a society of those called into the service of God, devoted to the expression of love, and of all the fruits of the Spirit.
I remember reading a book written by a Southern Baptist author that said that true orthodoxy was measured not by the correctness of our doctrine, but by the quality of our relationships with God and with one another. That single statement shifted the entire direction of my life. The Course's emphasis on relationships seemed only natural to me when I encountered it, and I owe the ease with which that fit into my mind to my Christian teaching.
Your background may be very different from mine, but I encourage you to reexamine it one of these days. Instead of looking for its flaws, and for the reasons you left it, look this time for what in your background helped you on your way to the Course and to where you are now. You may find there is far more to be grateful for, and to identify with, than you realized.
1 Norman Grubb authored all of the following books, most originally published by the Christian Literature Crusade, a sister organization of the Worldwide Evangelization Crusdade. Those currently in print are shown in bold: Rees Howells, Intercessor;C. T. Studd, Cricketer and Pioneer; Continuous Revival