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Church of Christ, Scientist
(Christian Science)


Summary | In-depth Beliefs | Compare 

The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded in 1879 in Boston, Massachusetts by Mary Baker Eddy, author of the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The book offered a unique interpretation of Christian faith. Christian Science teaches that the reality of God denies the reality of sickness, death, sin, and the material world. Stories of miraculous healing are common within the church and adherents often refuse modern medical treatments. The church, headquartered in Boston, has branches around the world, currently with a membership estimated at 100,000 to 400,000.

History

The church was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 following a personal healing in 1866, which she claimed resulted from reading the Bible. She called this experience "the falling apple" that led her to discover Christian Science. The experience convinced her that: "The divine Spirit had wrought the miracle — a miracle which later I found to be in perfect scientific accord with divine law." Mary Baker Eddy, Founder of Christian Science She spent the next three years investigating the law of God as taught by the Bible, especially in the words and works of Jesus. The Bible and Eddy's textbook on Christian healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, are together the church's principal doctrinal sources and have been ordained as the church's "dual impersonal pastor".

The First Church of Christ, Scientist is widely known for its publications, especially The Christian Science Monitor, a daily newspaper published internationally in print and on the Internet. Skeptics consider the church to be controversial due to its emphasis on healing through prayer, while most others would likely choose modern medicine. There have also been periodic tensions with other Christian denominations who reject the idea that Christian Science is a Christian denomination because of what some Christians consider to be unorthodox tenets. One such tenet is:

"We acknowledge Jesus' atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man's unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death."

The Church of Christ, Scientist is sometimes confused with the unrelated Church of Scientology, an organization founded about 75 years after Christian Science. It is also sometimes confused with Religious Science, a recent denomination in the area of the New Thought tradition.

The most common symbol of Christian Science is the Cross and Crown.

Theology and Healing

Origins and Early Development

In February 1866, Mary Baker Eddy (then, Mary Glover) was healed of an injury "that neither medicine nor surgery could reach..." (Ret 24:12). According to her personal accounts, when her injury put her on her deathbed, she called out for her Bible. She turned it to Matthew 9:2, which tells the story of Jesus healing a man who was sick with palsy, and, after pondering the meaning of the passage, she found herself suddenly well and able to get up. In her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection (Ret 24:17), she wrote:

"Even to the homeopathic physician who attended me, and rejoiced in my recovery, I could not then explain the modus of my relief. I could only assure him that the divine Spirit had wrought the miracle—a miracle which later I found to be in perfect scientific accord with divine law."

She called this event her "Great Discovery", the "falling apple" that led to her "discovery how to be well" herself. (Later, she gave it the name of "Christian Science", stating that she "...named it Christian, because it is compassionate, helpful, and spiritual.") Not knowing how it had occurred, she spent the next three years studying the Bible, experimenting, and praying to discover if the experience was repeatable and if there were knowable laws that governed it. She claimed that she was able to heal others and began to be called out to the bedsides of those whom the medical faculty had been unable to help. A doctor attending a severe medical case in New Hampshire is said to have witnessed her healing one of his patients and asked if she could explain her system. At the time, she declared only that God did it. But he urged her to write about it and soon she began her main work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, explaining her system of Christian healing.

Soon others began to ask her to teach her healing method and she claimed that her students were able to approximate her ability to heal. The readers of her book gathered into an organization and gradually developed into a church, with Mary Baker Eddy as its pastor.

Possible Influences

Although she had little formal education, Mary Baker Eddy spent much of her youth reading the Bible, as well as works in natural philosophy, logic, moral science, and other Christian literature. Prior to her recovery in 1866, she had investigated a number of common healing methods of her day, including the conventional medicine of the day, hydropathy, and homeopathy. However, her experience as a patient of P.P. Quimby is said to have had the most controversial effect on her religious development.

Mary Baker Eddy asked her husband at the time, Daniel Patterson, to seek out Quimby's help for her in 1862 during a severe illness. Until Dr. Quimby's death in January 1866, Eddy relied heavily on Quimby for her physical health. Some feel that he provided inspiration for Eddy's early writing on Christian Science, asserting that he used the phrase "Christian Science" (in 1863). Incidentally, the term "Christian Science" was used before Quimby and Eddy by William Adams in a book he wrote entitled, The Elements of Christian Science, first copyrighted in 1850 and published in 1857.

Eddy would later claim that she had provided much of the foundation of Dr. Quimby's thoughts on healing (My 306:22). Those more sympathetic to Quimby and the New Thought religions stemming from his teachings find this to be unlikely, arguing that Quimby introduced some key elements as early as 1859 that would only later appear in Christian Science. However, Christian Science practice does not resemble Quimby's healing system, nor are their theologies remotely similar. Eddy's biographer, Gillian Gill, who is not a Christian Scientist, acknowledges that Quimby "had a profound influence on" Eddy, but also notes that her religion was quite different from his (in her Mary Baker Eddy (1998), 146). Ann Taves, an American religious scholar, probes for specific differences and argues that "Quimby's rejection of special revelation was in keeping with both Spiritualism and the later New Thought tradition, while Eddy's insistence on revelation aligned Christian Science more strategically with evangelical Protestantism as represented by Edwards and Wesley and with Seventh-day Adventism" (in her Fits, Trances, and Visions (1999), 218).

Theology

In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Eddy argues that given the absolute goodness and perfection of God, disease, death, and sin were not created by Him and therefore cannot be truly real. She bases this reading on Genesis 1, calling that the true record of creation is in contrast to Genesis 2, the false record of creation obscuring the true (which occurred when "a mist went up from the face of the ground"). Rather than being existent and real, in Christian Science evil and its manifestations are instead terrible lies about God and His creation. This, it argues, is what Jesus meant when he said that "the devil is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44). The demand for Christians, therefore, is to "unmask" the devil's lies through Christ, revealing the Eternal truth and perfection of God's creation. Eddy therefore called evil "error" and felt it could be remedied through a better spiritual understanding of one's relationship with God. She contended that this understanding was what enabled the biblical Jesus to heal and adheres with the scripture: "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (I John 4:6)

This teaching is the foundation of the Christian Science principle that disease – and any other adversity – can be cured through effort in prayer, made possible only by God's grace, to fully understand this spiritual relationship. It is referred to in Science and Health as "The Scientific Statement of Being". It is read aloud in churches and Sunday schools at the end of every Sunday service, along with I John 3:1-3 and the following biblical benediction:

"There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual." (p. 468)

This belief in the unreality of imperfection, stemming from the allness of God, Spirit, is the basis of Christian Scientists' characteristic reliance on prayer replacing traditional medical care, often with the aid of Christian Science practitioners.

Christian Science practitioners are listed in the Christian Science Journal, with the permission of the church's Board of Directors, their only form of official recognition by the church and among the Christian Science adherents. (Some "unlisted" practitioners maintain active practices as well, but they do so without the prestige that a Journal listing offers. Additionally, medical insurance plans that cover Christian Science treatment generally only cover that which is provided by Journal-listed practitioners).

In Christian Science parlance, practitioners treat patients through prayer. Such treatment is often, though not always, for health-related problems, and a practitioner's patient may request help for personal problems as well, such as relationships, problems of employment or housing and so on. Practitioners generally charge a modest fee for their services since it is their only form of employment. Christian Scientists believe that through scientific study of the inspired word of the Bible, especially Jesus' words and works, one can learn to heal. Healing is perceived not as an end in itself, but a natural result of drawing closer to God. Healing sin is particularly crucial. Eddy called this the "emphatic purpose" of Christian Science, writing that it is also often more difficult than healing sickness, because "while mortals love to sin, they do not love to be sick" (Rudimental Divine Science, 2).

Christian Scientists celebrate the sacraments of baptism and eucharist in a completely non-material way. "Our baptism," Eddy wrote, "is purification from all error...Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, 'which cometh down from heaven,' is Truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine the inspiration of Love, the draught the Master drank and commended to his followers" (Science and Health 35). The one and only ritual in the Christian Science church is voluntary kneeling at the Sacrament service twice a year, while repeating the Lord's prayer. Marriage is not a sacrament of the Christian Science church, but it does hold a special place in Christian Science as the moral and legal institution within which a man and woman can partner to help one another grow into a fuller "demonstration," or lived understanding, of their spiritual completeness as expressions of the Father-Mother God. The church's by-laws require a legal and religious ceremony for marriage: "If a Christian Scientist is to be married, the ceremony shall be performed by a clergyman who is legally authorized." (Church Manual 49)

Christ Jesus is both "Wayshower" and Savior in Christian Science theology. Eddy distinguished between the corporeal Jesus, the human man who lived on earth in the flesh (the Son of Man), and the incorporeal Christ (the Son of God). According to Christian Science, Jesus Christ is "the divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error" (Science and Health 583). This incorporeal Christ is the "spiritual selfhood" (spiritual identity) of Jesus (Science and Health 38). In Eddy's Message to The Mother Church for 1901, in the selection titled CHRIST IS ONE AND DIVINE, she writes:

"The Christ was Jesus' spiritual selfhood; therefore Christ existed prior to Jesus, who said, "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus, the only immaculate, was born of a virgin mother, and Christian Science explains that mystic saying of the Master as to his dual personality, or the spiritual and material Christ Jesus, called in Scripture the Son of God and the Son of man — explains it as referring to his eternal spiritual selfhood and his temporal manhood." (Message for 1901, p. 8)

This is in accordance with a basic plank in the platform of Christian Science:

"The invisible Christ was imperceptible to the so-called personal senses, whereas Jesus appeared as a bodily existence. This dual personality of the unseen and the seen, the spiritual and material, the eternal Christ and the corporeal Jesus manifest in flesh, continued until the Master's ascension, when the human, material concept, or Jesus, disappeared, while the spiritual self, or Christ, continues to exist in the eternal order of divine Science, taking away the sins of the world, as the Christ has always done, even before the human Jesus was incarnate to mortal eyes." (Science and Health 334)

Christian Science teaches that Jesus Christ was sent by God and that his history is factual, including the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. (Science and Health 46)

Because of his special status due to the virgin birth and his pure, unselfish nature, Jesus voluntarily faced his struggle in Gethsemane, death, resurrection, and ascension to show mankind that no phase of mortal existence was beyond God's redeeming love. Eddy wrote: "Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated man's oneness with the Father, and for this we owe him endless homage" (Science and Health 18).

"Jesus could have withdrawn himself from his enemies. He had power to lay down a human sense of life for his spiritual identity in the likeness of the divine; but he allowed men to attempt the destruction of the mortal body in order that he might furnish the proof of immortal life. Nothing could kill this Life of man. Jesus could give his temporal life into his enemies' hands; but when his earth-mission was accomplished, his spiritual life, indestructible and eternal, was found forever the same." (Science and Health 51)

Christian Science teaches that one is not a Christian until they "go and do likewise," or until they in some degree "come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," as it says in the scriptures (Ephesians 4:13). We never become Christ, but we are called on to become fully Christly or Christ-like, to emulate our Master's great words and works in some measure. This was Eddy's interpretation of Jesus' saying: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12). No one's ministry, however, can equal that of Jesus Christ in Christian Science. Eddy even dictated in her Church Manual that "careless comparison or irreverent reference to Christ Jesus is abnormal in a Christian Scientist and is prohibited" (41). She wrote elsewhere: "The cardinal points of Christian Science cannot be lost sight of, namely — one God, supreme, infinite, and one Christ Jesus." (Miscellany 339)

Christian Scientists are trinitarian, but not in an orthodox way. One plank of the platform of Christian Science says:

"Life, Truth, and Love constitute the triune Person called God, — that is, the triply divine Principle, Love. They represent a trinity in unity, three in one, — the same in essence, though multi-form in office: God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter. These three express in divine Science the threefold, essential nature of the infinite. They also indicate the divine Principle of scientific being, the intelligent relation of God to man and the universe." (Science and Health 331)

Here, Eddy calls God "Father-Mother," signifying not an androgynous God but a God "without body, parts or passions," as in the Westminster Confession of Faith, whose function is nevertheless to both govern and comfort. She calls the Holy Ghost "divine Science or the Holy Comforter," the spiritual law of God operating as the Holy Spirit in the world. To her students, Eddy sent a definition of the Trinity (circa 1898), which read in part: "Jesus in the flesh was the prophet or wayshower to Life, Truth, and Love, and out of the flesh Jesus was the Christ, the spiritual idea, or image and likeness of God." (Christian Science Journal, July 1915, p. 192). This statement clearly reflects Eddy's doctrine regarding the uniqueness, unity, and individuality of Christ Jesus' eternal, spiritual identity.

Spiritual Healing in the Material World

At first, Christian Science's focus on the idea of spiritual healing led to some measure of stir in the theological realm. Under the influence of the Enlightenment, many mainstream denominations had banished spiritual healing to the realm of a one-time dispensation rather than a modern practice. During Christian Science's early days of rapid growth, claims of healing with the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy and The Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures became a subject of heated debate at Christian conventions, but for the same reason it also became a subject of reawakened interest in the 1960s and 1970s.

While reliance on the theology of spiritual healing is important to Christian Scientists, it is also not officially required or demanded of them, which has led to mixed legal opinions as to what constitutes negligence in its use. Orthodox practitioners treating a patient who decides to switch to medical care will typically stop praying for that person. "Mixing" of methods is discouraged among orthodox Christian Scientists because, according to Eddy, they work from opposite standpoints. In Christian Science, God made "man" perfect, so "prayerful treatment" works from the standpoint of perfection, seeing man in "reality" as God made him; whereas medical science works from the perspective that something is wrong, which must first be diagnosed, then fixed.

Christian Science teaches that spiritual healing is a natural result of following the teachings of Jesus. Healing was a major part of Jesus' ministry, and Christian Scientists see no reason for excluding it from the practice of modern day Christians. They believe that Jesus' teachings were proved by his healings.

The Church claims to have more than 50,000 testimonies of healing through Christian Science treatment alone. While most of these testimonies represent ailments neither diagnosed nor treated by medical professionals, the Church does require three other people to vouch for any testimony published in its official periodical, the Christian Science Journal. However, some critics of the Church argue that the verification guidelines are not strict enough, allowing verifiers who have not witnessed the claimed healing to "vouch for [the healing's] accuracy based on their knowledge of [the claimant]." (Taken from the Church's "Testimony guidelines".) The Church also has a number of statements concerning diagnosed conditions accompanied by legal affidavits of authenticity signed by medical practitioners who witnessed a non-medical healing. Robert Peel's book, Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age, chronicles many of these accounts and quotes from the affidavits. Peel is the most academic/scholarly writer of the church's published biographers of Mary Baker Eddy.

Christian Scientists who wish to become public practitioners—spiritual healers—of Christian Science complete an intensive two-week "Primary" class. The instruction in this class is given by a teacher. Teachers are added every three years by the church from the pool of active public practitioners. To become a teacher, they must first be selected by the church, then they take another class designated "Normal". Both of these classes are based on the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. In particular, the "Primary" class focuses upon the chapter titled "Recapitulation" in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This chapter uses the Socratic method of teaching and is where the "Scientific Statement of Being" can be found. The "Normal" class focuses on the Platform of Christian Science which is also found in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, but begins on page 330 in the chapter entitled "Science of Being".

Mary Baker Eddy said one may accept certain temporary aid from "materia medica" if a person is in such pain that he is unable to pray for himself.

"If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures p. 443)

Medical Studies of Spiritual Healing

The medical community (and others as well) have taken some interest in spirituality and healing. The Harvard Medical School Department of Continuing Education offers a course entitled "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine; The Importance of the Integration of Mind/Body Practices and Prayer" which the Mother Church has supported. In addition, some studies on the effectiveness of prayer on patients recovering from heart attacks have shown a small benefit to prayer or other spiritual treatment in recovery. However, it is important to note that the patients in these studies received some form of spiritual healing (i.e. not Christian Science 'treatment') in addition to, not instead of, standard medical care. Later studies (again not involving Christian Science treatment) with larger numbers of heart patients showed prayer does not effect recovery.

Organization

Christian Science Mother Church (Boston, MA)

The First Church of Christ, Scientist is the full, legal title of The Mother Church and administrative headquarters of the Christian Science Church. The complex is located in a 14-acre (57,000 m2) plaza alongside Huntington Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts.

The church itself was built in 1894, and an addition larger in footprint than the original structure was added in 1906. It boasts one of the world's largest pipe organs, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston. The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity is housed in an 11-story building originally constructed for The Christian Science Publishing Society between 1932 and 1934, and the current plaza was constructed in the 1970s to include a large administration building, a colonnade, and a reflecting pool with fountain, designed by Araldo Cossutta of I. M. Pei and Partners (now Pei Cobb Freed).

Branch churches of The Mother Church may adopt the title of First Church of Christ, Scientist; but the article The must not be used.

An international daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, founded by Eddy in 1908 and winner of seven Pulitzer prizes, is printed by the church through the Christian Science Publishing Society.

Branch Christian Science churches and Christian Science Societies are subordinate to the Mother Church, but are self-governed in the sense that they have their own constitutions, bank accounts, assets, and so forth. In order to be recognized, they must abide by the practices that Mary Baker Eddy laid out in the Manual of The Mother Church. Church services, along with every other aspect of church government, are regulated by the Manual, a kind of constitution written by Eddy, and consisting of various regulations covering everything from the duties of officers, to discipline, to provisions for church meetings and publications.

Board of Directors

The Christian Science Board of Directors is a five-person executive body created by Mary Baker Eddy to administer the Christian Science Church under the terms defined in her equivalent of a church constitution, the Church Manual. Its functions, rules, and restrictions are defined by various by-laws throughout the Manual.

The Board (occasionally the CSBD or BoD for short) also includes functions defined by one of several Deeds of Trust written by Eddy under which it consisted of four persons, though she later expanded the Board to five persons, thus in effect leaving one board member out of Deed functions. This later bore on a dispute during the 1920s, known as the Great Litigation in Christian Science circles, pivoting on whether the CSBD could remove trustees of the Christian Science Publishing Society (CSPS) or whether the CSPS trustees were established independently.

While Eddy's Manual established limited executive functions under the rule of law in place of a traditional hierarchy, the controversial 1991 publishment of a book by Bliss Knapp led the then Board of Directors to make the unusual affidavit during a suit over Knapp's estate that neither acts by it violating the Manual, nor acts refraining from required action, constituted violations of the Manual. A traditionally-minded minority maintained that the Board's act in publishing Knapp's book constituted a fundamental violation of several by-laws and its legal trust, automatically mandating the offending Board members' resignations under Article I, Section 9.

Another minority believed that Eddy intended various requirements for her consent (in their view, "estoppels") to affect the church's dissolution on her passing, since they could no longer be followed literally. Ironically, one of the stronger arguments against this position came from Bliss Knapp, an individual highly respected by his theological quarter, who claimed that Eddy understood through her lawyer that these consent clauses would not hinder normal operation after her decease.

Services

Churches worldwide hold a one-hour service each Sunday, consisting of hymns, prayer, and currently, readings from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (although there is no requirement that this version of the Bible be used) as well as Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. These readings are the weekly Lesson-Sermon, which is read aloud at all Sunday services in each Christian Science church worldwide, and is studied by individuals at home throughout the preceding week. The Lesson, as it is informally called, is compiled by a committee at the Mother Church, and is made up of six sections, each of which consists of passages from the Bible (read by the Second Reader) and selections from Science and Health (read by the First Reader).

There are 26 set subjects for the Lesson-Sermon, which were selected by Eddy herself. The topics follow each other in an unchanging, predetermined order, and the progression starts over mid-year so that each week in the year has a topic devoted to it. In years in which there are 53 Sundays, the topic "Christ Jesus" is taught a third time, in December. There is also a Lesson-Sermon devoted to Thanksgiving Day.

Because there are no clergy in the church, branch church Sunday services are conducted by two Readers: the First Reader, who reads passages from Science and Health, and the Second Reader, who reads selections from the Bible. First Readers determine the beginning "scriptural selection", the hymns to be sung on Sundays, and the benediction. The vast majority of the service is the reading of the weekly Bible lesson supplied by Boston, and an order of service set out by the Manual. To be elected the First Reader in one's branch church is one of the highest and most prestigious positions that a Christian Scientist can aspire to.

Churches also hold a one-hour Wednesday evening testimony meeting, with similar readings and accounts of healing from prayer by the attendants. At these services, the First Reader reads in four sections consisting of passages from the Bible and Science and Health. Alternate Bible translations may be chosen at these services (i.e. Phillips).

Branch churches also sponsor annual public talks (called lectures) given by speakers selected by the Board of Lectureship in Boston.

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