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Church of Christ, Scientist

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The Church of Christ, Scientist, often known as The Christian Science Church, is a Protestant Christian denomination, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. The Bible and Mrs. Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures are together the church's key doctrinal sources.

Christian Science has no connection with Scientology, which was founded nearly a century after Christian Science and which is not based on Christianity. Christian Science is also considered somewhat controversial because of its practice of prayer for healing in lieu of modern medicine and its doctrinal deviations from orthodox Christianity.

Contents

Theology and healing

Origins and early development

The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston (the Mother Church)
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The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston (the Mother Church)

Christian Science is a name coined by a New England woman around 1865 as the result of a lifelong search for a Christianity that would duplicate Jesus' success in healing sickness as well as sin. Mary Glover, as she was then known, had investigated a number of common healing methods of her day, including allopathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, and Quimbyism. Her own poor health drove her search, but her deep Christian roots made her long for the kind of health care that Jesus had provided two thousand years before.

A fall on ice left her confined to bed and a doctor diagnosed grave injuries. She called for her Bible, and, reading an account of a healing by Jesus, she found herself suddenly well. Not knowing how this 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 found that she was able to heal others and began to be called out to the bedsides of those whom the medical faculty had not been able to help. A doctor attending a severe case in New Hampshire witnessed her healing of his patient and asked if she could explain her system. At the time, she said only that God did it. But he urged her to write about it and soon she began her main work explaining her system of Christian healing in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Soon others began to ask her to teach her healing method and she found 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 she became known, as its pastor.

Theology

In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy argued that given the absolute goodness and perfection of God, sin, disease, and death were not created by Him, and therefore cannot be truly real. This led her to conclude that the material world was an illusion that obscures God's world of spiritual "Truth," which she felt was the true reality. Mrs. Eddy came to believe that this misperception, which she called "error," could be remedied through a better spiritual understanding of humanity's relationship to God, and contended that this understanding was what enabled the biblical Jesus to heal.

This teaching is the foundation of Christian Scientists' belief that disease – and any other adversity – can be cured through prayerful efforts to fully understand this spiritual relationship. It is encapsulated in Science and Health as "The Scientific Statement of Being," a kind of Christian Science creed that is arguably the most cited textual passage in Christian Science practice; it is also read aloud in churches and Sunday schools at the end of every Sunday service:

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 is the basis of Christian Scientists' characteristic reliance on prayer for traditional medical care, often with the aid of Christian Science practitioners, who are, with the permission of the church's Board of Directors, listed in the Christian Science Journal, their only form of official recognition by the church and among the Christian Science laity. (Some "unlisted" practitioners maintain active practices as well, but they do so without the prestige that a Journal listing brings.)

Practitioners "treat patients," in Christian Science parlance, through prayer. Such treatment usually, though not always, is for health-related problems, and a practitioner's patient may request help for personal problems as well, such as relationships, workplace difficulties, and so on. Practitioners may also charge modest fees for their services.

Christian Science's focus on the idea of spiritual healing led to some measure of stir in the theological realm at first. Under the eye of the scientific revolutions of the 19th century, many mainstream denominations had relegated 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 under its influence 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 70s.

Since Christian Scientists deny the existence of evil, the devil, and all sin, the role of Jesus Christ is radically different from nearly all other Christian sects. In Christian Science, Christ did not die for the sins of man; rather, Christ's works, crucifixion, and resurrection serve to reveal the non-existence of sin and death. Christian Scientists believe that through proper adherence to the teachings of Jesus, one can also demonstrate (albeit on a smaller scale) the non-existence of such "error."

Spiritual healing in the material world


While reliance on the theology of spiritual healing is important to Christian Scientists, it is also not officially required of them, which has led to mixed legal opinions as to what constitutes negligence in its use. Practitioners treating a patient who decides to switch to medical care will no longer pray for that person, "mixing" of methods being forbidden in the Christian Science church. This is based on the belief that "One cannot serve two masters."

Christian Scientists believe that spiritual healing is a natural result of following Jesus' teachings. Healing was a major part of Jesus' ministry, and Christian Scientists see no basis for excluding it from the practice of modern day Christians. They understand Jesus to have presented health-giving laws in his spiritual teachings, and that following these laws, such as the golden rule and the exhortation to love one's enemies, will result in a practical form of health care.

The Church claims to have 50,000 testimonies of healing through Christian Science treatment alone, as it is commonly called. While most of these testimonies represent undiagnosed ailments not medically treated, the Church does require three other people who witnessed the healing to vouch for its authenticity in order to publish the account in its official organ, the Christian Science Journal. The Church also has a number of statements regarding diagnosed conditions accompanied by legal affidavits of authenticity signed by medical practitioners who witnessed a non-medical healing. A book entitled Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age by Robert Peel chronicals many of these accounts.

Christian Scientists who wish to become public practitioners of Christian Science--spiritual healers-- take an intensive class that trains them in the methods. The instruction in these classes is taken from Mary Baker Eddy's textbook on healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Ultimately, medical science is far less important to genuine Christian Scientists than believed by most outsiders looking in at the Church. Mrs. Eddy, the founder of the Church, stressed that one should accept temporary aid from "materia medica" if spiritual healing is not yielding results in the case at hand. While the Church does not require members to forgo medical treatment, most Christian Scientists do so voluntarily because they feel they have a history of success with this alternative form of healing.

Organization

The Mother Church is the church's world headquarters, and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. (An international daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, founded by Mrs. Eddy in 1908 and winner of seven Pulitzer prizes, is published by the church through the Christian Science Publishing Society.)

Branch Christian Science churches and Christian Science Societies are at once related to the central church but with large autonomy. They can be found worldwide, primarily in the US though also in Europe and other locations, and usually maintain a Christian Science Reading Room for reading and study open to the public. Churches usually hold a one-hour church service each Sunday, consisting of hymns, prayer, and readings from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. They also hold a one-hour Wednesday evening testimony meeting, with similar readings and accounts by those attending, and sponsor Christian Science lectures in their communities annually.

There are no clergy in any Christian Science church. Though Mary Baker Eddy and some of her senior students regularly gave sermons at services during Mrs. Eddy's lifetime, no one was permitted to preach in the church after her passing. Instead, a committee in the church's Boston headquarters determines each week's "Lesson-Sermon" by selecting brief, complementary passages from the Bible and Science and Health to be studied throughout the week and read aloud in churches on Sundays.

There are 26 set topics for the Lesson-Sermon, selected by Mrs. Eddy herself. The topics follow each other in an unchanging, predetermined order, and the progression starts over mid-year so that every week in the year has a topic devoted to it. Typical topics include:

a)God the Only Cause and Creator b)Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force? c)Are Sin, Disease and Death Real? d)Christ Jesus e)Doctrine of Atonement f)Love

The Bible and Science and Health are Christian Science's "dual and impersonal pastor," according to church law, so churches in the faith elect First and Second Readers who are in charge of leading Sunday services by reading the Mother Church's Lesson-Sermon aloud. The First Reader reads from Science and Health, and the Second Reader from the Bible. The First Reader also selects the hymns that will be sung at the service. The Second Reader has no powers or responsibilities other than to read from the Bible on Sundays. To be the First Reader in one's branch church is one of the highest and most prestigious positions the lay Christian Scientist can aspire to.

Church services, along with every other aspect of church government, are regulated by a constitution of sorts by Mrs. Eddy called the Manual of The Mother Church, consisting of various regulations covering everything from the duties of officers to discipline to provisions for church meetings and publications. The Manual enacted a rule of law over the Mother Church, though some controversy and historical ambiguity surround the Manual's current, 89th edition, causing a minority of Scientists to dispute the Manual's authority and authenticity.

Recent history

Beginning in the mid-1980s, church executives undertook an ambitious foray into electronic broadcast media. A monthly half-hour television production was followed by a nightly half-hour news show on the Discovery Channel, anchored by veteran journalist John Hart. The Church then purchased a Boston cable TV station for elaborate in-house programming production. In parallel, the church purchased a shortwave radio station and syndicated radio production to National Public Radio. However, revenues fell short of optimistic predictions by church management, who had ignored early warnings by members and media experts. Most of these operations closed in well under a decade. Public accounts in both the mainstream and trade media reported that the church lost approximately $250 million on these ventures.

The media collapse brought the church to the brink of bankruptcy. However, with the 1991 publication of The Destiny of The Mother Church by the late Bliss Knapp, the church secured a $90 million bequest from the Knapp trust. The trust dictated that the book be published as "Authorized Literature," with neither modification nor comment. Historically the church had censured Knapp for deviating at several points from church teaching, and had refused to publish the work. The church's archivist, fired in anticipation of the book's publication, wrote to branch churches to inform them of the book's history. Many Christian Scientists thought the book violated the church's bylaws, and the editors of the church's religious periodicals and several other church employees resigned in protest. Alternate beneficiaries subsequently sued to contest the church's claim it had complied fully with the will's terms, and the church ultimately received only half of the original sum.

The fallout of the new media debacle also sparked a minor revolt among some prominent church members. In late 1993, a group of Christian Scientists filed suit against the Board of Directors, alleging a willful disregard for the Manual of the Mother Church in its financial dealings. The suit was thrown out by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1997, but a lingering discontent with the church's financial matters persists to this day.

In spite of its early meteoric rise, Christian Science has suffered in recent decades from broad demographic trends away from religion. Though Mother Church is prohibited by the Manual from publishing membership figures, the number of branch churches in the United States has fallen steadily since World War II.

The church's most recent effort to stimulate interest in the faith led to the creation of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, a $50 million building in Boston housing Mrs. Eddy's published and unpublished writings. As with the church's earlier multimillion-dollar outreach projects, the library's expense and concept caused controversy among some church members, though not on the same scale as the other undertakings.

External links

The Christian Science Church

Writings of Mary Baker Eddy

Criticism of Christian Science

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