The Church of Christ (Scientist)

Paul Young, Maesteg, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Precious Seed

This religious movement is known as 'Christian Science' and has drawn the scathingly critical description of, 'being neither Christian nor scientific' (Harold J. Berry). Its centres of activity are called 'reading rooms' and in more recent days there has been a greater interest in their written works as the result of the increasing influence of metaphysics. Western society has a greater focus upon the mysterious, the spiritual and new age alternative healing. This has enabled Christian Science to find an increasing readership and have a greater impact than ever before.

1. HISTORY

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) founded the movement in New England in the United States. She was born into a devoutly religious family and joined the Congregational Church at the age of seventeen, even though she claimed not to accept the full theology of that church. She was married three times, the first of which was to George Glover. The marriage, although happy, lasted only just over half a year, when sadly Glover died leaving her with an unborn child. Her second marriage to Daniel Patterson ended in divorce on the grounds of his desertion, though she later claimed that he was an adulterer. The third husband was Asa Gilbert Eddy, who had been one of her students, and was the first to assume the title of Christian Science Practitioner.

Mary Baker was a sickly child, suffering with spinal weakness, seizures and nervous collapse. After the birth of her son she was never again totally free from pain, and she was further painfully injured when she fell on an icy pavement on February 1st 1866. It is therefore of little surprise that she had a fixation with health and healing, and the need for deliverance from pain. That fall on the pavement was, she later claimed, the turning point in her life. Her recollection of the event was that her injuries were pronounced fatal by the doctors, but through reading Matthew 9. 2-8, the healing of the paralysed man, she heard the voice of God telling her to get up, which she did and thereafter enjoyed better health than ever before. From then on she was determined to devote her life to the healing element of religion. She carried on a healing practice, taught others her healing principles, and set her ideas down in writing.

In 1879, The Church of Christ (Scientist) was incorporated, with headquarters in Boston. There were many problems, court cases to attend and internal tensions to be defused and increasingly she found herself under pressure. Ill health once again overtook her and despite her teaching she did consult medical practitioners for the relief of pain and justified these 'non-mental measures' as best she could. When her husband, Asa, died she claimed that he had been murdered with arsenic mentally administered! When she viewed her own demise she urged one of her close associates to say that if she died she had been 'mentally murdered'.

Her ideas are the essential framework for belief in the Christian Science Church and are found in her books, Science and Health, published in 1875, and Key to the Scriptures, 1883. These were subsequently revised and eventually standardized in 1907.

The movement is now organised by a self-perpetuating board of directors, the first members of whom were appointed by Mrs. Eddy, and they apparently used her book Church Manual, (1895), as the basic foundation for governing the church. The manual contains all the rules for organizing the church and no rules could be changed without the authorisation of the leader. Thus Mrs. Eddy had absolute control in her own lifetime, and subsequently the organisation has proved to be highly authoritarian.

It is estimated that there are over three million adherents world-wide, though this is an educated guess, as one of Mrs Eddy's rules was that numbers of members were not to be published. Their newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, is highly respected and is not simply a channel for the religious views of the Christian Science Church but an important vehicle for the distribution of world news. They publish other journals in over twelve languages and also have regular media programmes.

2. CLAIMS

They claim that the Bible is their final authority, yet Science and Health is seen as new and exclusive divine truth, and in practice that publication supersedes the Bible in the eyes of Christian Scientists. This is even more so since they believe the Bible contains errors. It would seem that in reality much of the beliefs and practices of Christian Science was plagiarized from a nineteenth-century mesmerist named Phineas P. Quimby. His work was clearly well known to Mary Baker Eddy. There is considerable evidence that she also used the writings of others and incorporated them into her work pretending that they were original to her.

Christian Scientists meet for 'services' but no sermons are given. There are readings from Science and Health and from the Bible and the same readings are followed by all Christian Science churches world-wide. Hymns may be sung, as well as solos, and there are periods of silent prayer although the Lord's prayer will be repeated out loud.

3. BELIEFS

Essentially their theology is a revived form of the first century Gnostic heresy that stated that material substance is inherently evil, while the non-material is good. Therefore there can be no co-existence between the spirit and the body. Such teaching can be summarised as, ‘Mind is all, Matter is nought’. Such a view by its very nature must deny the incarnation of Christ and His essential deity. They would argue that the true spiritual essence of God could not inhabit a corrupt physical body.

The personal God of the Bible is denied and for Christian Science believers God is inseparable from the creation. This pantheistic idea is essentially an eastern religious concept and runs counter to historical Christian belief. They have no concept of heaven and hell, do not believe in final judgement or the resurrection of the body. Also they find personal prayer a logical impossibility, as they believe God to be a principle rather than a person.

They view sin as an illusion and therefore Christ‘s work of atoning sacrifice on the cross was unnecessary. To be ‘saved‘ according to Christian Science belief requires faith in Christ‘s work as interpreted by Mrs Eddy and also depends upon one's own work. They do not practice baptism or the Lord's Supper, and have no belief in the second coming of Christ.

They make great claims for healing power but most claims are utterly unverifiable. It often appears to be psychosomatic rather than organic healing that takes place. Yet, Christian Science has tapped into a productive vein of thought in the human mind as people increasingly desire to be fit and healthy.

4. TERMINOLOGY

i. Animal Magnetism
This is believed to be wrong thinking and can cause individuals to experience the illusion of evil. Malicious animal magnetism can kill those it is practised against.
ii. At-one-ment
In Christian Science theology this appears to be the unity formed between the 'mind' of God and that of man as demonstrated by Christ.
iii. Immortal Mind
This is the term for 'God' in Christian Science theology.
iv. Mortal Mind
This is the source of the illusion of evil, sickness, sin and death in Christian Science belief.

5. CONCLUSION

Both disease and death are denied in Christian Science teaching. Mrs Eddy taught that disease was a mental, mortal fear, a mistaken belief, an illusion and a delusion. She claimed that ‘man is never sick, for the mind is not sick and matter cannot be’. Thus for Christian Science the cure of sickness is to help the person understand that he is not really sick, that his pain is imaginary and that his imagined disease is only the result of a false belief.

Mrs Eddy also denied the reality of death by claiming that ‘any material evidence of death is false, for it contradicts the spiritual facts of being’. Indeed she never provided an official ritual for funerals, though she provided orders of services for other occasions. Her own death was something of an embarrassment to the church, as it would seem that she herself had insufficient faith to avoid the experience of dying.

Clearly the theology of Christian Science is a mish-mash of ideas gleaned by Mrs Eddy. Her teaching, without question, has done untold harm to families and individuals who have been denied the essential help of the medical profession and have therefore endured pain, discomfort, immobility and even the prospect of premature death. To allow such suffering and also to deny the central truths of the Christian faith places Christian Science very firmly in the category we call ‘false cults’. ‘Christian Scientists, therefore, have no more right to apply to themselves the title ‘Christian’ than have Buddhists or Hindus, with whose teachings, indeed, Christian Science has greater affinity than with those of Christianity‘, (Hoekema).

AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Young is a full-time worker and fellowships with the assembly in Maesteg in Wales