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Church of Christ, Scientist

(Redirected from Christian science)

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, often known as The Christian Science Church or simply Christian Science, is a religious denomination that arose in New England in the nineteenth century. It considers itself to be a Christian denomination and is generally classed as such. It has about 2,000 branches (local churches) in over 70 countries, with The First Church of Christ, Scientist being the headquarters of all the denomination's activities. Christian Science does not have theologians or divinity schools; it does support an undergraduate school, Principia College near St. Louis.

The church was founded by the American woman Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 following a personal healing experience, which she believed to be the result of her Christian faith. The Bible and Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures are together the church's key doctrinal sources (they are called textbooks within the denomination).

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. The Church is controversial for its encouragement of prayer for healing when others might choose modern medicine. There have also been periodic tensions with those Christian denominations who reject the idea it is a Christian denomination because of unorthodox tenets it holds.

Christian Science has no connection with Scientology, which was founded about 75 years after Christian Science and which is not based on Christianity. It is also not conne a recent denomination in line with the New Thought tradition.

1 Theology and healing
1.1 Origins and early development
1.1.1 Possible influences
1.2 Theology
1.3 Spiritual healing in the material world
2 Organization
3 History: Eddy's death to 1980
4 Recent history
5 Notable Christian-Scientists
6 Public controversy
7 See also

Theology and healing

Origins and early development

Mary Baker Eddy
Mary Baker Eddy

In 1866, Mary Baker Eddy (known at the time as Mary Glover) was healed of an injury "that neither medicine nor surgery could reach..." (Ret 24:12) . According to her personal accounts, when she appeared to be near death, 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, found herself suddenly well and able to get up. She believed that the healing came from her belief as a Christian. As she recounted in her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection:
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 referred to this event as her "Great Discovery", the "falling apple" that led to her "discovery how to be well" herself (ibid.) (Later, she gave it the name of "Christian Science".) 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 not been able to help. A doctor attending a severe case in New Hampshire is said to have witnessed her healing one 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, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
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 works in natural philosophy, logic, and moral science, as well as the Bible and other Christian works. Prior to her recovery in 1866, she had investigated a number of common healing methods of her day, including allopathy, homeopathy, and hydropathy. But it was her experience as a patient of P.P. Quimby that was to have one of the most profound effects, and certainly the most controversial, 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 Quimby's death in 1866, Eddy relied heavily on Quimby for her physical health. At the very least, he provided inspiration for Eddy's early writing on Christian Science; in fact, Quimby was to use the phrase "Christian Science" (in 1863). Some feel that there are remarkable similarities between the published works of Quimby and very early versions of "Science and Health." In fact William Adams used the term "Christian Science" before Quimby in a book he wrote, The Elements of Christian Science first printed in 1850, and a later edition in 1857.

The extent of Quimby's influence on Eddy is controversial. Eddy would later claim that she in fact provided much of the foundation of his thoughts on healing. 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 that would appear in Christian Science as early as 1859. Also, Eddy was in fragile health prior to her "Great Discovery", and her letters to Quimby reveal a high degree of dependence. Despite this, Christian Science practice does not resemble Quimby's healing system, nor are their respective theologies remotely similar. Biographer Gillian Gill, who is relatively sympathetic to Eddy, writes that Quimby "had a profound influence on" Eddy although her religion was quite different from his (in her Mary Baker Eddy (1998), 146). The American religious scholar Ann Taves 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).

An essay entitled "The Metaphysical Religion of Hegel" by Francis Lieber, written in November 1865, and copied in April 1866, was also to have an infuence on Mrs. Eddy and Christian Science. This essay can be found on page 68 of a book entitled Mrs. Eddy Purloins from Hegel: Newly Discovered Source Reveals Amazing Plagiarisms In Science and Health by Walter M. Haushalter, (1936). Written on the cover of the Lieber document in Eddy's own words are "N. B. This is Metaphysical Basis of Healing and Science of Health. Same as "Christ-power" and "Truth-power". "Christ-power" and "Truth-power" refer to two other essays by Francis Lieber on Hegel that she also read. See also The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy by Martin Gardner (1993) for other references to the Lieber document.


In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Eddy argues that given the absolute goodness and perfection of God, sin, disease, and death 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 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 ontologically real, in Christian Science evil and its manifestations are instead terrible lies about God and His creation. This, it contends, 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 true and eternal perfection of God's creation. Eddy therefore called evil "error" and felt it could be remedied through a better spiritual understanding of humanity's relationship to God. She contended that this understanding was what enabled the biblical Jesus to heal.

This teaching is the foundation of the Christian Science principle that disease – and any other adversity – can be cured through prayerful efforts, made possible only by God's grace, to fully understand this spiritual relationship. It is encapsulated 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 a 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, is the basis of Christian Scientists' characteristic reliance on prayer in place of 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 laity. (Some "unlisted" practitioners maintain active practices as well, but they do so without the prestige that a Journal listing brings. Additionally, medical plans that cover Christian Science treatment generally only cover treatment provided by Journal-listed practitioners.)

Practitioners treat patients, in Christian Science parlance, through prayer. Such treatment often, though not always, is 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 may also charge modest fees for their services. 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 understood not as an end in itself, but a natural result of drawing closer to God. Healing sin is particularly important. Eddy called this the "emphatic purpose" of Christian Science, writing that it is also sometimes 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 an entirely non-material way. "Our baptism," wrote Eddy, "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 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 in Christian Science, but it holds a special place as the context in which a man and a woman can partner to help one another grow into a fuller "demonstration," or lived understanding, of their spiritually complete natures as expressions of Father-Mother God.

Jesus Christ is both "Wayshower" and savior in Christian Science theology. Eddy distinguished between Jesus, the human man, and Christ, the eternal spirit of God that "animated" and inspired Jesus in his unparalleled ministry. 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 humanity 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). She taught that we are not Christians until we live, to some degree, the Christ-spirit Jesus suffered and rose to give us as his legacy. This was her understanding of his saying that "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 parallel or equal that of Jesus in Christian Science. Eddy even stipulated in her Church Manual that "careless comparison or irreverant reference to Christ Jesus is abnormal in a Christian Scientist and is prohibited" (41).

Christian Scientists are trinitarian, but in an unorthodox way. Eddy calls the Godhead "Father Mother," signifying not an androgynous God but a God "without body, parts or passions," as in the Westminster creed, who nevertheless functions both to govern and comfort. She calls Christ "the spiritual idea of sonship" that Jesus fully lived, or "demonstrated," for the sake of those who would follow him. She calls the Holy Ghost "divine Science or the Holy Comforter," the spiritual principles of Christian Science operating as the Holy Ghost in the world. (See Science and Health, 331).

Spiritual healing in the material world
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 with Mary Baker Eddy's and the Science and Health's teachings 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 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 no longer pray 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 standpoint that something is wrong, which must first be diagnosed, then fixed.
Christian Science teaches 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 believe that Jesus proved his teachings by his healings.
The Church claims to have over 50,000 testimonies of healing through Christian Science treatment alone. While most of these testimonies represent ailments neither diagnosed nor treated by medical practitioners, 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 chronicles many of these accounts.

Christian Scientists who wish to become public practitioners of Christian Science—spiritual healers—complete an intensive two-week "Primary" class. The instruction in this class is provided 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 classes are based on the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. In particular, the "Primary" class focuses upon the chapter entitled "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" is located. The "Normal" class focuses upon 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".

Ultimately, modern medical practice is more important to Christian Scientists than is believed by many outsiders looking in at the Church. Mrs. Eddy, the founder of the Church, 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 page 443]

While the Church does not require members to forgo medical treatment, most Christian Scientists do so voluntarily because of their faith and they feel they have a history of success with this alternative form of healing. Indeed, outsiders believe that the social pressures to eschew medical care is so strong among Christian Scientists that those who feel they must see a doctor endanger their social standing in the congregation, and depending on the policies of their local branch church, may be stripped of any church office or position they hold. However, the vast majority of Christian Scientists would feel this perspective is not borne out in their own actual experiences around choosing medical care.


The Mother Church, Boston, Massachusetts.
The Mother Church, Boston, Massachusetts.

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 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 subordinate to the Mother Church, but are self-governed in the sense that they have their own constitutions, bank accounts, assets, etc., but in order to be recognised 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 constitution of sorts written by Eddy, and 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 edition (the 89th), causing a minority of Christian Scientists to dispute the Manual's authority and authenticity.

Churches worldwide hold a one-hour service each Sunday, consisting of hymns, prayer, and readings from the King James Version of the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. These readings are the weekly Lesson-Sermon, which is read aloud at all Sunday services in all Christian Science churches 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 alternating passages from the Bible and Science and Health.
There are 26 set topics for the Lesson-Sermon, selected by 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.

The topics are: God Sacrament Life Truth Love Spirit Soul Mind Christ Jesus Man Substance Matter Reality Unreality Are Sin, Disease and Death Real? Doctrine of Atonement Probation After Death, Everlasting Punishment, Adam and Fallen Man Mortals, and Immortals Soul, and Body Ancient and   Modern Necromancy, alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism, Denounced God the Preserver of Man Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force? Christian Science.

In years in which there are 53 Sundays, the topic "Christ Jesus" occurs a third time, in December.
There is also a Lesson-Sermon for Thanksgiving Day.
Because there are no clergy in the church, branch church leadership consists of two Readers: the First Reader, who reads the passages from Science and Health at Sunday services, and the Second Reader, who reads the passages from the Bible. First Readers determine the hymns to be sung on Sundays, but otherwise hew to the text supplied by Boston, and order of service set out by the Manual. 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.
Churches also hold a one-hour Wednesday evening testimony meeting, with similar readings and accounts of healing from prayer by those attending. At these services, the First Reader may choose to read extended passages from church literature; they often choose Science and Health or Mary Baker Eddy's other writings. They may also choose alternate Bible translations at these services (i.e. Phillips).
Recently some branch churches, following the lead of the Mother Church in Boston, have started to hold a social fellowship meeting at the conclusion of Sunday services. Branch churches also sponsor occasional lectures given by Christian Science practitioners or teachers.

History: Eddy's death to 1980
To be written.

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 Eddy's 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, it appears likely that the Christian Science Church has suffered a decline in membership over recent decades. Though the 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. A 1992 study in the Christian Research Journal found that church membership had fallen from 269,000 in the 1930s to about 150,000. Some believe membership has fallen further since then, however current estimates for church membership vary widely, from under 100,000 to 400,000.
Dr. Stephen Barrett has reported that since 1971, the number of practitioners and teachers listed in the Christian Science Journal has fallen from about 5,000 to about 1,160 and the number of churches has fallen from about 1,800 to about 1,000.

In 2005 the Boston Globe reported that the church is considering consolidating Boston operations into fewer buildings and leasing out space in buildings it owns. Church official Philip G. Davis noted that the administration and Colonnade buildings have not been fully used for many years and that vacancy increased after staff reductions last year. The church posted an $8 million financial loss in fiscal 2003, and in 2004 cut 125 jobs, a quarter of the staff, at The Christian Science Monitor. Davis said however that "the financial situation right now is excellent" that the church is not facing financial problems.

Notable Christian-Scientists
Notable Christian Scientists, and issues discussed about them, are dealt with at the List of Christian Scientists (religious denomination). Although a few entertainers and politicians had enough of a role in the history of the faith to merit brief mention here. For example Big Band leader Kay Kyser was a Christian Science practitioner who was honored by the faith for being one of their leading lecturers. He also ran their TV-film department. Alan Young of Mister Ed founded a broadcast division for the faith. Lastly British diplomat Philip Kerr was very vocal in the British Christian Science community.
Perhaps not as notable, but interesting, is Dr. Laurance Doyle of SETI who is perhaps the best known Christian Scientist who is also a scientist in the secular sense. (Specifically he is a physicist)

Public controversy
Christian Science has been subject to significant criticism and public controversy throughout its history. The most highly publicized controversy surrounds Christian Science and medicine. While church members point out that followers are free to choose to seek traditional medical treatment, most rely heavily or exclusively on healing by prayer (Christian Scientists distinguish their method from “faith healing,” arguing that this term refers merely to blind faith, while their method is a well-defined mental process which leads to healing.)

This issue is most controversial regarding children. In a small number of nationally publicized cases in the early 1990s, prosecutors charged parents belonging to the Christian Science church, whose children had died of curable ailments without being medically treated, with murder or manslaughter. Most of these parents were legally exonerated. Some outside observers see these tragedies, particularly among children, as unnecessary and irrational. Many members of the church also believe that the parents involved in these suits received poor guidance from church members, and failed to properly understand and apply the process of healing through Christian Science. They add that there are vastly more malpractice lawsuits against MDs, and that no healers are immune from the American obsession of suing for vast sums.
Since the episodes with regard to The Monitor Channel and the Bliss Knapp book, the church has at times been accused of attempting to silence dissenters by methods such as unlisting them as practitioners in the Christian Science Journal, or revoking their membership. Some dissenting groups continue to solicit support among current members of the church.

There has also at times been tensions over primarily theological and religious concerns. This is perhaps most important in the so called Bible Belt. While members of the Christian Science church claim their religion is based in, reconcilable with, and part of Christianity (being based upon the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by Mary Baker Eddy), there are orthodox Christian theologians and others that have disputed this.[1] These critics state that Christian Science' diverges too greatly from basic tenets of Christianity. They often cite the faith's views on the nature/existence of evil or sin, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, the trinity, and a few others as meaning that the faith can no longer be considered a Christian denomination. Members of the faith argue that these groups exaggerate any differences in interpretation on these issues. Interestingly a quip often used to discuss this attributed to the non-Christian George Bernard Shaw[2] who was a friend of the well-known Christian Scientist Viscountess Nancy Astor. The quip states "Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific" and has been quoted by many Evangelical Christians in relation to the faith.[3] Related to the quote most of the mainstream scientific community believes that the reliance on spiritual healing, and some of the Church's other beliefs, are decidedly non-scientific.

The medical community (and others) have taken some interest in spirituality and healing. The Harvard Medical School Department of Continuing Education continues to offer 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, there have been research projects on the effectiveness of prayer on recovering heart attack patients. Some of these studies 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 in addition to, not instead of, conventional medical care. Additionally, later studies with larger numbers of heart patients showed prayer has no effect on recovery, hospital readmission or death [4].

See also

Outsiders' views of Christian Science

  • Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1909) began as a famous Muckraking magazine series 1907-08. It was based on elaborate original research and interviews. Scholars who are not Christian Scientists rely on it, but church members strongly disfavor it. It was reprinted with an important new introduction by the University of Nebraska Press in 1993.
  • God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser (2000), an outsider's analysis of the entire spectrum of Church activities. Not sold in Christian Science Reading Rooms.
  • Christian Science Mark Twain's famous, vitriolic 1907 polemic mocking Mary Baker Eddy, her writings, and the Church's financial arrangements; of Christian Science, Twain writes "Its god is Mrs. Eddy first, then the Dollar." Project Gutenberg classifies it as "Christian Science -- controversial literature."