A theme of the 2013 Church Alive Summit in Sacramento, CA was “Growing New Shoots from Deep Spiritual Roots.” George Strong, Fern Lodge Administrator, gave the Friday evening talk titled “Church on Fire” that helped set the tone for the two days of discussion that followed. The opening was a one-minute video of about 20 pictures that showed a broad variety of signs proclaiming the importance of the Scripture, John 3:16. Perhaps you have seen people holding up these signs at various sporting events. The following is the text of the talk.
Church on Fire
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (RSV).
How do we feel when we see people holding up those signs? Do we feel connected? Do we feel that we are part of a greater Christian community? Why, or why not? The Scriptures, and especially the Gospels, are central and fundamental to Christian Science. Our first tenet is “As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal life.” Word with a capital W, the Word that “was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Do you see the parallel?
What is the promise of John 3:16? Eternal life.
What is the goal, or the promise, if you prefer, of our first tenet? Eternal life.
Is this just a coincidence, or does it have deeper meaning for Christian Scientists?
I remember my surprise when I realized years ago that Mary Baker Eddy did not set out to found a new denomination. From her biographies, we learn that she believed that the Christian church she had grown up in, the church she loved, would hear with joy her revelation of Christian healing in this age, and that the church would readily embrace and incorporate her discovery. She hints at her hope in this passage: “Until the author of this book learned the vastness of Christian Science, the fixedness of mortal illusions, and the human hatred of Truth, she cherished sanguine hopes that Christian Science would meet with immediate and universal acceptance” (S&H 330:2)
Have you noticed that many of our weekly Bible Lesson topics clearly are intended to throw the light of Christian Science on some basic Christian theological teachings? I would say Sacrament. Adam and Fallen Man certainly is one, as are Doctrine of Atonement, Probation After Death, and of course a favorite, Everlasting Punishment.
Might Mrs. Eddy have chosen these topics to answer the “fixedness of mortal illusions,” making it possible for the established churches to accept Christian Science? Aren’t those answers much needed today? If our hearts are on fire, won’t we want to share these answers broadly with our Christian neighbors?
Let’s think for a bit about everlasting punishment. This concept has concerned Christian theologians for centuries. Think about the passage, Matthew, 25:31-46. Here’s a Cliff Notes version: Nourish the hungry and thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison, and inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven; deny nourishment or ignore the sick or imprisoned, go away into everlasting punishment.
Did you know that this is the only reference in the King James Version of the Bible that specifically names “everlasting punishment”? Might Mrs. Eddy have been aware of this? When I realized this fact, these verses in Matthew became for me all the more important to understand. But really, the verses aren’t at all hard to understand, are they? “Truth is revealed. It needs only to be practised” (S&H 174:20).
Simple acts of kindness — a Christian Demand
Helping others with simple acts of kindness, by love serving one another, is essential for eternal life. In fact, I think it is more than just essential. To the degree we get it right, to the degree that it is spiritually understood and practiced, service to God and man is eternal life.
Simple service to our fellow men, women and children is something many Christians do well. I have a facebook friend, Kantharao Gorrepally. He lives in India, where he ministers to mankind. He posts the most delightful photos of a local orphanage and of his missionary visits to small villages. I told him I planned to share his story briefly with you. He says, “I was born and brought up in a Hindu family but was saved by HIS grace. I have been reaching the people and raising orphans since 2006. We now are building permanent accommodation for the orphans, which has been in a rented building, from which we were evicted.” Kantharao deeply appreciates prayerful support for Christ’s work, and I am grateful that he and I are learning from each other.
Kantharao’s story is inspiring, but not unique. Humanitarian service has been an element of Christian worship for a long time. Yet, after hundreds of years of such service, we still appear to live in a world where suffering seems more common than salvation, even where there has been the most persistent humanitarian labors. Is something missing from the Christian service that is so wonderfully available around the world today?
I don’t know the fullness of the answer to my question, but I do know this: Christian Science uniquely demands that man be understood as the exact spiritual image and likeness of God, Spirit, right here, right now. Christian Science rejects all suggestions that man is material or that man is at all or in any way separated from God, ever.
Does our service affirm that God loves all mankind and meets all human needs? Does our service reflect God, Love, and God’s loving care? Do we intend to heal? Or is our service a well-meaning humanitarian activity that is coupled with the belief that man is separate from God? Do we think service is a means by which we can earn our way to the kingdom of heaven if we do enough charitable work?
We can’t judge by looking at what we do. Service given out of a sense of obligation, or to be seen by others to gain their respect, or with no more inspiration than pity for the poor, looks the same as service given out of the recognition of infinite Love. We have to look at our motives and consider carefully how we identify ourselves and how we see those who call us for help.
Service in Christian Science is not merely helping a poor mortal until God saves him. Nor is service in Christian Science a way for mortals to earn their way out of condemnation and into salvation. Scientific Christian service is not merely a result of our decision to help others instead of withholding from them.
Christian service is our true nature
Christian service is not a decision at all. True service is the realization that we love because we reflect divine Principle, Love. From that standpoint our motives are pure, our success is sure, and we live eternal life; we are saved.
This brings us back to John 3, and this time verse 17, which reads, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” And as John 3:16 has a parallel with our first tenet, focusing on eternal life, John 3:17 resonates with the mission of our Church and its focus on salvation.
Have you thought about the mission of the Christian Science church? Frequently I’ve heard that it is “to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” Is that our Church’s mission? Let’s take a look at the Historical Sketch in the Church Manual. There we find that Mrs. Eddy and her students did found a church with that mission statement, but that church was dissolved in 1889.
I like to think that the following statement in Science and Health indicates that the early church organization had fulfilled its purpose, “To-day there is hardly a city, village, or hamlet, in which are not to be found living witnesses and monuments to the virtue and power of Truth, as applied through this Christian system of healing disease. To-day the healing power of Truth is widely demonstrated as an immanent, eternal Science, instead of a phenomenal exhibition” (S&H 149:31-150:6). Mission accomplished! Church dissolved. And it’s up to us to maintain that accomplishment.
But clearly Mrs. Eddy saw a need for church in this age. Three years later, in 1892, “Mary Baker Eddy, twelve of her students and Church members met and reorganized, under her jurisdiction, the Christian Science Church and named it, The First Church of Christ, Scientist. At this meeting twenty others of Mrs. Eddy’s students and members of her former Church were elected members of this Church” (Man page 18).
The Mission of The First Church of Christ, Scientist
Our Church’s mission statement closes the Historical Sketch: “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Mass., is designed to be built on the Rock, Christ; even the understanding and demonstration of divine Truth, Life, and Love, healing and saving the world from sin and death; thus to reflect in some degree the Church Universal and Triumphant.” Note that this mission statement acknowledges that healing sickness in demonstration of Truth, Life, and Love has been accomplished, and again I remind myself that maintaining that accomplishment is our ongoing task.
“Healing and saving the world from sin and death” —that’s our mission, and in fulfilling that mission we are brought into eternal fellowship with mankind, reflecting “in some degree the Church Universal and Triumphant.” I love and long to live up to the standard Mrs. Eddy sets in this description: “Scientists aim highest…with hearts overflowing with love for God, they help on the brotherhood of men” (Mis 348:1).
How shall we do it? Let’s resolve to have a renewed commitment to sharing with mankind the promise of salvation and eternal life, the promise of the fullness of Christian Science healing. I’ll close with a question. Can you imagine a time when people, with hearts on fire, would hold up signs that said Science and Health 468:9?