'Christian Science: What It Is and Isn't'

Long-time Christian Scientist Betty Carson Fields spoke from her own life experience in a free public lecture, ''Christian Science: What It Is and Isn't'' on March 27 in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. She responded to many of the prevalent questions about Christian Science, such as its practice of healing through prayer, and why it is referred to as a science.

A native New Zealander, Mrs. Fields has lived in Atlanta for more than 30 years. For the past 20 years she has devoted full time to the public healing ministry of Christian Science. She has served her church in many capacities, including First Reader, Sunday School superintendent, and Christian Science campus counselor. She is currently active as a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship.

Richard Harley, a member of The Mother Church, introduced the lecturer.

An abridged text of the lecture follows:

Have you ever felt that God was more intimately concerned with man during Bible times than in our time? Throughout the Bible the unity between man and God is very clear.

We are told that Noah walked with God. Abraham knew Him. Moses spoke to God as a man speaks to his friend. God guided Gideon and Samuel and Elijah and spoke to and through generations of prophets. The life of Jesus illustrated God's love for man.

I hope that together today we can get a glimpse of the continuity of God's self-revelation, of His continuing communication to man of His nature and purpose. This communication didn't cease with the ascension of Jesus.

You recall he'd said, ''I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now'' (John 16:12). What a tantalizing remark! What other things did he have to say? He was at that time facing the crucifixion. He had given so much and would still give so much more. But he felt that the whole story had not yet been told. Something else was necessary.

Could it be that the many things Jesus had to tell included an explanation of the method of his mighty works? He did say, ''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). Doesn't that sound as if he expected us to follow his example and not just to worship him?

Through the centuries many Christians must have longed to obey him. Perhaps this strikes a chord in your experience. I know that as a child in New Zealand I prayed often and with tears for the ability to heal as Jesus did, but I didn't know where to begin. I just yearned. In my mid-teens a friend introduced me to a Christian Science practitioner. He explained that a practitioner was someone who healed through prayer. I had so many questions to ask, and here, finally, was someone who could answer them with a quiet authority based on actual experience in healing. TThe discovery of Christian Science

The practitioner told me that in the United States of America in the 19th century, a great religious leader had emerged; not a man this time, but a woman of spiritual genius. After years of searching for truth with prayer and deep study of the Bible, she made a discovery that promised to lead mankind beyond the limits of conventional theology into the very heart of Christian teaching and practice. The woman was Mary Baker Eddy, and she named her discovery Christian Science.

What had she discovered? Not something separate from the Bible. Christian Science doesn't add to the Bible and it certainly doesn't substitute anything for it. Rather, this Science floods its pages with light, so that teachings that once seemed wonderful but beyond our ability to grasp, or obscure and unrelated to our experience, are brought into sharp focus. They become clear and practical. Through her study and communion with God, Mrs. Eddy had come to realize that the miracles of Jesus were not incidents of interference with natural law, but rather demonstrations of eternal laws of God.

This realization was another instance of God communicating with men, revealing His presence and His available power. In the spirit of the Bible writers, Mrs. Eddy wrote a book that she entitled ''Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.'' In it she writes: ''In following these leadings of scientific revelation, the Bible was my only textbook. The Scriptures were illumined; reason and revelation were reconciled, and afterwards the truth of Christian Science was demonstrated. No human pen nor tongue taught me the Science contained in this book, Science and Health; and neither tongue nor pen can overthrow it'' (p. 110).

The acid test, of course, was not whether one inspired woman could heal but whether, through her teachings, others could learn to do the same thing. Was this truly an eternal Science, or was it simply a personal dispensation of divine grace? She writes in Science and Health, ''Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals'' (p. 13). The Apostle Peter had said, ''God is no respecter of persons'' (Acts 10:34). They meant the same thing. What divine Love gives to one, it gives to all, without exception.

Just as in Jesus' life the Word of God appeared in a form applicable to the needs of his time, so that same Word has appeared in our time as a Science based on a divine Principle. Basis of healing in the law of God

The law of God -- the very same law that was the basis of the healing work of Jesus -- is made comprehensible and available through the teachings of Christian Science. When men discovered a law of aerodynamics, which, correctly applied, will sustain flight, we entered into a new era in terms of freedom and mobility. The possibilities are endless. Just think, then, what it means to realize that there are laws that give us constant access to the power of God. ''I and my Father are one,'' Jesus said (John 10:30). And, ''My Father worketh hitherto, and I work'' (John 5:17). Instant access -- instant power. Jesus taught that what was possible to him was equally possible to anyone who would learn God's will and obey it. The will of God is the law of God. Now at last, with the discovery of Christian Science, the scientific nature of Jesus' work was made clear, and his healing method revealed.

You can see, then, why Christian Scientists refer to Mary Baker Eddy as the Discoverer of Christian Science. She discovered (or realized) the Science that Jesus demonstrated; that truth he promised would reappear in the fullness of time.With the discovery of Christian Science, the world is once more challenged to let go of old, limiting concepts and move forward; and once more scorn and misrepresentation are heard in the marketplace. There are people who, in all sincerity and without malice, harbor doubts and fears about Christian Science. They wonder, ''Is it a cult?'' ''Is it really Christian?'' ''If it is religion, why call it Science?'' ''Is it mental manipulation?'' These are legitimate questions, and they deserve deep and conscientious consideration. Let's look at them now.

Especially since the frightful experience at Jonestown in Guyana, the term ''cult'' has a very negative connotation. It implies charismatic leadership and a totally mesmerized following. In a religious context it also suggests domination through a highly personal interpretation of the Scriptures and often a zeroing in on one point to the exclusion of all other aspects of genuine mainstream religion. Strangely enough, there are people who feel that this exactly describes Christian Science. Is this view supported by the facts? It certainly is not! Let's see why.

It's true that healing is the aspect of Christian Science that most people know about, but Christian Science by no means stresses healing at the expense of other essential elements of basic Christianity. In fact, true scientific healing is the outcome of applied Christianity, and is impossible without it. This Science teaches the need of moral values rooted and grounded in the Ten Commandments. It points to the Sermon on the Mount as the pattern for ethical behavior. It honors Jesus' command to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. Mrs. Eddy repudiated personality worship

Mrs. Eddy was a leader who was first and always a faithful follower. She writes: ''. . . follow your Leader only so far as she follows Christ'' (Message to The Mother Church for 1901, p. 34). Jesus, she stresses, is our example. Mrs. Eddy demanded recognition of the divine authority that based her discovery, but she vigorously repudiated personality worship. At a time which many might consider to be the height of success, when interest in her teaching was growing and the number of applications to her classes soaring, Mrs. Eddy withdrew from teaching in order to revise her book Science and Health.

She continued to devote her life to prayer on behalf of humanity and further labor to establish the Cause of Christian Science. Once, when her character and motives were impugned in a magazine article, Mrs. Eddy wrote, ''What I am remains to be proved by the good I do'' (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 303). That is not the voice of a cult leader. Her lifework was based on her recognition of God as All-in-all and of man as His spiritual image and likeness. The radical spirituality of Christian Science was spelled out in her writings. She stood with God in the face of persecution. She didn't exercise personal control over her followers. Does this sound like charismatic leadership of a negative kind? Isn't it rather in the tradition of those prophets who stood against the tide of their times, proclaiming the Word of God?

Let's look at the second question we asked a while ago: Is Christian Science really Christian? Do Christian Scientists accept Jesus as the Son of God and the son of a virgin? We do indeed! Do we accept him as Saviour, Master, Way-shower? We do. Do we accept as historical fact the Bible record of healings and demonstrations of divine power? We do, and, moreover, with equal confidence we accept his promise that the things that he did we would do also.

Jesus' life was never intended to be an isolated exhibition of ideal humanhood. He came to teach by word and example the nature of God; the relationship between God and man; and what this means in terms of our experience.

The first tenet in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health, reads, ''As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life'' (p. 497). Existence of spiritual laws proved

Jesus' birth as the son of the Virgin-mother made him unique in human history , but it didn't separate him from the rest of mankind. His unique birth and his marvelous triumph over death illustrated, as no words could, the true nature of our existence as children of God. To Mary Magdalene, seeing him at the tomb after his crucifixion, he said, ''I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God'' (John 20:17).

Jesus' mission, then, was not to exhibit supernatural powers uniquely possessed but, step by step, to prove the existence of spiritual laws, which we can learn to understand and to use to work out our salvation.

Jesus so loved God, so willingly obeyed God, that he lived the very nature of God. He said, ''He that hath seen me hath seen the Father'' (John 14:9). This godliness was the Christ, and this is the way we experience the presence of the Christ, in our lives. To the extent that we learn to identify ourselves as children of God, the very image of our Father, to this extent we feel the gentle presence of the Christ active in our lives.

But before we can intelligently identify ourselves as the image of God, we have to have a clear concept of God. So, in a chapter of her book Science and Health in which she recapitulates her basic teaching, Mrs. Eddy begins with the question, ''What is God?'' And then she answers in seven words, every one infinite in scope. They are Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, and Love (p. 465). Let's just look at the first one: infinite Mind -- pure intelligence, the source of all true knowledge and every genuine idea. Have you ever considered the fact that the substance of anything is the ideam of it? It's the only part that's indestructible.

Now imagine this: Suppose you built a house and furnished it and were delighted with it. Suddenly it was blown away by a tornado. What would you have left? A memory? Yes, but beyond that, what? The memory didn't precede the visible structure. First was an idea. A mental concept. And you still have it.

The Bible tells us that man is the image of God. So if we define God as Mind, it is logical to think of ourselves as ideas in Mind -- individual, unique. We are indestructible, as eternal as God, as incorruptible as the Mind that is our source and substance.

Let me show you how this translates into practical experience. About six years ago a young woman in her first job as a physical education instructor at a university was suddenly stricken by a painful and incapacitating illness. She underwent a series of hospital tests, and her illness was diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, but it didn't respond to the drugs normally used. So they sent her home to wait and see what would develop. The qualities inherent in man's identity

Now, her sister was engaged to a young Christian Scientist, and he urged her to try Christian Science. ''It couldn't hurt,'' he said. You may recall that I am in the healing practice of Christian Science. So, when the young woman decided to investigate this Science for herself, her sister's fiance brought her to see me. She came struggling on two walking sticks, her face twisted in pain. We didn't talk of disease, we spoke about God. She said she was ''turned off'' from religion. She wasn't sure she believed in God.

We talked together, then, of God in the terms that I mentioned earlier, particularly the ones she could easily relate to. She certainly believed in Life , in Love. God as Mind she could accept. It was clear to her that an absolute intelligence could not tolerate unintelligent interference with its orderly functions. We realized that perfection is an essential element of immortality, so the Life that is God must be perfect Life. Health, activity, vitality are inherent in Life and are, therefore, forever inherent in man's identity as the spiritual qualities he expresses.

As she realized the naturalness of this approach to health -- this going to the source of life for an improved sense of life -- my young friend simply lit up. What was happening here was that as she began to glimpse a more correct view of God, and to identify herself as a loved child of God, His express image, as the Bible says, then she began to feel the activity of the Christ. She glowed with the recognition that even now something good was going on, and I knew we could trust the operation of God's law. That was a Monday. On Thursday of the same week her sister was married, and I was invited to the wedding. My young friend was bridesmaid. She walked with grace, stood all evening, and walked unaided down a small flight of steps on leaving. Less than four weeks later she led a group of students in a five-mile hike, which included a mountain climb. Her teaching contract, which had been in jeopardy, was renewed, and she is still enjoying her work at the university and a happy marriage of her own.

Really, a clear-cut healing of this sort hints at the answer to the next question, but it is a question that deserves thoughtful consideration, so let's have a look at it.

In this modern world, where men of science are performing unheard-of feats, how can we reasonably use the word ''science'' in connection with religion? Look at what biologists are doing. They have actually begun to rearrange the material of organic life at its most fundamental level. What about space travel? Do you remember how far away the planets were when most of us were in school? And now how near. What about meteorology? What about the fabulous advances in the world of physics? Isn't this an exciting time to be alive? And don't you think of this era as the most advanced in mankind's history?

But have you ever considered Jesus' record in the areas we've mentioned? Have you ever thought of him as a Scientist? Jesus, through his exemplification of the Christ, demonstrated the availability and supremacy of spiritual law. He instantly changed the condition and function of organic life by his healings. He stilled a storm instantly. Meteorologists can't do that yet! Jesus instantly multiplied a handful of food to meet the demands of a temporary population explosion. Do you think it was quite sane for him to face more than 5,000 hungry people with a few loaves and fishes? It certainly wasn't if you accept material evidence as final and authoritative. But Jesus accepted no authority but God, no substance but Spirit, no measure but infinity. He proved that we can have dominion over our environment through spiritual power alone. What has been demonstrated, clearly, is not impossible. God's control demonstrated

At one time I was challenged to prove the scientific reliability of the Christly method of healing. When our daughters were early high school age, we moved into a new home with property that backed onto a wooded area that included a lake. When we first saw the place, we envisioned walking in the woods, and we did actually take a couple of walks before we discovered that those woods were infested with water moccasins. So, of course, that area was off limits.

Our yard had been sown in grass, which had grown up but hadn't been cut. After school one day one of the girls decided that she would mow the lawn. It was a monumental job, and after watching her begin it and wondering how long her enthusiasm would last, I went indoors to get on with my work. Perhaps an hour had gone by when she came into my room. She said, ''Mama, a snake bit me.'' She showed me the puncture on her leg. And here I have to tell a story on myself. There aren't any snakes in New Zealand where I grew up, and, quite frankly, on more than one occasion I had wondered just what I would do if I were confronted by a situation like this. She was a young teen-ager, certainly old enough to make her own decision in this matter, so I asked her if she would like me to take her to the hospital. She looked at me astonished, and said, ''No. You can take care of it, can't you?'' Well, now I had some questions to answer.

I knew that Christian Science derives its sanction from the Bible and from the life and teachings of Jesus, but was I sure that a healing of this kind was not the exclusive domain of saints and prophets? Was it sane to trust the life of my precious child to God? Was it safe?

I turned to God like the troubled father in Mark's Gospel and prayed with all my heart, ''Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief'' (Mark 9:24). Suddenly, as I prayed I felt a surge of pure joy. I knew that I could have confidence in the law of God, the same law that had preserved Paul at Melita. (Do you remember that Bible story? The Apostle Paul and his companions had been shipwrecked. They all made it ashore, and Paul was gathering sticks for a fire when a viper fastened itself on his hand. The onlookers expected him to drop dead, but he didn't. He shook the snake off into the fire and went on his way, unharmed. Paul had been praying.) All God's creatures move in harmony I picked up a copy of Science and Health and this is what I read: ''Understanding the control which Love held over all, Daniel felt safe in the lions' den, and Paul proved the viper to be harmless. All of God's creatures, moving in the harmony of Science, are harmless, useful, indestructible'' (p. 514 ). The question was no longer whether a particular kind of snake was venomous or not, but ''Could there be anything outside of God's creation, or any venomous thing within it?'' I knew with certainty that God held us all safely in His conscious care. This fact was the law to this situation, and my reliance on it was scientific. And that was that. There were no aftereffects, no pain, no swelling or discoloration, although her father, who knew more about snakes than I did, was momentarily shaken when he saw the puncture mark. You can imagine our awe and gratitude. But this was not a miracle. It was the predictable result of applied Science. There is no material law that can act in conflict with the law of God. We bring our experience within the operation of that law as we live in conscious obedience to it; and isn't that true of any law? Now we come to the final question: ''Is Christian Science basically an activity of the human mind; a form of psychology, an exercise in self-hypnosis, mind control, or mere positive thinking?'' It's none of these things! There are many points of difference between the spiritual method of healing taught in Science and Health and the various mind-methods I've mentioned, but the main point is this: Christian Science is the law of God. Its healing method is the practice of divine law. It is not the effect of one human mind acting upon another to dominate or hypnotize. It's not autosuggestion, either. The practitioner's work in Christian Science is not to talk a patient into health but, through prayer, to reflect the light of the Christ upon the human scene so that he can see through it into reality. As in Bible times, the communication of truth is from God to men. Now, as always, prayer is the point of contact -- the point at which we open our thought to God's self-revelation, and the result is healing. May I tell you a story that illustrates this? The first time I went back to New Zealand after having been away more than ten years, you can imagine how my sister and I talked far into the night. In the process of all this talking I told her something of Christian Science, and of healings we'd had in our family. One morning before I was up, I realized that there was an unusual amount of coming and going in the house. I soon learned that the family doctor had just left. My sister's four-year-old had a raging case of scarlet fever. The child was miserably ill, and my sister close to tears. The doctor was planning to return shortly to quarantine the house and to bring medicine, but in the meantime she felt helpless to relieve the little one's suffering. Desperately she said, ''If there's anything you can do, I wish you'd do it!'' I gave her a reassuring hug and went for my Bible and Science and Health. I thought about Jesus and the father in Mark's Gospel asking uncertainly , ''If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us'' (Mark 9:22 ). Jesus didn't answer with a sermon, but with loving assurance that confidence in God is never misplaced. Then, with authority, he rejected the disease and lifted up the child, and the Bible says simply, ''and he arose'' (Mark 9:27). Following the steps to healing

Prayerfully, I followed these steps to healing. I realized the nature and the infinite goodness of God. Since obviously no evil could be included in that perfect goodness, it couldn't be a legitimate part of this child's true being as the reflex image of God. On that basis I rejected it. In prayer I lifted the child into the light of the Christ, into the realm of reality. I knew that we were in the living presence of God.

When the doctor returned, he found a happy child playing in the sunshine. He examined her and pronounced her in blooming health. A purely spiritual healing had taken place in the space of an hour.

This is the Science of Christianity. It is a far cry from mental manipulation or the hopeful holding of good thoughts. This is Emmanuel, ''God with us.''

Now Christian Scientists don't claim to have reached the level of the master Christian. But we do know that strict obedience to the teachings of Jesus and steadfast application of the Science of Christianity can heal every kind of disease and every kind of human distress. What we understand spiritually, we can demonstrate humanly.

Christian Science, however, isn't simply an alternative form of therapy. Its mission is not to ensure human comfort, but to arouse mankind to the possibility , here and now, of salvation from material bondage and sin -- whatever would seem to separate us from God. This mission of Christian Science is the redemption of humanity. As we are regenerated, awakened to a sense of our eternal being, we become conscious of God's presence; like Moses, we can speak to God as a man speaks to his friend.

Christian Science calls for no blindfold march to the beat of a different drummer. It offers no strange Utopia, no technique for accomplishing instant health, wealth, or material success. What it does offer is primitive Christianity -- the Christianity of Jesus. It offers a life radiant with purpose , with love and spiritual power. It offers a glimpse of glory -- man and the universe held in the law of God.

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