The demand for church is real. Some might agree with that statement. Others emphatically won’t. And yet in spite of declining membership, concerns about youth leaving church, and tragic stories of abuse, there is something else going on. Traditional forms of religious authority are falling away, giving an opening to a radical reexamination and rebirth of church. An article in today’s Monitor Daily, for instance, speaks to a rise in unconventional outlets for faith and spirituality, such as music festivals.
Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, shared the following insight over 100 years ago in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity” (p. vii).
The desire for something new is being pushed by the demand for something higher and holier and is growing to be a driving force. It is a drive that is strong, soundly rejecting hollow traditions for a more practical spirituality. And this is bringing new forms to fulfill the ideals of meaning, healing, and community that are central to a thriving church.
Mary Baker Eddy recognized this deep yearning in humanity and wrote: “This age is reaching out towards the perfect Principle of things; is pushing towards perfection in art, invention, and manufacture. Why, then, should religion be stereotyped, and we not obtain a more perfect and practical Christianity?” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 232).
Dropping all stereotypes of religion as exclusive, blindly dogmatic, or divisive, we find we have a keen opportunity to look with fresh receptivity at the church set out by Christ Jesus, rooted in primitive, practical Christianity – founded on the basis of spiritual healing. Jesus expected his followers to walk their talk. To forgive. To heal the sick. Jesus’ concise summary of all the commandments was simple: Love God and love one another. He knew that outward ritualized worship or simply going through the motions couldn’t unmake bad behavior or come anywhere near to saving humanity. And in my study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve experienced how it isn’t the outward things that transform us, but an inner desire to know God and a willingness to do the work that spiritual transformation requires. It is the daily deeds of goodness and unselfishness whose accumulated actions reveal church as a dynamic force that helps us demonstrate just how God’s love heals and triumphs over adversity.
There is a two-part definition of church in Science and Health that I have found helpful. The first part explains the spiritual substance of church: “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” The definition is broad, yet grounded not in human personality, nor in the wisdom of others, but in a knowledge of God as divine Principle, Love – universal, solid, expansive, enduring.
The second part of this definition sets a standard for the actions of church: “The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick” (p. 583).
This sense of church, like a spiritual fitness center, is not just about coming to church, but living church as universal, unifying, and all-inclusive: letting God, divine Love, impel what we think and do. It means demonstrating, in some degree, the power of God that triumphs over sin, disease, and death.
We know if we are “doing church right” by our actions and the results of those actions. We can ask ourselves, are we growing in grace, humility, acceptance, and generosity? Are the results of our efforts, even if in modest ways, “elevating” humanity and rousing our thought to more healing and compassionate, spiritual ideals? These are natural outcomes of understanding our relation to God – not just how we think about God, but reclaiming our real identity as the spiritual expression of God’s goodness, love, and truth. With the high goal of healing and all the transformative good that only church can do, we’ll eagerly want to let go of anything that’s blocking the way to this glorious progress.
Each of us, whatever our background, can make a fresh, new commitment to church, to being new-born of Spirit, God, in our consciousness. Our humble willingness to do that opens the way for how powerfully all can experience church as an all-out loving, responsive, and transformative healing and saving force.
Adapted from an editorial published in the March 11, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.