By The Committee on Publication
From the May 2022 issue of The Christian Science Journal.
(Reprinted with Permission - https://jsh.christianscience.com/console)
It shall be the duty of the Committee on Publication to correct in a Christian manner impositions on the public in regard to Christian Science, injustices done Mrs. Eddy or members of this Church by the daily press, by periodicals or circulated literature of any sort. —Mary Baker Eddy, Church Manual, Art. XXXIII, Sect. 2
The Christianity of Christian Science is often vividly real to those who have experienced or closely witnessed Christ’s healing power through the study and practice of its teachings. The centrality of the Bible in the lives of Christian Scientists follows naturally from their humble recognition of the significance of Christ Jesus’ life and teachings as the Son of God and the way of salvation. But when the Christianity of Christian Science is publicly minimized or denied, Committees on Publication see an opportunity for lifting those impositions off the public in a Christian manner, allowing something of the true light of Christ to be recognized by those whose hearts are open to it.
A recently published book To Baptize or Not to Baptize, written by a Lutheran pastor and author of several other books and more than 200 articles, includes a scenario involving a couple seeking baptism for their baby. The mother is from a Christian Science background, and brief as this case is, it includes several substantial impositions on the public in regard to Christian Science, including the statement, “Despite its name, ‘The Church of Christ, Scientist’ is not a Christian church.” What follows is a letter to the author of this book from the Office of the Committee on Publication, which resulted in a gracious and thoughtful response from the author recognizing the value of Christ’s blessings as evidenced in the letter.
Letter to an author who is a Lutheran pastor
I am writing in response to your beautifully and thoughtfully written book, To Baptize or Not to Baptize. I am inspired by the depth of your devotion and the clarity of your witness to Christ. The book deepened my appreciation for baptism as traditionally practiced in orthodox Christian churches. The following are among the sentences that spoke most deeply to me: “God is wildly generous in his grace. But God is neither random nor vague in his grace-giving.” That sense of purposeful intention in God’s love for each of us is powerful indeed! At the same time, I want to offer a different perspective on Christian Science from how it is portrayed in your case concerning a convert from the Church of Christ, Scientist.
I’m a lifelong Christian Scientist, who is alive to write this because of my maternal grandmother’s spiritual healing through the help of a Christian Science practitioner of a case of spinal meningitis, which the medical professionals had found to be incurable. My great-grandparents turned to Christian Science as a last resort. Isabel, my grandmother, was a teenager when this deeply Christian blessing took place, and she went on to marry and give birth to my mother and four other healthy children. Christian Scientists believe, first and foremost, in a sovereign God, who is infinite, divine Love, and in man (in the generic sense) as made in God’s image and likeness.
According to a recently published document, “Simplicity of worship, equality in congregational life, and the profound Puritan emphasis on inward grace over outward forms are in our spiritual DNA” (response from the Christian Science Board of Directors to World Council of Churches found in Churches Respond to “The Church: Towards a Common Vision,” Vol. 2, p. 83). We understand Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, who came to earth to heal and save mankind. His life, including healing maladies and disabilities and overcoming death through purely spiritual means, together with his teachings as recorded in the New Testament, are regarded as our guide to life and the working out of salvation.
The symbol on our official church literature, a cross and crown, points to the shared foundation of all Christian faith—the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which we view as factual, historical events. In accepting the biblical account of the Holy Ghost as engendering the virgin Mary’s pregnancy, we see Jesus’ divine origin, and the life that followed from that origin, as unique in the whole of human history. As a past colleague wrote in a Patheos article, according to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, “Jesus’ answer to the mortal predicament was not a dogma, but a life. She saw Jesus’ life—not least his resurrection and healing works—as challenging the core materialism” that defines and confines so much of human experience.
Christian Scientists have benefited greatly from ecumenical encounters with Christians of widely varying traditions over the past half-century. While Christian Science carves a distinct path of focused spirituality, unquestionably differing on some questions of doctrine from Christian orthodoxy, I believe there is a wider swath of shared commitment to Christian fundamentals than may yet be generally understood, including the nature of biblical faith, sin and grace, the spiritual experience of baptism, and, not least, the redemptive mission of church in the world.
A particularly meaningful and fruitful ecumenical dialogue took place between The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who served as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. “While General Secretary at the NCC, I invited Christian Science to send representatives as full participating members of the Council’s Commission because I am convinced that your community is a valued part of the one body of Christ—a position that has recently been echoed by others, including the National Council of Reformed Churches in France,” Rev. Dr. Kinnamon observed. “Today marks the fifth time that I have met with [representatives] of Christian Science, not because I agree with you and Mrs. Eddy on all things, but because in you I see the grace of God.” The Rev. Dr. Kinnamon’s full remarks on Christian Science were published in Ecumenical Trends (Vol. 41, No. 10, November 2012).
What I feel is most important to convey here is the chasmic distance between the theology and practice of Christian Science and either Manichaeism or Gnosticism. It is also not accurate to say that Christian Science arose “under the rubric of New Thought,” stressing “mind over matter.” These assertions require some elaboration. The dualism of Manichaeism and Gnosticism—asserting that there is both God who created spiritual reality and an evil opposite or lesser deity who created the material universe—is at complete odds with Christian Science theology, which has a unitary view of God, Spirit, as the sovereign, singular source of the one, all-encompassing reality. The only Christian Science scriptures are the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. Further, the mysticism and esotericism found in Manichaeism and Gnosticism have no correlative in Christian Science.
Simplicity of worship, equality in congregational life, and an emphasis on inward grace over outward forms are in our spiritual DNA.
In The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life, Stephen Gottschalk has argued that “Christian Science can be best understood as a pragmatic interpretation of Christian revelation.” Part of Gottschalk’s elaboration on this point includes the following: “In its basic philosophical sense, pragmatism is an attitude which insists that coherent theory must be related to practice, that the meaning of a concept is to be found in its bearing upon experience, and that the truth of an idea is to be tested by the actual consequences of believing in it.” Christian Scientists take very seriously the words of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do” (John 14:12).
While Christian Science and New Thought have sometimes been conflated, there is a strong evidence base for delineating these movements, which while sharing common proximities in their early histories, are nevertheless animated by beliefs and practices that are so fundamentally distinct as to be theologically irreconcilable. Core aspects of Christian Science, such as the essential need for redemption from the flesh, dependency on divine revelation, the concept of regeneration through Jesus Christ, the fundamental distinction between God and man, and the focus on biblical revelation—specifically the life and teachings of Jesus—are far from the core of New Thought. When fully examined, none of these theological distinctions are subtle, even if surface similarities in language and historical proximity suggest otherwise.
Christian Science was not “the esoteric, theosophically adjacent religion that emergent New Thought adherents wished to find and went on to independently construct; nor was it a type of Christianity already existing,” notes Amy B. Voorhees in her 2021 book, A New Christian Identity: Christian Science Origins and Experience in American Culture (The University of North Carolina Press). “At every turn, Christian Science texts and lives confounded such descriptions” (p. 231).
Christian Science is too often stereotyped as involving a “mind over matter” or positive thinking approach to healing. This characterization widely misses the actual nature of a biblically grounded spiritual practice, which has everything to do with the endeavor to faithfully follow Jesus’ description of discipleship, as recorded in Mark: “And these signs will follow those who believe: . . . they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17, 18). This approach requires reaching beyond human will or mere optimism to receive something of the astonishing light and power of Christ. The reception of this spiritual light—transforming hearts and healing human bodies—involves a deeper consecration than the shallows of positive thinking could begin to fathom. That is not to say that every Christian Scientist has consistently met this standard, but exceptional lapses cannot replace the spiritual authenticity of countless lives.
If you will forgive me for continuing a bit further, I also wanted to offer a few words about the meaning and practice of baptism in Christian Science. I loved reading about your own experience and ever-deepening understanding of baptism in “Still Life with Baptism,” and I appreciated the pithy quotes from Martin Luther woven throughout. One of these particularly resonated with my experience of baptism as a Christian Scientist: “Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.” I realize that the words “begun once” refer to a physical act involving water, but surely the continuing, daily baptism takes place in the private sanctuary of one’s heart.
Christian Scientists seek to live in alignment with the words of Jesus, as recorded in John: “But the time approaches, indeed it is already here, when those who are real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Such are the worshippers whom the Father wants” (4:23). For us, baptism is not a one-time event involving water, but a purification of the heart and of consciousness—a cleansing from sin and spiritual complacency so as to enter into communion with God and to feel more deeply the sanctifying and transformative influence of God’s holiness and grace. This profound inward meeting with Christ through his Word is something we endeavor to experience as a continuing, core element of Christian life.
In the words of one of my favorite Christian authors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Every morning God gives us the gift of comprehending anew his faithfulness of old; thus, in the midst of our life with God, we may daily begin a new life with him.” Well, if you have read this far, I sincerely thank you for hearing me out! Wishing you every blessing in Christ, . . .