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No megachurch here—Instead, remarkable simplicity

From The Christian Science Journal - July 25, 2012

There is a proliferation of new churches springing up in my part of the country: independent churches unaffiliated with denominations; megachurches with huge congregations requiring Sunday morning traffic control; mainstream churches offering separate worship services tailored to traditional or contemporary tastes. 

I was raised in a mainstream denomination. As the granddaughter and sister of pastors, I enjoy following the whole spectrum of Bible-based churches, appreciating effective ministries of all kinds. Perhaps you, too, have been following the rapid and widespread changes in religion with genuine interest. 

Beginning in high school, I enjoyed serving as a Christian singer/soloist and inspirational speaker in churches, as well as in Christian social and civic groups. After college, I enjoyed the rich privilege of touring around the United States and abroad with a small ensemble, performing a wide range of Christian music—everything from folk rock to sacred classics. The five of us were trained musicians, speakers, and devoted Christians, selected and funded by an international nondenominational Christian organization. Together, we ministered to churches, performed on radio, television, college campuses, and in concert settings. 

I participated in a wide, colorful variety of church services internationally. But I’d never seen anything quite like the remarkable simplicity I experienced when I sat with my fiancé in a Christian Science Sunday service for the first time.

The first thing that caught my attention was in the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer. Rather than quickly rattling off the familiar prayer, the congregation repeated it slowly, deliberately. My fiancé kindly told me to wait for the First Reader to read aloud the spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, after each phrase. I was struck by the clarity of the interpretation. It deepened my appreciation for Christ Jesus’ widely loved model prayer, even though I’d known this prayer since early childhood.

I recognized the solo was coordinated perfectly with the subject of the Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly for that week. Rather than a personal artistic performance, it was more like a lovely prayer, preparing the congregation to receive God’s Word. 

And hearing the Bible Lesson read by two Readers, instead of a traditional sermon, was also remarkable. The complete absence of personal commentary was refreshing and in contrast to the preaching I was accustomed to hearing. The congregation listened—in an atmosphere of prayerful receptivity—to clear, spiritual logic from the well-developed Lesson. The Bible passages, specifically chosen for their application to the subject for that week, spoke for themselves. 

For me, the Lesson-Sermon was an example of obedience to a Scripture I already loved: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:14, 15). 

Correlated passages from Science and Health intelligently elucidated the Bible selections. Although I was unfamiliar with Science and Health, many of the passages that were read made perfect sense to me as a long-time Bible student. Hearing them piqued my interest in reading the textbook for myself. 

I’ve heard marvelous scholarly and inspiring sermons in my life as a Protestant. And I treasure true fellowship with genuine Christians in many churches. But I left that particular first Christian Science service keenly aware that the Christian Science Sunday church service is unique. These are some of the distinctions I noted: 

  • Personality did not dominate; we didn’t hear someone’s opinion about God’s Word, but God’s Word itself.
  • There were no audible, extemporaneous prayers featuring personal eloquence.
  • The service was free of ritualistic worship. 
  • Emotional pleas or temporary euphoria had no place within the service.  
  • The format seemed as free of human will as a church service could possibly be, allowing members of the congregation to contemplate, pray, and worship individually and consecratedly. 

I know now that the simple, impersonal service structure is predicated upon the understanding, articulated beautifully by Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health: “Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding, which regenerates; but silent prayer, watchfulness, and devout obedience enable us to follow Jesus’ example. Long prayers, superstition, and creeds clip the strong pinions of love, and clothe religion in human forms. Whatever materializes worship hinders man’s spiritual growth and keeps him from demonstrating his power over error” (pp. 4–5). 

I left that service convinced Christian Science was the answer to my prayers for a deeper, demonstrable, theologically consistent Christianity. As I’ve pursued the study of this religion, I’ve learned more about the brilliant simplicity of the Church founded by Mary Baker Eddy. 

The Manual of the Mother Church has taught me that the limited human activity this bare bones Manual outlines was divinely inspired. The Manual frees members from unnecessary church busy-ness, which can become a poor substitute for genuine spiritual inspiration and healing. The Manual’s By-Laws illustrate how Christ Jesus’ words and works can be followed and proved. 

The Manual’s wisdom protects from the dominance of personality, from the imposition of religious hierarchy, and from preoccupation with policy or strategy. Instead, the Manual for this Church is really a guidebook to help individual members apply the healing truths of Christian Science to their private and public lives.

The simplicity of this church structure reminds us that clever material means and methods don’t best achieve spiritual goals. Mrs. Eddy was clear about this. She wrote: “Exercise more faith in God and His spiritual means and methods, than in man and his material ways and means, of establishing the Cause of Christian Science” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 152–153). 

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, is designed to best promote individual spiritual growth by spiritual means. This equips members to practice healthy, charitable, principled, Godly living as sincere students of Christian Science and practical Christians. 

The outpouring of healing love that springs from individual members’ demonstration of Christian Science genuinely attracts and blesses the receptive hearts of people who come into their lives. The Church is designed to give members the best possible springboard to practice that healing love and to progress spiritually. 

The purity and simplicity of the Christian Science Sunday service reminds me of the universality of Love, practical and present as we worship, listen, and pray together.

Elaine Lang is a Christian Science practitioner who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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