A Christian Science church service is unique. In fact, the service might be a surprise to those accustomed to hearing a sermon delivered by a traditional preacher who serves at a particular time in a particular place.
That is because the Church of Christ, Scientist, has just one universal, impersonal, and forever Pastor, officially ordained by Mary Baker Eddy—Discoverer, Founder, and Leader of Christian Science—in this way: “I, Mary Baker Eddy, ordain the Bible, and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Pastor over The Mother Church,—The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Mass,—and they will continue to preach for this Church and the world” (Mary Baker Eddy, Church Manual, p. 58).
This message is further elucidated in what is termed the “Explanatory Note,” which Mrs. Eddy finalized and authorized, and which is read to the congregation prior to the Lesson-Sermon at each Sunday service:
The Bible and the Christian Science textbook are our only preachers. We shall now read Scriptural texts, and their correlative passages from our denominational textbook; these comprise our sermon.
The canonical writings, together with the word of our textbook, corroborating and explaining the Bible texts in their spiritual import and application to all ages, past, present, and future, constitute a sermon undivorced from truth, uncontaminated and unfettered by human hypotheses, and divinely authorized. (Christian Science Quarterly)
After having read and heard this Explanatory Note for many years, I realized one day, more clearly than ever, that the specific function of the Pastor—the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy—is not the same as that of the sermons. They have two separate, though united, functions, and I suddenly saw the uniqueness and importance of each of those functions. The sermons—the weekly Bible Lessons—are made up of passages, or citations, taken from these books. The specific function of the sermon is always united with, is the outcome of, the Pastor, but is not the completeness of the Pastor.
I realized one day, more clearly than ever, that the specific function of the Pastor is not the same as that of the sermons.
Obviously, the Pastor in its entirety—the Bible and Science and Health—is at its post worldwide, year after year. These books are the unchanging, ordained preachers of this Church. On the other hand, the Pastor’s sermons—passages taken from the books—are prayerfully selected by a dedicated group of experienced Christian Scientists. The citations are new each week and cover, always in fresh, unique ways, the 26 subjects provided by Mrs. Eddy to feed and inspire thought, to meet individual and universal needs, to comfort and heal mankind.
What a dynamic office is filled by these changeless ordained preachers that deliver a newly-inspired sermon each week. The sermon and the preachers can never be separated. The scriptural texts and their correlative passages are irrevocably united with the fullness of the textbooks. As I thought about that union, the reason for the Manual requirement that Readers in Christian Science churches (those elected to read the sermons from the Pastor) “shall not read from copies or manuscripts, but from the books” (Manual, p. 32) became clearer to me.
It became evident to me that Mrs. Eddy wanted the sermons never to be separated from their source, the preachers. The specific, focused sermons are always embraced in the loving care and surroundings of the preachers and carry their full authority. The sermon, with its timely message, is clothed with the power, presence, and dynamism of the Pastor. Although the sermon is uniquely individual and carries a precise message, it is at the same time universal and is always united with the continuity and undeviating law of divine Science, the Comforter expounded by the full and complete Pastor.
Each sermon is a window providing a view of the fullness and practicality of divine Science. They are vital, energizing sermons, giving the true interpretation of the Word of the Bible, giving the understanding of the Science underlying the Word.
As the Explanatory Note states, the textbook corroborates (strengthens, supports, validates, bears witness to) and explains the Bible texts. And this corroboration and explanation brings out the “spiritual import” of those texts. Clearly, the preachers and the sermon are not the same, but are united and “divinely authorized.”
It is interesting to note Mrs. Eddy’s indication that these sermons, which are “undivorced from truth,” are applicable “to all ages”—not only to the past and present, but also to the future. The sermons transcend generations, relating to all people through all time. So the language of the sermons can never become outdated in any way. The need is to understand, through spiritual sense, the timeless Science conveyed through the words.
Anyone can have continual access any time, anywhere, to this impersonal Pastor—the Bible and Science and Health. Over the years, the sermons from that Pastor have instructed me, inspired me, and protected me in the most unusual places: as a young Marine in boot camp and then in war zones; later, as an Army chaplain; also during air and land travel, and in the myriad demands of daily living. I can be in close touch with my beloved Pastor at any time, day or night. I can engage with the preachers of my Church in individual study or I can read the weekly sermons—the Bible Lessons—from its sourcebooks. This enables me to engage in a kind of “ongoing conversation” with my Pastor.
Anyone can have continual access any time, anywhere, to this impersonal Pastor—the Bible and Science and Health.
At one time I was alone at night experiencing a good deal of pain that had persisted for a number of days. The Lesson-Sermon that week was exploring the word reflection, in its various aspects. As I thought over the citations from the Bible and Science and Health, it was like having one of those private visits with my Pastor. I could see, in new ways, how the term reflection brought out the idea of man’s true nature as the exact likeness of his Maker. I saw that man was the mirror reflection or image of God. I recalled the words of Genesis in the Bible: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (1:26, 27). That gave me a better understanding of my own true being as reflecting the perfection and freedom of God, divine Mind—a clearer view of what it meant to actually be His perfect image and likeness.
Then I began to see how the Lesson-Sermon was also conveying another meaning of reflection as that which divine Mind knows of itself, Mind’s own self-expression. It was as if the preachers were explaining a meaning of reflection as a mental activity, as if someone were saying, “Reflect on this idea and understand it.” I knew that Mind is all-knowing because God is All, totality itself, and that there is nothing outside, or beyond, that Mind. I saw that divine Mind continuously knows itself, reveals itself. It was then clear to me that man is God’s self-knowing, the outcome of divine Mind reflecting on itself, within itself.
One of the inspiring results of the understanding of divine Science is that it is effective in our daily life right when and where we need it. I felt assured by this explanation in Science and Health: “A spiritual idea has not a single element of error, and this truth removes properly whatever is offensive” (p. 463). I gained a clearer view of the forever fact that I was actually a spiritual idea known by and in divine Mind. It was as if divine Mind were saying: “This is Myself, My very own idea of Myself.” That truth was operating as divine law, enabling me to become more conscious of the spiritual fact of my true being and bringing health and harmony to my thought and body. In that same instant I was completely freed from the pain that had lasted so many days. I have never lost the grandeur of that inspired moment.
Over the years, my commitment to daily visits with my Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health, has brought much comfort, care, spiritual growth, and healing. And what a treasure trove! These visits encourage even closer, deeper, more regular study of our precious books. They are our ever-on-duty, ever-available preachers.
And they are a mighty power for good in the world.