In the early days of the Christian community, the Greek word for church signified a coming together of people for a specific Christian purpose. Ekklesia captured the true sense of church, meaning at its root to be "called" together or the "called out" people. It defined a fellowship of Christian believers who had answered the call to follow in the way of Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself had told his disciples that they should go "into all the world" Mark 16:15. to do the good works he had taught them. They were to take an active part in their communities, showing themselves to be living testaments to all the good that they had witnessed Jesus do for humanity. This meant spreading the gospel everywhere and bringing spiritual healing to those who were sick in body or in mind.
This gospel—or good news that God's kingdom was closer than anyone could ever imagine—would change the hearts of men and women and, in turn, the world. As Peter, John, Paul, and other early Christians took the message of Christ's teachings and healing ministry throughout ancient Judea and the Mediterranean coast, the early Christian church grew town by town and city by city—in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Lystra, Derbe, Damascus, Antioch, and even Rome. It was as though the people were just waiting to receive this message of love and to know the healing presence of God in their lives.
And why should Church be anything less than this today? I like to think of each church that grows up in a community as that community's answered prayer for the presence of the saving Christ—the message of God's love for humanity. I often wonder if others have thought about their own church in this way. Have they considered that the reason their church exists right there in that community is that hearts have been thirsting for the saving truth, hungering for the healing power of the Christ?
Church is a vital power. One that expresses a divinely impelled force for good, for transformation and regeneration, for lighting the dark places in human thought and life. It manifests a power that can change the way people think about themselves, about their relationship to God, and about their relationships with their fellow men and women. Church is intended to be joy-bringing and, literally, joy-full. After all, Jesus told his followers that his message of love had this purpose: "That my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." John 15:11.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, set out the ideal of Church in her central work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Such a Church, she said, would actually demonstrate its usefulness; lift up humanity's moral principles, values, and goals; awaken the natural inclination among everyone to know and love only good; and heal both sickness and sin. In her definition of Church, she first offered a purely spiritual reference point: "CHURCH. The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle." Truth, Love, and Principle are—like Mind, Soul, Life, and Spirit—synonymous names for God in Christian Science.
After this spiritual definition, Mrs. Eddy provided her explication of the ideal human organization for Church. She wrote: "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." Science and Health, p. 583.
It's natural to question whether this is happening in every church. But any time the validity and vitality of Church in today's world is brought into question, we can respond instead with questions of our own: Is the human race still in need of being elevated? Are there still a few—or perhaps more than a few—dormant understandings in need of being roused from material beliefs? Are there any sick people among us? Has sin been eradicated in every corner of society? The answers are self-evident. So the demand for a vital, healing church today is perhaps more acute than ever.
If one were to take a poll of the members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, they could probably relate countless stories of healings and lives transformed through prayer. They might mention how they have overcome serious physical illnesses, broken free from the bondage of addictions, reconciled bitter relationships with loved ones, or emerged successfully out of a sinful past.
They would also likely tell you that it was Science and Health that gave them this whole new view of life. That by studying this book, they began to see reality through fresh eyes—the reality of God's spiritual creation, which is perfectly good, indestructible, and permanently substantial, because it expresses divine Spirit, omnipotent Mind. They would speak of how they had come to discover who they actually are as God made them to be—the spiritual reflection of pure Love and omnipresent Life.
As the Science of Christianity worked these wonderful changes in their lives, these people felt themselves being called to church. They naturally found themselves uniting with the institution that is designed to bring the healing message of the Christ, or Truth, to humanity. They would say that the church had become their own answered prayer for the presence of the saving Christ.
The larger, universal purpose of Church—to bring the Bible's promises of healing and salvation to everyone everywhere—continues to call together those who love God. The spiritual power of Church will go forward, transforming lives one heart at a time and changing the world.
In a message to one of her churches in 1900, Mrs. Eddy encouraged the members to be "always abounding in love and good works." She then offered this counsel and blessing: "May this church have one God, one Christ, and that one the God and Saviour whom the Scriptures declare. May it catch the early trumpet-call, take step with the twentieth century, leave behind those things that are behind, lay down the low laurels of vainglory, and, pressing forward in the onward march of Truth, run in joy, health, holiness, the race that is set before it, till, home at last, it finds the full fruition of its faith, hope, and prayer." The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 155.
The Church of Christ, Scientist, now in the 21st century, is still "pressing forward in the onward march of Truth"—answering prayer and demonstrating the spiritual power that heals and saves. It will always be a vital power as its members continue to abound "in love and good works."
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