I WAS BAPTIZED in a Protestant church, and I enjoyed participating in church activities during my growing-up years. The spiritual education I received was very meaningful to me. I had questions, however, about the ceremonial aspects of worship.
A Christian Scientist friend of mine, a voice student, inquired about the possibility of singing in my church's choir. She was allowed to, but with certain restrictions. Why? She had not been baptized in a traditional ceremony and was therefore not considered a Christian. I scratched my head over this.
I knew that water baptism was a symbol of purification initiating one into the Christian faith. I wondered, though—if an individual had no real commitment to the teachings of Christ Jesus, what meaning could this ceremony have? On the other hand, if one did have a genuine commitment to the teachings of Jesus (as my friend did), what need would there be for symbols or a ceremony? Couldn't a person be baptized through the spiritual purification, or washing of thought, that comes through following Jesus' precepts in daily life? And wouldn't such a life make one a Christian?
A few years later, when I took up studying Christian Science, I found satisfying answers to these questions.
What the Bible says
One of the most important things Christian Science has taught me could be summed up this way: When looking for answers, start with the Bible.
The Bible indicates that both John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries with the command, "Repent." Matt. 3:2 and Matt. 4:17. In Greek the word repent means "reconsider" or "think differently." John knew that human thought needed to be prepared for the reception of Christ Jesus' teachings. In his baptism of repentance, John used water as a symbol of the washing—purifying—of character that comes from acknowledging one's sins and committing oneself to living a better life. But John indicated that Jesus' method of preparing and transforming human thought would go beyond material symbolism or rite. John said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." Matt, 3:11.
Jesus initiated repentance through the spiritual Truth he lived, taught, and demonstrated in healing. Anyone who studies Jesus' life and his teachings today (and all those who have done so through the centuries) is brought face to face with the purest life that was ever lived. In the bright light of Jesus' pure spirituality, we are forced to reconsider our life, repent of our errors, and thus ready ourselves to think and live differently. At times, this process can seem like a baptism of fire, leaving us longing for comfort.
Jesus yearned to help humanity in this regard. He said, "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth ... the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:16, 17, 26.
What Mary Baker Eddy discovered
Mary Baker Eddy followed where Jesus led. She explained the concept of baptism simply: "The baptism of the Holy Ghost is the spirit of Truth cleansing from all sin; giving mortals new motives, new purposes, new affections, all pointing upward." Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 204. This is how individuals are baptized into the church Mary Baker Eddy founded. They are baptized daily, moment by moment, through the cleansing of the spirit of Truth, a synonym for God.
Moreover, Mrs. Eddy addressed the question, What did Jesus mean by the Holy Ghost, or Comforter, that he promised would come?
Through her exhaustive study of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures of the Holy Bible, Mrs. Eddy discovered the scientific laws of God underlying Jesus' teachings and healings. She perceived that Jesus demonstrated how these laws could be applied to all the needs of humanity. She named her divine discovery Christian Science. Here is how Mrs. Eddy explained the connection between the promised Comforter and Christian Science: "In the words of St. John: 'He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.' This Comforter I understand to be Divine Science." Science and Health, p. 55.
This Science, the Comforter that Jesus promised, assures us and helps us to understand that God, divine Spirit is infinite. Therefore, Spirit is the only cause and creator. All that Spirit creates is spiritual, reflecting Spirit's substance, nature, and wholeness. Matter—with all its limitations, discords, diseases, and mortality—has no creator; therefore, it is unreal. Whatever is unlike God in nature and substance is nothing more than a false concept, or human illusion. And this revelation requires humanity to think differently—about everything. What's comforting about this spirit of Truth is that you and I, all of us—the "man" that God created in His own image and likeness—are actually entirely spiritual, not material. We reflect Spirit, divine Life, Truth, and Love, and are, therefore, as perfect, pure, and whole, as God is—right now and forever. The human shortcomings, diseases, limitations, and mortality that claim to be a part of us are unrealities, and they always have been. By revealing the true nature of God and of ourselves as God's reflection, the Holy Ghost animates human thought to repent of false, material beliefs, to be spiritually cleansed, healed, made new.
"Our baptism," Mrs. Eddy wrote in Science and Health, "is a purification from all error. Our church is built on the divine Principle, Love. We can unite with this church only as we are new-born of Spirit, as we reach the Life which is Truth and the Truth which is Life by bringing forth the fruits of Love,—casting out error and healing the sick." Ibid., p. 35.
Getting started–and keeping going
This baptism is much more than a one-time event. It goes on continuously, until we are fully cleansed of all materiality. But don't let the magnitude of this baptismal process scare you off from getting started. For me, when what seems like a huge task lies ahead, I often remember something I read long ago in a book about housekeeping: "My accumulating pile of ironing is in the closet rising like bread dough." It is a humorous reminder to me that ironing, as well as any other work, is accomplished more easily when tackled piece by piece as it comes along. In like manner, I find it comforting to know that even an accumulated mess can be undone one piece at a time.
I've found through the years that I've been studying Christian Science and endeavoring to bring the spiritual view of reality into my character and daily life that I have plenty of opportunity to quiet my thoughts, turn to God in humble prayer, and experience spiritual purification. Here are a few practical examples from my own life:
• Someone speaks crossly? I see an opportunity to refrain from judging and to quietly treasure that individual's real nature as God's reflection.
• There I go again eating way too much ice cream in one sitting? Like it or not, here is an opportunity to learn the joy and freedom of moderation.
• Bump my knee against the edge of the doorframe? Once more, I find a perfect opportunity to mentally disagree with the belief of pain in matter and replace it with the understanding that I live in Spirit. And I experience healing.
Insignificant incidents? Not really. Through small events like these, each of us can grow in the spiritual grace that will enable us to accept our need for spiritual cleansing when the more difficult things come along.
Christly grace and healing
It was a trying time, for example, when our daughter became a teenage mother many years ago. It would have been easy, though extremely painful, to go down the road of condemnation—finding fault in every direction, including with myself. But the Comforter led me in the path of Christly grace and healing. It was a struggle to diligently replace downward spiraling thoughts with spiritually healing ones, but letting the spirit of Truth purify and uplift my thought brought joy and love into my heart. And it carried our whole family forward in love and unity. The beautiful granddaughter our daughter gave birth to has now given us two handsome little great-grandsons.
Every little step we take—every time we let the Comforter cleanse us of some illusive material belief and replace it with a spiritual truth concerning something going on in our daily lives—the healing power of Truth will come into our experience. Through this daily spiritual baptism, we not only become Christians, we become Christian healers. As we are newborn day by day, we actively express divine Love, and this renewed living of our spiritual identity brings blessings to ourselves and others—and healing to the world—through Love.
Contributing Editor Barbara Vining is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. She lives in Toledo, Ohio.
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