Much is written today about a declining church and about the loss of spiritual vitality in religions in the West. One hears of shrinking church attendance in some areas and of apathy in organized religion. But accompanying this trend is another one. There are widespread indications of a search for a more meaningful way of looking at life, a deep desire for something more than just what the material senses are describing, and a heartfelt yearning to find a supreme All-power for good in operation in the world.
How are we identifying ourselves and our own sense of church? Are we seeing church in terms of decline? Or are we seeing its inevitable role in rousing thought to find fresh spiritual answers? For a Christian Scientist, the choice is clear. Since the very nature of true Church is, in the words of the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, "the structure of Truth and Love," Science and Health, p. 583. expressing the newness, freshness, continuity, buoyancy, and joy of Life itself—it is natural for a Christian Scientist to identify Church with progress and vitality.
How then is church to grow and increase? In absolute terms, it is impossible for Church to "increase." Church is already an established, complete fact. God is already All. His kingdom is already come. But what can and does increase is our understanding of true Church, of what God is—of the reality of His kingdom.
Many individuals try to "go it alone" as regards their spiritual journeyings. But by its very nature, a growth in the understanding of God, the warm feeling of His presence and the scientific relation of man to God, brings with it a desire to share this spiritual inspiration and contagious enthusiasm with others. The getting together and sharing of a fresh, uplifting sense of life is the basis of church activity. It is worshiping God together, partaking of His light together, and rejoicing, singing, and praying together in fellowship, joy, and tender care.
We can see from this that it is not the true idea of Church which is unwanted or failing. In many instances the institution of church would appear to be in decline because it has lost its original reason for existing, its first fresh, spontaneous impulse of inspired spiritual sharing. Instead it may have grown rigid, bound with ritual, form, dogma, and tradition. Has it in some instances become just another organization, a club, a social gathering, a collection of similar-minded individuals—a convenience? It may sometimes seem that churches have literally forgotten why they exist.
Church was originally a community of those who wanted to share their spiritual insights. It was a community which came together to worship God and to rejoice in kinship with those who were also looking for, and finding, deeper insights into God's nature, His presence and power.
What is needed, then, is to rekindle individually that fundamental spark of spiritual vitality. Then because one is so imbued with infectious delight with what one is discovering of spiritual reality, the spark ignites and the flame of spiritual purpose grows in our daily life. A great desire to share this holy glow with others impels thought and action. This cannot help resulting in a vibrant, dynamic church that is an irresistible attraction to others, because it is alive with the Christ-spirit of sharing and real love.
The mission of the Church of Christ, Scientist, is deeply and wholly spiritual. Radical reliance on Truth is as important today as it was in the initial days of the founding of the Christian Science movement. The spiritualization of thought, the Christianization of daily living, and spiritual regeneration are still the basic cornerstones of this religion of Love. The whole of Christian Science is based on divine Love, on gaining a clearer perception of what God is, and of man's relationship to Him. Christian Science demonstrates the vitalizing, health-giving, and uplifting effect spiritual truth has on the individual, the community, and the world.
Mrs. Eddy writes, "As the ages advance in spirituality, Christian Science will be seen to depart from the trend of other Christian denominations in no wise except by increase of spirituality." Miscellaneous Writings, p. 21. So the increase that is paramount for the Church of Christ, Scientist, is "increased spirituality," each one rededicating himself or herself to thinking spiritually, living spiritually, and gaining more each day in the understanding of God. The outward evidence of this will be a revitalized church community.
This increase of spirituality must have its effect, it must be made manifest, it must demonstrate Christ come to the flesh to destroy error. In short, it must result in healing and renewal. Spiritualization does not operate in a vacuum. It is not something that takes place apart from human experience; rather, human experience is uplifted, refined, and purified by it.
Increasing our spirituality has an immediate effect in our lives. It creates and shows forth an irresistible love, an impulsion to express our growing love for God and for our fellowman. It impels us to do things and say things that help and heal. It causes us to be alight with the truth we are learning and with a feeling of wanting to share this delight with others.
In the New Testament, increase in the Church was clearly the direct result of an increase in the spirituality of the early Christians. We read in the book of Acts that when the early followers of Jesus were all "filled with the Holy Ghost," Acts 2:4. it had a direct result. It caused them to go forth and preach everywhere and to break bread from house to house. They were so imbued with the Spirit that they had to go out and share it.
The Holy Ghost is described in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Christian Science textbook by Mrs. Eddy, as "divine Science; the development of eternal Life, Truth, and Love." Science and Health, p. 588. What a wonderful development program—to be filled with an ever-increasing sense of Life, Truth and Love! When our daily prayer is to be filled with the spirit of Christ, Truth, we will daily develop the capacity to be a clearer expression of vibrant divine Life, clear, perceptive Mind, and compassionate, selfless Love. Our conscious turning to the Father to see what He is knowing and seeing in any situation will enable us to be a blessing wherever we are. Identifying ourselves and others as expressing the very presence and light of God, we will enlighten, inspire, and uplift wherever we go. We will live a Spirit-filled life, constantly recognizing and acknowledging the presence of God, of good, of health, and of harmony.
This vitality cannot be selfishly containerized, nor is it expressed by narrow, inward-looking thinking. It has to be shared. It causes thought to look outward. Just as Jesus' quiet communion with his Father resulted in his coming down among the multitudes and healing them, multiplying the loaves and fishes, and stilling storms, so our prayerful spiritualization of thought has to have an effect in our daily living. Mrs. Eddy explains, "The divinity of the Christ was made manifest in the humanity of Jesus." Ibid., p. 25.
Sometimes the argument is unconsciously accepted that those who do something as a result of prayer are lesser metaphysicians than those who do nothing but pray. But the lives of the prophets, of Jesus, of his disciples, and of Mary Baker Eddy are filled with accounts of actions as the result of prayer. Mrs. Eddy, as the direct result of her increased spirituality, formed a Church; established daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals; made provisions for the sharing of the truth through public lectures; and instituted a system of spiritual teaching through Sunday School, class instruction, and the Bible Lesson.
In the New Testament, increase in the Church was clearly the direct result of an increase in the spirituality of the early Christians. We read in the book of Acts that when the early followers of Jesus were all "filled with the Holy Ghost," it had a direct result.
Recently a student of Christian Science was praying to understand more clearly the lines in Revelation that speak of "a great red dragon": "And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." Rev. 12:3, 4. While earnestly praying for some light to be thrown on these lines, she opened her textbook at random and her eyes fell on a passage where Mrs. Eddy writes about her discovery of the Science of Christian healing: "...I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration." Science and Health, p. 109. The Christian Scientist suddenly saw the Bible passage in a new light. She realized that even if "the dragon," or carnal mind, would allow the first two parts—the revelation and the reason— it would surely try to take away the third part —the demonstration! Today, there is a great need to see that the dragon's tail cannot take away the third part of our complete experience —the demonstration, the sharing that is the evidence of our prayer and increased spirituality.
Spiritualization of thought, its resulting Christianization of lives, and unselfish sharing with others come about through the joyous, daily discipline of prayer and listening to God. It is the direct result of meek obedience to the laws of Life laid out for us so clearly in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Throughout time, spiritually-minded individuals have taken periods for deep prayer and listening for God's guidance. Daniel, "his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem,...kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God." Dan. 6:10. Jesus rose up a great while before day and went up into the mountains to pray. Mrs. Eddy wrote of herself: "Three times a day, I retire to seek the divine blessing on the sick and sorrowing, with my face toward the Jerusalem of Love and Truth, in silent prayer to the Father which 'seeth in secret,' and with childlike confidence that He will reward 'openly.' In the midst of depressing care and labor I turn constantly to divine Love for guidance, and find rest." Mis., p. 133. What an example! What would happen in our lives and those of our families, communities, churches, and world, if we too followed this example?
There are many ways that one can develop this joyous, disciplined attitude of constant spiritualization and living prayer. I know of someone who would remind herself to pause and pray and listen for God's voice often throughout her day. She would stop to lift her thought in prayer for all those around her, for her family, and for any situation that she knew needed special care. She literally stopped in the supermarket, pulled the car over to the side of the road, or took a few moments wherever she was to retire and "seek the divine blessing on the sick and sorrowing." She practiced living a life of prayer.
After a while, her constant turning to the Father had become a joyous, natural response. It never left her but deepened and broadened with ever more healing and inspiring results. Her longing to share this vision with others grew. Her thought was resting on and proceeding from divine Principle. Her life was aglow with Truth and Love, and she drew many to her for the spiritual light and inspiration she expressed. She was indeed expressing church in action.
In like manner, what was the nature of Jesus' sense of increase? "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man." Luke 2:52. As he lived, loved, and understood His Father and his relationship to Him more, he increased in spiritual authority and dominion. And this enabled him to go out and preach the gospel to others. His demonstrations of healing increased in scope and depth.
Today, as yesterday, worldliness and material-mindedness continually argue against holiness and spirituality. We are sometimes tempted to give in to apathy, indifference, fear, rebellion, and resistance to good. Such mortal impositions are not new; they have tempted many before us. The quality and quantity of our sense of increase—of growth Spiritward—are directly related to our ability to recognize and overcome these subtle yet aggressive forms of the anti-Christ. But true motivation, discipline, persistence, and self-sacrifice defeat the influences that would put a brake on our spiritual progress. When these impeding impositions of error are recognized and overcome, our lives soar, healing becomes more spontaneous, and the self-imposed barriers that would stop us from sharing our sparkling spiritual joy with mankind are dissolved.
As we individually obey the command to grow in grace (and grace has been defined as "the effect of God understood" Christian Science versus Pantheism, p. 10.) we will spontaneously want to reach out and share this grace with others. Worshiping God, witnessing to His presence and love individually in our daily lives, we will inspire others to live in the same way. Worshiping and rejoicing in God's goodness together will result in active church communities. Increasing and deepening our love for one another will enrich our lives individually and communally. An enriched sense of church will be the inevitable result.
In this way the promise of Isaiah will become apparent: "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." Isa. 9:7. How good it is to know that the increase of His government comes through the zeal of God. True zeal, Mrs. Eddy tells us, is "the reflected animation of Life, Truth, and Love." Science and Health, p. 599. True zeal becomes apparent when the elements of human will, fear, and introverted thinking are destroyed by the Christ. Then the animating spirit of God springs forth in us. Praising and rejoicing in God's own presence, power, and action, we are demonstrating what it truly means to be God's manifestation. Increased spirituality destroys the delusions of religious decline and decay, and God's vital, vibrant presence is seen to be all that exists.
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