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Rebuilding our concept of church

From the September 2022 issue of The Christian Science Journal

It can feel as though there are a lot of challenges to church that weren’t there fifty or sixty years ago. Now, it’s no longer a given that most people are involved in a religious community. There’s a lot in society that suggests that religion is no longer relevant in today’s world and that church is an outdated concept. More and more people are identifying themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

It can be easy to unconsciously accept society’s current concept of church, allowing doubt to creep in about the value or efficacy of church and the work of church. How can we counter this in our own thoughts and see the healing impact church can have on communities today? How can we rebuild and uplift our own concept of church?

The Bible story of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem can provide many helpful lessons as we explore these questions. It starts out with a simple request from Nehemiah to the king, one that he felt scared to make. But he prayed and then said, “If it please the king, . . . send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:5, New Living Translation). The king gave him permission to go.

Just as Nehemiah set out to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in Judah, we also have an opportunity and responsibility to rebuild and uplift our concept of church. This work starts with our own prayers and enables us to have an impact on shifting societal beliefs as well. 

Often, we find we may need to dig out of the rubble of history. We can challenge the assumption that church was stronger or better before and that it’s simply too hard to move forward. We can reverse the claim that the existence and strength of church is dependent on trends, instead of on the healing work of the members, which has always been the foundation we build on. I’ve found that there are several things we can do as we pray about this.

Face down discouragement

Nehemiah and his fellow workers faced a lot of opposition from those around them. They dealt with doubt, frustration, and discouragement. People around them disparaged their work and tried to convince them that their endeavor was futile. They made statements like, “Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” and, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Nehemiah 4:2, 3, NLT).

These taunts were nothing more than suggestions of impending failure. But Nehemiah had a choice. He could reject these comments and accusations and continue the work, or he could be distracted by the taunts, give in to them, and return home. We too have a choice. Are we going to choose to give in to discouragement? Or are we going to see the assertion that church doesn’t matter for the falsity that it is, and rise up and build like Nehemiah did? 

There were times when Nehemiah’s workers slipped into hopelessness about the scope of their work: “Then the people of Judah began to complain, ‘The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves’ ” (Nehemiah 4:10, NLT). When fatigue tries to set in, it’s time to defend our mental position. This leads to the next point I have found helpful. 

Actively defend the work

Due to Nehemiah’s leadership and alertness, which came from his reliance on God, the people building the wall kept working. And as they continued the building process they actively defended their work from enemies that would cause confusion and delay. The story continues, “. . . only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side” (Nehemiah 4:16–18, NLT).

We can’t simply operate individually, committed exclusively to our own spiritual study. We need each other.

In our church work, it’s important to make sure we are not simply becoming focused on the logistics of “doing church,” but are proactive in metaphysically protecting the work that is going on, praying to see that the government of God is completely in control. Regardless of what our role is in church (attendee, Reader, Sunday School teacher, Reading Room volunteer, etc.), we have the opportunity to prayerfully support all of the activities of church. We are in this together, working side by side, praying not only for ourselves, but for our fellow workers. And no branch church or Christian Science society is alone in this endeavor. We have our global church community, which includes the twice-weekly services and the prayers in Christian Science churches being offered “for the congregations collectively and exclusively” (Mary Baker Eddy, Church Manual, p. 42). When we do this prayerful work—in or outside of church gatherings—we see that, in actuality, any claims that threaten to distract, confuse, or discourage us have no power, either to have an impact on us or to impede the efficacy of our work.

Address anxious feelings about the number
of workers

Often the suggestion comes in that there is too much work and not enough people—that the challenges are too great for the number of people we have. Jesus addressed this very issue. He said, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37, 38). And yet, Christianity was initially spread through the efforts of a small group of people going out two by two to heal. We see the profound and enduring effect of their ministry today in the presence Christianity has in almost every country of the world.

It is only right that this work has the people it needs. And it’s only natural that each person who has been touched by Christian Science and has felt God’s healing presence in their lives, will want to take up the work of ensuring that others can discover this universal Science and be blessed by it. This work doesn’t require masses of people, substantial bank accounts, impressive buildings, or complex strategies. It does need all of us working together to have healing impact on the world around us.

In addressing the last Christian Science Primary class that she taught, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science and the Founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist, stated to the group of 65, “We, to-day, in this class-room, are enough to convert the world if we are of one Mind; for then the whole world will feel the influence of this Mind; as when the earth was without form, and Mind spake and form appeared” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 279–280).

We each have a significant role to play in enabling the world to be blessed by Christian Science. We are enough. It solely requires dedicated and focused thought and action. We can’t simply operate individually, committed exclusively to our own spiritual study. We need each other, in order to support this work both practically and metaphysically. 

Nehemiah saw the need for collective action as well. His story continues, “Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, ‘The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!’ ” (Nehemiah 4:19, 20, NLT).

They needed to make sure they weren’t all simply working on their own specific pieces of the wall, but truly working together, aligned in purpose, demonstrating that they were truly “of one Mind.” For church members today, this doesn’t mean we have to share the same human perspectives or opinions. But are we working together from the standpoint that divine Mind, God, Love, is unifying us around an inspired purpose? This is an important part of our demonstration of Christian Science. 

As Mrs. Eddy wrote in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, “. . . I am cheered and blessed when beholding Christian healing, unity among brethren, and love to God and man; this is my crown of rejoicing, for it demonstrates Christian Science” (p. 274). This Science is expressed not solely through individual healings, but also through collective demonstration. This is what we get to be a part of through the work of church. It is an outward evidence of Church.

Don’t let anything pull you away from the work

Regardless of what comes up in our churches, we need to make sure we don’t “come down from the wall.” Nehemiah, too, faced this temptation. Right as the people were finishing the wall, his opponents made a few last attempts to stall the construction. “Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: ‘I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?’ ” (Nehemiah 6:2, 3, NLT).

What does staying on the wall look like for us today? It could be a recommitment to prayerfully supporting all of the activities of our branch church. Or, it could mean homing in on what God is truly asking us to focus on and not allowing ourselves to be distracted. It may also include rejecting the claim that church work can deplete or drain us and instead feeling how we are bolstered and strengthened by our involvement. In fact, we can rest on the metaphysical foundation we are building on. As Mrs. Eddy states in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us” (p. 79). There isn’t any fatigue in God’s work. We are blessed as we bless others.

We are not doing our church work alone. We have God by our side, guiding each step of the way. And we, too, can see our work come to fulfillment as Nehemiah did, by echoing what he said in his courageous and confident statement to his detractors: “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Nehemiah 2:20).

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright
© 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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