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Strengthening our churches by strengthening one another

From the November 1992 issue of The Christian Science Journal

In families, at school, in our workplace and community, we have continuous opportunities to learn more about working together. And we discover that working harmoniously with others is not just pleasant; if it's undergirded by a heartfelt love for God and man, it's strengthening and progressive.

This is true in church work as well. To the degree that church members love God and feel genuine love and appreciation for one another, working together with joy and cooperation, the church as a whole will be strengthened. It will be a vital, progressive, healing church.

Every branch Church of Christ, Scientist, has been established for this purpose of bringing healing to its community. When members are working together in their commitment to the true purpose of Church, their church is a force for healing in its community.

There may be times, however, when there is division and lack of love among the members. Such disunity may stem from the mistaken view that the church is founded on people, who may be likable or not, agree or disagree, make good or bad decisions, and so on. If we get caught up in this material view—as opposed to the true, spiritual view of man as the expression of God, divine Life—this personal sense of things would tend to obstruct the practice of true, spiritual healing.

We—and our churches—are increasingly freed from this obstruction to progress as we understand better the spiritual foundation of Church. This foundation has nothing to do with people; Church is founded on the impersonal Christ, the healing Truth, as revealed to us in the Bible.

The great Teacher, Christ Jesus, defined the true foundation of Church in an exchange with his disciples recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. He asked them, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" The disciples named John the Baptist, Elias, and Jeremias, showing that some people may have believed that Jesus was a medium for the spirit of one of the dead prophets. They didn't understand that the Christ, the spirit of Truth and Love—and not a human personality—was the power behind Jesus' remarkable works.

Then Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. Simon Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." He discerned the spiritual nature of Christ. And in his reply to Simon, Jesus defined the foundation of his church: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  Matt. 16:13-18.

Mrs. Eddy understood the spiritual foundation of true Church. She says in Science and Health, "Jesus established his church and maintained his mission on a spiritual foundation of Christ-healing."  Science and Health, p. 136. And she goes on to say, referring to the Bible passage just discussed: "In other words, Jesus purposed founding his society, not on the personal Peter as a mortal, but on the God-power which lay behind Peter's confession of the true Messiah.

"It was now evident to Peter that divine Life, Truth, and Love, and not a human personality, was the healer of the sick and a rock, a firm foundation in the realm of harmony."  Ibid., p. 138.

Mrs. Eddy knew that for her Church to have a healing impact on mankind, it had to be founded on Christ, Truth, and not on persons or personality. She established the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health, as the impersonal pastor of her Church, instead of having personal preaching. She specified that we not count the number of members of our churches but turn away from numbering people. She wrote the Manual of The Mother Church to govern her Church, thereby protecting it from the influence of personal opinion. And while she made clear that she was—and is forever—the Leader of the Church of Christ, Scientist, she always turned thought away from a personal sense of herself to God. She wrote: "In founding a pathological system of Christianity, the author has labored to expound divine Principle, and not to exalt personality. The weapons of bigotry, ignorance, envy, fall before an honest heart."  Ibid., p. 464.

As we serve God, divine Principle, in our church work, and aren't deceived into thinking that people or personalities govern it, we will feel a unity of spirit that fosters love and appreciation for one another and a desire to work together to reach our common goal of having a healing church. This means that we help and strengthen one another. The Bible offers good examples of how to do this—and how not to do it!

God certainly gave Moses a large assignment, and he was initially uncertain of his ability to carry it out. But he loved God, was willing to serve in whatever way God asked him to, and he was humble. He didn't glorify himself or rely on a personal sense of his abilities but turned to God for wisdom and direction in filling the office to which he had been appointed. With total reliance on God, he successfully led his people out of slavery in Egypt. Those around him either helped or hindered him in fulfilling his assignment.

The account in Numbers, chapter twelve, shows us, as branch church members, what not to do. Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, ostensibly because he married an Ethiopian woman, but perhaps more because they were envious of Moses and his position of authority. Instead of supporting him in the work he had to do, they let personal sense take control of their thought in the form of rivalry, self-importance, and criticism. In trying to pull Moses down, they fell. Miriam became leprous, and God healed her only after Moses intervened. She was shut out of the camp for seven days, and the account says that the people didn't journey on until Miriam was brought back in. In other words, the progress of the whole group was temporarily halted by this incident.

Now, in Exodus, chapter seventeen, we find out how we should be doing things. When Israel was attacked by Amalek, Joshua was sent to meet him in battle, and Moses went to the top of the hill and held up the staff of God. We read, "When Moses held up his hand, . . . Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed." The Bible then tells us that Moses' hands became "heavy" as he did this demanding work. But he got help from Aaron and Hur, who had come to the top of the hill with him. They gave him a stone to sit on and then stood on either side of him and held up his hands "until the going down of the sun." And Joshua and the Israelites defeated Amalek.

This moving picture of two steadfast workers standing on either side of Moses, holding up his hands, strengthening him for as long as it took to defeat Amalek, can provide an example for us as branch church members. It's obvious from these two Biblical accounts that pulling down and holding up bring opposite results for the entire group—progress halted or victory assured. For our branch churches to fulfill their healing mission, we, as members, need to be holding up one another's hands.

Many of us, at different times, are elected or appointed to fill an office of our church, such as Reader, clerk, board member, or committee chairman. When this occurs, we may feel timid or reluctant about accepting the assignment, or even inadequate to carry out the responsibilities. After all, Moses didn't exactly jump for joy when first receiving his appointment!

Or someone's hands may feel heavy—tired from constant work—during his or her term of office. Perhaps unknown to us, this fellow member may be facing discouragement or lack of inspiration, sickness, financial difficulties, or problems at home or at the office. How strengthening and encouraging it is to know, when we're the one filling the office, that our fellow members are right there at work praying with us, standing on either side. And when we've finished and it's someone else's turn, we should be right there at that person's side, loving and supporting him—holding up his hands. Surely the Golden Rule must be lived by a church membership for a church to be strong and its members to heal through their prayers.

Certainly when something in our church needs correction, we should be aware of it and address it prayerfully. But destructive criticism, rivalry, animosity, or lack of appreciation for one another would pile heavy burdens on members' shoulders. We also can't perform the "holding up" work by standing idly by as a result of apathy or unwillingness to serve our church.

Where does this tendency to pull down or to refuse to stand beside someone in prayer and love come from? It's an element of what the Bible terms "the carnal mind," the supposed materialistic mentality apart from God, the one true Mind. It's also a form of personal sense, which would say that there are many persons or personal minds at work in church and that they can be in conflict. This false sense of mind would poison and divide because it is mortal, limited, and limiting, believing in the reality of evil and opposing the allness and goodness of God.

But the wonderful spiritual fact is that this mind is unreal and powerless, because it is the opposite of the divine, infinite Mind, God. As we understand that in reality this one Mind is the only Mind of each of us, and that our true being is the very expression of divine Mind, the divisive elements of thought won't find a home in us. In this way we contribute to eliminating division from our church as well.

Holding up someone's hands is no minor, insignificant work, when you think about it. It means we are actively praying for church and giving it our unqualified support—expressing the strengthening, loving, and unifying qualities that are derived from God, divine Love. This work also requires patience and commitment. But it is natural for us, because man's true nature is the image of Love.

The result of loving and strengthening one another is spiritual unity, and this is a power that brings healing. When we see what abundant blessings result for us and our church through unselfed love and prayer wholly free of personal sense, we'll happily embrace this joy-filled work and no longer keep church at arm's distance or watch from the sidelines.

The Amalekites certainly did attack the children of Israel, but the Israelites' success was assured as Moses persisted in holding up his hands—with help. What a lesson this is for branch churches! The modern-day Amalekites might be thought of as whatever would trouble our churches—apathy or antipathy in the community, rampant materialism, resistance to spiritual healing. We, like Moses, need to be steadfast in spiritually countering those things that would hinder the progress of our church in fulfilling its healing mission. As we all work together, letting prayer guide and strengthen us, victory is assured.

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