I was told that the first time I entered a church was in my mother’s arms. I was just a three-month-old baby. Little did I know then that it was the beginning of a joyous, lifelong association with church.
During my childhood and adolescence I attended that same church—a branch of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston—as a Sunday School student. We learned about the relevance of the Bible in our lives, about God, and how to pray. I recall once, when I was about nine or ten years old, mentally reviewing the spiritual concepts we’d discussed in class that day during the car ride home with my family. “Remember,” I said to myself, “you are learning them in order to put them into practice.”
Early on, I had realized that participating in church isn’t a passive activity, or a matter of showing up for services or Sunday School out of a sense of duty or family tradition. Nor is it a matter of simply taking on committee work; rather, it’s about yielding to God moment by moment and letting divine Love permeate our thoughts and purify our motives.
As soon as I was twelve years old, the earliest age at which I could apply for membership in both The Mother Church and my branch, I filled out the respective applications with great enthusiasm, and I was warmly accepted as a member in both cases. My first task involved having to know the names of all the branch church members, and lovingly greeting each one after my Sunday School class.
Why make this commitment to church membership? Since childhood I had seen many healings as a result of prayer, proving the practicality of the spiritual ideas I had been learning in Sunday School. Without a doubt, I knew that Christian Science is the Science of Christ, the divine laws of Life, Truth, and Love that Christ Jesus demonstrated when healing the sick. I had a desire to help people by understanding these spiritual laws and putting them into practice, as Jesus did. And I intuitively felt that joining a community in which everyone has the same high goal to live and love according to the teachings of Christ Jesus would strengthen and support my practice of Christian Science. Not only has that proven to be the case, it has brought me great joy and a tangible spiritual kinship with my fellow members.
Sometime after joining the church, I discovered that doing so is not simply an administrative process, or a one-time event, but the outward demonstration of our innermost commitment to spiritual growth and healing. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote: “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” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 35). The phrase “as we” is interesting in this context, because it conveys that while we can join the church, uniting with it is an ongoing process of spiritual rebirth through which we demonstrate its utility today.
“The new birth is not the work of a moment,” Mrs. Eddy explained. “It begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 15).
Christ Jesus once spoke to a ruler of the Jews, a man named Nicodemus, about the need to be “new-born of Spirit.” He told him, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Thinking that Jesus was referring to material birth, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus replied, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (see John 3:1–8).
In other words, in order to see this kingdom—to have the altitude of spiritual vision that enables us to experience the spiritual life that God created—we must be born anew. Jesus taught that this takes genuine humility, the willingness to abandon a materialistic view of life for the spiritual reality. From this higher standpoint, we see life and man’s identity as purely spiritual, unlimited by the material senses and inseparable from divine Life, or God.
Each one of us is being called to see Christ’s unblemished, glorious church.
Some may argue, “I don’t need church to be spiritual or to understand God.” However, serving in a church community provides unique opportunities for growth in grace; for each member to nurture another’s spiritual progress in mutual love and respect, and for members to collectively support those in the community who are searching for healing and are receptive to what Christian Science has to offer.
I’ve learned that the way I see church and participate in its activities is inevitably revitalized as I am newborn of Spirit. Discouraging thoughts, such as “I’m not getting anything out of church,” or “Church has no relevance in the world today”—thoughts that would keep us from wholeheartedly engaging in the church’s healing mission—must yield to divine Truth. Whenever I’ve been tempted by these suggestions, praying to God, the one divine Mind, has freed me from these impositions of mortal belief and given me greater glimpses of the true meaning and purpose of Church.
In my experience, what we get from church depends entirely on our concept of Church. For this reason, I’ve found it instructive that Church is first defined in the Christian Science textbook as “the structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle” (Science and Health, p. 583). Certainly, the structure of Truth and Love, both of which are synonyms for God, is not a physical building or an organization of people who socialize and fulfill religious traditions in an effort to agree with one other. Rather, it is a spiritual idea, conceived and established by God, divine Mind, the only intelligence, and governed by divine Principle, the only lawgiver.
I’ve always found that I get the most from church when I pray for the institution and its healing services and activities. Before every service begins, I endeavor to stick with the spiritual definition of Church. I recognize that the purpose of the Readers, and everyone involved in the service, is to be transparencies for Christ’s—divine Truth’s—healing message. And I acknowledge that the congregation, me included, has a part to play in being awake and receptive to this message, which God is always communicating.
Once I was bothered by an intimidating personal situation for which I couldn’t see a solution. That Sunday in church, while listening to the Bible Lesson-Sermon being read, I understood a passage from Science and Health in a new light, and the fear dissolved. I felt that this awakening to Truth, which brought the light of spiritual understanding, was a tangible result of the congregation’s prayers.
The book of Ephesians speaks of Christ’s love for the church and how he “gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (5:25–27). I love the thought that each one of us is being called to see Christ’s unblemished, glorious church. Many times when I’ve felt discouraged or overwhelmed by church activity, and think that, for instance, someone is not acting as he or she should, or too few people are attending services, these fears have been dispelled as I’ve glimpsed the purely spiritual idea of Church that opens our hearts to love the church, and to see it as Christ Jesus did.
I pray, persistently, that all of us are conscious of this glorious Church that embraces God’s entire spiritual and good creation, and expresses unceasing gratitude and praise for our creator. In this Church there are no “spots and wrinkles”—no discouragement, fear, decline, or preoccupation with material ways and means—because its foundation is spiritual, solid, and as eternal as God; an idea that is complete, always new in Spirit.
As thought yields to this spiritual idea of Church, we gain new insights about ways we can best support the healing mission of our church organization, including its members and community; our motives and actions are purified, and we reflect the love of Christ.
Far from feeling boring or routine, serving the church becomes an enriching, joyous experience.
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