Response 1: Robin Hoagland
It can be hard when it feels like our local church falls short of the ideal we hold in our hearts–the ideal of the Day of Pentecost, where “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). But the early Church had its own struggles, too, working through divisive issues from Jewish practices for pagan converts to enforcing morality and codifying theology. That Christianity survived those contentious church meetings is due in large part to the stalwart members who held to the spiritual ideal Jesus taught of God and man as the workable model for both the individual and the community.
Our Church reinstates primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing–healing not just the individual body but also the church body. While the Science of Christian Science expresses the absolute nature of divine Principle, Christian stands for the means and method for the human to yield to the divine as it uplifts, heals, and saves humanity. Each By-Law of the Church Manual flows out of the Christian ethos: faithfulness, forgiveness, humility, patience, and love. In the section dealing with ‘Complaints,’ for example, members are to utilize the Matthew Code, live in Christian fellowship, strive to overcome the errors within a local church (see Manual pp. 50-55).
This echoes “what the Spirit saith unto the churches” in Revelation (Rev. 2:17). To the six churches struggling with internal problems, there is great promise of spiritual rewards “to him that overcometh” (Rev. 3:21). The seventh church, which has already overcome its internal divisions, is the church whose door will never shut–the small, modest church of Philadelphia, of “brotherly love.”
Mary Baker Eddy was well acquainted with the shortcomings of human organizations, even those with high aspirations like a church. She knew Christian Scientists could “co-elbow” rather than “cooperate” and so counseled her followers to “remember that the first and last lesson of Christian Science is love, perfect love, and love made perfect through the cross” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 138).
I’ve thought how her counsel on marriage has application to our decisions regarding branch church membership: Be dutiful mariners through the storms assailing our ship and “stick to the wreck” until either “an irresistible propulsion” ends the journey or the storm ceases and the sea becomes calm again (see Science and Health, p. 67). Let’s never lose sight of the possibility of resolving issues with all still onboard. As only God can guide those addressing troubled marriages in the most progressive path forward, only God can guide those addressing troubled churches. Whether we feel our answer is to reinvest in our branch church in the hope and prayer that the moments of Pentecost become more and more frequent, or whether we feel impelled toward fellowship in a different direction will be individual. But either path demands that we practice even more earnestly the Christianity that is the essence of the Sermon on the Mount and that truly defines Christian Science.
Response 2: Louis Benjamin
On page 137 of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy expounds the basis of Christ Jesus’ church. It was based on the disciple Peter’s understanding that the spiritual foundation of church was what Jesus represented: “Christ, the spirit of God, of Truth, Life, and Love, which heals mentally.”
Against this church, Christ Jesus told us that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18). The definition of hell in the Glossary of Science and Health includes the following: “suffering and self-destruction; self-imposed agony; effects of sin; that which ‘worketh abomination or maketh a lie.’” (p. 588). That is exactly what mortal mind (hell) would have happen to our church.
But Jesus gave us the solution: He based his church not on the personal Peter – and it then became evident (to Peter) that healing was the result of the action of divine Truth, Life and Love —and not human personality. That implies that church cannot be brought to the level of an operative or functional personal organization.
Animal magnetism, or the appeal of the physical, as opposed to the spiritual, works through personal feelings and impressions, which may be suggestions based on human will and self-justification sometimes exhibited as disunity and division–the false belief that a material selfhood has power to manage, rule, and regulate an establishment run by mortals. This error should be uncovered for what it is—the counterfeit of church. Error unexposed, and therefore not denied, tries to control us. It needs to be seen as powerless, having no Principle, which means no source, no law, and no cause. Then it can be destroyed by infinite Truth, the gates of hell do not prevail—and the basis of the questions (above) fall away.
The chemicalization—or stirring of thought produced when Truth is active in destroying evil—taking place in our movement needs our recognition and acceptance that “the truth of being must transform the error to the end of producing a higher manifestation” (Science and Health, p. 401). That higher manifestation is the human patterning the divine – the church established by both Christ Jesus and Mary Baker Eddy. Mrs. Eddy explains this “cleansing upheaval” clearly in Science and Health (p. 540).
When we turn from the sense of a personal organization run by mortals to the understanding that church is the spiritual idea of Truth and Love, we gain the right concept. It becomes clear to us that this church can never be a repository of personal opinions generated by material sense testimony. Church is the spiritual idea expressing itself in a form individually understandable to all men as harmony, holiness and health.