Response 1: Mike Davis
Christian Science Societies were first listed in The Christian Science Journal as small unincorporated groups of Christian Scientists who were holding Sunday services. While the word "unincorporated" was eventually dropped from the description, the concept remained that Societies were groups of Christian Scientists who did not at the time have enough members and/or money to meet the requirements of being a Church—requirements that involved things such as having a Journal-listed practitioner in their membership, holding Wednesday testimony meetings, or having Reading Rooms. Mary Baker Eddy left decisions as to what requirements Societies would have to meet to be listed in the Journal to The Christian Science Publishing Society, and thus these requirements have changed from time to time over the years.
There is no evidence that Mrs. Eddy and Christian Scientists in her time viewed Societies as somehow having more freedom than Churches to be “progressive” in their activities. On the contrary, Societies were seen as lacking elements Mrs. Eddy felt were essential for Christian Science Churches, and it was hoped that Societies would move toward Church status as quickly as possible.
Response 2: Lynne Buckley-Quirk
To answer the second part of this question, I’d like to suggest a third way of viewing Christian Science societies. It’s based on a model set forth by two groups of churches and societies that gathered early in the 20th century— one in Missouri; the other in greater New York.
During this time, no one was questioning if church was alive nor doubting if Christian Science was shepherding thousands from oppressive human doctrines to the healing freedom natural to primitive Christianity.
In the two accounts, there is no distinction between churches and societies. A telegram to Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, stated: “The representatives of churches and societies of Christian Science in Missouri… pledge themselves to strive more earnestly day by day, for the clearer understanding and more perfect manifestation of the truth which you have unfolded to the world, and by which sin and sickness are destroyed and life and immortality brought to light (The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 207).
A letter from churches and societies in New York noted: Readers of all the Christian Science churches and societies of Greater New York, for the first time gathered in one place with one accord, to confer harmoniously and united in promoting and enlarging the activities of the Cause of Christian Science in this community” (The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 362).
Plainly, both groups were committed to uniting with the church “built on the divine Principle, Love” (Science and Health, p. 35). And as we read in Science and Health, this can only be done as “we are new-born of Spirit . . . bringing forth the fruits of Love—casting out error and healing the sick” (p. 35). Healing!
By not making a distinction between churches and societies, except as conveyed in The Church Manual, Christian Scientists are protected from falling into the trap of being “separated by labels”—whether they are part of branch churches or societies.
And for the same reason shouldn’t the labels “conservative or progressive” for a branch church or society be avoided? Neither are suggested or inferred in the spiritual definition of Church (see Science and Health, p. 583) or The Manual of The Mother Church.
In talking with those who attended Church Alive Summits this past year, and from my own experience, there is a common thread of gratitude for the session on The Manual. That inspired message was interspersed with the reports from branch churches and societies. These reports made it abundantly clear that when members unite in prayer and are guided by The Manual and the teachings of Christian Science, right decisions and activities emerge that bless individual memberships and communities.
When members unite in love and loyalty with fellow members and focus on revelation and progress, all are “new-born of Spirit” and the lost element of healing is restored, conserved, and preserved. And by obediently following Christian Science, and foregoing human judgment or opinion, the question of progressive and conservative branches and societies disappears and in its place, we find Church Alive—forever preserved, safe, and spiritually progressive.