Question: "I have recently been elected First Reader, and I am confused about the extent of this Church Manual By-law, Article III, Section 6, that Readers “shall make no remarks explanatory of the Lesson-Sermon at any time.” Does this apply to Readers sharing inspiration from the Lesson in a testimony? Or, commenting on why they were inspired to pick a topic for Wednesday readings?"
Response 1: Sandy Sandberg, CSB
As members, let alone as Readers, we each need to come to terms with our church by-laws through prayer and our sincerest desire to understand their spiritual significance and to obey them. The Mary Baker Eddy Library has conducted research on the by-law under consideration, focusing on the final two sentences which read, "They [Readers] shall make no remarks explanatory of the Lesson-Sermon at any time, but they shall read all notices and remarks that may be printed in the Christian Science Quarterly. This By-Law applies to Readers in all the branch churches."
The research states: "These final sentences relate to a notice that first appeared in the December 1896 issue of The Christian Science Journal, which advised Readers that the Bible Lessons constituted the entire Lesson-Sermon, and that no additional explanatory remarks were to be made during the service. This is really not too surprising; after all, the dual pastor had been in place in the Field for barely one and one half years, and both the Readers and their congregations were used to the commentary so often found in a sermon. The notice provided helpful and timely guidance" (quoted from a Mary Baker Eddy Library research document which you can read here: http://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/branchreaders).
The notion of "personal preaching" was removed from Christian Science services with the advent of the Lesson-Sermon read by Readers, not preachers. Mrs. Eddy seemed to place great emphasis on the ability of the books (as our Pastor) to do the work of preaching unaided by extraneous interpretation or remarks (see Article XIV in the Church Manual).
With regard to the question of a Reader making remarks about the Bible Lesson outside the parameters of the Sunday services, it would be helpful to consider the spirit of the by-law and proceed accordingly. In the course of a testimony or just a conversation, a student of the Bible Lesson, whether a Reader or not, might share a particular spiritual insight or inspiration they gained from some point developed in the Bible Lesson.
But would it be helpful for anyone, let alone a Reader, to imply that their insight into a particular verse in the Bible, or a line in the textbook, is what the text really means? It might be interesting to note something Mrs. Eddy wrote in this regard:
"The opinions of men cannot be substituted for God's revelation. In times past, arrogant pride, in attempting to steady the ark of Truth, obscured even the power and glory of the Scriptures, — to which Science and Health is the Key." (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 84)
In considering the question of whether a First Reader should make comments about the topic for Wednesday readings, while the by-law appears not to specifically apply, the spirit of the by-law undoubtedly needs to be taken into account. There is certainly precedent for making comments about the topic, as can be found in Hermann S. Hering's reminiscence in We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Volume I (see p. 446). There could be many reasons why a Reader might find it desirable to discuss the topic of the readings during a Wednesday meeting, but it might be helpful to keep in mind that the inspiration which the Reader brought to the compiling of the readings might not necessarily be the same inspiration that a member of the congregation receives from the readings, owing, for example, to a particular problem occupying the individual's thought at the time. How helpful it is to know that "God's revelation" is able to meet any number of needs without the help of human explanation.
Response 2: Annette Dutenhoffer, CS
In taking a closer look at this by-law, I noticed that the term “Lesson-Sermon” is used in the Manual and Mrs. Eddy’s other writings, only in conjunction with Sunday services. The by-law in regard to Wednesday meetings says that the First Readers shall read “selections from the Scriptures, and from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (see Article III Section 3). Although the Wednesday readings uplift us like a sermon would, to me, it doesn’t appear that the specific term “Lesson-Sermon” applies to those selections.
Still, it’s helpful to consider Mrs. Eddy’s intention in appointing an impersonal Pastor when understanding the spirit of Article III Section 6. On December 19, 1894, during the construction of the original Mother Church, Mrs. Eddy wrote a letter to the Board of Directors asking them to hold the first Sunday service in the new church edifice on December 30, 1894 (see Building of The Mother Church by Joseph Armstrong and Margaret Williamson p. 72-73). In the same letter she said, “The Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures shall henceforth be the Pastor of The Mother Church.” What a great new beginning! A new edifice and a radically new concept of what a Pastor was. Her reasoning: “This will tend to spiritualize thought. Personal preaching has more or less of human views grafted into it. Whereas the pure Word contains only the living, health-giving Truth” (see same letter).
Obviously, Mrs. Eddy wanted to be sure human views weren’t mixed in with the Lesson-Sermon, which would be easy to do, considering that before this directive, a person wrote a sermon based on his current understanding and demonstration of Christian Science. We should not take for granted how naturally free our services are from any human viewpoint because of our Leader’s foresight in ordaining the Bible and Science and Health as our Pastor.
Announcing the topic of the Wednesday readings, or explaining why a person chose it, doesn’t necessarily interfere with the pure message of the selections. Rather, it could be seen as paving the way for thought to support what is about to be read, much like the Scriptural selection does on Sundays. It could also be helpful for the congregation to think more specifically about the topic once they’re home, and it could provide a helpful focus for testimonies and remarks in smaller congregations where individuals find themselves sharing something most every week.
As you’re giving these ideas more thought, you may also consider this passage from Mrs. Eddy’s Message to The Mother Church, 1901: “The Word of God is a powerful preacher, and it is not too spiritual to be practical, nor too transcendental to be heard and understood” (p. 11).