Christian Science: Christ's Christianity for the Present Age
Robert S. Van Atta, C.S., of Rochester, New York
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
Soon or late, in times of need people look to sources outside themselves for help. When the material senses can see no means of deliverance, when no material power is able to save, the human mind is compelled to look higher, and perforce seeks help from God. As we understand God better, we become more willing to seek His help and are more successful in procuring it.
How wise it is to seek the solutions of our problems in the mental realm rather than the material! Human experience bears witness to that. The solution of problems of business and health, of personal and national relationships, of invention and progress, have invariably been sought through some manner of thought taking. But when the human mind does not know enough, when human experience furnishes no sufficient guide, is there not a higher intelligence present, able, and willing to inform, enlighten, and deliver? Indeed there is, and this all-knowing Mind, this unseen but all-pervading Spirit, this almighty divine power, is what is meant by the word "God" in Christian Science.
Christ Jesus brought to earth the revelation of the true God and real man. Some people were ready to receive it, and it was in a form they could understand. So God speaks to men in all ages, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews states: (1:1, 2): "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son."
The right of Christ Jesus to be called the Son of God is proved by his demonstrations of divine power. He preached and taught spirituality by word and deed, he healed all types of disease quickly and permanently, and in all ways he proved the supremacy of spiritual power over the discords and limitations of matter.
The record of Jesus' human life presents him as an obedient child, a good carpenter, and an inspired teacher. He was a humble man, entirely unselfish, guileless but very wise. But more than human goodness, it was his spirituality, his demonstrated oneness with God, which set him apart from all others and entitled him to be called the Christ. His understanding of the truth of being gave him complete dominion over matter.
Jesus taught his followers how to pray with signs following; he revealed the kingdom of heaven within, salvation present and complete, and Life indestructible and eternal. The propagation of the Christ-message depended upon the spiritual understanding and devotion of his followers from one generation to another. Thus for two hundred and fifty years the sick were healed spiritually. But such was the grossness and materialism of the times that the spiritual meaning of his message was then lost, and healing remained largely a dormant element of Christianity until Christian Science was discovered by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866.
Christianity for the Present Age
Christian Science is the rediscovery of primitive Christianity. It is restoring healing as an essential part of true religion. Original Christian doctrine is now reduced to a system; the divine Principle of Jesus' work and the rule for the practice of spiritual healing are herein explained in terms adapted to the particular genius of the present age and the urgent requirements of modern times. Religion for the twentieth century must be scientific and practical. To be scientific it must be based on fixed Principle, its exposition must be orderly, its laws ever operative and demonstrable, and its tenets understandable and true.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, writes in her book "Miscellaneous Writings": "This age is reaching out towards the perfect Principle of things; is pushing towards perfection in art, invention, and manufacture. Why, then, should religion be stereotyped, and we not obtain a more perfect and practical Christianity? It will never do to be behind the times in things most essential, which proceed from the standard of right that regulates human destiny."
The purpose of the lecture is to show briefly how Christian Science meets especially the needs of today, even as it met the needs of yesterday and will meet the needs of tomorrow.
Chemicalization and Leavening
Jesus showed that Spirit is real and matter unreal. This doctrine is revolutionary and upsetting to the human mind. Materialism is frightened and disturbed at the coming of spiritual truth; hence the world's opposition to Christian teaching and practice. The introduction of spiritual truth into human consciousness produces changes, adjustments, and even violent turmoil, which is typified by the agitation of fluids when chemical action takes place — as when an alkali and an acid meet. This upheaval is termed in Christian Science "mental chemicalization." It is the process which goes on in mortal mind and body as belief changes from the material to the spiritual. Chemicalization need not be painful and is indeed a happy experience when one understands that through it a higher manifestation of peace, health, and harmony is won.
Jesus taught the knowledge of true being by figures and parables. He likened the kingdom of heaven to yeast which a woman put into three measures of meal. The chemical action of the yeast causes the flour to ferment, until the entire batch of dough is changed from a heavy, soggy mass to something light, resilient, and fit for human use.
Science, Theology, Medicine
Mary Baker Eddy discovered Christian Science and wrote the textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." One function of this book is to explain the spiritual meaning of the Bible. The author herein presents Science, Theology, and Medicine as "means of divine thought" (p. 118), but perverted by material sense they are represented by the three measures of meal in need of leavening. The Science of Christ is the leaven which is at work in human consciousness, stirring Christians and thinkers of all types, creeds, and professions to examine the fundamentals of their beliefs, and impelling them to a higher basis from which to seek and find the way out of trouble and limitation.
Mortals generally believe that life and intelligence abide in matter, and that matter is real and substantial. This belief is the fountainhead of all the woes that beset mankind. The sick man believes a discordant material body is causing him pain and weakness; the poor man believes himself limited and frustrated by the lack of certain forms of matter; and the sinner looks to matter as the source of his pleasure.
Physical science assumes matter to be real and the source of power, and endeavors to understand and explain the universe on this basis. Popular theology conceives man as born into matter, condemned to suffer temptation, sickness, and sorrow, and eventually to die out of matter in order to reach heaven and find God. Material medicine looks for disease in a living material body and administers other forms of mindless matter in hopes of changing a sick body into a well one.
Matter and Spirit
Christian Science exposes the unreality of matter and reveals the reality of Spirit. This is by far the most important contribution that has been made to the welfare of mankind in nineteen hundred years. Jesus expressed this scientific fact with utmost simplicity when he said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). A correlation of Jesus' statement is found in Science and Health on page 468: "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual."
This concise statement of basic truth is so profound and inclusive that its author rightly names it "the scientific statement of being."
For centuries the physical scientists held to the theory that matter is composed if indivisible atoms, but nowadays almost everyone knows that the atom can be broken up. Matter as such will disappear under the unremitting search of the physical scientist, but it disappeared absolutely to Mrs. Eddy "under the microscope of Spirit" (Science and Health, p. 264) three quarters of a century ago.
Religion and Science
The Christian Science textbook states (p 98): "For centuries — yea, always — natural science has not been considered a part of any religion, Christianity not excepted. Even now multitudes consider that which they call science has no proper connection with faith and piety." If faith and piety are not scientific, it means that they are governed by no Principle, express no law, and have no place in systematized knowledge. But the experience of every practicing Christian refutes such notions, for faith and piety, love, hope, and honesty, are the very substance of his being; and he knows from experience that he takes no chances in relying upon those unseen verities, for they elevate, invigorate, and inspire his entire existence. We must learn, as Mrs. Eddy says, to "attach our sense of Science to what touches the religious sentiment within man" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 174).
Christian Science does not oppose the study of natural science, but it does teach that only spiritual knowledge is true and lasting; and these lower subjects can no more than hint at the truth of divine Principle, governing its ideas in harmony, grandeur, and beauty. The effect of these scientific studies when rightly pursued is to promote the growth of human thought out of itself, out of that which is mortal, and to introduce the spiritual and permanent sense of existence and harmony. Absolutely nature is spiritual, but material thinking misinterprets nature; whereas, by starting from a higher standpoint, we learn to look "through nature up to nature's God," as it has been said. To the spiritually minded observer, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork" (Ps. 18:1).
A young man had gone to college to prepare himself for larger opportunities and usefulness. He honestly believed that the progress of civilization was fundamentally the progress of material science and invention. He was particularly interested in engineering in its broad sense. He was proud to be entering that profession whose purpose is to direct the forces of nature to the use and convenience of mankind.
In college his progress was good; but after graduation he encountered problems which his technical training had not prepared him to solve. There were questions of personal relationships, his mental attitude toward his work, his conception of success. He was sure that he had certain abilities, but no one seemed at all anxious to appreciate and employ those abilities. He became very unsure about what he was to do, and felt little desire to do it. There was a definite sense of limitation and lack, little joy in his work, and almost no progress. He became disillusioned, bitter, and cynical. This young man had been educated to believe that he had a mind of his own, and now it became sadly apparent that this personal sense of intelligence was not able to meet the demands made upon him.
At this point the glorious light of Christian Science came to him. He learned the great but open secret that God is the only Mind and Spirit the only real substance, while matter is but a false mental concept. He learned that to practice engineering or any other vocation successfully he must first practice right thinking. He came to regard himself, not as a creator of anything. but as the active reflection of Mind. Looking to God for intelligence, rather than to the human sense of self, he found that good thoughts, spiritual ideas, and practical wisdom came to him naturally and freely, since divine Mind is universal, ever present, and the source of all right ideas.
What a joy his work then became! Fear, false responsibility, and exhausting intellectual effort disappeared and were replaced by clear perception, sound judgment, and much peace and happiness. This made him a better engineer and led to greater opportunities and rewards. Under the old belief he had thought himself incapable of original work; but by turning to God as the only Mind he found he could make original discoveries and do things which before seemed impossible.
Many Christian young people nowadays, in the course of their college careers, have much difficulty in resolving the conflict between science and religion. Such need but recognize that the premise of material science is an assumption, the assumption that matter is a substantial reality entirely apart from the consciousness of the observer. This assumption cannot possibly be proved. In studying material science they are studying the mental conceptions which have been evolved to explain material phenomena on the basis of this assumption. Then let them note that the reality of right thought is self-evident and needs no proof, and that in studying Christianity scientifically they are studying spiritual substance, which is eternal and the only thing that gives meaning and lasting value to human life.
To such I recommend the study of a paragraph on page 128 of Science and Health, the marginal heading of which is "Practical Science": "The term Science, properly understood, refers only to the laws of God and to His government of the universe, inclusive of man. From this it follows that business men and cultured scholars have found that Christian Science enhances their endurance and mental powers, enlarges their perception of character, gives them acuteness and comprehensiveness and an ability to exceed their ordinary capacity. The human mind, imbued with this spiritual understanding, becomes more elastic, is capable of greater endurance, escapes somewhat from itself, and requires less repose. A knowledge of the Science of being develops the latent abilities and possibilities of man. It extends the atmosphere of thought, giving mortals access to broader and higher realms. It raises the thinker into his native air of insight and perspicacity."
Mary Baker Eddy
The conceptions of material science have undergone profound changes since the discovery of Christian Science, and equally great changes have come about in general theological beliefs. It was a widely accepted dogma among Christians of a century and more ago that God had elected some people to be saved while others were predestined to everlasting punishment, and this doctrine was typical of the stern theology of the times. But New England, as the center of religious, literary, and intellectual activity, was deeply affected by the spiritual leaven at work in human thought.
Near the quiet city of Concord, New Hampshire, a little girl was growing up in the shelter of a good Christian home and under the loving guidance of her gentle, spiritually-minded mother. She was a child of unusual promise, deeply religious, and with a great love in her heart for God and the church. But her gentle nature could not accept the cruel creed of predestination; she was unwilling to be saved if her own dear brothers and sisters were to be banished forever from God's presence. At one time her feelings became so stirred over this horrible decree that she was taken ill with a fever. Her mother talked to her of God and admonished her to turn in trust to Him. The child prayed, and a great peace came over her. The fever was gone, she rose, dressed herself, and was healed. Never again did the false teaching of predestination and everlasting punishment have power to frighten or disturb her. She knew God was a loving Father, not an avenging judge. Thus early was the leaven of Truth at work in the mind and heart of little Mary Baker, who was afterward to become the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science.
At the age of twelve she applied for admission to the church of which her parents had been members for many years. She honestly admitted her dissent from this part of the church articles and bravely told the minister that she was willing to take her chances of spiritual safety with her brothers and sisters, none of them at that time having subscribed to any denominational creed. The little girl's earnestness so impressed the church members that they wept; the good clergyman's heart melted, and he received her into the fold and her protest along with her.
Although disagreeing with some of the church doctrines of the times, she was deeply appreciative of the true Christian spirit wherever found, and many years later she declared that one of the outstanding blessings of her early years was the good fortune of being taught by some devoted and truly consecrated Christian clergymen — brave, honest, upright men and clear spiritual thinkers. One of those saintly men, who knew her as a young woman, pronounced her an intellectual and spiritual genius. Declaring that her spiritual insight went far beyond his theological doctrines, he said there was no need for him to preach to her, and prophesied a great future for her.
But these good men could not give her what they did not possess themselves, and although she grew to womanhood with great faith in and love for God, still she found that faith and love alone could not compensate for her lack of understanding of her heavenly Father and the laws of His universe. She experienced trouble and sickness, and whereas the unspoiled faith of the child had dispelled her fever, something more was needed to heal the long-drawn-out invalidism of the adult woman. In fact, she wrote in later years that her illnesses were due to the wrong concept of God taught to her in childhood.
Impelled by her own need of healing, inspired by her love for God and man, and guided by a power beyond herself, Mary Baker Eddy sought and found the truth about life and health. The revelation of true being dawned upon her thought, and again she arose from her bed of pain healed; but this time she was to enjoy better health ever after than she had before.
Mrs. Eddy was a humble follower of the great Master. She considered herself blessed if found worthy to walk in his footsteps. By forsaking the world of matter beliefs the great revelation came to her that divine Spirit alone is all power, all science or true knowledge, all presence. Thus she found Christ as the true idea of God, present now as of old, and able to heal as readily as in Jesus' time. The Scriptures were alive with new meaning, science and religion were reconciled, and the healing art was elevated from matter to Spirit. For half a lifetime her heart had sought its Redeemer, and now she had found Him.
Theology and Church
The theology of Christian Science presents the church as the expression of God's love for His children. Founded on the understanding of God's present power and willingness to heal disease and meet all human needs, the church is exemplified as an institution which proves its usefulness by awakening human thought from the material dream and educating human consciousness in spiritual understanding and the actual demonstration of casting out sickness and all types of mortal discord.
This church is devoid of ritualism. Religious history shows that although rites and ceremonies when instituted may have been intended to be outward reminders of God's presence and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, yet invariably the shadow comes to be mistaken for substance, and ritualism becomes an end in itself. This materializes human thought, and dulls, rather than enlightens, the understanding. The prophet Micah raised his voice against ritualistic religion when he said (6:6-8): "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall l come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of of oil? . . . He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
As the true idea of God and man replaces material notions in human thought, fear is destroyed. As fear fades away, anger, hatred, and selfishness go along with it. In the place of these mental tyrants come peace, hope, faith, and love — an abundance of God's angels or spiritual messages. This mental purification or rebirth is spiritual baptism. Communion with Spirit, good, replaces companionship with matter and evil. Atonement is understood as the exemplification of man's natural at-one-ment with God. The only sacrifice required is the giving up of self-will, self-love, self-pity, and all other beliefs and practices not in keeping with man's Godlike nature; and such giving up is no sacrifice at all, because error is self-destroyed when understood for what it is. Sin is readily forsaken when the fact is recognized that there is no real pleasure in it. Reform inevitably follows repentance when the illusion of evil is uncovered and the reality of good is recognized. Through this more spiritual theology, we have, not just a vague hope of future salvation, but the present and practical saving from disease, sin, failure, limitation, injury, and pain.
Our pastor is the Bible and Science and Health, which preach to us, daily and hourly, the pure word of God unspoiled by the false leaven of human opinions and material assumptions. Our church is rich because its business is to give. Being a means through which the revelation of God reaches humanity, it is maintained, supplied, and strengthened by the divine Principle on which it rests and by the spiritual ideas which it embodies and reflects. Its members are not impoverished by supporting it, but enriched. When, through the church, you receive release from the sufferings and limitations of sickness and sin, when you are restored to strength, freedom, and normal activity, when your life is broadened, deepened, and enriched, the church has no need to beg for your support, because your own gratitude impels you to do far more than the personal solicitation of church authorities ever would.
When God is seen to be infinite Principle instead of a finite person, there is no need to beg God for favors. Prayer, then, becomes the natural, peaceful, but quietly joyous communion with divine Truth and Love, wherein God's spiritual ideas, originating in divine Mind, communicate themselves effortlessly to the individual consciousness.
Prayer is the deep, honest desire to know God and be Godlike, expressed more in daily deeds than in audible petition. It is the absolute faith that good is all and evil powerless; it is the understanding that Spirit is real substance and matter is false appearance. Prayer is not the meaningless repetition of words or formulas, but the actual realization of the presence of Christ, the consciousness of Truth, operating mentality to correct and destroy error, the beliefs and illusions called disease, sin, and death.
The correctness of one's prayer is attested by the signs which follow. Healing the sick and reforming the sinner through understanding prayer prove the truth of Christian Science. These are the signs which the Master said would follow them that believe or understand. These are the fruits by which the true Christian is to be known. Spiritual healing was the first and most important duty imposed by the Master on his followers; it takes precedence over outward forms of ceremonial worship. It inspires to Christian effort and reveals heaven here and now.
The healing work of Christian Science is a distinguishing feature of this new-old religion. Healing is the sign of Truth which draws the attention of the modern world, arouses the interest of the people, and secures the firm devotion if its adherents.
Regenerated and Healed
The following regenerative experience of a friend of mine is a modern example of the ageless story of the prodigal son. My friend was brought up by a good Christian mother, taught to go to church, and had the benefit of good example; but when manhood came, he left the church and drifted into agnosticism. From then on his downward course was rapid. He dipped into all the things that young men believe will make them manly; he tasted sin in almost every form.
Eventually his health failed. As the result of an accident he began to suffer severe pain. The condition grew worse. After a careful examination his physician told him he was suffering, not from the accident, but from the sinful life he had led. Nevertheless he submitted to several operations, but grew gradually worse, and finally was told he was afflicted with an incurable disease called locomotor ataxia and had only eighteen months to live. My friend had studied to enter the medical profession himself, and he could do no less than believe what his medical advisers told him. Health, hope, and money were all gone; he was heavily in debt, could not work, suffered great pain, and could see nothing ahead but death and oblivion.
A brother had taken him into his home to live. The brother and his wife were students of Christian Science, but my friend would have nothing to do with it. Yet he could not help but see the good it was doing in that home, and one evening he accepted their invitation to attend a midweek testimony meeting in the church. In spite of his antagonism he was healed at this meeting of the severe pain which had harassed him so long.
Unknown to the household he began to read the textbook. To save his pride he would creep downstairs at night after the family had retired, take the book to his room to read, and carefully return it to its place before the family arose. Through his reading he learned that God is Life and Love, not a far-off arbitrary person whose ways were hard to understand.
His antagonism to Christian Science diminished, and he went to a practitioner for treatment. He was told that he could be healed if he would be honest with himself and with God. He gave up chewing tobacco, which was not hard to do. Then he was asked to give up swearing, and that habit was discarded. The liquor habit was the next to go; that cost him quite a struggle. Finally it came down to the smoking habit, but there he rebelled. Yet when he saw that even that sacrifice was a small price to pay for health, he took his expensive pipe, tobacco, and the rest of his smoking paraphernalia and put them in the stove.
Each step seemed to lift him into a clearer atmosphere, where he could understand more of the teachings of Science and Health, and he strove to apply them to his daily life. His moral regeneration progressed steadily, and in nine or ten months he found perfect physical freedom. Every vestige of the disease disappeared, never to return, and he has since enjoyed many years of good health. Moreover, his has been the unspeakable blessing of understanding and serving God, thereby bringing healing to many people.
Positive Good and Negative Evil
Christian Science is based squarely on the fact that God, good, is infinite. The inescapable deduction from this is the correlative fact that evil is not real. Here is the great issue between Christian Science on the one hand and popular theology and material medicine on the other. Certainly if God, good, is the only cause and creator, evil is left without any creator and can only be accounted for as that which seems to be, but is not.
Good is positive and actual, and evil is negative. But this is not the commonly accepted view. Popular theology teaches that evil is a real presence; therefore a good man is one in whom is no evil. You are told that Mr. A. is a good man because he does not drink or smoke, he does not swear, lie, or cheat, he has no bad habits. But no one can be very good only on the basis of what he does not do. His is but a negative goodness; such a one has been wittily described as "good, but good for nothing "
Likewise the ordinary medical view is that disease is a real entity, health is the absence of disease, and the healthy person is the one who has no disease. But who can say how much real health he has? Materia medica studies disease and tries to evolve a science of sickness, but gives little thought to the study of health as the reality and presence which renders disease impossible. The science of mathematics never could have evolved through the study of mathematical mistakes and negations.
The great need of the world today is a strong, dynamic sense of spiritual good, a bold, active sense of God's power, with which to oppose and destroy the aggressions and sophistries of evil. We cannot be satisfied with being "good, but good for nothing." We must rather be good for something — good for healing, good to master sin and hate, good by the reflection of God's goodness.
God Our Present Help
Jesus prophesied a great chemicalization which would sweep over the world of human thought. He foresaw "wars and commotions," nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences, "men's hearts falling them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (See Luke 21:9-12, 26.) But he added this comforting injunction: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28).
Looking up to Spirit instead of down to matter, men and women of these troubled modem times are finding health and happiness, salvation now, heaven on earth, as promised in the Bible. During the war years unnumbered soldiers, sailors, and civilians proved through the study of Christian Science the protecting power of faith and spiritual understanding. In battle and in prison camps, on land, sea, and in the air they were protected and sustained, fed, healed, and delivered by the same divine power which fed the people of God with manna in the desert and saved the early Christians from the wrath of the Roman emperors. Manifestations of spiritual power as wonderful as those recorded in the Bible are being repeated today; many of the miracles of olden times are equaled in the experience of Christian Scientists.
Demonstrations of spiritual power are never supernatural, but divinely natural in all ages. God loses none of His power as the centuries roll. Would he bring His people safely through flood, war, and famine in the past only to be destroyed by atomic bombs, submerged by hatred and ignorance, sickened and killed by germs of disease in this twentieth century? This we cannot believe. When these things begin to come to pass, look up, not down. and find salvation in Spirit; for God and His healing Christ are with us now, healing is a present possibility, and heaven a fact. Through Christian Science humanity has access to God's love today as never before.
Christian Science sets forth the "perfect Principle of things," religion is no longer stereotyped, we have available for our use "a more perfect and practical Christianity," and no longer need to be "behind the times in things most essential" (See Miscellaneous Writings, p. 232.) God's laws are changeless and applicable to all ages. The Ten Commandments have never been repealed, and the Sermon on the Mount is still the true way of Life.
[Delivered Sept. 16, 1948, under the auspices of Sixth Church of Christ, Scientist, Detroit, Michigan, and published in The Grosse Pointe News, Sept. 23, 1948.]