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13 February 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 2:33am

What’s the history of Christian Science?

How Christian Science is neither a church nor a denomination

By Tony Lobl

Now, there’s an interesting question! To a Christian Scientist like myself that is a little like asking “what is the history of gravity?”

That is, Christian Science is not a church or a denomination. It describes the presence and power of God’s self-revealing love which no individual and no group could ever have a monopoly on. Like gravity it is always there for everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, or any other distinguishing human characteristic.

The law of gravity, of course, extends back beyond its discovery. It was a permanent fixture way before anyone was around to discover it, and until (and since!) Newton did. To the Christian Scientist, something similar happened in February 1866 when Mary Baker Eddy had a notable healing of an injury that was assumed would be fatal. As she tells it, she made a discovery of what she called “the law of God, the law of good, interpreting and demonstrating the divine Principle and rule of universal harmony” (“Rudimental Divine Science”).

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Her healing came about after decades of struggle with sickness and after 20 years’ investigation of allopathic medicine and homeopathy, as well as some health-seeking detours into alternatives of her day. Through all these means she was “trying to trace all physical effects to a mental cause” (“Retrospection and Introspection”) and her primary resource for this search was her lifelong study of the Scriptures.

All this dovetailed in what Mary Baker Eddy called her “falling apple” moment – an insight into how Jesus did his healing work which lifted her mentally and physically from her sick-bed. She articulated this experience as glimpsing the great fact of “Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence” (Miscellaneous Writings). She had learned, she later wrote, that “mortal thought evolves a subjective state which it names matter, thereby shutting out the true sense of Spirit.”

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Her resulting physical recovery prompted her to dig even more systematically into the Scriptures. The Bible, she felt, must include within its pages a Science of Christianity – a consistent understanding of divine law. This spiritual law, overriding material laws, most definitely does not date back to 1866, given that Jesus effectively proved it 2000 years earlier in his unparalleled healing works, and in his virgin birth and resurrection.

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Having awoken to the possibilities of healing prayer based on spiritual law, Mary Baker Eddy found she could use it to benefit others. Then, having road-tested the viability of divine Science in this way, she went on to teach it, to author a book about it – “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” – and to found a movement with healing at its heart, devoted to sharing these ideas with anyone interested in hearing them.

Like all spiritual pioneers Mary Baker Eddy did not have a smooth ride introducing new ideas in late nineteenth century New England, USA. She attracted tens of thousands of loyal followers – grateful for their healings and for a revitalized sense of God’s love in their lives – but she also had to deal with many betrayals by early students who found the moral, ethical and spiritual self-discipline of Christian Science too demanding. (Many of these students broke away and were instrumental in founding the New Thought movement with which Christian Science is sometimes, erroneously, linked.)

She attracted admiring comments from public figures such as Red Cross founder Clara Barton and teacher/writer A. Bronson Alcott, but she also attracted vitriolic verbal, written and legal attacks from some public figures who didn’t seem too jazzed to see someone, especially a woman, put forward her more spiritual take on the established disciplines of science, theology, and medicine.

In at least one case both views came together in one individual – Mark Twain. He articulated wonderfully admiring thoughts about Mary Baker Eddy and her Science in the same book in which he publicly pilloried her and it. Nevertheless, Twain’s daughter Clara had significant healings through the practice of Christian Science and became a steadfast Christian Scientist.

For many people, like Clara, becoming a steadfast Christian Scientist includes uniting with the Church of Christ, Scientist, which Mary Baker Eddy organised in 1879, “…to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing” (Church Manual). Uniting with the Church is a natural way for grateful hearts to come together and “give back” by sharing with others the Science they love. This is done by individuals making themselves available as public practitioners of Christian Science healing or by working together in local “branch churches” to make “Science and Health” and magazines with contemporary articles and accounts of healing available in Christian Science Reading Rooms (these are also on the web at www.spirituality.com ); by sponsoring talks on Christian Science metaphysics; and by holding regular church services and Sunday School classes.

The Church of Christ, Scientist cannot contain Christian Science – the laws of God – any more than Heathrow and its sister airports around the world can contain the laws of flight. However, there would be no Heathrow airport without the laws of flight, and similarly the Church of Christ, Scientist – The Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and 1800 branch churches around the world – exist as an avenue for making the healing laws of harmony practically available in people’s lives today.