Church growth for Christian Scientists

The Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, teaches the gnostic and Buddhist/Hindu notion that evil, including sickness, is an illusion, which can be dispelled by proper thinking and meditation. The Christian Scientist movement used to be quite popular among the nation’s upper crust, with Reading Rooms and a national newspaper, “The Christian Science Monitor.” But these days the numbers are dwindling. So, like other desperate churches, the Christian Scientists are trying to employ methods of the church growth movement, including toning down their traditional teachings and practices to make them palatable to the masses.

Thanks to tODD for putting me on to this. He comments, “this story has it all! Church-growth-like numbers analysis! Attempts to be more relevant in the face of declining numbers! Insane levels of Gospel-less Law! Nutty theology that is neither “Christian” nor “science”! And, of course, health care!” From the New York Times:

Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.

But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their church’s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.

Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care.

In recent years, the church has been lobbying to convince lawmakers that its approach is an alternative way of tending to the sick, and that its costs should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.

Lobbyists succeeded in getting provisions that encourage private insurance coverage of Christian Science care into both the 2006 legislation overhauling health care in Massachusetts and the United States Senate version of the health care overhaul; both measures were removed in negotiations. Church officials say they intend to keep trying, at both the state and federal level. . . .

The faith’s guiding textbook forbids mixing medical care with Christian Science healing, which is a form of transcendental prayer intended to realign a patient’s soul with God.

But rigid thinking has not served the church well in the last half century, Mr. Davis said. Though officials do not provide membership statistics, scholars estimate that the church’s numbers have dropped to under 100,000 from a peak of about twice that at the turn of the 20th century. The faith has about 1,100 churches in the United States and 600 abroad.

In New York City, falling membership forced the Christian Science church on Park Avenue to lease its building part time to a catering service in 2006. Another Manhattan church remains open; a third closed in 2005.

“We are a church on a slow curve of diminishment, in good part because of what people see as our stridency,” he said in an interview at the church’s New York offices on East 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Are we only going to pray for you if we find you pure enough and spiritual enough?’ ”

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1879 in Boston, wrote in the church’s textbook, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” that anyone inviting a doctor to his sickbed “invites defeat.”

Mr. Davis said that by toning down “the judgmental part of our nature” and opening the doors to people seeking Christian Science prayer as a sort of “value-added health care,” the church hopes to keep alive a form of religious practice that its adherents still see as the true path to salvation.

But if even the members no longer believe in their founders’ theology and practice, maybe they should just stop being Christian Scientists! (And this religion almost got into the Health Care Bill!)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Winston Smith

    I belong to the Church of Christ, Son of God, King of Kings, Wonderful Counselor, Redeemer, Messiah, Alpha and Omega, Lion of the tribe of Judah, etc., etc.

    Any church that demotes Him to “Christ, Scientist” (as if He were a guy playing with test tubes instead of the One by whom and for whom all things were created, Col. 1:17) deserves to lose members.

    Blasphemy is even worse than socialized medicine.

  • Winston Smith

    I belong to the Church of Christ, Son of God, King of Kings, Wonderful Counselor, Redeemer, Messiah, Alpha and Omega, Lion of the tribe of Judah, etc., etc.

    Any church that demotes Him to “Christ, Scientist” (as if He were a guy playing with test tubes instead of the One by whom and for whom all things were created, Col. 1:17) deserves to lose members.

    Blasphemy is even worse than socialized medicine.

  • LAJ

    Chuck Colson writes about the Nixon administration that President Nixon had advisors who were Christian Scientists and their advice caused him to lie and lose his office.

  • LAJ

    Chuck Colson writes about the Nixon administration that President Nixon had advisors who were Christian Scientists and their advice caused him to lie and lose his office.

  • John C

    It’s a relief to know that Nixon was not responsible for the lies.
    You are right Winston. People will believe anything.

  • John C

    It’s a relief to know that Nixon was not responsible for the lies.
    You are right Winston. People will believe anything.

  • LAJ

    Okay, sorry I was not clear. Of course, Nixon was responsible for his lies. Chuck Colson’s point was, I believe, that he had bad advice from his Christian Scientist advisees. He may have made better choices had he had better advise.

  • LAJ

    Okay, sorry I was not clear. Of course, Nixon was responsible for his lies. Chuck Colson’s point was, I believe, that he had bad advice from his Christian Scientist advisees. He may have made better choices had he had better advise.

  • Billyboy

    I would always be careful in criticising other faiths and let God be the judge. As far as Christian Scientists are concerned it would be prudent to read their textbook “Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures” (S&H) before trying to make any judgment or formulating a view. There are some key statements in this book which refute some of the statements made in the NY Times article which are as follows:

    1. Christian Scientists, if taught correctly, have never been told to avoid doctors at all costs. In S&H the healer is advised as follows: “If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science (CS), and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief.”

    2. S&H does not “forbid” the mixing of medical care with CS treatment. Again S&H actually states the following “When the discoverer of CS is consulted by her followers as to the propriety, advantage, and consistency of systematic medical study, she tries to show them that under ordinary circumstances a resort to faith in corporeal means tends to deter those, who make such a compromise, from entire confidence in omnipotent Mind as really possessing all power. While a course of medical study is at times severely condemned by some Scientists, she feels, as she always has felt, that all are privileged to work out their own salvation according to their light, and that our motto should be the Master’s counsel, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

    3. Prayer in CS is not a transcendentalism which tries to realign the soul right with God. S&H again states the following “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, — a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love.” The key words here are “spiritual understanding” of HIM (not anything to do with me and you but HIM/GOD) and an “unselfed love”. That is prayer in Christian Science!!

    It is true to say that those who choose to study CS are doing so because they believe that appealing to the Divine can and does heal, but, in general they are sensitive to the needs of both themselves and others in choosing this route. I agree that they haven’t always got things right and that perhaps obtaining special dispensation in law to allow children to have such treatment in lieu of material medicine was not wise. But this doesn’t mean that the teachings are of the devil or dangerous.

    Regarding the question of whether or not CS can be regarded as Christian and the references to eastern theology and gnostism, I would say this; the discoverer of CS, Mary Baker Eddy believed she was re-establishing primitive Christianity with its lost element of healing. It is true to say that she believed, like the Gnostic Christians, that Christ Jesus was not God in the flesh….but who is to say that this is the wrong theological stance to take?….politics and the institutionalisation of the church stole into early Christianity as a result of such doctrines as the Nicene creed of 325AD. Maybe, just maybe CS has come to this world to help re-awaken man to the deeper truths of Christianity.

  • Billyboy

    I would always be careful in criticising other faiths and let God be the judge. As far as Christian Scientists are concerned it would be prudent to read their textbook “Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures” (S&H) before trying to make any judgment or formulating a view. There are some key statements in this book which refute some of the statements made in the NY Times article which are as follows:

    1. Christian Scientists, if taught correctly, have never been told to avoid doctors at all costs. In S&H the healer is advised as follows: “If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science (CS), and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief.”

    2. S&H does not “forbid” the mixing of medical care with CS treatment. Again S&H actually states the following “When the discoverer of CS is consulted by her followers as to the propriety, advantage, and consistency of systematic medical study, she tries to show them that under ordinary circumstances a resort to faith in corporeal means tends to deter those, who make such a compromise, from entire confidence in omnipotent Mind as really possessing all power. While a course of medical study is at times severely condemned by some Scientists, she feels, as she always has felt, that all are privileged to work out their own salvation according to their light, and that our motto should be the Master’s counsel, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

    3. Prayer in CS is not a transcendentalism which tries to realign the soul right with God. S&H again states the following “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, — a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love.” The key words here are “spiritual understanding” of HIM (not anything to do with me and you but HIM/GOD) and an “unselfed love”. That is prayer in Christian Science!!

    It is true to say that those who choose to study CS are doing so because they believe that appealing to the Divine can and does heal, but, in general they are sensitive to the needs of both themselves and others in choosing this route. I agree that they haven’t always got things right and that perhaps obtaining special dispensation in law to allow children to have such treatment in lieu of material medicine was not wise. But this doesn’t mean that the teachings are of the devil or dangerous.

    Regarding the question of whether or not CS can be regarded as Christian and the references to eastern theology and gnostism, I would say this; the discoverer of CS, Mary Baker Eddy believed she was re-establishing primitive Christianity with its lost element of healing. It is true to say that she believed, like the Gnostic Christians, that Christ Jesus was not God in the flesh….but who is to say that this is the wrong theological stance to take?….politics and the institutionalisation of the church stole into early Christianity as a result of such doctrines as the Nicene creed of 325AD. Maybe, just maybe CS has come to this world to help re-awaken man to the deeper truths of Christianity.


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