Mary Baker Eddy’s ordination of two books—the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures—to be the impersonal pastor for the Church of Christ, Scientist was clearly inspired. It removed the “middle-man” of a clergy interpreting those two sacred texts and allowed for each individual to hear the specific divine inspiration that would meet their needs. I’ve always loved that idea and have been blessed by it over and over again.
But I think that sometimes the idea of “impersonal” has been taken too literally in terms of the manner—the method—for the actual reading of the inspired words of those books by the lay readers in Christian Science churches.
I vividly remember my first experiences in attending branch church services. My previous wife, Margaret, who introduced me to Christian Science, took me to a local church during our courtship. I had just started reading Science and Health and was aflame with the revolutionary spiritual ideas that the book contained.
You can imagine my sense of disconnect when I heard the two Readers read these words—these words that were beginning to mean so much to me and were beginning to alter my life—in a monotone, lifeless manner! I just couldn’t understand it. How could they not feel the impact of those statements? How could they not express the spiritual power that the citations from each book conveyed?
I kept attending services, but felt no inspiration from doing so. I finally asked Margaret how this style of reading could be. She very innocently replied that the Readers—particularly the First Reader—were chosen because they were the two most spiritually-minded individuals in that church and read this way because it was spiritually impersonal.
As a newcomer to Christian Science, this simply made no sense to me and I told her so. After a while, I could no longer endure going there—so morose was the feeling that I felt my growing understanding was being impeded. I told her that I would simply continue to study Christian Science on my own. My dear one suggested we attend The Mother Church, which we did, and the Readers there, to my great delight and relief, read with understanding, vitality, conviction—and authority. An authority that imparts healing!
I never looked back and became a member a little over a year later.
Now, why am I telling you all this? Though there has been some improvement in branch churches in my state—which I am grateful to see—there are enough of our Readers who, 22 years down the line, simply don’t get it. They continue to read in the most uninspired fashion.
How could this be? It seems to be a cultural tradition to do so. And a tradition that, frankly, doesn’t have any spiritual foundation to stand on.
Isn’t it about time that we get something straight here? Impersonal doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be inspired. Quite to the contrary: it indicates that we’re listening to how God is imparting the meaning of those words—His words—to us and recognizing that it is God who is causing us to express them fully. Jesus said “I can of mine own self do nothing.” (John 5:30) How can it be any different for us?
Can we actually imagine Jesus, or Mary Baker Eddy, reading the Scriptures in any way other than profoundly meaningfully and with the full authority of Christianly scientific healing as its intent? Can we imagine them engaging with others in any way other than with a deep, potent spirituality—a spirituality that heals, uplifts, regenerates, and transforms all who are hearing?
Mrs. Eddy wrote (Science and Health, p. 366: marginal note “Genuine healing”):
If we would open their prison doors for the sick, we must first learn to bind up the broken-hearted. If we would heal by the Spirit, we must not hide the talent of spiritual healing under the napkin of its form, nor bury the morale of Christian Science in the grave-clothes of its letter. The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.
It is the spiritual import of those texts,“aflame with divine Love”—not just the letter—that brings genuine healing!
Shouldn’t that be the manner of reading in our services?