Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Many people have never heard of Christian Science. Those who have often don't understand it. But those who dig a little deeper often find their preconceived notions false. Let's explore together!
1. Is Christian Science the same as Scientology?
Thanks to their similar names, many people think Christian Science is the same thing as Scientology. While the two religions do share five letters, they otherwise have almost nothing in common. Scientology was founded by author L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.
Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 after discovering its key ideas in 1866, spending about ten years of careful prayer and study, and publishing the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures in 1875. Christian Science is Bible-based and seeks to restore the healing practice of the early Christian Church prior to 300 AD. It closely adheres to the teachings of Christ Jesus and the other spiritual leaders of the Bible. We won't speak to Scientology's practices here, as we don't want to falsely interpret their ideas. But it's safe to say that Christian Science and Scientology have almost nothing in common.
2. Do Christian Scientists worship Mary Baker Eddy?
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, is often a controversial figure. In hindsight, it's easy to see that this was due in large part to the fact that she, a woman, dared to start an international church, publish seventeen books, and start four periodicals in an era when women couldn't even vote. Mrs. Eddy drew the ire of muckrakers, misogynists, and other members of the patriarchy during her career, but that doesn't change the effect that she had on the world.
Today some people think that Christian Scientists revere her almost to the point of worship. This is not true. We respect Mrs. Eddy and are grateful to her as the founder of our faith, much in the same way that Lutherans respect Martin Luther or Methodists respect John Wesley. But Mrs. Eddy herself was very clear that she did not want to be considered in any way divine or superior to any other person. She vehemently denied that she was the second Christ when asked by a reporter, and actively avoided attending services at the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston to avoid the development of a cult of personality.
3. Are Christian Scientists forbidden to go to doctors?
Yes, healing is the cornerstone of the Christian Science faith, and most Christian Scientists choose prayer as their first line of defense in any situation, whether it be medical or otherwise. Christian Scientists do this because prayer really works for them. There have been about 80,000 recorded, verified healings, often of conditions diagnosed by the medical establishment as incurable, throughout the history of Christian Science (yes, even today!), along with many more that were not recorded. But, there is no rule or mandate from the church that forbids Christian Scientists from seeking medical treatment, and churches continue to lovingly support Christian Scientists who make that choice. The decision between traditional medical treatment and Christian Science treatment is a completely individual choice for members.
4. Do Christian Scientists give Science and Health precedence over the Bible?
Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures is the Christian Science textbook, written by Mary Baker Eddy in 1875. It enlightens one’s understanding of the Bible and makes it teachings practical today. It notes the divine presence in its Science found throughout the Bible, which she denominated for this age Christian Science. In fact, Christian Scientists put so much importance on the Bible that it, along with Science and Health, is considered Christian Science's only pastor - that's right, Christian Science churches do not have ordained clergy. Selections from the two books are assembled into a lesson sermon months ahead of time by an anonymous group of members, and the same lesson sermon is read by elected congregation members in every single one of the about 2,000 Christian Science churches worldwide. It is read in each church because the Lesson is studied by individual Christian Scientists throughout the week, the Sunday service being a culmination of this study and application.
However, Christian Scientists don't take every part of the Bible literally. The first tenet of Christian Science states that Christian Scientists "take the inspired word of the Bible as [their] sufficient guide to eternal life" (Manual of the Mother Church, p. 15). Christian Scientists seek the deeper spiritual meaning of all parts of the Bible. For example, Christian Science sees the first chapter of Genesis as the true account of creation, and the second as an allegory.
5. Do Christian Scientists do science experiments in church?
This was one of the more entertaining misconceptions I have heard. No, there are no chemistry experiments during the service! Christian Science's name can sometimes confuse people. Christian Scientists believe that the system of healing that Christ Jesus originally taught was in fact a demonstrable, repeatable science, based on the divine laws of God. Hence, the term "Christian Science." That's not to say that many Christian Scientists aren't scientists in the traditional sense. But usually, mainstream science doesn't spill over into Christian Science church services.
6. Are Christian Science Reading Rooms our churches?
You may have seen a Christian Science Reading Room at a downtown location in a city near you, or even in your own hometown. Some people think these are churches. This is not the case. A Reading Room is a bookstore and study space where Christian Scientists and the general public can purchase CS literature, prayerfully study, or read the lesson.
The Christian Science Monitor, an international newspaper run by the church that has won seven Pulitzer Prizes, can also be purchased at reading rooms. Originally founded by Mrs. Eddy (at the ripe age of 88) to combat yellow journalism in the early 1900s, the Monitor is known for optimistic, unbiased, non-alarmist news reporting, and is considered one of a handful of "national newspapers" in the United States. The Monitor's mission has always been to provide a balanced, realistic view of world affairs. While the newspaper chooses to shed light on positive aspects of world news, it does not gloss over world problems or pretend that nothing bad is happening; in fact, the Monitor was one of the first newspapers to expose the nature of the Nazis' rise to power in the 1930s.
Christian Science churches are quite similar to those of other denominations, featuring a main auditorium, a Sunday School, and other ancillary rooms including board space and a childcare space. Christian Science churches feature a wide range of architectural styles, but the majority of them are neoclassical (Greco-Roman), Georgian (colonial), or modernist in style. The most well-known Christian Science church is The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston (pictured) which is also known as "The Mother Church" and serves as Christian Science's headquarters. The Mother Church seats five thousand people, and includes one of the world's largest pipe organs, with over 13,700 pipes.
7. Is Christian Science a cult?
Some people who don't know much about Christian Science think that it is a cult with fanatical members closed off from society. This could not be farther from the truth. Cults usually feature an individual who is personally worshiped and who demands total obedience from members, typically cutting off involvement with the outside world. Christian Science has none of this.
Christian Science is based on the words and works of Christ Jesus and its members seek to follow the Sermon on the Mount in loving God and our neighbor. It is the modest and pure expression Christianity that each Christian Scientist works to live as best he or she can, including Jesus’ directive to heal.
Having no ordained clergy, readers in Christian Science branch churches are democratically elected by congregations, with set term limits. Readers in CS Churches typically serve about three years. The Mother Church has a Board of Directors that is appointed by the previous Board, but there is no individual like a pope or patriarch at the head of the Church. The study of Christian Science is very individual, with each Christian Scientist doing his or her own best to work out a personal understanding of God. Christian Science is a Christian denomination with members involved in every aspect of the community. Christian Scientists are involved in government, industry, law, scientific fields, entertainment, and the arts. Any Christian Scientist is more than happy to talk to you about his or her faith, and Christian Science Churches and Reading Rooms are always open to visitors with questions.
8. Is Christian Science in fact Christian?
Some people say Christian Science is not Christian, owing to its unique viewpoint on certain aspects of the Scriptures. But here are a few facts:
A. Christian Scientists believe in one all-powerful, all-loving God who created everything in the universe and is wholly good.
B. They acknowledge Jesus as God's son, and believe in the virgin birth and the resurrection (however, Christian Scientists do not believe that Jesus was God, which Jesus himself affirmed multiple times in the New Testament).
C. Christian Scientists believe in all of Jesus' so-called "miracles," although they believe them to be natural expressions of God's law and not supernatural or miraculous occurrences.
D. Christian Scientists take to heart Jesus' command to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8), which can be found on the seal of the Christian Science Church.
E. Christian Scientists, though they don't believe that Jesus was God, see him as the highest possible human example, the "way-shower." Jesus is seen as a great teacher who first brought the light of Christ to the world in its complete form. Christ is seen as the idea that Jesus taught, while Jesus was a man who lived in the first century.
It is impossible to fully explain the Christian Science viewpoint on the nature of God, Christ, and Jesus, in one paragraph; that would be like trying to explain calculus in five minutes. Our church members and Reading Room staff would be happy to answer deeper questions about the Christian Science perspective on God, Christ, and Jesus.
9. Is Christian Science "faith healing"?
Yes, Christian Scientists rely on prayer for healing. But this prayer does not include rituals, laying on of hands, anointment with water or oils, chanting, or desperate appeals to God. It is not predicated on the idea that God has chosen to send a disease and can choose to take it back if begged convincingly enough. It is not based on the idea that Jesus will descend from the heavens and heal somebody. And it certainly isn't based on blind faith. Christian Science prayer is a silent affirmation of God's unchanged spiritual laws, an acknowledgement of man's already perfect state as God’s image (Genesis, Chapter 1), and a lifting of thought to the point where one can clearly hear the "still, small voice" of God, --- sense the spiritual intuitions that are ever available to each of us.
When seeking healing, Christian Scientists do not pray to change a bad situation to the one they want, or to fix some aspect of a material body - they seek to reach a better understanding that the bad situation or lack of health requires a change in acceptance from what the material senses are conveying to what the divine Mind conveys, which by its very source must be good, healthy, true, spiritually honest, loving.
As with Christian Science's views on Jesus, Christ, and God, it is impossible to adequately convey the experience of Christian Science prayer in a paragraph, but Christian Science prayer is a very holy, uplifting, individualized experience that moves beyond repetition of certain words into a deeply spiritual, rational sense of the divine. Christian Scientists do not believe that it is ever God's will for somebody to suffer or die. In fact, Christian Scientists believe that heaven and hell are states of mind and that sin and its consequences, which many Christian Scientists think of as "missing the mark," is forgiven as soon as its acceptance as a belief in one’s experience and its concomitant behavior is destroyed in our life, and that man is forever innocent and loved in God's eyes.
Is this healing work really effective, or are Christian Scientists delusional? Well, there are tens of thousands of documented healings in Christian Science of everything under the sun. Many supposedly "incurable" conditions including tuberculosis, polio, cancer, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, diabetes, mental illness, and Alzheimer's disease have been permanently healed in Christian Science by applying the same ideas that Jesus used to heal. These healings are published in Christian Science periodicals such as the Sentinel, Journal, and Herald, and they have to be verified by three people before they are published. You can read these accounts yourself in our Reading Room from these periodicals or online from our computer workstations. A great number of these healings also include verification or an initial diagnosis from the medical establishment. In fact, Christian Science's early growth was due in large part to the fact that many people were saved from deaths' door by Christian Science after the medical establishment had completely given up on them. Christian Science healing also extends to difficult financial situations, protection in wartime or against crime, and relationship issues. If anyone ever tells you that Christian Science healing is fake, read the numerous accounts yourself and make your own decision.
10. Are Christian Scientists asking for the right to "do nothing" when a medical condition appears to arise?
In line with the misconception above, some people think that Christian Scientists seek exemption from medical legal mandates because they don't want to be cured or they don't want to do anything about a medical condition because they believe it's God's will for them to suffer. This could not be farther from the truth. Christian Science is not "positive thinking" or "mind over matter," and Christian Scientists are not Pollyannas who walk about in complete denial. Christian Scientists acknowledge that evil seems to be a reality that needs to be dealt with in our experience, but rather than "fighting fire with fire," Christian Scientists seek to destroy this seeming evil through the knowledge of good's supremacy and allness.
Christian Scientists do not hate doctors or the medical establishment. In fact, we have the exact same mission- to heal people! Christian Scientists just go about it a different way, and ask for their Constitutional religious rights to do so. Spiritual healing in Christian Science is not "doing nothing." It is a very active process of applying the laws of God, divine Principle, to a given challenge and knowing clearly what is the spiritual fact that corrects mortal assumptions such that it brings about healing, often quite rapidly. We don’t assert human infallibility. We do accept divine Love’s perfection and the laws that come from that reality as being available, approachable, and provable, universally and impartially, now. We are humble enough to recognize that we are all learners in this truth and must demonstrate what we believe, precept by precept.
While learning to grow in spiritual understanding and practice, Christian Scientists are also careful to follow the laws of the land, and, in cases where exemptions are not given, meet willingly their legal healthcare obligations. Mrs. Eddy herself instructed Christian Scientists to always follow the law. Of course, we accept fully and ultimately that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is the spiritual law to which we seek most to adhere.