Christian Science, an indigenous Christian denomination, was established by Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote the founding texts of that religious and medical sect called the Church of Christ, Scientist. Embroiled in controversy over Eddy’s authority as author of their healing practices and doctrines, the Church of Christ, Scientist has offered seekers and adherents an alternative to established religion and orthodox medicine since 1879.
Suffering from poor health, Mary Baker Eddy sought help from mental healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby of Portland, Maine, in 1862. During Quimby's course of treatments, Eddy became a student of his practice of massage, encouragement and mental healing techniques.
Shortly after Quimby’s death in 1866, Eddy suffered a debilitating accident. Without much chance of recovery, Eddy turned to the Bible. Upon her understanding that “God was the only life and that Life was the only reality of being,” Eddy was immediately healed. That event was bound up with the beginning of Christian Science.
As her studies of the Bible continued for the following few years, Eddy began to teach others about a healing concept that was neither a magnetic force or the mind, as Quimby had taught. It involved unification with God, where there was no disease. Shortly after her first book on The Science of Man and before the first edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Eddy received a letter of dismissal from the Congregational Church of which she had been a lifelong member.
In 1876, Eddy organized a fellowship of students in Massachusetts that became the Christian Science Association. Three years later, the Church of Christ, Scientist was founded, and in 1881, Eddy was ordained as its minister. Also that year, the church chartered the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. In 1883, the first issue of the Journal of Christian Science was published, and in 1886, an association for non-Massachusetts residents, called the National Christian Scientist Association, was established.
The church reorganized
Doubting the stability of the structure under which the church was organized, Eddy dissolved the church, college and the association, and turned the Journal over to the Association. She reorganized the church in 1892 and reclaimed the Journal. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, of Boston, also known as “the Mother Church,” was stringently controlled by Eddy and a self-perpetuating board of directors that she established.
Prone to emotional outbursts, paranoia, and activities involving her health, Eddy retreated from the church to live out the remainder of her days as the saint that adherents envisioned. When Eddy died in 1919, she left the majority of her $2.5 million estate to the church, which had grown to nearly 100,000 members.
Beliefs and practices
As written in the “authorized edition” of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Christian Science adherents espouse the following beliefs:
The inspired word from the Bible is sufficient for guiding adherents to eternal life;
belief in one God, and that man was made in God’s image and likeness;
casting out evil as unreal, adherents accept God as a forgiver of sins and that the belief in sin is punished for as long as that belief is kept;
the value of the crucifixion of Jesus was for uplifting one’s consciousness sufficiently as to understand eternal Life and the nature of the “allness” of Soul, Spirit and the nothingness of matter;
and they watch and pray for the Mind that was of Jesus, to replace their human mind; obey the Golden Rule, be merciful, pure and just.
Christian Science adherents hold beliefs that are either controversial or heretical to orthodox Christian churches. Adherents radically redefine Christian terminology — e.g. the Holy Ghost is Divine Science — by use of the allegorization process. They strongly reject any association with the New Thought Movement, which began as an offshoot of Quimby’s teachings on healing. They hold strong beliefs that run contrary to traditional Christian teachings regarding the Trinity, unique divinity of Jesus, and the atonement for sin and its creation.
Adherents hold in common with other Christian denominations the belief in one god, and that God came in the form of Jesus Christ. Where they deviate is that one is "saved" through the Christ, which is demonstrated not only in Jesus, but in others as well. They make a distinction between the human Jesus and an "eternal, spiritual selfhood, Christ, Son of God." That selfhood has been expressed in individuals throughout history.
Their beliefs also differ in that adherents believe in what they call the "allness of God," that everything lives within God. Because of that belief, they do not see disease, sin or death to be a part of reality. Also, evil is not defeated by Christ, but shown to be unreal — except for one's own belief in it. They also emphasize nonpersonal attributes of God as Principle, Mind, Life, Truth and Love. Although they recognize God as Father, not much emphasis is placed on that aspect.
Clergy and organization
Each congregation has elected officers and is democratically governed. Officers must be members of the "Mother Church" and therefore are under the authority of the Mother Church's board of directors. The directors ensure the continued adherence to the original doctrine from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
and the Church Manual
. The board also is responsible for overseeing the church's various other organizations, including their large publishing firm, as well as all of their teachers and practitioners. Each congregation is led by its "First Reader." No separate ministry exists within the church.
To become a healer, an adherent must attend an intensive, two-week "Primary" training class, instructed by a teacher who is chosen from the congregation's active practitioners. Each congregation is responsible for operating at least one Reading Room, where Christian Science materials are available to the public.
From its inception, the Church of Christ, Scientist has been embroiled in controversy. Most of it stems from Mary Baker Eddy's teachings and their origin. The efficacy of its practices has also generated controversy within and outside the church.
Before the first Christian Science church was dissolved in 1889, former students of Quimby — Julius and Annetta Dresser of Boston, Massachusetts — alleged that Eddy distorted Quimby's teachings on mental healing. Some of Eddy's former students joined forces with the Dressers in a bitter attack against her. Eddy and her later students claimed that the distortions were actually uniquely Eddy's discoveries and were the result of her own research and understanding. Members of the "New Thought" movement, some of whom were former Eddy students, used her healing practices to compete, which led to further contention.
In the 1980s, Christian Science entered the “electronic church” era with the purchase of airtime for a monthly half-hour television production, followed by a nightly half-hour news show on a cable TV channel. They also purchased a cable TV station to produce their programs, a shortwave radio station and a syndicated radio production on National Public Radio.
Not heeding the warnings received from church members and media professionals, the Church lost upwards of $250 million. Controversy regarding the unlawful allocation of those funds from a trust sparked lawsuits that pushed them to the brink of bankruptcy.
The church was saved by a $90 million bequest from the Knapp trust involving the publishing of Bliss Knapp’s The Destiny of The Mother Church
— which generated further controversy. The trustees had insisted that the book be published as “authorized literature,” but church officials had previously criticized Knapp for deviating from Eddy’s teaching on several points. In the end, the church received only half the original sum, owing to payments for lawsuits originating from alternate trustees to Knapp’s estate.
A minor uprising by some prominent Christian Scientists as a result of that media debacle resulted in another lawsuit in 1993 against the board of directors for financial mismanagement. The case was eventually tossed out by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, but internal discontent continues.
Christian Science today
Owing to controversy and bad publicity, church membership has considerably decreased since its initial upsurge. Although disclosure of membership figures is forbidden by The Manual of the Mother Church, the decrease has been noticed in the number of branch churches from roughly 1,800 down to around 1,000. Practitioners and teachers listed in the Christian Science Monitor also have fallen dramatically from roughly 5,000 to nearly 1,160.
The Church of Christ, Scientist, has roughly 2,000 congregations in 70 countries. While membership figures are unavailable, it is known that the church’s membership continues to decline. Appealing predominately to women from its inception in 1879, Mary Baker Eddy’s work in faith healing continues to provide an alternative to established religion and orthodox medicine. Battered by controversy and lawsuits, the church continues to survive.