The church was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 following a personal healing in 1866, which she claimed resulted from reading the Bible. She called this experience "the falling apple" that led to her discovery of Christian Science. She was convinced that "the divine Spirit had wrought the miracle — a miracle which later I found to be in perfect scientific accord with divine law." (Ret 24) She spent the next three years investigating the law of God according to the Bible, especially in the words and works of Jesus. The Bible and Eddy's textbook on Christian healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, are together the church's key doctrinal sources and have been ordained as the church's "dual impersonal pastor."
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, is widely known for its publications, especially The Christian Science Monitor, a daily newspaper published internationally in print and on the Internet. Skeptics consider the Church to be controversial due to its emphasis on healing through prayer when others would likely choose modern medicine. There have also been periodic tensions with other Christian denominations who reject the idea that Christian Science is a Christian denomination because of what some consider to be unorthodox tenets. (An example of these tenets is: "We acknowledge Jesus' atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man's unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death. (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures p. 497)
The Church of Christ, Scientist is sometimes confused with the Church of Scientology, an unrelated organization founded about 75 years after Christian Science. It is also sometimes confused with Religious Science, a recent denomination in line with the New Thought tradition.
Christian Science's most common symbol is the Cross and Crown.
Even to the homeopathic physician who attended me, and rejoiced in my recovery, I could not then explain the modus of my relief. I could only assure him that the divine Spirit had wrought the miracle—a miracle which later I found to be in perfect scientific accord with divine law.
She referred to this event as her "Great Discovery", the "falling apple" that led to her "discovery how to be well" herself (ibid.) (Later, she gave it the name of "Christian Science" stating that she "...named it Christian, because it is compassionate, helpful, and spiritual." (ibid).) Not knowing how it had occurred, she spent the next three years studying the Bible, experimenting and praying to discover if the experience was repeatable and if there were knowable laws that governed it. She claimed that she was able to heal others and began to be called out to the bedsides of those whom the medical faculty had not been able to help. A doctor attending a severe case in New Hampshire is said to have witnessed her healing one of his patients and asked if she could explain her system. At the time, she said only that God did it. But he urged her to write about it and soon she began her main work explaining her system of Christian healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
Soon others began to ask her to teach her healing method and she claimed that her students were able to approximate her ability to heal. The readers of her book gathered into an organization and gradually developed into a church, with Mary Baker Eddy as its pastor.
Mary Baker Eddy asked her husband at the time, Daniel Patterson, to seek out Quimby's help for her in 1862, during a severe illness. Until Quimby's death in January 1866, Eddy relied heavily on Quimby for her physical health. Some feel that Quimby provided inspiration for Eddy's early writing on Christian Science, asserting that Quimby used the phrase "Christian Science" (in 1863). Incidentally, William Adams used the term "Christian Science" before Quimby and Eddy in a book he wrote entitled, The Elements of Christian Science, first copyrighted in 1850 and published in 1857.
Eddy would later claim that she had provided much of the foundation of Quimby's thoughts on healing (My 306:22). Those more sympathetic to Quimby and the New Thought religions stemming from his teachings find this to be unlikely, arguing that Quimby introduced some key elements that would appear in Christian Science as early as 1859. However, Christian Science practice does not resemble Quimby's healing system, nor are their respective theologies remotely similar. Eddy biographer Gillian Gill, who is not a Christian Scientist, acknowledges that Quimby "had a profound influence on" Eddy, but also notes that her religion was quite different from his (in her Mary Baker Eddy (1998), 146). The American religious scholar Ann Taves probes for specific differences and argues that "Quimby's rejection of special revelation was in keeping with both Spiritualism and the later New Thought tradition, while Eddy's insistence on revelation aligned Christian Science more strategically with evangelical Protestantism as represented by Edwards and Wesley and with Seventh-day Adventism" (in her Fits, Trances, and Visions (1999), 218).
This teaching is the foundation of the Christian Science principle that disease – and any other adversity – can be cured through prayerful efforts, made possible only by God's grace, to fully understand this spiritual relationship. It is encapsulated in Science and Health as "The Scientific Statement of Being". It is read aloud in churches and Sunday schools at the end of every Sunday service, along with I John 3:1-3 and a biblical benediction:
This belief in the unreality of imperfection, stemming from the allness of God, Spirit, is the basis of Christian Scientists' characteristic reliance on prayer in place of traditional medical care, often with the aid of Christian Science practitioners.
Christian Science practitioners are listed in the Christian Science Journal, with the permission of the church's Board of Directors, their only form of official recognition by the church and among the Christian Science laity. (Some "unlisted" practitioners maintain active practices as well, but they do so without the prestige that a Journal listing brings. Additionally, medical insurance plans that cover Christian Science treatment generally only cover treatment provided by Journal-listed practitioners).
Practitioners treat patients, in Christian Science parlance, through prayer. Such treatment often, though not always, is for health-related problems, and a practitioner's patient may request help for personal problems as well, such as relationships, problems of employment or housing and so on. Practitioners generally charge a modest fee for their services since this is their only form of employment. Christian Scientists believe that through scientific study of the inspired word of the Bible, especially Jesus' words and works, one can learn to heal. Healing is understood not as an end in itself, but a natural result of drawing closer to God. Healing sin is particularly important. Eddy called this the "emphatic purpose" of Christian Science, writing that it is also sometimes more difficult than healing sickness, because "while mortals love to sin, they do not love to be sick" (Rudimental Divine Science, 2).
Christian Scientists celebrate the sacraments of baptism and eucharist in an entirely non-material way. "Our baptism," wrote Eddy, "is purification from all error...Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, 'which cometh down from heaven,' is Truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine the inspiration of Love, the draught the Master drank and commended to his followers" (Science and Health 35). The only ritual in the Christian Science church is voluntary kneeling at the Sacrament service twice a year, while repeating the Lord's prayer. Marriage is not a sacrament of the Christian Science church, but marriage does hold a special place in Christian Science as the moral and legal institution within which a man and woman can partner to help one another grow into a fuller "demonstration," or lived understanding, of their spiritual completeness as expressions of the Father-Mother God. The church's by-laws require a legal, religious ceremony for marriage: "If a Christian Scientist is to be married, the ceremony shall be performed by a clergyman who is legally authorized." (Church Manual 49)
Christ Jesus is both "Wayshower" and savior in Christian Science theology. Eddy distinguished between the corporeal Jesus, the human man in the flesh (the Son of Man), and the incorporeal Christ (the Son of God). According to Christian Science, Christ is "the divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error" (Science and Health 583). This incorporeal Christ is the "spiritual selfhood" (or spiritual identity) of Jesus (Science and Health 38). In Eddy's Message to The Mother Church for 1901, in the section titled CHRIST IS ONE AND DIVINE, she writes:
This accords with a basic plank in the platform of Christian Science:
Christian Science teaches that Christ Jesus was sent by God and that his history is factual, including the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. (Science and Health 46).
Because of his special status due to the virgin birth and his pure, unselfish nature, Jesus voluntarily faced his struggle in Gethsemane, death, resurrection, and ascension to show humanity that no phase of mortal existence was beyond God's redeeming love. Eddy wrote: "Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated man's oneness with the Father, and for this we owe him endless homage" (Science and Health 18).
Christian Science teaches that we are not Christians until we "go and do likewise," until we in some degree "come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," as it says in the Scriptures (Ephesians 4:13). We never become Christ, but we are called upon to become fully Christly or Christ-like, to emulate our Master's great words and works in some measure. This was Eddy's understanding of Jesus' saying: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12). No one's ministry, however, can equal that of Christ Jesus in Christian Science. Eddy even stipulated in her Church Manual that "careless comparison or irreverent reference to Christ Jesus is abnormal in a Christian Scientist and is prohibited" (41). She also wrote: "The cardinal points of Christian Science cannot be lost sight of, namely — one God, supreme, infinite, and one Christ Jesus." (Miscellany 339)
Christian Scientists are trinitarian, but in an unorthodox way. One plank of the platform of Christian Science says:
Here, Eddy calls God "Father-Mother," signifying not an androgynous God but a God "without body, parts or passions," as in the Westminster creed, who nevertheless functions both to govern and comfort. She calls the Holy Ghost "divine Science or the Holy Comforter," the spiritual law of God operating as the Holy Ghost in the world.
One further note regarding Christ and the Trinity. To her students, Mrs. Eddy sent a definition of the Trinity (circa 1898), which read in part: "Jesus in the flesh was the prophet or wayshower to Life, Truth, and Love, and out of the flesh Jesus was the Christ, the spiritual idea, or image and likeness of God." (Christian Science Journal, July 1915, p. 192). This statement clearly reflects Mrs. Eddy's doctrine regarding the uniqueness, unity, and individuality of Christ Jesus' eternal, spiritual identity.
While reliance on the theology of spiritual healing is important to Christian Scientists, it is also not officially required of them, which has led to mixed legal opinions as to what constitutes negligence in its use. Orthodox practitioners treating a patient who decides to switch to medical care will typically no longer pray for that person. "Mixing" of methods is discouraged among orthodox Christian Scientists because, according to Eddy, they work from opposite standpoints. In Christian Science, God made "man" perfect, so "prayerful treatment" works from the standpoint of perfection, seeing man in "reality" as God made him; whereas medical science works from the standpoint that something is wrong, which must first be diagnosed, then fixed.
Christian Science teaches that spiritual healing is a natural result of following Jesus' teachings. Healing was a major part of Jesus' ministry, and Christian Scientists see no basis for excluding it from the practice of modern day Christians. They believe that Jesus proved his teachings by his healings.
The Church claims to have over 50,000 testimonies of healing through Christian Science treatment alone. While most of these testimonies represent ailments neither diagnosed nor treated by medical professionals, the Church does require three other people to vouch for any testimony published in its official organ, the Christian Science Journal. However, some critics of the Church complain that the verification guidelines are not strict enough, allowing verifiers who have not witnessed the claimed healing to "vouch for [the healing's] accuracy based on their knowledge of [the claimant]." (Taken from the Church's "Testimony guidelines") The Church also has a number of statements regarding diagnosed conditions accompanied by legal affidavits of authenticity signed by medical practitioners who witnessed a non-medical healing. A book entitled Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age by Robert Peel chronicles many of these accounts and quotes from the affidavits. Peel is the most academic/scholarly writer of the church's published biographers of Mary Baker Eddy.
Christian Scientists who wish to become public practitioners of Christian Science—spiritual healers—complete an intensive two-week "Primary" class. The instruction in this class is provided by a teacher. Teachers are added every three years by the church from the pool of active public practitioners. To become a teacher, they must first be selected by the church, then they take another class designated "Normal". Both classes are based on the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. In particular, the "Primary" class focuses upon the chapter entitled "Recapitulation" in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This chapter uses the Socratic method of teaching and is where the "Scientific Statement of Being" is located. The "Normal" class focuses upon the Platform of Christian Science which is also found in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, but begins on page 330 in the chapter entitled "Science of Being".
Mrs. Eddy, the founder of the Church, said one may accept certain temporary aid from "materia medica" if a person is in such pain that he is unable to pray for himself.
While the Church does not require members to forgo medical treatment, most Christian Scientists do so voluntarily because of their faith and they feel they have a history of success with this alternative form of healing. Indeed, outsiders believe that the social pressures to eschew medical care is so strong among Christian Scientists that those who feel they must see a doctor endanger their social standing in the congregation, and depending on the policies of their local branch church, may be stripped of any church office or position they hold. However, the vast majority of Christian Scientists would feel this perspective is not borne out in their own actual experiences around choosing medical care.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist is the legal title of The Mother Church and administrative headquarters of the Christian Science Church. The complex is located in a 14 acre plaza alongside Huntington Avenue in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.
The church itself was built in 1894, and an annex larger in footprint than the original structure was added in 1906. It boasts one of the world's largest pipe organs, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston. The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity is housed in an 11-story structure originally built for The Christian Science Publishing Society constructed between 1932 and 1934, and the present plaza was constructed in the 1970s to include a large administration building, a colonnade, and a reflecting pool with fountain, designed by Araldo Cossutta of I. M. Pei and Partners (now Pei Cobb Freed).
Branch churches of The Mother Church may take the title of First Church of Christ, Scientist; Second; but the article The must not be used.
The Mother Church is the church's world headquarters, and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. (An international daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, founded by Eddy in 1908 and winner of seven Pulitzer prizes, is published by the church through the Christian Science Publishing Society.)
Branch Christian Science churches and Christian Science Societies are subordinate to the Mother Church, but are self-governed in the sense that they have their own constitutions, bank accounts, assets, etc., but in order to be recognised must abide by the practices that Mary Baker Eddy laid out in the Manual of The Mother Church. Church services, along with every other aspect of church government, are regulated by the Manual, a constitution of sorts written by Eddy, and consisting of various regulations covering everything from the duties of officers, to discipline, to provisions for church meetings and publications.
The Board (occasionally TCSBD or the BoD for short) also includes functions defined by a Deed of Trust written by Eddy (one of several, in fact) under which it consisted of four persons, though she later expanded the Board to five persons, thus in effect leaving one of its members out of Deed functions. This later bore on a dispute during the 1920s, known as the Great Litigation in CS circles, pivoting on whether the CSBD could remove trustees of the Christian Science Publishing Society or whether the CSPS trustees were established independently.
While Eddy's Manual established limited executive functions under the rule of law in place of a traditional hierarchy, the controversial 1991 publication of a book by Bliss Knapp led the then Board of Directors to make the unusual affadavit during a suit over Knapp's estate that neither acts by it violating the Manual, nor acts refraining from required action, constituted violation of the Manual. A traditionally-minded minority held that the Board's act in publishing Knapp's book constituted a fundamental violation of several by-laws and its legal trust, automatically mandating the offending Board's resignations under Article I, Section 9.
Another minority believed that Eddy intended various requirements for her consent (in their view, "estoppels") to effect the church's dissolution on her passing, since they could no longer be followed literally. Ironically, one of the stronger arguments against this position came from an individual highly respected by their theological quarter, Bliss Knapp, who claimed that Eddy understood through her lawyer that these consent clauses would not hinder normal operation after her decease.
There are 26 set topics for the Lesson-Sermon, selected by Eddy herself. The topics follow each other in an unchanging, predetermined order, and the progression starts over mid-year so that every week in the year has a topic devoted to it. In years in which there are 53 Sundays, the topic "Christ Jesus" occurs a third time, in December. There is also a Lesson-Sermon for Thanksgiving Day.
Because there are no clergy in the church, branch church Sunday services are conducted by two Readers: the First Reader, who reads passages from Science and Health, and the Second Reader, who reads passages from the Bible. First Readers determine the beginning "scriptural selection", hymns to be sung on Sundays, and the benediction. The vast majority of the service is the reading of the weekly Bible lesson supplied by Boston, and order of service set out by the Manual. To be elected the First Reader in one's branch church is one of the highest and most prestigious positions the lay Christian Scientist can aspire to.
Churches also hold a one-hour Wednesday evening testimony meeting, with similar readings and accounts of healing from prayer by those attending. At these services, the First Reader reads extended passages from the Bible and Science and Health. They may choose alternate Bible translations at these services (i.e. Phillips).
Branch churches also sponsor annual public talks given by speakers selected annually by the Board of Lectureship in Boston.
In 1988, Monitor Reports was supplanted by a nightly half-hour news show, World Monitor, which was broadcast by the Discovery Channel. The program was anchored by veteran journalist John Hart. The Church then purchased a Boston cable TV station for elaborate in-house programming production. In parallel, the church purchased a shortwave radio station and syndicated radio production to National Public Radio. However, revenues fell far short of optimistic predictions by church managers, who had ignored early warnings by members and media experts.
In October 1991, after a series of conflicts over the boundaries between Christian Science teachings and his journalistic independence, John Hart resigned. The Monitor Channel went off the air in June 1992. Most of the other operations closed in well under a decade. Public accounts in both the mainstream and trade media reported that the church lost approximately $250 million on these ventures.
The hundreds of millions lost on broadcasting brought the church to the brink of bankruptcy. However, with the 1991 publication of The Destiny of The Mother Church by the late Bliss Knapp, the church secured a $90 million bequest from the Knapp trust. The trust dictated that the book be published as "Authorized Literature," with neither modification nor comment. Historically, the church had censured Knapp for deviating at several points from Eddy's teaching, and had refused to publish the work. The church's archivist, fired in anticipation of the book's publication, wrote to branch churches to inform them of the book's history. Many Christian Scientists thought the book violated the church's bylaws, and the editors of the church's religious periodicals and several other church employees resigned in protest. Alternate beneficiaries subsequently sued to contest the church's claim it had complied fully with the will's terms, and the church ultimately received only half of the original sum.
The fallout of the broadcasting debacle also sparked a minor revolt among some prominent church members. In late 1993, a group of Christian Scientists filed suit against the Board of Directors, alleging a willful disregard for the Manual of the Mother Church in its financial dealings. The suit was thrown out by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1997, but a lingering discontent with the church's financial matters persists to this day.
In spite of its early meteoric rise, it appears likely that the Christian Science Church has suffered a decline in membership over recent decades. Though the Church is prohibited by the Manual from publishing membership figures, the number of branch churches in the United States has fallen steadily since World War II. A 1992 study in the Christian Research Journal found that church membership had fallen from 269,000 in the 1930s to about 150,000. Some believe membership has fallen further since then, however current estimates for church membership vary widely, from under 100,000 to 400,000.
Dr. Stephen Barrett has reported that since 1971, the number of practitioners and teachers listed in the Christian Science Journal has fallen from about 5,000 to about 1,160 and the number of churches has fallen from about 1,800 to about 1,000.
In 2005 the Boston Globe reported that the church is considering consolidating Boston operations into fewer buildings and leasing out space in buildings it owns. Church official Philip G. Davis noted that the administration and Colonnade buildings have not been fully used for many years and that vacancy increased after staff reductions last year. The church posted an $8 million financial loss in fiscal 2003, and in 2004 cut 125 jobs, a quarter of the staff, at The Christian Science Monitor. Davis said however that "the financial situation right now is excellent" that the church is not facing financial problems.
From the moment Mark Twain published his 1907 attack on Christian Science, the Church and Mary Baker Eddy, herself, Christian Science has been subject to significant criticism and public controversy. Twain aimed much of his ridicule at the idea of healing through prayer - particularly when practiced remotely. However, according to his biographer, Albert Paine, Twain seemed to quarrel more with what he saw as Mary Baker Eddy's cult of personality than with the actual ideas of Christian Science saying:
Later, Twain seemed to reverse his stance towards Eddy as Paine quoted Twain as saying: "... Christian Science is humanity's boon. ... [Mary Baker Eddy] has organized and made available a healing principle that for two thousand years has never been employed, except as the merest kind of guesswork. She is the benefactor of the age."
Twain also expressed grave doubts about the authorship of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, showing through content analysis that the quality of the writing was much better than any of Eddy's previous or subsequent work (for example her autobiography and her later writings in the Christian Science Journal):
That she wrote the Autobiography, and that preface, and the Poems, and the Plague-spot Bacilli, we are not permitted to doubt. Indeed, we know she wrote them. But the very certainty that she wrote these things compels a doubt that she wrote Science and Health.
Today, the most publicized controversies are still over the issue of medicine. While church members point out that followers are free to choose to seek conventional medical treatment, most rely exclusively on healing by prayer. Christian Scientists distinguish their method from “faith healing.” To a Christian Scientist, “faith healing” is something that relies merely on blind faith in miraculous cures. Christian Scientists see themselves as practicing a well-defined process with a proven track record by means of the spiritualization of thought through prayer aimed at shedding the false beliefs of the mortal mind that manifest themselves as physical ailments.
This issue is most controversial regarding children. In a number of nationally publicized cases in the early 1990s, prosecutors charged parents belonging to the Christian Science church with murder or manslaughter after their children died of likely curable ailments without being medically treated. The best-known of these was the Twitchell Case in Massachusetts, in which parents David and Ginger Twitchell were convicted in 1990 of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their two-year-old son Robyn, who succumbed to a bowel obstruction. In other cases, parents have been legally exonerated - often because of exemptions in state laws to taking legal action against people who relied on religious cures. Such cases are also controversial inside the Church. Many members believe that the parents involved received poor guidance from church leaders, while others contend that the process of healing through Christian Science wasn't done correctly.
Since the episodes with regard to The Monitor Channel and the Bliss Knapp book, the church has at times been accused of attempting to silence dissenters by methods such as unlisting them as practitioners in the Christian Science Journal, or revoking their membership. Some dissenting groups continue to solicit support among current members of the church.
There have also been tensions over theological and religious concerns. While members of the Christian Science church claim their religion is based in, reconcilable with, and part of Christianity (being based upon the teachings of Jesus), there are Orthodox Christian theologians and others who disagree. These critics state that Mary Baker Eddy's interpretation of Christian scripture diverges too greatly from basic tenets of Christianity. They often cite the faith's views on the nature/existence of evil or sin, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, the trinity, and a few others as meaning that the faith can no longer be considered a Christian denomination. In response, Christian Scientists say that Jesus never claimed to be God and that even implicily denied it in .
A quip often used to discuss this is attributed to George Bernard Shaw who was a friend of the well-known Christian Scientist Viscountess Nancy Astor. The quip states "Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific" and has been quoted by many Evangelical Christians in relation to the faith to the extent that it has become a cliche. Many members of the mainstream scientific community believe that the reliance on spiritual healing, and some of the Church's other beliefs, are non-scientific.