"Jesus established his church and maintained his mission on a spiritual foundation of Christ-healing." (S&H 136:1-2). Mary Baker Eddy's meaning is unmistakable in this passage. She uses the word "church" with reference to a spiritualizing activity and not to an ecclesiastical institution. That this is the true nature of church, as divine idea, is borne out by the fact that Jesus never established a human organization and never maintained a material edifice. The small group of followers which clung to him, not uncapriciously, could by no stretch of the imagination be described as organized, and their proposal to build earthly tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration so beclouded their vision that they lost sight of the Elias of Prophecy and the leonine Moses of Courage and Integrity.
That is not to say that organization should be disbanded, or even that it could be avoided. It is simply that we must recognize the divine character of the church to which Jesus had reference when he said he would build it on the recognition of the Christ (S&H 137:8, 138:9). Then we can see it as a spiritual movement, embodied in the demonstrable understanding of his followers, rather than a structure of people engaged in human pursuits. History records that every successful religion, without exception, began as a virile spiritual movement, only to end up as a sterile ecclesiastical machine. We must not fail to take cognizance of this universal human tendency to substitute the symbol for the reality, the empty form for the substance, or our great Cause, too, will be lost in the glorification of the outward appearance (My 149:22-26, Mis 152:30-2).
This point is not made to condemn the activities of human beings in behalf of the promotion and perpetuation of their sense of religion, but to bring out a vital distinction that is necessary to the survival of true religious experience on earth. The failure to discriminate between church and the religion results in the sanctification of material means and methods and the elevation of officialdom to the status of deity. The eminent Christian Scientist, Dr. Albert Field Gilmore, calls attention to the fact that Christianity has become institutionalized to such a degree that loyalty has been diverted from God to the institution. He goes on to say that this leads to the denial that salvation can be gained except through the instrumentality of the Church, which would deprive the individual of his own communion with the Father ("Christ at the Peace Table," by Albert Field Gilmore, 66:4-20).
As metaphysicians, we have no quarrel with the Church, or with churches, but we must follow through to the reality which is so indistinctly perceived and so badly misconstrued humanly. To be practical, we must admit that we cannot eliminate organization from the world. This book itself is being typed, published and distributed through organizations, and ordinary law-and-order as we know it is made possible through organization. But we must realize that these things are purely incidental to the evolving interpretation, and not something to be leaned upon as basic. We must never, never say that Christian Science is dependent upon the organization. Whatever could be true about the organization would have to be dependent upon Christian Science. "The great element of reform is not born of human wisdom; it draws not its life from human organizations; rather is it the crumbling away of material elements from reason, the translation of law back to its original language, – Mind, and the final unity between man and God." (Peo 1:1-7).
It is not a question of doing away with organizations; it is a question of emancipation from stultifying practices and attitudes. With everything admittedly mental, joining an organization means sharing a general thought pattern with which others have been working toward some designated end. A particular denomination pattern is not the only pattern. It is but one pattern. Whether one conforms to it or not is necessarily a matter of individual decision – for, unlike the pattern of national Government, the individual is not compelled by law to conform to it. It is a matter of free choice, obviously. In what pattern does one believe that his own work avails most, without any surrender of his own dignity and integrity?
You must weigh seeming advantages and disadvantages and come to independent conclusions in such things in order to progress. The true pattern is infinitely more than any seeming. This appears now in this way and now in that, with boundless apparent variations. Here is your basis on which to deal with whatever would appear. Our aim is to prove the practical value of these truths in everyday living. Each one may seem to prove it in a different way, in many different ways. Life manifest is free. It cannot be stereotyped. Untrammeled thought does not run in grooves.
A denominational pattern may mean much to you. But your experiences outside of that are highly vital, too. Your whole experience must be one integral, well balanced for your purposes. Then you are ready for any seeming change, as change seems to accord with the logic of divine intelligence (S&H 62:22-26). Meanwhile, you stick to what is absolutely true through thick and thin. Peering beneath the vagaries of human thought, we depend on the truth of whatever would appear. Openly we need not quarrel with misconceptions, for we can bring to bear on everything what we really know. In the living reality, the truth of all experience is blessed, so that we may seem to concede without really conceding anything real. Knowing this, one proceeds with vigorous equanimity, amused by any suppositional futility. If this is your viewpoint, you can act in any exigency as having dominion, rather than as being in subjection to anything (S&H 225:2-4).
Mrs. Eddy shows us that Life does not depend upon organization, that it is, indeed, inorganic and non-structural. But to be consistent, we must acknowledge that there would have to be a truth to organization in some sense or other. She says that organic life is a misstatement of being – or being declared wrongly (Mis 56:4-6, 21). There must be a truth to the unity which we seem to achieve in a degree as organization. Truly democratic organization would consist of states of human thought of all kinds turning together to infinite Principle, or intelligence. The absolute truth of this is that the activity, expression or idea of Mind, which is the only genuine thought, is forever turned to its one source, infinite Mind or Life. The allness of true consciousness, being conscious or active, appears as ever-evolving experience – evolving because infinitude can never be limited to any one phase. This is the true unity that is good and desirable.
The objection is not to spiritual unity and consequent concord, but to the perverse human sense of this which insists upon having organization primarily engaged in policing both action and thought. The trend of all human organization is notoriously proscriptive and ever more proscriptive. Each becomes in its turn a Frankenstein monster, devouring the idea from which it sprang. Inherent in the human sense of organization is the deadly tendency to solidify the pattern of thought and behavior. As soon as an idea is cast into a mold, it begins to lose the compelling force which prompted it and is finally throttled by the form which would confine it. The organizational sense is characterized by rigidly finite standards, arrogant demands for personal conformity, and by ruthless intolerance of individual initiative. Achieving some semblance of entity, human organization perpetuates itself by a systematic indoctrination of its members with precepts and slogans designed to wean the loyalty of members from Principle to the persons of the hierarchy (Ret 50:19-22). In this oft-repeated story, the point is invariably reached where no one dares lift his voice for a return to first principles, for fear of being anathematized before his fellows.
The campaign of Jesus for God's kingdom on earth was hampered by the use of this favorite and effective device of demagoguery against him. By accusing him of "preferring what is irregular and unauthorized to what is provided in the authorized and regular ways," the priesthood shrewdly suggested to the populace that the teaching and acts of Jesus were necessarily illegitimate if he dared to turn to the spontaneity of Mind rather than to settled human policy. Decrying regimentation by the Government of that day and country, they were able to divert attention from the sly encroachments of their own organization. Meanwhile, Jesus found himself ostracized by those civic and religious leaders whom he would reach, so that John lamented: "Among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." (John 12:42).
For the same reason, there are many noble Christian Scientists today who fear to take their stand before a field conditioned by ecclesiastical propaganda to shun anyone and anything not Bostonized (S&H 225:5-13). This is not critical, but analytical, for we must see this before we can break the inertia that is obviously retarding the progress of the Movement all over the country. As the prominent Christian Science teacher, Mary Sands Lee, says: "All progress comes as departure from precedent, from doing something that has never been done before, or doing what has been done in a new and better way. . . . A radical thinker is an original thinker." [Original means independent] . . . "Today, what the progress of the world most needs is spiritual pioneering. To be a pioneer, one must have the spirit of adventure – and then the courage to follow where it leads." ("Progress at Principia," June 1944).
Certainly this cannot be done where the cry is heard, "Nay, but we would have a king reign over us!" for such thinking would set up human authority as final and so block access to Principle. A director thinking of himself as a director is bound to impose his own views on the directed, is he not? Then the individual member, so long as he is unquestioningly submissive to official pronouncements, can rise no higher than the limitations of the director's understanding allow. Surely that is plain enough. Our Leader warns that "the opinions of men cannot be substituted for God's revelation." Need it be repeated that revelation is where one is thinking, not where someone else is thinking? In attempting to steady the ark of Truth, Mrs. Eddy goes on to say, arrogant pride has only succeeded in obscuring the divine unfoldment for us (Ret 84:14-18).
"But," the thought steeped in priestlore exclaims, "the religion can be kept pure and undefiled only by the sternest of controls!" The unanswerable answer to this is that the need is not for suppression, but the simple one of enlightenment (S&H 447:1-2). Less manipulation and more information would be more in the line of Science surely. Let those who assume their mission is to fortify the Christ think that over. An honest acceptance of this would release the tightening grasp of ecclesiasticism, or the organizational sense, which would strangle true religion wherever found and whatever called. The time-worn claim that Christian Science cannot be freely written upon and discussed among laymen without danger of dilution and eventual loss, is refuted by Mrs. Eddy in no uncertain language: "If Christian Scientists occasionally mistake in interpreting revealed Truth, of two evils the less would be not to leave the Word unspoken and untaught." (Mis 302:15-18). Study what she says about the freedom of each to teach in his own way (Mis 303:6-16). He who does not recognize and handle the contracting of perspective under institutional pressure is ignorant of the nature of human mentation and is likely to go down before its onrush.
The growth of ecclesiastical despotism is not so much through hypocrisy as through self-deception (S&H 403:15 only). The superstition that particular people are personally selected by God leads inevitably to the assumption by people humanly elected that they are divinely appointed. The resultant bigotry is apparent in the sanctimonious manner so often adopted by church officials following their elevation to high office. As Chairman of the Board in a large metropolitan church, I have seen many promising student's spiritual growth stunted by the emotional jag generated in the pious flub-dub of our mundane deliberations being miscalled divine. There is a lethal miasma about the interpretation of divine being as human organization. Less heretic hunting and more evangelizing would be a healthy sign.
These are not minor symptoms, but warning signals of malignant eccliasticism which would displace religion if its stealthy inroads were not detected and handled away. Their sinister implications are apparent in the pompous attitude of boards when applicants are being interviewed for church membership. On more than one occasion, the Board of Directors of The Mother Church has felt it necessary to admonish local boards against making membership interviews into inquisitions. Because there could be no organization without members, the Board points out that the organization needs the applicant quite as much as the applicants could need the organization, saying of the examiners: "The mischievous errors of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and excessive zeal cannot influence them when they give first place to wisdom, love, and tactful consideration of the brother who is timidly knocking at the door." (Journal, Vol. 43, pp. 207-208, and Sentinel, Vol. 42, p.410).
This issue is disposed of in a statement which Mrs. Eddy often made to members of her household, according to my close friend, Margaret Macdonald (who lived with our Leader at both Concord and Boston): "When one recognizes that Christian Science is the Way and the only way, he is ready for church membership." A board would be impertinent which sought to go beyond that.
Anyone who retains his perspective knows from experience that there is nothing more diabolical than the human mind operating under the delusion that it is divine, or that it is divinely ordained (Mis 19:18-24). Mrs. Eddy saw this when she looked down into the sea of complacency made by the upturned faces of the ten thousand church members congregated beneath her balcony at Pleasant View, for she said to them: "If you think you are not mortal, you are mistaken!" Declaring that they were the pliant subjects of mesmerism because oblivious to its operation, she ended that memorable speech in this wise: "Would that my head were a fountain of waters, and my eyes rivers of tears, that I might weep because of the apathy of the students and the little that they have accomplished." (Mary Baker Eddy: Her Spiritual Footsteps," by Gilbert C. Carpenters). Audible words are hardly addressed to the divine idea! She was addressing complacency, knowing full well that only after the complacent are awakened can they be called the sons and daughters of God with any justification (My 242:10-14).
Ecclesiasticism echoes the Christly cry, "Come ye to the waters!" But it would freeze those waters of Life into a static pattern. Its converts judge each other entirely by the standard of conformity. If ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and outwardly appear righteous unto men, the omission of the weightier matters of healing, preaching and resurrection go unnoticed (Matthew 23:1-39). That is, if you are a regularly attending and contributing church member, subservient to the directions of officialdom, and withal diplomatic enough to keep out of controversy, you are generally regarded as a sterling Christian Scientist. On the other hand, though you actually raise the dead, if you do not conform to the organizational pattern you are branded a heretic – even as were Jesus and Mrs. Eddy. Conformity is the measure of a man in organization always, not spirituality.
What is the solution? To conform so far as you can without actually endangering your basic integrity. What else? If there is any value to you in sharing the pattern, you are going to have to bow to the finite requirements of church machinery in order to join the procession. You may see within its framework sufficient latitude for action – just as you submit to the conventions in clothing yourself while still retaining a satisfactory degree of self-expression. But it is fatal to compromise wherever it means to you the abandonment of first principles. In a widely publicized letter, Mrs. Eddy has written: "I have always instructed students in Christian Science to be wise and discreet, conforming, where conscience is not offended, to the usages of men." (Sentinel, Vol.3, p.217, and Journal, Vol. 18, p.593).
For her own part, Mrs. Eddy frowned upon entrusting her discovery to an organization, declaring in the first edition of her textbook that "we have no need of creeds and church organizations to sustain or explain a demonstrable platform, that defines itself in healing the sick, and casting out error. The mistake the disciples of Jesus made to found religious organizations and church rites, if indeed they did this, was one the Master did not make." (S&H 1st Ed. 166:11-14, 19-21).
But experience evidently convinced her that the world would never accept a religion which did not have a church for, as we know, she did launch a church organization. That she did this reluctantly is attested by her letter to William B. Johnson, of August 22, 1892, in which she passionately insists that such establishment is not "of God," that it had been "forced upon her," and that the proper place for a church is "in the hearts of men." ("Christian Science & Organized Religion," Hugh A. Studdert Kennedy, p. 76). Do you think she would have retracted this later? You will find the same sentiment and almost the same words in her standard published works.
That this was her unwavering view even unto the end is a matter of record, for she saw to it that these same points were made, up to the closing revisions of her books. Oh, it is not a matter of personal interpretation. Her words are unambiguous on the subject. Does she not say that organization wars with Love's true compact? (Ret. 47:1-4). Doesn't she call attention to the fact that peril accompanies the value of organization? At the same place, doesn't she say that even if this material form of cohesion and fellowship is useful in the earliest periods, it must be laid off before spiritual freedom and supremacy can be attained? (Ret. 45:5-15). She underlines this where she writes that when students are satisfied that their organization has served its purpose and that they can win a higher spiritual unity by leaving the material forms behind, it is time for them to turn from material organization to "the purely Christly method of teaching and preaching." (Mis. 358:30-4).
Church zealots have never been able to give a rational explanation of how the church would have to be an integral part of Christian Science activity. The Founder of the Movement never said it was. Quite the contrary. She significantly chose the special Church Number of the Christian Science Journal in which to proclaim that organization is not indispensable (Journal, Vol.9, p. 487, and Mis. 90:21-20). In this important article, which she saw fit to republish through all the revisions of "Miscellaneous Writings" intact, she says we do not have to build buildings and ordain ministers, and that if we do this at all, it is strictly a temporary concession instead of a perpetual and unavoidable practice of Christian Science. Lastly, she made formal and legal provision for the abolition of religious services at The Mother Church (Man. 133:5-12). Her instrument being a permanent deed of trust, she could just as well have provided for their perpetual maintenance, had she felt Christian Science contingent upon the Church.
Mrs. Eddy herself did not attend church and, although she lived in Boston for three years after the completion of the mammoth Mother Church Extension, she never visited it. An interesting sidelight is cast by her stock question to those workers who were summoned to her home staff. Gilbert C. Carpenter, Sr., records this, and it has been confirmed to me by Anna Machacek and Margaret Macdonald: "She asked each newcomer to the home, 'Do you want to go to church?' as though the members of the household were privileged to go if they so desired. If the student said, Yes, then she carefully explained that it was a mistaken sense for a mature student to desire to go to church in order to get good out of it, when his or her work was on such an advanced spiritual plane, and so much broader in its application." ("Spiritual Footsteps," by the Carpenters (p.61).)
Does this take your breath away? Would you be lost without your material symbol? Remember our Leader's comment on this: "Losing her crucifix, the Roman Catholic girl said, 'I have nothing left but Christ'." (S&H 238:9-10). Come, now, let us reason with Mind, not matter! If the pattern called organization means the welfare of Christian Science to you, then you are going to have to abide by it. But, as a human being, you have no right to decide for others that that is the only pattern. "The heavenly law is broken by trespassing upon man's individual right of self-government." (S&H 447:1-2). If organization has any value for you, you should be able to work with your fellows cooperatively, trusting divine intelligence to produce agreement despite seeming conflicts, transcending the human trend to domination. For equilibrium, you must continually know and prove what the true influence is. In what concerns you most, what you think, your whole attitude toward infinite Life, you are entitled to be dependent upon Mind, Principle, alone. Any organization attempting to regulate this activity that is spiritual or essential would be exceeding its province. Whatever the situation, you must maintain your own integrity. Some may seem to have more to do with organization than others, but each one has to decide for himself what of organization is for him.
The wide variations that you see among your fellows are but hints of the infinitude of Life, manifest as all there is to living, being, doing. Humanly, you have a common ground in your demonstrable understanding of Christian Science. We can all agree on the simple basis of divine metaphysics: infinite Mind manifest. Then your common aim is to prove the practical value of this basis in everyday living, is it not? In every experience, each one may seem to prove it in a different way, in many different ways, and your best protection is to revert to this. In your day-by-day activities, you will have to conform enough to get by – and just enough to get by, or you will lose your precious integrity. You will always have to weigh seeming advantages and disadvantages and come to your own conclusions. What counts most, whether you proceed with this pattern or that, is continually living adjustment to intelligence, to all that Life is. Just remember you have ever-unfolding understanding of intelligence, omniscient Mind.
As for appraisals of workers in Christian Science, they are mere personal opinion, without any real basis in Principle. Judges are themselves judged. We must leave the judgment to Life itself. It is the one infinite is that preserves all that is, and rejects forever any suppositional isn't. The main thing is what is going to stand of your own attitude that is true and vital. Mere stuff and nonsense have no power to harm anyone, and knowing this you demonstrate it. One lives by the reality, not by the appearance. While you are ever inescapably at one with what is true of organization, your being at one with it appears to you in ways that seem right for you. It may appear to others in quite different ways. The expression of intelligence is indeed boundless. Even while associated with an organization that is far from flawless, one can rejoice in the infinitude of true consciousness.
"But," to conclude this phase of the discussion on the note sounded and resounded by our Pastor Emeritus, "the time cometh when the religious element, or Church of Christ, shall exist alone in the affections, and need no organization to express it." (Mis. 145:3-5).