The Christian Science Sunday Service Interpreted as a Demand for Mental Activity
by Gilbert Carpenter
One finds the element of joy more or less lacking in old theology; this makes it necessary for its adherents to approach religion from a sense of duty rather than desire. Then in order to force this duty upon man, old theology has had to build up punishments for any failure to adhere to it. It would not be possible to maintain this method of driving man to worship God, if old theology did not teach the fear of punishment as a whip to force man to make what is considered to be a right effort to gain salvation and heaven. Thus old theology has fostered the notion that the church is God’s schoolroom for naughty children, and since so many are naughty under this code, there is little wonder that there is so little joy. How much joy would you find in a schoolroom where the majority of children were recognizing their shortcomings and were awaiting merited punishment?
Christian Science has eliminated this old doctrine of hellfire and damnation by making man’s search for heaven so replete with joy, that there is no need of using the fear of penalty in order to drive him upward. In disciplining a child, it is sufficient to deprive him of going to some place, if that place is attractive enough, without further punishment.
The Christian Science Sunday service might be interpreted as an airport to which the church member comes for the purpose of making a spiritual flight. No member should be content to remain in this airport, when every opportunity is offered him to embark on a spiritual journey which plays such a vital part in the salvation of mankind. The whole spirit of the port is embarkation, and he should not be able to continue in a sense of stagnation or self-centered passiveness and feel comfortable. In the service will be found the instructions essential to this spiritual flight, showing what baggage must be left behind, what equipment is necessary, etc.
Old theology looks upon the Sunday service as the vital function, and as the proper resting place for thought, where man’s principal duty is to come and listen. In Christian Science the church service is where man comes to start his thought into spiritual activity, which should continue throughout the week, showing the service to be the beginning of wisdom. The service can be analyzed as consisting of seven definite obligations, corresponding to the seven days of creation, culminating in the day of rest when “God saw everything that he made, and behold it was very good.”
1. THE MUSIC. The first obligation in our Sunday service comes through the hymns and music, and is a call for that joyousness which is needed to open the minds of the congregation to spiritual desire. It is a command to make a “joyful noise unto the Lord.” It corresponds to the first day of creation when God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” If a man were in the darkness of fear and someone brought light which showed that he was really in his father’s house where he had nothing to fear, would that not bring joy?
2. THE SCRIPTURAL SELECTION. As the foundation of the structure of our service is joy, so the Bible is the chief cornerstone. It is of the utmost importance that Mrs. Eddy’s revelation be linked with the Bible and be shown to be inseparable from it. If a man wanted to build a house that would stand he would found it upon a rock, in accordance with Jesus’ precept.
The spiritual truth of the New Testament of which Jesus, the Christ, was the revelator and interpreter, is the rock upon which Mrs. Eddy founded Christian Science. So we can link Christian Science with the Bible and impress upon the minds of the whole world this unity, then Christian Science will be founded on the everlasting truth which no flood can ever sweep away.
The second day of creation brings the firmament, which Mrs. Eddy interprets as spiritual understanding. When silver is mined it is often found with copper, and the two must be separated before either have any value. So the Bible contains the understanding of God and its practical demonstration. Yet, because man has been unable to separate these two, the Bible has been of little practical value. So the Scriptural selection represents the firmament or the spiritual understanding which enables man to separate between truth and its practical demonstration, between God as Principle and as reflected by man, which is a necessary preliminary to all demonstration.
3. THE LORD’S PRAYER WITH ITS SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION. In old theology the Lord’s prayer, being for the most part misunderstood, becomes a duty which must fulfilled as rapidly as possible. In the Christian Science service it is at once a reminder to the Christian Scientist of the reason why he is at the service and of what he must do. It is not a call for a few moments’ work, any more than the whole service is a call for one hour’s mental activity. The Lord’s prayer is the keynote of the seven obligations represented by the service, which continue through the seven days of the week.
Our Sunday service in reality means service. It is a lesson in activity of thought, spiritual unfoldment, and spiritual concentration. Thus the Lord’s prayer is a notification to the church member for mental work. It is not an invitation but a requirement. It is an obligation and a necessity which membership in the church of Christ, Scientist entails. In the bustle and hurry of Sunday morning in the preparation to attend the service and to be there on time, thought. becomes stirred. Then after thought has had an opportunity to become quieted and prepared, there comes this gentle demand. The silent prayer awakens the thought of the worker to his reason for attending the service and shows him the necessity for conforming obediently to the By-Law in the Manual relative to the prayers for the congregation. In the midst of possible forgetfulness comes the solemn reminder of our duty to God, to our Leader, and to mankind.
In the third day of creation we read of “the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind.” The prayers in Christian Science are really the effort to sow the seed of spiritual understanding in the hearts of humanity so that it may grow and yield fruit after its kind.
The Manual gives the Lord’s prayer and its spiritual interpretation as one of the three first lessons of the children in the Sunday School, the other two being the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. These three lessons seem to correspond to the scientific translation of mortal mind as found on page 115 of Science and Health. Through the Commandments the children are taught those human qualities of mortal mind which must be eliminated. The Beatitudes set forth those better qualities of thought which must be cultivated in order to prepare it for the reception of truth. Then the Lord’s prayer and its spiritual interpretation present the absolute statements of truth which declare the allness, supremacy, and perfection of God, and man’s relationship to Him as His reflection. In its literal translation the Lord’s prayer is found to be wholly a prayer of affirmation. Hence, in reality it consists of the scientific arguments which are used in healing the sick, and which declare the eternal presence and reality of all good here and now, and do not take into consideration the human in any way. Thus the children are taught what to eliminate in thought, what to retain and to cultivate, and also the scientific declarations of truth to use in practice. Thus is the mind prepared to receive those higher unfoldments of truth which are revealed through the Lesson-Sermon to the more mature students, and made ready to assume the obligations of church membership in due time.
4. THE NOTICES. The Notices present more than is detected on the surface. They represent the application of spiritual understanding to what would seem to be merely human business. It is just as much part of our spiritual education to learn to apply truth to what is called human business as to anything else. As a part of the service the notices do not represent human business so much as opportunities provided for the members to apply their understanding to human affairs. If this were understood then there would be nothing in the Christian Science organization which was not seen to be a demand for demonstration. No human opportunities have any value to the Christian Scientist except for spiritual uses. In the midst of our Sunday spiritual feast comes the call for the utilization of our demonstrating sense in the affairs of mankind. From the notices we learn that we cannot stay in a personal state of mental and spiritual exaltation all the time, because there is a call upon us to apply our understanding of Christian Science to help suffering humanity, to preach the Gospel and heal the sick.
In old theology the notices set forth the prime importance of the material structure and organization upon which the spiritual system is founded, and the necessity for maintaining this structure and organization. If this erroneous conception should be accepted in Christian Science then Boards of Trustees and officers would be elected on the basis that only human sagacity and business acumen were the qualities needed in candidates irrespective of spiritual understanding. Unless the basis of all action and decision is spiritual demonstration the action must proceed from mortal mind and hence is not good.
In school pupils are taught rules and then they are given opportunities through examples to test their understanding. In the same way the business connected with running the Christian Science church becomes a part of Christian Science only as we utilize it as an opportunity to eliminate human opinion both from within and from without and to practice our understanding of God, and man’s ability to reflect divine wisdom.
In the fourth day of creation we read of two great lights, a greater light and a lesser light. In the purely scientific demonstration of establishing man’s oneness with God we use the greater light, whereas the lesser light represents the more human application of Science, which is to be found in all the business affairs and activities of the church and its members. This light is called a lesser light because it produces less spiritual illumination; but it has a vital importance because it teaches the human mind that whenever it leans upon itself it is wrong or in darkness. Hence only as it leans upon the divine wisdom is it the true light that lighteth every man.
From this we can learn a helpful lesson in connection with our business meetings. In the first chapter of Mark we read of the healing of the leper whom Jesus instructed to say nothing to any man. But the man published it much and blazed abroad the matter insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter the city and was driven out into the desert places. The inference from this account is that this man accepted Jesus’ healing power but not his wisdom. Yet both were divine. In Christian Science the Wednesday evening meeting represents the acceptance of spiritual healing as emanating from the divine Mind, and the business meeting represents the acceptance of wisdom as also proceeding from the same source. The Christian Science church is founded on these two essential points. The Sunday service sets forth the understanding of God and the principles and rules of Christian Science in their broadest application. The Wednesday evening meeting sets forth the fruitage in healing the sick and the business meeting the fruitage in the demonstration of divine wisdom. The Wednesday evening meeting represents the results of man’s ability to turn away from sense testimony or being influenced by the thoughts of others in order to establish the scientific perfection of every child of God. The business meeting represents man’s ability to turn away from sense testimony or being influenced by the thoughts of others in order to establish the presence and activity of the one Mind in place of any other mind. If one of these two essential points is neglected it would be similar to a man rowing a boat and using only one oar; he would merely go around in a circle. So the notices call our attention to the necessity . for demonstrating and reflecting divine wisdom in every phase of church activity and daily life, showing it to have the same importance as healing the sick. If we accept the divine Mind as the Healer of the sick and not as the Giver of wisdom to man we send the Christ idea out into the desert places where we will finally be driven to seek and find it, as were the children of Israel in olden times whose failure to find wisdom, which is divine obedience, kept them out of the promised land.
5. THE LESSON-SERMON. In old theology the sermon was the outgrowth of the wrong conception that the Christ was able to do man’s work for him. This sets forth the impression that through the efforts of the minister his flock could be saved. As a result of this conception the congregation endeavors to imbibe the results of their paster’s Biblical research in order to be saved. In the Christian Science Sunday service the Lesson-Sermon requires open-mindedness on the part of the congregation, but only that each one may acquire the understanding that will enable him to do his own part in the plan of salvation; each member is expected to assist in doing the mental work which will bring about this receptivity to truth. In order to fulfil its spiritual purpose the service must have a healing atmosphere which is the result of individual active effort. Otherwise there is always the danger of slipping back into the stagnation of old theology. The reality of our church services is this healing atmosphere because it comes from God through man, and that which comes from God is always real.
A sermon which calls merely for passive listeners may become the greatest advocate of mental bondage that there is, since it tends to fasten one’s thought on one’s self, which is the most limited form of thinking. Many people who refuse to attend church are not prejudiced against religion, but against the selfcentering effect produced by the ordinary sermon. Even our own Lesson-Sermon fails in its purpose unless it turns man’s thought from himself and so frees his thought to start on its glorious journey, pouring out good to bless all mankind, a journey which ultimately leads to God.
The Lesson-Sermon stimulates mental activity, spiritual perception, and concentration. It illustrates the union of the law and the prophets. The law or truth is especially emphasized in the Bible, and prophecy is practically explained in Science and Health as the spiritual method whereby the law of God is put into practical operation.
In the fifth day of creation we read of the multiplication of God’s creation to fill the waters in the seas, the earth, and the heavens. The Lesson-Sermon is intended to expand thought to the breadth, length, height and depth of the application of spiritual truth so that we may look out upon God’s creation and truly say, “If I ascent up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 138) So the Lesson-Sermon, rightly interpreted reveals that the darkness produced by wrong thinking may always be eliminated by spiritual right thinking, which in turn reveals the true creation, fruitful and eternal.
6. THE COLLECTION. Old theology endeavors to cause man to open his pocketbook on the basis of the doctrine that it is more blessed to give than receive; he is also made to understand, however, that giving is a good investment, bringing him material prosperity as well. This is really an attempt to humanize spiritual good. Christian Science makes every member a treasurer of the church in the sense that upon each one devolves the obligation to demonstrate Mind as the only source of supply, and thus is set forth the necessity for giving in order to receive in return, not larger material blessings, but a greater accession of spiritual good. The collection symbolizes the fact that, although the truth is free to all yet it costs the human sense of man something to attain this freedom.
In the sixth day of creation we read of the great blessings which God has given man. But man has misused the purpose of these blessings, making them temptations to lethargy, idleness, pleasure, and inactivity, and money provides a symbol of this misuse of God’s blessings, which when rightly used provide man with a larger freedom for God’s service, and wrongly used tend to destroy ambition and make man satisfied in the flesh. Hence the collection in our Sunday service is not only the expression of the demonstration of the members in establishing Mind as the only true source of supply, but it also indicates that man must give up or sacrifice in order to gain the blessings of God. In reality man already has these blessings from an infinite source of supply, so the demand of Christian Science is not that man must give them up, but that he must give up his misuse of them, which has blinded him to his rightful obligations to God. Then the right use of God’s blessings, which are freely bestowed upon man, will give man a larger mental freedom which he may utilize for the spiritualization of mankind.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, amassed a comfortable fortune. Yet she took no satisfaction in what money could buy. In fact she suffered whenever any of her students, misguided, endeavored to make her comfortable simply through the greater material luxury which money can command. Mrs. Eddy looked upon her wealth merely as a symbol, providing the mental freedom which gave her a larger opportunity to bless the race.
Hence in the Christian Science church the contributions spiritually understood mean gratitude and demonstration, expressed in true service to our fellowmen. Interpreted as a human symbol or money, they represent luxury, human possessions, laziness, and fear which war against spirituality and which must be given up.
7. THE BENEDICTION. In misguided religion the benediction usually suggests the thought to both the minister and congregation, “Thank God, it is over for another week.” In Christian Science the benediction is a solemn announcement for the members to go directly home and complete the demonstration which the service has begun for the stranger by knowing that the seed sown was good, that it does remain in the good soil, and is bearing fruit. This corresponds to the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath day of rest when God saw all that He had made and behold it was very good; and God rested the seventh day. The benediction is gathering up the fragments that nothing may be lost. That which the stranger has taken in through the ear must be planted in the understanding. How can the members make this final demonstration if they linger after the service to indulge in a conversational orgy, which may uproot the good seed before it has had a chance to take root? The Christian Scientist should go home and rest in the consciousness that all is good, that good fills all space, and that where good is nothing else can exist; hence that the good brought forth in the service does remain and nothing can be lost. Through this final effort, the overflowing good that pours forth to heal and bless will return to those who have opened their windows to give.
8. SUMMARY. In summarizing we may declare that the scientific statement of being read at the end of the service, represents the cork that is put into the bottle of thought, to insure the contents against being spilled—the truth that has just been unfolded, the atmosphere of God that has just been taken in, and the healing of mind and body that has resulted.
The scientific statement of being is a final and fundamenta1 statement of Christian Science which includes the two elements which comprise every Lesson-Sermon, namely, statements for acceptance or apprehension, and for application or demonstration. These represent the Spirit and the Bride, the fundamental Truth and its application.
Once Mrs. Eddy indicated to a class in 1866 that we must build up from the earth, and also build down from heaven, and that the meeting point of these two efforts symbolized intelligence.
Every Lesson-Sermon is designed to help the hearer to build his spiritual bridge from sense to Soul, and the scientific statement of being summarizes this effort. When we assert that, “matter is mortal error,” we are building up from the earth; and when we declare that “Spirit is immortal Truth” we are building down from heaven.
That which relates to heaven must be accepted as already complete, since that end of the bridge does not have to be built; it is already constructed. When it joins the end of the bridge from the side of earth, no more human application of Science is necessary; for all matter and error will have disappeared. To build up from earth means to diminish the belief in matter, and to build down from heaven, is to increase spiritual sense until Spirit is recognized as all.
The meeting of the two parts of the bridge takes place when application becomes conviction. At this point the argument is done away with, since one knows the truth as naturally as he knows that the sun is shining in spite of the clouds.
When the prodigal son returned home, or built up from earth, his Father met him a great way off, or came down from heaven to meet him, and this meeting point completed the bridge that enabled him to return home.
It was well that Mrs. Eddy symbolized the meeting point of the two parts of our bridge as intelligence, since we require intelligence to put off the false, as well as to put on the true, or real.
Every Lesson-sermon in our Quarterly includes these two parts of our bridge, and they are completely summarized in the scientific statement of being, the reading of which climaxes and clinches the Sunday service.