OK, LET'S ASSUME you're a member of this Church. What's the most important position in the Church of Christ, Scientist? A Christian Science lecturer? Serving on the Board of Directors? Heading up the House and Grounds Committee?
Think about it. A good case could be made that simply being a Mother Church member, and then signing an application for another's membership puts you in the most important and significant, the most essential and "powerful" office our Church has to offer. How so? Because it's you who plays the defining role in providing for the makeup of our future Church membership. That's a unique way to shine.
Mary Baker Eddy's little book, Manual of The Mother Church, establishes important opportunities for a member. Serving as a practitioner of healing. Valuing the Discoverer of Christian Science. Supporting her Church and its publications. Caring for yourself. In fact, read through the Manual and you'll see some wonderful duties—and ways to serve. But don't skip over your role as an "approver" of applications for membership. That's a vital job. It's one we need to fill and value.
Take a good look at a membership application for The Mother Church. Almost breathtaking in its brevity. And then take a look at the requirements for being a member (Article IV, Section 1). Just a few simple points. It requires that "the applicant must be a believer in the doctrines of Christian Science, according to the platform and teaching contained in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Rev. Mary Baker Eddy." The author goes on to point out that the Bible and her writings are the basis for self-instruction. Maybe the moral and spiritual requirements for membership seem almost more breathtaking in their breadth.
Have you ever considered how membership applications go forward? It's easy just to assume that the process involves others. But guess what! Upon your shoulders the Founder of this Church has placed the responsibility of determining what the future membership will look like. Take this charge seriously, and you'll really feel the concrete support of the Manual.
Signing an application is part of your own spiritual progress and growth. If you don't grow, the movement doesn't grow as it should. If you don't grow, the movement will be less bright. In view of this, you may want to think more actively about your role. Could extending your love of Church include inviting a friend to apply? Our Church needs and deserves to thrive. Any progressive development in our own thought or, on the other hand, any erosion of that expansiveness might play a role in the advancement or receding of our individual church experience, even that of the Christian Science movement itself.
Well, let's assume your light has been noticed, and as a result, someone has asked you to sign an application. How can you know if this person is really ready for membership? How can you be embracing, ready for a wider circle of new members, and at the same time feel assured the new member is adequately prepared to join?
Actually, the Church founder had a far deeper approach for who should belong than simply checking off a list of dos and don'ts. Not that dos and don'ts are irrelevant. It's just that they can be pretty superficial. And your job as an approver has spiritual depth and purpose. If it truly is one of the most important jobs in the Church, you want to feel the full blessing.
So, what's involved as an approver? This may demand your best talents. What if, for example, you discover that an applicant is guilty of a super bad sin—one that raises your eyebrows way above their usual surprise level? Would you decline to approve such an applicant? Some might say, "Of course." Others, "Maybe." Take a look at one of the worst sins the Church founder could think of. Mrs. Eddy writes, "Perfidy . . . disgraces human nature more than do most vices" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 226). What? Perfidy? Many of us might have to look the word up! (It means a breach of trust, a kind of disloyalty.) Maybe there's a touch of perfidy in the applicant's background. But how many of us can say we've never said or done or even thought anything that hinted at a little perfidy? (It's frustrating trying to find perfect mortals!)
Obviously, we can all grow into stronger integrity. Maybe we've slipped over the line by driving our car a few miles beyond the speed limit. Maybe we've exaggerated when telling about a thrilling event, or been unfaithful in meeting a deadline. Well, you get the point. That's why being an approver is such a significant job. You're being called on to exercise your spiritual sense. Now, there's a call that will really make you grow and it will be deeply fulfilling and satisfying. The dimness of material sense can never know the twists and turns of the applicant's life down the road five or thirty-five years from now. But spiritual sense glows with all that needs to be known. How? It derives from the all-knowing Mind, from timeless Spirit.
Think a little further about assessing an applicant's spiritual qualities. Honesty is an important quality in Mrs. Eddy's writings, and yet lying appears to be a fairly widespread trait in today's world. So, suppose you have a mental list. You ask an applicant, "Do you lie?" His reply, "Nope." OK, so you check that one off your list and go on to the next question. Whoa! Is this really the way to get to know the applicant? And even if you discovered some trouble in his or her ability to be truthful, it could make a big difference whether the applicant's inner thoughts tended toward an advocacy of lying, or pointed toward a more natural desire to be free of bending the truth. As an approver, there is a talent in navigating between the "judge not" and the "judge righteous judgment" concepts. Developing even a beginning ability to exercise more discernment, perceptiveness, and spiritual intuition may be part of how you yourself are being called on to be a stronger member.
Upon your shoulders the Founder of this Church has placed the responsibility of determining what the future membership will look like.
Sometimes particularly sensitive or personal issues may be perceived in an applicant. Maybe the issues aren't discussed openly, but you want to feel comfortable before signing as approver. Again, just a list of dos and don'ts probably won't make the grade. If you felt there was a negative issue so prominent in the applicant's thought that it overshadowed a sense of spirituality, maybe membership isn't timely. And yet if you detected a purity and innocence capable of outshining the problem, this could be a key point. Also, an applicant's overall state of thought—a great love of God and a desire to serve God and humanity and a desire to grow spiritually—may take precedence. The Christly element of spiritual sense—that's what gives you the ability to weigh in with justice and clarity.
If you judge just on the surface, you might keep someone out that spiritual sense would tell you could grow and bless others—maybe make a major contribution. If you let someone in without spiritual sense guiding, that person may end up causing a heap of trouble. And he or she may have looked ideal on the outside.
So when making important decisions about membership, look on the heart. And the emphasis should be more on grateful acknowledgment that our spiritual sense will guide us—less on endless worrying whether caution or tolerance will stunt or enhance our membership. That way, we won't feel the decision is either just too tough or isn't all that important. One Bible writer insisted that "a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6). You can draw on that childlike capacity.
Your job has a great simplicity and beauty to it. The whole process may even be brief. But it has solid spiritual substance. Acknowledge that you are receptive to being an approver—and that you do have childlike spiritual sense. Rejoice that your spiritual intuition will lead you. You don't have to err in any direction. You just have to feel silent thanks for the opportunity to exercise your spiritual sense. And be grateful that you, just as much as every other Church member, are holding the future makeup of your Church, so to speak, in your hands—your spiritual sense.
Signing an application is a wonderful privilege. It draws on your expression of wisdom and puts brightness in your life. As the Bible describes it, "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:3). In such an important way, being an approver provides the occasion to nurture Christly qualities of thought for both applicant and approver. Both are praying together, growing together. And the whole membership is advanced in this process. You've been elected to serve as a member. Don't forget about being an approver of applications. That's one of your obligations.
Thank you for being willing to take your job seriously and for being that light in the heavens. |
Nathan Talbot is a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors. He is also Clerk of The Mother Church.