Learning from Jesus about church
What can we learn from Christ Jesus, the master Christian, about church? What did he teach that is helpful to us today as church members? Or, if we are hesitant about committing ourselves to church membership, what is there in the teachings of Jesus that might encourage us to make this important decision?
Interestingly enough, we have only a few specific words about church from Christ Jesus. When he asked his disciples who they believed him to be, Peter answered: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus, strongly approving Peter's answer, replied: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matt. 16:16-18.
Centuries after Jesus uttered these words, Mrs. Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, commented on them: "In other words, Jesus purposed founding his society, not on the personal Peter as a mortal, but on the God-power which lay behind Peter's confession of the true Messiah." Science and Health, p. 138. One's concept of church, then, should be based not on mortals and their personal opinions but on God's power, the Christ, Truth, and on the inspired thoughts that come from spiritual communion with God, as Peter illustrated when he recognized Jesus as the Messiah.
God's power is the very foundation, the Rock, or Christ, upon which we individually and collectively build church. This divine power prompted Peter to recognize Jesus' spiritual individuality, his sonship with God. And God's power enables us to recognize the truth of everyone's real being in Christ! God's power speaks to us individually, revealing our own nature as God's beloved offspring. And the qualities of divine sonship which we begin to recognize in our true selfhood, we likewise see as true for all of God's offspring. Jesus taught that God is the Father of all. He began his mighty prayer that we now know as the Lord's Prayer with the words "Our Father which art in heaven." Matt. 6:9.
The activity of the Christ, the spiritual idea of sonship, in individual thought attracts others, as it did with Jesus when vast crowds came to hear him preach and teach. And the effect of his teaching about God and about man's relationship to God was healing. Although Jesus did not establish a church in the sense of an institution, soon after he ascended, his loyal followers began to have a church group at Jerusalem. The effect of God's power, operating in individual thought, was to draw others and to heal them. Minimal church organization followed, as these few early workers, endued with the spirit of the Christ, endeavored to help others gain the same spiritual enlightenment.
Through the work of the great missionary apostle, Paul, Christian churches were gradually established through much of the known world. It was inevitable then, as it is now, that Christians come together in a unified effort to further the gospel of God and His mighty power and man's sonship with Him, and to support the healing that follows the understanding of these basic concepts. Such marvelous ideas must be shared with all humanity!
The institution of church, then, evolved as a means of sharing the love of God and the great teachings and life of Jesus with others. Jesus proved that the recognition of man's sonship with God healed not only sin but also disease and death. As time went on, however, the churches lost much of their initial healing impetus. And it was centuries later, after a remarkable physical healing resulting solely from a spiritual understanding of God, and after further healing work, that Mrs. Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, which incorporated obedience to Jesus' instructions to his followers to heal disease and death as well as sin.
As recorded in the Manual of The Mother Church:The Mother Church is The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts . "At a meeting of the Christian Scientist Association, April 12, 1879, on motion of Mrs. Eddy, it was voted,—To organize a church designed to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing." Man., p. 17.
The Christ, Truth, healed Mrs. Eddy; and her love for God and man caused her, as it had the early Christians, to establish a church to help others gain a healing understanding of the words and works of the Master, Christ Jesus. Her experience illustrates that the power of God attracts receptive individual thought in every age to the recognition of Truth. And love for God and for one's brother, which so clearly motivated the early Christians and Mrs. Eddy in their patient endeavor to help others, should continue to be a powerful factor in an individual's desire to affiliate with church.
Mrs. Eddy's definition of "Church" includes both the spiritual concept and the human institution of Church. She defines it as "the structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle." Then she continues "The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick." Science and Health, p. 583.
The church institution, which is the evidence among us of the spiritual idea proceeding from Principle, God, is based, as Jesus taught, upon the Rock, the power of God. God's power reveals man's sonship with God, as it did to Peter. The recognition of the Christ is of paramount importance to us if we wish to be effective church members. Our pure spiritual love and our understanding of man's sonship with God enable us to heal ourselves and others. Thus we increasingly perceive the spiritual Church and participate in the institution which rouses "dormant understanding," casts out error, and heals the sick.
An earnest church member builds his concept of Church on divine Principle, God, and man's sonship with Him. The expanding spiritual concept of man's sonship with God blesses not only his view of himself but also his view of his fellow church members and, indeed, of all mankind. One who is hesitant about church membership should feel encouraged to go forward as he ponders the joy and dominion that result from a growing perception of man's sonship with God.
In his words about church, Jesus included a strong prophecy of the triumph and continuing progress of his church. He said that the very "gates of hell" would not prevail against it. The "hell" of mortal mind beliefs would challenge our expanding spiritual understanding of true Church and of our need to join the human institution of church and participate in its activities. But we can rely upon Jesus' strong assurance that such evil suggestion will never prevail against his church. As we learn from Jesus about church, we see the impossibility of being separated from active, joyous church membership in both The Mother Church and its branches, which are meant to commemorate Jesus' words and works and to restore the "lost element of healing."
Should we today question the supreme importance of our commitment to the church which Jesus, in such a few words, defined so clearly? Should we hesitate to affiliate with The Mother Church and one of its branches as we see clearly the love of God for His offspring that characterizes true Church? As we understand and feel the underlying rocklike strength and pervasive love inherent in real Church, should we feel discouraged if our activity in the institution of church demands self-surrender, the overcoming of apathy, lack? Should we allow ourselves to neglect, in our prayerful thinking about church, the supreme importance of Jesus' teaching about the Rock? The Rock is the eternal foundation of the healing church; the Rock is the Christ, impelling recognition of man's sonship with God. Should we allow procrastination to delay us in affiliating with the human institution of church that reflects, in some degree, the spiritual idea, Church?
Jesus' brief dialogue with Peter established a universal church, built upon the Rock, manifesting the spiritual understanding of God's power and of man's sonship with Him. As this truth is demonstrated in healing works, the world itself is being saved. The church is supremely important in conveying spiritual truth to mankind, and Jesus himself foresaw the church as triumphant.
Every Christian Science Sunday church service closes, just prior to the benediction, with a passage from I John that includes these words: "Now are we the sons of God." I John 3:2. This statement is a reaffirmation, a coming back full circle to Jesus' foundational Rock of his church, namely, the Christ, bringing us the God-empowered recognition of man's sonship with God.