“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I”
There was a time in college when I stopped attending church regularly, choosing to spend my precious free time praying, and studying Christian Science on my own. There were even times when I wondered whether church was actually relevant to the mix of concerns I was dealing with. By the end of my senior year, I was feeling completely adrift and anxious about my prospects.
While home for a holiday, I felt drawn to the branch Church of Christ, Scientist, where I had grown up. Really needing God’s direction, I went to a Sunday service and sat in a pew right up front. There were so many people in that congregation, now literally behind me, who had supported me throughout my life and spent time truly getting to know me—babysitting for me when I was a kid, teaching me in Sunday School, or coming to my high school graduation party. I felt buoyed by this great warmth and love, as if God were sitting right beside me, and I knew everything would be OK. As I left that morning, I realized that I could no longer afford to miss out on the blessing and belonging of church.
Many people today have lost sight of church for one reason or another. In fact, church membership on the whole has dipped below 50 percent in the United States for the first time since Gallup began recording this statistic, prompting many to wonder what has caused this decline. Some church leaders are concerned that in the midst of numerous activities offered by many churches, the core mission has been lost.
We can get a good sense of what that core mission is by looking at the ministry of Christ Jesus. Although “as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day” (Luke 4:16), Jesus lived the ideal of church every day and in everyday settings. He met those who were yearning to feel loved and worthy in marketplaces, on roadways, or by the seaside. He met many desiring to be relieved of injustice or healed of illness with the promise “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, New International Version). Multitudes were inspired and supremely comforted as Jesus preached about God as a loving divine Parent who is always present to help in times of need.
In the humble spaces where Jesus preached, he didn’t condemn anyone, no matter what their race, culture, background, or profession. He taught them that they were not original sinners but God’s cherished children. These revelations lifted his listeners right out of their old, tired impressions of themselves and made them free, strong, and full of joy. As Mary Baker Eddy says of Jesus’ lifework in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Jesus gave the true idea of being, which results in infinite blessings to mortals” (p. 325).
Church, fulfilling its mission, never leaves us where it finds us.
This elevated understanding of the nature of God, and of the spiritual foundation that is ours as God’s loved children, brings redemption, healing, and lasting change. It was new to those Jesus taught, but this healing idea of our spiritual nature has actually been available to everyone throughout all time. It is the Christ, which is at the heart of the bold concept of church Jesus revealed to his students, saying to his disciple Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As Science and Health explains, “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” (p. 138).
Anyone who is in need of inspiration, answers, or comfort unites with all those across the millennia who have cried, along with the Psalmist, “When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalms 61:2). Church, by the definition that Jesus gave us, doesn’t house or contain God, but rather leads us to a spiritual understanding of God, to the Rock that causes us to stand—and to do so together—so that we begin to see our life in a whole new light.
As the Founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, Mrs. Eddy understood this spiritual essence of Church as the very representation of all that God is and does for man; it is a practical force for good. Church, fulfilling its core mission, never leaves us where it finds us but instead refreshes, restores, heals. And although church membership can bring challenges and obligations, these will never diminish the pure sense of God’s love that we feel in church.
Church is not an ancient relic of a different time, but—like the God it represents—is eternally needed, relevant, and healing. As the summit of a high mountain reveals a magnificent vista, Church helps us gain an expansive, awesome view of God and life that lifts us right out of our shoes and sets us on steady ground. It’s on this steady ground that we feel safe, whole, and loved.
Susan Tish, Guest Editorial Writer