How important is membership in a branch Church of Christ, Scientist? Can't I be just as effective a Christian Scientist without taking this step?
Not too long ago I asked myself these questions. To delay taking any step toward branch church membership, I used the excuse that I was never very long in the same place. But when I had graduated from college and returned home to stay, there was no longer any reason for my not joining a church. Still I delayed, however, and rationalized.
Though I wasn't a member, I argued with myself, I attended Sunday services regularly, the Wednesday evening testimony meetings, and could even give my own testimonies. I had often found peace during a hectic day by spending an hour in a Reading Room supported by a branch church, but I didn't have to be a member of the church to do so. I could read the periodicals and study the Lesson-Sermons in the Christian Science Quarterly and still not be a church member. I could go to the public lectures, where everyone is welcome. And I needn't be a church member in order to help my neighbor or invite him to a service.
Moreover, I didn't need to join a church to be healed. It is the individual's righteous thought, not his association with a church, that brings about healing, I reasoned. Healings through the Christ, Truth, take place continually, without regard to the membership status of the individual. So why join a branch church?
Well, I thought, in a plausible attempt to be fair, perhaps I didn't need the branch church, but maybe it needed me. After all, I didn't want to be selfish. I had considered only how I might benefit and not how I might give. I thought of the verse from the Bible: "Freely ye have received, freely give." Matt. 10:8;
I certainly had received a great deal from a local church—warmth, inspiration, love. But what could I, an insignificant mortal with plenty of faults to overcome and plenty of spiritual progress yet to make, possibly give to the church? The guise of false humility told me I had nothing to offer. So if I couldn't get anything and couldn't give anything, wasn't I just wasting my time by joining the church?
I must say, though, it came as quite a shock to me when I realized that I did in fact have a great deal to give. I saw that by understating my own worth I had actually been dishonoring God, because I was limiting and downgrading His child. I was denying my divine birthright of perfection. The perfect image and likeness of God, whom He declared very good, must reflect Life, Truth, and Love, must express intelligence, vitality, and loving-kindness. Are not these great gifts? Are they not worth giving? Yet I had been claiming I had nothing to give! I reminded myself that Christ Jesus said: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." 5:14-16; Here was the reason I should join my branch church. It was time to let my light shine. Without further delay I joined.
I have found that church membership gives one the opportunity to give, to share, to let that light shine. And the church needs members. Every church needs members in order to function. There are practical, everyday things that must be done, and everyone can do something to help. I joined the church to give, and I've found that each bit of giving reaps multiple rewards. Mrs. Eddy writes, "Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us." Science and Health, p. 79. Nothing has illustrated this to me so vividly as my experience as an active church member.
The question should not be "Why should I become a church member?" but "Why should I remain a nonmember when joining the church can add such depth to my experience and help me grow in my study of Christian Science? Indeed, why should I hesitate to take this step which will let me help forward the Cause of Christian Science, the Cause that is reaching out to bring healing to the world? Following the last lecture my branch church sponsored I was helping distribute some literature. There were many appreciative comments about the lecture. One attentive listener stepped up to me and joyfully exclaimed, "Couldn't you just feel the healing? Wasn't it wonderful?"
She was right. It was wonderful. Hundreds of people had felt the healing touch of Truth, and all because enough people had cared enough about sharing Christian Science to become church members. Had all the members of my church failed to join for reasons like the ones that almost kept me from joining, there wouldn't be a branch church there today. There wouldn't have been a lecture there, and perhaps many in that audience would never have felt the healing power of Truth.
Branch church membership is a way we all can share in the mission of Christian Science to bring the healing power of Truth to humanity. Do we love our fellowmen enough to help in this sharing?