Readers in Christian Science Churches
From the time of Moses, there have been public readers and expounders of the sacred Scriptures, selected obviously for their spiritual qualities. In the book of Deuteronomy it is written that "Moses commanded them, saying, ... When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together ... that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law." In Joshua, also, we are told that "there was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not." In Nehemiah it is related that Ezra read the law, and also "Jeshua, and Bani ... read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." In the gospel of Luke we learn that Jesus went to the synagogue and, calling for the book of Esaias, "stood up for to read." The Revelator declared him to be "blessed ... that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy."
Accordingly, when, in 1895, Mrs. Eddy ordained the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" to be the Pastor of the Christian Science church, and provided for Readers to conduct the services in all Churches of Christ, Scientist, reading from these books, she followed well-established precedent in the custom adopted in the long ago by the spiritual leaders of Israel, even by the Founder of Christianity himself.
Our Leader has left no doubt as to the importance she attached to the duties of Reader, and, consequently, she safeguarded the office by many wise provisions. Of the qualifications for positions in Churches of Christ, Scientist, she spoke with definiteness. In Science and Health, under the marginal heading, "The trust of the All-wise," she says (p. 455): "God selects for the highest service one who has grown into such a fitness for it as renders any abuse of the mission an impossibility. The All-wise does not bestow His highest trusts upon the unworthy. When He commissions a messenger, it is one who is spiritually near Himself." May we not conclude that Mrs. Eddy regarded the selection of Readers and others to fill important church offices as purely problems of demonstration on the part of church members, whereby God's bestowal would be made manifest? Obviously, into such choice, based solely upon spiritual qualities, there should enter no element of personal popularity or mere friendship. The "Rule for Motives and Acts" (Manual, Art. VIII, Sect. 1) is a perfect guide to right action in this situation. How completely would the high standard set by Mrs. Eddy be defeated by "campaigning" for the election of Readers in branch churches! But, relying wholly upon the manifestation of divine Mind in the exemplification of God's government of His universe, Christian Scientists wisely leave this important selection with divine Principle, assured that the one spiritually best fitted—that is, nearest to Himself—will be chosen, providing the members are thinking rightly.
Moreover, is it not perfectly clear that only one spiritually prepared is equal to the work of a Reader? What greater disservice could be manifested toward an individual than to elect him either because of pleasing personal qualities or for any reason of popularity to an office for which he is not spiritually prepared? Christian Scientists familiar with the affairs of branch churches entertain no doubt as to the unsatisfactory results from raising a person to an exalted office before he is spiritually qualified to meet the demands of the position. From experience—"the great teacher"—it has been learned that only through prayerful consideration can the wise choice be made.
When it is recalled that in no small degree the success of the church services depends upon the preparedness of the Readers, the great wisdom of our Leader in carefully safeguarding this office is seen. Truly, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Out of the understanding of the letter and the spirit of Christ's Christianity must come that fullness which pronounces the healing message of Love in accents that comfort, regenerate, and renew. In that sweetly inspiring communication to a First Reader in "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany" (p. 247), Mrs. Eddy gently sets forth the possibilities and responsibilities of the office. She says: "God has called you to be a fisher of men. It is not a stern but a loving look which brings forth mankind to receive your bestowal,—not so much eloquence as tender persuasion that takes away their fear, for it is Love alone that feeds them."
In the Church Manual, Mrs. Eddy with rare insight has indicated the qualifications of Readers, and their responsibility as well to perform their duties in an acceptable manner. Without in any wise minimizing the necessity for individual demonstration, their duties are definitely stated, so that a Reader, obeying the Manual, does not exceed his authority by too greatly extending the field of his activities. Very significant words as to the high demands made upon Readers are to be found in Article III, Section 1, of the Manual under the heading, "Moral Obligations," where Mrs. Eddy says of the Readers, "They must keep themselves unspotted from the world,—uncontaminated with evil,—that the mental atmosphere they exhale shall promote health and holiness, even that spiritual animus so universally needed." If this were the only pronouncement upon the subject, would not members of branch churches find in these words of our Leader proof of the lofty ideals she maintained for the conduct of our church services? What is more important to our Cause than that Christian Scientists recognize that the election of Readers should be the occasion for the exercise of one's highest spiritual understanding, to insure the choice of those fully qualified to perform the sacred duties entailed in this office? Does not the responsibility rest upon all alike to lay aside personal consideration in this service of the Christ-idea?Albert F. Gilmore.