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Gathering together in Church without boundaries

From the Christian Science Sentinel - October 22, 2020


Whether we realize it or not, Church is healing us. More than a building or a body of persons, the idea of true Church is founded in God’s goodness and transforming love, and it is all-inclusive, embracing everyone everywhere.

Consider how the world’s people have a vast number of individual faces. Church can also have many “faces” and manifestations. A church certainly can be a group of committed individuals with a common love of God who enjoy meeting in person to share their spiritual growth, explore divine inspiration, and support one another. Jesus described such a church in this way: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). 

While church buildings and members organized so as to work efficiently together in service to God and mankind certainly continue to be exceedingly relevant, are there other approaches to gathering together in Christ’s name? Lately, people have been gathering in online church events, readily feeling empowered and inspired by the Christ, Truth, that is shining so brightly “in the midst of them.” An online church service or testimony meeting, Sunday School class or lecture, hymn sing or live podcast, can embody all of the substance and spirit of any in-person gathering.

While church buildings and members organized in service to God and mankind continue to be exceedingly relevant, there are other approaches to gathering in Christ’s name.

But church can be a much less formal activity, too. In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, defines Church in this insightful way: “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle. 

“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” (p. 583).

Since there are no boundaries to the spiritual structure of infinite Love, Principle, and Truth (biblically based synonyms for God), no one is ever on the outside of Church—of the healing, comforting presence of God.

Suppose you were walking down a street or shopping in a store, and you recognized God’s love and goodness in someone. Maybe you even talked for a moment together, rejoicing in God’s presence. Would that count as church? Remember Jesus’ criteria: “where two or three are gathered together in my name.”

If the encounter is defined by the power, intelligence, and presence of God enfolding you both, then it’s more than just a pleasant exchange of human friendliness. And yes, it can count as church. A change of heart can result from this kind of encounter—one that heals and transforms. 

I cherish one such exchange I had when I was at a busy airport. I was going up in an elevator just packed with people. I saw the person squished next to me turn pale and heard her whisper, “Claustrophobia.” As the doors closed, I took her hand and whispered back, “I am praying for you.” When we got to our floor and it was time to exit, she looked happy. I asked, “Better?” “Much,” she said, smiling.

Did that count as church? Yes: “The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race . . .” Church’s utility was proved to us both because we now felt so empowered by what God provides for everyone.

We don’t want to miss opportunities for Church—for responding to someone’s silent call for aid.

We don’t want to miss opportunities for Church, as Jesus’ disciples did when they were all walking through a dense crowd (see Luke 8:43–48). Feeling the yearning of someone who needed his prayer, Jesus surprised his disciples by asking, “Who touched me?” Then a woman who had been hemorrhaging was cured quickly and permanently by Jesus. “And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.”

Because Jesus was thoroughly tuned in to God’s loving presence and was ready to serve others, he did not miss the woman’s silent call for aid. That certainly is Church in action, “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.”

Whether “two or three are gathered” in an elevator, a store, a park, a building, on the phone, or online, it’s helpful to recognize what an important aspect of church spiritual growth is. In our spiritual journeys, we discover new, deeper ways to be more Godlike, loving, and patient. An individual may attend church to be healed, to be freed of fear, to help a friend or family member, or maybe even without realizing it, to be healed of a sin. The last may require extra patience and love on the part of fellow members. 

Say someone in the group is occasionally judgmental—critical enough to drive others away from church. Uninvited judgment doesn’t build affection within church any more than outside of it. But Church isn’t a precarious social gathering. We can trust the spiritual strength of Truth and Love in action to not only cure but also reform. The great, healing power of the Christ is behind every church meeting, because “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Yes, right in the midst of destructive judgment and criticism—or of illness, lack, fear, or sadness—the cleansing power of the Christ, Truth, is in operation. Our prayer can acknowledge this power, respond to it, and patiently let it do its transforming work that both uplifts thought above sinful characteristics and heals sickness.

“Gather the people before me so they may hear my words,” says the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:10, International Standard Version). We can be so humbly grateful that Church—the everywhere-present structure and action of Truth and Love—in whatever form it takes and wherever we find it, is certainly healing us.

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