Circle of Faith

Ecumenical and interfaith ideas

"The truth is the centre of all religion," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. Here, you'll find ideas that honor that center, the "circle of faith" of which we're all a part. We hope they are helpful as you listen and contribute to the healing dialogue going on between faiths worldwide.


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Christian Science in the Christian Community


Herman Harmelink

Rev. Herman Harmelink III, Vice-President for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, ICCC

This post is another in the series, ‘Who are our Christian neighbors?’ As explained in our blog of 8/31/17, we want to seek and appreciate the treasures of our fellow Christians. Some of them we know very little about, and others may be more familiar to us. But the more we listen to their own voices, the more we understand and benefit from the gifts all of our Christians ‘relatives’ bring to the Christian family. Whether we strongly agree or strongly disagree with some aspects of their Christian teachings, we can seek the voice of Christ in each communion and make a welcome space for the traditions and beliefs most foreign to us.  

Herman Harmelink, a friend and Ecumenical Officer of the International Council of Community Churches (ICCC), shares this overview of the communion that he represents at the National Council of Churches and all the other ecumenical bodies in the US. He has visited The Mother Church and the Board of Directors a couple of times, and he always mentions the things he especially appreciates about our Church whenever he visits. Thank you, Herman!


 There are three main types of churches called "Community Church.". The first is a denominational church which calls itself a community church to broaden its appeal. At times they will include a denominational name, as in "Community Methodist Church.". The second is the totally independent congregation, often led by a self-ordained minister. These congregations tend to be fundamentalist and highly critical of any tradition other than their own. The third type is a congregation which values its autonomy, but also wishes to be connected to the wider Christian world. These congregations belong to the ICCC.

The ICCC had its origins in the community church movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In both rural and urban areas, there were communities where there were not enough people of any particular denomination to establish a strong congregation, but if the community leaders pooled their personal and financial resources, they could have one strong congregation. One such movement developed in primarily black communities, and a similar movement took place in white communities. In 1950 the two movements united into a single communion, the International Council of Community Churches. Since then the movement has spread to many other countries in Europe and Africa.

The ICCC refers to itself as a communion, not a denomination, because it considers itself post-denominational. It does not have any doctrinal requirements for membership, though as a member church of Churches Uniting in Christ it does consider its theological stance to be in broad agreement with that of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. Most member congregations would be considered progressive, though some are conservative. A great variety of liturgies are used; some congregations are under the care of bishops, others are not. The ICCC may adopt statements on various subjects at its Annual Conference, but they speak for congregations only if the congregations also adopt them.

The ICCC, itself formed by an ecumenical impulse, is a member of a number of ecumenical agencies: The World Council of Churches, The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Christian Churches Together, Church World Service, and Churches Uniting in Christ. It also participates in the various interfaith dialogues sponsored by the NCC.

A favorite quotation within the ICCC has sometimes been erroneously attributed to St. Augustine, but more likely arose among peace-making Reformed and Lutheran pastors during the Thirty Years War in Germany in the 17th century: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

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By Madelon Maupin, MTS

Dr. Shirley Paulson and Madelon Maupin

Photo Left: Dr. Shirley Paulson and Madelon Maupin. Photo right: The former Chrystal Cathedral, now Christ Cathedral, Garden Grove CA.

This past week offered an opportunity for ecumenical fellowship with a national group of Christians, new to the Christian Science church and its representatives:  Christian Churches Together (CCT).  Gathering in Garden Grove (Orange County), CA for their 2017 Annual Meeting, the organization’s mission states:  “Out of the process of growing together, CCT participants discern how and when to take action together in common witness to our society.” 

 Made up of Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, Evangelical Covenant Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and many others, it was a rich experience to meet Christians who focus much on inclusivity, their mutual love for God and Jesus, and addressing societal issues such as racism, without flinching.  In fact, one of the speakers on race relations declared, "The church is the only hope for healing racism." 

I wondered about the difference between the National Council of Churches (NCC) and this organization and had candid answers from those who have been involved in both groups through the years.  Although CCT began shortly after 9/11, they seem ‘less institutional’ than NCC, to several who explained the difference. Focused on discipleship and action, their motto states:  “Growing together in Christ; acting together in common witness.” Also, CCT is able to be more inclusive since they include Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. Another difference is that the long history of NCC includes its historical relationship with Faith & Order and Life Works (which is why they focus on advocacy). 

Especially interesting was meeting at the former “Crystal Cathedral”, founded by the late Rev. Robert Schuller who began his weekly “Hour of Power” television program from this location in 1970.  In 2012 the Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the property where the diocese will have its new cathedral.

One of the earliest activities of the CCT meeting involved a walk to each of the ten “stations of mercy”, consisting of powerful bronze statues of Biblical figures and statements of mercy in the areas of justice, comfort, forgiveness, and one dedicated to healing the sick. While these were built under Rev. Schuller's leadership, they fit well into the mission of the Diocese.

There were opportunities to worship and pray together as well as hear how some try to address the issue of racism through their Christian faith. Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon spoke to the assembled representatives on current church unity efforts in the United States, reminding us that the unity of the church is not a human achievement but a gift of God.

 I left the two days with deep gratitude for all the selfless work going on to help refugees, the disadvantaged and homeless, and those who are hungry. As we become more aware of others’ commitments in these areas they inspire our own desires to pray more deeply for the needs of our neighbor and support as we are led to do what a poem by Mary Baker Eddy invites: "Feed the hungry, heal the heart, Till the morning’s beam; White as wool, ere they depart, Shepherd, wash them clean (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 398)."

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 By Shirley Paulson, CS, Ph.D.

Divine Love meets every human need! That’s a comforting but also quite challenging thought that comes from a quote by Mary Baker Eddy (see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 494). It’s a comforting promise, but people often wonder if or how that could be possible. One way to look at it is that Love (as a synonym for God) meets human needs with thoughts. All human needs — from hunger to homelessness and from fear to frustration — are met with just the right thought.

Every year in the Fall, one way we in the U.S. have a chance to witness the idea of feeding the hungry spring into action is through the work of CROP Hunger Walks. The idea began in 1947 to help Midwest farm families in the U.S. to share their grain with those who were hungry in post-World War II Europe and Asia. The acronym, ‘Christian Rural Overseas Program’ is now outgrown, but the idea of helping to eradicate hunger is still active and successful. The program is still under the wing of Church World Service with local offices throughout the country, and it is still guided by the idea of connecting those who are able and willing to help with those who are hungry.

Thoughts turn into action in a variety of ways. Another example may be found in Jesus’ parable known as ‘The Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37), which offers a timeless example of love meeting human needs. In response to a lawyer’s question about who he is supposed to love, Jesus tells a story of a man unjustly beaten and in need of help. A Samaritan from a foreign culture discovers the beaten man along the roadside and has compassion - an idea impelled by love - and he stops to care for the wounded man’s needs until they are met.

Some actions that result from the idea of the CROP Hunger Walk include 1) education about the issues related to hunger around the world; 2) local offices organizing local fundraising events; 3) ecumenical and interfaith groups of people uniting in their prayer and participation; 4) individuals seeking financial support for their walking together on a specified day in the community; 5) money distributed both locally and internationally through Church World Service.

Chances are that if you live in the U.S., you may have heard of the CROP Hunger Walks in your community. They have been growing steadily since they began in 1947 to more than 2,000 communities across the U.S. According to the CROP Hunger Walk website, over 5 million walkers have participated over the past two decades. We are also hearing an increasing number of reports from Christian Scientists who are joining their local faith communities in walking with them.

Each church or faith community brings a particular gift to this loving effort to care for those who are hungry. Some Christian Science churches have given public lectures focusing on the spiritual laws that break through the cycles of hunger. The students of one Sunday School reported how the classes worked together to study the issues related to hunger, searched for ideas from the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and prayed; then they shared their prayers through posters, stories, and meeting with the adults in their church. The Reading Room prepared other resources for study and prayer for the whole community. And they joined in the fundraising walk with other faith groups in the community.

If Love is inspiring you to take action, check online for the CROP Hunger Walk date in your community. They differ across the country. Or if your community does not have an organized Walk planned, let us know what idea Love is providing for you to act upon!

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This post marks the first in the series, ‘Who are our Christian neighbors?’ As explained in our blog of 8/31/2017, we want to seek and appreciate the treasures of our fellow Christians. Some of them we know very little about, and others may be more familiar to us. But the more we listen to their own voices, the more we understand and benefit from the gifts all of our Christians ‘relatives’ bring to the Christian family. Whether we strongly agree or strongly disagree with some aspects of their Christian teachings, we can seek the voice of Christ in each communion and make a welcome space for the traditions and beliefs most foreign to us.

Hermann Weinlick, a friend and Ecumenical Officer of the Northern Moravians, shared this with me when one of our blog readers asked who the Moravians are. Her question sparked our interest in providing the whole series of getting to know our fellow Christians better. Shirley Paulson asked Hermann if he could give us a brief overview. He says this is an informal response, but he wanted to share with us. Thank you, Hermann!


In the centuries before Luther set off the Reformation, there were numerous proponents of reform/renewal movements in the European church, most prominently Francis of Assisi. Among these was Jan Hus (1370-1415) in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Around 1457 a group inspired by Hus broke from the Roman Catholic Church and formed their own group, called Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren). This primarily rural, pacifist group determined to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. In the 1530s they voted to allow wealthy people to join their congregations. 

After some initial numerical success, in the 1500s they became caught in the political-religious struggles after the Reformation and continued to exist only as an underground movement, primarily in what is now Poland. 

In 1720 some of this remnant found political refuge and new life in what is now the southeastern corner of Germany, east of Dresden, on the estate of Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran nobleman drawn to pietism, primarily a movement for members of government-supported churches to take personal ownership of their faith and church. Zinzendorf, who became the patron and leader of the church, had a passion for taking good news of God’s love in Jesus to far corners of the world, initially slaves in the West Indies. Initially a renewal group and mission society within the German Lutheran state churches, in other places the Moravians soon came to function as a denomination.  The desire to do mission work among Native Americans brought them to what is now the US in 1735. 

Pacifists through their early history, this aspect of their life was somehow lost in the early 1800s. 

Moravian theology, expressed primarily not in theological writings but in hymnody, has been strongly Jesus-centered. Traditionally we have stressed Jesus more than God the Father or the Holy Spirit. Because we understand faith as relational, it is easier to relate to the concrete God-man of Nazareth. We have many hymns and prayers directed to Jesus; many Christians prefer to address the first person of the Trinity or insist on saying Christ rather than Jesus. This Moravian distinctiveness is gradually being lost, I think. 

We have almost no tradition of dissent and division (we are not Baptists!). [Editorial note: There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Baptist denominations globally. Baptists are often the first to acknowledge the need to strive for ecumenical unity.] 

To secular historians the most important Moravian is John Amos Comenius, a Moravian bishop and educational reformer of the 1600s. 

Moravians now number worldwide about 1.25 million, the great majority in sub-Sahara Africa. In the US there are about 40,000 Moravians. About 15% are of color, mostly in New York City or Miami areas, almost entirely persons with Moravian roots in the Caribbean or Central America. The only place with any real concentration is Winston-Salem, NC. We have only one US congregation west of Fargo, ND.

We are a mainline denomination today: following the lectionary, worship somewhere between liturgical Lutheran and Episcopalians and lower-church traditions, baptizing children, observing the Lord's Supper from 6-12 times a year depending on the congregation. We maintain a theological seminary (which has a few Muslim and Buddhist students) and require persons attending other seminaries but seeking Moravian ordination to do at least one year there. We generally are in the middle theologically. We have been active members of NCC, WCC, and local ecumenical entities, but with less tradition of advocacy then many other groups. We have ordained women since 1975 (although we ordained them in the 1700s and then become more conservative). In the US we have two provinces (equal to diocese or presbytery) headquartered in Bethlehem, PA, and Winston-Salem, NC, both started in colonial America, a division for geographical convenience dating to 1753. We have a common seminary, publication office, and mission board. The North voted in 2014 to allow ordination of openly gay persons.

The center of Moravian identity through the last two centuries has been mission work around the world. With the end of political colonialism and the independence of former mission fields, we struggle to find a new focus.

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By the Circle of Faith team 

It’s a common tendency to draw closer to those who share similar religious beliefs and to distance ourselves from those whose beliefs are contrary to our own. The ecumenical movement helps all of us sort out our relation to both the differences and similarities we find in other Christian denominations, or traditions.

Sometimes in our enthusiasm for discovering similarities, we brush over differences as if they have no meaning. We hope our closer re

Stained glass of Christian cross

latives will soon be ‘just like us,’ and we can share the depth of what speaks deeply to us. On the other hand, when we discover others whose beliefs appear to undermine the very things we hold most dear, we tend to dismiss everything else they have to say. We’re tempted to hold all their customs and Biblical interpretations in the cloud of suspicion.

Neither reaction is helpful in our commitment to demonstrate the oneness of Christ, which is the purpose of ecumenism. What Christians do have in common is a mutual love of Christ. They see in Jesus the promise of God’s kingdom, and they strive to follow him the best they can. Even when Christians identify Jesus differently, focus on very different aspects of his teachings, or even hold contrasting views of the purpose of religion, we can admit the value of others who strive to follow Jesus.

Each denomination (‘tradition’, or ‘communion’) brings a unique and beautiful gift to the whole Christian picture. If that were not so, they would have no followers. The followers of different traditions have found something that has touched them, or they would not continue to follow them. Those treasures are worth paying attention to. We need to listen to what they offer and understand them. While they may never become our most desired gems, they do teach us something about the meaning of Christianity for the world. Our own treasures bring focus where others may have overlooked something, and our gifts - like all gifts - are contributions that benefit others.

When we listen for the Christ-treasure in each voice, we will avoid the extremes of wholesale dismissal of all differences, big or little. Our gifts and their gifts will continue to be distinct and beautiful just as they are.

Our Circle of Faith blog is introducing a series in September that will give us a closer look at some of these gifts. We are asking adherents of a number of Christian traditions to share their gifts with us, and we’ll look at them one at a time. Please be prepared to welcome their gifts, as we hope their gifts will inspire you to offer yours to others as well.

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How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?

The Committee for Ecumenical Affairs works under the auspices of the Committee on Publication, and is engaged in ‘correcting in a Christian manner’ the misconceptions of Christian Science, particularly within the Christian community. Ecumenical team activities include writing pieces that appear on christianscience.com and articles for The Christian Science Journal and Christian Science Sentinel, and participating in ecumenical conferences, meetings, and organizations such as the National Council of Churches.

What is ecumenism?

Ecumenism is a worldwide movement among Christians to promote unity between Christian churches or denominations (or ‘communions’) in response to Jesus’ prayer that we be one (John 17:21). It recognizes the body of Christ in its entirety, learning to understand the ways, values, and communications styles of our fellow Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is vibrant and respectful, welcoming the gifts of others, while maintaining the integrity and purpose of each Christian faith tradition.

Why should Christian Scientists participate?

The ongoing dialogue with Christian leaders, clergy, and religion educators allows everyone to grasp better the idea exactly why Christian Science is Christian.

All churches and denominations are concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideas and practice of religion, and the ecumenical dialogue respects that integrity in others. It is with a spirit of humility that Christians value one another's faith and service to the common cause of Christianity. As we learn from others, we often find ourselves learning to appreciate and articulate better our own denominational roots. We have the opportunity to cultivate bonds of love and dispel misunderstandings. Ecumenism is one of many ways to practice active Christianity.

One of the most compelling reasons Christian Scientists have become ecumenically involved is that other Christians have been asking for us to participate in the greater dialogue and especially to explain and share our unique gifts more widely.

Talking to other Christians about Christian Science

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful ecumenical engagement can be the language we use. Every church or denomination has its own jargon, which can be baffling or unwittingly offensive to others. Without understanding the language, culture, and history of others, we often find ourselves trying to share our most precious ideas only to discover they mean something entirely different to our listeners. With love for others, we make the effort to learn their Christian ‘language’ in order to communicate the greatest depth of thought. Just as we maintain our own culture and identity when we learn a foreign language, we also maintain the identity of Christian Science while we learn the Christian practices and theology of others.

Prayer and insights about ecumenical engagement

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)   


Resources relevant to Christian Science in Christian relationships

Bibliography for ecumenical topics
Download (PDF file; 178.9 kB)
Christian Scientists and Bible translations
Download (PDF file; 341.1 kB)
Current status with the NCC USA
Download (PDF file; 87.1 kB)
How to talk theology with other Christians: resonance, dissonance, and non-sonance
Download (PDF file; 449.3 kB)
Massachusetts Council of Churches — constructive conflict in Ecumenical contexts
Download (PDF file; 426.6 kB)
World Council of Churches (WCC), 1979-1989 Study: Healing and Wholeness
Download (PDF file; 551.2 kB)

Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest

A video about Mary Baker Eddy narrated by Robert Duvall


Responding to common questions

God as Mother?
Download (PDF file; 186.6 kB)
The role of Mary Baker Eddy
Download (PDF file; 146.9 kB)
Did Jesus really die on the cross?
Download (PDF file; 106.5 kB)

Ecumenical activities for you!

Christian unity gathering
Download (PDF file; 81.8 kB)
CROP Hunger Walk
Download (PDF file; 122.1 kB)
Ecumenical advocacy days
Download (PDF file; 109.8 kB)
National workshop on Christian unity (2017)
Download (PDF file; 141.9 kB)
North American Academy of Ecumenists (US and Canada)
Download (PDF file; 93.4 kB)
2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Download (PDF file; 5.9 MB)

Interviews

An interview with Dr. Eben Alexander
Download (PDF file; 85.4 kB)

Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (YouTube video)

Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue (in The Christian Science Journal)

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