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.
Christian Science in the Christian Community
By Susan Humble
For me, one of the blessings that comes from praying and thinking about my ecumenical work is a desire to be able to answer simply and clearly questions about Christian Science. It’s not about writing out and memorizing a response, but rather a deepening understanding and practice of Christian Science.
Recently, I have been praying about how to share with others my understanding and practice of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, also known by some as Communion or the Lord’s Last Supper. In most churches their celebration of the Eucharist is marked by the sharing of bread and wine by a church official. I have deeply thought about each element of our Communion service and how each one builds to a profound collective and individual moment of close and inspiring communing with God.
Because Christian Science is Christian, most of the questions, and frankly criticisms, are grounded in their view of Mrs. Eddy’s teachings about subjects including God, Jesus Christ, sin, evil, punishment, death, salvation, and our practice of the sacraments. To be able to answer their questions demands that I be alert to what they are really asking, think about what the experience must mean to them, and turning to God for a way to respond. So, here is something that occurred recently that helps me understand the Sacrament of the Eucharist in a way I can share with others.
This past week I was studying the Christian Science Bible Lesson titled “Sacrament.” A friend forwarded an article from the August 2006 Christian Science Journal (a monthly publication of inspirational articles and testimonies of healing) written by Mary Trammell, entitled Sacrament. Here is the link to the article.
Trammell clearly highlights Mrs. Eddy’s understanding of the Eucharist as a “return to original Christian sacrament” (article p.2). “Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God” (Science and Health, p. 3). This Sacrament, the outward sign of our communion with God, is celebrated together in church community.
The order of Communion service in the Christian Science Church, which occurs only twice a year, leads to this pinnacle of communion. The service includes hymns, a solo, both silent and audibly praying the Lord’s prayer, the tenets of The Mother Church, and the Sermon specifically about the Sacrament. Trammell then beautifully describes the time in our Communion service where the congregation is invited “to kneel in silent Communion” (Manual of the Mother Church, by Mary Baker Eddy, p.125-126). We kneel together in prayer and then pray the Lord’s prayer. For the congregation this is “…A poignant and profound Christian experience. Each individual wordlessly, humbly—on bended knee—communes directly with God, in his or her own way” (Trammel article, p. 2).
A powerfully inspirational moment came as I thought about the simplicity of how we kneel, how our hearts are fully open to feeling our oneness with God. No wonder I love and feel loved by God as I rise to my feet after kneeling.
Each time I celebrate the Eucharist in a Christian Science church I feel closer to God, and am grateful for Jesus as the Master Christian. This has been my experience. This is how I understand and celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is what I can share with fellow Christians.
By Shirley Paulson
Christians usually spend the month of December preparing for and thinking about Christmas. It’s the month of Advent, and we consider welcoming the baby Jesus as the promised Messiah. Then Christian Scientists celebrate the sacrament in early January. Now is a good time to step back and think about what this means in our lives.
It might be surprising to some of our readers, but sometimes other Christians discount Christian Science as non-Christian because they think Christian Scientists sound and behave more like New Agers than Christians. Jesus appears to have relatively little importance, because we tend to separate Christ out of Jesus; we talk as if we only need “the Christ”. It helps to listen to our critics sometimes, because in a case like this, it may push us to think more deeply about how we do understand Jesus.
For some time now, I’ve been thinking about how to respond to those who see Christian Science in this way. Here are some ideas that have helped me not only in my conversations with others, but in my heart.
Mary Baker Eddy’s love for Jesus was neither abstract nor buried in theological doctrine. She adored him (see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p.26), and she made no reservation in her equating Jesus with Christ. Consider how often she referred to Christ as ‘he’ rather than ‘it’, for example:
- The followers of Christ drank his cup. (Science and Health p.5:15)
- Why do those who profess to follow Christ reject the essential religion he came to establish? (Science and Health p.27:28-29)
- We need “Christ, and him crucified.” (Science and Health p.39:7-8)
She might have used ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘Christ’ if she had wanted to make a break between the two. But today, I’ve noticed that contemporary Christian Scientists tend to substitute the word Jesus instead of Christ when they talk of these things. We might think, “The followers of Christ drank of Jesus’ cup,” instead of ‘his’ referring to Christ’s cup. Or we might be thinking about “those who profess to follow Jesus” instead of Christ as the ‘he’ who came to establish religion. And finally, we might say to ourselves that we need the crucifixion of Jesus, not the crucifixion of Christ and ‘him’ crucified. These are just a few examples where Mary Baker Eddy specifically uses the term Christ when she refers to something Jesus said or did. ‘He’ is Christ, for her.
This view of how Jesus is more directly perceived as Christ is my post-Christmas gift.
It is true that we need to discern the eternal presence of Christ for our present experience, but when we separate Christ from Jesus, we have lost the deeper meaning of both. We’ve also diminished an aspect of our Christian identity.
The reason for exploring this topic is not to try to make Christian Science look like other Christians to gain their acceptance. Rather, it is essential for Christian Science to distinguish itself more clearly from New Age thinking or theosophy. Mary Baker Eddy was adamantly opposed to any kind of blurring with occult teaching, precisely because Christian Science is Christian. And Christ is more powerful to us when we don’t slip into a separation of Christ from ‘him’.
Maybe you have some more helpful thoughts about this. I’d love to hear, since this is a real conversation in our ecumenical discussions.
By Susie Jostyn
Happy New Year! I invite everyone to add and/or participate in this list of ecumenical goals. Let's work together and learn from each other! Though ecumenism is the focus of this blog, these ideas can be adapted to interfaith relationships as well.
1. Think in increasingly deep, systematic, and healing ways about Christian theological concepts
Over the past year, I’ve gained greater clarity about the interrelated Biblical concepts of God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Ghost, individual man (including all men and women), our larger community, church, and worship. I have a greater appreciation of Mary Baker Eddy’s interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, as well as our participation in baptism, the eucharist, purity, sin, atonement, salvation, etc. I’ve seen more of how each of these concepts and others must be practiced in my daily life, at church, and in the world. I want to continue this deepening process, and to expand my capacity to share these concepts in healing ways. To me this is an essential part of being Christian and engaging with other Christians.
2. Be alert to and grateful for all the ways we’re deeply indebted to others
We owe so much to the Biblical seeking, spiritual maturity, and faithful practice of the many Jews, Gentiles, Christians, and others who came before us. Mrs. Eddy recognized the work of “the most eminent divines” and wrote, “Why I loved Christians of the old sort was I could not help loving them” (My. 32:7). As I study various Bible translations, dictionaries, commentaries, interpretations, and related writings — some of which are carried in Christian Science Reading Rooms — I know that not one Christian could practice or articulate his or her current understanding without the herculean efforts of our theological and denominational predecessors and their communities.
3. Recognize what we share with fellow Christians
Eddy writes, “All Christian churches have one bond of unity, one nucleus or point of convergence, one prayer, — the Lord’s Prayer” (Pul. 22:3) Through prayer, study, healing, and engagement with other Christians, I have an increasing understanding of other elements of our essential, shared core. I do not deny our differences. But recognition of our commonalities enables me to enter into more inspired and constructive conversations about our rich, respective interpretations.
4. Be aware of local, national, and international ecumenical news
I will be compiling and regularly checking a list of newsletters, facebook pages, websites, and so on so that I can stay abreast of what is on the collective Christian community’s mind, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Conservative, Liberal, or otherwise. For example, this year is especially important because of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.
5. Pray for fellow Christians
With a deep love and respect for my fellow Christians, and with a knowledge of what concerns them, I am better equipped to pray for them. My goal is to pray every time I see a church, and every time Christianity is included in any conversation. The world needs every single one of us. The spiritual fact is that we’re all children of God and founded on the rock of Christ, Truth, not alone or separate, but together. My prayer for our greater inspiration, understanding, and faithfulness upholds my own personal study and practice, that of fellow Christian Scientists, and of fellow Christians.
6. Be proactive about having ecumenical conversations
The above preparation will naturally lead to rich ecumenical conversations, whether they happen in my immediate community or online. My goal is to engage proactively and with an open mind, knowing that each person has an individual perspective. My first priority will be to inquire and learn about others’ ideas, and to humbly respond if someone asks about Christian Science. I trust Christ to be present in the midst of us.
7. Plan to regularly attend ecumenical events
I expect ecumenical conversations will arise naturally, but I also plan on regularly attending events (as advertised in the newsletters, etc. mentioned earlier) and thereby increasing the community of Christians with whom I am in dialogue. Not every event may be right for me, but there are a wide variety of potential options including joint prayer and Bible study, partnering on peace walks, joint youth service projects, speaker swaps and panels, congregational meetups, religious neighborhood tours, book clubs, and so on.
What are your goals, ideas, and experiences? I'd love to hear, all throughout the year on the Circle of Faith Facebook group.
By Madelon Maupin
For the 2.2 billion people who self-identify as Christians worldwide, the story of Jesus’ birth — celebrated this holy week — is one of the most treasured and profound aspects of Christ Jesus’ life. Christians, constituting almost one-third of the world’s population, are diverse geographically, politically, culturally and in theological beliefs. Yet they share the profound reality of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and thus stand on the shoulders of those who have also put Christ at the center of their lives for the past 2000 years.
For those committed to appreciating and understanding the many denominations dwelling under the inclusive umbrella of Christianity, the account of magi venturing from afar to acknowledge Jesus’ birth sheds special insight. Matthew’s gospel alone tells of these wise travelers from Media who were probably Zoroastrian priests, as explained by Herodotus in his “History” i,101. Matthew writes:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage (Matt 2:1, NRSV).
Described by some Bible dictionaries as ‘fire-priests’ of Median origin, these magi espoused beliefs that Jews in Babylonian captivity learned of centuries before. Some were in keeping with Israel’s history, such as that of one supreme God. The Zoroastrians also believed in a savior who would establish his kingdom of righteousness. Perhaps this is what prompted these wise men to leave their homeland and travel first to Herod to inquire about the star that guided them across the miles to Palestine, and then to the Bethlehem manger.
These early venturers are my role model this Christmas season. Their spiritual seeking ranked above personal comfort and convenience. They earned their 'wise' designation because they responded to a heavenly sign (the star) and then navigated the political waters adeptly when Herod summoned them. These Persian priests were honest in stating their reasons for coming to Herod’s land. But they were also alert to discern Herod’s ulterior motives: to learn the exact location of the promised Messiah's birth in order to destroy him. Matthew’s account explains that a later dream warned the magi to directly return to their homeland rather than inform Herod. They were obedient and Jesus survived to fulfill his mission.
What joy these travelers had when their work paid off. Their longing to find the Savior was fulfilled “when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage” (Matt. 2:11).
These early role models – dressed so differently, speaking a foreign tongue, coming from such a dissimilar culture—are not so unlike some of my Christian friends today whose views of this central figure of human history are different than my own. But what we share is so much larger than our differences: a love of this baby who would grow up to lead humanity out of darkness into the light of the Almighty God’s loving presence. Jesus’ short three-year ministry would reveal, through healing and teaching, a spiritual kingdom that reigned right where the physical evidence argued for immorality, leprosy, paralysis, palsy and even death.
So this Christmas season, let’s say an extra prayer of thanks for the wise men and women everywhere who continue seeking the light of Christ that can never be extinguished, lived so fully through our common Savior, Christ Jesus.
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
- Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work by Brian Talcott
- Opening closed doors by Maryl Walters
- Invitation to worship by Kristin Jamerson
- What Christian Scientists Believe (Video) by Madelon Maupin, Brian Talcott, Eric Nelson
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)
Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest
Responding to common questions
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)