Naturally, I took some pictures to show you.
I wanted you to see this spectacular original edifice (below), built in 1894…
…and the extension (2nd photo below), where services were first held in June 1906.
Look at the contrast (3rd photo below) –the late 19th/early 20th century architecture against the modern skyscrapers in the background! But wait — this is not our church.
Really — this is not our church. Yes, it’s the worldwide headquarters of Christian Science, but this is not our church.
You see, our church is a spiritual idea, a mental structure, not one made of stone and marble. Its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, referred to this church as “our prayer in stone.” Don’t you love that?!
Her spiritual view of human experience extended to all aspects of life. Church was no exception. To her, church was not a building but an eternal, indestructible idea. Notwithstanding the beauty and grandeur of the architecture expressed in church buildings common in her day, Mrs. Eddy wrote:
Our proper reason for church edifices is, that in them Christians may worship God, — not that Christians may worship church edifices!
Her unique vision of church as an idea, not a physical structure, appears in the “Glossary” of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:
CHURCH. 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.
Take a moment with me to examine that definition more carefully; there’s a lot there for further contemplation.
Start with “the structure of Truth and Love.” Truth and Love are synonyms for God in Christian Science. So she’s saying that church is made up of these specific divine expressions — for example, integrity, honesty, kindness, compassion, and more.
Further, church isn’t stagnant; by definition, it provides proof that it is useful. That suggests an everyday, ongoing activity, don’t you think?
Church “is found elevating the race.” Wow. That’s pretty powerful, isn’t it? A building obviously can’t lift up the human race, can it? A physical structure can’t raise the level of discourse among people. So real church cannot possibly be housed, or contained, in a building.
And take a careful read through the end of her definition. Is she saying that church does all that? As defined by Mrs. Eddy, church rouses us from a sleepy way of thinking about ourselves as human beings and awakens us to perceive our essential nature as spiritual beings. In this way, she says, church enables us to prove, as Jesus did, that the true man is not a sinner and cannot be sick or die — because the real male and female expressions of man are images of a perfect God, Spirit.
I’ve been pondering this definition since memorizing it as a child, in a Christian Science Sunday school. And yet, just now, as I write this, I am seeing an aspect of this definition that has never occurred to me before — the idea that a lot is invested in this concept called church.
Church is active — alive! I’ll think about this whenever I look at these pictures, which now take on new meaning for me — they are photographs of a stationary, temporary, physical symbol of something that is, in fact, mental, productive, and eternal.