Delivered by George Moffett, September 1998
I would like to share a few thoughts on a subject that’s been on my mind for the past year and which I committed to paper early this summer. This will undoubtedly be the most important subject I will ever have the privilege of addressing from this podium.
Last spring, one of you – a student – asked me an interesting question. “As you look back on two years at Principia,” this student asked, “what stands out to you most?” Well, it was a fair question and I guess I could have answered it any number of ways. Here’s how I did answer it: The moments that have made the deepest impression on me have been moments in the Chapel. I think my greatest single delight has been in sharing with some of you the experience of a Sunday church service or Tuesday testimony meeting or Sunday hymn sing – and, of course, Sunday School. There’s something about those moments together in the Chapel that to me, at least, gets to the essence of what we’re about here, and it is this that prompts some brief comment today on the subject of church.
Let me be as simple about it as I can be: Not a lot of you avail yourself of these moments by going to church. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations last year, maybe a quarter of you on Tuesdays, perhaps more on Sundays. I surmise that this reflects what’s common in this age: the pull of competing activities; the need to compensate for our hyperactive schedules by sleeping in on Sunday mornings; or maybe, just maybe, something more basic – the feeling that, somehow, church, the institution of church, is irrelevant to the lives we lead in the late 20th century. It’s this last one that interests me the most because I think it’s a very pervasive thought just now in our culture and even in our movement.
To put your minds at ease, I’m not about to launch into a sermon on the evils of missing church. But I can’t quite escape the feeling that if you leave here knowing a lot about chemistry or computers or sociology or history but not comprehending the crucial importance of Mrs. Eddy’s church – if we’ve not tried at least to elucidate the reasons why it’s crucial, both in your individual life and for the world – then you won’t have gotten your $20,000 worth of education at Principia this year.
This is an important subject because the math is so incredibly simple: If everyone stops going to church there won’t be any Christian Science church, and if there is no Christian Science church then the world – as Mrs. Eddy herself once predicted – is likely to lapse into centuries more of the kind of darkness and vulnerability to untoward circumstances that followed the career of Christ Jesus and preceded the discovery of Christian Science.
Here’s a scenario to think about. Someday soon you’ll graduate from Principia. You’ll take a computer job in Orange County, or a teaching job in Wichita, or an advertising job in New York. And one of your first Sundays there you’re going to walk into a Christian Science church. If it’s like many Christian Science churches these days its membership may be small; not a lot of the members will be your contemporaries; it may have only a tiny Sunday School. At that very point you’re going to have to make one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life.
Here are the choices. One is to say: “This place is dead; there’s no one here my age; I’m out of here.” The other is to say: “Whatever the appearance, this church can be – and in reality is – a vehicle for such profound good for me, the community, and the world that it deserves my 173 percent support.” Whatever choice you make, be clear that the Christian Science branch churches around the world, including the one in your neighborhood, are the world’s bulwark because they are the only institutions in the world capable of preserving and perpetuating what is entirely true, what heals, what redeems from sickness and sadness and sensualism.
Mrs. Eddy was never one to be shy about the implications of the church she founded. “The church,” she said, “more than any other institution, at present is the cement of society….”1 The “cement of society.” That’s an extraordinary statement. One wonders what would happen to the foundations of society if that cement were removed.
I remember when I worked at the White House some years ago I would drive to church on Wednesday evenings straight from work. I always knew that I was driving to, not from, the most important place in Washington, and that the church service I was going to was the most important single event going on in Washington, along, of course, with all the other Christian Science church services.
Now, let me engage in a little mind reading. I think I know a couple of things you may be thinking about all of this. One is: “I can do fine without church, thank you. I have my books and I can be an active, practicing Christian Scientist on my own without getting involved with church services.”
You might be interested that, at first, Mrs. Eddy herself didn’t think she wanted an organized church to support her discovery. But eventually she realized that it was crucial, partly because she began to see that Christian Scientists operating outside the framework of church so frequently went off the track. One of her biographers writes, “Too many neophytes, attracted to her teachings but unwilling to accept the disciplines … of any valid Christian commitment, were choosing to ‘go it alone.’ As a result, they were ending up as advocates of personalized versions of Christian Science that were neither Christian nor scientific – distortions that were dangerous to the public, misleading to honest inquirers for truth, and fatal to their promoters’ own spiritual growth.”2
Mrs. Eddy herself put it this way: “. . . I learned that nothing but organization would save this cause of mankind and protect it from the devouring disorganizers.”3 In short, she came to understand that an established church was essential to avoid the kind of materialization of Christianity that preceded her church and that diluted the power to save and heal.
Here’s another reservation I’ve heard some of you express about church. It runs like this: “I’m not perfect, so going to church makes me feel like a hypocrite.”
I guess there are two ways to think about this one. I think we need to be honest about it. This can be a convenient excuse for those of you who really don’t want to go to church. But if you honestly do worry about going to church because you’re not a perfect Christian Scientist, then I have terrific news for you: You’re precisely who church is for. It’s for all of us who are striving to reach perfection, and all of us have a long way to go. We’re in church to support each other, wherever we may be along the road of spiritual growth. Christ Jesus didn’t dine with the Pharisees, as a rule. He dined with the poor in spirit who wanted to be richer in spirit.
Now let me ask you to consider this. One day, you will heal with the facility of the Master. Let that sink in for a moment. Someday, sooner or later, here or hereafter, each one of us will express such an abundant measure of spiritual power that we will be able to heal the sick and raise the dead, just like Christ Jesus did. It’s inevitable. That’s where all of us will end up. So why not start now? Our devotion to church will have a great deal to do with the speed of our progress in this direction.
I know a remarkable man who was deaf until he reached young adulthood, when he was healed. For many years afterward he was a Christian Science lecturer. For some reason I was prompted to ask him one day whether he had ever known of any other healings of deafness. I’ll never forget his response – or mine.
His response was: “Oh yes, a number of people have been healed of deafness during my lectures.”
My response, I’m a little embarrassed to say, was momentary surprise. My first thought was: “Wow, that’s truly amazing. People went there deaf, some presumably for a lifetime, and walked out completely healed.” My second thought was: “But of course. This is what should always happen at a Christian Science church service or lecture.” This is the point. Every life should be thoroughly transformed in a Christian Science church because every word read from the desk at a Christian Science church is invested with divine power to heal, through the transformation of human thought.
As I continued to think about it, I was struck that all those people even went to a Christian Science lecture in the first place. This wasn’t a video show they were going to, it was a lecture. It was sound. The spoken word. And they were deaf – at least to mortal sense. And they came! What does this say about their frame of mind? What does this say about the incredible level of expectation they brought to those lectures? And what does this say about the frame of mind we need to go into every church service with every Sunday and every Tuesday or Wednesday?
I was also struck that the words that healed those people did not have to be heard through the human senses. It was the power of the Christ that was at work at those lectures and it operated wholly without help from human ears. This should be the norm. Christian Science does heal. Not one person should ever leave a Christian Science church service untouched by the Truth that brings about this kind of healing.
A teacher of Christian Science I know says that every time she finishes a Christian Science treatment – to remind you, treatment is bringing prayer to bear on some specific problem that needs healing – every time she finishes a treatment she demands results. She demands results! By that she means that she mentally insists that her treatment has been effective; has changed her thought in some needed way; has made a deep imprint on consciousness; and therefore has destroyed the error that was at the root of the problem that needed healing.
Well, there’s a lesson here. We need to do the same thing at the end of every Christian Science church service – and before and during, for that matter. We can and must know that the Truth read from the desk has had, is having, and will have a powerful, irresistible, wholly salutary influence on every person at that service. That that service has not left one member of the congregation untouched.
As you can see, going to church is not a passive experience. Each one of us has to bring to church services what we want to take from them.
Let’s be clear about something here. If you’re asking, “What’s in it for me to go to church?” then, with all due respect, I think you’re asking the wrong question. There obviously is something in it for you, namely, a measure of spiritual growth that would be unattainable without church. But even if this weren’t the case there is still this – that we are among the tiniest fraction of humanity that even knows about Christian Science, that has access to and can share the insights that will save mankind. Church needs us because mankind needs Christian Science. Let me say that once more: Church needs us because mankind needs Christian Science. Christ Jesus didn’t do his work for himself. He did it for mankind. It was a commitment of towering unselfishness. And for all the rest of us he had this reminder: “Freely ye have received, freely give.”4
There’s a remarkable story in Matthew that I know you’re familiar with. It was in the Lesson recently. Christ Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and is handed a scroll containing the book of Isaiah. And in front of a rapt audience, he reads – and I’ll paraphrase here slightly:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me:
- to heal the broken-hearted;
- to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind;
- to set at liberty them that are bruised – not just those who are physically bruised but those who have been bruised emotionally by some unkind or unjust word or deed or circumstance.5
When he finishes he puts the scroll down. A portentous pause follows – one of the most momentous pauses in all of Scripture. Then he gets to the point: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”6 What an extraordinary statement.
Like Christ Jesus, we must say and know at every Sunday service and Tuesday or Wednesday testimony meeting:
- Here, now, this day, in this place, at this time is this Scripture fulfilled in our ears.
- This service is mending the broken heart; it is delivering the captive; it is restoring sight to the blind; it is healing the bruised.
- The Truth is powerful, effective, and instantaneous in its effect.
- Not one person can enter here who is not powerfully moved by and healed by the Truth.
And the reason why all this is true is as old as Isaiah, and older. Because “the spirit of the Lord” is upon this place. It is upon each one of us. It is upon every person who enters here. And the conclusion of the matter is this: that this church is unassailable; that the blessings it confers are unlimited; that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. And that being here, being in this church, being in any Christian Science church in any city or town anywhere – and supporting its work – is the most energizing, deeply satisfying thing we can ever do, in addition to our individual prayerful work.
When Jesus met two of his followers on the road to Emmaus after his crucifixion – and after they belatedly realized whose presence they were in – we’re told that their hearts burned within them.7 Well, our hearts should burn within us at every Christian Science church service because we are also in the presence of the Christ. Whether you’re a newcomer doubting your competence in Christian Science or a Christian Science teacher, you can have that profound sense of God’s presence. I mean this quite literally.
Now bear in mind what we’re dealing with here. Not just another passing religious faith. Not just human opinion. Not just dogma. But the final and complete revelation of Truth. Sometime when you’re alone and in a thoughtful mood, just try to comprehend a tiny fraction of what that means. The whole world is saying one thing and here we are, a tiny band of Christian Scientists, and we hold to everything the human doctrines and the human senses say is impossible. We need each other in our work in church to find the courage to take everything the world says – its discords and diseases and complications – and look it in the eye and say: “This is wrong. This is not true.”
Frankly, it doesn’t matter so much if there aren’t a lot of Christian Scientists in the world just now, or even in that branch church you’ll eventually have to decide whether to support. It doesn’t matter because the point is not the people but the Principle that infuses our work together in church with stunning healing power. If we really know and prove that, then the only practical administrative problem our churches will ever face will be finding enough chairs to seat the throngs who will be drawn to them because they so want and so need what Christian Science churches are uniquely able to provide.
Each one of you is so important. I know every college president in the country says things like this to the students. But these words spoken from this podium to this audience have a different meaning altogether, and that’s because they’re spoken to people who can make more of a difference than any other group of college graduates on earth, because they go forth armed with the power of the Christ which heals.
The purpose of the church Mrs. Eddy established is to preserve the theology she discovered; to pass it down intact from generation to generation; and to bring the collective as well as the individual power of prayer to bear on the problems of the world. There’s a unique spiritual synergy that takes place only in a Christian Science church. You have an important obligation to the next generation and you cannot carry it out without the institution of church – Mrs. Eddy’s church.
Even if only half of you here grasp the importance of this, you will be the difference. You will be the thin line that saves the world from chaos. And one day, the best of all benedictions will be bestowed. Not, “Thou hast been rich.” Not, “Thou hast been a material success.” Not, “Thou hast been famous or humanly influential.” Not, “Thou hast been an excellent football player, or actor, or musician or student” – not that these aren’t important. But this: “Thou hast been faithful.”8 Because of you, the deaf will hear. Because of you, the blind will see. Because of you, the lame will walk. Because of you, the solitary will be set in families. You will speak to the dumb – the poor in spirit – and they will answer you with gratitude and rejoicing.9 I want you to know that I know that each one of you is faithful. And I want you to know that each one of you matters – matters more than you can know – to those of us who have the privilege of teaching and working at Principia.