Given the current political debates raging in this country on evolution, abortion, and other issues - many of which seem to be split along scientific versus religious lines - the words “Christian” and “science” wouldn’t be the first most people would think to put together.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, however, takes a very different view, one which is possibly as far removed from the typical Christian viewpoint as it is from a mainstream scientific way of life. The main tenet of Christian Science, aside from their basic adherence to Biblical truth and the teachings of Christ, is their belief that all healing comes from the power and love of God. They do not go to doctors, hospitals, or clinics; all physical healing is done either through daily prayer - the Christian Science equivalent of preventative medicine - or through soliciting the assistance of a Christian Science Practitioner, who prays on their behalf.
Interestingly enough, another facet of this view is the idea that healing through faith can be demonstrated through use of the classic scientific method; it’s empirically effective, according to Christian Scientists, and a portion of the Wednesday evening service is given over to testimonials to the way in which healing through prayer really works.
Anecdotal evidence may not be the best example of an application of scientific enquiry, but the members of Santa Barbara’s Christian Science congregation certainly seem as healthy and as vigorous as any other cross-section of the public. When I asked one member of the group if Christian Science worked for him, he asked me if he looked healthy - and he did, seeming to be more energetic and fit than one columnist in her mid-twenties who shall remain anonymous, even at an age which could no longer be called young, or even middle-aged.
Aside from the portion of the service given over to witnessing examples of God’s presence in the lives of congregation members, the service itself is a fairly standard Christian offering - and on Sundays, the witnessing is absent from the service. Hymns, Bible readings, and commentary read from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures comprise the bulk of the service. The one truly unique aspect of the readings, aside from the addition of Science and Health, a specifically Christian Science text, is that they are given by members of the congregation. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, has no pastor - if most churches could be seen as a totalitarian model, the Christian Science church is a democracy with term limits on elected officials.
This organizational change makes the Christian Scientists unusually connected to the operation of their church. Every detail of the service and the care of their church itself, an exceptionally attractive building, is in the hands of the congregation. They are as dedicated to the smooth functioning of their place of worship as they are to their own lives, and the result is a very welcoming, inclusive feeling extended even to the occasional visitor.
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