Church of Christ, Scientist

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Church of Christ, Scientist

Organization founded in 1879 by Mary Morse (Baker) Eddy (1821-1910) as the embodiment of the healing movement popularly known as Christian Science. As a young woman Eddy suffered from chronic health problems. Through the 1850s and 1860s she sought out various remedies and eventually found her way to Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a mental healer in Maine. She experienced great relief for a time and was grateful for Quimby's efforts. It was not until 1866, however, that she found a new spiritual insight while recovering from an injury received in a fall. She experienced a complete recovery of health, discovering that God is all and that illness and death are unreal. She also came to believe that in the acceptance of the complete reality of God health appears.

Eddy's recovery was followed by a period of further Bible study, working with others in light of her new vision and reexamining Quimby's teachings. The result of this study was a primal booklet, The Science of Man (1870), and then a textbook, Science and Health (1875). She organized the Christian Science Association in 1876 as an organization for her students. Over the next years the healing movement grew and expanded. Several new editions of the textbook were published as Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In 1892 the movement went through a complete reorganization and the mother church structure, through which the church is currently organized, was established. The church bylaws were published in 1895 as the Church Manual. Leadership of the church was placed in the hands of the mother church (the First Church of Christ, Scientist), located in Boston, Massachusetts, and its pastor, Mary Baker Eddy, who had been ordained in 1881.

Included in both the textbook and the Church Manual are the tenets of the church. They affirm the Bible as the inspired guide to life; one God; God's Son; the Holy Ghost; and man as a being in God's image. Forgiveness of sin results from new spiritual understanding that casts out evil as having no Godordained reality. The atonement of Jesus, "the wayshower," is evidence of God's love. Salvation comes through the truth, life, and love, as he demonstrated. Healing, following the principles laid down by Eddy in Science and Health, remains the most significant aspect of the doctrine of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Such healing is distinct from both psychic healing and magnetism (or mesmerism ), both of which were condemned by Eddy.

Since Eddy's death, leadership of the church has been in the hands of a five-member board of directors that administers the affairs of the church according to the rules laid down in the Church Manual. Each church is autonomous but its leaders must be members in good standing with the mother church. Church headquarters are at the Christian Science Center, Boston. The Christian Science Publishing Society issues a number of books and periodicals, most notably the Christian Science Journal and a daily newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor. The Herald of Christian Science appears in a dozen languages.

The Christian Science movement has not only built a large organization but has also inspired a variety of religious healing movements in other groups. Throughout the early years of the movement a number of students withdrew from association with Eddy and the church. Some continued as independent Christian Science practitioners, and others gathered around Emma Curtis Hopkins and developed what would come to be known as the New Thought movement. Boston Episcopal minister Elwood Worcester founded the Emmanuel Movement, the organization that introduced spiritual healing into the Episcopal Church and continues today as the Order of St. Luke the Physician.

The Church of Christ, Scientist was born in controversy and has continued as a controversial organization. Members are known for their refusal to seek the services of physicians, preferring their own Christian Science practitioners. Throughout the twentieth century, church leaders have labored long and somewhat successfully to gain a legal status for their church and to have their practitioners recognized by government authorities and even insurance companies. Their success has been challenged periodically when a person who might have been helped by modern medical techniques or medicine dies. In the 1980s a score of court cases were heard, with very mixed results, concerning Christian Science parents whose children died without receiving any medical treatment.

The Church of Christ, Scientist can be contacted at its headquarters: 175 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115-3187. Web-site:


Christian Science: A Sourcebook of Contemporary Materials. Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society, 1990.

The Church of Christ, Scientist. March 8, 2000.

Eddy, Mary Baker. Church Manual of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Mass. Boston: Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy, 1908.

. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston: Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy, 1906.

Gottshalk, Stephen. The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Peel, Robert. Mary Baker Eddy. 3 vols. New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971.

Swihart, Altman K. Since Mrs. Eddy. New York: Henry Holt, 1931.

Church of Christ, Scientist

views updated May 14 2018


CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST, is a religious system that emerged in nineteenth-century New England as the region and the nation were transformed by urbanization, industrialization, religious revivalism, and the rising authority of science.

Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy, born in 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire, and raised as a Congregationalist there. She was also exposed to mesmerism, Spiritualism, and other popular spiritual and healing movements developing in the mid-nineteenth-century Northeast, and was particularly influenced by healing practitioner Phineas P. Quimby, who considered mental error the source of all disease. In 1866, while living in Lynn, Massachusetts, the invalid Eddy experienced a sudden physical healing and religious conversion. Newly empowered, she spent the next several years living in poverty, practicing healing, and developing her religious ideas

among the socially dislocated in the industrial cities of New England.

Eddy taught that a universal divine principle was the only reality; that matter, evil, disease, and death were illusory; that Christ's healing method involved a "scientific" application of these truths; and that redemption and healing were available to anyone who became properly attuned with the divine. In 1875, Eddy published Science and Health with Key to Scriptures, which outlined her system and a method for discerning the Bible's inner "spiritual sense." Revised by Eddy several times, it became and remains the authoritative text for Christian Science. Eddy's message, emphasizing personal growth and well-being, appealed to Americans—particularly women—experiencing disempowerment and spiritual alienation amid the industrial and urban growth of the late nineteenth century and dissatisfaction with conventional Christianity.

In 1875, Eddy and her followers held their first public service at Eddy's Christian Scientists' Home in Lynn, and four years later, established the Church of Christ (Scientist). In 1881, Eddy moved the church to Boston and founded the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. College trainees, mostly women, spread across the Northeast and Midwest, making Christian Science into a national movement whose members were of increasing wealth and status. In 1886, Eddy established the National Christian Science Association (NCSA). Internal schism, outside clerical criticism, and the emergence of rival movements soon led Eddy to centralize and bureaucratize her church. She dissolved the college in 1889, and in 1892 dismantled the NCSA and established the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. She appealed to followers nationwide to affiliate their congregations with this "mother church," and appointed a self-perpetuating board of directors to govern it.

Christian Science grew rapidly, especially during its early decades. In 1906 there were 636 congregations with 85,717 members, and by 1936 there were 1,970 congregations with 268,915 members. The church stopped releasing membership statistics, but there were an estimated 475,000 members in the United States by the late 1970s. The church also established a publishing empire, best represented since 1908 by the Christian Science Monitor, and continues to spread its message through "reading rooms" nationwide.

Christian Science remains primarily urban and upper middle class in constituency and women continue to predominate its membership. It remains relatively small, beset throughout the twentieth century by legal controversies over members' refusal of conventional medical treatment. But the success of its religion of personal healing sparked the emergence and growth of the New Thought movement and a broader emphasis on healing, counseling, and spiritual wellness in modern American Christianity.


Gottschalk, Stephen. The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Knee, Stuart E. Christian Science in the Age of Mary Baker Eddy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994.

Thomas, Robert David. "With Bleeding Footsteps": Mary Baker Eddy's Path to Religious Leadership. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Bret E.Carroll

See alsoChristianity ; Science and Religion, Relations of ; Spiritualism ; Women in Churches .

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