Christian Scientists, who refer to God as "Father-Mother" and believe that humans are "incapable of sin, sickness and death," discussed last week at their Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, new ways of reaching out to Christians to "foster unity," in light of the movement's continuing shrinking numbers.
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, a Christian Science representative shared few details of the June 6 meeting at the group's Mother Church in Boston, but explained their objective of creating greater engagement.
"It is a Biblical idea that comes both internally and externally. We discussed the call of Christian Scientists to find our own unity, but also how to relate to all the rest of Christians around the world," said Shirley Paulson, Head of Ecumenical Affairs at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in a recent phone interview with The Christian Post.
The meeting on June 6 was only the first in a series of workshops that more than 30 Christian Science churches will be hosting worldwide. One of the main focuses, however, will be a discussion on how to engage more with mainstream Christians, who have traditionally seen the movement as a cult due to its unorthodox theological teachings on God, sin and Jesus as the Christ.
"The focus of the meeting was on the idea of Christ calling us together," added Sharon Frey, Committee on Publication Media Manager. She noted that Christ's call was for all Christians, across denominational borders, to unite together to profess his message.
"Christian Science is a Protestant Christian religion that is based on the Bible," Paulson claimed. "And one of the things that we think about is the healing works that Jesus did in the Gospels. We do think about how Jesus healed, and how his disciples were taught to do the same thing."
"Christian Science teaches that it's never God's will for anyone to suffer, be sick, or die. Instead, it shows how God is entirely good, and therefore His will for each of us is only health and life," according to literature published on the movement's website. Christian Scientists teach that sickness is an illusion to be overcome with prayer.
Mary Baker Eddy is credited with founding the religion in 1866 with her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which teaches how a permanent relationship with God can result in physical, mental, and emotional healing. Eddy's book claims to be divinely inspired and above the Bible in authority.
"She (Eddy) taught that the healing that we do now is in line with what Jesus taught his disciples to do. That's probably one of the big differences," commented Paulson on distinctions between what Christian Scientists practice and what mainstream Christian denominations believe.
Those critical of Christian Science claim its doctrines on health and sickness can often lead to deadly results.
"Christian Science deserves the title of cult since it departs from plain Bible teaching on major doctrines and the movement also adopts a potentially deadly view of how to deal with sickness," according to James Beverley, a professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale University.
Linda Kramer, a former Christian Scientist who is now a born-again Christian, agrees with that assessment. "They don't understand a lot of their bodies," she told The Christian Post last year in a discussion on cults. Kramer suggested that when prayer seems to alleviate things like menstrual cramps or headaches, practitioners sometimes refuse medical treatment and leave illnesses untreated.
Beverley went futher, noting: "The denial of the reality of physical disease and sickness has led … parents to keep their sick children from proper medical care. This sometimes results in death."
Fred Miller, director of True Light Education Ministry, which offers educational courses for Christians on cults, told CP that he believed death and sickness were likely reasons for a decline in Christian Science membership.
The number of Christian Science churches in the U.S. has been gradually decreasing over the last few decades, dropping from 1,829 U.S. churches in 1971 to only 911 in 2009, according to one online data source.
Christian Science representatives shared with The Christian Post through email that those numbers were somewhat higher.
"There are approximately 1,100 Churches of Christ, Scientist in the U.S. and about 1.700 worldwide," CP was told.
Either way, Miller sees the movement as "a dying religion" because "with modern medicine, it's not attracting many."
"They're dying out because they're dying off. They don't realize that at this point," he said.