NPR logo

New Direction for Christian Science?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1355120/1355294" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
New Direction for Christian Science?

New Direction for Christian Science?

Officials, Members Split Over Future of the Faith

New Direction for Christian Science?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1355120/1355294" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

A view of the Christian Science headquarters in Boston. Robert Holmes/Corbis hide caption

toggle caption
Robert Holmes/Corbis

A mid-life portrait of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science faith. Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

toggle caption
Bettmann/Corbis

Faced with the prospect of extinction, the Christian Science church is fighting back. The church — one of a handful of indigenous American religions — has suffered a dramatic drop in membership in recent decades.

In an effort to attract new members, top officials are questioning many of the church's traditions — and even whether Christian Science is a religion at all. But as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, the new direction is sparking a revolt among some Christian Scientists, who say a few church leaders are hijacking their religion.

NPR Online offers a brief history of the Christian Science church:

1821: Mary Baker Eddy, born in 1821, is raised in a strict New England Congregationalist home. Early on, she rejects the religion's Calvinist decree of predestination — that God has determined which individuals he will save and which he will damn, regardless of their faith, love, or merit, or lack thereof. Eddy suffers several bouts with illness, and her search for good health leads her to experiment with various healing methods.

1866: The origins of the church she would later establish can be traced to 1866. Eddy falls on ice and is reportedly severely injured. A newspaper report at the time says her injuries are "internal and of a serious nature." Yet Eddy recovers and claims to be in better health than ever. She attributes her recovery to reading the "Word of God." In her book, Miscellaneous Writings, she writes that as she read from the Bible, "the healing Truth dawned upon my sense; and the result was that I rose, dressed myself, and ever after was in better health than I had before enjoyed."

1875: This practice of spiritual healing becomes the basis of the Christian Science religion. Eddy holds that God is not cruel, and that divine love is the liberator of mankind from all woe. Eddy begins to attract students, and in 1875, she publishes the book that serves as a textbook for the study and practice of Christian Science, called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

1879: Eddy and her followers form The Church of Christ, Scientist, with its goal of reinstating "primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing." Eddy is the church's first pastor.

1880s: In 1883, the church begins publishing its major religious periodical, The Christian Science Journal. By the end of the decade, nearly 100 Christian Science congregations are formed around the country, mostly in the Atlantic states and Midwest.

1892: The church is reorganized into its modern form, with The Mother Church, called The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, and branches around the world.

1908: Eddy starts an international newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor.

1910: Eddy dies at the age of 89. There are more than 1,200 Christian Science congregations around the world. Church membership continues to increase in the 20 years following her death to some 2,400 congregations, and then membership begins to decline.

1970s: The Mother Church seeks to revitalize the movement and begins a number of changes to attract new believers.

2003: The church lists 2,000 congregations in 80 countries.

Sources: The Encyclopedia Britannica and "Christian Science: Its Discovery and Development" by William D. McCracken.