The Order of Christ Sophia


The Order of Christ Sophia

The Order of Christ Sophia (OCS) is a Christian organization that was founded in 1999. The OCS describes itself as a holy order and spiritual school that offers training in the doctrines of Christian mysticism.[1] The OCS shares beliefs with two very distinct movements, Christian Science and the New Thought denomination Unity, both of which developed in the mid-to-late 19th century.

The OCS asserts an apostolic succession through Peter Bowes and Mother Clare Watts stating that they received a transmission of teachings and spiritual authority from teacher to student, beginning with Jesus and passing down through the generations to their present day leaders. This apostolic succession is not part of the historical episcopate as preserved in the Roman, Anglican, Orthodox, and some other churches. However, there are structural similarities and the OCS might be rightly classed as part of the Independent Sacramental Movement.[2]

OCS tenets include the belief that Jesus was not only a redeemer and savior, but also a model for human functioning; and that his mother, Mary, was a representation of the divine feminine and was equal to Jesus in redemptive and mediation powers. OCS doctrine holds that human beings are souls which are in a continuing process of perfecting through the cumulative experience of multiple lives on earth. This perfecting is said to be accomplished through a process of spiritual direction, meditation, prayer, regular participation in the Christian sacraments, emotional healing, and spiritual initiations.

The OCS has centers in 13 states which they refer to as Centers of Light. Each Center of Light is run by ordained members of OCS who dress in traditional priests clothing and is the central location for classes, services, and individual counseling in that state.

Contents

History

After his ordination, Bowes established an Order called the Brotherhood of Christ. The Brotherhood of Christ functioned in the Bloomington, Indiana area for seven years and was eventually disbanded in 1989 by Bowes.[3][4][5]

Bowes re-established a teaching base in 1997 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in collaboration with Mother Clare Watts who was teaching in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1999 Bowes and Watts joined together to establish and incorporate the Order of Christ Sophia. In 2001 Bowes moved to Oakland, California and Watts to Seattle, Washington to establish the third and fourth Centers of Light. Since 2001 the OCS has established eight more Centers of Light across the country.[6]

Mother Clare Watts was baptized by sisters in the Holy Order of MANS in 1977, but she was never a member of that organization; instead she pursued Sufi training before returning to the Christian mystical teachings. Although she lived in Kentucky, she traveled to Indiana regularly to pursue training with Father Peter Bowes. She was ordained a deacon in 1984 and eventually moved to Boston in 1985 in order to be trained by Master John Hartman. Master John was ordained in the Brotherhood of Christ and continued to teach after the Brotherhood’s dissolution. Watts trained for the priesthood with Master John but was not ordained until 1996 when she reconnected with Bowes. After her ordination, Watts focused her teachings on the spiritual empowerment of women until 1999, when she joined her growing center to Bowes’ to create the Order of Christ Sophia. In 2001 Watts was ordained a Master Teacher.[7]

Doctrine

Reincarnation

OCS teaches that all human souls were created at one time and that each soul was made perfect and in total harmony and unity with the creator God. Doctrine states that God gave human souls an immutable freedom of will. By use of free-will, human beings chose destruction and darkness and fell out of harmony with God. In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, OCS defines the problem of human tendency to sin in terms of the cumulative choices of each individual soul rather than Original Sin. Jesus Christ and Mother Mary are considered to be souls much like those of the rest of humanity who, instead of continuing in darkness, chose a path of return to God and were the first to reestablish complete unity with the Creator God. OCS affirms the divinity of Jesus Christ but does not assert this state of divinity as a singular event. Rather, they assert that it is one for which every human being is designed. It is understood that through reincarnation, every soul can eventually return to the level of divinity that Jesus Christ and Mother Mary demonstrated.

OCS uses the term karma to describe the accumulation of positive or negative choices on the soul. They assert that Jesus’ taking on the sins of the world was a removal of the accumulated negative karma of the human race. OCS doctrine stresses the importance of the development of personal insight, spiritual experiences and the direction of a teacher as means by which negative karmic patterns can be transformed. They also affirm Jesus’ continuous role as the vehicle through which sin/karma is forgiven by means of his body and blood in the form of communion.

Prayer

OCS defines prayer in terms similar to Christian Scientists or other religious groups associated with the New Thought movement. Prayer is seen as a God given tool with which to actively create one’s life and experiences rather than as a simple supplication. OCS doctrine asserts that due to the unhindered nature of free will, and the process of karma, human beings are completely responsible for the circumstances in which they live. They teach that through the development of a focused mind, uncluttered desire, and connection with God, one can develop a reliable power to create and change one’s financial, physical, emotional, and relational conditions.

In contrast to some other New Thought movements, prayer is also used as a devotional tool and is described as a method (along with meditation) by which an aspirant is able to not only speak to God but receive direct revelations and direction from God within. The process called "guidance", by which a person can ask questions in prayer and meditation and receive an answer from God within, is a central practice within OCS and has led to accusations that the leadership of the Order uses this process to assert control over student’s behavior (see controversy and criticisms).

Student-teacher relationship

The student-teacher relationship is one of the defining characteristics of OCS as it is in other major mystical practices, including Sufism and Zen. Requirements associated with being a student in OCS include regular attendance at classes and services, tithing and personal integrity. Students are also expected to complete daily spiritual exercises, attend communion daily or as often as possible, adhere to religious fasting at least once a month, and demonstrate deference to their teacher. In the first years of OCS, all affiliated members took part in the intensive training associated with being a student, but in recent years OCS changed their policy and now allows members to be associated with OCS at various levels of commitment.

OCS asserts that only through the process of being directly guided by a Teacher can one reach the higher levels of consciousness, healing, and service. They emphasize the importance of being guided by one who has not only traveled “the way” themselves but has been empowered to teach others. OCS cites the relationship between Jesus and his apostles as the model for this practice.

Holy books

Bible

OCS views the New Testament as both an accurate historical portrayal and as a mystical text. They affirm that although the New Testament should be viewed within its historical and cultural context, Jesus’ teachings are essentially timeless and perfect. They also believe that the Gospels are written not only as description of the teachings and life of Jesus but as guidebook for the inner spiritual path. They practice Bible contemplation in which they seek to understand the multiple levels on which the gospels were written. This primarily consists of a practice of viewing each character and object in the Bible as representations of a part of themselves. In so doing, they expect to understand the inner meaning of the text and therefore be led to greater consciousness.

Tree of Life

OCS considers the Bible to be their primary source of teachings and the basis for their practice; however they use two other texts regularly. The Tree of Life books are a series of texts used in weekly classes. The Tree of Life was originally compiled and written by Father Paul Blighton and was published in San Francisco. Father Peter Bowes reports that he made major changes to the wording of the texts in order to improve readability and cultural accessibly but did not change the teachings themselves, however when the texts are compared a number of changes have been made that change the theology considerably. It should be noted that Further Bowes was never authorized by the HOOM Pristhood to use the teachings. The OCS version of the Tree of Life lessons is unavailable to the public but Blighton's original texts are published online by former HOOM members. The text is primarily concerned with the nature of human beings in relationship to God and the cosmos. It is the basis for the OCS’s mystical practice and much of its theological perspective.

Poem of the Man God

Poem of the Man God is a series of five books based on Roman Catholic themes written by Maria Valtorta, an Italian woman, in the 1940s.[8] She claimed to have received direct revelations from Christ and Mother Mary about the events and teachings of their time. Each book is over 500 pages long and claims to enumerate the travels, teachings, and activities of Jesus Christ, his Mother Mary, his apostles, and the holy men and women who followed Jesus. OCS reads from this text at communion services and encourages its members to read the texts as well. OCS members believe the text to be a valid revelation from Jesus and value it for its comprehensive elucidation of his life. Valtorta's work was not used by the HOOM.

Practices

OCS’s regular practices include daily Communion, evening prayers (in a group setting), thirty minutes of morning meditation, a spiritual exercise performed twice daily for some members, fasting one day each month, classes twice a week, a Sunday service, monthly seminars and bi-annual retreats. They have two classes per week, one which focuses on the Bible and the other on The Tree of Life. Sunday services consist of thirty minutes of silent mediation, singing, prayers, a scriptural reading, a sermon, and Communion. Services tend to be small and highly ritualized.

Initiations and rites

OCS differentiates itself from many other new-age spiritual groups through the intensity of training and its initiations and rites. OCS claims that there are three major initiations that appear in all major mystical paths, though called by different names. OCS calls these initiations "Mystical baptism", "Illumination" and "Self-Realization". The baptism is public, while the illumination and Self realization are done more privately and witnesses can see the proceedings but cannot hear the content of the initiation. OCS believes that the three initiations are the universal steps to enlightenment and God consciousness and can only be performed by certain levels of ministers and Teachers.

Ordination and leadership structure

There are three levels of ministry which correspond to the three initiations. Deacons are the lowest level of ministry and are empowered to baptize and teach classes but rarely do either unless a priest is unavailable. Priests are empowered to baptize and illumine students and teach most of the classes, lead Sunday services, and act as directors of the Centers of Light. Master Teachers are the highest level of ministry and are empowered to bring students through all three initiations and ordain priests. There are also intermediary training positions before each ordination. Currently, Father Peter Bowes and Mother Clare Watts are the only Master Teachers in the OCS but report that they expect more will be ordained in time.

The OCS ordains female clergy, and one apparent difference between the OCS and traditional Christianity is its acknowledgement of Mother Mary as co-redeemer and equal to Jesus Christ. Perhaps because of this assertion, a major proportion of the OCS’s ministry is female. As religious scholar James R Lewis writes, "women will probably continue to constitute a majority of the membership into the foreseeable future because of the women’s spirituality issues addressed by the Order, and because of the opportunities for females assuming ministerial leadership positions in the organization – opportunities not present in Roman Catholicism and other traditionalist Christian bodies."[9]

Controversy and criticisms

The group first encountered opposition in 2001, when parents of some members became upset with the level of involvement of their adult children and began to suggest that OCS was a “dangerous cult”. Families claimed that OCS had brainwashed its members and had caused sleep deprivation, health problems, emotional turmoil and unhealthy levels of allegiance to the group and its practices. They claimed that OCS had "poisoned" their children against them and had destroyed their once happy families.[10]

Self proclaimed "cult experts" Rick Ross and Steve Hassan put OCS on their lists of dangerous cults and were hired to facilitate “exit counseling” with several members. With the help of Ross and Hassan several families staged intensive interventions with their adult children and attempted to convince them of the danger of the group, only a few of which were successful. Fueled by families irate over the "loss" of their adult children to what they considered to be a cult, online forums sprung up, filled with criticism of the OCS and its leaders. Several journalists investigated the OCS and articles appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Guardian Observer and The Boston Phoenix.[11][12][13]

Peter Bowes was the main focus of the inquiries and was accused of unethical conduct related to his psychotherapy practice in Wisconsin. He surrendered his license to practice psychology after two of his patients alleged that Bowes had a "dual relationship" with them by teaching them meditation while seeing them as clients. Dual relationships are considered unethical in the field of psychology, due to the influence a psychotherapist has over vulnerable patients. The claims were investigated by the Professional Counselor Section of the Wisconsin Examining Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors. Bowes surrendered his license, stating that his work as a priest required him to minister to the order and that this work left little time for his psychotherapy practice. Bowes ended his psychotherapy practice at that time and has had no further incidents alleging unethical conduct.

OCS response to criticism

Bowes openly admitted that he began to teach meditation classes to a former member while continuing to see her in therapy. He acknowledged that this was a mistake but felt that no damage had been done. In his book, The Word Within, Bowes states that the ex-member in question had originally approached him for spiritual direction but that he felt she was not emotionally stable enough to begin such work. He reports that he treated her psychologically in order to allow her to effectively participate in spiritual work. He states that she was greatly helped by therapy and he began to allow her to attend his meditation classes due to her repeated requests to do so, before they completed therapy. He states that he felt that her claims that she was emotionally harmed in this process were based in her anger at him for not promoting her within the OCS and were not grounded in truth. He did admit that the overlap of roles was a mistake. Watts and Bowes deny any mistreatment or manipulation of members and claim that Rick Ross and Steve Hasan stirred up a panic and fed misinformation to concerned parents.[14]

Scholarly interest

In 2003, a sociologist named James R Lewis came across an article on OCS that appeared in a Milwaukee newspaper and become interested in the group. Lewis is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, a researcher and an author. His work focuses specifically on new religious movements (NRMs). His books include The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, though the handbook does not explicitly reference the OCS.[15] Lewis made contact with OCS in 2003 and began to research their practices and the accusations that they were a dangerous cult.

His first publication on the group appeared in the Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies and was titled “New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia.” In this article he describes the OCS as a "mystery school that trains its members in the doctrines and practices of esoteric Christianity.”[16] In response to allegations of the OCS being a "dangerous cult", Lewis concluded that OCS was experiencing a developmental process typical for NRMs.[17] He contextualized the accusations that OCS was "cult" within a sociological developmental perspective.[18] He reported that there was no indication of psychologically abusive practices or cult-like behaviors.[19] Eventually colleagues of Lewis’ and other NRM researchers such as Prof. Scott Thumma of the Hartford Seminary became interested in OCS. Thumma, Lewis and OCS members presented research they conducted on OCS at the Religious Research Association (RRA) conference in November 2007.

The OCS is also briefly referenced, mainly in regard to its teachings on Mary, in John Plummer's 2005 PhD dissertation, published as The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement.[20] Plummer interviewed Mother Clare Watts, and visited the Atlanta Center of Light, during his research. His dissertation contains more extensive discussion of other groups descended from HOOM and the work of Paul Blighton.

References

  1. ^ (1) Lewis, James, R. New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia: Journal of Alternative Spiritualities, JANSAS 1:2; 2006 (91 – 104)
  2. ^ (12) Plummer, John. The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement: 2nd ed., Apocryphile Press, Berkeley, CA, 2006.
  3. ^ Lewis, James, R. New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia: Journal of Alternative Spiritualities, JANSAS 1:2; 2006 (91 – 104)
  4. ^ Lucas, Phillip. The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy: Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, IN, 1995.
  5. ^ Lewis, James R and Lucas, Phillip. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects. and New Religions: Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1998.
  6. ^ Father Peter Bowes, The Word Within: Sophia Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 2006. ISBN 141169788X
  7. ^ Mother Clare Watts, Giving Birth to God: A Woman's Path to Enlightenment: iUniverse Inc., New York, NY, 2003. ISBN 0595283373
  8. ^ Maria Valtorta Webring http://www.MariaValtortaWebring.com
  9. ^ Lewis, James, R. New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia: Journal of Alternative Spiritualities, JANSAS 1:2; 2006 (91 – 104)
  10. ^ Henry, Coleen. "Order Of Christ-Sophia Refutes Allegations That It's A Cult." WISN-TV, Milwaukee, Channel 2, ABC. May 21, 2003. http://www.wisn.com/video/2666421/index.html
  11. ^ Heinen, Tom. "Mystics Misunderstood? Religious Order Says It's Out Of The Mainstream But Not A Cult." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 5, 2005. http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=307267
  12. ^ Johnstone, Nick. "Beyond Belief." The Observer, December 12, 2004. http://www.observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,1371787,00.html
  13. ^ Wright, Chris. "Sex, God, and Chocolate Ice Cream." The Boston Phoenix, February 15, 2004. http://bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/this_just_in/documents/03595748.asp.
  14. ^ Father Peter Bowes, The Word Within: Sophia Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 2006. ISBN 141169788X
  15. ^ Lewis, James, R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements: Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2004.
  16. ^ Lewis, James, R. New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia: Journal of Alternative Spiritualities, JANSAS 1:2; 2006 (91 – 104)
  17. ^ Lewis, James, & Levine, Nicholas. "The Children of Jesus and Mary: The Order of Christ Sophia," Oxford University Press, New York, 2010.
  18. ^ Lewis, James, & Levine, Nicholas. "The Children of Jesus and Mary: The Order of Christ Sophia," Oxford University Press, New York, 2010.
  19. ^ Lewis, James, & Levine, Nicholas. "The Children of Jesus and Mary: The Order of Christ Sophia," Oxford University Press, New York, 2010.
  20. ^ Plummer, John. The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement: 2nd ed., Apocryphile Press, Berkeley, CA, 2006.

(1) Lewis, James, R. New data on who joins NRMs and why: A case study of the Order of Christ/Sophia: Journal of Alternative Spiritualities, JANSAS 1:2; 2006 (91 – 104)

(2) Lucas, Phillip. The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy: Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, IN, 1995.

(3) Lewis, James R and Lucas, Phillip. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects. and New Religions: Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1998.

(4) Father Peter Bowes, The Word Within: Sophia Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 2006. ISBN 141169788X

(5) Mother Clare Watts, Giving Birth to God: A Woman's Path to Enlightenment: iUniverse Inc., New York, NY, 2003. ISBN 0595283373

(6) Lewis, James, R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements: Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2004.

(7) Heinen, Tom. "Mystics Misunderstood? Religious Order Says It's Out Of The Mainstream But Not A Cult." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 5, 2005. http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=307267

(8) Johnstone, Nick. "Beyond Belief." The Observer, December 12, 2004. http://www.observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,1371787,00.html

(9) Wright, Chris. "Sex, God, and Chocolate Ice Cream." The Boston Phoenix, February 15, 2004. http://bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/this_just_in/documents/03595748.asp

(10) Henry, Coleen. "Order Of Christ-Sophia Refutes Allegations That It's A Cult." WISN-TV, Milwaukee, Channel 2, ABC. May 21, 2003. http://www.wisn.com/video/2666421/index.html

(12) Plummer, John. The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement: 2nd ed., Apocryphile Press, Berkeley, CA, 2006.

(13) Plummer, John. Living Mysteries, Sun Chalice Books, 2006.

(14) Holy Order of MANS. The Philosophy of Sacramental Initiation. Holy Order of MANS, San Francisco, CA, n.d. (early 1970s).

(15) Blighton, E.W. The Middle Path. ed., Ruth Blighton. Science of Man Books, Corte Madera, CA, 2001.

(17) Lewis, James, & Levine, Nicholas. "The Children of Jesus and Mary: The Order of Christ Sophia," Oxford University Press, New York, 2010.

(18) Mirus, Jeff. "Worthy of a Religious Studies Program." Catholic Culture: Commentary: On the Culture. http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otc.cfm?id=581 Retrieved January 28, 2010.

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