Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were seekers after spiritual truth. Unfortunately they kept looking in the wrong direction. Myrtle was chronically sick, that is until she came under the influence of Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings and Christian Science. The affirmation that all sickness is an illusion and the belief that “I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness” reputedly healed her of tuberculosis. After this experience, she convinced her husband, Charles, to also come into the Christian Science fold.
However, Charles was not only influenced by Eddy and the Mind Cure movement but he was also a student of the occult, spiritualism, Theosophy and eastern mysticism. When in 1889 the Fillmores founded their own group it had a decidedly eastern/occultic flavor to it. This is especially true as regards their belief in reincarnation. Charles claimed that God revealed to him that “Unity” was the focus of their mission. Thus was born the Unity School of Christianity, or more simply, Unity.
Although early influenced by Eddy, the Fillmores were more a part of the New Thought movement. Like other New Thought teachers they stressed that physical disease and spiritual problems could be healed through faith and positive confession. However, they did not deny the actual existence of matter, sin or disease. The eastern influence in their movement is seen is in their emphasis on reincarnation, meditation and similar practices. They do have their own perspective on reincarnation though. Unlike Hinduism which teaches that we may be reincarnated in many different forms, including animals, the Fillmores taught that the work of Christ had delivered us from this, and we are now only reincarnated in human form. Many Unity churches teach classes on past life regression, so people can learn from their previous life experiences.
In the 20th century Unity outgrew Christian Science and most New Thought groups. Their growth was largely due to their publishing efforts. For many decades they urged their followers to stay within Christian denominations. Members advanced in the teachings of Unity through mail order courses and receiving Unity literature in the mail. Indeed, Unity not only has it own press, but its own post office, to keep up with the massive literature distribution they undertake. However, in the past few decades there have been a growing number of Unity churches, with their own clergy and meeting houses.
Unity, like many New Thought groups, is similar to the prosperity gospel in asserting the power of positive confession. They believe that faith and confession will not only bring healing, but also prosperity and success in life. Statements of positive affirmation are common in their services. They also emphasize the importance of prayer, and even operate a 24 hour prayer effort called Silent Unity.
Myrtle Fillmore died in 1931, Charles in 1948. The organization continues to be run by the Fillmore family. It is hard to judge the broad influence of Unity because so many of its followers attend other religious organizations and are only affiliated with the group through its literature. Many in the New Age movement are attracted to Unity because of a similar focus on reincarnation, the divine nature of man, mysticism and a pantheistic view of God.
Summary of Beliefs
God: Basically a monistic, impersonal God. They claim to believe in the
Trinity, but each member of the Godhead is actually more of an impersonal force.
Jesus: Jesus was man who was indwelt by the Christ-spirit, the Christ-consciousness. What
Jesus achieved, we can all achieve. Jesus is no different than other great spiritual leaders, such as the Buddha or Krishna.
Salvation: Salvation consists of humans evolving into divine beings. This is achieved
through reincarnation. As man advances through various lives, he eventually replaces the human nature with the Christ nature.
Human nature: Man is a divine being. The goal of life is for man to advance from personal
consciousness to Christ consciousness.
Sin: No biblical concept of sin. Man’s problem is lack of knowledge and enlightenment. Sin is
basically an illusion, a false idea.
Afterlife: Reincarnation is a common teaching. Ultimate salvation is achieved through
becoming a divine being, entering a Christ state.
Authority: All sacred texts, the Bible, and Eastern scriptures are revered. The Bible is
interpreted spiritually and “metaphysically.” It is not to be understood as historical. The writings of the Fillmores are standard presentations of Unity teaching.