Noronto Reunion 2022

The drought is finally over!  And I celebrate the fact that we were finally able to gather together in the sacred place that we call Camp Noronto, for the week of August 6th to the 13th, after not having been able to gather in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic.

I know that I needed to be at Reunion this year, and I have no doubt that many of you who were there have felt that way as well.  I also know that I have yearned to be back, and I suspect that many people, including those who were not able to attend, shared and continue to share that sentiment with me.  I feel blessed to have been at Noronto Reunion 2022, and I hope that everyone else who went feels likewise.  I also hope that your experiences there will be a blessing to you all year long, sustaining you until we gather again next year.

A lot of things have changed since we were last together.  The world has changed since we were last at camp.  And I am sure that every single person has, in some manner or another, been impacted with how the world, and our local communities, and our personal circles, have changed. 

But we still have Camp Noronto, and we still have Noronto Reunion, and that camp is still a place where we can come, and be healed, rejuvenated, and restored.  It is a place where we can continue to encounter God, and draw closer to Jesus Christ, where we can learn more deeply how to reflect Him in our daily lives.

We had a smaller camp this year, but it was still a good size, given that 2019 was our most recent gathering; and prior to that, we last met in 2017, as we had to cancel our 2018 Reunion on account of the forest fires that gave much of northern Ontario a lot of grief that summer. It seems wild to me that we have not had consecutive gatherings for Reunion since 2017 followed 2016.

But this year, we returned to the sacred grounds of Camp Noronto, and it was awesome to be back!  The power of the Reunion experience was still there, in full force, as was the beauty of the camp property itself.

We were blessed with many things this year, including seeing many familiar faces, who come to camp every year, along with some familiar faces who we have not seen for some time, and some brand new faces who made our Reunion experience extra special. 

We were also blessed with a very dedicated dining hall team, from our awesome cooks to the dining hall manager and crew, all of whom did an amazing job ensuring that we had clean dishes, a safe space to eat, and great meals to enjoy, with plenty to spare for second helpings (I *might* have even had a third dessert on occasion … but it was not my fault, as sometimes they had several different types of dessert for the same meal, and I felt duty bound to ensure that no single dessert felt superior to the others).

Another blessing was the fact that we had the very good fortune of having Apostle Art Smith as our guest minister, along with his wife and youngest daughter.  Art’s sermons and classes were excellent, as always, and it was great to be able to visit with him again.

We had a huge team of volunteers that served in various capacities, including the director team, the elective leaders, the worship coordinators, the campfire personnel, the Canteen Keeper, and so many other key people, without whom there would have been no reunion.  So we were definitely blessed by all of their hard work and the ministry that they provided all week long.

Another way that our Reunion was blessed this year was by the fact that we were able to have swimming!  As you may know, the pandemic has caused a massive shortage in lifeguards.  Many of those who were qualified in 2019 have moved on to full time jobs, and because pools and camps were shut down for two years, no one replaced them. 

So, getting qualified lifeguards has been a huge challenge, and in fact at least one Reunion in Ontario this summer did not have any, and therefore, its pool remained closed during the brutally hot weather that they had.  Noronto Reunion was extremely fortunate to get not just one, but three lifeguards, which not only enabled us to have swimming, but also prevented the need for people to swim in fewer numbers, as would have been the case with less than three lifeguards.  Our lifeguards also went to the trouble to get recertified just prior to Reunion, and so their commitment and willingness to do that for us, and be part of our Reunion experience, when they could have been doing any number of other things, is tremendously appreciated.  Plus, they were just awesome young people, with great leadership potential, who I sincerely hope will come back next year.

We were additionally blessed to remember beloved friends and family members who are no longer with us.  We gathered at the memorial bench to share stories about several different people who have passed away.  Our own lives and reunion experiences are better because of how each of them impacted each of us.

There were so many things that I enjoyed about Reunion 2022.  It was just great seeing everyone that I have not seen in three years (or longer for some people).  It was also great simply being back on the grounds, and wandering around from place to place, capturing the beauty of it all on my cameras and iPhone.

It was awesome getting to have those late night chats with close friends that I always enjoy so much, or playing games with them; and telling stories to younger campers about things that have taken place in the past, or telling them about the ghost of Bobby Jones, and finding out the next day that they were a little spooked afterwards as they wandered around at night (mission accomplished! 😉 )

I enjoyed being able to once again have one of my “Noronto Wants to Know” interviews, and it was awesome that I got the chance to meet and interview the new Executive Director of World Accord.

I also enjoyed the late campfire on Friday night…got to enjoy a couple of s’mores and some conversations with some younger people about whether or not Reunion resonates with them, and I was really impressed and moved to learn how much Reunion already means to them.

Another great moment was watching a new disciple of Jesus Christ get baptized by his grandmother in Lake Nipissing  A beautiful moment.  Although the poor kid was clearly freezing! 😉 At least the rain stopped just long enough for the baptism to take place.

I even enjoyed the smell and sound of the rain one afternoon when I was having a nap…there is always something really relaxing and comforting when listening to the rain through an open window while drifting off to sleep at Camp Noronto.  I also really enjoyed the sounds and aromas of our campfires, and singing those meaningful songs that we enjoy each year, such as Lord, Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary and Pass It On (It Only Takes a Spark).

We had some awesome events this year, including a great presentation by Brian Carwana of Encounter World Religions, and a great presentation (and interview) with Kristin Douglas, the new Executive Director of World Accord.  We also had a great trivia challenge which was a lot of fun (and indeed, challenging!) My team did not come in first place, but I suspect all the other teams cheated.  Even the ones that scored lower than we did (nobody cheated, I’m just making trouble).

W also had (at least) six Davids, three Amys, three Joyces, two Claries, two Karens, two Marks, two Pats, two Tionas and two Wendys (some spelling variants existed).

Being at Reunion brought us, once again, closer to God, and gave us, as always before, that precious glimpse of Zion; and so I look forward to next year, and feel energized and renewed by the experience I just had.  Reunion continues to be a difficult experience to put into words, and to describe to someone who has never been; but the power it has is, at least for me, is undeniable.  But, it is easy to forget that power.  And so I hope you will plan to attend next year, and be part of our sacred community once again, and help keep Reunion going year-after-year.

Like I said near the start of this blog, we still have Camp Noronto.  And we still have Noronto Reunion.  But, as we have painfully learned during the pandemic, we can’t take things for granted.  Not even our beloved Reunion, and the camp it takes place at.  Noronto Reunion will only occur if there are enough people committed to attending each year.  Camp Noronto will continue to exist only so long as we support it.  Remembering all those wonderful experiences of prior reunions and youth camps is not enough.  We need to keep going to keep it going, so I hope you really will consider attending in 2023.

If you have fond memories of Reunion or Camp Noronto, feel free to share them.  I would love to read them.  Post them here, or post them in the Noronto Reunion Facebook group. If you have suggestions or ideas, send someone a message to let them know.

See you in 2023!

Church Iterations

We often think of the original church having been established by Christ (or one or more of his followers), in Roman occupied Judea.  While the church was indeed established there, that was not the first time that the church was established. Our Restoration scriptures reveal that prior iterations of the church existed.

As with the Aaroinc priesthood, there have been five iterations of the church, and they closely align to the five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. Though, there are some differences.  These five church iterations are as follows:

Church Iterations

We know that the first iteration of the church was established in the Old World, in the days of Adam, because of what is revealed in chapter six of the Book of Genesis, Inspired Version:

52 And he called upon our father Adam, by his own voice, saying, I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
53 And he also said unto him, If thou wilt, turn unto me and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his
name, and whatsoever ye shall ask it shall be given you.
67 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water; and thus he was baptized.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant. The second iteration was established by God through his servant Alma, in the New World. We know this from what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, 9th chapter of Mosiah (RLDS 1908):

46 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
47 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon: and they were in number about two hundred and four souls;
48 Yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God:
49 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. (LDS 18: 15-17)

The third iteration of the church is what we often mistakenly regarded as the original foundation of the church: Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament.

The fourth iteration takes us back to the Nephites. Here, in the Third Book of Nephi, Christ, after appearing to the Nephites, seems to re-establish the church amongst the Nephites. It’s not quite as explicitly explained as previously, but it seems that the church had “broken up” prior to Christ’s manifestation, resulting in the need for it to be organized once again.

Finally, we come to the fifth, and current iteration of the church, established, as always, by our Lord, but this time, through Joseph Smith Jr. This iteration is now over 190 years old, which is still comparatively young compared to the prior iterations.

One fascinating fact with regard to these five iterations of the church is that they have never been identical.  

Let us consider again the various iterations that have existed:

1st – Established by the Lord through Adam (Old Testament church)
2nd – Established by the Lord through Alma (1st Nephite church)
3rd – Established directly by the Lord (New Testament church)
4th – Established directly by the Lord (2nd Nephite church)
5th – Established by the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. (modern church)

As we consider these various iterations, it becomes clear that many distinctions exist. It is difficult to say just how many there are, but for the purposes of this discussion, we really don’t need an exhaustive list. The following suffice:

1) The very purpose of the first iteration seems distinct from all others. It does not seem to have operated in the open, to publicly proclaim Christ. This logistically makes sense, as doing such prior to the birth of Christ on the same landmass on which he would eventually be born would likely be problematic.

So, what then was the purpose of the 1st iteration? We can speculate all we want, but it does not really matter. The key point here is that the latter iterations were more open and public about proclaiming Jesus Christ than the 1st iteration was.

2) The first iteration lacked the Aaronic priesthood. While some might argue that it may not have been needed in that very early era of human history, the fact remains, all future iterations are different from the first iteration of the church for at least this one reason. When the Aaronic priesthood was implemented in future iterations, that represented a transformation from the oldest example of the church.

3) The Aaronic priesthood as it existed in the 3rd and 4th iterations of the church, which for a time existed simultaneously, were not structurally the same. In the New Testament church, there were deacons, priests and bishops. It is not precisely clear if teachers were regarded as an actual office of priesthood.

In the 2nd Nephite church, there were priests, but no deacons, and no bishops. Also, there were indeed ordained teachers. So, different offices operating in the Aaronic priesthood, at the same time, depending in which part of the world you were.

4) According to the Doctrine & Covenants, bishops are properly part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisedec priesthood. Also, they are to be literal descendants of Aaron. However, as proving such heritage is problematic, the Lord has provided us, in our modern revelations, an escape clause: high priests can function in all other offices, therefore, a high priest can be ordained and serve in the office of bishop.

The key point here though is that bishops are of the Aaronic priesthood. Yet, when we review the New Testament, it seems clear that bishops were very senior members of the church, presiding just below the apostles. Why would members of the Aaronic priesthood be senior to high priests and elders?

Clearly, bishops were operating in the New Testament church with an authority and responsibility distinct from other iterations of the church. Clearly, they were called by God to serve as the needs of the people required at the time.

5) Looking at the priesthood as a whole, the New Testament church seems to have had the following offices and roles:

apostles, bishops, deacons, elders, evangelists, high priests, pastors, priests, seventies & teachers (pastors, and possibly teachers, being roles vs. offices).

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

Elders, priests & teachers (high priests seem absent from the 2nd Nephite church, which fact is itself a distinction from the 1st Nephite church).

An additional role is found in the existence of 12 elders set apart to provide something approximating apostolic ministry without being true apostles. This seems to have been a one shot arrangement.

When we compare the two versions of the priesthood (in iterations 3 and 4), including pastors and teachers, we see a total of 12 forms of ministerial leadership in the New Testament church, but only four (including the 12 apostolic elders) in the 2nd Nephite church.

6) When we look at the modern church, we continue to see evolutions:

  1. Seven (and as many as ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
  2. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
  3. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
  4. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
  5. A First Presidency.
  6. Apostles no longer form the senior administrative & spiritual body.
  7. A presiding evangelist.
  8. A new office, in the form of high councilor****
  9. A Standing High Council
  10. Bishops function as financial leaders instead of presiding over the church.

*While there have always been prophets, they were not previously an office of priesthood. This is therefore a new office that exists only in the modern church.

**Prior to the modern church, presidents, as an office of priesthood, did not exist. This is therefore a new priesthood office.

***There is no priesthood office of patriarch in ancient scripture. Patriarchs did exist in the Old Testament, but they were not an office of priesthood. Therefore, it is a new office of priesthood existing only in the modern church. It was also combined with the office of evangelist. There can be little doubt that Old Testament patriarchs and New Testament evangelists, if told that one day their roles would be merged into one office would have found that to be a rather strange change. I suspect many would deem it to be a very unlikely, implausible and awkward change.

****While the church does not tend to currently use the term high councilor, and inducts people to the standing high council via setting apart instead of ordination, its status as an office is based on Doctrine and Covenants 129:7b (No LDS equivalent)

So Why are You Even a Member of the Church?

He said contemptuously.  She said flippantly.  He said belittling.  She said venomously.

I have no idea how many times I’ve seen someone ask that in the various church-related Facebook groups that I belong to.

Typically, such a question is asked for the following reason:  A more traditionally minded person creates an affirming discussion about the Book of Mormon, or the Inspired Version of the Bible, or some other foundational expression of the Latter Day Restoration movement (one true church, Great Apostasy, priesthood restoration, etcetera).  Then, someone replies to the post indicating that they totally reject the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon (or whatever the opening post was about).

As a result of that, the person who created the thread, or someone else with similar beliefs, responds with “So why are you even a member of the church?” or something much harsher. And while it might seem like an honest and sincere question, it does demonstrate a very limited or restricted understanding of how the church can be, and is, meaningful to people, with an emphasis on our distinctions vs. Christ’s mission (which seems to suggest, at least to me, that such people might want to rethink what they believe the church’s priorities should be).

Many (but by no means all of them) of our more traditionally minded members seem to think that it makes no sense to belong to the church if you reject the Book of Mormon, etc.

However, it is important to note that the purpose of the Restored Church is not to count how often we use the Book of Mormon.  Or how many people believe in it.  The purpose of the Restored Church is not to count how often we preach about being the one true church; nor is it to count how often we reference the Sacred Grove, etc.  None of the various things that make us the Restored Church is actually our purpose.

Let me be clear.  And this may seem confusing at first.  But it is the truth.  The purpose of the Restored Church is not to be the Restored Church.  That is what we are, because we are Christ’s Church Restored.  But being the Restored Church is not our purpose.

Our purpose is to be the Church.  The reason why the Church was restored in the first place was so that the Church could exist again.  The Restored Church is not a new church that exists for its own sake.  It is a restoration of the original iteration of the Church.  That is the whole point of Restoration – the point of being restored.

The purpose of the Restored Church is to be the Church.  And the purpose of the Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ, and to promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace, and make Christ’s mission our mission, by furthering His mission here on Earth, in our communities, in our time.

It is also important to understand that there are at least three broad umbrella concepts, or dimensions of what we might view as church life.  Those dimensions are as follows: doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

Community of Christ, as the Restored Church, is, in its entirety, the sum of all three of these dimensions.

Some people regard Community of Christ as the true church.  If that view is correct, then it is correct because the church is the sum of doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

Some people regard Community of Christ as a church that is true.  Again, if that view is correct, then it is correct because the church is the sum of doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

All three dimensions of church life are important.  All three dimensions of church life are vital.  And all three dimensions of church life experience struggles of one form or another.

I believe that to thrive as a church, we must be two things simultaneously.  We *must* be a church of the Latter Day Restoration.  And, we must be a 21st-century church, meaning, we must be a church that resonates with people.  We must be a church that is redemptive.  And we must be a church that is relevant.

It is not enough to simply espouse Latter Day Restoration concepts.  It is not enough to proclaim traditional Christian concepts.  It is not enough to be conservative or liberal or somewhere in between.  We must be relevant.  We must be redemptive.  And we must resonate with people.

And we do.  This is what makes us a 21st-century church.  And to continue to be who we are, we need to continue to be a Latter Day Restoration church.  Otherwise, we risk ceasing to exist.

But let’s table that.  Let’s get back to being relevant, redemptive, and a church that resonates with people.  A moment ago, I said that I believe we are all those things.  We are redemptive.  When we work at being so. And we are relevant, and we do resonate with people.

And we are, and do so, for a variety of different reasons.  So, why are people members of the church even though they reject the Book of Mormon, or the need for priesthood restoration, etc.?  Because some aspect, or multiple aspects, of the three dimensions of church life, doctrine, mission and fellowship, resonate with them, and / or make the church relevant to them.

Some people like how we tackle social issues.  Some people like how we strive to promote justice.  Some people like how we are a global family, not isolated congregations.  Some people like how the members get to help steer the church.

The church offers so many different things to our people.  And so clearly, if its not our doctrine, it is perhaps some aspect of our fellowship, and / or our mission, that resonates with people, and makes the church relevant to them.  And so they stay members.  They become members.  And they often flourish, and become more faithful and active members than some others who are content to simply pine for days gone by.

“Do not yearn for times that are past, but recognize that you have been given a foundation of faithful service, even as you build a foundation for what is yet to be.”
–Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2b

Some people love being part of the church because it’s what they know.  It’s what they feel comfortable with.  They love the social aspects of it, the reunions, camps, conferences, and structure.  They love our mission initiatives, or our enduring principles, or basic beliefs, or our Christology.  And though they may reject some of our foundational beliefs, they may like how our model of priesthood works.  They may love our style of worship, our hymns, and our ability to faithfully disagree. And again, regardless of what they might believe or not believe, they may love our history and heritage, and the journey we have been on as a people of faith, and they may want to continue on that journey with their brothers and sisters in the church.  There is just so much richness to our church, so much that it offers, we should not wonder that many people who reject traditional, foundational Restoration beliefs want to be part of this great work that the Lord is doing.

Who are we to say it cannot be so?  The church has never used things like the Book of Mormon, etc. to be a test of fellowship. Joseph Smith Jr. envisioned a church that did not have creeds.  And so we do not mandate beliefs or convictions.

But let me go back to the question in the title of this blog. The reality is, that asking such a question, even if truly sincere is hard to interpret by the person being asked as anything other than an attack or criticism. Imagine being asked, “well then why are you a member of this church?” Given how often some conservatives lament how progressive the church has become, it is easy to imagine a liberal member asking that of a conservative remarking about how uncomfortable they are with who we have become over the decades.   So, imagine being asked that question yourself.

It’s hard to view such a question as something not negative. In a sense, your worthiness or appropriateness as a member is being called into question, at least seemingly if not actually. And of course, that then tends to result in a firm response from the person so questioned. And then things just spiral out of control.

This is why I strive to be as cordial and diplomatic as I can be. And here is something that I have told other people before: the simple fact is, I am not threatened in any way by someone else’s lack of belief in what I believe. My faith or beliefs are not diminished by what others don’t share a belief with me in. When I see conservative church members get so upset when someone expresses a counterview, I often wonder, is their own faith in what they claim to be perhaps far more shallow (less deep) than they want to project? If we are constantly offended by someone else’s lack of belief about something, are we really perhaps feeling threatened by such remarks, worried that perhaps our own faith will be torn down?

In some ways, I just don’t care if other people reject my beliefs. That is not totally true, as it does sadden me that faith in such things has dropped over the years, often for what I believe to be unfortunate or flawed reasons. So in a sense, I do care. But, it does not impact my own faith, or my daily life. I am free to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical, and nobody can take that away from me.

I love the church, and I want all people to love the church, and feel welcome in the church.  And I want everyone to understand what the church is, is vast, deep, broad and meaningful.  It offers so much to all people.  And nobody has to accept every solitary trait or aspect of what makes the church what it is.  Just as a conservative does not have to accept open communion, another member does not need to accept that the Book of Mormon has to be historical.

But what we should all strive to do, is celebrate that we are so meaningful to so many people, of wide, and diverse opinions.  Here is something I think we often overlook.  Everyone is different.  Certain things will simply never, ever resonate with some people.  This is what I think so many other Christian churches fail to understand.  They often have a very narrow sense of who they are, but believe it’s their mission to convert the entire population of the world.

I personally believe that Christ hopes that we can convert as many people to Him, and to His church, as we possibly can.  But that will simply never, ever, happen, if we only offer one flavor of ice cream (one thing to offer, one approach, one understanding, etc.)  Because, if we only have one flavor, no matter how deeply we believe in the rightness of our faith, and no matter how much we strive to convert people, some will never convert to us, because they just don’t like that one flavor.

This is where the Catholics, the LDS, and various other denominations err, in my opinion. They want to see everyone on the planet convert.  But that will never happen.  No matter how much they strive to teach people the “truth” and open their eyes, and help them to have the Spirit, because, if they only offer one flavor, there will always be someone who will say, “no thank you”, because what they offer simply won’t resonate with them.

But Community of Christ offers several things, and allows room for diverse beliefs and perspectives, and opportunities for spiritual growth.  It is a church that can be a sanctuary for the spiritually wounded.  It is a church that can shelter those who need whatever it is that we offer that they find meaningful.  And that is what it may all come down to.  There are just various things that, for various different reasons, people of various walks of life, various beliefs, etc., find to be deeply meaningful.

And finally, since it is the hope of the church to have as many members as possible, to ask someone why they want to be part of this church if they reject certain concepts, actually seems to be in conflict with the purpose, mission, and efforts of the church.  I can’t imagine such a question being asked by Jesus Christ.  I am sure He is just glad to have all the members that the church has.

Refuting Leviticus 20:13

I recently heard that a pastor in the United States has suggested that God told the nations of the world that gay people should be put to death, citing Leviticus Chapter 20 verse 13.

This is a horrific thing to advocate and circulate.  Hinting or outright suggesting that someone, or a group of people, should be killed because of this verse, is just wrong, and evil, and completely clashes with the teachings of Jesus Christ – anyone who advocates otherwise is a false Christian.

The premise of using this verse to justify murdering gay people is also completely flawed, for several reasons, and I’ll do my best to explain why this is the case.

First, let us look at what the verse in question actually says:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  –Leviticus Chapter 20 verse 13

This is indeed a troubling passage, but it does not give anyone (and never has), free reign to put gay people to death.  I don’t want to get distracted with trying to understand why such a verse exists, but rather, to concentrate on why it cannot be used to sanction putting LGBT people to death.

To begin with, the sin being discussed in the above verse is not that of “being gay”, but sexual relations between two men.  It is not a sin to be gay.  And this verse does not suggest that it is.  The sin in question, according to this verse, is two men being intimate (with each other).

It is important to note that this verse is part of the Law of Moses: the 613 commandments revealed to the Israelites.  The Law dose not presume guilt.  It does not suspect guilt.  Therefore, it never comes into effect simply because a person is gay. It does not come into effect if two gay men live together.  It does not matter how many people might claim “we know what they are doing!”, because we actually don’t.

This law would only have been enforced (if it actually ever was), if someone witnessed two men being intimate.  And presumably the witness would have to be able to prove it.

But, thankfully, this law is not applicable today.  Let us be clear: God has never told “the world” or “the nations of the world”,  etc. that men who lie with men shall be put to death.  If we believe he ever said such a thing, then we have to accept the following: He told such things *only* to the ancient, Biblical nation of Israel.  Let us again be clear: The Law of Moses was given to the Jews, and the other Tribes of Israel, and only they were required to follow the Law. It was therefore not a universal law that God expected all people or all nations of the world to follow and obey.

Even among the Israelites, the death penalty was seldom actually carried out.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-death-penalty-in-jewish-tradition/

Generally speaking, the only people who strive to keep the Law of Moses today are some members of the Jewish community.  And even they keep only parts of it.  And of course, they do so only to the extent that the laws of the land permit.  So, unless you are Jewish, you are not expected to keep the law, and to suggest that Christians should enforce a Jewish law that we are not living under would be like a Christian trying to enforce a Hindu law or an Islamic law, or a Sikh law, etc.  It would also be like an American, in the United Sates, trying to enforce a law of another nation.  It just has no validity.

Furthermore, Jesus advocated love, compassion, and mercy.  He said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” – so, even if two people were caught in a sinful situation, (in the eyes of the Law of Moses), our knee jerk reaction, as Christians, should not be “punish them according to what the Law ways!” but rather, to follow the example of Christ Himself, and take no action other than showing love, compassion and mercy.

If you need a reminder of what this looks like consider the story of Jesus and the adulteress:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOGWa3YVNrQ

In this story (told in John 8:1-11), Jesus forgives the woman caught in the act of adultery.

Speaking of adultery, as noted in the story of the adulterous, the sin of adultery was, according to the Law of Moses, also punishable by death:

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” –Leviticus 20:10

So, if we feel that w need to enforce Leviticus 20:13, we would need to enforce 20:10.  And given that it adultery is mentioned before men lying with men, that very plausibly suggests it is a more serious sin.

Now, of course, defenders of the warped view outlines at the start of this blog (and hopefully there really aren’t’ any) might claim “aha, but we are not adulterers!”

Don’t be so sure.  Because Jesus taught us in Matthew chapter 5:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

While many men have never committed adultery physically, I would tend to think that most straight married men, at least those willing to advocate murder, have likely had lustful thoughts about an attractive women they have seen.

And if that is true, that man is, according to Jesus, an adulterer.  And that therefore means he is guiltily of adultery.  And to apply one law but not another is hypocrisy.  And the only thing that made Christ angry was hypocrisy.

And then of course there is this verse from Galatians chapter 3:28

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The obvious meaning of this verse is that in Christ, our differences should not set us apart from one another.  We are all one.  There is neither American nor Australian, there is neither gay nor straight, there is neither Baptist nor Catholic, there is neither republican nor democrat, there is neither Dallas Cowboy fans nor New England Patriots fans, there is neither people who like pineapple on pizza and those who do not.  We are all one in Christ.  It is just that simple.

A Sad Truth

For some time one of my passions with regard to the church is bringing awareness to people that God has made changes to that which God has previously established.  This is something I feel is very important, and I feel that I have a calling to do so.  And the reason why I feel that this is so important is that many members of the church do not believe that God ever changes that which God has previously established, and therefore, they cannot accept the many changes that the church has made over the years.

This is something that greatly troubles me because those members often feel wounded and forgotten; many feel that they no longer have a home in the church, and have a reduced capacity to render ministry.  They may feel the church has strayed, perhaps even risking apostasy.

I want all members of the church to feel that they belong, have a voice, and see them feel energized and empowered to once again be active disciples in the service of Jesus Christ.

Some years ago now I discovered that our Restoration scriptures contain many examples of God making changes to that which God has previously established.  This proves that God can indeed make changes, and therefore, we don’t need to regard the various changes made in the church as being counter to God’s will.

When I discovered this, I made a compilation of all the changes I’ve come across and began sharing them with conservative church members in the hopes of helping them understand that God does make changes, and therefore, they do not need to feel that the church has strayed from God’s truth.

The great thing about accepting that God can make changes is that you don’t have to surrender any Restoration foundational beliefs that you may have. Let me use myself as an example.  I believe in the Book of Mormon, Inspired Version, priesthood restoration, etc.  I also believe that the changes made by the church reflect God’s will for us.  And accepting that did not mean I had to surrender my belief in our foundational claims.

And so, it has been my personal mission to educate people who cherish our foundational Restoration doctrines, but who feel that the church has strayed from God’s truth, that God does change things, that the meaning of an unchanging god is with regard to God’s nature, not what God does.

Sadly, I have noticed a very regrettable trend from many people who I have shared my position with.  What typically happens when I inform them that God can make changes is they will start arguing with me that He does not…never had, never will.  I try to inform them that I have examples.  Frequently there is no interest in seeing those examples (which is very telling).  Generally, the pushback simply continues.

Finally, I will either simply provide some of the examples at my own imitative, or they will ask to see some. In either case, this usually follows a back-and-forth exchange.  Sometimes over multiple days, with several responses back and forth (most of these conversations I have with people on this topic take place on Facebook).

And what I have consistently noticed, over and over and over again, over the past several years, is the overwhelming tendency for the people I have been conversing with to immediately stop participating in the conversation once those examples are shared.

This tells me that they have been shocked to discover that there are examples of God making changes, and they cannot refute them.

On occasion, someone will tell me that they don’t see things the way I do.  But, when I ask them why not, they refuse to say.  If I ask “well, how is the example of X that I provided of God making a change not really an indication of God making a change”, I  simply get the soothing sound of crickets in response.

This also tells me something else.  The people who have done this, clearly are less interested in what God wants, and more interested in what they want.  Let me try to clarify what I mean.

There are church members who to this day believe that female ordination is wrong.  Some believe changing the church name was wrong.  Some believe gay marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships are wrong.  Some believe that accepting membership via confirmation only for people previously baptized in another faith is wrong.  Some believe that open communion is wrong.  Some even believe that God does not approve of where the temple was built.  Often, they believe most or all of these things are wrong, if they believe any of them are.

And, the reasons they give for why these things are wrong is that they believe that each of them runs contrary to God’s will.  And, because they believe God never changes that which God has previously established, these things will never become God’s will. God will never sanction female ordination, or open communion, etc., because God does not make changes.  Therefore, we know that all of these things run contrary to God’s will, and are therefore wrong.

Presumably, if it can be proven that God can make and has made changes, then there would no longer be a reason to claim that God cannot make changes, so there would be no reason to object to a change solely on the premise that God does not make changes.

But the reality is when someone is constantly conversing with me about such things until I prove that God can changes things, and then goes totally silent, the truth becomes apparent:

They don’t want the changes to be possibly valid. If they are against female ordination, or gay marriage, or open communion, it is less about God being against such things, but more about them being against it.  They simply want these things to be wrong.  They want God to view them as wrong.

And they can confidently convince themselves that God must view it that way by hiding behind the belief that God never changes anything.

But once that notion is shattered, they are forced to accept that God can make changes, and therefore they have to be open to the possibility that the changes made by the church are not wrong.  And that clearly is not something they are willing to do.

And that is just sad.  And it’s hypocritical.  Our conservative church members who claim to be true believers in the Restoration, and in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, the Inspired Version, and all our other foundational stuff, tend to also regard themselves as true disciples of Jesus Christ, following the right path.

But the right path of Christian discipleship presumes, and must include, sincerity and a dedication to truth and honesty.  Truth needs to be regarded as sacred, and something that we strive to be, in order to draw closer to our creator.  It needs to be viewed in an almost sacramental manner.

Obviously, we cannot regard truth as an actual sacrament, because truth is a concept, not a ritual or ceremony.  Yet, like a sacrament, when we are honest with ourselves, and with each other, and with God, we move closer into God’s presence.  We become more aligned with what Christ wants us to be, as a people, and as individuals.

Conversely, if we are dishonest – in any way – we must expect that we drift further from God’s hopes for us.  We cannot expect to be more reflective of what God wants us to be if we are not truthful.

We also have to consider the fact that as Christians, as members of the Latter Day Restoration movement, and as members of Community of Christ, we have a duty to be truthful.  I will even say that we have a duty to seek the truth – but let me put that in context.  We must, when we are exploring a particular issue of doctrine or theology, seek the truth. I don’t mean that we are otherwise obligated to keep hunting for truth, as that would become a full-time vocation.

So if we know that God can make changes, and we simply ignore that, because we would rather continually perpetuate the false belief that God cannot make changes, so that we can continue to hold to our views that the changes made by the church are wrong, we are not being honest or truthful in our discipleship, and again, that is hypocritical (not to mention just plain wrong behavior for Christians).

We cannot put our own preferences ahead of the truth of scripture.  We cannot put our will ahead of God’s will.  And once we know that God can make changes, there is no going back.   It’s like what scripture tells us about people who have never heard the Gospel, or never accepted it, vs. those who have accepted it, but then turned away from it.  We are told that there are consequences for the latter group.

And when I speak of ignoring the fact that God can make changes is hypocritical, I want to point out that this is not some trivial matter, because when we read about the life of Christ, the only thing that made him angry (and consistently so), was hypocrisy.  We don’t want to be like the members of the Great Sanhedrin.  We don’t want to be Lamanites, hardening our hearts against God’s truth.

I don’t know how to help such people acknowledge that God can make changes.  Some will no doubt, if they cannot refute my examples, try to come up with other reasons to insist that certain things are wrong.  But, that again just proves that it’s really their own dislike of the change that makes them object to it, not so much God’s stance.

If you are reading this and fall into this category of knowing that God can make changes, but not wanting to admit it, so that you can continue to proclaim that one or more of the changes made by the church are wrong, I invite you to really think about what that means for your Christian witness and discipleship.  To be honest, our Christian witness and discipleship is something we all need to explore from time to time, to ensure that we are being honest with ourselves, and with God.

And for those who refuse to be honest, the pain you have over the changes in the church that you refuse to accept, the lamenting, and pining for prior days, all that churn and turmoil, the lack of living up to your true potential as disciples of Jesus Christ, I have to ask, is it worth it?

Many years ago, when I was 16, a girl broke my heart.  I was in pain for a long time afterwards.  And that pain became comfortable.  I almost, in a way, grew attached to my pain.  And I was, in a way, a bit cruel to that girl, because I would sometimes remind her of the pain she caused me. But I was permitting that pain to define who I was, allowing it to govern me, instead of moving on.

Don’t be like like I was.  Don’t cling to your resentment of the church.  Don’t continue to feel betrayed or forgotten, because, you don’t need to feel that way.  God does make changes to that which God has established!  The examples are right there, in our Restoration scriptures.  And that means the changes made by the church are not automatically wrong.  Maybe you won’t ever feel that they are all of God.  But, you can take comfort in knowing that because God can make changes, it is not a provable fact that the church erred, or became apostate; and so you can return home.

Other blogs to check out:

Sacramental Truth –  A deeper exploration of why Christians must be truthful.

An Overview of God’s Changes – Several examples of changes made by God.

Is a Sin Always a Sin? – Exploring how even things that are listed as sins or abominations do not always remain so in the mind of God.

Hypocrisy – the Bane of Christianity – What the Bible tells us.

 

Recent Gems of Continuing Revelation

I often feel that we forget much of the amazing wisdom the Lord had revealed to us through our prophets.  Here are some of what I consider to be among the more vital verses from the presidency of W.W. Smith onwards.

From Section 147, received through Prophet-President William Wallace (“W.W.”) Smith, 1964

147:7 I am further permitted to say by the Spirit: Instruction which has been given in former years is applicable in principle to the needs of today and should be so regarded by those who are seeking ways to accomplish the will of their heavenly Father. But the demands of a growing church require that these principles shall be evaluated and subjected to further interpretation. This requisite has always been present. In meeting it under the guidance of my spirit, my servants have learned the intent of these principles more truly. 

From Section 150, received through Prophet-President W.W. Smith, 1972

150:7 These are portentous times. The lives of many are being sacrificed unnecessarily to the gods of war, greed, and avarice. The land is being desecrated by the thoughtless waste of vital resources. You must obey my commandments and be in the forefront of those who would mediate this needless destruction while there is yet day.

From Section 151, received through Prophet-President W.W. Smith, 1974

151:8b Seek to be reconciled one with another. Let not your differences over procedures and program materials separate you and thus vitiate my influence for good in the world which is torn asunder by the devastating powers of evil. 

151:9 You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives.
151:10 Working together to this end will promote unity, resolve conflicts, relieve tensions between individuals, and heal the wounds which have been sapping the strength of the church, spiritually and materially. This you must do in the spirit of love and compassion as revealed in my Son during his journey in your midst.

From Section 154, received through Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, 1980

154:7a Be of good cheer, O my people. Neither be discouraged by uncertainties nor disheartened by the seeming lack of understanding on the part of some regarding the kingdom-building task. If you will move out in faith and confidence to proclaim my gospel my Spirit will empower you and there will be many who respond, even in places and ways which do not now seem clear.
154:7b Support one another in love, confident that my Spirit will be with you even as I have gone before you and shown you the way.

From Section 155, received through Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, 1982

155:6 Some of you have felt confusion as you have sought to labor in the midst of the many voices which are competing for a following, claiming to know my will. At a time when my word has clearly sent you forth to witness of my gospel, there are many who still are temporizing, looking for further confirming signs of the truth of those instructions which have already been given.
155:7 Know, O my people, the time for hesitation is past. The earth, my creation, groans for the liberating truths of my gospel which have been given for the salvation of the world. Test my words. Trust in my promises for they have been given for your assurance and will bear you up in times of doubt. Be not overly concerned with method as you go forth to witness in my name. There are many techniques for proclaiming my word which may be used as needs and circumstances dictate.

From Section 156, received through Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, 1984

156:7a Hear, O my people, regarding my holy priesthood. The power of this priesthood was placed in your midst from the earliest days of the rise of this work for the blessing and salvation of humanity.
156:7b There have been priesthood members over the years, however, who have misunderstood the purpose of their calling. Succumbing to pride, some have used it for personal aggrandizement.
156:7c Others, through disinterest or lack of diligence, have failed to magnify their calling or have become inactive.
156:7d When this has happened, the church has experienced a loss of spiritual power, and the entire priesthood structure has been diminished.

156:8a It is my will that my priesthood be made up of those who have an abiding faith and desire to serve me with all their hearts, in humility and with great devotion.

156:9b I say to you now, as I have said in the past, that all are called according to the gifts which have been given them. This applies to priesthood as well as to any other aspects of the work.
156:9c Therefore, do not wonder that some women of the church are being called to priesthood responsibilities. This is in harmony with my will and where these calls are made known to my servants, they may be processed according to administrative procedures and provisions of the law.

From Section 157, received through Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, 1988

157:10 The church is admonished once more to cease contending over matters of doctrine and scriptural interpretation. Where discussions on issues are necessary, let them go forward in good spirit; and where differences are found let the procedures and remedies in the laws of the church be utilized, under the direction of the First Presidency, so that unity and resolution of conflict may be enjoyed.

157:13a Nevertheless, there are those of you who have been fearful and reluctant to trust in the instructions that my servant, the prophet, has brought for your guidance. As a consequence, some have faltered and lost faith.
157:13b Insofar as this has happened, you of my church have suffered and lost some of the spiritual strength with which I have longed to endow your ministries.

159:7. Know also, dear Saints, at a time when careful study of the faith and doctrine of the church is being called for, strength and courage for this task will be given if you will trust my Spirit to sustain and uphold you. Do nothing in haste, but continue to trust in the enduring promises of the One in whose name you have been given life.

159:8. Then, as you gain ever more confidence in sensing the leadings of my Spirit, you will begin to see with new eyes, embrace the truths that are waiting for your understanding, and move joyfully toward the fulfillment of the tasks that are yours to accomplish.

From Section 161, received through Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray,  2000 (portions of this revelation were first received in 1996, but President McMurray did not submit them for consideration for canonization until this final form was presented in 2000) 

161:3a. Open your hearts and feel the yearnings of your brothers and sisters who are lonely, despised, fearful, neglected, unloved. Reach out in understanding, clasp their hands, and invite all to share in the blessings of community created in the name of the One who suffered on behalf of all.
161:3b. Do not be fearful of one another. Respect each life journey, even in its brokenness and uncertainty, for each person has walked alone at times. Be ready to listen and slow to criticize, lest judgments be unrighteous and unredemptive.
161:3c. Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit.

161:4a. Do not neglect the smallest among you, for even the least of these are treasures in God’s sight. Receive the giftedness and energy of children and youth, listening to understand their questions and their wisdom. Respond to their need to be loved and nurtured as they grow.
161:4b. Be mindful of the changing of life’s seasons, of the passage from the springtime of childhood and youth to the winter years of life. Embrace the blessing of your many differences. Be tender and caring. Be reminded once again that the gifts of all are necessary in order that divine purposes may be accomplished.

161:5. Be respectful of tradition. Do not fail to listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story, for the story of scripture and of faith empowers and illuminates. But neither be captive to time-bound formulas and procedures. Remember that instruction given in former years is applicable in principle and must be measured against the needs of a growing church, in accordance with the prayerful direction of the spiritual authorities and the consent of the people.

From Section 162, received through Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray,  2004 

162:2c. As a prophetic people you are called, under the direction of the spiritual authorities and with the common consent of the people, to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new forms of ministry. The priesthood must especially respond to that challenge, and the church is admonished to prayerfully consider how calling and giftedness in the Community of Christ can best be expressed in a new time.
162:2d. You have already been told to look to the sacraments to enrich the spiritual life of the body. It is not the form of the sacrament that dispenses grace but it is the divine presence that gives life. Be respectful of tradition and sensitive to one another, but do not be unduly bound by interpretations and procedures that no longer fit the needs of a worldwide church. In such matters direction will come from those called to lead.
162:2e. Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.

162:4a. Listen carefully to the many testimonies of those around the world who have been led into the fellowship of the Community of Christ. The richness of cultures, the poetry of language, and the breadth of human experience permit the gospel to be seen with new eyes and grasped with freshness of spirit. That gift has been given to you. Do not fail to understand its power.

162:5a. Do not be defined by the things that separate you but by the things that unite you in Jesus Christ.
162:5b. Over and over again you have been counseled to be reconciled, to seek the unity that is imperative to the building of the kingdom. Again the Spirit counsels the church to not allow the forces of division to divert you from your witness.
162:5c. Listen together to one another, without judgment or predisposition. Do not assume that the answers to matters of conflict have yet been perceived. There is much labor to be done. Reason together in love, and the Spirit of truth will prevail.

162:6a. From the earliest days you have been given a sacred principle that declares the inestimable worth of all persons. Do not forget.
162:6b. The One who created all humankind grieves at the shameful divisions within the human family. A prophetic people must work tirelessly to tear down walls of separation and to build bridges of understanding.

162:6c. You hold precious lives in your hands. Be gentle and gracious with one another. A community is no stronger than the weakest within it. Even as the One you follow reached out to those who were rejected and marginalized, so must the community that bears his name.

From Section 163, received through Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey, 2007

163:3c. There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

163:4a. God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

163:4b. The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.

163:7a. Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.
163:7b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.
163:7c. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.
163:7d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.

163:11b. There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.

From Section 164, received through Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey, 2010

164:5 It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.

164:6a. As revealed in Christ, God, the Creator of all, ultimately is concerned about behaviors and relationships that uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable. Such relationships are to be rooted in the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.

164:9a. Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely-led, eventful, challenging, and sometimes surprising to you. By the grace of God, you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church.

164:9b. When your willingness to live in sacred community as Christ’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation, you will become who you are called to be. The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of Christ, awaits your wholehearted response to the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ.

From Section 165, received through Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey, 2013, considered by the membership for three years, and formally canonized in 2016

164:9f. The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.

165:1d. Undertake compassionate and just actions to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth.
165:1e. Let nothing separate you from this mission. It reveals divine intent for personal, societal, and environmental salvation; a fullness of gospel witness for creation’s restoration.

Excerpts From the 2009 “A Defining Moment” address

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Excerpts From the 2019 Words of Counsel

Additional meaning is waiting to be discovered in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Renewing covenant with Jesus Christ includes the call to live as peaceful human beings who personify Christ’s peace.

Spiritual blessing will be experienced when this call is emphasized as a vital aspect of the sacrament. Cherish opportunities to be spiritually formed by Christ’s sacred meal of remembrance, reconciliation, renewal, and peace.

Then go with conviction into the locations of your discipleship and be the peace of Christ. As you do, you will discover a variety of ways in which spiritual community forms and flows as expressions of the gospel of peace.

Trust what is being born. Have faith in divine purposes. Persist in Hope.

Remember: What Matters Most…

In 2007, Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazy presented a revelation to the Church that became Section 163 of the Doctrine & Covenants, and which included these words:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.” –163:11b.

This prompted the Church, over the next couple of years, to frequently ask, and explore, the question “What matters most?”  And it really resonated with me.  I thought it was such an amazing thing to have us consider, and focus on, because we as church members are soooo often consumed with arguing and debating over various changes made or being considered, or lamenting new directions, pining for prior times, etc.   We can spend far too much precious time being fixated on simply being annoyed or angry over every little thing, or, we can pause, and ask, “what matters most?”

In the grand scheme of things, do some of the things that we get so agitated really matter?  When we see, hear, or learn something that angers us, it might be wise to ask ourselves, “Does this truly matter?  In the end, what matters most?”

And when we consider some of the things that people are having to cope with in other parts of the world, some of the things that we spend so much time arguing about seem trivial, if not downright petty, or pointless.

In 2009 President Veazey gave an address to the Church called “A Defining Moment”.

In that address the words “What matters most?” again appear.  The first such usage was as follows:

“What is this defining moment? In general, it can be framed by two questions: Will we allow certain circumstances and issues to divert us from our mission? Or will we clarify our mission priorities and focus on what matters most?”

Later on in the address he said these words:

“Many of our members live in countries with developing or nonfunctional economic and political systems. Their situation is much worse than anything many of us in more affluent areas are experiencing. What matters most to them is how to free themselves and their neighbors from the devastating effects of poverty, disease, and human conflict.”

And then, near the end of the address, he said:

“So, after all that is said, what matters most? I hope it has become clear. The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most! What matters most is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.”

In 20210, a new revelation, canonized as Section 164, was received, and it included these words:

164:9d. If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.
164:9e. The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision?
164:9f. The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.

The 2009 address points out that for many people, what matters most is not, for example, how often we tell the story of the Sacred Grove.  It is not about whether everyone is advocating for the same causes that I am, or with the same degree of passion as I am.  It is not about focusing on mistakes made in 1984 with how people on different sides of the debate over Section 156 were treated.  Its not about how often we reference the Book of Mormon in our worship helps.  Its not about how slow the church is with regard to clarifying our policies.  For some people, what matters most is having enough clean water to drink.  Having a safe place to sleep at night.  Having a way to ensure their children are  not killed in someone else’s war. 

And the address also clarifies that what matters most for us, as a church, is the mission of Jesus Christ.  And this is reaffirmed in revelation when the Lord directly informs us through God’s prophet: “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead”

In his 2011 address to the Church, President Veazey spoke about this portion of Section 164:

“I previously have shared that when I was committing to paper the words that were to become Doctrine and Covenants 164, I thought I had reached the conclusion with paragraph 8. Having wrestled with complicated theological, sacramental, and ethical issues, I was grateful for the Spirit’s guidance. I wanted to rest with God.

Much to my surprise, as I began a prayer of thanks, the Spirit surged up like a fountain! I reached for my writing tablet and began to capture the experience in concepts seeking expression.

What resulted is now paragraph 9 of Section 164. It is a message of God’s affirmation and hope for the church. The concluding sentence came with undeniable clarity: “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!””

I love that this was something that God really wanted to have our prophet share with the church.  Because, it was, and is, quite simply a message that we need to hear over and over. 

As a church, the mission of Jesus Chris is what matters most. Nothing else really matters.  I mean, sure, there are many considerations that any large organization needs to focus on.  Logistics, administration, finances, communication, etc.

But, in terms of our Christian witness, in terms of our discipleship, in terms of our priorities, the one thing that must always be understood as mattering most is the mission of Jesus Christ.

This is not to suggest that we cannot discuss, even vigorously, various things about the church that interest us, that we are concerned about.  But far too often, some of us become so resentful of things, or quick to anger, so personally offended that others have different views, that we probably all could benefit from asking ourselves “does this truly mater? What matters most?”

And then we need to remind ourselves that the Lord has answered this question for us:

“The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!”

And we need to take that message to heart.  Perhaps we need to get in the habit of saying that to ourselves as part of our daily routine, or when we have a church related discussion that has the potential to get sticky.

We Are ʻOhana

Ensuring that we are protecting the Worth of All Persons within our own sacred communities.

Community of Christ can be a challenging faith group for newcomers and Seekers to wrap their heads around. Especially if they come form a tradition that is very strict and controlling in terms of what people believe, and what people can say, do, etc.

Community of Christ is a church of many views, and we take our free agency very seriously.  We give our members a great deal of freedom to hold, and express, the views that they have.  There are of course limits.  But, they are not nearly as numerous as in other denominations, and I love that about our church.

Another thing that I really love about our church is our Enduring Principles.  There are two that really speak to many people: Unity in Diversity, and the Worth of All Persons.  The importance of these two Enduring Principles cannot be overstated.  They are defining aspects of who we strive to be. 

And we like to talk them up.  Especially the Worth of All Persons.  This is a massively important principle, and we really like to share it with investigators and seekers, because it is so meaningful to us, and it resonates with so many people.  But, most importantly of all, when we live it, we bring redemption into the lives of people.  If we help people learn that they do mater, that God loves them, that they are not worthless, and that we love them, well, that can truly transform people.  Perhaps even save lives.

However, sometimes we fail to take this Enduring Principle to heart when we deal with our own people.  Exploring every way in which we fail to uphold the worth of all persons among our own members is far beyond the scope of this blog, so I am going to focus on one demographic that I personally understand better than others, and which I have been very interested in supporting for many years now, as I feel that they often feel ignored,  neglected and unheard.  So, who am I speaking of?  Well, I especially feel that we often fail to honor the worth of all persons when interacting with those members who have more traditional beliefs.  But I want to be clear: I am *not* saying that they are the only demographic who we as a church  have perhaps not always upheld in terms of honoring the worth of all persons with regard to our own membership.

For a long time now, I have felt that our more conservative church members have become a marginalized demographic within our larger church membership. And I know firsthand that they often feel like their views do not matter, that they lack a voice, or a ministry to offer, etc.  I also know that many don’t feel that the church wants them anymore.

To be made to feel that way is quite simply wrong.  We cannot progress as a church that focuses on peace, justice, reconciliation, healing of the spirit, cherishing unity in diversity, and promoting the worth of all persons if we are failing to respect the worth of all persons dwelling in our own midst.  We cannot move the mission of Jesus Christ forward, to the extent that we potentially can, if we don’t extend that mission to some of our own members.

So how do we do better?  Well, let me use social media as an example (but this can be applied to in-person conversations, etc.). In one of the church-related social media groups I help moderate, there are occasionally some posts about various Restoration concepts, such as the Book of Mormon.  Many of these include statement that make it clear that the person who created the post in question greatly cherishes the Book of Mormon, regarding it as sacred part of their faith journey, and sometimes even foundational to their relationship with Jesus Christ.   All too often, I have seen, in these type of discussions since joining Facebook in 2008, responders posting remarks that seem to serve no purpose other than to crush something that someone holds as sacred.

Sometimes, a diversity of views on something like the Book of Mormon is invited.  For example:

“What do people think of the Book of Mormon”

or

“Do you consider the Book of Mormon to be historical?”

When these types of questions are posted, the person asking the question should be prepared to face a huge spectrum of viewpoints, often very strongly put forth.  I see no issues with that.

But, sometimes people post things such as the following:

“I love reading the Book of Mormon, so many of its verses are really meaningful to me.  What are some of your favorite verses?”

or

“I love the story of the Brother of Jared lighting the barges with the sixteen stones touched by the finger of the Lord.  So many of the stories in the Book of Mormon really speak to me. What Book of Mormon stories do you like?”

Clearly, for these people, the Book of Mormon (most likely) really resonates with them, and holds a special place in their faith journey.

And I have seen questions like these or others, several times over the years.  And while they often do get the kind of response that the authors would hope for, far too often they also get responses such as:

“Reading the Book of Mormon is a waste of time”

or

“Don’t you know that the Book of Mormon is a fraud?”

or

“I can’t stand the Book of Mormon and hope that one day the Church will discard it!”

These are, to be honest, very mild or tame examples of the kind of responses I have seen.

If you don’t have a favorite verse, or a favorite story, you can simply ignore the conversation. Why feel the need to trample on something that is clearly meaningful to someone else?

I mean, imagine if someone asked:

“What is your favorite hymn?”

or

“What is your favorite campfire song?”

And imagine that they got responses like:

“Singing hymns is a waste of good preaching time!  The hymnal should be banned!”

or

“Forget about campfire songs…camps in their entirety are frivolous!”

We would be failing to respect, accept, and acknowledge the worth of the people asking the questions if we responded like that.  And we would be failing to respect, accept, and acknowledge the worth of our members who ask about favorite aspects of the Book of Mormon, if we take time out of our own day to put forth the effort to post a response that serves only to trample on something that someone else finds meaningful.

Because if we do that, we are saying that their beliefs, convictions, etc., that they cherish, which are meaningful to them, and so forth, are unworthy of being treated with dignity and respect.  And by extension, that means that we don’t truly feel that they are worthy of our respect.  And that can often be translated by the people that we treat that way as making them feel that they are not worthy of our love.  And therefore, we fail to uphold the principle of the Worth of All Persons when we behave in such a manner.

And of course, I am not speaking only of favorite verses or stories, but anything that someone might say that is affirming for them.  And I am also not limiting my concerns to just the Book of Mormon, but also our foundational faith claims, Restoration doctrines, the Inspired Version, etc.

And again, I want to be clear, if someone posts something in such a way that invites a diversity of views, the flood gates are open.

I also want to be clear that protecting the integrity of the principle of the Worth of All Persons, as we apply it to our own members has to be universal.

This means that when people do express viewpoints, in, say, a wide open discussion, that our more traditional members might not like, those people so posting are just as deserving of their voices being respected as everyone else.

However, it is, in my opinion, the more conservative leaning members who are far more inclined to feel marginalized in the church today, who feel like they no longer have a spiritual home.  This is something that just clearly shouts at me as being so very wrong and unjust.  It is not who we are called to be.  And so I strongly feel that we need to work on this.  We need to heal the wounds, and be truly a restorative people.  Not just for non-members that we are seeking to bring to Christ’s table.  But for all people, including our own members, and not just those who are calling us forward, but also those who help ensure that we listen to, and teach our sacred story.

“Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration, mindful that it is a spirit of adventure, openness, and searching.” –Section 161:1b

“Be respectful of tradition. Do not fail to listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story, for the story of scripture and of faith empowers and illuminates.” –Section 161:5

I truly hope that we will get better at being more inclusive, by not only being a welcoming and affirming spiritual home for the people that have been marginalized by society, but also by being a welcoming and affirming church for our own legacy members who feel abandoned, betrayed, hurt, isolated, or forgotten.

And no one in our faith tradition should feel any of those things, least of all forgotten.  We are a church.  We are Christ’s church.  We are a sacred community that upholds the worth of all persons and unity in diversity.  But we should also think of ourselves as a family: loving, accepting, embracing, and allowing people to rejoice in the sacred beliefs that they have.  The Hawaiians speak of family as ʻOhana.  And in the movie Lilo & Stich, it is stated more than once that “ʻOhana means family, and family means no one gets left behind–or forgotten!

We can’t claim to be a church that truly espouses and practices upholding the worth of all persons if we don’t contribute to our own members feeling that they have no place, that we don’t want them, that they have been forgotten.  It is very true that often, the feelings that people have, whether progressive or traditional or somewhere in-between, are the result of  their own decisions, choices, etc.  Sometimes, the sentiments they have are self-generated.  But we cannot contribute to any negative perspectives they have of their place in the church.  And we cannot ignore their pain either, regardless of its source.  We must strive to not wound, and to also be healing balm to the wounded, even when those wounds are self-made.

If we claim to uphold unity in diversity and the worth of all persons, but fail to give space to our marginalized members to cherish the views that they have, if we fail to do what we can to help them feel truly valued as members of the church, to empower them to render what ministry they desire, to help them know that they are loved and not alone, then we are hypocrites.

And that is not something that we should just shrug at.  Why?  Because when we read about Christ’s life in the Bible, the only thing that made him angry (and it did so consistently), was hypocrisy.

In closing, please reflect upon these words:

162:5a. Do not be defined by the things that separate you but by the things that unite you in Jesus Christ.
162:5b. Over and over again you have been counseled to be reconciled, to seek the unity that is imperative to the building of the kingdom. Again the Spirit counsels the church to not allow the forces of division to divert you from your witness.
162:5c. Listen together to one another, without judgment or predisposition. Do not assume that the answers to matters of conflict have yet been perceived. There is much labor to be done. Reason together in love, and the Spirit of truth will prevail.
162:6a. From the earliest days you have been given a sacred principle that declares the inestimable worth of all persons. Do not forget.

And also, once again, these words (because I love them):

ʻOhana means family, and family means no one gets left behind–or forgotten!” –Lilo & Stich

 

 

 

The Son is the Father

Christians typically understand God as having three aspects: The Father (Creator), the Son (Redeemer) and the Holy Spirit (Sustainer). 

The Father is often known simply as God, which tends to suggest a greater degree of authority or importance, which undermines the equality that the three aspects of God should have.  Though some sources do speak of each aspect as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the Son, more fully known as the Son of God, or even more fully as the Only Begotten Son of God, and by various other terms, such as the Savior, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God, etc.  The Holy Spirit is of course also known very commonly as the Holy Ghost and by other terms such as the Comforter and the Paraclete.

These three aspects of God are sometimes know as personages, each sometimes identified as being part of the godhead, i.e, “Jesus Christ, as one component of the godhead…” but of course the term is just another way of saying God.  And of course, the three aspects of the Godhead form what many Christians term the Holy Trinity.

I have always struggled with the concept of the Holy Trinity, because I’ve always had a hard time comprehending in what way the Holy Spirit is distinct or different from the Creator.  The whole gist of the Trinity is that each personage of the godhead is God, but each is not the other.  So the Father is God, but not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is God, but not the Father, etc. 

But, when you really think about it, it seems sort of redundant to consider the Holy Spirit and the Father as distinct from each other.  How are they not the same?  In my opinion, they are totally the same and in no way distinct.

In earlier days of the Restoration, there was a notion presented in the Lectures on Faith that the Holy Spirit was in fact the shared mind of the Father and the Son. This was an idea that intrigued me when I first read it, and it made far more sense to me than trying to insist that the Holy Spirit was the third person of the godhead that was somehow distinct from the Father (and of course from the Son).  But that view is not canon, and there are different theories on who wrote the Lectures on Faith, how authoritative they were, etc.  And while an interesting take on the Trinity, it does not really seem to be reflective of what the scriptures present.  So, I rejected that idea as being just the fanciful theories of who ever wrote that portion of the Lectures.

It is of course easier to imagine how the Spirit is distinct from the Son.  When we think of the Son, we think of Jesus, and therefore we think of a man, a person of flesh and blood who walked the Earth.

However, over time, I have struggled with the idea of Christ, or any part of the Trinity being distinct from the others in any way.

It just does not make sense to me.  God is an all powerful, eternal being.  And we always defend our concept of God against the accusations of people of other faiths who claim we worship more than one god by pointing out that we don’t: there is only one god.  We just understand that god as a community of three personages.  But God is still one being.

But when you really ponder these things, if God really is One, you have to wonder, what reason would there be for God to consist of three distinct aspects, or components, or personages, etc.?  Why is there a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit?  Why is God a community of three personages instead of being just one personage?

Well, the reality is, God is just one personage.  God does not exist as a community of three personages, or three anything.  There really is no Son.  There is just God.  The person the world knew as Jesus Christ, was not part of the godhead, or part of the trinity.  He was not God the Son.  He was (and is), just God.  And the Holy Spirit is likewise just God.  And the Father is just God.

But the Son and the Holy Spirit, do not actually exist.  They are both God.  And nothing else.  And, of course, the same is true for the Father.  The Heavenly Father (or “Heavenly Father” as our LDS cousins would say) does not exist.  Except as a term we apply to God.  But, as a distinct part of God that is somehow not the Son or the Spirit, the Father does not exist.  Each, personage of the Trinity exists only as terms we use for God, and as understandings of God, to help us, as mere mortals, to be able to relate to God (which would otherwise be far more difficult). But, as personages that somehow are distinct from each other, they are mere concepts that do not exist.

But – and let me be very clear here – God *does* exist.  So when I say that the Father does not actually exist (etc.), I am not saying that God does not exit, or that our understanding of God is wrong (save as expressed in the concept of the Trinity).  And likewise, Jesus Christ really did exist, and He really was, and is, and always has been, and always will be, God.  But he is not, nor was, or ever will be, distinct from any other personage of God, as there aren’t any.  And the same truth of course applies to the Holy Ghost as well.

The reason why I believe that God is not truly a community of three personages is because this is what is taught in the Book of Mormon.  The following two passages teach us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is actually the father:

28 And now Abinadi said unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people;
29 And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God:
30 And having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son; the Father because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son:
31 And they are one God, yea, the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth. –Mosiah 8

and…

93 Now Zeezrom saith again unto him, Is the Son of God the very eternal Father?
94 And Amulek said unto him, Yea, he is the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them is;
95 He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; –Alma 8

The context of these verses are that they are direct lessons about the nature of God, *specifically* about the relationship between the Father and the Son.

Abinadi says “I would that ye should understand”. This means he is telling the people that he wants them to understand something about God, and goes on to tell them what that something is: that “God himself” shall come down.

He continues to say ” And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God” – i.e., “if you’re wondering why God was called the Son when he was incarnated, the reason is…”

The example from Alma is again a specific teaching about God, and again, concerning the relationship between the Father and the Son.

Amulek is directly asked if the Son is the Father. And he states that such is the case. The Son *is* the Father. Note that there is no disclaimer. No qualifying remarks. Just point blank “yep”. He does however go on to say “He” is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, which of course would seem again to confirm, if the Son is such things, he must also be the Father.

So, how do we reconcile these with all the other verses that seem to suggest or imply that the Father and the Son are not the same (including those from the Bible)? Well, given the fact that these are specific teachings about how the Father and the Son relate to each other, I think that the challenge is to reconcile all the other verses with these verses.

How do we do that? I’m no scholar, so I can only offer crude suggestions, but I tend to think that one possibility is that all the verses that on the surface seem to imply that the  Father and Son are different exist because the bulk of the people who received such words simply could not accept that the Father could exist in the form of a man, so he is called “the Son” because he takes on flesh. But He is really the Father, simply existing for a time as both divine and incarnated as flesh at the same time. A seeming paradox, but simple for God.  God knows the limits of people, and what they will accept, so God ensures that, in the majority of scriptural examples, the incarnated God is referenced in such a way, either by himself or others, to not result in outright rejection.

I mean, consider how the Jews reacted to Jesus when he told the Sanhedrin that he was the Son of God. They accused him of blasphemy and nailed him to a tree. So, only some people were even willing to accept that he was the “Son of God”. Others violently opposed that outlook, murderously so. Imagine what would have happened if he had said “I’m the Father” or “I’m God”. Even some (and probably the majority) of his own followers would have had a hard time accepting that.  Now Imagine that a man sitting next to you on the bus or in a movie theater is the supreme ultimate creator of everything, “the Father”, the very top top top. Its hard to accept or wrap your head around. Our understanding of God seems to want to reject such things, and so we take comfort in viewing God as something lesser: His Son, instead of Himself. And we live in the 21st century. It would have been much harder in ancient times to reconcile the Father riding on a donkey, having a woman weep on his feet, etc.

However, some of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, because of their insights, knew otherwise, and shared that with select people. Their society was, from very early on, made privy to information about Christ that was not known in the Old World until Christ began his ministry. Being a society born from a very small group of people in a new land, isolated from their ancestors, they were less rigid in their thinking. This does not mean that everyone could process God walking among them, and so we see the usual pattern of references to the Father and the Son, but we need not be surprised that some people were able to accept a deeper truth about God.

Addendum (June 25th, 2022): I just came across another passage that teaches us that the Son is the Father:

44 And because he said unto them, that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning;
45 Or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth;
–Mosiah 5

 

Does God’s Mind Ever Change?

“You can always change your mind.”  How often have we heard that?  It’s a reassuring truth.  You can change your mind.   And I can change my mind.  It seems to me that being able to change our minds is a reflection of the free agency that God has given us. And it is something we do constantly throughout our lives.

But what about God?  It is often stated that God never changes His mind. Is this true?  This is something I’ve pondered on occasion over the years and I have had different opinions about it.  But, one thing is clear: We are provided one example of God changing his mind in the scriptures:

109 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant, Let us go to, and hew down the trees of the vineyard, and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard: for I have done all; what could I have done more for my vineyard?
110 But behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard, Spare it a little longer.
111 And the Lord said, Yea, I will spare it a little longer: for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard. –Jacob chapter 3 (CofC 1908)

The above passage is part of a message from God given to the prophet Zenos, in which God reveals to Zenos his interactions with the nation of Israel, which he compares to an olive tree in a vineyard (v30, 31).  Therefore, the “lord of the vineyard” is God, who as we see above, has changed His mind.  It might be expected that some people would dismiss this passage on the basis that it is a metaphorical story.  But only the symbolism is metaphorical. The story itself details a portion of God’s plan for the world.  And it’s a fairly lengthy outline (comprising verses 30 to 153).  It is not just a cute story or fictional parable.  It is a prolonged discourse of what is to come, and it is therefore utterly implausible and irrational to conclude that the character representing God in the story (which God is telling) would do something that God would not.

So can God change His mind?  Well, if we take our sacred canon into consideration, the answer is yes.

Some might say that this conflicts with the various scriptures that state that God does not change, but that simply informs us that we misunderstand what those scriptures truly mean.

Others might claim that if God can change His mind, God cannot be regarded as dependable, or reliable.  This is a copout and represents a skewed understanding of God.  God is still God.  God is still good, all loving, and perfect.  If God can change His mind, we can still be assured whatever God decides is based on those aforementioned divine traits that God has.