A Different Way of Looking at our Scriptural Canon

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I’ve always been very fond of our three volumes of scripture.  For  that reason, I have often wondered if each has a distinct theme, intent,  or purpose.  Beyond the obvious.  After all, we can clearly see that  the Bible introduces us to the person whose church we belong to.  The  Book of Mormon is said to have, at least as part of it’s purpose, the  function of helping to clarify the Bible.  And clearly, the Doctrine and  Covenants provides a lot of instruction on administrative issues; and  it also provides modern guidance.

But is there any other role  that each has?  I finally have come to realize that indeed, there is.   And this realization dawned on me as I noted some common ground in some  things that a few of the pastors in my area have been talking about.   About once every month or so, I participate in a meeting of all the CofC  pastors in my area. And I’ve noticed that one of them keeps talking  about communities. Church communities. Building sacred communities.

And I’ve also noticed that another keeps talking about relationships.  The importance of, and basic need to form real, meaningful relationships  with people.

Now, as I heard both of them talk about these  things, which occurred on different occasions, and not at the same time,  I heard them, as is so often the case, in isolation.

But one  day, I was thinking about a concept that I’ve been talking about a great  deal this year, in my congregation: invitation. The ministry and  blessing of invitation. And then the Holy Spirit brought it all  together. I suddenly recalled what my fellow pastors had mentioned,  often just in passing, so many times at our meetings. And I realized  that the three things that we have each been talking about, form a three  fold model. They go together.

Invitation will of course lead  to relationships being formed. Relationships, as they develop and  multiply, will ensure that community building takes place. And as the  community grows, the more potential there will be to have things to  invite people to.   And this is when I realized, that these three  concepts, invitation, relationships, and community building, form the  backbones of our three volumes of scripture.

You see, at the  heart of the Holy Bible, is God’s invitation. When we consider the  Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament, it is quite clear that the  entire second half of the Bible is all about invitation: To follow Jesus  Christ. That is the continual theme throughout the entire New  Testament: invitation.  But it’s mirrored in the Old Testament. In that  record we see God is inviting people to be civil, to be people of faith,  and to be responsible. The New Testament, by inviting us to follow God  through Christ, invites us to be people of charity, faith, and peace.  So, the entire Bible can be summed up as God’s invitation.

The  Doctrine and Covenants, perhaps more clearly seen in the 160s, but  scattered throughout all the Sections, has ample passages that focus on  how we respond to each other. The Doctrine and Covenants is all about  establishing relationships.

The Book of Mormon is, from start  to finish, a testimony of community building. That is what the Book of  Mormon is all about. Community!  Community building. Quite literally!  That is all that the Nephites did. They established spiritual  gatherings, and they physically built camps, villages, towns and cities.  And the spiritual gatherings and the domestic settlements were  generally one-and-the same: they built Zionic communities. And they did  so over and over. They were continually assaulted with hardships,  trials, tribulations, internal corruption, descent and all manner of  setbacks. But, somehow, they kept moving forward.

The church  has no greater scriptural example of community building than the Book of  Mormon. No greater focus on relationships, then the Doctrine and  Covenants. No greater invitation then what is found in the Holy Bible  (and of course, there is some overlap).  As these three themes are so  prominent in our three volumes of scripture, they *must* be modeled in  our discipleship. Our covenants with Jesus Christ must be founded on  these concepts.

A Three Fold Model of Dynamic Congregations

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I often find myself smiling as I experience the Holy Spirit bringing people and ideas together.  As one of the co-pastors of Scarborough Congregation, I’ve been trying to help give some focus or direction to our membership.  To that end, I’ve spent a great deal of this church school year talking about how we can grow in comfort with the ministry of invitation.  Invitation is often overlooked, but I have come to appreciate of late, just how vitally important it is, along with two other concepts.

About once every month or so, I participate in a meeting of all the pastors of the GTA. And I’ve noticed that the pastor of GTA West keeps talking about communities. Church communities. Building sacred communities.

I’ve also noticed that one of the co-pastors of Barrie keeps talking about relationships. The importance of, and basic need to form real, meaningful relationships with people.

Now, as I heard both of them talk about these things, which occurred on different occasions, and not at the same time, I heard them, as is so often the case, in isolation.

However, one day, I was thinking about the thing I’ve been talking about in Scarborough: the ministry and blessing of invitation. And then the Holy Spirit brought it all together. I suddenly recalled what my fellow pastors had mentioned, often just in passing, so many times at our meetings. And I realized that the three things that we have each been talking about separately form a three fold model. They go together.

Invitation will of course result in relationships being formed. Relationships, as they develop and multiply, will ensure that community building takes place. And as the community grows, the more potential there will be to have things to invite people to.

Which means of course, that there will be opportunities for new relationships to be formed; new connections between people being forged, in common desire to understand God; which then results in the community growing even larger (or new communities forming), as we grow in our shared desire to be united together on our spiritual journeys. Which means more opportunities for invitation… which means….which means… which means.

It is my belief that if we keep this three fold model in mind, and give it some focus in our congregations, we can truly become dynamic in what we offer our members, friends, seekers, and visitors. This I hope will also enable our congregations to be more sustainable.

Feb. 27th, 2013

Three Dimensions of Church

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What is church?  What is the purpose, or aim of the church?  Why was the church restored?  Every person who attempts to answer such questions may very well give a different answer.  Some answers will be almost identical.  Some will be similar.  Some will be quite diverse.

However, I suspect that the bulk of the responses would fall under one or more of 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 it’s 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.

Right now, there are many members of the church who are very concerned about doctrinal matters.  I share those concerns, and I find my thoughts pondering such matters with great frequency.

Sadly, some people have felt that the only proper response to doctrinal concerns is to withdraw from the church, perhaps joining with non-Restoration denominations, or affiliating with dissident groups, or simply becoming inactive.

This response greatly troubles me, because the church is not *just* about doctrine.  The fellowship and mission of the church are just as vital in the life of the church as our doctrine.  Perhaps even more so.

I can almost hear some of my fellow conservative church members gasping at that last remark.  Surely, noting can be more important than the doctrine of the church?  How can I compare fellowship and mission with our doctrine?

Our doctrine is very important, there is no doubt about that.  As we are told in recent revelations to the church, we were divinely established.  And we must never forget that.

Our doctrine is vital for the church as a whole.  But in order for the church to flourish it must generate true meaning in the lives of both it’s members, and those to whom we are called to minister (both as individual disciples, and collectively).

This means that the church must be redemptive, it must be relevant, and it must resonate with people.  This is the key to being the Restored Church in the 21st century.

And this is why our fellowship and our mission are so vitally important, and why I dare to put them on par with our doctrine.

Our doctrine does not put food into the bellies of starving children on the far side of the planet.  Our doctrine does not provide after school programs in inner city communities.  Our doctrine does not provide clean drinking water for villages in India, or support shelters or provide opportunities to share in pot lucks, talent shows, singing and laughing and crying and praying.

At least, not in a direct sense.  Indirectly, yes, our doctrine supports these things.  If it were not for our doctrine, we would not be the people that we have become.

But it is our opportunities to engage in fellowship, and our opportunities to engage in mission, that are truly relevant in the lives of Christ’s sheep.  We are called to be shepherds of His flock.  To bring real ministry to all those with broken hearts and contrite spirits.  It is what we do together, as sacred community, but first and foremost as the church of Jesus Christ, that will determine if our ministry will resonate with people.

This is why, even when I oppose changes in church doctrine, I continually remind myself that our doctrine is just one dimension of our church life.  It is only one aspect of our church identity.

The fellowship must take place – the support of our ministries must take place.

And mission must take place. Personally, I don’t think our mission has ever been quite so clear, and quite so in tune with Christ’s purposes as it has become in very recent years.  And there is still much work to do.

But I have always loved the fellowship, and it’s resonating power; and now I’m excited, in fact, I’ll say that I’m  *passionate* about the direction the church is moving towards – aligning it’s mission with the purposes of Jesus Christ, because I know that what we are doing has true relevance in the lives of people all over the world.  People I will most likely never meet; whose names I will never know.  People who I must never forsake.

So when changes in church doctrine trouble you, please remember that our doctrine (which is exceedingly extensive and quite capable of surviving our ongoing growing pains), is just one dimension of church life.

Always remember, fellowship and mission are of paramount importance, and every disciple is called by Jesus Christ to remain true to His purposes of rendering honest ministry to God’s children, both near and far.

April 2013

Imagine World Conference!

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 Something I wrote before World Conference, April 2013

I can’t wait to go to World Conference!  I’ve attended three or four prior World Conferences in my lifetime, but its been quite some time since I was at one…probably not since 1998.  For various reasons, I was not able to attend any since then.

Shortly after my wife and I first became a couple, she attended a World Conference with her mother.  It was one of the few non-congregational church events that she could think of that she attended that I was not at, and she told me that even though she really enjoyed the experience, she would never want to attend another one without me.  Its taken about ten years, but we are finally going to World Conference together, and I’m very excited.

If you have never been to a World Conference, I would like to encourage you to consider going.  There is just something extremely empowering about being in a gathering of members of the church from all over the world, and in such large numbers.

Imagine standing in the Auditorium’s conference chamber (seating capacity: about 5,800) singing along with everyone else to new and beloved hymns being played on an organ with 6,334 pipes.

Imagine sharing in the Lord’s Supper with close to six thousand other people, as it is served by 105 volunteers!

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Imagine being present during the opening ceremonies when the flags of 40+ nations that the church is officially established in, are unfurled and draped down from the conference chamber balcony.

The late Mike Hewitt behind the Canadian flag
Mike Hewitt unfurled the Canadian flag

Imagine being able to freely discuss and vote on legislative motions; thereby helping to shape the future of the Church.  This may not excite people as much as it does myself, but never forget, never take for granted the fact that we have this freedom. What a blessing it is to belong to Community of Christ!

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Imagine walking down the Worshiper’s Path, and participating in services in the heart of our breathtaking temple!

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Imagine being ministered to by vast choirs from Africa and French Polynesia, who lovingly share their talents with all those gathered, and who proudly wear their traditional apparel as a witness of their respective heritages, reminding us all that we truly are a world church.

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Imagine spending several days immersed in the love of God.  Imagine the fellowship, the evening celebrations, the displays from around the world, the young adult programs, the heritage sites, the opportunities to visit with other members from our mission center and field.  Imagine learning what matters most to our brothers and sisters from all over the world.

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Imagine what you will take home with you.

March 3rd, 2013

Life After National Conference

This was written and circulated as an email after the Canadian National Conference, but is just as valid for those troubled by the results of the USA {or another} National Conference.

“Do nothing in haste” -Section 159:7

Dear friends,

I know that for many people, there is great sadness, disappointment, frustration and anger about the results of the national conferences.gtawest

Yesterday, when I got home, I posted the following on Facebook:

“I don’t agree with and am disappointed with the results of the 2012 June National Conferences, but I had a good time today at the Canadian conference, and laughed and joked and sang, and when I departed at the end of the day I had a smile on my face, and left my fellow brothers and sisters of this great church in friendship and love and peace.”

I meant every word of that, and I still do. Yet, today, as I write this, I’m in a rather surly mood, and feeling a little depressed. Maybe its just the fact that it is now almost 8:30pm, the day is soon to be over, and I have to go back to work tomorrow. Maybe it is the rain and the moody grey clouds. But, for whatever the reason, I feel unusually blah.

And I know there must be others who feel the same. So I wanted to let you know that you are not alone. You don’t need to struggle in solitude or silence, and I’m happy to chat with any of you.

The rain has already stopped, and a fresh breeze is blowing through my window. And I know that in time, I’ll be back to my normal stern (but not surly) self.  🙂

But I know that the frustration will remain, and there will be many questions. It has occurred to me that one of the questions that some people might be asking is “are we apostate now?”

Let me assure you, we are not. One of two things happened at National Conference. The first possibility is we did the will of God. If that was the case, we have nothing to worry about.

The second possibility is that we made a mistake. If that is the case, we also have nothing to worry about. Because that is all it is. A mistake.

God created the church for mankind, not mankind for the church. And although the church belongs to God, and Christ is the head of the church, the church is made up of mere human beings. Limited, flawed, imperfect, human beings.

God is perfect, but he deliberately made us imperfect. We need to remember this. According to scripture, we have the potential to become perfect, but we do not begin our lives perfect, and this is by divine design. God knows that we are not perfect, and therefore, any organization, including his church, will make mistakes, and God knows this to be true.
Other denominations (or factions) within the Restoration movement like to shout “apostasy” just for spilling milk. We have never been that kind of church. It would take something light years beyond anything that has ever happened in Community of Christ for us to be deemed apostate by God.

If we made a mistake yesterday, that is all it is. We’ve made mistakes before, and we may make mistakes again. Even if the mistake is never corrected, God will not abandon us, he will not forsake us, he will not turn his face away from us.

That being the case, we of course should not turn away from his church. For, despite being imperfect, despite stumbling, despite making mistakes, the church is still true. It is still my spiritual home. I hope it will always be yours.

That takes me to the next question I’m sure some people are asking: “do I still have a home here?” You have already seen my response, but the answer to that question will largely depend on you. What matters most?

I have been asked many times by Restorationists, who know that I have traditional viewpoints, why I remain part of Community of Christ. Quite simply, because I know the church is true. Nothing has changed that.

And I know that my calling, includes in part, the expectation that I will, in my own, way, in a gentle, non-confrontational manner, in a way that will hopefully be relevant and resonate with others, keep teaching the principles of the Restoration. As I understand them.

That might answer another question: “what is my role now?”

Several years ago, a member of the First Presidency attended a reunion in Northern Ontario, at Camp Noronto. And I attended a class or discussion he ran just in front of the chapel. I said to him that I felt very unsure if I even had a place in the church, because I had very traditional beliefs, yet the church no longer seemed to have such, and was very liberal.

He said to me that the church needs liberal people, to help push the church forward in directions that it *should* move towards. But then he said to me, “but we also need people like you…to make sure we don’t go too far”. It warmed my heart to hear him say that.

Obviously, I have never forgotten those words, and they have always remained with me throughout the years. That is part of my ministry. Section 17 tells us that the priesthood are to “expound” and “exhort”. That is part of my purpose. That is part of why I am still here.

Not to pat myself on the back, but the church needs me. And the church needs you. And yes, it needs those who are less conservative. It really, truly needs them. It needs all of our members, because it needs balance.

I can guess what some of you are saying. “But didn’t we go too far at National Conference?” Maybe so. But remember this: while it may be the calling of many of us to help prevent the church from going too far, that does not mean we will always succeed in that calling on every issue.

Sometimes the church might indeed go too far with regard to a particular concept. In other areas, we might not go far enough! But if the church has or does go too far on some issue, that does not negate our call to do what we can to try to prevent us from going too far in other areas. So you see, even in the wake of changes that we might not support, we still have a purpose, a calling, and a spiritual home.

Like I said a moment ago, we need balance. I don’t think we have ever had that. In the past, we were probably far too right and ultra conservative. Now, we are, in my own opinion, too left and liberal to a degree that is I must confess I find somewhat troubling.

We need balance, but we won’t get there without you. Over the years, I have come to realize that not only is Community of Christ my spiritual home it is also the only place where I can truly magnify my call as a disciple of Jesus Christ to the maximum extent possible. There is no home for me outside the Restoration movement. There is no home for me in the LDS or dissident factions.

So I will continue to respond to what I feel is God’s call. I will continue to give of my time, gifts, generosity and whatever wisdom I can, because I know God has not turned his back on his church, therefore, nor will I.

I’m sure some of you have picked up on the fact that over the last couple of months, a great concern of mine has been to ensure that conservative church members have a voice, have the courage to use that voice, and to participate. While conference is now behind us, that involvement in the daily life and pulse of the church cannot end. Despite the results of conference, I feel that progress has been made to give traditional members a voice. I really, desperately don’t want to lose that now.

I hope you will continue to walk with me on this journey of discipleship in Christ’s church. If you need time, take time. But please, I ask that no one, in these very early days after conference, do anything rash. Don’t make pledges or proclamations that you can’t take back or may need to break (remember the Ammonites!). Don’t turn in priesthood cards, or walk away from friends. The cause of the kingdom is larger than any of the issues that cause us doubt and fear, and the ocean of God’s love, compassion, and mercy is vast and deep.

I am here to listen. If you want to vent, vent. If you want to chat, even better. Let’s keep the conversations and friendships going. With *all* of our brothers and sisters. It is when the conversations stop, that greater issues arise.

June 17th, 2012