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.