Are We Not All Beggars?

“though ye believe not me, believe the works” –John 10:38 (I.V.)

Beggar in London
This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

I have not always been in a position where I can give to the church. And, on those occasions where I could, I often forgot to bring money. I have the good fortune to live in a first world nation, but to be honest, I almost don’t carry cash anymore. If I need to make a purchase, I use my debit card. So, unfortunately, when I go to church, I often don’t have any cash left over to contribute. Those are habits I need to fix; but there are larger issues.

When I do remember to bring money, or a check, it always feels good to put it in the offering plate. Its something I enjoy; but for much of my life, I only contributed to my home congregation. I overlooked giving to World Church. I always felt that I only had so much money to give, and my local branch needed the money more. I could see the immediate needs. The leaky roof. The broken tap. The payments for lawn mowing and snow ploughing.

I’ve always known about the efforts of World Church to help make the world a better place, but such ventures were out of sight, and therefore, sadly, out of mind.

However, in recent years, I have been more inclined to support both my local congregation, and World Church; and it feels very good to do so. It feels like an additional form of ministry. I’m still working on my habits, but, sadly, again, there are larger issues…

As a conservative member with many traditional beliefs, I have come to regard supporting World Church as part of my personal stewardship. I have been called by Jesus Christ to be one of His disciples, and supporting World Church is one of my responses to that call.

Knowing that generosity is part of our discipleship, I have been greatly saddened and troubled at times, over the years, to learn that some of my fellow conservative church members have made the decision to stop supporting World Church as a response to some of the changes that have taken place, or are expected to take place. This attitude completely baffles me, it shocks me and it is, quite simply, wrong.

No matter how frustrated you might be with the church, no matter how much you may resent some things that have transpired, withholding your tithes is not the answer! In fact, as we will see further below, doing so will probably only accelerate the things that conservatives don’t want to see transpire! Now that’s ironic!

But first, a reminder.

Whatever we have in this life, it came from God. There are no exceptions. I once gave expression to this reality in a poem. I am not a poet, but, despite that fact, I feel compelled to share it here.

The poem is entitled “I Owe God a lot of Money” and I wrote it to be included in the camp log of the senior high camp I attended in 1997.

***

“I owe God a lot of money. Every dime I have ever had. Every penny I have ever made.
I owe it all to God.
I owe God a soda. Every drink I have ever had. Every meal I have ever enjoyed.
I owe these all to God.
I owe God a new shirt. Every coat I have ever worn. Every pair of shoes I have ever used.
I owe them all to God.
I owe God a tent. Every bed I have ever had. Every roof I have ever slept under.
I owe each and all to God.
I owe God a hug. Every friend I have ever known. Every relative I have ever had.
I owe every one to God.
I owe God a lot of stuff. Everything I have ever owned. Every item I have ever found.
I owe so much to God.
I owe God ever more. Every day that I have lived. All the tomorrows I shall ever have.
I owe no less than all to God”

***

What do you owe God? Do you owe any less than I? All the blessings we have ever received are granted to us from our Lord. Therefore, it does not truly belong to us, but instead, it belongs to God.

If we withhold our offerings, then we are withholding them from our Redeemer. How can we call ourselves true Christians, true disciples of Jesus Christ if we decide to punish the church by withholding our contributions from the One who gave it to us in the first place?

Again, everything we have, including every dime, is a gift to us from God. We are all beggars; and we are reminded of that in the second chapter of the Book of Mosiah:

29 And ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
30 Perhaps thou shalt say, The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance, that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just.
31 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done, he perisheth for ever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
32 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same being, even God, for all the substance which we have; for both food, and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
33 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins.
34 And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain?
35 Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped, that ye could not find utterance, so exceeding great was your joy.
36 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives, and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how had ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have, one to another?
37 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance, that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation, for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you, but to God, to whom also, your life belongeth;
38 And yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
39 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich, as pertaining to the things of this world.

Yes, we are all beggars. Yet, God has freely given to us. We in turn must freely give. Even when we disagree with some of the changes that have been made. In fact, especially when we disagree. Such things test our faith.

The passage above from Mosiah teaches us in verses 30 and 31 that we are not to pass judgement on the beggar. We are told that if we do so, we will bring judgement upon us, for, we are also beggars (verse 32).

Likewise, we should not pass judgement on the church for the faults we find with it. For does God not find fault in each of us?

Other verses in the above passage remind us that we turn to God when we are in need; and, despite our faults and failings, despite our sins and transgressions, God provides for us; and God has called us to tithe, to give generously. Will we ignore that call because we have issues with the church? If we do so, would God’s judgement on us not be just?

To put it simply, the fact that the church may have made changes that we might not be comfortable with in no way exempts us from our duty to tithe. However, that duty alone should not be the sole reason for why we should want to contribute generously.

At the end of World Conference 2010, President David Schaal preached a sermon in which he talked about the importance of giving to World Church. This is what he said:

“Friends, lets pay our tithing. The reason I say “let’s pay our tithing” is simply this: I am not motivated to pay my tithing simply so that the world church budget can be in some manner healthy on the balance sheet. I am motivated to pay my tithing because right now, missionaries, ministers, who are funded by World Church tithing dollars, in many places in this world, are helping young people learn how to avoid the ravages of the HIV virus, and because of your generosity there are children who are being spared that heartache. Its because not far from where I am standing right now there is a man who said to me not long ago, “I love this church – because of this church I get to be with my family, because I don’t do cocaine anymore” And he’s not doing cocaine anymore because of ministries that came his way funded by tithing dollars made possible by your generosity.”

President Schaal continued by saying:

“Friends let me be candid. there are times in which I hear people say “Well I don’t know if I want to pay tithing to the World Church because I just don’t see my congregation getting that much in return.” Brothers and sisters, its not about me or my congregation! Its about the values I hold dear! And because I do not want those children to get AIDS, because I want other Daddies to be reunited with their children, because I want children all over the world to learn about the enduring principles of Community of Christ, and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, as interpreted by our unique vision and unique pastoral and prophetic call. That’s why I pay tithing! I don’t care if I get anything in return! I pay because its in alignment with what I care for and what I value.”

Brother Schaal concluded by stating:

“Plus, its just down right fun, to right that check, and to know, that my doing so is making a difference in my world. It is an intimate act of worship.”

An intimate act of worship. O how I wish all church members felt the same way.

When conservative church members refuse to pay tithes, they are shooting themselves in the foot. If there are changes that we, as traditionalists, don’t like, is the proper response “I’ll hold back my funding”? No! In fact, that is really actually quite absurd.

The proper response is to give consideration to how we can help prevent other changes that we might not like from taking place.

As a foundationalist, I have a deep passion for, and faith in, the foundational principles and events on which the entire Latter Day Restoration movement is based on.

Therefore, I feel a lot of sorrow when church members with similar views leave the church because of changes. That is not the proper response! Neither is refusing to pay tithes.

The proper response is to carry on. Seek ways to ensure that any other potential changes that you might not like do not come to pass. How can we do this? There are many ways, but it seems one avenue is never considered, which is this:

Become even more active in church life. Become part of the decision making process. Help guide the church by becoming church leaders. Take on volunteer positions in the church. Seek out and find church employment.

If you think that things are “becoming worse” in the church, than instead of shunning the church, position yourself to become part of the church’s leadership, so that you can be in a position to do something about it. If you have no interest in working for the church than at least help empower other conservatives who might want to do just that.   Trust me, they do exist.

It is my sincere conviction that the church truly needs active and passionate church members with conservative theological and doctrinal perspectives to seek opportunities for church employment. This is what conservative church members need to do! We need to bring balance to the church, by working for the church! Forsaking the church is *never* the answer.

However, if you don’t financially support the church than any conservative church members who might be out there with a sincere desire to work for the church, along with other people who desire to do likewise, won’t have nearly as many (if any) opportunities to do so, as their won’t be funding.

Therefore, if you want the church to shift in a direction that you desire then you truly need to empower the church to be in a position in which it can hire more people. Running away or punishing the church is not the answer.

So the next time you think to yourself “I’m not going to financially support World Church because I disagree with some of the changes that have been made”, please give consideration to those conservative church members who might actually be hoping to one day work for the church, who might actually be desirous to prevent other changes from taking place, who might wish to see the church once again more fully embrace its Restoration heritage! We all have to be partners in this endeavor.

There are other great reasons to continue to pay tithes. The church is doing some wonderful things all over the world. We have great programs that are sustained by the financial gifts received from generous members everywhere.

Punishing the church only results in these programs being punished. Programs that help keep kids off the street, programs that help protect battered women, programs that take the gospel into all the world.

If you are not familiar with how the church spends its financial gifts please check out the generosity stories here.

I also strongly encourage everyone to become familiar with the mission initiatives of the church, which can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/mission-initiatives

Finally, consider enrolling in the PAT system so that you can make contributions to World Church without even thinking about it:

https://www.cofchrist.org/give-now

May God bless you as you magnify your discipleship by responding generously.

Questions to Ponder:

In what ways are you dependent on God?
If we punish the church by witholding tithes, how might that impact those who are in need?
What matters most?

21st Century Restoration

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

~ Resonate ∙ Relevant ∙ Redemptive ~

clockThere have been many times when I have pondered what direction the church should move towards.  We began in the 1830s as a Restoration church that sought to restore things to how they were in the New Testament; and while our understanding of “restoration” has deepened and broadened over time, we continue to regard ourselves, quite rightly, as “the Restoration”.

This can be seen in some of our most recent revelations, including:

“Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration” –Doctrine and Covenants, Section 161:1b

“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.” –Doctrine and Covenants, Section 162:2e

“Beloved children of the Restoration…” –Doctrine and Covenants, Section 164:9a

For quite some time I have had a sense that if Community of Christ is to have any hope of flourishing, it must be two things simultaneously:

1) It must be a Latter Day Restoration church.
2) It must be a 21st century church.

However, I’m sure that many people might wonder … can the church truly be both of these things?  Oh my goodness yes!  Another question might be “are those not incompatible goals?” Absolutely not!

So how do we ensure that we are both of these things? Well, the first part is of course very simple.  By permitting ourselves to be what we already are – perhaps with a little more passion.

You see,  we already are a Latter Day Restoration church.  So, we just need to keep being that – we just need to remember who we are (and it might  serve us well if we turn up the Restoration gauge a bit).

It is being a 21st century church that takes more work.  To be that we need to be a church that is Relevant, which Resonates with people and which is Redemptive.  If we strive to be these things, we will make wonderful progress toward truly becoming a 21st century church.

Happily, being relevant, redemptive and a church that resonates with people in no way conflicts with being a Restoration church.  We do not have to surrender our Restoration theology in order to be a 21st century church as we strive to be relevant, redemptive and resonating.

In fact, there is some overlap in these concepts, and that fact helps answer the following question:

Why be a Restoration church in the 21st century?  Well, as I hinted above, we have no choice, if we wish to flourish – or just survive.

More than ever, we need to embrace our Restoration identity, culture, and heritage.  Why?  For one simple reason:  if we lose it, than we will become just another street corner church.  Of which there are thousands.  Many of which seem to be stagnating and dying.

If we want to be relevant, we have to exist, and if we become less than who we have been before, we won’t exist.  Therefore our very Restoration heritage keeps us, in a very real and direct, if not always obvious way, relevant; and yes often our heritage might be relevant in less direct ways – but that does not make such relevance any less worthwhile.

Also, we cannot ignore the fact that one of the ways in which we do resonate with people is simply by virtue of the fact that we *are* a Latter Day Restoration church.

Through the wonders of social media, I have, many times, conversed with people outside of the church who are fascinated with our unique Restoration identity, culture, and heritage.  Some of these people are serious seekers, desiring a new spiritual home in which God is not a distant figure, but a guiding voice.  Quite simply, our Restoration theology resonates with people.

If our Restoration theology is deemed by some to be relevant and / or if it resonates with people, than of course it follows that it will also (hopefully) be redemptive.

Yet, I fully recognize that we cannot look only to our Restoration theology to ensure that we are resonating, redemptive, and relevant.

We need to make the mission, purpose, ministry and work of Jesus Christ our own; and we need to invite others to join with us.  To do that, we need a message.  A message of invitation.  If we look to the example of Christ himself, he had his message of invitation: It was (and is) the Gospel, His Good News of God’s doctrine of salvation.

As Christ’s disciples, His message can be our message. In fact, it should be our message.   But, not all the time.  Not with all people.  To put it quite simply, a lot of people today just don’t care about such things.  At least, not right away.  Many will hide behind their masks, resisting every opportunity to hear  the Good News.  Therefore, we need, in our ministerial kit bag, other messages of invitation.

Here comes the annoying part.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what your other messages of invitation will be, because it will be different for each of us.  It will be different depending on who you are talking to and who you are ministering to.

However, I can think of three possible foundations, scripturally based, upon which to shape a message that hopefully we will all be comfortable with.

The first message foundation is based on Doctrine and Covenants Section 161:3a, which states:

“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.”

You see, you might speak to someone who simply needs to be invited to a place where they will be loved.  Where they will find acceptance.  For being real.  For being who they truly are.  Where they don’t have to worry about rules or false perceptions.  Or guilt.  Where they will be valued for simply being who they are.

Our enduring principles, especially Unity in Diversity, and the Worth of All persons promote this type of accepting, welcoming community.

And there are people who are thirsting for that invitation, to be a part of a community like what we have in so many of our congregations and camping programs.  For them, there may be nothing more relevant than being invited to belong to our community.

***

The second message foundation is based on Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:4a, which states:

“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.”

You may encounter people who want to do something meaningful.  They want to support a cause; they want to make a difference in the world.  So we need to have ministries in place that anyone can be a part of, member and non-members alike.  We need to have the means by which we unlock what people are passionate about.

Peace and justice, abolishing poverty, ending suffering.  These are some of our World Church mission initiatives.  We need to find ways to embrace them, and support them, and invite others to be apart of whatever it is that we decide to do, to bless our community.  These are areas that will, if properly done, resonate with people.

***

The third message foundation is based on Doctrine and Covenants Section 162:7d, which states:

“Each disciple needs a spiritual home. You are called to build that home and care for it, but also to share equally in the outreaching ministries of the church. In that way the gospel may be sent to other souls also yearning for a spiritual resting place.”

Some people want a spiritual home.  They want to grow in spirituality.  To grow closer to God.  There are people who want to be converted to peace.  There are people who want to be converted to hope.  And we can help them along that path, by increasing our own spiritual formation.

When I was at the Kirtland Temple in early November 2012, I came to realize that being religious and believing in God is not enough.  We can’t just be religious, we can’t just be people of faith: we must also be spiritual.  And many of us are.  Yet many of us are less so, but all of us need to grow in spirituality, and encourage others to do the same, which can enable us to provide redemptive ministry.

***

Relevant.  Resonating. Redemptive.  If our message, whatever it may be, can support these notions, then we will be doing the work of the Lord.  We will be supporting his mission, purpose, ministry and work, his message and his invitation.

If we can find diverse ways to promote these three concepts, then we will be well on our way to being a 21st century church, and if we combine that with continuing to be a Restoration church (which again, also promotes these three concepts), I feel assured that we will, like never before, drive forward the cause of Zion.

Questions to Ponder

What is your message of invitation?
How can you ensure that the church is relevant at the local level?
Does the church resonate with others?  Does it resonate with you?
Are there times when the church is not redemptive?  If so, why?

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 1 of 5

“Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark
of the Reorganization and the church today.”
–President Veazey, “Facing Our Challenges Interview” – Part 2 (2009)

BoMComboAs I know some people struggle with the Book of Mormon, and it’s place in the church, I decided to try to write a blog about it as I felt that it might be worthwhile to write something that seeks to help all members of the church grow more comfortable with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite features of Community of Christ; but I know that many people struggle with it, and so I hope that this blog will help people overcome some of their concerns with it, and hopefully be open to the merit that it may have.

There are many diverse opinions among Community of Christ members regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon.  Some people, like myself, regard it as both a historical & scriptural record.  Others view it as scriptural, but not historical.  Some would prefer that it would not be viewed as scripture, and may not be comfortable with it’s position in the church.  Others regard it in such high esteem that if the church abandoned it, they might abandon the church.

In 2009, in the Facing Our Challenges interview (part 2) conducted by Apostle Linda Booth, President Veazey stated “It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory”. It seems to me, regarding the many views people have of it pertaining to it’s status or role, it quite clearly (and understandably), also defies consensus.

Recognizing this, my intent with this blog is not to convert people to any particular view regarding its status, but simply, as indicated above, to seek to help people be more at ease with it’s presence & role in our faith group – and to highlight some of it’s key themes and noteworthy scriptures.  If you are unsure about how you feel about the Book of Mormon, or if you already fully embrace it, I hope that this blog will still be worthwhile to you.

A Debt of Gratitude

One of the things that I cherish most about Community of Chris is our belief in continuing revelation.  We not only claim that this concept is one of our doctrines (and one of our enduring principles), but we also celebrate it.  We practice it.  Collectively.  In my opinion, we are unique in this sense.

Naturally, being a church that claims to have extra-Biblical revelations has resulted in us being a church that professes to have an open canon of scripture.  This concept and that of continuing revelation, go hand-in-hand.

I tend to think that these foundational principles derive from, *and* are only possible, because of the Book of Mormon.  These concepts, and our heritage, as well as our present cultural identity, and, indeed, our very future, owe a great deal to the Book of Mormon.

The early Restoration emerged during a time when the mere suggestion of extra-Biblical scripture, or new revelations, would most likely result in some very heated conversations (to put it mildly).

Imagine living in the 1800s, and being given a few short documents purported to be revelations from God.  You see, in comparison to the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are brief.  In isolation (without the Book of Mormon), with no prior grounding whatsoever in the concept of an open canon, I suspect that it would be very hard to accept a claim of divine revelation for such documents, as it would be difficult to accept something that would not take too much effort to write.  After all, many of our revelations are short, and could in theory, with a little effort and time, be written by anyone, and if someone tried to pass one off as having a divine origin, I’m sure that I’d have a hard time being ok with that.

But the Book of Mormon is an altogether different type of revelation.  Its not just a few pages long, but its an entire book, with rich detail, complexities, and more woven throughout.

Granted, not everyone who read it back in the 1800s was convinced, but it would have been something that I’m sure would be far more difficult to dismiss when compared with the much more brief revelations found in our Doctrine and Covenants.

For whatever reason, many people did accept the Book of Mormon as being just what Joseph Smith Jr. claimed it to be; and therefore, accepting Joseph as a valid prophet of God, they became open to an ever expanding canon, and eventually even comfortable with new scripture, & with new revelation.  In my opinion, this would never have happened without the Book of Mormon.  It paved the way for everything that followed, and the church has been shaped, and deeply blessed, by this willingness to embrace modern revelation.

Jump to part 2 – the Lure of Folklore

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 2 of 5

The Lure of Folklore

tophatThough we may owe the Book of Mormon a debt of gratitude for it’s place in our church community, are we comfortable with it today? I feel that a significant number of our members are not; and I believe, in those nations where it would be appropriate to use it, that we really should strive to become comfortable with it, regardless of our positions on it’s status. Doing so seems to me like an ideal way of respecting it’s ongoing foundational role in our church.

In our modern, educated, 21st century society, we often have sceptical views of just about everything. But as a people of faith, we know that God can bring about any work.

Words of Counsel presented to the church in April 2013 state (in the 15th paragraph) “God calls whoever God calls”. Likewise, God can do whatever God desires. Whatever God wishes to do, to further God’s divine purposes, He can bring about.

Therefore, we don’t need to become fidgety when dealing with the Book of Mormon. This is not to say that it must be taken as a historical work. But, I don’t think we need to persecute it either. And sadly, I feel that some people do just that. It has become the victim of a witch hunt by some of our own members, and, in my view at least, that is just plain wrong.

I tend to think that all denominations have what might be termed denominational folklore. Such folklore includes those things that members have believed to be doctrinal, authoritative, scriptural, etc. but which were not truly any of those things.

The Book of Mormon is itself a victim of church folklore, and therefore, where it is concerned, it is imperative that we resist, and overcome, the lure of folklore. There are many examples of church folklore regarding the Book of Mormon, but I only want to go into depth on one of them. However, before I do so, I’ll share a very brief overview of another one.

Many people have indicated that they reject the Book of Mormon because of how Joseph translated it. They have heard, and were shocked to learn, that Joseph put his head into a top hat, and received the words by peering into a stone at the bottom of his hat.

However, that whole story properly belongs in the realm of church folklore. Joseph Smith Jr. never wrote down any such account, and the church has never, to my knowledge, expressed such a notion as the official explanation for how it was translated (in fact, I’m not sure the church has ever officially commented on that – save perhaps “by the power and authority of God”). The fact that this may have been a widely circulated story, that early church members accepted, is irrelevant, plain and simple.

Another common item of folklore that people cite, as a reason to reject the Book of Mormon regards the ancestors of the Native Americans. I have conversed with many church members who say that they reject the Book of Mormon because science has proved that Native Americans are not descended from Israelites. To them, this fact demonstrates a flaw with the Book of Mormon.

But it is a false flaw. The fact might be sound, but the flaw is not. Quite simply, the Book of Mormon does not claim that Native Americans were sired by the Lamanites.

When I point this out, the response I usually get back is “Well that is what Joseph Smith Jr. taught.”

This is, in itself, a very interesting response. If I can make, for the sake of illustrating a point, a sweeping generalization, the membership of the church, at least in first world nations, is more or less divided into conservative and liberal members (in a church context). In my experience, if someone is going to reject or accept the Book of Mormon, liberal members are most likely to reject it and conservatives are more likely to accept it.

Here is the issue that puzzles me. When conservatives resist doctrinal changes, they often quote from the scriptures. Sometimes the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the Inspired Version of the Bible, and very often, from the Doctrine and Covenants. Given that most changes that the church has considered making, pertain to principles set forth in the earliest revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants, when quoted for such purposes, is most likely being used to reference a revelation that came through the founding prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

The responses that I often see or hear from liberals to such quotes, used by conservatives to resist doctrinal changes, tend to focus on the humanness of Joseph Smith Jr.

We are reminded that he was just a man. We are reminded that revelation comes through the filter of humanity, and that Joseph was no exception. We are reminded that everything must be understood in it’s proper historical and cultural context, and so forth.

All of which, incidentally, is as it should be. Such notions are very appropriate, and help us to be more responsible in our efforts to follow Christ.

So why is it that this same response is not applied to what Joseph said about the Book of Mormon? Why is it, that when I point out that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, the response I often get is “Well that is what Joseph taught” – and leave it at that, as if that statement proves something, or is somehow authoritative?

What happened to Joseph’s humanness? Why is he suddenly back on that pedestal of infallibility?

My typical response to the reminder that Joseph taught that Native Americans are descended from Lamanites is: “So what?”

Because I am conservative, I care, a great deal, about what Joseph Smith presented to the church as being derived from the mind and will of God. But, and I may be unique here, when it comes to everything else he said, everything that he spoke, or wrote down that he did not present as revelatory in nature, I don’t really care.

Oh sure, from a historical interest point-of-view, I might be interested in what he said on various topics. But, beyond that, I don’t really care, because what he did not present as revelation is not accepted as revelation, and is therefore not binding on the church. It is not authoritative.

We really should be extending the same courtesies to the Book of Mormon that we now extend to the rest of our scriptures. And in that area I think we sometimes stumble. We want to promote less rigid, less black-and-white, less absolute approaches to the Bible, and even to the earliest sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (and beyond), but we seem stuck about doing the same thing in regard to the Book of Mormon.

In other words, just as we have done with the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and even with our history, we must separate what these things actually say from church folklore. We must extend scriptural courtesy, respect, fairness, etc., to *all* of our volumes of scripture.

Jump to part 3 – Overcoming the Sticky Passages

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 3 of 5

Overcoming the Sticky Passages

labanAnother cause for concern for many of our church members regarding the Book of Mormon pertains to the fact that there are some passages or themes that are difficult to reconcile.   The two that seem to be the most commonly cited (in my experience)  are the death of Laban, and the curse of the Lamanites.

Regarding the first example, the account of Laban’s death states that Nephi was commanded by God to slay Laban.  This, quite understandably, does not sit well with many people.  It does not sit well with me.  We are not accustomed to God commanding people to slay other people.

In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another example of God giving such a commandment, with regard to one specific, named individual.  In the Old Testament, God commanded warfare to take place, but how often did God ask for the death of a specific person?

Actually, one example does come to mind:  Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to slay Isaac.  Of course, God did not actually desire Isaac’s death at Abraham’s hands, and intervened to prevent it.

It is possible that God’s motives in asking Nephi to slay Laban were similar to his motives in asking Abraham to slay Isaac?  Of course, unlike Isaac, Laban was not spared.  So, on the surface, it would seem that God did indeed desire, and commanded, Laban’s death, and if that is the case, it would take someone who is a much deeper thinker than I am to explain why that was somehow ok.

But, there is another angle to consider.  What do we really know from this story?  We know that God sent Nephi to obtain the Plates of Brass from Laban.  We know that Nephi encountered Laban, drunk, stumbling in the streets.  We know Laban collapsed and we know that God then told Nephi that Laban was delivered into his hands.  And we know that God then commanded Nephi to slay Laban.

We also know that Nephi resisted.  We know that God explained to Nephi why He commanded Nephi to slay Laban, and we know that Nephi then decapitated Laban.

From all of this, it seems quite clear that God commanded Nephi to kill Laban, and that Nephi went through with it.  And since God did not intervene, we know that Laban was not spared, as his head was cut off.

So, Nephi killed a fellow human being at the commandment of God.

Or did he?

One thing I came to realize, many years ago, about scripture, or at least, ancient scripture, is that it is … just the highlights.  The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon are each a collection of highlights.  We are not told every single thing that befell a particular person, group or society.  This often has caused me to ask “what have we not been told?”  Or, “what don’t we know?”

With regard to the story of Laban, here is what we don’t actually know.  Was Laban, at the time of his beheading, still alive?  We must not overlook the fact that the account states that Laban collapsed.  The account was written by Nephi, according to Nephi’s own understanding of what transpired.  Nephi presumed that Laban had passed out.

It is my own belief that Laban in fact died.  Do we know how much wine he had consumed?  Do we know how strong his heart was?  Do we know what ailments he may have had?  God may simply have steered Nephi to Laban right when Laban died of some other cause.

Perhaps Laban had a brain aneurism.  We just don’t know – but, people all over the world do have unexpected episodes that often result in sudden death, all the more likely in the ancient world.  God knows when it is our time.  It is therefore entirely plausible that God steered Nephi to Laban at just the right moment.

God then, for His purposes, asked Nephi to slay Laban, just as he asked Abraham to slay Isaac.

We often presume that our scriptural heroes always pass the tests.  But, just as we have come to realize that Joseph Smith Jr. was only human, we also must recognize the same to be true for Nephi.  In short, it’s entirely possible that Nephi failed the test.

We might wonder why God would test someone in such a way.  What is to be gained?  What value or merit is there to do such a thing?  I have no answers to such questions – I’ll leave that as a challenge for others to consider, but the immediate absence of such answers, when the questions pertain to the purposes of God, does not warrant a rejection of the account.

The story itself does not offer clues about why this test took place.  This is because it was written by Nephi himself – the test subject.  Nephi was unaware that he failed the test quite simply because he was oblivious to the fact that he had been tested.  Nephi never knew (if my theory is correct), that Laban was already dead.  God, most likely to spare Nephi guilt and turmoil, appears to have remained mute on the subject after the deed was done.

The question then becomes, why was this story included?  If we take the position that the authors of scripture are inspired to write what they wrote, for what purpose then does this story serve, to we who are the modern audience, removed by 26 centuries from the time and culture of the setting?  Nephi thought that he knew the lesson (and for him, maybe he did), but it seems very possible that a very different lesson existed, which was not really needful for Nephi to be made aware of, but which warranted the story being preserved for the benefit of future generations.

We of course can only speculate on what that lesson is, but I suspect it has, in part, the function of serving as an example of the need to look beyond the written word; to do what Nephi himself said to do – ponder the scriptures.

***

The second stumbling block that many people have with the Book of Mormon’s actual content is the curse of the Lamanites.  Many people seem to view this curse as an expression of racism.  This is actually not at all the case.

When we read scripture, its important to not have “knee jerk” reactions.  We need to ensure, just as we are told to do when reading the Bible, that we place, whatever we read, into the proper context.

Speaking of the Bible, one of the individuals mentioned in it from time to time is the adversary of God.  There are even verses here and there that record his words.  Knowing this, do we regard the Bible as being about the adversary?  If we read just those verses, we might.

This illustrates the need to explore and (again) as Nephi counselled ponder the scriptures.

What do we actually know about the curse of the Lamanites?  Well, we know that the reason for the curse was because they rebelled against God.  It seems that God wanted to keep these rebellious individuals from influencing those who had not rebelled.  Therefore, he wanted to encourage the Nephites to avoid the Lamanites.  And so, to help make that more feasible, he “cursed” the Lamanites, by putting a mark on them, so that the Nephites would easily recognize the Lamanites.

That mark took the form of a different complexion.  As readers of the Book of Mormon today, some of us seem to have the knee jerk reaction of “that is racist!”.  But, it is important to understand several things.

First, the Lamanites were not transformed into some other race or ethnicity.  The Book of Mormon does not say that God transformed them into aboriginal Australians.  Or Africans.  It does not link the curse to any ethnicity whatsoever.  In short, they remained Israelites.

Second, we don’t actually know what the different complexion looked like.  We have no reason to believe that they were given the appearance of any other racial group.

Third, the purpose of the curse was a punishment for rebelliousness.  The Lamanites were not rebellious because of the curse. They were cursed because of their rebelliousness.  There is no basis to think that the curse is somehow a comment on other races.

Fourth, the Book of Mormon does not condone viewing the Lamanites, or anyone, with contempt.  In fact, it counsels people not to do so.

It is also worth noting that the mark was meaningless to God (beyond being a mark).  I’m sure he used this mark of an alternate complexion because of how blatantly obvious it would be to the Nephites.  But this is the only basis for that mark that we know of.  Aside from the merit of being able to instantly know, by virtue of complexion, who was cursed and who was not, there does not seem to be any reason for the mark to take the form that it did.

In fact, we read later on about a group of Nephites who eventually decided to rebel.  They too were cursed, and they too were marked (in fulfillment of an earlier prophecy).   These individuals set themselves apart by putting a dab of paint on their foreheads.  So, they marked themselves.  But the scriptures inform us that God viewed this self-marking as fulfillment of his warning that anyone who rebelled would be marked.  So, God accepted the self-inflicted mark as a manifestation of the Lamanite curse.  This then demonstrates that the actual nature of the curse’s manifestation to God was irrelevant (save of course in how it would serve his purposes).  God does not view people of any particular complexion with disfavour.

Doubtless, there are other passages in the Book of Mormon that trouble people. But the point of this exploration on the death of Laban and the Curse of the Lamanites is to help encourage people to recognize that these problematic scriptures need not be the roadblocks that we may otherwise feel that they are.

Likewise, we need to be mindful of the fact that the Bible has many (in my opinion, far more) examples of passages that are highly troublesome, and often far more difficult (if not impossible), to reconcile with the living model of Jesus Christ.

Jump to part 4 – Stance of the Church

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 4 of 5

Stance of the Church

explorebookHow does the church view the Book of Mormon?  Does it consider it to be historical?  Does it matter?  I tend to believe that all that truly matters, on this point, is what you believe.

The church definitely gives total freedom to all members to believe what they wish on this point.  We are not required to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical.  However, we are also not forced, or even prodded, towards rejecting it as historical.

The church does not, at least in this era, offer an official position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  And that is fine.

But it has occurred to me that there may be some people who have a need for the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical.  I’m not sure why this would be, as I don’t feel that we should have any such need.  I don’t.  I’d be concerned if the church had a requirement to reject it, but, though I believe that the Book of Mormon really is an account of an ancient people, I don’t require the church to officially sanction that perspective.

But, if you do, truly, in your heart, have some sort of need, for the church to view it as historical, then you can just simply have that opinion.  In other words, if you want the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical, just make the decision that it does.  You won’t be able to quote anything that clearly and cleanly states that we regard it as such.  Nor will you be able to claim that such a viewpoint is official.

Nevertheless, there are some things that the church has stated (and which are official), that you are totally free to interpret, if you so wish, as indicators that the Book of Mormon is regarded by the church as historical.

Such statements include:

The church says the Book of Mormon is scripture:“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission. We affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—not to replace the witness of the Bible or improve on it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.” -Basic Beliefs (Scripture) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/ourfaith/faith-beliefs.asp

“Community of Christ recognizes three books of scripture: The Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. We believe in continuing revelation and an open canon of scripture.” -FAQ ( Scripture ) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/pr/GeneralInfo.asp#scripture

Please note (understanding that the church views the Book of Mormon as scripture) that the above quotes contain wording such as:

“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit”

“The scriptures provide divine guidance and inspired insight”

Understanding the above, we could conclude, if we so wished, that the church does view the Book of Mormon as true, because writing inspired by God’s spirit, providing divine guidance, cannot be based on a grand deception, an outright and massive lie.

Now consider the following statements about scripture:

“It is to Christ that scripture points.” –Scripture Affirmation 1 http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/scripture.asp

How can a mass lie point to Christ?

“We find the Living Word in and through scripture.” –Scripture  Affirmation 2

Can the Living Word be rooted in a mass deception?

“God’s revelation through scripture” –Affirmation 3

Can God’s revelation take the form of a mass deception?

“Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ” –Affirmation 4

Christ is not regarded by the church as a charlatan or mass deceiver.

“scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings” – A Defining Moment

http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/sermons/_040509Veazey.asp

Inspired writings are not given to spread a mass deception.

“Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.” – A Defining Moment

God’s revelation does not take the form of a deliberate falsification of a cultural history.

“The church affirms that scripture is inspired” – A Defining Moment

Inspired to pull the wool over our eyes?

“Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth”-Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:7a

A lie is the path to darkness, and a falsehood – how can such things be a witness of God’s eternal light and, especially, His eternal truth?

“Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit” –also Section 163:7a

The Holy Spirit does not reveal or inspire people to concoct a mass fantasy, passing it off as truth.

“Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.” Section -163:7d

A lie does not point to the true will of God.

Jump to part 5 – Uncovering the Gems

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 5 of 5

Uncovering the Gems

gemsIf we can set aside or even undo the concerns that we bring to our exploration of the Book of Mormon, concerning the folklore and sticky passages, etc., we might then be able to more readily consider some of the great stories, themes, and powerful passages contained within it.

Naturally, what constitutes a “scriptural gem” is a matter of personal opinion.  However, I’m excited to share some of the ones that I’m fond of.

To begin with, I want to share a few words regarding some Book of Mormon themes.

There are some great themes that run throughout the Book of Mormon.  One of these themes is that of community building.  I intend to talk more about that elsewhere, so I don’t want to elaborate on that at this time – but mull it over.

Another theme is that of the dangers of pride.  All through the Book of Mormon there are warnings to beware pride, and the hardships that result when society gives into pride.  This is something I noticed the first time I read the Book of Mormon, and it stands out, as many people have observed it’s presence.

The Encyclopaedia of the Book of Mormon (Herald House, ©1978, 4th printing, 1991) offers the following on this subject (page 269):

“Pride set in among the Nephites beginning with their second king.  From that time, the Nephites fluctuated between pride and righteousness throughout their history.  A period of righteousness brought prosperity. Prosperity led to pride, pride led to dissension, dissension led to desertion, desertion led to war, war led to grief, grief led to repentance, repentance led to righteousness, and righteousness led to prosperity; thus the cycle began again.

”Some of my favourite passages from the Book of Mormon include the story of the Vision of Lehi (and Neph’s interpretation of it).  There is something intriguing about the love of God, word of God, etc. etc. being represented by the rod of iron, the tree of life, and so forth.

Tangent: I sometimes chat with an LDS member. He often boasts that his church must be the true church because of how large it is.  Whenever he (or any Mormon for that matter) does so, I caution them not to be too caught up on that fact.  After all, in Lehi’s vision, the great and spacious building represented the pride of the world.

I also have always enjoyed the story of the glowing stones that God provided in order for the Jaredites to have light in their eight barges as they sailed across the ocean.  Its just a neat story that reminds me of the fun Old Testament stories we learn about in as kids in Sunday school.

I guess that is one of the things I really admire about the Book of Mormon.  It has, like the Old Testament, some “epic” stories, which are sort of lacking in the New Testament, yet, like the latter, it has a great deal of the pastoral wisdom & compassion focused ministry that is not as abundant in the Old Testament.

Some of my favourite verses are as follows:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood…your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”  -3rd Nephi 4:49

And I, Nephi, said to my father, ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord gives no commandments to the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commands them.’ ” -1st Nephi 1:65

“And there came a voice to me, saying, ‘Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.’  I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.  And I said, ‘Lord, how is it done?’  He said to me, ‘Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.’” -Enos 1:7-10

“…after you have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say to you, No…Wherefore, you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God, and of all men…and there is no other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.  Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.  Amen.”  -2nd Nephi 13:27-32

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.” -2nd Nephi 3:29,30

“O Lord, will you give me strength, that I may cope with my infirmities? For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people pains my soul.  O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; will you comfort my soul in Christ?  O Lord, will you grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions…O Lord, will you comfort my soul, and give me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me…even all these will you comfort, O Lord? Will you comfort their souls in Christ? –Alma 16:109-112 (adapted)

Finally, I’d like to end this blog by sharing what may be my favourite Book of Mormon verse of all.  It is in fact, in my own opinion at least, nothing less than the long sought after meaning of life itself; and it is so short, so concise, and so simple, which only makes it seem that much more significant in my mind and heart, and it is something that I encourage all of us to remember.

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy”
-Second Book of Nephi 1:115

I Owe God a Lot of Money

cash
This is a poem I wrote for the camp log book of a Community of Christ youth camp I attended in 1997.  Slightly revised.

I owe God a lot of money.  Every dime I have ever had.  Every penny I have ever made.  I owe it all to God.

I owe God a soda.  Every drink I have ever had.  Every meal I have ever enjoyed.  I owe these all to God.

I owe God a new shirt.  Every coat I have ever worn.  Every pair of shoes I have ever used.  I owe them all to God.

I owe God a tent.  Every bed I have ever had.  Every roof I have ever slept under.  I owe each and all to God.

I owe God a hug.  Every friend I have ever known.  Every relative I have ever had.  I owe every one to God.

I owe God a lot of stuff.  Everything I have ever owned.  Every item I have ever found.  I owe so much to God.

I owe God ever more.  Every day that I have lived.  All the tomorrows I shall ever have.  I owe no less than all to God.

The New Conservatives (1 of 3)

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

CARDINAL CONVICTIONS

jsgroveThere have been many occasions over the years when my traditional church views have made me feel very alone, even isolated in the church.  The fact that I have felt this way at times also became it’s own source of resentment, frustration, and even irony.

The irony derived from the fact that, in my mind, I felt that what separated me from most members of the church was the fact that I had the nerve, or the audacity, to actually believe in, well, our beliefs.

In my opinion, members of churches are supposed to believe in their church’s beliefs.  It sort of goes together, and it’s circular: believe…beliefs – beliefs…believe; and it has always struck me as strange that many church members, at least, in my own experience, do not believe in some of our beliefs.

However, I have come to understand that I am far from alone, and that numerous church members share several, if not all, of my major church convictions.

I have also come to understand that many non-traditionalists don’t know what makes a church traditionalist what he or she is; and in fact, that may be true of some traditionalists as well.

It has been my observation that non-traditionalists sometimes misunderstand what motivates a church conservative, or, to put it another way, many people don’t understand why traditionalists have the viewpoints that they do, or what those viewpoints are based upon, and why it’s sometimes not possible to accept certain things.

Therefore, I want to share a little list I’ve made of what I feel are some common convictions that conservative church members have.  When we resist some of the changes that have occurred in the church, it is often because of these convictions, and these convictions alone, and not for the many other speculative reasons that some people might presume.

But before I go any further into this area, let me make a comment on the use of labels.  When I converse with church members, I often use terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “traditionalist”, “moderate”, etc (within a church context – not political).

On occasion, some people have responded directly to my use of such terms.  They have cautioned me, quite appropriately, that such terminology, such labelling, such classification can sometimes be negative.

I truly appreciate and respect that point-of-view.  And there are many cases when I agree that labelling can be negative.  So I want to explain why I use these terms, within a church context.

There are a couple of reasons.  The first is, I’m a lazy writer.  It is, quite honestly, just very convenient to say “conservative” vs:

“people who have a tendency to be comfortable with the former customs and would prefer that you avoid tampering with anything that could be construed as doctrinal or theological in nature.” 🙂

The second reason is, using such terminology helps me better understand who I am, again, in a church context.  It helps me better identify with my own spiritual growth.  It gives me a base, or foundation.  And it even pushes me to new understandings, as we shall soon see.

It also, I feel, helps people have a shared identity.  It provides a sense of comfort, and connection, and that in turn, especially when conversing with people with opposite points-of-view, makes our interactions less intimidating.

In short, it helps eliminate that sense of loneliness and isolation that I spoke of earlier.  It provides a sense commonality, even community.  And of course, no one has to feel that they must align with any church demographic.

Returning to the question of “what is a conservative?” (within the context of Community of Christ), I of course have to acknowledge that I can only present things as I see them, but I do feel it is worth exploring just what it means to be a conservative or traditional church member, and I am confidant that what I outline below does cover a lot of the conservative membership of the church.

In essence, there are (in my opinion) several “cardinal convictions” that we traditionalists are very likely to share.  What I feel are the most common are presented here.  We believe in…

1) God: This may seem obvious, but it is still worth highlighting.  I should also point out that most conservatives understand God in the traditional Christian sense (save perhaps where tweaked by Restoration scripture) – that of some sort of supreme, divine personage with purpose, intelligence, personality, memory, identity, etc.  This is very important, because a person’s view of God will shape his or her theology *and* how they approach scripture.

2) Jesus Christ: Traditionalists tend to believe that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he was truly God incarnated, rose from the dead, etc.

3) Apostasy: The ancient church & priesthood became corrupt and had to be restored by God.

4) Joseph Smith Junior: A true prophet of God called to restore the priesthood and the church; whose sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (along with those of his true successors) presented as divine revelations, truly are.

5) Joseph Smith III: The true legitimate successor to Joseph Smith Jr.

6) Authority: We are the one true church & our priesthood alone has power and authority from God.  But what this truly means is likely not well understood.

7) Book of Mormon: Is both inspired scripture, and a historical account of a lost civilization.

8) Inspired Version: Is the result of divine revelation, for the purpose of correcting some errors and restoring some lost content.

9)  The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are the only true examples of scripture, which is spiritually inerrant.

10)  Scripture trumps World Conference resolutions, which trump the Bylaws, which trump various statements and policies, procedures, parliamentary rules, etc., including the Enduring Principles, History Principles, Statements on Scripture, Basic Beliefs, the Church Administrator’s Handbook, theology statements, individual policy statements, etc.  The further revealed will of God, by definition, becomes (if accepted), scripture.  Therefore, *nothing* trumps scripture.

Questions to Ponder:

What are your thoughts regarding the above list?  What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
Had you considered these items before, and do you feel that this list is at least a somewhat accurate summary of what conservative church members believe?

Part Two will explore further how, in the opinion of the author, these convictions influence conservatives as they form opinions regarding church doctrine.

Jump to Part Two

The New Conservatives (2 of 3)

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.
This blog is also part 2 of an extended blog.  Part 1 can be read here.

CONSTRAINING CUSTOMS

readingbibleUnderstanding that many traditionalists will hold to some of the cardinal convictions presented in part one, will help people understand why conservatives like myself have the opinions that we do.

For example, let us presume that a traditionalist is debating a doctrinal issue, and quotes a verse attributed to Moses.  This is countered by someone saying any of the following:

a) God’s revelation to Moses, though divine, was nonetheless received through the filter of Moses’ own humanity, therefore, it is possible that what Moses wrote as representing the mind and will of God is not wholly accurate.
b) Moses did not write some portions of his books.
c) One or more of the books of Moses were not written by Moses at all.
d) None of the books of Moses were written by Moses.
e) Moses did not exist.
f) The Old Testament is meant to be understood only metaphorically.

If any of the above are used, the person so doing will then immediately negate any hope of convincing the person he is debating with that his view is valid, because, point a) clashes with (at least) cardinal conviction #9 (scripture is spiritually inerrant), points b) through e) clash with cardinal conviction #8 (the Inspired Version is the result of divine revelation); and point f) clashes with both #8 & #9.

Look at it this way. A conservative church member who accepts the validity of the Inspired Version therefore believes that the Inspired Version is correct, and that it is the result of divine revelation.  It was God’s effort to correct mistakes, restore lost truths, and remove falsehoods.  If you accept the Inspired Version, you reject many of the notions that some people have today regarding the Bible.  Belief in the validity of the Inspired Version, and in the validity of some of the newer theories about Moses and his authorship (or very existence) of the Torah, are, quite simply, not compatible.

But let’s move on.

Personally, I celebrate (where appropriate) the various cardinal convictions.   I greatly cherish the elements that we have in common with all Christians, as well as those elements that are unique to Community of Christ and / or the Latter Day Restoration Movement.  I’ll even say that I find them empowering and exciting – when understood, and used, appropriately.

Yet, I have come to recognize in myself, and occasionally in other traditionalists, some traits that are not things that ought to be celebrated.  These, in my view, include the following (what we might term “constraining customs”):

1) We often don’t return to the scriptures.  What I mean by that is that if we have a particular doctrinal opinion based on a passage that we reviewed a long time ago, we often perpetually presume that our prior interpretation was correct.  We seldom feel the need to go back to what we read before, and make sure that we read it correctly, and / or that we interpreted it correctly.

2) We tend give false authority to things we read or were told, especially when we don’t like them, irregardless of how old they are, without taking into consideration more current references.  Why would we do this?  Why would we “authoritize” something we don’t like?  Quite simply, to have  more ammunition to find fault with the church or at least it’s leadership.

I’ve often heard, as recent as 2013, people cite the “Positions Papers” (which is probably about 30 years old), or quote something said by an apostle 25 years ago to “prove” that the church today is off track.  This is not a truly honest approach.

You see, we must keep current with the latest statements, etc., to truly understand what the church is advocating *today*.  We can’t just ignore the current positions and say “well, I read 30 years ago..” or say “well an apostle once said to me, 25 years ago…” and give more authority to such things than the actual current policies and positions of the church.  But we tend to often do just that.  We tend to authoritize things that were never official, and never truly authoritative in the first place, and we often don’t want to let go of them, because for us, they may have been personal.  But, we need to move on, and ensure that we are clear on what the living church is endorsing today.

3) We tend to regard church folklore and church tradition and church custom and local church culture as church doctrine.  When these things are sometimes changed, we sometimes respond just as passionately as when a change in  a church position is considered.  Yet, we need to understand that church folklore, tradition, etc, are *not* doctrinal.  They are not reflective of our theology (even when derived from it).

4) We tend to be stubborn, to the point of preferring stagnation (and therefore church death) over rejuvenation.

5) We really don’t like admitting that we are wrong.  Even (& especially) when it’s proven that we are.

6) We sometimes put how we want things to be ahead of how God would have things be.

7) Sometimes, we are so comfortable with the status quo that our motivation for what we teach and preach becomes muddled.  Are we really proclaiming God’s truth, or simply finding reasons to defend what we would prefer God’s truth to be?

8) We often don’t like change.  We envision the ideal church as being the church as it existed in our own childhoods, overlooking the fact that the church has never been, nor can it ever be (if it is to be effective), static.

9) We have a tendency to view the church as a rural, North American institution.  We therefore feel threatened by doing what Christ told us to do (taking the gospel into all nations, converting all people), because we fear the influence of other races, nations, cultures and experiences.

10) We become preoccupied by petty issues and fail to focus on what matters most.

11) We often fail to embrace the church’s supporting documents, such as the Enduring Principles or Mission Initiatives, because we are too preoccupied with the “correctness” of our church, its “Restorationisness”.

12)  Some of us fail to express unconditional love by deliberatley withholding our tithes from World Church as a form of punishment. This is unacceptable.

13) We often interpret someone disagreeing with us as a personal attack.

14) If we cannot win a debate, we often simply drop out of the dialog.

***

The time has come for a new breed of conservative church member to arise within our global membership…those who still cherish the cardinal convictions outlined in Part One, but are willing to let go of the constraining customs outlined above; they are those who are wiling to see our Restoration heritage as a means of furthering our transformation into a 21st century church.

Questions to Ponder:

What are your thoughts regarding the above list?  What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
Are any of them true for you?

Part Three will explore further how, in the opinion of the author, conservatives can move beyond these constraining customs while still embracing the cardinal convictions.

Jump to Part Three