Understanding 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.