This blog is part of my ZionBound series. The full series can be read in post order here.
I have often felt that there is a great deal of confusion among some members of the Restoration movement regarding why the Restoration itself exists. This is not to say that there isn’t a purpose, but I don’t think that the purpose is what many people believe it to be (this is perhaps especially true in other Restoration factions). This extends to the church as well. Both the Restoration, and the Church, have a purpose, a reason for existing. The church also has, in my opinion, an aim.
What follows is my attempt to outline what I feel these things are.
Purpose of the Restoration
Why did Christ bring about the Restoration? The traditional response would perhaps be something like “to restore the ancient church, to again bring forth power and authority from God”. In recent years we have been less likely to describe the Restoration in that manner, and have found new ways to express what it means to be the Restoration.
Some people feel that we have changed the meaning of the Restoration; that we have deviated from what we used to teach. I disagree. In my opinion, the church has simply deepened and broadened our understanding of what it means to be the Restoration.
Today, the concept of the Restoration now includes a call to restore mankind to the world, to restore people to each other, and to God, and I see nothing wrong with such notions.
In this sense, the Restoration is understood not as a single event, but as an ongoing process – which makes sense, given that God’s purposes are eternal. However, this broader, deeper understanding does not, in my view, negate the original understanding, which I am quite comfortable with, as I personally believe in the concept of the one true church (though I submit, we probably don’t really understand just what that means).
There is yet another element of the meaning of the Restoration. Beyond the original concept of restoring authority, beyond the added dimension of restorative action, there is a third aspect. One which perhaps binds the other two together.
A few years ago my father was teaching the adult Sunday school class at our congregation. He asked the question “what is the purpose of the Restoration”? He explained to the class that in his opinion the true purpose of the Restoration was to declare to the world that God is not dead, that Jesus Christ still speaks to His children even today.
This really resonated with me, and I think its very true. Our church is one of the few that accepts the notion that there is yet more light and truth to be revealed; and even fewer celebrate it as we do.
At the time of this writing, the most recent revelation added to our Doctrine and Covenants is Section 164. Furthermore, we have revelations, intended for the benefit of the global church, that exist outside of our Doctrine and Covenants.
This custom began in the presidency of Brother McMurray, who presented Letters of Counsel to the church regarding changes in the councils and quorums and orders of the church. When asked if these documents, should still be regarded as revelations, it is my recollection that President McMurrray confirmed that they should be so regarded.
Although I have not been tracking them all, I presume that there have now been eight such documents (World Conferences 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010 & 2013). In addition, between the 2010 and 2013 World Conferences, President Veazey released documents naming new appointments after some church leaders retired. I believe there were two such documents, again presented with assurances of the Spirit’s involvement.
We also cannot forget the words that resulted from the “impress of the Spirit” that President Veazey received while preparing his 2009 address, “A Defining Moment”, and which appear near the end of that document.
Naturally, we also must remember the latest “Words of Counsel” presented in April 2013.
These various revelatory experiences that the church has been blessed with since 1998, along with the continued custom of adding new inspired documents to the Doctrine and Covenants, should be clear evidence to anyone that the church is embracing and celebrating Continuing Revelation more so now, than ever before.
This is, to be sure, “Great and Marvellous” – what a blessing it is to live during an era of the church when we are so willing and eager to seek out God’s counsel and guidance.
Of course, even as the prophetic role of the prophet has actually been magnified in recent years, with all of these non D&C revelations, the prophetic role of the general membership has also increased, with God’s call to the whole church to be a prophetic people. We are all called to discern God’s will.
So, on the one hand we see that the whole membership has a role to play in the revelatory experience, and on the other hand, we see that the prophet also continues to have a very vital role to play in that same experience.
Clearly, we are a church with a prophet, and prophetic people. Simultaneously. That balance can only bless us. Truly, we are a church that values, embraces, and celebrates divine revelation, and in a plurality of ways.
We are blessed with continuing, modern revelation. We are blessed with an open canon of scripture. We are blessed with the knowledge that God is indeed not dead, that Christ still lives, and that the Lord still makes his mind and will known to us even in this modern, mostly secular 21st century world.
But are we listening?
Purpose of the Church
Community of Christ has a mission statement, which says:
“We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace”
According to the bylaws of the church, the above mission statement is also our purpose statement.
Other resources help expand on this statement:
Our bylaws (Article II) include the following words:
“…The church envisions a time when the promise of God’s kingdom shall be fulfilled. We have a vision of that kingdom where the name of Jesus Christ is truly honored, where God’s will is done on earth, where the hungry are fed, poverty is alleviated, sinners are repentant, and sin is forgiven…
…We believe that love is the proper foundation of our relationship with others, that opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ should be fostered, and that the resources of the world can be managed to respect and preserve their creation and purpose. We have a vision of a time when all evil is overcome and peace prevails…
…We will be an international community of prophetic vision, faithful to the risen Christ, empowered by hope, spending ourselves courageously in the pursuit of peace and justice.”
Our Basic Belief statement states:
“We offer a community of people where the gospel of Jesus Christ is the focus of worship, learning, caring, and mission” Source: Basic Beliefs (“We offer”)
And also includes:
“The Good News of Jesus Christ is at the center of the faith and beliefs of Community of Christ. We are a worldwide community and are committed to follow Jesus, bring forth the kingdom of God, and seek together the revealing, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit.” Source: Basic Beliefs (“Preface”)
And further states:
“Being a Christian is more than holding a list of right ideas; it is about radical obedience to Jesus in every part of life…Jesus calls us to follow him and to invite others to experience the transforming power of his grace” Source: Basic Beliefs (“Discipleship”)
Our Enduring Principles offer these words:
“God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and continuing presence through the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed by scripture, is the foundation of our faith, identity, mission, message, and beliefs.” Source: Enduring Principles (“The Foundation”)
“We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.” Source: Enduring Principles (Blessings of Community)
Our Mission Initiatives includes this statement:
“We are poised to share the peace of Jesus Christ with those who are waiting to hear the redeeming words of the gospel. We fulfill God’s ultimate vision as we Baptize/Confirm Many New Members, Open New Congregations, Launch the Church in New Nations” Source: Mission Initiatives (“Invite People to Christ”)
And the Doctrine and Covenants includes this passage:
“Heed the urgent call to become a global family united in the name of the Christ” Source: –161:6b
All of the above wonderful statements help give expression to what our purpose is. However, in my opinion it all boils down to this statement of my own:
“to encourage appropriate worship of God according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Yet, that is perhaps too brief. As a foundationalist, I’d be more comfortable with a little more definition:
“to encourage appropriate worship of God according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and God’s prophets, apostles, and other servants, as recorded in the scriptures of Community of Christ.”
When I came to regard this as my own view of what the purpose of the church is, I then asked myself, “so what is our aim?”
Well, in many ways, many of the statements from the church resources listed above, might be better understood as aim statements, than as purpose statements (and I’m sure there is some overlap).
However, again, I’ve crafted my own:
“to have a positive, transformative impact on the lives of all people.”
Yet this statement is a few years old now, and I’d probably want to tack on part of my congregation’s vision statement, rendering the aim of the church as something like this:
“to have a positive, transformative impact on the lives of all people, by empowering them to Encounter God and Reflect Christ.”
The full vision statement of my congregation is:
“Working with the Holy Spirit, empowering people to Encounter God and Reflect Christ.”
Printed copies of it include the church seal in the middle, and at the very bottom, part of the statement is repeated as a “sound bite”: Encounter God! ~ Reflect Christ!
I’ve come to grow very fond of our vision statement, especially the closing sound bite. In fact, I’ve always hoped that one day it might move beyond my congregation and perhaps be adopted by the greater church community. Who knows, maybe one day we will use it as a type of greeting, our own “live long and prosper” 🙂
One of the reasons I like the statement so much is because, in addition to perhaps being useful as part of an aim statement, it’s also a challenge. It causes one to ponder, just how do we do that? How do we empower people to encounter God? How do we reflect Christ?
I’ve come to realize that some of the concepts I’ve talked about in other blogs help provide the means to encounter God. If we are giving our congregations and visitors opportunities to be engaged in relevant, redemptive, and resonating activities, programs, ministries, etc., then it follows that at least some of these events should bring people into encounters with God.
With regard to reflecting Christ, that depends a great deal on those of us who are already disciples. Reflecting Christ is the real challenge. It means that we need to strive to be Christ-like, in how we interact with strangers, or our friends, our spouses, our co-workers, our family members, our congregations, our teammates, our competitors, our colleagues, or with people who have different theologies and/or political alignments.
In short, we must model the ideal Christian image, 24×7. Even in isolation. So how we talk to people, how we treat people, how we speak of people, *even* how we think about people, will impact our success in terms of reflecting Jesus Christ. This may seem really daunting, but the goal is to strive.
The better at it that we become, the more wholesome and strong our relationships with people will be, which can only have a positive impact on our church communities, which should provide new pathways of invitation; and as we reflect Christ, so will it become easier for others to do so. That in itself may help empower them to encounter God, and encourage them to want to drive ministries that are relevant, redemptive and resonating. It’s all connected.
In conclusion, what I want you to take away from this exploration is that we need to keep our focus on the right things. We need to focus on what matters most, on the true meaning of the church and of the Restoration, and not be mired in false reasons (some of which I’ll explore in a future blog). We are *not* called to count how often we reference or quote a unique aspect of the Restoration.
If we can help people know that God is not dead, if we help empower them to encounter God, and reflect Christ, if we can provide ministry that is redemptive, that is relevant, which resonates, and if we can be invitational, nurture holistic relationships and build sacred communities, we will prove that yes, we are listening.
Encounter God! ~ Reflect Christ!