Pondering the Scriptures

Modeling Responsible Scriptural Stewardship

pondering2The church has wrestled with many controversial issues over the last several years including female ordination, open communion, requirements for baptism, same-sex issues and even the name of the church itself.

With the exception of female ordination, I have, at least on occasion, strongly opposed all of the above.  The topics that I opposed the most (by far) were the same-sex issues.

I have always been a church traditionalist, believing in the divine calling of Joseph Smith Jr.; the absolute authority of our three volumes of scripture; our status of being the restored church; our priesthood authority; and of our special calling in the world.

None of that has changed.

So, it probably has surprised some people (myself included) that I would one day reverse my stance on the same-sex issues.  The seeming paradox is resolved not because of becoming liberal, but because of my faith in our Restoration heritage.

You see, it was through exploring the Inspired Version of the Bible along with the Book of Mormon (both of which I hold to be “true” – in the traditional sense) that I realized that God could change things – even things previously prohibited by divine decree.  And, it was through my sense of the validity of recent revelations to the church that I came to understand that God had indeed done just that (for more on this, please read my blog “Breaking Deadlock” – or better yet, read ZionBound Vol. 1).

As a result of this change of perspective, I came to recognize (somewhat reluctantly) that I was wrong about my views of scripture – again, because of the illuminations I received that are found only within our Restoration scriptures (how blessed I know I am to belong to a church that has the Inspired Version and the Book of Mormon).

I don’t particularly enjoy admitting that I’m wrong when it comes to theological matters.  And yet, I have to admit that I’ve been wrong once before.

(but just once – wink)

While I may have been most opposed to the same-sex issues, it was open communion that I was opposed to for the longest period of time.  I still would be, if not for one thing.  I eventually realized that I had misinterpreted some verses of scripture.

FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE OF NEPHI: PONDERING THE SCRIPTURES

What all of this has taught me is that when we wrestle with various theological or doctrinal issues, and reach the point where we turn to the scriptures for enlightenment, clarification or assurance, we must make sure that we do as the prophet Nephi counsels us.

We must ponder the scriptures:nephi

29 For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
30 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 (CofC 1908)

These words have tremendous meaning for me, and over the last year or so I’ve noticed that I’ve referenced them in various other blogs and discussions – they ring with such profound truth.

You see, its not enough to simply read the scriptures, especially if we are going to use isolated verses to defend a particular position.  We need to truly ponder what we are reading.  We must seek the best understanding, the best interpretation possible.

RESPONSIBLE PONDERING

When we read the scriptures, we are always encumbered with our own humanity.  It is therefore imperative that when we delve into our sacred canon, that we apply some key practices to reviewing, pondering & using scripture, to ensure that we are modeling ideal scripture stewardship.

When we seek to interpret scripture, or otherwise understand the meaning of any given verse or passage, it is imperative that our conclusions be:

1) Logical. 2) Rational. 3) Plausible. 4) Grounded in common sense.

Any scriptural interpretation that is not in harmony with the above is probably deserving of reconsideration, and we should be very cautious with our support of any such suggested meaning.

Responsible pondering also encourages us to puzzle through the scriptures.  When we strive to explore doctrinal or theological matters, we may believe that our current convictions are valid, but, to ensure that we are not missing God’s gentle prodding to magnify our understanding of His will, we should strive to work through the scriptures and seek to ensure that we fully grasp their meaning.

SCRIPTURE AFFIRMATIONS

When we ponder scripture, we should always do so within the framework shaped by the nine affirmations provided by World Church.  These nine statements reveal a broad understanding of how we should approach scripture.

The affirmations can be read here.

They help us to understand the purpose and role of scripture, and remind us of the humanity of the people who wrote the various books of our sacred canon.  It is imperative that our views on scripture be in harmony with these nine affirmations.

REFLECTIVE OF CHRIST

To truly ensure that we are practicing responsible scriptural stewardship, we must strive to ensure that our interpretation and even our usage of scripture are reflective of Jesus Christ.

World Church Scripture Affirmation #1 states:

We declare that Jesus Christ—who lived, was crucified, was raised from the dead, and comes again—is the Living Word of God. It is to Christ that scripture points. It is through Christ that we have life (John 5:39–40). It is Christ whom we must hear (Mark 9:7).

This tells us that Christ is the focus of scripture.  Christ may not be referenced in every passage, but scripture as a whole points to Christ.

In addition, the church offers the following:

“We believe God clearly and reliably was revealed in Jesus Christ.”
Continuing Revelation, by Stephen M. Veazey (Enduring Principles Series)

“Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.  So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence.” –A Defining Moment, by Stephen M. Veazey

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied…” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 163:7b

These statements really resonate with me and make so much sense.  Christ is the focus of our entire religion.  Our Restoration scriptures make it clear that Christ is God; and although God is revealed in many ways throughout scripture, it is plainly obvious that God reveals Himself more fully, more clearly, more plainly in the divine manifestation of Jesus Christ, than in any other manner.

If we dare call ourselves Christians, if we dare presume to be disciples of Jesus Christ, if we dare claim membership in the church restored by Jesus Christ, if we dare call ourselves after him (the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints & Community of Christ) we need to be extremely serious and deliberate in our efforts to ensure that we do, what we claim, the positions we hold true, etc., are reflective of “God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.”

SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY

Some people might be concerned that what I said above may suggest that I’m saying that scripture is not authoritative.  Only people who don’t know me could make such a mistake.  I very much hold scripture to be authoritative, and it is the position of the church that it is.

World Conference Resolution 215 states:

“That this body, representing the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, recognize the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the revelations of God contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all other revelations which have been or shall be revealed through God’s appointed prophet, which have been or may be hereafter accepted by the church as the standard of authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising, or which may arise in this Church of Christ”

I love this resolution!  And I love to quote it!  I love that it upholds the Inspired Version, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Book of Mormon as our standard of authority.  The role of the standard of authority in the church was itself confirmed by President Veazey during the World Conferences of 2007 and 2013.

In addition, Scripture Affirmation #4 confirms that scripture is authoritative.

However, I think it must be understood that scripture is authoritative in a general sense.  In other words, there are verses of scripture which, although found within the scriptures, are not themselves, individually, authoritative.

This would generally be limited to things spoken by people who are not among God’s prophets, teachers, patriarchs, disciples, etc.  For example, statements made by people such as Cain, Pharaoh, Laman, Lemuel, and Herod would not be understood as being reflective of God’s truth.

Also, some of the writings of the apostle Paul are not authoritative because he directly states that he is speaking for himself only, and not for God.

It is therefore important to understand, when reading scripture, whose words you are reading.  It is far too easy for someone to quote an isolated scripture, passing it off as authoritative, when it could be entirely possible that its not.

APPROPRIATE APPLICATION

Sadly, the application of scripture is not always just or appropriate.  We are confronted with this unpleasant truth in Doctrine & Covenants Section 163:7b which states:

It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.

Scripture should *never* be used as a weapon.  It should never be used to counter what we know to be God’s preferences.  Scripture should not be used to marginalize people, nor to find cause to punish people.  Scripture should be used to guide us towards living our lives in greater alignment with God’s hopes for his creation.

SPIRITUAL INERRANCY

Inerrancy & Infallibility.  These terms tend to have different meanings depending on who is using them. I don’t want to get bogged down in trying to define such terms, so suffice it to say that some people understand the scriptures to be completely error free.
On this point, President Veazey has offered the following comment:

“Over the last several centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture – every single word – was dictated directly by God and is inerrant in every detail. This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable pathway to truth. So, a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.

This view still dominates much of global Christianity. It also strongly influences more than a few members of Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger culture.

However, that doctrine is not how scripture was understood in Christianity for many centuries after its birth. It is not how Jesus used scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture today.”  –A Defining Moment (2009)

Scripture Affirmation # 5 is also relevant here, stating:

“Scripture is vital and essential to the church, but not because it is inerrant (in the sense that every detail is historically or scientifically correct). Scripture makes no such claim for itself.”

My own position is that scripture is spiritually inerrant.  What I mean by that is that anything which is presented as being of God is just that.  However, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we may need to practice the spiritual discipline of discernment to ensure that we grasp, as accurately as possible, just what that spiritual truth might be.

DIRECT REVIEW

It seems fairly typical for people to base their convictions on passages of scripture that they may not have actually read for a long period of time.

During the many years that I opposed open communion, I did so because of some verses in the Third Book of Nephi.  I would even reference them when stating my reasons for not supporting open communion.  However, its not like I read them with any frequency.  I had read them before, I knew what they said, and that was enough.  In fact, I went several years without actually re-reading them.

It was not until the church considered the Words of Counsel of 2010 that I decided to go back to those verses.

And that is when it happened.  I realized that I had misinterpreted what I had read before.  I like to hope that during the years between my initial reading, and 2010, that I had grown in theological maturity, and perhaps it was as a result of that, that I was able to see that my initial interpretation was not truly realistic or reflective of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, what I once viewed as rock solid evidence to support my resistance to open communion proved to be highly flawed.

The lesson here is clear.  We need to periodically review the verses and passages that we use to defend our convictions.  If we fail to do so, we may find ourselves denying the spiritual truths that God has made available to us.

It is also very important that we take the time to review scripture directly, reading it for ourselves, and not simply forming conclusions based on the existence of alleged scripture.   If we are told “The Bible says ….” – we need to know where, we need to see the actual text, to ensure that proper context is available.

PROPER CONTEXT

An unfortunate tendency among many Christians is to use a verse or passage of scripture out-of-context in order to justify a particular stance.  This constitutes a form of scriptural abuse, and is deceptive.

It is very important to understand the context of any verse of scripture to ensure that it’s real meaning is being applied.  If we don’t seek the proper context, we can find ourselves failing to understand what we are reading.

Let me give you an example of the problems that arise when context is not presented.  Here are two fragments of scripture form the Doctrine & Covenants:

“the time for hesitation is past” (155:7) and “Do nothing in haste” (159:7)

In the absence of context, these two quotes could be said to be in conflict with each other.  However, when read the passages in full, we realize that no conflict exists.

Understanding context must be a best practice of pondering the scriptures.  When you really think about it, if we don’t take the time to do so, how can we be sure that we are in fact correctly understanding the scripture in question?  That defeats the whole point of having the scripture in the first place.  God gave us the scriptures.  All of our books of scripture are revelations from God.  Therefore, we owe it to our maker to ensure that we are aware of scriptural context.

It is also sometimes critically important to remember that the various “books” that make up the Bible were originally written in other languages, and sometimes the English words used to translate the original languages into English do not accurately convey the meaning of the original words.  We also need to recognize that sometimes the meaning of English words in the modern era is different from how it was used previously.

A sincere desire to honestly and truly comprehend context also carries with it the understanding that there potentially exists verses of scripture in a completely different part of our sacred canon that may impact or expand upon the meaning of another verse or passage.  We won’t always know if such a scripture exists, but we need to be mindful that there are “meta-scriptures” which may reveal deeper light and truth.

SCRIPTURAL STEWARDSHIP

As a summary, I believe that all members of Community of Christ, all members of the Restoration movement, and all Christians, have an obligation to model ideal scriptural stewardship, as we ponder the scriptures.  For members of Community of Christ, I believe this needs to encompass all of the following:

Responsible Pondering: Interpreting scripture in a manner that is logical, rational, plausible & reflective of common sense.

Scripture Affirmations: Understanding the nine Scripture Affirmations provided by World Church.

Christ Reflective: Ensuring that scriptural understandings that model Christ take precedence over scriptures that counter Christ’s teachings.

Appropriate Application: Ensuring that scripture is not used as a weapon, but rather as a guide towards moving closer to God’s hopes for His creation.

Scriptural Authority: Understanding that while scripture as a whole is authoritative, some verses are not.

Spiritual Inerrancy: Recognizing that scripture is not perfect, but being confidant that all passages presented as God’s truth are such; but that accurately understanding that truth may sometimes requirement discernment.

Direct Review: Ensuring that we examine & re-examine those verses that shape our convictions.

Proper Context: Ensuring that scripture’s intended meaning is not distorted & that we are mindful of the fact that translations of the Bible from the original languages is not always accurate.

Community Place: Hope of Zion?

cpbannerThis summer I had the very good fortune to be able to attend the 2014 Northern Ontario Reunion, and I was deeply impressed throughout the week by the leadership and ministry provided by Community Place.

What is Community Place?  It is an initiative in Ontario that is striving to be a new expression of the Community of Christ church experience.  As I understand it, it emerged out of our Senior High Camp program, from a desire to keep the camp experience ongoing, beyond the confines of camp itself.

What I really admire about Community Place is that it is a young adult initiative.  Most of it’s key people are young adults, and the events that they plan & host are structured with young adults in mind.  However, the events are not “young adult events” but are open to everyone.  All are welcome, and being an inclusive group is part of Community Place’s mandate.

Community Place describes itself as follows: “Building a Universal Community of Action, Founded in Love, Acceptance, and Equality – Community Place offers unique and exciting programs by drawing from the successful camping model that has affected our lives for generations. We invite you to experience community building in action as we provide opportunities for all ages to participate in purposeful programming all year long.”

Watching Community Place personnel during Northern Ontario Reunion only confirmed what I have known for quite some time.  They are leaders.  And they are ministers.  And that leadership and ministry, during Reunion, manifested in a variety of ways, including overseeing the A/V system, facilitating classes, and organizing special events for junior high and senior high participants.

More importantly, they provided leadership and ministry by being ideal role models that other young adults, as well as younger people, look up to.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that Community Place is accomplishing.

Community Place has done something that is extremely difficult to do.  They have found a way to retain and engage young adults.  In one of my other blogs, I talked about how important it is for Community of Christ to become a 21st century church, and I’ve stated that to become so, we need to be a church that is relevant, which resonates with people, and which is redemptive.

Community of Place has done that.  It is doing that now.  It is providing spiritual experiences for young adults (and others) which are redemptive, and which are relevant, and which, very clearly, do resonate with people.

I’ve also blogged (here & here) about the importance of expanding our ministries of invitation, relationships, and community building.  Again, Community Place is doing all of this.  A lot.  And the results are impressive.  More than that, the results are just downright exciting!

Community Place excels at being deliberate with invitation.  It excels at nurturing holistic relationships, and it excels at building sacred community.  How could one not be excited by this?

But is success with young adults important?  Some people might not be so sure.  So let me be clear.  It is extremely important.  It is imperative.  We need to get this right.  And we need to do so right now.

In fact, the importance of involving our young adults has been recognized by President Veazey, prophet of the church, who said in his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address:

“I am aware of the frustrations of some youth and young adults with the seemingly slow pace of congregational life in response to mission. I also am aware of your disappointment with not having opportunities to serve and lead as you feel called. In response, let me say the church needs the insights and gifts of all ages to be healthy. Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”

Read that last sentence again: “Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”

President Veazey continued by saying:

“I also know words are not enough. We need to do something now. I and other church leaders personally commit to meet with young adults in various locations to listen to concerns, perspectives, and hopes. We want to envision the future of the church with you. We want to explore models of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation…

…Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.”

The above words are a testimony of how vital active participation of young adults is to the church.  We need young adults to drive our present and our future.  Its not one or the other, its both.  We need them to drive our mission forward, and we need them to position us to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

As part of the church, which is called to be a “prophetic people”, our young adult members who have established Community Place have prophetically envisioned an alternate and dynamic expression of “church”.

However, its new, its different, and while it is now a reality (as it has truly become an actual community), it is also still simultaneously (and in a sense always will be) a concept.   A concept that hopefully will be replicated elsewhere, in various mission centers throughout the world.

Yet, as a concept, it is sometimes hard to fully grasp just what Community Place is all about.  As excited as I am about what Community Place (the community) is doing (and has already accomplished), I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around Community Place (the concept).  There are some things that I don’t fully get.

Still, I know it would be foolish and rather short sighted to just dismiss it, resist it, or oppose it because of my own failings to fully wrap my head around the concept.  But as a church people, we are somewhat notorious for doing just that with new ideas, especially when those new ides involve new expressions of church.  We can be very stubborn at times and inflexible with our attitudes & policies regarding things that are new, and/or which perhaps threaten our own comfort zones.

And that is when we should all be reminded of the fact that it was a church that Christ established.  It was a church that Christ restored.  It was *not* a worship service outline.

There are three dimensions of church: doctrine, mission, and fellowship.  Everything else is infrastructure.

Knowing this, I recognize that I don’t need to fully understand every nuance of Community Place in order to support it.  I don’t need to fully grasp it to be excited about it.  I don’t need to have been a part of it its genesis to be a passionate advocate for what it is doing, and accomplishing.

And I don’t have to give up other expressions or experiences of church to enjoy and appreciate what Community Place is doing.

And what it is doing seems almost miraculous.  Its not just that Community of Place has found a way of engaging young adults.  It goes beyond that.  They are transforming lives.  Not just of their own personnel, but of a much larger demographic, drawn from all ages.

But what I see as one of the most awesome benefits of Community Place is that they are empowering other young adults to also move into positions of leadership in our greater church community, and therefore, moving into positions of meaningful ministry.

In early June I asked one of the key leaders of Community Place how many young adults could be considered part of their larger community. His answer: 200!  Two hundred!  This is not to say by any means that 200 young adults attend any given event.  Because of busy schedules, and so forth, I don’t know if they have had more than thirty young adults attend any particular function, but the base is extremely impressive.

shcamp2014And that is good news indeed, because the church is facing many challenges.  21st century life in first world nations is not exactly church friendly.  All denominations are coping with serious issues, including plain old competition – I don’t mean with each other, but with various time mongers.

Those who know me know that I am unapologetically extremely passionate and vocal about the heritage and divine calling of the Restored church and the (ever increasing) gospel fullness that we bring to the world.  This is not something I’m prepared to see vanish from the world.

We are called (among other things) to pursue the cause of Zion (to build Zionic communities throughout the world); to proclaim Jesus Christ, and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace; to abolish poverty and end suffering; to be advocates of peace and justice; to empower people to encounter God and reflect Christ; to declare the worth of all persons and celebrate unity in diversity; and (my personal favorite), to teach and preach the sacred story (which of course, if done properly, drives everything else).

Here is the crucial question.  Who is going to do all of that?  We can’t expect children and youth, while they are children and youth, to drive the church forward (and we can’t expect them to stick around without mentors), and as older adults gradually lose steam (or just burn out), we lose that manpower.  What is the plausible answer?  What do logic, reason and common sense tell us? Clearly, young adults have a vital role to play in the future of Community of Christ.

If we would see Zion, than we need to do ensure that we are supporting young adult initiatives like Community Place.  Such support can take many forms.  Participation, sponsorship, partnership, guidance, mentoring, and just being open minded, and not throwing up road blocks in a misguided attempt to undermine them at every opportunity. I’m calling this out because I consider myself a traditionalist, but sometimes, for the greater good, things need to change.

Community Place is a golden opportunity for Community of Christ.  It is still very much in it’s infancy, and like every new concept, it has growing pains to struggle through.  But it is my hope that the greater church membership will uphold Community Place in their prayers.  It is extremely challenging to drive forward something that is new and different; and burn out & exasperation are very serious potential issues that the rest of us need to do what we can to minimize.

In Kirtland, young adults built a sacred community.  Community Place seeks to do the same.  During Reunion, I saw a glimmer of Zion, and I saw the potential that Community Place has to transform people’s lives for the better, and I was deeply moved by what I saw, and deeply blessed by what I experienced.

“As a prophetic people you are called to discern the divine will for your own time and in the  places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new  forms of ministry. The church is admonished to prayerfully consider how calling and giftedness in the Community of Christ can best be expressed in a new time.”
–Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2c (adapted)

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I recognize that this blog does not actually get into what Community Place does.  If you are sincerely interested in learning more, please let me know, and I’ll do my best to have a member of their leadership team contact you.
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