Community of Christ: A Revealed Church

stonechurchwindow2The other day, as I was pondering some church related issue, I found myself thinking of the church as a “revealed church”.  What I mean by that term is that we are a church that claims to have come into existence as a result of divine initiative, and which has an open canon of scripture, and believes in continuing revelation.

While I suspect that most Christian denominations feel that God’s inspiration blesses them in one form or another, I don’t know of too many others that truly claim, in quite the way that we do, that God moved the people involved to establish a church.  In my view, we are the only church that can legitimately be said to be a revealed church, and this an aspect that is both a blessing to us, and can be a blessing to others.

We are not a self-made church, but a revealed church.  We were established for divine purposes.  And moving away from our Restoration heritage by getting rid of this scripture, or that scripture, or this aspect of our sacred story, etc.  would, in my view, greatly undermine our very reason for being.

We were not organized to be another street corner church.  We were not organized to be yet another Protestant denomination.  The world has plenty of such denominations already.  We are the church of the Restoration.  What makes the church the amazing church that it is, is the summation of all of our unique characteristics: our sacred story, our journey as a people, being a revealed church, our open canon, ongoing revelation, etc.  If we reject any of these things, we risk undermining what makes us so loved by so many people.

In 2010, President Veazey asked “what kind of church do you want to be?”

My answer to that is this: I want us to be a 21st century church, that puts the mission of Jesus Christ first, that grounds itself in enduring principles, mission initiatives, history principles, and scripture affirmations.  But I also want us to continue to be a Latter Day Restoration denomination, as I feel only through such, can we truly have voice in this world that will not be drowned out by all the other voices.

President Veazey asked a further question: “what kind of church does God want us to be?”

I believe God wants us to be everything I described above, but also a church that is true to itself.  We claim to be a church of the Restoration, divinely established.  This is evident by the following Sections from the Doctrine & Covenants:

“Claim your unique and sacred place within the circle of those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration…” –Section 161:1b. (Grant McMurray, 2000)

“For many months I have struggled with a persistent conviction that God is calling the church to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a prophetic people. I have sensed as never before that we are uniquely called to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and to claim again the principles of Restoration in our own time.” -Preamble, Section 162 (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Listen, O people of the Restoration…” –Section 162:1a (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. 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.” –Section 162:2e (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“…Those values, deeply rooted in the Restoration faith…” –Section 162:7c. (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Continue your journey, O people of the Restoration. You have been blessed thus far but there is so much yet to see, so much yet to do. Go forth with confidence and live prophetically as a people who have been loved, and who now courageously choose to love others in the name of the One you serve. Amen.” –Section 162:8c (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Despite the challenges involved, it is my pleasure to be able to serve you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who have been claimed by the adventurous vision and spirit of the Restoration movement.” -Afterword of Section 163 (Stephen Veazey, 2007)

“Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely-led…” –Section 164:9a (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“Actively and generously support the ministries of the church, which was divinely established” -Section 164:3b (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“While preparing the final document, I stayed open to more divine direction that might enhance the church’s understanding now or in the future. Guidance refined some sentences. In several instances, it also added content for reasons known to God.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

“The testimony I offer is assurance that God, the eternal One, lovingly and patiently guides the church according to divine purposes.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

Other statements that also remind us of who we are come from our Bylaws, adopted by World Conference delegates in 2002, and revised in 2010:

“The church, as defined by President Joseph Smith III, is a theocratic democracy. It was brought into being by divine initiative, is guided and administered by divine authority, is sustained by the light of the Holy Spirit, and exists for divine purposes. In response to divine initiative, members share responsibility for governing the church.” –Article III Section 1

“The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood. It should be noted that the government of the church is through priesthood, not by priesthood. The distinction is important. Ministers must first of all be disciples. Disciples are those who seek to transform this world into the kingdom of God and Christ. In no other way can their claim to divine authority become rich and meaningful.” –Article III Section 2

The 2005 edition of the Church Administrators Handbook states:

“Calls to the priesthood are initiated by jurisdictional officers in response to the spirit of discernment, wisdom, and divine direction and are authorized by a vote of the members in a conference of the appropriate church jurisdiction.” –B. Calls to the Priesthood, page 27

“From the inception of this faith movement, we have valued the interaction of the Divine with us. From that initial experience when God spoke in a grove until today in settings much different, we still anticipate God calling us to new visions and new understandings.”
–E. Sense of Prophetic Vision, page 65

We are a church that has made decisions about what we believe, in, what we consider to be scripture, what scripture is, what is upheld as authoritative, etc.

We are a religious organization.  We are a Christian church.  We believe that God has, and continues, to reveal God’s mind and will to us.

There are some things that we can change on our own.  Certain policies, positions, procedures, etc. which are not derived from God’s revealed will in scripture, as found in the standard of authority, can be, according to church law, changed or rescinded.

However, there are other things that only God can change.  And sometimes God does make changes.  But those changes are to further God’s purposes.  Whatever God does not change, we are not free to change.

Note: Some people believe that God never changes that which God has already established.  I’ve had a lot of pushback from people who find fault with the church because it has made changes.  However, God does make changes.  To review the proof of this, as revealed in our Latter Day Restoration scriptures, please read this blog: God’s Changes.

We cannot simply disregard explicit divine direction or positions to suit our own preferences.  We cannot disregard the standard of authority, and all that we uphold as being of God.

We can seek changes, even in matters of doctrine.  But we cannot rescind on our own what God has established.  Therefore, if changes are sought, we must wait for them to be come to pass. And, in some areas, we should perhaps be prepared for the possibility that the changes that any of us may individually seek, may never occur.

But we cannot just disregard explicitly divine direction and positions. To do so would make us hypocritical.  And hypocrisy was the one thing that Christ had very little tolerance of.  It was one of the very few things (perhaps the only thing) that caused him to truly become angry.

If we claim to follow Jesus Christ, to be Christ’s disciples, and his church, and a community of Christ, we need to understand what he said, and what he taught, and how he responded to situations, and, as best we can, his character.  And when we do this, it is clear that Christ took issue with hypocrisy.  So, we must strive, as best we can, as his disciples, to not be hypocrites ourselves.

Individually, most of us we will falter in this, and always will.  But the church must strive to ensure that it does not blatantly become hypocritical with what it claims, and what it does.  If these two aspects of the church are not in harmony with each other, to the best of our ability to make them so, we cannot claim to be in alignment with God’s purposes.

Please also read the related blog: “The Nature & Role of Scripture”

Please also read the linked blog: “21st Century Restoration”

Please also read the linked blog: “God’s Changes”

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The Nature & Role of Scripture

readingbibleCommunity of Christ has made some very profound statements concerning scripture.  Among them are the following:

“Scripture is a library of books that speaks in many voices. These books were written in diverse times and places, and reflect the languages, cultures, and conditions under which they were written. God’s revelation through scripture does not come to us apart from the humanity of the writers, but in and through that humanity.” –Scripture Affirmation #3

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

“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.

…Over the last several centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture—every single word—was directly dictated 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 today. It also strongly influences more than a few members of the Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger religious culture.

However, that doctrine, that view of scripture, is not how scripture was understood in Christianity for many centuries since its birth. It is not how Jesus Christ viewed and used scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture today.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired, indispensable, and essential to our knowledge of God and the gospel. In addition, we believe that scripture should be interpreted responsibly through informed study, guided by the Holy Spirit working in and through the church. Scripture was formed by the community of faith to shape the community of faith. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the faith community.

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. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to categorically assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.” –A Defining Moment (President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church)

I think it is truly awesome that Community of Christ has such an amazing view with regard to our scriptures.  I am grateful to belong to a church that has canonized, as scripture, words about scripture, and the need to confess of the harm that has been done in the past by abusing scripture.

It is worth reading the entire documents in their entirety.

The Scripture Affirmations can be read here.

Section 163 can be read here.

The address “A Defining Moment” is no longer on the church’s website,  but it can be read here.

While I celebrate these forward thinking positions and views on scripture, I feel that often we sometimes overlook some other key aspects regarding scripture, including its role in the church.

This becomes very important when considering issues that touch on doctrine and theology.  When we explore such issues, it is of course very appropriate to consider Community of Christ’s scripture; therefore, we need to be fully aware of how the church understands scripture.

With the above in mind, I want to highlight the following factors.

3in1First, Community of Christ has three books of scripture: The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine & Covenants.  Usage of any of these books varies from person to person, but all three are part of the sacred canon of the church.

“With other Christians, 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 as scripture.”  –Scripture Affirmation #9

Second, understanding the first factor above, what does the church say about scripture?  Here are some key points:

“It is to Christ that scripture points.” –Scripture Affirmation #1

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

“Scripture is the indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church.” –Scripture Affirmation #2

“generations of Christians have found scripture simply to be trustworthy in keeping them anchored in revelation, in promoting faith in Christ, and in nurturing the life of discipleship. For these purposes, scripture is unfailingly reliable” –Scripture Affirmation #5

“We have heard Christ speak in all three books of scripture, and bear witness that he is “alive forever and ever” –Scripture Affirmation #9

“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission…When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.”
–Basic Beliefs, Scripture

“scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings” –A Defining Moment (President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church)

“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

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

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

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

To summarize the above, scripture is the result of divine inspiration and revelation.  It is authoritative.  Scripture is an indispensable witness of God’s saving, transformative message, which God entrusted to us (the church).  It is also an indispensable witness of the Eternal Source of Light and Truth.  The church’s scripture is accepted by the church as the normative expression of it’s identity, message, and mission.

Exercise: Understanding what the church says about scripture, as indicated above, and understanding what is upheld by the church as scripture, re-read the above statements substituting the Doctrine & Covenants and the Book of Mormon for the word scripture.

For example:

“We find the Living Word in and through the Doctrine & Covenants.”

“The Book of Mormon is an indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church.”

“generations of Christians have found the Doctrine & Covenants simply to be trustworthy in keeping them anchored in revelation, in promoting faith in Christ, and in nurturing the life of discipleship. For these purposes, the Doctrine & Covenants is unfailingly reliable”

“The Book of Mormon is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission…When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, the Book of Mormon provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.”

“The Doctrine & Covenants is an amazing collection of inspired writings”

“The Book of Mormon is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.”

“The church affirms that the Doctrine & Covenants is inspired”

“The Book of Mormon is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth”

Third, understanding what the church upholds as scripture, and understanding it’s position on scripture, we can now look at the role it has in the church.

World Conference Resolution 215 states the following:

“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 to authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising, or which may arise in this Church of Christ”

The key words in the above resolution are: “as the standard to authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies”  It is also worth pointing out that we are informed by this resolution that the Inspired Version of the Bible (which is formally printed as the Holy Scriptures) is the specific version of the Bible which joins the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Convents as forming the standard of authority of the church.

WCR 215 was adopted in 1878.  Some people might think that because it is so old, it might be a forgotten component of the church.  That is not correct.  In 2007, a motion on the Book of Mormon was ruled out-of-order by President Veazey (because it sought to mandate belief in it).  However, in his comments explaining why it had to be ruled out-of-order, President Veazey reminded us that the Book of Mormon is part of our standard of authority, and he quoted the definition of that term as found in WCR 215.

Also, in 2010, delegates approved a new revelation (what became Section 164).  Prior to its approval, President Veazey made a remark, pointing out that if approved, it would become part of our standard of authority.

These examples confirm that the standard of authority has not  been forgotten, and they also confirm the very important function that it has in the life of the church.

Fourth, regarding the nature of the Doctrine & Covenants.prophets

I sometimes think that the Doctrine & Covenants is occasionally viewed by some people as something other than scripture (perhaps as commentary or positions).  However, as some of the above statements confirm, it is upheld as scripture, and authoritative, in Community of Christ.

Also, the church glossary offered the following definition of the Doctrine & Covenants:

“A compilation of documents that the church accepts as inspired counsel representing the “mind and will of God.” The inspired documents date back to 1828 and cover the period from then until present.”

The church glossary is no longer available online, as it was one of dozens of documents & resources that did not survive the transition from the old website to the new website (which was optimized for both computer and mobile users – and I suspect a lengthy list of definitions was unwieldy for mobile conversion).

However, its absence should not be taken as a rescinding of that definition.  The definition was itself derived from the church’s understanding of what revelation is, and is reflected elsewhere:

“Every day since being ordained as prophet-president, I have carried the needs of the church on my heart. Sometimes the weight of concern has seemed almost unbearable. Perhaps this is as it should be, because the heaviness of responsibility has pressed me to seek the mind and will of God as never before.” –Preamble of Section 163

“On Wednesday, April 14, 2010, the World Conference voted to accept the inspired document as the mind and will of God for the church and ordered its inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants. ” –Preamble of Section 164

“The Doctrine and Covenants is also part of the Community of Christ sacred story. This book is a collection of writings by prophet-presidents of Community of Christ. This begins with Joseph Smith Jr. and includes the seven others who have served as prophet-president since him, including the current one, Stephen M. Veazey. In each of these documents God gives direction to the church for that day and time. The president presents what he believes to be the mind and will of God for the church, World Conference considers it, and if approved, a document is added to the Doctrine and Covenants.” –Sharing in Community of Christ (Youth Lessons, Ages 12-18), page 16

Understanding all of the above I feel helps us approach any doctrinal or theological matter (which often in turn helps formulate policies, positions, procedures, etc.) more responsibly, and fairly, than we otherwise might.

The scriptures should not be used as weapons to simply push our own personal agendas.  But we also should not ignore the scriptures when they do not support our own personal agendas.  And while we are free to have whatever personal beliefs that we are comfortable with, I personally feel that, as church members, we each have a responsibility for ensuring that any desired changes should be explored within the context of the church itself, and not just our own personal preferences.

An example of what I mean.  If I support infant baptism, someone might point out to me that there are scriptures in the Book of Mormon that condemn it.  Harshly.  I might counter that by saying “But I don’t believe in the Book of Mormon”.  And therefore, I might continue to push forward with trying to get the change that I desire, made.  However, would this be appropriate?   Regardless of my own personal beliefs, I know that the Book of Mormon is accepted by the church as scripture, and as part of the standard of authority.  So, I personally would not feel it is right to simply set aside the verses or passages that could be roadblocks for getting approval for the change that I seek.

Another example.  If I oppose female ordination, I might decide to have a motion passed at World Conference that legislates that women will no longer be ordained.  An opponent might point out that Section 156 endorses female ordination.  I could say that I reject the authenticity of Section 156.  But, would that be appropriate for me to push through such a motion, when I know that church accepts 156 as the mind and will of God?  It is part of the church’s canon of scripture, and part of the standard of authority.  I might not like it, but it is what it is.

(to be clear, I fully support female ordination – and I reject infant baptism)

Some might feel that they are called by God, or a sense of what is right, or duty bound, to seek a change that they feel is required.  I get that, and I support that.  But such efforts must be done within the context of the church itself, within what we have declared our positions on scripture to be.  Within the context of what we claim our church to be: a revealed church, a church that God has established for God’s purposes, a church that believes that God has revealed God’s mind and will to us.

Please also read the related blog “Community of Christ: A Revealed Church”

Preparing for World Conference

lectern5A little note I sent to my congreation about World Conference 2016. Just my own thoughts.  For all members of Community of Christ, regardless if you are ex-officio, delegate, non-delegate, or even going.  We all need to prepare.

***

In just a couple of months, World Conference 2016 will commence, as church members from around the world gather in Independence, Missouri, to celebrate, deliberate, and worship together.

World Conference is a very important event in the life of the church, and it has always been my conviction that *all* church members need to prepare for it every time that it takes place. The actions and decisions made during World Conference help to steer and shape the direction of the church, and we all need to be part of that process.

This preparation is important for everyone, whether you are attending World Conference or not. Delegates, and other participants are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the pending legislation. However, people who are not attending World Conference should also review the legislation, and share your thoughts and opinions with those who are attending, so that they can have a broader view of each motion, which will be helpful to them as they vote, and represent you.

In addition to the regular motions, the delegates attending this upcoming World Conference will be formally considering the 2013 Words of Counsel, for canonization and inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants. If approved, the 2013 Words of Counsel will become scripture for the church, and part of our standard of authority, becoming Section 165.

It is a rare opportunity, and great privilege, to be able to be part of the process that declares to the world that what has been presented by the Prophet-President is accepted and endorsed by the World Church as representing the mind and will of God. Once again, the process falls to all church members, not just those who attend World Conference. Please take the time – and be deliberate – to prayerfully read, study, discuss, and discern the 2013 Words of Counsel, and share your thoughts and opinions with those who will be attending World Conference.

Pending legislation can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/…/World-Con…/Resolutions-WC2016.pdf

The final version of the 2013 Words of Counsel can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/…/Doc…/WordsofCounsel04-05-2016.pdf

Thank you for taking the time to prepare for World Conference 2016!

God bless!

Does Your Church Need to Have a Shower?

showerI wanted to share something that we did in my congregation about four or five years ago.  We gave our building a shower.

As part of my congregation’s pastorate team, I often wander around looking for things that need to be fixed, or improved.  Structural things I would bring up with our Buildings & Grounds minister.  But when it came to things like a new vacuum cleaner, a new kettle, or other equipment, I thought that I would just take it upon myself to replace some of those things personally.

I can’t remember what item I thought I really wanted to replace, but whatever it was, I decided, I’m just going to go out one day, buy it, and donate it to the church. I decided that I was not going to ask our financial officer to reimburse me.  I love my congregation, and our building, and the many events that we have together.  So, I really wanted to just donate the replacement object to the congregation.

But then I saw something else I really wanted to replace.  It was never a begrudging thing, but an opportunity, a reason to be excited.  However, I don’t have unlimited money, so I knew I could not just keep buying things and paying for them out of my own pocket.

One day, I decided to approach our congregational leadership team, as several of them had also noticed there were a lot of things that just really needed to be replaced and updated.  So, I said to them, something like “can we make a list of everything we need, and perhaps people would be wiling to pick it up”?

I then, probably with a bit of anxiousness,  asked something like “and because we’ve been really trying to keep our congregational funds directed to other things, I was hoping that if people are able to, they might be willing to donate it” and I spoke about how I think of the church building as not just a building  I go to, but as a home.  Its God’s home, and it should also be my home and the home of everyone who attends, and just as we freely buy stuff for our own home, maybe some people might feel inclined to do that for the sake of our congregational building.

I was greatly moved that everyone was very enthusiastic about this idea…and the excitement grew!  People felt invigorated to do what they could to help improve what we consider to be God’s house – people wanted to be personally part of the process of taking care of God’s house.  We posted a list, and everyone went around to each room (probably most especially the kitchen), and then added items to our purchase list.  It was almost like making a gift registry.

Once the list was posted, people could volunteer to take care of whatever item they wished (presuming it was still available of course) signing off beside the item they agreed to purchase.

But it did not stop there.  Very quickly, people said “we need to celebrate this – we can’t just quietly bring in the items on different days and put them away” – so, soon, a date was picked – a target date to have all the items purchased, and it was decided that on that date, after the service, and probably a luncheon, we would sit in a circle, and each item would be presented. 

I honestly cannot remember if they were gift wrapped, but I would not be surprised if they were.  Either way, it was very fun to see each new exciting pot, set of spatulas, vacuum cleaner, etc.  We even used this opportunity to buy things we never had before. One person suggested TV trays so that seniors could manage their food better when we had pot lucks.  My wife took care of that, and she took great joy in going out and buying a really nice sturdy set of folding wooden trays that sit on a stand all compact when not in use.

It was a really joyful occasion to come together and replenish some things that really needed to be replenished, as well as getting some new things for our church that were very practical, but which we never had before.  People seemed really happy to help out, and it was heartwarming to see the love that everyone has for our congregation expressed in this different kind of way.    One of my fondest memories was seeing the joy that everyone had, particularly on the faces of the people who most often work in the kitchen.  There was some real excitement and genuine gratitude for each gift.  It was almost like watching kids on Christmas morning!

So, if you’ve never thrown your church building a shower, you might consider doing so.  I tend to think that the love, generosity and creativity that results will be a warm blessing to your congregation in many diverse ways.