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”

Please feel free to reply! :)

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