Peace On Earth Good Will to Who?

My wife and I went for a nice long brisk early November walk today, and at one point we went into a Christmas store. As I was looking around at all the cheerful items for sale, I saw a plate that said “Joy to the World” and another that said “Peace on Earth”. I was immediately hit by a sense of remorse over the fact that we tend to talk about those things only during the Christmas season.

I remember sharing with some people in the past about how wonderful the world would be if we could somehow keep the Spirit of Christmas, and all the goodwill associated with it, alive all year long. Unfortunately, that often does not seem plausible. But, happily, the Christmas season returns to us each year. So, even if we try, but fail, to keep the Spirit of Christmas going all year long, each Christmas season we have another opportunity to promote “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth”.

And wouldn’t it be awesome this year if everyone who celebrates or observes Christmas, *or* anyone who wants the world to have joy and be at peace, would somehow use this upcoming Christmas season to really promote those values – regardless of personal faith and/or convictions? This holiday season, let “Peace on Earth” and “Joy to the World” become more than just rote phrases on decorations and cards that put a warm smile in our hearts but which generally fail to motivate us towards actually striving to bring joy and peace to the world.

Words have meaning. Look behind the words to see the true meaning and purpose of those words. They were not originally written or uttered for the purpose of becoming part of the trappings of the Christmas season, but to push us forward, to be goals, to remind us that we can be a better global family.

The words “Joy to the World” do not mean “Joy for just me and those I care about”. They mean joy for the entire human race – and to have joy, people need to be treated fairly, with dignity, and respect, and with the same opportunities and freedoms as everyone else, with all people viewing everyone else as brotherly neighbors, recognizing the worth of all persons.

Likewise, the words “Peace on Earth” do not mean “Peace just for my own” – whatever our own might be. Nor does “Peace on Earth” mean “Peace through victory”. It means peace for all nations, all societies, all types of people, all over the world through letting go of blame, and of our wounds, our pride, and our fears. But peace does not just happen in a vacuum. We need to actively work towards peace. And that means, among other things, that we must be willing to listen – truly, honestly, sincerely listen to one another – and actually hear what is being said, with an understanding that even in diversity, we can have both harmony and unity.

We live in an era that is full of uncertainty and confusion and misdirection. There is accountability on all sides. People from all spectrums have hidden behind Christian values to promote views, positions, and actions that are contrary to the teachings of the One whose birth Christmas celebrates.

So this year, as we enter into the Christmas season, and we see our political and religious leaders, and others, talk about how special a time of year Christmas is, and as they sing “Joy to the World” or “Peace On Earth Good Will to Men”, really make them mean it. Don’t let it just be warm but empty words concealing hypocrisy. Hold them accountable. Point out the hypocrisy. Ask them to explain what they think “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth” truly means. What does it look like? Ask them who those words were meant for. Make them acknowledge the things that they are doing that undermines Joy to the World, and Peace on Earth. And then ask them, on their Christian faith, what they are going to do, to truly live, and personify those words.

And as they passionately enjoy and celebrate Christmas, ask them whose birth Christmas celebrates, and what did He have to say about the various issues that seem to be dividing us.  Because, if we are not really following Him, just why are we celebrating His birth?

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”

Acknowledging Hypocrisy

jcOne of the most common faults attributed to Christians is that we tend to be hypocritical.  We need to hear this criticism, and strive to overcome it.     Not only because elements of society accuse us of being hypocritical, but also because Christ himself viewed hypocrites with contempt.  In fact, the only occasions I recall where Christ seemed to get truly angry is when he dealt with hypocrites.

We need to remember Christ’s outlook on this subject, because we have been told that Christ himself is:

“God’s most-decisive revelation”
–President Veazey, “A Defining Moment”

We have also been told:

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

Keeping the above quotes in mind, and to drive home the point that Christ had a very negative view of hypocrisy, the following list of scriptures (just from the Gospel of Matthew*) is offered.

***

“Therefore, when thou doest alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” –Matthew 6:2

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men; for, verily, I say unto you, They have their reward.” –Matthew 6:5

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the hypocrites do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” –Matthew 6:5

“Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.” –Matthew 6:17

“Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” –Matthew 7:8

“O ye hypocrites! … This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain do they worship me, teaching the doctrines and the commandments of men.” –Matthew 15:7,8

“O hypocrites! ye can discern the face of the sky; but ye cannot tell the signs of the times.” –Matthew 16:3

“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Ye hypocrites! why tempt ye me?”
–Matthew 22:18

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that
are entering to go in.” –Matthew 23:10

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! for ye are hypocrites!” –Matthew 23:11

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” –Matthew 23:12

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” –Matthew 23:20

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” –Matthew 23:22

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” –Matthew 23:24

“Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” –Matthew 23:25

***

See also “Sacramental Truth”

*Inspired Version