Views on Scripture

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

This is not a blog as such, but a collection of statements made by the Church, or by church leaders, regarding scripture.

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From Doctrine & Covenants Section 163 (2007):

7a.Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.
7b. 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.
7c. 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.
7d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.

From “A Defining Moment” (2009 Address to the Church, by President Veazey):

“Besides putting our history in perspective, we need to deepen our understanding of the nature of scripture.

For this part of our journey we need a light and a compass. Our light is the witness of the Holy Spirit that illuminates divine truth. Our compass is the church’s “Statement on Scripture” that provides reliable direction.

Basic to the “Statement on Scripture” is the understanding that scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings that is indispensable to encountering the Living God revealed in the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Scripture speaks with many voices, including testimonies, stories, poetry, metaphors, commentary, and parables. All of these ways of communicating point us to divine truths beyond the ability of any language to express fully. 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.

Here is the heart of our challenge. 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.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired 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 Spirit working in the church. Scripture was formed by the community to shape the community. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the community. In other words, understanding and applying scripture is not just a matter of reading a passage and deciding on our own what it means.

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 assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.”

From our Statement on Scripture:

Scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for life when responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied. Scripture helps us believe in Jesus Christ. Its witness guides us to eternal life and enables us to grow spiritually, to transform our lives, and to participate actively in the life and ministry of the church.

Affirmation One

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).

Affirmation Two

We find the Living Word in and through scripture. Scripture is the indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church. The church formed the canon of scripture so that it might always have a way to hear the good news, nurture its faith, measure its life, test its experience, and remember its identity.

Affirmation Three

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. In the earthen vessels of scripture we have been given the treasure of divine love and grace (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Affirmation Four

Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ, who came to be a servant (Mark 10:45). Therefore, the authority of scripture is not the authority to oppress, control, or dominate. If Jesus came to serve, how much more should the books that point to him be treated as a servant of the saving purposes of God.

Affirmation Five

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. Rather, 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 (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Affirmation Six

Faith, experience, tradition, and scholarship each have something to contribute to our understanding of scripture. In wrestling to hear and respond to the witness of scripture, the church must value the light that each of these sources may offer.

Affirmation Seven

As the church tries to interpret scripture responsibly, it seeks the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide his disciples into new truth (John 16:12–15). By the Spirit, the ancient words of scripture can become revelatory, allowing us to grasp what may not have been seen or heard before.

Affirmation Eight

Disciples are called to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the scriptures so that they may ever increase in love for God, neighbor, and self (Matthew 22:37–40; Mosiah 1:49), uphold the dignity and worth of all persons (Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c–d), and faithfully follow the way of Jesus Christ.

Affirmation Nine

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. We do not use these sacred writings to replace the witness of the Bible or improve upon it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God (Preface of the Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants 76:3g). We have heard Christ speak in all three books of scripture, and bear witness that he is “alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18).

For our time we shall seek to live and interpret the witness of scripture by the Spirit, with the community, for the sake of mission, in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Please also read “Pondering the Scriptures”
Please also read “The Nature & Role of Scripture”
Please also read “Statements on Christ”

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”

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.

Why Does the Church Have to Change?

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

Also, this blog is sort of a sequel to my prior blog “Can God Change?” which you may want to read first.

twosticksAs I’m sure most people are aware, change does not always come easily.  Or, it is not always easily accepted.  This is particularly obvious within the context of the church.

When I look at my own willingness to accept changes in the church, I find examples of occasions when I was reluctant to do so.  I’m particularly resistant to changes that can be construed as doctrinal in nature.  I tend to have conservative or foundationalist perspectives regarding church doctrine.  I cherish the grove experience, the need for a restoration, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, the sacredness of our revelations, etc.

Consequently, changes in the church have not always been easy for me to accept; and I know that I am not alone.  There are numerous church members who struggle with church changes because, just like me, the traditional teachings of the church strongly resonate with them.

I know that there are some people who are really annoyed that the church has scheduled it’s next World Conference for June instead of April.  I’ve conversed with a couple of people about this, and I was surprised how annoyed they are over this latest change.  For myself, the dates of World Conference don’t really mean a great deal aside from personal preference.  The dates are not reflective of church doctrine.  They do not concern church theology.  They are purely administrative.

However, I came to realize that for those people who were bothered by the change of month, that the real issue was the fact that the church was, yet again, making another change.

Tampering, once more, with tradition.  It is very true that the church has seen a lot of changes back-to-back in what is, actually, a short period of time.  We might think its been over a long period of time, but when we consider the entire history of the church, it really has been a lot of changes, often dramatic, in a condensed period of time.

Consequently, some people ask “why does the church have to change?”  or “what was so wrong with the way things were?”

The ironic thing is, the more conservative a person is (in a church context), the more they ought to realize that the church has always experienced change.  We just aren’t really conscious of it, because we only see and experience the church, in a direct sense, through the filter of our own personal association with the church.

In other words, we can only directly experience the church in the context of our own lifetime.  I don’t truly know what church was like when my parents were kids, because I myself was not yet alive.  Young adults living right now cannot truly understand what church was like when I was a kid because at that point, they were not alive.

However, a large number of us have fond memories of church as we experienced it in our youth.  Perhaps it is simply in our nature to yearn for the days when church was like it was when we were teenagers.  Yet, the reality is, the church has never been the same, it has never been static.  The “way” church was when I was a teenager was not the same as it was for my parents.   However, the church as it was when they were teenagers would have not been the same as the church existed when my grandparents were teenagers.

The church is always in flux, and a foundationalist approach to our history reveals that this has always been the case.

You see, the revelations contained in our Standard of Authority (not just the Doctrine & Covenants, but also those found within the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version – both of which are also revelations), reveal to us that the church has existed in multiple iterations.

We tend to regard the church as having been first established in Palestine, directly by Jesus Christ (or at least, by the original twelve apostles under Christ’s direction).

While Christ did establish the church in Palestine, it was not the first time that the church was established.  Our Restoration scripture reveals that prior iterations of the church existed.

The first such iteration was in the era of Adam.  We are told in Genesis Chapter 6 (Inspired Version):

52 And he called upon our father Adam, by his own voice, saying, I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
53 And he also said unto him, If thou wilt, turn unto me and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask it shall be given you.

Further down the chapter, we read the following:

67 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water; and thus he was baptized.
68 And the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
69 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying, Thou art baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost; this is the record of the Father and the Son, from henceforth and forever;

Based on the above, we see that the church existed among humanity in the earliest generation of our sacred history.

When did this iteration come to an end?  We don’t know for sure.  The above verses were referenced by the prophet Enoch, so presumably the church existed in Enoch’s lifetime.    Though we can only speculate, it seems that the first iteration did not exist beyond the flood.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant (I estimate around 16 centuries later).  The second iteration was established by God through his servant Alma, in the New World.  We know this from what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, 9th chapter of Mosiah (RLDS 1908):

46 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
47 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon: and they were in number about two hundred and four souls;
48 Yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God:
49 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward.

The third iteration of the church was what we usually regard as the foundation of the church: Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament.

The fourth iteration takes us back to the Nephites.  Here, in the Third Book of Nephi, Christ, after appearing to the Nephites, seems to re-establish the church amongst the Nephites.  Its not quite as explicitly explained as previously, but it seems that the church had “broken up” prior to Christ’s manifestation, resulting in the need for it to be organized once again.

Finally, we come to the fifth, and current iteration of the church, established, as always, by our Lord, but this time, through Joseph Smith Jr. This iteration is now over 180 years old, which is still comparatively young compared to the prior iterations.

What do we learn from all of this?  Well, the key question that we need to ask is this: “Do we truly believe that these various iterations of the church were identical to each other?”

The answer is clearly “no”.  Let us consider again the various iterations that have existed:

1st – Established by the Lord through Adam (Old Testament church)
2nd – Established by the Lord through Alma (1st Nephite church)
3rd – Established directly by the Lord (New Testament church)
4th – Established directly by the Lord (2nd Nephite church)
5th – Established by the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. (modern church)

As we consider these various iterations, it becomes clear that many distinctions exist.  It is difficult to say just how many there are, but for the purposes of this discussion, we really don’t need an exhaustive list.  The following suffice:

1) The very purpose of the first iteration seems distinct from all others.  It does not seem to have operated in the open, to publicly proclaim Christ.  This logistically makes sense, as doing such prior to the birth of Christ on the same landmass on which he would eventually be born would likely be problematic.

So, what then was the purpose of the 1st iteration?  We can speculate all we want, but it does not really matter.  The key point here is that the latter iterations were more open and public about proclaiming Jesus Christ than the 1st iteration apparently was.

2) The first iteration lacked an Aaronic priesthood.  While some might argue that it may not have been needed in that very early era of human history, the fact remains, all future iterations are different from the first iteration of the church for at least this one reason.  When the Aaronic priesthood was implemented in future iterations, that represented a transformation from the oldest example of the church.   Enoch might have said “Hmmm…there was no need for a second priesthood when I was a kid…why do we need one now?”

3) The Aaronic priesthood as it existed in the 3rd and 4th iterations of the church, which for a time existed simultaneously, were not structurally the same.  In the New Testament church, there were deacons, priests and bishops.  It is not precisely clear if teachers were regarded as an actual office of priesthood.

In the 2nd Nephite church, there were priests, but no deacons, and no bishops.  Also, there were indeed ordained teachers.   So, different offices operating in the Aaronic priesthood, at the same time, depending in which part of the world you were.

4) According to the Doctrine & Covenants, bishops are properly part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisidec priesthood.  Also, they are to be literal descendants of Aaron.  However, as proving such heritage is problematic, the Lord has provided us, in our modern revelations, an escape clause: high priests can function in all other offices, therefore, a high priest can be ordained and serve in the office of bishop.

The key point here though is that bishops are of the Aaronic priesthood.  Yet, when we review the New Testament, it seems clear that bishops were very senior members of the church, presiding just below the apostles.  Why would members of the Aaronic priesthood be senior to high priests and elders?

Clearly, bishops were operating in the New Testament church with an authority and responsibility distinct from other iterations of the church.  Clearly, they were called by God to serve as the needs of the people required at the time.

5) Looking at the priesthood as a whole, the New Testament seems to have had the following offices and roles:

apostles, bishops, deacons, elders, evangelists, high priests, pastors, priests, seventies & teachers (pastors, and possibly teachers, being a role vs. an office).

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

Elders, priests & teachers (high priests seem absent from the 2nd Nephite church, which fact is itself a distinction from the 1st Nephite church).

An additional role is found in the existence of 12 elders set apart to provide something approximating apostolic ministry without being true apostles.  This seems to have been a one shot arrangement.

When we compare the two versions of the priesthood (in iterations 3 and 4), including pastors and teachers, we see a total of 12 forms of ministerial leadership in the New Testament church, but only four (including the 12 apostolic elders) in the 2nd Nephite church.

6) When we look at the modern church, we continue to see evolutions:
00000a. Seven (and then ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
00000b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
00000c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
00000d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
00000e. A First Presidency.
00000f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
00000g. A presiding evangelist.
00000h. A new office, in the form of high councillor****
00000i. A Standing High Council
00000j. Bishops function as financial leaders instead of presiding over the church.

*While there have always been prophets, they were not previously an office of priesthood.  This is therefore a new office that exists only in the modern church.

**Prior to the modern church, presidents, as an office of priesthood, did not exist.  This is therefore a new priesthood office.

***There is no priesthood office of patriarch in ancient scripture.  Patriarchs did exist in the Old Testament, but they were not an office of priesthood.  Therefore, it is a new office of priesthood existing only in the modern church.  It was also combined with the office of evangelist.  There can be little doubt that Old Testament patriarchs and New Testament evangelists, if told that one day their roles would be merged into one office would have found that to be a rather strange change.  I suspect many would deem it a very unlikely, implausible and awkward change.

****While the church does not tend to currently use the term high councilor, and inducts people to the standing high council via setting apart instead of ordination, it’s status as an office is based on Doctrine and Covenants 129:7b.

***

What do we learn from all of these examples of how the various iterations of the church were different from some or all of the other iterations? Well, quite simply, we learn that the church has never existed in one static form.  The church has always experienced divinely guided change.

As we have seen here (and especially in my prior blog Can God Change?) such alterations are not limited to just new additions to the church, but, as we have seen, sometimes something already established by God is changed by God in the future, or changed by God in another part of the world (divinely implemented regional distinctions).

So, can we, especially those of us with foundational church beliefs, truly claim that the church cannot or should not change, given that, based on our three books of scripture, it is clear that the church has always changed?

In fact, it would seem that if we don’t experience change, that would be inconsistent with our own history.

Change is not our enemy.  Change is not counter to God`s will.  However, perpetuating a delusion or clinging to such a falsehood (that the church cannot be changed by God) is clearly in alignment with the designs of the adversary, and in opposition to God`s revelations.

Questions to Ponder

1. Why do we sometimes fear change?
2. What do we learn from comparing the Aaronic priesthood in the Bible with the same priesthood in the Book of Mormon?
3. What positive changes have you witnessed in the church?

Related blog: Can God Change?

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 1 of 5

“Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark
of the Reorganization and the church today.”
–President Veazey, “Facing Our Challenges Interview” – Part 2 (2009)

BoMComboAs I know some people struggle with the Book of Mormon, and it’s place in the church, I decided to try to write a blog about it as I felt that it might be worthwhile to write something that seeks to help all members of the church grow more comfortable with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite features of Community of Christ; but I know that many people struggle with it, and so I hope that this blog will help people overcome some of their concerns with it, and hopefully be open to the merit that it may have.

There are many diverse opinions among Community of Christ members regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon.  Some people, like myself, regard it as both a historical & scriptural record.  Others view it as scriptural, but not historical.  Some would prefer that it would not be viewed as scripture, and may not be comfortable with it’s position in the church.  Others regard it in such high esteem that if the church abandoned it, they might abandon the church.

In 2009, in the Facing Our Challenges interview (part 2) conducted by Apostle Linda Booth, President Veazey stated “It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory”. It seems to me, regarding the many views people have of it pertaining to it’s status or role, it quite clearly (and understandably), also defies consensus.

Recognizing this, my intent with this blog is not to convert people to any particular view regarding its status, but simply, as indicated above, to seek to help people be more at ease with it’s presence & role in our faith group – and to highlight some of it’s key themes and noteworthy scriptures.  If you are unsure about how you feel about the Book of Mormon, or if you already fully embrace it, I hope that this blog will still be worthwhile to you.

A Debt of Gratitude

One of the things that I cherish most about Community of Chris is our belief in continuing revelation.  We not only claim that this concept is one of our doctrines (and one of our enduring principles), but we also celebrate it.  We practice it.  Collectively.  In my opinion, we are unique in this sense.

Naturally, being a church that claims to have extra-Biblical revelations has resulted in us being a church that professes to have an open canon of scripture.  This concept and that of continuing revelation, go hand-in-hand.

I tend to think that these foundational principles derive from, *and* are only possible, because of the Book of Mormon.  These concepts, and our heritage, as well as our present cultural identity, and, indeed, our very future, owe a great deal to the Book of Mormon.

The early Restoration emerged during a time when the mere suggestion of extra-Biblical scripture, or new revelations, would most likely result in some very heated conversations (to put it mildly).

Imagine living in the 1800s, and being given a few short documents purported to be revelations from God.  You see, in comparison to the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are brief.  In isolation (without the Book of Mormon), with no prior grounding whatsoever in the concept of an open canon, I suspect that it would be very hard to accept a claim of divine revelation for such documents, as it would be difficult to accept something that would not take too much effort to write.  After all, many of our revelations are short, and could in theory, with a little effort and time, be written by anyone, and if someone tried to pass one off as having a divine origin, I’m sure that I’d have a hard time being ok with that.

But the Book of Mormon is an altogether different type of revelation.  Its not just a few pages long, but its an entire book, with rich detail, complexities, and more woven throughout.

Granted, not everyone who read it back in the 1800s was convinced, but it would have been something that I’m sure would be far more difficult to dismiss when compared with the much more brief revelations found in our Doctrine and Covenants.

For whatever reason, many people did accept the Book of Mormon as being just what Joseph Smith Jr. claimed it to be; and therefore, accepting Joseph as a valid prophet of God, they became open to an ever expanding canon, and eventually even comfortable with new scripture, & with new revelation.  In my opinion, this would never have happened without the Book of Mormon.  It paved the way for everything that followed, and the church has been shaped, and deeply blessed, by this willingness to embrace modern revelation.

Jump to part 2 – the Lure of Folklore

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 2 of 5

The Lure of Folklore

tophatThough we may owe the Book of Mormon a debt of gratitude for it’s place in our church community, are we comfortable with it today? I feel that a significant number of our members are not; and I believe, in those nations where it would be appropriate to use it, that we really should strive to become comfortable with it, regardless of our positions on it’s status. Doing so seems to me like an ideal way of respecting it’s ongoing foundational role in our church.

In our modern, educated, 21st century society, we often have sceptical views of just about everything. But as a people of faith, we know that God can bring about any work.

Words of Counsel presented to the church in April 2013 state (in the 15th paragraph) “God calls whoever God calls”. Likewise, God can do whatever God desires. Whatever God wishes to do, to further God’s divine purposes, He can bring about.

Therefore, we don’t need to become fidgety when dealing with the Book of Mormon. This is not to say that it must be taken as a historical work. But, I don’t think we need to persecute it either. And sadly, I feel that some people do just that. It has become the victim of a witch hunt by some of our own members, and, in my view at least, that is just plain wrong.

I tend to think that all denominations have what might be termed denominational folklore. Such folklore includes those things that members have believed to be doctrinal, authoritative, scriptural, etc. but which were not truly any of those things.

The Book of Mormon is itself a victim of church folklore, and therefore, where it is concerned, it is imperative that we resist, and overcome, the lure of folklore. There are many examples of church folklore regarding the Book of Mormon, but I only want to go into depth on one of them. However, before I do so, I’ll share a very brief overview of another one.

Many people have indicated that they reject the Book of Mormon because of how Joseph translated it. They have heard, and were shocked to learn, that Joseph put his head into a top hat, and received the words by peering into a stone at the bottom of his hat.

However, that whole story properly belongs in the realm of church folklore. Joseph Smith Jr. never wrote down any such account, and the church has never, to my knowledge, expressed such a notion as the official explanation for how it was translated (in fact, I’m not sure the church has ever officially commented on that – save perhaps “by the power and authority of God”). The fact that this may have been a widely circulated story, that early church members accepted, is irrelevant, plain and simple.

Another common item of folklore that people cite, as a reason to reject the Book of Mormon regards the ancestors of the Native Americans. I have conversed with many church members who say that they reject the Book of Mormon because science has proved that Native Americans are not descended from Israelites. To them, this fact demonstrates a flaw with the Book of Mormon.

But it is a false flaw. The fact might be sound, but the flaw is not. Quite simply, the Book of Mormon does not claim that Native Americans were sired by the Lamanites.

When I point this out, the response I usually get back is “Well that is what Joseph Smith Jr. taught.”

This is, in itself, a very interesting response. If I can make, for the sake of illustrating a point, a sweeping generalization, the membership of the church, at least in first world nations, is more or less divided into conservative and liberal members (in a church context). In my experience, if someone is going to reject or accept the Book of Mormon, liberal members are most likely to reject it and conservatives are more likely to accept it.

Here is the issue that puzzles me. When conservatives resist doctrinal changes, they often quote from the scriptures. Sometimes the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the Inspired Version of the Bible, and very often, from the Doctrine and Covenants. Given that most changes that the church has considered making, pertain to principles set forth in the earliest revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants, when quoted for such purposes, is most likely being used to reference a revelation that came through the founding prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

The responses that I often see or hear from liberals to such quotes, used by conservatives to resist doctrinal changes, tend to focus on the humanness of Joseph Smith Jr.

We are reminded that he was just a man. We are reminded that revelation comes through the filter of humanity, and that Joseph was no exception. We are reminded that everything must be understood in it’s proper historical and cultural context, and so forth.

All of which, incidentally, is as it should be. Such notions are very appropriate, and help us to be more responsible in our efforts to follow Christ.

So why is it that this same response is not applied to what Joseph said about the Book of Mormon? Why is it, that when I point out that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, the response I often get is “Well that is what Joseph taught” – and leave it at that, as if that statement proves something, or is somehow authoritative?

What happened to Joseph’s humanness? Why is he suddenly back on that pedestal of infallibility?

My typical response to the reminder that Joseph taught that Native Americans are descended from Lamanites is: “So what?”

Because I am conservative, I care, a great deal, about what Joseph Smith presented to the church as being derived from the mind and will of God. But, and I may be unique here, when it comes to everything else he said, everything that he spoke, or wrote down that he did not present as revelatory in nature, I don’t really care.

Oh sure, from a historical interest point-of-view, I might be interested in what he said on various topics. But, beyond that, I don’t really care, because what he did not present as revelation is not accepted as revelation, and is therefore not binding on the church. It is not authoritative.

We really should be extending the same courtesies to the Book of Mormon that we now extend to the rest of our scriptures. And in that area I think we sometimes stumble. We want to promote less rigid, less black-and-white, less absolute approaches to the Bible, and even to the earliest sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (and beyond), but we seem stuck about doing the same thing in regard to the Book of Mormon.

In other words, just as we have done with the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and even with our history, we must separate what these things actually say from church folklore. We must extend scriptural courtesy, respect, fairness, etc., to *all* of our volumes of scripture.

Jump to part 3 – Overcoming the Sticky Passages

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 3 of 5

Overcoming the Sticky Passages

labanAnother cause for concern for many of our church members regarding the Book of Mormon pertains to the fact that there are some passages or themes that are difficult to reconcile.   The two that seem to be the most commonly cited (in my experience)  are the death of Laban, and the curse of the Lamanites.

Regarding the first example, the account of Laban’s death states that Nephi was commanded by God to slay Laban.  This, quite understandably, does not sit well with many people.  It does not sit well with me.  We are not accustomed to God commanding people to slay other people.

In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another example of God giving such a commandment, with regard to one specific, named individual.  In the Old Testament, God commanded warfare to take place, but how often did God ask for the death of a specific person?

Actually, one example does come to mind:  Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to slay Isaac.  Of course, God did not actually desire Isaac’s death at Abraham’s hands, and intervened to prevent it.

It is possible that God’s motives in asking Nephi to slay Laban were similar to his motives in asking Abraham to slay Isaac?  Of course, unlike Isaac, Laban was not spared.  So, on the surface, it would seem that God did indeed desire, and commanded, Laban’s death, and if that is the case, it would take someone who is a much deeper thinker than I am to explain why that was somehow ok.

But, there is another angle to consider.  What do we really know from this story?  We know that God sent Nephi to obtain the Plates of Brass from Laban.  We know that Nephi encountered Laban, drunk, stumbling in the streets.  We know Laban collapsed and we know that God then told Nephi that Laban was delivered into his hands.  And we know that God then commanded Nephi to slay Laban.

We also know that Nephi resisted.  We know that God explained to Nephi why He commanded Nephi to slay Laban, and we know that Nephi then decapitated Laban.

From all of this, it seems quite clear that God commanded Nephi to kill Laban, and that Nephi went through with it.  And since God did not intervene, we know that Laban was not spared, as his head was cut off.

So, Nephi killed a fellow human being at the commandment of God.

Or did he?

One thing I came to realize, many years ago, about scripture, or at least, ancient scripture, is that it is … just the highlights.  The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon are each a collection of highlights.  We are not told every single thing that befell a particular person, group or society.  This often has caused me to ask “what have we not been told?”  Or, “what don’t we know?”

With regard to the story of Laban, here is what we don’t actually know.  Was Laban, at the time of his beheading, still alive?  We must not overlook the fact that the account states that Laban collapsed.  The account was written by Nephi, according to Nephi’s own understanding of what transpired.  Nephi presumed that Laban had passed out.

It is my own belief that Laban in fact died.  Do we know how much wine he had consumed?  Do we know how strong his heart was?  Do we know what ailments he may have had?  God may simply have steered Nephi to Laban right when Laban died of some other cause.

Perhaps Laban had a brain aneurism.  We just don’t know – but, people all over the world do have unexpected episodes that often result in sudden death, all the more likely in the ancient world.  God knows when it is our time.  It is therefore entirely plausible that God steered Nephi to Laban at just the right moment.

God then, for His purposes, asked Nephi to slay Laban, just as he asked Abraham to slay Isaac.

We often presume that our scriptural heroes always pass the tests.  But, just as we have come to realize that Joseph Smith Jr. was only human, we also must recognize the same to be true for Nephi.  In short, it’s entirely possible that Nephi failed the test.

We might wonder why God would test someone in such a way.  What is to be gained?  What value or merit is there to do such a thing?  I have no answers to such questions – I’ll leave that as a challenge for others to consider, but the immediate absence of such answers, when the questions pertain to the purposes of God, does not warrant a rejection of the account.

The story itself does not offer clues about why this test took place.  This is because it was written by Nephi himself – the test subject.  Nephi was unaware that he failed the test quite simply because he was oblivious to the fact that he had been tested.  Nephi never knew (if my theory is correct), that Laban was already dead.  God, most likely to spare Nephi guilt and turmoil, appears to have remained mute on the subject after the deed was done.

The question then becomes, why was this story included?  If we take the position that the authors of scripture are inspired to write what they wrote, for what purpose then does this story serve, to we who are the modern audience, removed by 26 centuries from the time and culture of the setting?  Nephi thought that he knew the lesson (and for him, maybe he did), but it seems very possible that a very different lesson existed, which was not really needful for Nephi to be made aware of, but which warranted the story being preserved for the benefit of future generations.

We of course can only speculate on what that lesson is, but I suspect it has, in part, the function of serving as an example of the need to look beyond the written word; to do what Nephi himself said to do – ponder the scriptures.

***

The second stumbling block that many people have with the Book of Mormon’s actual content is the curse of the Lamanites.  Many people seem to view this curse as an expression of racism.  This is actually not at all the case.

When we read scripture, its important to not have “knee jerk” reactions.  We need to ensure, just as we are told to do when reading the Bible, that we place, whatever we read, into the proper context.

Speaking of the Bible, one of the individuals mentioned in it from time to time is the adversary of God.  There are even verses here and there that record his words.  Knowing this, do we regard the Bible as being about the adversary?  If we read just those verses, we might.

This illustrates the need to explore and (again) as Nephi counselled ponder the scriptures.

What do we actually know about the curse of the Lamanites?  Well, we know that the reason for the curse was because they rebelled against God.  It seems that God wanted to keep these rebellious individuals from influencing those who had not rebelled.  Therefore, he wanted to encourage the Nephites to avoid the Lamanites.  And so, to help make that more feasible, he “cursed” the Lamanites, by putting a mark on them, so that the Nephites would easily recognize the Lamanites.

That mark took the form of a different complexion.  As readers of the Book of Mormon today, some of us seem to have the knee jerk reaction of “that is racist!”.  But, it is important to understand several things.

First, the Lamanites were not transformed into some other race or ethnicity.  The Book of Mormon does not say that God transformed them into aboriginal Australians.  Or Africans.  It does not link the curse to any ethnicity whatsoever.  In short, they remained Israelites.

Second, we don’t actually know what the different complexion looked like.  We have no reason to believe that they were given the appearance of any other racial group.

Third, the purpose of the curse was a punishment for rebelliousness.  The Lamanites were not rebellious because of the curse. They were cursed because of their rebelliousness.  There is no basis to think that the curse is somehow a comment on other races.

Fourth, the Book of Mormon does not condone viewing the Lamanites, or anyone, with contempt.  In fact, it counsels people not to do so.

It is also worth noting that the mark was meaningless to God (beyond being a mark).  I’m sure he used this mark of an alternate complexion because of how blatantly obvious it would be to the Nephites.  But this is the only basis for that mark that we know of.  Aside from the merit of being able to instantly know, by virtue of complexion, who was cursed and who was not, there does not seem to be any reason for the mark to take the form that it did.

In fact, we read later on about a group of Nephites who eventually decided to rebel.  They too were cursed, and they too were marked (in fulfillment of an earlier prophecy).   These individuals set themselves apart by putting a dab of paint on their foreheads.  So, they marked themselves.  But the scriptures inform us that God viewed this self-marking as fulfillment of his warning that anyone who rebelled would be marked.  So, God accepted the self-inflicted mark as a manifestation of the Lamanite curse.  This then demonstrates that the actual nature of the curse’s manifestation to God was irrelevant (save of course in how it would serve his purposes).  God does not view people of any particular complexion with disfavour.

Doubtless, there are other passages in the Book of Mormon that trouble people. But the point of this exploration on the death of Laban and the Curse of the Lamanites is to help encourage people to recognize that these problematic scriptures need not be the roadblocks that we may otherwise feel that they are.

Likewise, we need to be mindful of the fact that the Bible has many (in my opinion, far more) examples of passages that are highly troublesome, and often far more difficult (if not impossible), to reconcile with the living model of Jesus Christ.

Jump to part 4 – Stance of the Church

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 4 of 5

Stance of the Church

explorebookHow does the church view the Book of Mormon?  Does it consider it to be historical?  Does it matter?  I tend to believe that all that truly matters, on this point, is what you believe.

The church definitely gives total freedom to all members to believe what they wish on this point.  We are not required to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical.  However, we are also not forced, or even prodded, towards rejecting it as historical.

The church does not, at least in this era, offer an official position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  And that is fine.

But it has occurred to me that there may be some people who have a need for the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical.  I’m not sure why this would be, as I don’t feel that we should have any such need.  I don’t.  I’d be concerned if the church had a requirement to reject it, but, though I believe that the Book of Mormon really is an account of an ancient people, I don’t require the church to officially sanction that perspective.

But, if you do, truly, in your heart, have some sort of need, for the church to view it as historical, then you can just simply have that opinion.  In other words, if you want the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical, just make the decision that it does.  You won’t be able to quote anything that clearly and cleanly states that we regard it as such.  Nor will you be able to claim that such a viewpoint is official.

Nevertheless, there are some things that the church has stated (and which are official), that you are totally free to interpret, if you so wish, as indicators that the Book of Mormon is regarded by the church as historical.

Such statements include:

The church says the Book of Mormon is scripture:“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission. 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—not to replace the witness of the Bible or improve on it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.” -Basic Beliefs (Scripture) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/ourfaith/faith-beliefs.asp

“Community of Christ recognizes three books of scripture: The Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. We believe in continuing revelation and an open canon of scripture.” -FAQ ( Scripture ) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/pr/GeneralInfo.asp#scripture

Please note (understanding that the church views the Book of Mormon as scripture) that the above quotes contain wording such as:

“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit”

“The scriptures provide divine guidance and inspired insight”

Understanding the above, we could conclude, if we so wished, that the church does view the Book of Mormon as true, because writing inspired by God’s spirit, providing divine guidance, cannot be based on a grand deception, an outright and massive lie.

Now consider the following statements about scripture:

“It is to Christ that scripture points.” –Scripture Affirmation 1 http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/scripture.asp

How can a mass lie point to Christ?

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

Can the Living Word be rooted in a mass deception?

“God’s revelation through scripture” –Affirmation 3

Can God’s revelation take the form of a mass deception?

“Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ” –Affirmation 4

Christ is not regarded by the church as a charlatan or mass deceiver.

“scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings” – A Defining Moment

http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/sermons/_040509Veazey.asp

Inspired writings are not given to spread a mass deception.

“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

God’s revelation does not take the form of a deliberate falsification of a cultural history.

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

Inspired to pull the wool over our eyes?

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

A lie is the path to darkness, and a falsehood – how can such things be a witness of God’s eternal light and, especially, His eternal truth?

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

The Holy Spirit does not reveal or inspire people to concoct a mass fantasy, passing it off as truth.

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

A lie does not point to the true will of God.

Jump to part 5 – Uncovering the Gems

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 5 of 5

Uncovering the Gems

gemsIf we can set aside or even undo the concerns that we bring to our exploration of the Book of Mormon, concerning the folklore and sticky passages, etc., we might then be able to more readily consider some of the great stories, themes, and powerful passages contained within it.

Naturally, what constitutes a “scriptural gem” is a matter of personal opinion.  However, I’m excited to share some of the ones that I’m fond of.

To begin with, I want to share a few words regarding some Book of Mormon themes.

There are some great themes that run throughout the Book of Mormon.  One of these themes is that of community building.  I intend to talk more about that elsewhere, so I don’t want to elaborate on that at this time – but mull it over.

Another theme is that of the dangers of pride.  All through the Book of Mormon there are warnings to beware pride, and the hardships that result when society gives into pride.  This is something I noticed the first time I read the Book of Mormon, and it stands out, as many people have observed it’s presence.

The Encyclopaedia of the Book of Mormon (Herald House, ©1978, 4th printing, 1991) offers the following on this subject (page 269):

“Pride set in among the Nephites beginning with their second king.  From that time, the Nephites fluctuated between pride and righteousness throughout their history.  A period of righteousness brought prosperity. Prosperity led to pride, pride led to dissension, dissension led to desertion, desertion led to war, war led to grief, grief led to repentance, repentance led to righteousness, and righteousness led to prosperity; thus the cycle began again.

”Some of my favourite passages from the Book of Mormon include the story of the Vision of Lehi (and Neph’s interpretation of it).  There is something intriguing about the love of God, word of God, etc. etc. being represented by the rod of iron, the tree of life, and so forth.

Tangent: I sometimes chat with an LDS member. He often boasts that his church must be the true church because of how large it is.  Whenever he (or any Mormon for that matter) does so, I caution them not to be too caught up on that fact.  After all, in Lehi’s vision, the great and spacious building represented the pride of the world.

I also have always enjoyed the story of the glowing stones that God provided in order for the Jaredites to have light in their eight barges as they sailed across the ocean.  Its just a neat story that reminds me of the fun Old Testament stories we learn about in as kids in Sunday school.

I guess that is one of the things I really admire about the Book of Mormon.  It has, like the Old Testament, some “epic” stories, which are sort of lacking in the New Testament, yet, like the latter, it has a great deal of the pastoral wisdom & compassion focused ministry that is not as abundant in the Old Testament.

Some of my favourite verses are as follows:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood…your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”  -3rd Nephi 4:49

And I, Nephi, said to my father, ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord gives no commandments to the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commands them.’ ” -1st Nephi 1:65

“And there came a voice to me, saying, ‘Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.’  I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.  And I said, ‘Lord, how is it done?’  He said to me, ‘Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.’” -Enos 1:7-10

“…after you have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say to you, No…Wherefore, you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God, and of all men…and there is no other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.  Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.  Amen.”  -2nd Nephi 13:27-32

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. 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

“O Lord, will you give me strength, that I may cope with my infirmities? For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people pains my soul.  O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; will you comfort my soul in Christ?  O Lord, will you grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions…O Lord, will you comfort my soul, and give me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me…even all these will you comfort, O Lord? Will you comfort their souls in Christ? –Alma 16:109-112 (adapted)

Finally, I’d like to end this blog by sharing what may be my favourite Book of Mormon verse of all.  It is in fact, in my own opinion at least, nothing less than the long sought after meaning of life itself; and it is so short, so concise, and so simple, which only makes it seem that much more significant in my mind and heart, and it is something that I encourage all of us to remember.

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy”
-Second Book of Nephi 1:115

A Different Way of Looking at our Scriptural Canon

3book2
I’ve always been very fond of our three volumes of scripture.  For  that reason, I have often wondered if each has a distinct theme, intent,  or purpose.  Beyond the obvious.  After all, we can clearly see that  the Bible introduces us to the person whose church we belong to.  The  Book of Mormon is said to have, at least as part of it’s purpose, the  function of helping to clarify the Bible.  And clearly, the Doctrine and  Covenants provides a lot of instruction on administrative issues; and  it also provides modern guidance.

But is there any other role  that each has?  I finally have come to realize that indeed, there is.   And this realization dawned on me as I noted some common ground in some  things that a few of the pastors in my area have been talking about.   About once every month or so, I participate in a meeting of all the CofC  pastors in my area. And I’ve noticed that one of them keeps talking  about communities. Church communities. Building sacred communities.

And I’ve also noticed that another keeps talking about relationships.  The importance of, and basic need to form real, meaningful relationships  with people.

Now, as I heard both of them talk about these  things, which occurred on different occasions, and not at the same time,  I heard them, as is so often the case, in isolation.

But one  day, I was thinking about a concept that I’ve been talking about a great  deal this year, in my congregation: invitation. The ministry and  blessing of invitation. And then the Holy Spirit brought it all  together. I suddenly recalled what my fellow pastors had mentioned,  often just in passing, so many times at our meetings. And I realized  that the three things that we have each been talking about, form a three  fold model. They go together.

Invitation will of course lead  to relationships being formed. Relationships, as they develop and  multiply, will ensure that community building takes place. And as the  community grows, the more potential there will be to have things to  invite people to.   And this is when I realized, that these three  concepts, invitation, relationships, and community building, form the  backbones of our three volumes of scripture.

You see, at the  heart of the Holy Bible, is God’s invitation. When we consider the  Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament, it is quite clear that the  entire second half of the Bible is all about invitation: To follow Jesus  Christ. That is the continual theme throughout the entire New  Testament: invitation.  But it’s mirrored in the Old Testament. In that  record we see God is inviting people to be civil, to be people of faith,  and to be responsible. The New Testament, by inviting us to follow God  through Christ, invites us to be people of charity, faith, and peace.  So, the entire Bible can be summed up as God’s invitation.

The  Doctrine and Covenants, perhaps more clearly seen in the 160s, but  scattered throughout all the Sections, has ample passages that focus on  how we respond to each other. The Doctrine and Covenants is all about  establishing relationships.

The Book of Mormon is, from start  to finish, a testimony of community building. That is what the Book of  Mormon is all about. Community!  Community building. Quite literally!  That is all that the Nephites did. They established spiritual  gatherings, and they physically built camps, villages, towns and cities.  And the spiritual gatherings and the domestic settlements were  generally one-and-the same: they built Zionic communities. And they did  so over and over. They were continually assaulted with hardships,  trials, tribulations, internal corruption, descent and all manner of  setbacks. But, somehow, they kept moving forward.

The church  has no greater scriptural example of community building than the Book of  Mormon. No greater focus on relationships, then the Doctrine and  Covenants. No greater invitation then what is found in the Holy Bible  (and of course, there is some overlap).  As these three themes are so  prominent in our three volumes of scripture, they *must* be modeled in  our discipleship. Our covenants with Jesus Christ must be founded on  these concepts.