Statements on Christ

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

The following is not a blog as such, but some statements about Christ made by the Church, or by church leaders.

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

“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.”

From Continuing Revelation by Stephen M. Veazey (Enduring Principles Series)

“We believe God clearly and reliably was revealed in Jesus Christ.”

From our Christology Statement:

“Christ is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility between us. He promises us the redemption and healing of our relationships with God, one another, and all of creation.” –Paragraph 6

From “The Restoring Christ by Stephen M. Veazey

“Today I come before you to bear testimony of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and experienced by the Restoration movement, our faith heritage. The Christ of whom I bear witness, lives eternally at the center of our faith. We know this Christ as the embodiment of God’s nature and purposes—God’s eternal and living Word active in creation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom divine judgment, mercy, and grace interact to affect our reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom the passionate dream of God for shalom—the fullness of peace—throughout the whole creation is clearly revealed.”

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

 

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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”

A Second Glance at the Trinity

trinityThis blog is an expression of my own ideas.  The church that I belong to, Community of Christ, teaches that God exists as a community of three personages, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  The latter is now commonly termed the Holy Spirit.

The official website of the church says:

“We believe in one living God who meets us in the testimony of Israel, is revealed in Jesus Christ, and moves through all creation as the Holy Spirit. We affirm the Trinity—God who is a community of three persons. All things that exist owe their being to God: mystery beyond understanding and love beyond imagination. This God alone is worthy of our worship.”

I don’t have any objection to this view of the trinity being a position of the church, and I’m not at all finding fault with, or rebuking the church, for advocating the existence of the trinity.  This blog is merely an exploration of my own thoughts.

In my own opinion, there is no such thing as the trinity.  There is only God. 

For most of my life, I have really struggled with the concept of the Holy Spirit, as a distinct aspect of God. I would joke that I did not believe in the Trinity, but in the “Duity”, or the “Holy Twinity”.  My issue with the Holy Spirit was that I could not conceive how the Holy Spirit is different from God (or, more specifically, God the Father).

If Jesus is the “Son of God”, or God incarnated, then, in my view, the Holy Spirit is just God the Father.  If mythological gods were real, Zeus, when traveling abroad, interacting with mortals, would still be Zeus.  He would not be Bob.  He might tell people he is Bob, and we might understand him to be Bob, but he is still Zeus.  Whether he is physical, intangible, wandering the Earth, or sitting on his throne in Olympus, he is just Zeus.  Viewing a manifestation of Zeus, as being a different aspect, just makes no sense to me.

And, it did not make much sense to me with regard to God.  The Father might dwell in His Kingdom, but when God decides to comfort someone or be present in our world, through what we understand as being the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, it is not a different aspect of the Godhead, distinct from the Father, but it really *is*, in every sense, the Father.  He does not need to be known by a different name.  He does not need to be regarded as a separate entity of the godhead from Himself.  It just does not make any sense.

More recently, I’ve come to view that the same is true for the Son.  Yes, God did manifest as an incarnated being, that we call Jesus Christ.  And Yes, Jesus Christ is God.  But, he is not a distinct aspect of the Godhead from the Father.  We call Christ “the Son of God” – but he is not the son of the Father.  He *is* the Father.

This is the glorious thing about Christianity – God, the very God that we traditionally term the Father, is not a far off distant being that is cold or unloving.  On the contrary, the Father loves us so much, that the Father Himself came down and dwelt among us as a human being, in the form of Jesus Christ. 

I came to have this understanding of God by reading two passages from the Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon teaches us that the Father and the Son are in fact the same. Jesus is not the Son of God. He is called the Son of God, but he is not actually the Son of God. Jesus is God. And the Son and the Father (and the Spirit) are not different aspects, or components, or personages, or whatever, of the godhead. There is just God. We understand God as consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, but this is just a tool to help humans understand what is not easy for humans to understand. But in actuality, God is just God.

Here are the two passages:

28 And now Abinadi said unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people;
29 And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God:
30 And having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son; the Father because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son:
31 And they are one God, yea, the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth. -Mosiah 8

and…

93 Now Zeezrom saith again unto him, Is the Son of God the very eternal Father?
94 And Amulek said unto him, Yea, he is the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them is;
95 He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; -Alma 8

Note that, these two passages exist to teach us something about the nature of God. There are many verses that speak of “the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost” (or some variant), but such usage is almost always secondary or even tertiary to the main point of the verse in question. But, in the two passages quoted above, the wording of each makes it clear that a specific teaching about the nature of God is being given.

It is true that neither of these two passages mentions the Holy Spirit, but we can reasonably conclude that if the Son and the Father are the same aspect of God, we can say the same for the Holy Spirit.

The Lectures of Faith state that the Holy Spirit is in fact the shared mind of both the Father and the Son:

5:2j And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fullness of the glory of the Father – possessing the same mind with the Father;
5:2k which Mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son;

I actually thought this was an interesting idea, to understand the Holy Spirit not as a distinct aspect of the godhead, but as the shared mind of the Father and the Son. 

However, the Lectures of Faith were removed from the Book of Doctrine & Covenants a very long time ago, in 1897 (the LDS church following suit in 1921) and therefore are not authoritative.  And of course, this notion of a shared mind presumes that the Father and Son are distinct, which according to what *is* regarded as authoritative scripture, they are not.

There are of course many verses of scripture that suggest that the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) are distinct.  I’m not pretending that such is not the case.

However, most of these scriptures are not teachings about the nature of God, at least not in the sense that we might think.

Here is an example:

“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” –Third Book of Nephi 5:25

trinity2Does the above passage teach us about the nature of God (in the context of the Trinity)?  We might think it does, perhaps at least to some degree. But, what is it’s primary purpose?  Is it *meant* to be a teaching about the nature of God?  Was it given for that purpose?

It should be obvious that the above passage was intended to be instructional, with regard to the mode of baptism.  Yes, it does make references to God, but it was not provided to be a specific, overt, direct or explicit “teaching” about God’s nature, but rather to bring uniformity to what should be said during one of the sacraments of the church.

Most of the scriptures we can think of that suggest to us that Jesus and the Father are different, are of a similar nature to the above (not in purpose, but lacking as intent, a desire to convey a specific teaching about the relationship between the Father and the Son).

But, the two passages I quoted are *directly* providing information regarding God’s nature. 

In the Book of Mosiah, it says:

“I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men” –Mosiah 8:28

He is clearly providing instruction regarding the nature of God.  His purpose for saying what he is saying is to teach the people something about God’s nature.  That is why these verses exist.  He goes on to say:

“And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God” –Mosiah 8:29

So, after making his opening remark on this subject, he provided further information, by actually giving us an explanation for why God is sometimes regarded and known as, the Son.

In the Book of Alma, Zeezrom specifically asks about God’s nature. 

“Now Zeezrom saith again unto him, Is the Son of God the very eternal Father?” –Alma 8:93

So, again, what we read here is not secondary or tertiary to the purpose for why this passage exists.  It is the purpose.  It is a teaching about God, and in reply, he is told:

“Yea, he is the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them is” –Alma 8:94

Knowing what these passages teach, and what the purpose of each is, and understanding that most verses that suggest, at first glance, that God exists in multiple aspects, but which generally do not exist for that express purpose, which, on such questions that we are exploring, must take precedent?  Which are, on such matters, the most authoritative?

In my opinion, reason, logic, & common sense  must inform us that the only plausible answer is that passages that exist for the direct purpose of teaching us about God’s nature must trump any verse that does not.

It just makes no sense to conclude otherwise.  If you want to know if the Father and the Son are the same or distinct, what verses should hold more weight?  Those that exist for the express purpose of informing us on such things or those that exist for some other reason, and just happen to make references to them being separate?

But what then becomes potentially problematic for some people is that we then seem to have scriptures that are contradictory.

We have scriptures that record that Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Was he praying to himself? The suggestion that maybe he was, is probably going to be dismissed by many people as absurd.  But, that is to then overlook what the real purpose of his prayer might have been. Was he trying to teach his disciples something by leading by example, and seemingly praying to the Father?

I suspect that when God incarnated Himself, He made that measure of Himself subject to the human experience. He (the incarnated form of God) possibly felt fear. And a need to be assured, prepared, etc. And so, he prayed. The incarnated version of God communing with the divine spirit. So, in a sense, he was praying to himself. This might seem silly if we fail to recognize that in that moment (and all through Christ’s life) God existed in multiple states or conditions at the same time, and therefore, it is not at all unreasonable to conclude that 1 state would communicate with the other. We might think of as the left side of our brain speaking to the right side and vice-versa.

But, it may also have been a lesson.  God wants us to turn our burdens over to Him.  What better way for God to encourage us to do so then to have a written account of
Jesus praying to God.  I have my doubts that the disciples truly understood who Jesus truly was.  But, they did know that He was the Messiah.  And to understand that the Messiah himself turned to God, in prayer, admitting to fear, would, I feel, be a powerful lesson for them.

Whatever the real reason, the existence of this story in our Bible is certainly not an absolute, unarguable indication that the Father and the Son are separate.

Another example that someone gave me:

“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God.”  –Mark 10:16 (Inspired Version )

trinity3This verse would seem, at first glance, to imply that the Son is distinct from the Father.  In fact, it goes one step further, and implies that the Son is not God, which of course, undermines the very concept of the trinity.  So, even for those who accept the existence of the trinity need to accept that the real purpose and meaning of this verse is something different from what we may initially think.  Which fact reminds us that it is always a good idea to ponder scripture.

So what was the purpose of the above verse?  I can only theorize, but perhaps there was a desire to teach the rich man about humility. When we read the Gospels, it seems that Christ sometimes preferred for people to not know who He was. So, this might be an example of Him avoiding acknowledging who He was, and then taking that opportunity to make a point – fostering humility, etc.

It is certainly not an absolute, unarguable indication that the Father and the Son are separate.

There several other verses from scripture that seem to imply that the Father and the Son are distinct.  This is not unexpected, when we consider the culture and era in which our ancient scriptures were written.

The people who became the Israelites could not accept that God could dwell among His own creation as a flesh and bone incarnated being.

This is why Jesus was a bit vague about who He was. He did not go around yelling “I am the very eternal God, the Father, etc”., because he knew that the Judeans in his own day, even those who saw His power, would have a hard time accepting that the person they walked with on the roads, ate with, shared camp fires with, saw running off to a tree from time to time, was God the Father.

But, he was accepted by a different title, the Son of God:

28 And now Abinadi said unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people;
29 And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God -Mosiah 8

But, given what was revealed in the Book of Mormon about the nature of God, why do we continue to use such terms? I’d say its about honoring and reinforcing three major roles that God plays in our lives: creator, redeemer, & sustainer (but we use the original terms of Father, Son and Holy Ghost to honor tradition and to impress upon us that God is not just some divine force but the head of our family. Father and Son suggest a family bond).

This is similar to how God, to clarify which god is being discussed (the real god vs. all false gods) is sometimes called “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Why not just say the “God of Abraham?” why list all three patriarchs? To honor God’s blessings upon them, and by extension, the nations that are descended from them, genetically and spiritually.

I had an interesting conversation with someone once about this very topic, and he kept giving me different scriptural verses that suggest Christ and God are not the same, asking me, each time, to reconcile them, which I did by saying something similar to what I posted above – that the use of “Father, Son & Holy Ghost”, etc. was used because that was how human beings needed and perhaps wanted, to understand God.

The amusing thing was, he seemed to be sort of playing a “Well what about this verse?” game with me (giving me a new verse after I reconciled the prior verse) So, I finally said “The answer is always the same to each example you give. The people who became the Israelites could not accept that God could dwell among His own creation as a flesh and bone incarnated being….”

The implication being, if that is the reason why we see “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” in one verse, it is also the reason we see it used elsewhere.

And it is simply beyond the scope of this blog to explore every single verse that suggests that the Father and Son are different, and try to reconcile them to my position.  It suffices to say what I’ve said, and also to consider the following.

Once again, the passages I quotes are direct teaching about the nature of God.  Therefore, if someone does not think that the Father and the Son are the same, but who does accept the authority of Restoration scripture, the onus is then on them to explain what those passages mean, since they are direct teachings about God’s nature, and the other examples that tend to pop up, are not.

Also, we need to understand that part of the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to clarify doctrine, etc.

So, its only plausible, reasonable, rational, logical and reflective of common sense too conclude that verses of scripture that only are present because they are specifically intended to reveal something about the nature of God, found in the Book of Mormon, which exists in part to clarify scripture, take precedence over other verses. Therefore, instead of trying to reconcile the teachings of Abinadi and Amulek to other scriptures, we need to reconcile the latter with the former.

So, in my view, any verse that, at first glance, seems to suggest that the Father and the Son are distinct, can be understood either in a way I’ve already stated, or, if not a “Father, Son and Holy Ghost example” (such as what Christ told the rich man), via an explanation unique to the verse in question – likely to model some particular principle, teach by example, etc.  Even if a particular verse or passage seems to defy a different understanding than the obvious, we still need to understand that the Father and the Son are the same, given that we have verses that tell us they are, and they naturally take precedence, for the reasons I’ve already stated, over those that don’t.

Simply being unable to explain the real meaning of a verse is not sufficient basis to conclude that no deeper meaning exists.  As we continue to grow in our understanding of scripture, it is only natural that new insights will be gained over time.   We’ve gained new insights into many passages of scripture before, but prior to gaining them, we would have had no cause to conclude that we would never achieve them.

Another thing to consider is this: We believe in only one god.  There is no god other than God.  God is a unique, infinite, divine being without beginning or end.  Why would such a being need to exist as a threefold entity?  It is not rational for God to exist as “father”, “son” and “spirit”.

Some people view the personages of the trinity as “creator, redeemer & sustainer”. I like these words, as they remind us of some of the major roles that God has in our universe.  But, in my view, they do not describe different entities within the godhead, that are distinct from each other, but just different ways that we understand God, who exists as just one aspect.

In my own personal opinion, the concept of the trinity is a juvenile one.  That is not at all to be taken as me suggesting that any person or institution that believes in the trinity is juvenile.  Rather, I simply feel that this is a concept within Christianity-at-large which will one day be discarded, and which, looking back on it many years later, will be regarded as a belief that prior Christians held to help them grasp God, and which, having been for so long a pervasive part of our shared Christian faith, was something we just felt we ought to cling to.  But, as Christianity continues to mature, I feel this concept will eventually be set aside, in much the same way that many Christians today no longer believe  that the world is only 5,000 years old.

As I noted at the start of this blog, I don’t take issue with, nor do I challenge, the church’s stance on the godhead.  However, if the church were to invite it’s membership to engage in an exploration of this topic, with the possible intent of revising our position, I would probably want to point out the following.

(after pointing out all of the above)

The church upholds the Book of Mormon as scripture. 

Regarding scripture, the church states:

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

The church also upholds the Book of Mormon as part of our standard of authority.  This is defined as:

“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.” –World Conference Resolution #215

Therefore, the passages from the Book of Mormon, having specific statements about the nature of God (of the context previously described) should take precedence, and as a result, a change in position, to recognize Jesus Christ as God, in every sense, not simply the Son of God, not even as an aspect of the godhead equal to the others, but just God, would be in order and perfectly acceptable, being in harmony with what we uphold as forming part of our standard of authority and sacred canon, and which exits, in part, to clarify doctrine.

The New Conservatives

This is a reformatted version of a prior blog, originally posted in three separate entries.  In this version, all three are in the same entry.  If you prefer to read it in the original format, click here.

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

PART 1 – CARDINAL CONVICTIONS

jsgroveThere have been many occasions over the years when my traditional church views have made me feel very alone, even isolated in the church.  The fact that I have felt this way at times also became it’s own source of resentment, frustration, and even irony.

The irony derived from the fact that, in my mind, I felt that what separated me from most members of the church was the fact that I had the nerve, or the audacity, to actually believe in, well, our beliefs.

In my opinion, members of churches are supposed to believe in their church’s beliefs.  It sort of goes together, and it’s circular: believe…beliefs – beliefs…believe; and it has always struck me as strange that many church members, at least, in my own experience, do not believe in some of our beliefs.

However, I have come to understand that I am far from alone, and that numerous church members share several, if not all, of my major church convictions.

I have also come to understand that many non-traditionalists don’t know what makes a church traditionalist what he or she is; and in fact, that may be true of some traditionalists as well.

It has been my observation that non-traditionalists sometimes misunderstand what motivates a church conservative, or, to put it another way, many people don’t understand why traditionalists have the viewpoints that they do, or what those viewpoints are based upon, and why it’s sometimes not possible to accept certain things.

Therefore, I want to share a little list I’ve made of what I feel are some common convictions that conservative church members have.  When we resist some of the changes that have occurred in the church, it is often because of these convictions, and these convictions alone, and not for the many other speculative reasons that some people might presume.

But before I go any further into this area, let me make a comment on the use of labels.  When I converse with church members, I often use terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “traditionalist”, “moderate”, etc (within a church context – not political).

On occasion, some people have responded directly to my use of such terms.  They have cautioned me, quite appropriately, that such terminology, such labelling, such classification can sometimes be negative.

I truly appreciate and respect that point-of-view.  And there are many cases when I agree that labelling can be negative.  So I want to explain why I use these terms, within a church context.

There are a couple of reasons.  The first is, I’m a lazy writer.  It is, quite honestly, just very convenient to say “conservative” vs:

“people who have a tendency to be comfortable with the former customs and would prefer that you avoid tampering with anything that could be construed as doctrinal or theological in nature.” 🙂

The second reason is, using such terminology helps me better understand who I am, again, in a church context.  It helps me better identify with my own spiritual growth.  It gives me a base, or foundation.  And it even pushes me to new understandings, as we shall soon see.

It also, I feel, helps people have a shared identity.  It provides a sense of comfort, and connection, and that in turn, especially when conversing with people with opposite points-of-view, makes our interactions less intimidating.

In short, it helps eliminate that sense of loneliness and isolation that I spoke of earlier.  It provides a sense commonality, even community.  And of course, no one has to feel that they must align with any church demographic.

Returning to the question of “what is a conservative?” (within the context of Community of Christ), I of course have to acknowledge that I can only present things as I see them, but I do feel it is worth exploring just what it means to be a conservative or traditional church member, and I am confidant that what I outline below does cover a lot of the conservative membership of the church.

In essence, there are (in my opinion) several “cardinal convictions” that we traditionalists are very likely to share.  What I feel are the most common are presented here.  We believe in…

1) God: This may seem obvious, but it is still worth highlighting.  I should also point out that most conservatives understand God in the traditional Christian sense (save perhaps where tweaked by Restoration scripture) – that of some sort of supreme, divine personage with purpose, intelligence, personality, memory, identity, etc.  This is very important, because a person’s view of God will shape his or her theology *and* how they approach scripture.

2) Jesus Christ: Traditionalists tend to believe that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he was truly God incarnated, rose from the dead, etc.

3) Apostasy: The ancient church & priesthood became corrupt and had to be restored by God.

4) Joseph Smith Junior: A true prophet of God called to restore the priesthood and the church; whose sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (along with those of his true successors) presented as divine revelations, truly are.

5) Joseph Smith III: The true legitimate successor to Joseph Smith Jr.

6) Authority: We are the one true church & our priesthood alone has power and authority from God.  But what this truly means is likely not well understood.

7) Book of Mormon: Is both inspired scripture, and a historical account of a lost civilization.

8) Inspired Version: Is the result of divine revelation, for the purpose of correcting some errors and restoring some lost content.

9)  The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are the only true examples of scripture.  Scripture is the result of God revealing His will, through inspiration, visions, vocalization, or dictation.  While we know that no member of the godhead physically wrote scripture, scripture is the result of God moving someone to write down what they wrote down.  Scripture is therefore understood as being spiritually inerrant.

10)  Scripture trumps World Conference resolutions, which trump the Bylaws, which trump various statements and policies, procedures, parliamentary rules, etc., including the Enduring Principles, History Principles, Statements on Scripture, Basic Beliefs, the Church Administrator’s Handbook, theology statements, individual policy statements, etc.  The further revealed will of God, by definition, becomes (if accepted), scripture.  Therefore, *nothing* trumps scripture.

Questions to Ponder:

1. What are your thoughts regarding the above list?
2. What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
3. Had you considered these items before, and do you feel that this list is at least a somewhat accurate summary of what conservative church members believe?

PART 2 – CONSTRAINING CUSTOMS

readingbibleUnderstanding that many traditionalists will hold to some of the cardinal convictions presented in part one, will help people understand why conservatives like myself have the opinions that we do.

For example, let us presume that a traditionalist is debating a doctrinal issue, and quotes a verse attributed to Moses.  This is countered by someone saying any of the following:

a) God’s revelation to Moses, though divine, was nonetheless received through the filter of Moses’ own humanity, therefore, it is possible that what Moses wrote as representing the mind and will of God is not wholly accurate.
b) Moses did not write some portions of his books.
c) One or more of the books of Moses were not written by Moses at all.
d) None of the books of Moses were written by Moses.
e) Moses did not exist.
f) The Old Testament is meant to be understood only metaphorically.

If any of the above are used, the person so doing will then immediately negate any hope of convincing the person he is debating with that his view is valid, because, point a) clashes with (at least) cardinal conviction #9 (scripture is spiritually inerrant), points b) through e) clash with cardinal conviction #8 (the Inspired Version is the result of divine revelation); and point f) clashes with both #8 & #9.

Look at it this way. A conservative church member who accepts the validity of the Inspired Version therefore believes that the Inspired Version is correct, and that it is the result of divine revelation.  It was God’s effort to correct mistakes, restore lost truths, and remove falsehoods.  If you accept the Inspired Version, you reject many of the notions that some people have today regarding the Bible.  Belief in the validity of the Inspired Version, and in the validity of some of the newer theories about Moses and his authorship (or very existence) of the Torah, are, quite simply, not compatible.

But let’s move on.

Personally, I celebrate (where appropriate) the various cardinal convictions.   I greatly cherish the elements that we have in common with all Christians, as well as those elements that are unique to Community of Christ and / or the Latter Day Restoration Movement.  I’ll even say that I find them empowering and exciting – when understood, and used, appropriately.

Yet, I have come to recognize in myself, and occasionally in other traditionalists, some traits that are not things that ought to be celebrated.  These, in my view, include the following (what we might term “constraining customs”):

1) We often don’t return to the scriptures.  What I mean by that is that if we have a particular doctrinal opinion based on a passage that we reviewed a long time ago, we often perpetually presume that our prior interpretation was correct.  We seldom feel the need to go back to what we read before, and make sure that we read it correctly, and / or that we interpreted it correctly.

2) We tend give false authority to things we read or were told, especially when we don’t like them, regardless of how old they are, without taking into consideration more current references.  Why would we do this?  Why would we “authoritize” something we don’t like?  Quite simply, to have  more ammunition to find fault with the church or at least it’s leadership.

I’ve often heard, as recent as 2013, people cite the “Positions Papers” (which is probably about 30 years old), or quote something said by an apostle 25 years ago to “prove” that the church today is off track.  This is not a truly honest approach.

You see, we must keep current with the latest statements, etc., to truly understand what the church is advocating *today*.  We can’t just ignore the current positions and say “well, I read 30 years ago..” or say “well an apostle once said to me, 25 years ago…” and give more authority to such things than the actual current policies and positions of the church.  But we tend to often do just that.  We tend to authoritize things that were never official, and never truly authoritative in the first place, and we often don’t want to let go of them, because for us, they may have been personal.  But, we need to move on, and ensure that we are clear on what the living church is endorsing today.

3) We tend to regard church folklore and church tradition and church custom and local church culture as church doctrine.  When these things are sometimes changed, we sometimes respond just as passionately as when a change in  a church position is considered.  Yet, we need to understand that church folklore, tradition, etc, are *not* doctrinal.  They are not reflective of our theology (even when derived from it).

4) We tend to be stubborn, to the point of preferring stagnation (and therefore church death) over rejuvenation.

5) We really don’t like admitting that we are wrong.  Even (& especially) when it’s proven that we are.

6) We sometimes put how we want things to be ahead of how God would have things be.

7) Sometimes, we are so comfortable with the status quo that our motivation for what we teach and preach becomes muddled.  Are we really proclaiming God’s truth, or simply finding reasons to defend what we would prefer God’s truth to be?

8) We often don’t like change.  We envision the ideal church as being the church as it existed in our own childhoods, overlooking the fact that the church has never been, nor can it ever be (if it is to be effective), static.

9) We have a tendency to view the church as a rural, North American institution.  We therefore feel threatened by doing what Christ told us to do (taking the gospel into all nations, converting all people), because we fear the influence of other races, nations, cultures and experiences.

10) We become preoccupied by petty issues and fail to focus on what matters most.

11) We often fail to embrace the church’s supporting documents, such as the Enduring Principles or Mission Initiatives, because we are too preoccupied with the “correctness” of our church, its “Restorationisness”.

12)  Some of us fail to express unconditional love by deliberately withholding our tithes from World Church as a form of punishment. This is unacceptable.

13) We often interpret someone disagreeing with us as a personal attack.

14) If we cannot win a debate, we often simply drop out of the dialog.

***

The time has come for a new breed of conservative church member to arise within our global membership…those who still cherish the cardinal convictions outlined in Part One, but are willing to let go of the constraining customs outlined above; they are those who are wiling to see our Restoration heritage as a means of furthering our transformation into a 21st century church.

Questions to Ponder:

1. What are your thoughts regarding the above list?
2. What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
3. Are any of them true for you?

PART 3 – ARE YOU A FOUNDATIONALIST?

let_theSpiritBreatheBeing a traditionalist is not really about promoting tradition for that sake alone.  Being conservative should not ever be about impeding progress and fostering stagnation!    We need a new understanding of what it means to be conservative.

What I call traditionalist or conservative perspectives regarding the church might be better expressed as “Restoration foundationalism”.

To put it simply, as demonstrated by the list of cardinal convictions in Part One, I believe in many of the things that this church was built on: God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the revelations of Joseph Smith, the divine organization of the church, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version of the Bible, etc.  These are deeply important to me.  They are part of my personal theological identity.

So, I’m a “foundationalist”.  But being a foundationalist is not incompatible with belonging to an innovative church.  I don’t need to be arrogant in my beliefs, and I don’t need to presume that my interpretations are 100% accurate.

In fact, as a foundationalist, I know that the (1st) prophet Nephi, some 2,600 years or so ago, encouraged us to ponder scripture.  This is what he wrote:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them…”
Second Nephi, 3:29 (RLDS 1908)

This is one of my favorite verses of scripture.  Think about it.  Nephi didn’t just read the scriptures.  He pondered them.   He wrestled with them, sought to understand them, and formed interpretations of them.

This must become a principle that all church members should adopt: We must not just read the scriptures, we must ponder them.

As I have been challenged by the church to explore my beliefs, I have found that our foundational beliefs and doctrines still sign to me.  They still excite me, and they still, in my opinion, reflect God’s truth.  In short, I still believe in our beliefs.

But the exploration has taught me that I don’t need to resist everything.  For example, if the church wants to broaden and deepen it’s understanding of Zion, I’m totally ok with that.  In fact, I embrace that.  I don’t need to cling to the notion that everyone should uproot themselves and move to the city of Independence.

But I still believe that Independence is (or will become) Zion.  I don’t feel that my belief on that point is in any way threatened by broadening and deepening our understanding of Zion to see the benefit to the world of building Zionic communities outside of Zion.

The point is, I don’t need to resist that new way of thinking about Zion, because it does not negate or diminish my own beliefs.  It does not negate Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or any of the other foundational beliefs that I hold to be sacred truths.

And, the new understanding of Zion can also become one of my personal beliefs…and not merely a corporate belief that I feel obligated to claim as my own, or begrudgingly accept as true, but I can, without negating my other understanding of Zion, truly accept, embrace, and celebrate the broader notions of Zion.

That is the beauty of being a foundationalist.  I don’t need to feel that I have to resist things.  I can continue to cherish all those foundational concepts, and be fully excited and passionate about our Enduring Principles, our call to respond generously, our Mission Initiatives, and the challenge to magnify our callings.

So that is who I am now.  I’ll still call myself a conservative, or a traditionalist.  But in my heart, what I really mean is, I’m a foundationalist.  And if you think as I do, then you are too.  As such, we are the new conservatives.  And that gives us the freedom to envision a church that is both a church of the Restoration, *and* a 21st century church at the same time!

And if we can truly become that, then maybe one day, all of us, conservatives, liberals, foundationalists, moderates, etc., can shed our labels, no longer needing the security that they offer, and just be the church that Christ is calling us to be.

In the mean time, it is my hope and prayer that liberals will strive to better understand where conservatives are coming from, and it also my prayer that conservatives will, in addition to being patient with liberals, more deeply explore their own convictions, why they have them, what they truly mean, and what they enable us to become.

If you lean more towards the liberal or moderate spectrums of the church, are you willing to strive to better understand why traditionally minded people have the positions that they do?

If you are a conservative church member, are you willing to evolve into a foundationalist?  Are you willing to find your voice, to courageously proclaim both what you believe *and* your support of the full mission of the church?  Are you wiling to let go of the constraining customs, and embrace the call to be generous and committed disciples, who see the heritage of the Restoration not as an end unto itself, but the means by which our sacred community can truly become a 21st century church?

Are you willing to help guide the church towards becoming something that truly resonates with people, and which is relevant and redemptive?

Will you join me on this journey?  Consider yourself challenged to do so.  Who will accept this challenge?

Questions to Ponder

1. What are some of your own “cardinal convictions”?
2. Are you able to keep them in the wake of a changing church?  If not, why not?
3. Do you feel empowered to have traditional beliefs, should you wish to?

Thank you for reading!

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice?

This is a re-formatted version of one of my prior blogs, originally posted in four separate entries.  This is a one page version.  If you would prefer to read it as originally posted, view the first part here.

Part 1 – Pondering Paul

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

3marysSince the reorganization took place, I think its probably unlikely that any issue has created more division in the church than female ordination.  Section 156, the revelation that made female ordination possible, was presented to the church in 1984, by Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of our founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr.

April 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Conference that sanctioned female ordination.  After thirty years, people are still divided.  New denominations have been organized, and many people have been born and raised in factions of the Restoration that claim descent from Joseph Smith III, but which reject the ordination of women. So the division continues.

Did we make the right choice?  The answer to that question is of course “yes”.  Yet, given the resistance to it exhibited by so many people, I have often wondered why so many members and former members of the church reject it.

A common objection I’ve been given for female ordination are two verses from the writings of Paul.  These passages are as follows:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to rule; but to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”  -1 Corinthians 14:34 (Inspired Version)

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11, 12 (Inspired Version)

Let us explore each of the above passages, and as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Nephi:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”  –Second Book of Nephi, 3:19 (CofC 1908).

So, let us ponder, as Nephi counsels, the scriptures.  In First Corinthians, Paul states that women should keep silent in the churches, and further elaborates that it is not permitted for them to rule, but to be under obedience, as stipulated in the law.

In my opinion, using this scripture to justify the non-ordination of women is a violation of the principle of “sacramental truth”. If we do so, we are not being fully honest with ourselves.

You see, we do not enforce this scripture in an absolute sense.  If we did so, we would not permit women to speak or sing.  Now, it could be said that the directive to be silent is understood to mean “do not preside”, or something like that.

It is interesting to compare the verse as found in the KJV with that found in the Inspired Version:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” (KJV)

In both versions, there are essentially four components.

From the King James Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches:
2) for it is not permitted unto them to speak;
3) but they are commanded to be under obedience
4) as also saith the law.

From the Inspired Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches;
2) for it is not permitted unto them to rule;
3) but to be under obedience,
4) as also saith the law.”

It could be argued that the change of the last word in component 2 of the KJV rendition, from “speak” to “rule” (as it appears in the IV), is a clear indication that what Paul was really talking about was a restriction of a woman’s role in the church, and not a prohibition of her talking or singing.

And yet, the colon in the KJV was changed to a semi-colon.  This suggests that the verse is meant to be understood as a directive to women to not speak, re-enforced by a further directive to not be in positions of leadership.

This of course than means that if we do wish to use this verse to prevent women from being ordained, we are, as noted above, not being honest with ourselves, since we are not fully enforcing it, since we are not choosing to compel women to remain silent in church.

However, we are still left with either a prohibition from speaking to rule, or from speaking whatsoever.

What is the motivation of this counsel?  Why does Paul tell us to let our women keep silent?

Another interesting change is the drop of the words “they are commanded” from the third component.  The KJV seems to suggest that the directive to keep silent is a divine commandment, yet the Inspired Version removes this portion of the verse.

The fourth component talks about “the law”.  What law?  Presumably, the law of Moses.  This is, normally, what is meant when someone in the ancient scriptures talks about the law.

However, the Law of Moses is made up of 613 individual laws, or commandments.  Not one of these states that women are to obey men.  Therefore, the law that Paul was speaking of must have been a secular law, rather than part of the Law of Moses.  This is reasonable, as, in order to properly manage an entire nation, it would seem needful that the elders of Israel would have to devise additional laws for their civilization, as it grew from 12 tribes wandering in a desert to an entire nation.  Furthermore, as Judah transformed into the Roman-conquered realm of Judea, it of course would have found itself subject to Imperial laws.

Here is something else to consider.  Who was Paul speaking to when he gave this counsel?  The members of the church in Corinth.  In Greece.  It seems clear that most of our books of scripture were intended to be read by as many people as possible, however, can we say the same for the epistles that Paul wrote?  I’m sure Paul does not object to other people reading his epistles, beyond the intended audience of each, but the fact remains, he wrote specific messages to different clusters of the church.

Some of the things that Paul wrote were spiritual truths.  Consider the following:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put  on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28 (Inspired Version).

This is a spiritual truth that would be applicable to all members of the church.  This is not something that we would say is only true for the Galatians.

However, 1st Corinthians 14:34 is not a spiritual principle but administrative guidance, and it is entirely possible, given that it appears in an epistle directed to a specific church community, that it was provided because of a local Corinthian law, violation of which may have been problematic for the church in that area.

paulIt seems most likely that Paul’s intent was to ensure that female members of the church were not in violation of a Roman law, or of a Jewish secular law, or a Corinthian law.  I’m sure that Paul was motivated by the following reasons: genuine desire to keep female members of the church from getting into trouble, and a desire to ensure that the authorities did not have an additional cause to take action against the church.

The real point of course is that the modern church is not subject to imperial law, Jewish law, Corinthian law, or, for that matter, the Law of Moses, which Christ rescinded when he visited the Nephites.

Therefore, the words of Paul to the Corinthians is a flawed means to oppose female ordination.

The second verse is, once again, as follows:

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11,12 (Inspired Version)

First Timothy was written by Paul to provide counsel and guidance to Timothy while he labored in Ephesus, which is, interestingly, also in Greece.  Therefore, once again, the motivation behind Paul’s words may have been the result of local law and/or custom, along with a desire to keep both the women of the church, and the church community in Ephesus, as safe as possible.

However, it does look like Paul had another motive for saying what he said, for the chapter continues with these words:

13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

This strikes me as Paul’s personal position, and not the result of divine revelation.  It seems it is his way of rationalizing his prior statement.

Note that he states in verse 12, “For I suffer not a woman to teach…” He does not state “the Lord has said…” or some such statement.  This is Paul’s own view, based on his own convictions.

It is also worth noting that his own basis, the order of creation, etc., for saying what he did, seems a little muddled (which further suggests that this portion of his letter was entirely of himself).

To begin with, he says that because Adam was formed before Eve, women should learn in silence, and not rule, etc.  However, this seems like a rather flawed and petty reason to permanently suppress women, and as I outlined in a prior blog, God is not petty.  For every man who excels in leadership, there is also a woman who does likewise.  And if in a given community or organization, there is a woman who is a better leader than all available men, is it reasonable that she should be overlooked because Eve was created after Adam?

To be honest, that just seems absurd, and I doubt Paul was moved by God to write what he wrote.

We also have to acknowledge that Deborah ruled, as the fourth judge of Israel.  Therefore, Paul’s opinion actually clashes with a precedent already set.

Paul also says that Eve, but not Adam, was deceived.  This makes no sense.  Adam, not yet having tasted of the fruit, was innocent, therefore, he had no motivation to disobey God.  Therefore, he must have been deceived.  It is utterly implausible to suggest that Adam knew what he was doing, and just decided to disobey God simply for the fun of it.

Furthermore, the Bible states that Adam was with Eve when she was herself deceived:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” –Genesis 3:11 (Inspired Version)

The ramifications of all the above are clear.  1st Timothy cannot be used as a reasonable and plausible method of opposing female ordination.

I can almost hear one particular objection to my perspectives: “Does the Bible not state that all scripture is of God?”

Yes and no.  Here is the verse you might be thinking of, as found in the King James Version:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”  -2 Timothy 3:17 (KJV)

However, here is the same verse as found in the Inspired Version:

“And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (Inspired Version)

The changes made between the KJV and the IV are very significant, and, given the nature and authority of the Inspired Version in the church, the simple fact is this: we cannot claim that all scripture is given by God.

Therefore, when we acknowledge this fact, and ponder Paul’s words as we’ve done above, we can clearly see that using them to oppose female ordination is flawed.

Part 2 – Scriptural Basis

EmmaSmithSince the verses from Paul cannot be used to oppose female ordination, what other reasons might someone use to do so?

Well, I have often been told that there is no scriptural basis for female ordination.  However, the lack of a scriptural basis in no way invalidates the validity of female ordination.  At least, not within the Restoration movement, which teaches us that God still reveals his will to the world.

Come to think of it, we do not need a scriptural basis, given that there is no scripture that states that women cannot be ordained.  Previously, we reviewed the two verses of Paul often quoted to defend a male only priesthood.  However, as we have seen, using these two verses is flawed, and problematic.  They do not, as some seem to believe, authoritatively invalidate female priesthood.  When we take the time to explore them both, and apply reason to each, we see that they do not support male only priesthood in the modern church whatsoever.

We must add to that the fact that there isn’t any verse in ancient scripture which states that women cannot be ordained.  All we seem to have are personal opinions based on rather sketchy interpretations of scripture, rooted in rather dubious views of scriptural context of the verses in question.

So, we don’t actually need a scriptural basis, and we don’t need modern revelation to sanction female ordination.  However, we have the latter (which of course becomes the former).

Granted, opponents of Section 156 reject it as a scriptural basis whilst maintaining that there is no scriptural support in ancient scripture.  Yet, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is no scriptural basis or precedent for female priesthood in our ancient scriptures.

Deborah was the fourth judge of Israel.  While that does not mean she was a member of the priesthood, it does prove that women did have positions of leadership and authority.  There were also several female prophets.  It seems totally implausible to me that God would permanently forbid women to be ordained, but would be willing to deliver prophetic messages to his people through various women.

And what did the female prophets do with their messages?  The whole point of a prophet is to share with the community what God had revealed.  Some prophets did so by writing down their words.  But, it seems that many, including some of the female prophets listed in scripture, did not do so.  How than did they share with the people what God had revealed to them?  Quite probably, by talking to some sort of gathering of people.  In other words, they very likely engaged in a form of preaching.

So, while it may be true that there are no clear, indisputable examples of women serving in the priesthood of Israel or of the church, in ancient scripture, we can say that there is a basis for the eventual ordination of women, as we know that women did, on occasion, have positions of leadership, and also were blessed with spiritual gifts, and very likely preached.

Paul himself delves into this.  Consider the following:

1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus;
4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
16 Salute one another with a holy salutation. The churches of Christ salute you.

Phoebe is described as a “servant of the church”.

Priscilla is described, along with her husband Aquila, as a helper “in Christ Jesus” She is generally viewed as a missionary, and some scholars feel that she was one of the Seventy.  Her name is mentioned six times, always with her husband, and on three occasions, her name is listed first.

Given the culture and era in which the books of the New Testament were written, it would have been quite easy for the authors to have simply ignored Priscilla.  However, her inclusion in the work of the Lord was deliberate and noted multiple times.

One such verse regarding Priscilla is particularly interesting:

“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” –Romans 18:26 (Inspired Version)

Again, the author could have simply ignored Priscilla.  In fact, he probably would have, had she not contributed anything.  Yet, it seems clear that she did, and the author was moved to make note of it.

This is not some sort of trivial reference.  Priscilla was engaged in a form of preaching; and she was teaching.  In fact, it states here, in the Inspired Version, that she was expounding (about God).

Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants states repeatedly that one of the duties of the priesthood is to expound.  They are also called to teach and preach.

Therefore, it seems clear that Priscilla was performing some of the duties of the priesthood, exhibiting leadership and providing instruction.

Instead of having a problem with this, Paul seems perfectly OK with her conduct, which further suggests that his counsel in First Corinthians and First Timothy was intended to have a limited scope.

Also of interest is Section 42, which offers the following:

“Again I say unto you that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority”

Here we see that preaching and building up the church are the domain of priesthood only.  Yet, Priscilla functioned as a missionary.  This implies that she was in fact a member of the priesthood.

Verse 7 states that Junia was “of note among the apostles”.  While I personally don’t interpret this as “prominent among” but rather as “well known to”, the praise is significant.  Again, we see a woman who Paul (and, if we accept his words), the other apostles deemed to be, in a positive manner, a noteworthy member of the church.

Verse 12 introduces us to Tryphena, who is listed before her male associate, and we are told that she labors “in the Lord”.

Verse 15 has Paul asking his audience to “salute” several people, including two women, Julia and the sister of Nereus.

From all of these references, it should be clear that women served in the ancient church in vital roles including as preachers and missionaries, performing functions assigned to, and even reserved for, members of the priesthood.  It is therefore a denial of God’s truth to cling to a position that ancient scripture does not, to any degree support the possibility of female priesthood members.

We can also find a scriptural basis in Section 24 of the Doctrine & Covenants.  Although this revelation does not mention priesthood, and while we have no record of an ordination having taking place, this revelation strongly suggests that Emma Smith was called to the priesthood.

Part 3 – The Role of Women

femaledoctorA third common objection to female priesthood members in the church is the role of women.  In other words, some people feel that women should not be ordained because serving in the priesthood would run contrary to, or somehow conflict with, their roles that they inherently have, simply by virtue of being female.

This objection is, quite simply, insane.

While it is true that first world societies once greatly limited what women could do, those day are mostly long gone.  Women can vote.  They can drive.  They can be doctors, lawyers, etc.  How can we possibly let women do all these things, despite their inherent female roles, but then use the latter as a reason to say that they can’t be members of the priesthood?

Think of it this way.  If we can support a woman being a family doctor, would we object to a woman being a dentist?  If we support a woman being a police officer, would we object to a female pro golfer?

We cannot say that it is ok for a woman to have a career, and then pull the rug out from under her and say “you can’t be in the priesthood – that would take away from your duties and/or responsibilities as a woman.”

We also need to ask, just what are these duties and/or responsibilities that women have that priesthood would impair?  The answer is always the same: raising children.

Women, according to some, should not be in the priesthood because being in the priesthood would interfere with them raising their children properly.  But they can have jobs and careers.

Of course, my position might be countered by saying that a career is ok, because that is one role, in addition to motherhood, which is therefore manageable.  But, add priesthood on top of a career, and the woman has even less time to provide to her children.

But what about fathers?  Aren’t fathers expected to be good fathers?  Are they not also expected to do their part in raising children?  They are out there working every day, and they are serving in the priesthood, attending meetings at night, visiting the sick, traveling to stake conferences, etc.  If its ok for fathers to do so, why not mothers?

What about mothers who don’t have a career?  Would they not then have ample time to be mothers and priesthood at the same time?  What of women who can’t have children? What of mothers who have already performed their sacred duties with distinction, and now have an empty nest?  What about couples who decide not to have children?

How can we possibly have a blanket statement that says women cannot be ordained because they are supposed to be mothers, when we consider all of the above factors?

Another consideration is Paul’s perspective on marriage.  Paul seems to suggest that unmarried people both male and female, will be able to devote themselves more fully to the Lord, than those who marry.  His stance implies that for those who are able to resist temptation, it is more desirable to remain unattached, and devote oneself more fully to the Lord.

Obviously, Paul would not regard childbirth outside of marriage as an appropriate objective, therefore, since he seems to advocate remaining single and devoted more fully to God as preferable to getting married, it would seem that the former is a higher calling and more sacred function than motherhood.

I can hear the rebuttal: “But, if a woman does fall in love, and decides to get married and have children, then her motherhood should not be distracted by ministry”.  But you cannot forbid all women from joining the priesthood for the sake of those women who opt to have children, especially considering that remaining childless & unmarried, devoted to God, seems to be a higher calling.

The real factor in this area is of course that the objection is simply an opinion: “You can’t be ordained as that would take away from your role as a mother”.

There is no scripture that states that a woman cannot be ordained because such would diminish her role as a mother.    Again, as noted above, there are so many cases where this would not apply and be ridiculously unfair (infertile women, empty nesters, etc.) – but, even more important, the objection is just an opinion, which is not a very sound basis for establishing a doctrinal position, especially when such an opinion casts God as unjust.

The opinion is of course flawed.  When we take the time to consider, and ponder (as Nephi counsels us), the scriptures, and note the aforementioned female missionaries, who are we to object?  If women in the Bible could travel from place to place, be missionaries, be church leaders, etc. etc., how can we possibly object to female priesthood on the basis that ordaining them would somehow clash with their femalehood?

Part 4 – “Disjunctive Revelation”

scritpurereadingAnother objection I have sometimes come across, regarding female ordination, is something called “disjunctive revelation”.  This is a fancy term that has apparently been invented by those who left the church in the wake of Section 156, in an attempt to give their positions some sort of credibility.

(using Google, I did a search on this term, for the exact phrase, and found that there were only three pages of results, all of which were tied to the Restoration movement – but I digress)

So what is meant by the term disjunctive revelation? Well, simply put, it is a revelation viewed as being in contradiction with a prior revelation, which renders the more recent revelation false (not of God).  Another way to look at it would be to say that each new revelation must be in complete harmony with all previously accepted revelations in order to be regarded as authentic (divine).  The “new” cannot contradict with any of the “old”.

The problem with this concept is that there is no basis for it, and it defies reason, logic, common sense and is just not plausible.  The Lord is perfectly free to make adjustments to “the rules” as He deems fit.

Objectors tend to feel “but you can’t have two revelations say opposing things about a given issue, with both being true…one must be false”.

However, this totally ignores the most basic fundamental principle of creation: things change.  It also ignores the fact that God does thing according to his own purposes.

In the Book of Mormon, God directed Lehi, his wife, his children, his friend Ishmael, and Ishmael’s family to leave Jerusalem, and to flee into the wilderness. This was not a popular choice with some of them, and no doubt it required some prep. work, and some effort to actually accomplish.

But, eventually, the group found themselves camping out in the wilderness, beyond the comforts and familiarity of their city.  Why did they go?  Why did they undertake this ordeal?  Because God revealed to them that this was His will.

Later, God revealed more of his will to them.  He directed some of them to return to the city.  Did Lehi and his companions regard this instruction as a disjunctive revelation?  Did Nephi say to his father Lehi “but you told us that God directed us to leave the city – therefore, this new revelation, calling for some of us to go back to the city, must be false”.  Naturally, he said no such thing.

What was God’s will?  In the first case, God’s revelation to Lehi indicated that God’s will was for all of them to leave the city.  Then, it would seem that it was His will for some of them to return.  A contradiction.  How can both revelations that Lehi received be true?

They are both true because they represent different divine purposes.  Clearly, God had a reason for taking Lehi and Ismael and their combined families out of the city, and of course he had a reason for sending some of them back.

The contradiction only exists if we read scripture in an isolated format, without context.  For example, if we read scripture in this manner:

Verse 1: And God told Lehi and his family to flee the city.
Verse 2 And God told Lehi to send his sons back to the city.

We might scratch our heads and say “well that does not seem to make a lot of sense”

But, when we explore the context of seemingly contradictory scriptures, and understand the purpose of why the original scripture was provided, and honestly seek to do the same with latter revelations, we may just come to recognize hat there really is no issue.

The reality is, God has made many changes, as we can see in my prior blog God’s Changes – we accept these changes, therefore, we can accept other changes – especially when there really is no prior scripture that legitimately opposes female ordination.

On this latter point, some people might cite some of the “revelations” circulated by people other than the prophet-president of the church.  However, church law has, since the era of Joseph Smith Jr., indicated that revelations to the church can only be received through the prophet-president.  An individual may receive a personal revelation, providing guidance for the wellbeing of his family, but any revelation that seems intended to offer commentary on church doctrine, and/or with the intent of being shared with others, must be rejected as false.

Regretfully, it seems that the only real reason that people have to object to female ordination is simply the fact that they don’t want it to be, for what are most likely chauvinistic reasons, valid; and this quite simply violates the principle of “sacramental truth”.

Community of Christ: A Revealed Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.” –Section 162:2e (Grant McMurray, 2004)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2005 edition of the Church Administrators Handbook states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature & Role of Scripture

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

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

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied… It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices… Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.” –Section 163:7b-d

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

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

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

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

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

Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to categorically assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.” –A Defining Moment (President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church)

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

It is worth reading the entire documents in their entirety.

The Scripture Affirmations can be read here.

Section 163 can be read here.

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

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

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

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

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

“With other Christians, we affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture.”  –Scripture Affirmation #9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.” –A Defining Moment

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Conference Resolution 215 states the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for World Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pending legislation can be found here:

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

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

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

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

God bless!

Does Your Church Need to Have a Shower?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can save church jobs! An open letter to all church members!

I wanted to share something very exciting with you!  Some of you already know about this, but I wanted to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the opportunity before us.    And I wanted to share a bit about my involvement in this story.

My name is David Donoghue, and I often describe myself as a “regular church member”.  I’m not part of the global church leadership team, and I’m not a church employee.  Just a regular church member, like most of you reading this.

I’m a lifelong member of the church, and currently serve as presiding elder of Scarborough Congregation, in Ontario, Canada.  Like so many people, I was shocked & saddened on February 18th when news was released by World Church regarding our current financial situation.

I already had a priesthood meeting scheduled for February 21st, and decided to make the entire focus of that meeting the financial situation facing the church.  When we gathered, we opened with prayer, and then watched the videos and had some discussion.  During that discussion time, I was sharing some of my own thoughts, and was essentially just talking out loud when I found myself saying “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just somehow raise enough money right now so that not one person needed to lose his or her job”

That was a light bulb moment.  That was an epiphany.  I then thought “well why not?  Why not find out what it would take, and do something about it?”  So I did. First, I created a Facebook group called “Funding Community of Christ” and with some encouragement, I contacted Acting Presiding Bishop Stassi Cramm, and put the question to her: “what would it take to save church jobs?” – and the church leadership responded!

This is so exciting!  We have an opportunity to save church jobs!   We have been given a real chance to make an amazing difference!  When I first heard that jobs were going to be cut once again, my heart wept.  I am so distraught that the church I love is in this situation.  But my heart is rejoicing knowing that we can actually make a difference.    As previously communicated, there is a way for people to respond, with the intent of preventing staff reductions.  The details can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/Common/Cms/documents/WhatWouldItTake03-04-2016.pdf

Please visit this page now and respond!  I am challenging every church household around the world to submit their tithing plan to the Acting Presiding Bishopric.  No matter what you are able to give!  Can you give $1,000.00?  Can you give more?  Can you manage something less?  Do your contributions need to remain as is?  No matter what the answer, I challenge every church household to create a tithing plan, giving honest thought to your true capacity, and send it in by March 22nd.  Even if your contributions cannot be increased, this will help the church leadership have a far more accurate view of what our funding will most likely be over the next few years.  Please respond right away!  Every household!  Send in your tithing plan!  Now!

As I said previously I’m a lifelong member of the church (which is not important).  I was born into the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I am proud to be a member of Community of Christ.  Both those names have a great deal of meaning for me.

I love, and cherish, our longer name.  For me, it is not our “old name” – it is our longer name.  It reminds me of our heritage.  It reminds me of our Restoration  beliefs and distinctiveness, all of which makes my heart sing!  Our longer name recollects the many great things we have accomplished.

I also love and celebrate our new name.  It reminds me of the kind of people we are called to be, and whose church we are.  It reminds me of our 21st century identity, our focus to put the mission of Jesus Christ first, above all other considerations.

We are a Community of Christ.  We are the people of the Restoration.  This is the church of Jesus Christ.  This is your church, and this is my church.  And that is how I think of it.  The church is mine.  Not in the sense that I own the church, but it is claimed by my heart.  Its mine.  And I therefore set aside all other considerations, when the church I love, my church, is facing challenging times.

But I can’t do this alone.  I need your help.  I need every church member to respond.  To share this letter, to share posts on social media, to get the word out, and to encourage all church families to act now.

And not just church families, but congregations.  What can your congregation contribute?  Can your congregation make a gift now, and over the next three years?  Has your congregation submitted a tithing plan?  There is funding out there!  We just need to find it!

I have heard from time to time that some people are hesitant to be as generous as they might, because of concerns regarding church identity, theology, and doctrine.  I appreciate the struggles that some people have had in these areas, as I have been there myself.  But this is not about that.  This is about saving jobs!  If you are a member of the church, then you are a member of the church.   And some of your brothers and sisters in Christ are at risk of losing employment!  Christ’s church needs you to respond, with unprecedented generosity!  The Book of Mosiah, chapter 2 verse 32 reminds me that I am a beggar, dependent on God.  And now, other people are dependent on me.  Therefore, as God always acts freely to provide for me, regardless of my own failings, I need to act freely now to do what I can to provide for others.

I have also seen some questions about “what if we fall short?”  Meaning, what if we don’t raise enough to save jobs?  To that I say “So what?”  Keep giving!  Whatever we raise will help the church in some manner and I would far sooner take a risk, and try to save jobs, than hold back.  But there really is no risk.  Even if we can’t save jobs, there is no risk – because, when you think about it, how can there be a risk with generosity?  The church will be blessed by your generosity, regardless of the outcome!  There is no gamble with being generous!

But we can only save jobs if we act now.  The deadline is March 22nd.  We have an opportunity here, and this is exciting!  If we succeed with this, imagine how you will feel, knowing that you and your congregation helped save someone’s job.  Normally, when a corporation takes action like this, there is nothing the public or the church can do.  But we have an opportunity here to prove that we really are a Community of Christ, that we really are the people of the Restoration, divinely established to share the Restored Gospel with the whole world!

Most of the church employees I personally know are, I would imagine, safe.  The ones that are most at risk are people I have never met.  Faceless, nameless people.  But that does not matter!  They are still my brothers and sisters in *my* church!  And they need my help, and they need your help, and how can we not respond?

Please join with me.  Please be one of the 6,000+ that can contribute $1,000 or more.  Please be one of the many who will respond as you are able, whatever you can manage.  Please ensure that as many church members as possible get this message, and please work with your mission center staff, and your congregations to see what other contributions can be made!  And please, send in your tithing plan, regardless of what it might look like.  Please put love above all.

With hope and faith,

David Donoghue
Pastor, Scarborough Congregation
Ontario, Canada