I don’t like to focus solely on Community of Christ or internal denominational issues. This internal focus is part of a greater disease plaguing so many of our churches. However, that said, denominations do face challenges from many sides in the U.S. and many of us face these challenges together. This disease is no respecter of denominations.
Click the picture to view President Veazey’s Address. (52 minutes)
President of the Community of Christ, Steve Veazey gave an address to the Community of Christ this past Sunday, April 5th that deserves attention. In the end, I think Steve has prophetic direction that is not simply limited to our church, but could be for Christian communities everywhere. In this time of economic uncertainty and denominational instability, “The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most.” I believe our scriptures are clear on this. Jesus proclaimed a kingdom beyond religious loyalties, ethnic identity, moral codes, rules of righteousness, and dependency on profits. I thank President Veazey for taking our attention there. Amen!
In the following, I give what I believe is a summary of his main points, along with my own reflections. My hope is that together, we can digest the message available in his address and work it into our lives. Quotations are taken from the text, which can be found here.
- Our denomination’s long term financial viability. To start off, President Veazey addressed concerns about the long-term viability of the Community of Christ. As a denominational structure, the church is not in jeopardy. “The sacrificial generosity of past generations, the foresight of previous leaders, and the disciplined application of financial policies in the present continue to secure the church’s long-range financial future.” However, to make ends meet, the church will reduce the 2010 World Ministries budget by $4,000,000. How will our people respond?
- Our Economic Challenges Reveal Spiritual Issues. How will we respond? Veazey offers prophetic leadership by offering us spiritual insight. It is an insight that has far reaching implications for our discipleship, not only as a church but also for our personal lives and America as a whole. Veazey states, “I believe the economic situation actually reveals a spiritual issue that will require a spiritual response.” Any spiritual response will take us beyond ourselves. As a church, President Veazey reminds us that we are not simply members of a congregation. But, this insight applies to all Christians. As a community of Christ – both denominationally and figuratively – we belong to a world-wide family. It is made up of all who profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Veazey stated, “The church is an international body that God has called into being to fulfill divine purposes related to the coming reign of God on earth.” What President Veazey says about the Community of Christ is a theological statement – a confession of faith – that bleeds over denominational walls and applies to every disciple of Jesus Christ throughout the world. This is a prophetic statement. President Veazey’s call is for no less than a spiritual awakening. If Jesus’ life and teaching ground our hope and guide our energies, our generous response – in both financial terms and in personal stewardship – will follow this spiritual trajectory. Christ’s call is life-sized. Religion is not a strictly “personal” matter. Following Christ requires a vision that is world-wide. All this reveal a vision for life lived in biblical proportions. Beyond any priesthood office or denominational definition, Jesus’ life and teaching reveals precious truths told with a subtle plainness. As a Rabbi, Jesus knew we teach what we are living. This is a challenge to every member, every priesthood member, every Mission Center President, and every World Church leader. The paradox of God’s sacrifice is its generosity. Such divine generosity is a defining characteristic of Jesus’ life and teaching. God’s economy, relational and spiritual, pours forth out of the life and death of Jesus Christ. It continues in the life of his followers. Grace and generosity flow equally in Jesus standing invitation to “Follow me.”
- Internal Questions: History. Before returning to the centrality of Jesus’ mission, President Veazey addressed certain internal denomoninational concerns that continue to hinder and distract the church form its purpose. The first is the entanglement of the church’s sense of identity and history. In brief, Veazey stated that the church has focused too long on the importance of the churches first 14 years (1830-44). In fact, we have neglected the much larger portion of our history: the figures, decisions, and events of the Reorganization from 1860 on. These years provide a kind of theological corrective to some of the speculations and indulgences of the church’s early period. It is in the Reorganization that we can find the historical roots of our unfolding faith-story. Veazey concluded, “I think [Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III] would see their hopes for the church being fulfilled in our emphasis on reconciliation and healing of the spirit; our openness to continuing revelation; our growing understanding of giftedness and ministerial calling; our concern for the poor; and our strong focus on promoting peaceful Christian community as the hope of Zion.”
- Internal Questions: Scripture. President Veazey called the church to greater responsibility in its interpretation, use, and understanding of scripture. Referencing the church’s recent statement on scripture as well as Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d, President Veazey re-emphasized that Community of Christ does not hold nor condone the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. Instead, the church emphasizes two principles or teachings with regards to the nature, use, and interpretation of scripture. First, there is the defining role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating scripture. Second, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are the definitive rule and revelation for interpreting and using scripture. He stated, “Community of Christ…stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.” In sum, “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.” Being grounded in God’s revelation is a matter of discipleship, i.e. living a life of study, faith, and humility in relationship to scripture, not claiming to possess such truth or claim its authority.
- The Problem with Our Attention on Internal Issues. I believe the conclusion of President Veazey’s address is most prophetic, even by scriptural standards. Steve Veazey recognizes the tragic scenario that befalls us as we place our energies and attention on internal church matters instead of putting faith in Jesus Christ and the promises of his community. He stated plainly, “It is telling that much of what I have addressed so far is about internal church issues. This is the greatest challenge we face. Will we be able to put internal church issues in proper perspective so we can focus first on our mission…” He follows with the kind of questions a modern prophet would ask – questions that echo in the empty spaces of our internal perspective and its increasing tunnel vision. He asks, “Are we mobilizing to provide pastoral care and tangible help to individuals and families that are barely surviving because of economic pressures? Are we responding to the increasing hatred and violence toward immigrants and ethnic minorities because others want to make them scapegoats for our common difficulties? What about the children in your community? How are they doing? What does it mean to be a prophetic people who speak and act in the name of God and Christ in times like these?” He, then, reminds the church, “Many of our members live in countries with developing or nonfunctional economic and political systems. Their situation is much worse than anything many of us in more affluent areas are experiencing.” Just like in scriptural times, these questions tell us if we have ears to hear. The prophet presents us the divine gift of our own uneasiness and introspection – the kind that calls for repentance and cultivates inspiration if we have the faith to suffer it and grace to receive it.
- Inspired Pastoral Counsel. President Veazey ends his 52 minute address with a note of confirmation and conviction. “What matters most,” he says directly, “is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.” Honestly, these words hit me numb, but only because they to convey both the possibility and impossibility. What’s true for the church, I believe, is true for me and every Christian. Jesus proclaimed a “here-and-now” kind of gospel. His disciples followed him before he they ever knew he would die or be resurrected because he had a message. “On earth, as it is in heaven.” The promise of eternal life is not some personal salvation. It’s the individual call to discipleship and universal hope for daily bread. President Veazey ended with the inspired pastoral counsel below.
Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.
Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.
Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.
Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.
My testimony is that discipleship is not finding the answers. It is finding the questions worth asking.
Likewise, salvation is not simply life after death. Eternal life begins with a life worth living.