counsel to the church

I was at the Temple yesterday for President Steve Veazey’s presentation of inspired counsel to the Community of Christ.   My soul was moved unexpectedly several times during the service.  I was first struck by the Spirit in our singing and words from the Gospel of John.  More than once, I was moved to tears.  But, I also felt a deep conviction of the Holy Spirit  in President Veazey’s words of counsel to us.  I want to share a portion of that testimony.

First, thinking about President Veazey’s counsel, I’m aware again about something unique about our tradition as a Christian people.  I’m not interested in drudging up old adages about Restoration distinctives.  Other movements, too, hear and respond to God’s call to prophetic witness.  But, I honor the faith and responsibility being called forth by our “theocratic democracy.”   Considering President Veazey’s inspired counsel in the light of the issues before us, we are amidst the profound moments of our theocratic democracy.  We’re being asked to discern and respond to President Veazey’s inspired counsel to us.  We are not being expected in some sectarian or cultish fashion to blindly accept or mindlessly follow our spiritual leaders.  Instead, the difficulty of the issues and call to witness before us in these words form a responsibility to faith that takes form in our personal response.  To believe the inspired counsel given yesterday, we are called closer to God, to act in faith in accordance to God’s will.  We are not only asked to consider President’s Veazey’s preparation, faith and discernment in some vote to agree or disagree.  We are also being asked to take responsibility for our common faith in the Holy Spirit’s direction.  Ultimately, the words offered ask us as a community to respond to our call to be disciples in response to his mission.  To accept President Veazey’s words of counsel, we must take greater responsibility for our sacraments and relationships with others.  But more, we are also asked to accept the stewardship of our common faith and its witness to Christ’s Gospel among the nations and cultures in which God’s prophetic Spirit flows and seeks expression.

After my experience yesterday, I reaffirm my testimony that God guides and moves among us as a movement.  The confirmation of my testimony will not be in the church’s consensus about the rightness or wrongness of President Veazey’s words, but in whether or not we respond as a people.  More than a church, the Community of Christ is called to be a movement.  We are being called in a way different than before to trust in God’s direction and pursue our faith in God’s mission to the World.

I also share my personal testimony of God’s Holy Spirit revealed in President Veazey’s words to us.  It is not the language or individual terms, themselves, that are divine or inspired.  It is the challenge and responsibility they offer to us…if we respond and believe.

In my personal study and discernment about the future church – particularly, the role of scripture in our life together and the disparate voices on issues before us –  I, too, have been called back to my personal witness and certain scriptures that President Veazey referred to.  In particular, I, too, have been drawn to listen to Paul’s witness in Galatians 3:28 and his testimony about God’s ongoing revelation and new creation in Christ.  Against the voices of division, the questions about identity and sexuality, as well as about just relationships, the role of our sacraments, and pursuit of peace in our neighborhoods and culture are not alien to the Gospel.  They are not “of man” or politically motivated, but matters central to our faith.   In other words, they are not questions of divine knowledge, but divine trust in God’s ongoing reign and movement.  As matters pertaining to life together today, they are a matter of our prophetic witness of Christ amidst the world.  To be called to discipleship, stewardship, and shared responsibility for that witness could be nothing other than prophetic.  For that, President Veazey, I offer God praise and you thanks.

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51 responses to “counsel to the church

  1. Matt,
    Thank you for your testimony. Though I watched through the web, I too was connected by the same Spirit.
    Your statement “they are not questions of divine knowledge, but divine trust in God’s ongoing reign and movement” really resonated with me. Faith is always beyond knowledge and resides in the realm of trusting in what is only known by what feels right in our understanding. The irony is that too often those who are ready to flow with God’s movement today (or yesterday) often stiffle that same movement in the future. Living in Trust is sooo difficult. For the most part we don’t even live in the trust that we are beloved. If one doesn’t sense that they are loved beyond measure by the Great I AM, is it possible to trust in those who understand that movement different than ourselves??

  2. There is alot about the Church in general and President Veazey in particular with which I am cynical these days. However, I agree with your assessment that Pres Veazey’s understanding of discernment and the role of God’s call through and among the people rather than through a prophet to a people is not only comendable, but necessary and spiritually healthy.

    I missed the service as I was conflicted by an MLK service I was responsible for (it went great, thanks!) but look forward to seeing the video when I can.

  3. “More than a church, the Community of Christ is called to be a movement. ”

    Matt, that part of your post struck me, as did Steve’s words about some being called out of the larger Christian community to focus within the denominational Community of Christ. Unless we hold to some kind of “rachet” effect where the ultimate end of faith is still the Community of Christ, it is implicit that some will never be called into the CofChrist and others will be called OUT of this denomination to make the movement toward the Kingdom truly across and within all cultures.

  4. I appreciate your testimony Matt. I was in the Temple service, and I heard President Veazey give the counsel. I have read and re-read the counsel, and I believe it is of the Lord. Verse 6a is very similar in wording to what the Lord shared with me personally, back in 1999, or 2000, when I was asking about committed, homosexual relationships. I have also been reminded of various scriptures; Romans 8:14-19, Ephesians 1-2, 4 Nephi, D&C 150:12, 151:9-10, 161:3, 6, 162:5-6, & 163:1-4, 7c-d,10-11. I believe God is calling us to truly be a prophetic people. He’s calling us to “see” each other without labels, and be more like Christ; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. How will we answer his question to us in verse 9e? Will we remain hesitant in the shadow of our fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties, or will we move forward with the Lord into the kingdom? I hope we choose, as a body, to go forward.

  5. I, too, appreciate your testimony here, Matt, and sense its connection to so much of your ministerial passions. Furthermore, as a World Church minister and jurisdictional presiding officer you are confronted with quite a delicate balancing act.

    In reading Apostle Paul’s writings I’ve been continually drawn to how his original question, “How can Gentiles be brought into God’s ‘family’?” was completely turned around within a century to become, “How can Jews be saved unless they accept Jesus and become Christians?” So often we do something like that by insisting that others (meaning, anyone different from us in some way) become just like us or at least more like us (with the underlying assumption that we are God’s favorites). I see this involved in some of the disagreement over human sexuality. For example, I’ve heard straight people say that even if gay individuals cannot stop being gay, then they should at least stop acting gay, or in other words be celibate. When they do that, then they can be welcomed as full participants in the church. Yet we don’t mandate celibacy for straights, and for the most part we don’t allow gays to marry.

    Something of the same sort can be found in attitudes regarding baptism and Communion, too. Of course, with sacraments we often layer that with issues of who has the authority to regulate and officiate. That tends to give some folks license to say: When “they” become like “us” then God will approve. A slippery slope indeed.

  6. I am sad to say that I did not experience a feeling of the Holy Spirit during Pres. Veazey’s presentation of the Counsel. I feel that it created more questions than we already had. I will continue to pray about this matter.

  7. I watched the webcast presentation of the service. I am sorry to say I felt nothing of which you speak in regard to the spirit’s involvement with this counsel. This counsel runs directly counter to scripture in several places. More than anything it appears to seek political compromise throughout. President Veazey indeed has a difficult task before him – no one doubts that, but he is creating a house more divided than ever and it cannot survive as such.

    • Could you speak more to your post? I’m interested in what you have to write concerning how Veazey’s counsel conflicts with scripture and is more of a political compromise.

      Besides that…There have been a few moments in my life where I felt an overwhelming conviction about something without knowing what I was getting myself into. This counsel, to me, made sense and was something that I have been wanting/thinking/praying/etc. for a while now, just better articulated. Perhaps this is how the Holy interacts with my reasoning. I welcome the doubt and the questions in a spirit of openness and a faith of grace–not a faith in answers. I am deeply appreciative for those who share their testimonies and I am deeply appreciative for those who share their concerns–for in true fellowship, both are welcome.

      • This counsel appeals to my sense of fair play at first glance. In the end, though, that’s as far as it goes.

        I’ll just use as an example the baptismal issue. The counsel “overrules” Section 20 which was given as revelation to the church. Section 20 is directly on point. It addresses the same exact question which was posed for exactly the same reasons. However, the counsel sidesteps this problem by simply making a general statement that the old law was necessary to help the church’s rise and cohesiveness. In the Q & A, there is reference only to “previous sections.” No reference to previous revelation.

        I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. I am simply one who believes that you have to have anchors. A free-floating theology is almost guaranteed to be more responsive to the political issue of the day than to the ancient dust covered scriptures (as Bill Russell would call them). In our experience of the last couple of decades, this has been exactly the case.

    • mg, I want to honor you, your perspective, and feelings. But, I can’t agree with you.

      First of all, the document does not appear to be political compromise if you consider the international nature of the church and the fundamental issues of faith it grapples with: baptism and sexuality. It might look like political compromise from a U.S.-centric perspective. In the U.S., there are “party lines” that make these issues clear cut. I think that is more politics than Gospel. To appreciate the international nature of the church (the U.S. church is no longer the largest national church in the CofC) and complexity of these issues, I believe the document is valiant. It treats the church as a whole and prophetically asks us to be more, not less, responsible for its faith in Christ as a global people. I can’t see how this is a compromise.

      Second, I don’t think we can make a convincing case that Section 20 and this counsel asks the exact same question on baptism in the same circumstances and we get opposing answers. The church in 1830 and 2010 are no where near the same in terms of its size or culture. The meaning of Christ’s ministry is also different. Paul’s ministry makes this clear. Jesus meant something different to the Jews than to the Gentiles. Time and again, our leadership has reminded us that scripture and revelation happen in a historical context. President Veazey has addressed the shift in context in his April 5th address.

      We should also consider that our scriptures convey that God’s revelation to us does change. Our human understanding and reception of God’s miraculous will changes. Consider the Bible. God reveals two profound and fundamental things in the Bible – the Law and Jesus. Without these two things, there is no Bible. The whole struggle in the Gospels is the conflict between the ministry of the Messiah and the meaning of the Law. We are in a like time. Many Restorationists have already made their decision. Second, in the Book of Mormon, God’s communication also changes to the Nephites and the Lamanites. God actually changes favor between them. Everything we are seeing has scriptural precedence.

      I believe the anchor we seek is not an unchanging theology but faith in a living God. I can appreciate that people are uncertain and feel adrift, so they believe God will answer them with certainty and knowledge that doesn’t change. But, that no scriptural. We are being asked to have scriptural faith. Read the journey of Israel. Following God was difficult exactly because his will for them was not revealed all at once, but unfolded. Too, in the Gospels, it was the Pharisees who got stuck because they could not accept Jesus because it was a change – something they could have never imagined.

      Theology will always free floats because God is alive and God’s response to a changing world changes with it. Our understanding of God, Jesus, or the church cannot be frozen in the past without becoming curators of a dead faith, lost to the past. I’m not for change for change’s sake. I believe the faith we are being asked to have is the self-same faith told about in the scriptures. There is a reason why people fall into sin, lose trust in God, and fall to their own understandings…because God is alive.

      I am sorry we have not proclaimed this faith as well as we could have over the last few decades.

      • Matt:

        Point of clarification. What national church is larger than the US church, and under what definition of membership? The last published data from the church at the 2007 WC would indicate that it is improbable that the US church now has less than 110-120 thousand known baptized members, or that ALL of the world outside of NA has more than 80,000 to 90,000 known baptized members COMBINED. (And I will point out that the African data included not one single individual who had been lost through death or disaffection in the previous 2 years.)

        It may be that, as much as we are working toward making the church a world church, the politics of American culture influence these issues so strongly because the membership IS still overwhelmingly American.

  8. I should have added. . .

    The current Church is certainly far from “on the rise” in any place other than the Third World and is hardly cohesive. Indeed this counsel will likely result in the shedding of many more members.

    In my view, the church is losing sight of the lesson of the woman at the well – Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

    What is your view of the counsel?

  9. The woman at the well was not told to go and sin no more. She was called and sent, inspite of being rejected by everyone in her world. She was rejected for her gender, by her husbands possibly because she could not have children, for having a wrong lifestyle, and for having a wrong religion. Yet she was sent to share Christ with her rejectors, as she was.

      • mg…I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m more interested in the meaning of Jesus’ interaction with the woman for you with regard to the church and this counsel. That passage is often referred to among people who think the church should hold that position with lesbians and gays.

        But, for scripture, the Woman at the Well generally refers to Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4. In this passage, the woman lies to Jesus about the number of husbands she has. But the “sin no more” or “don’t sin again” doesn’t come from this passage. Usually it is referred to in Jesus’ interaction with the adulteress in John 8:1-11. She is the one who Jesus saves from being stoned.

  10. We definitely agree that she was redeemed and changed, and I agree that this passage is especially important in the life of the church today.

  11. Matt,

    You’re correct on the well woman versus the adultress. I was referring to the adultress. You’re correct that it is often used by those who believe the practice of homosexuality is a sin. But it is clearly not limited to that subject. It is a telling scripture for any sinner engaged in any sin.

    On your longer post – we’ll have to agree to disagree. Your argument regarding the political compromise is simply wrong. Veazey is clearly trying to mollify the liberal wing of the North American/European/Australian church while not scandalizing the church in the Third World. He will fail so long as this is the goal. I think he has it backwards.

    On Section 20. It was the same question. People have not changed. Just their toys have. It is most interesting to note the rate of growth in the 10 to 15 years following the revelation of Section 20 and compare it to the church’s decline over recent years.

    The counsel on this point is simply a continuation of a failed policy of watering down the church’s teachings and message in the vain hope of finding a magic bullet that will substitute for hard work in the name of Christ. If this church worked as hard on the streets preaching the Word as it does in its seminary rewriting the Word, we would not have any empty pews. As it is, they are emptier every day. Upon adoption of this counsel, they will become emptier still.

    • mg,

      I’m not sure we disagree as much as interpret from different views of what’s happening. I have to say, I’m deeply sad, even afraid, to hear your point of view. Many of the same things were said by the Restorationists. My knowledge of the Restorationists suggests they are not growing 10-15% or experiencing Zion. I’m not sure I share your conclusions.

      I’m trying to bear my sincere testimony. I’m afraid talking about “liberal wings” instead of testimonies of God’s continuing revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ, the meaning of scripture, and our call to faith in a living God changes the subject. It cements division over a testimony of God’s work among us. I don’t equate God’s work with our leadership. That is why my testimony of God’s work amidst the leadership is important for me. I, perhaps like you, don’t think it is a “given.”

      The more I reflect on your reply and others like it, I see the church going through the same division as it did in the Gospels. God’s people, the Church, was split over Jesus. Jesus was God’s new revelation and his identification with the sinners divided the church. God’s grace to sinners went against those who upheld the righteousness of the Law. The Law was certain, Jesus was not.

      Instead of simply pitting the sinners against the Pharisees, though, I realize in my prayers that I am a modern day Pharisee. I do not want to make the mistake they did. I want to stay focused on Christ and God’s ongoing revelation among us.

    • I don’t recall hearing or reading that the mission of Jesus was to fill the synagogues. The mission was to be faithful to the living God. From one perspective one could say that the mission of Jesus was an utter failure because he did not transform Israel, and was killed by the Roman and Jewish leaders just 3 years into the endeavor.

      In the 4th chapter of Luke’s Gospel we read that the mission of Jesus is the forgotten mission of Israel; to bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives… to give sight to the blind… to let the oppressed go free… to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” In other words, in the first century it was time to quit worrying about the Law, and time to get on with being representatives of the kingdom come near in word and deed.

      So what is our mission, to fill our pews or be faithful in listening to what God might be wanting to say in this time? If the God of creation is always greater than what which God created, we should expect to be challenged, we should expect to be made uncomfortable and stretched in ways other than what we would expect. If not, then it would appear that God would be less than human, and I don’t think any of us would want to go there.

      At this time we are challenged to listen and let God be known as the great I AM. Perhaps being faithful to that should not be confused with being successful in terms of limited human understandings.

      • “So what is our mission, to fill our pews or be faithful in listening to what God might be wanting to say in this time?”

        Why do these two things have to mutually exclusive? This is a straw man that gets thrown out there every time anyone points out that the church is in decline as measured by financial response and attendance. In point of fact, the world, as has been pointed already, is a considerably different place and culture than it was in His time. Now Christianity is a majority in many nations – at least on paper. Jesus was

        . . . “we should expect to be made uncomfortable and stretched in ways other than what we would expect. If not, then it would appear that God would be less than human, and I don’t think any of us would want to go there.”

        I do not disagree with this insofar as it goes. But there is a certain reasonableness in being able to rely on scripture and revelation already given. The theology in vogue at the moment seems to be one which cherrypicks not only the NT and D & C, but Jesus’ ministry as well. The latter was my point about the adulteress.

        Another version of the same theme is the common call to “accept people as they are.” I disagree. It should be a call to love people as they are and help them to rise above their circumstances through application of the gospel in their lives.

        “At this time we are challenged to listen and let God be known as the great I AM. Perhaps being faithful to that should not be confused with being successful in terms of limited human understandings.”

        Again, I do not disagree with the statement. Indeed I should think that is the constant challenge – not just one for this time. I am, however, sadly coming to the conclusion that too many leaders in this church, my church, are confusing current so-called progressive theories with the word of God. And the progressive theories are not succeeding anywhere in any forum.

  12. I think. especially after reading Blair’s comment, that the modern issue is not Jesus vs. the Law, but Jesus vs. the Church. The only way I see to reconcile the answer of proposed Section 164 to the answer given in Section 20 is indeed to treat the “rise of the church” as a temporary purpose of God like the temporary purpose of the law of Moses.

    Judaism and the Restoration had and RETAIN important purposes to which some of us will be called throughout mortal life, but they both (and a lot of other things) are part of a larger purpose. And where individuals belong in those larger purposes is a matter of individual conscience.

    • mg – First, of all, thank for commenting. I appreciate hearing you.

      Though I tend to agree with Blair, it also seems you’re concern is what you see as the “theology in vogue.” This is important to me. I see terrible misconceptions out there about theology, as well as what or whose theology guides the church. I could never agree with you or anyone that some cherrypick from the scriptures while others don’t. The fact is people read the bible differently. Until those of us in the debate are willing to take time to look at specific scriptures in a disciplined way and discuss what they mean in fellowship with those we disagree, I’m afraid yours is a Pharisee’s argument. The divine authority of scripture belongs to no one. Those who claim its sole and total authority over others neither take the scripture’s testimony of God seriously or Jesus’ call to repent. Nothing blinds like a lack of humility, and that applies to the most educated theologians as to the most certain born-again Christian.

      I think our positive testimony of Christ is important. I had a conversation with one of the Pastors at Mars Hill recently. To paraphrase, he said…”I’ve spent most of life learning what Christians are against. I’m ready to talk about what we’re for.”

      FT – as for your question about national church membership, I would yield to your numbers because I know you follow them closer than I. My comment that the U.S. church is no longer majority follows data that I received from Larry Tyree in 2000. I am unclear whether his data looked just at baptized members or methods for determining active membership. As I recall, his data showed that the majority of CofC members gathering for church on Sunday morning shifted in 1994, when more gathered outside U.S. and Canada than within.

      • Matt:

        A reference to Sunday morning attendence is quite believable, but then does Sunday morning attendence still track membership in a church that is following Jesus out into the community?

  13. “In point of fact, the world, as has been pointed already, is a considerably different place and culture than it was in His time.”

    I couldn’t agree more. And human beings are different today than they were when the New Testament was written, too. That is one reason why we need to be careful when using the Bible as an explicit guide for daily living.

    One example: an emphasis on personal salvation (which comes as a response to a guilt-ridden, introspective conscience) was handed down to us largely from the Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. Luther read Apostle Paul’s letters (particularly Romans) and found an answer to his own difficulties with a legalistic, works-oriented Roman Church that was abusively selling indulgences as penance for an individual’s sins. He assumed Paul had similar problems with a “legalistic, works-oriented” Judaism. Luther held up Paul as the model of Christian conversion, yet biblical scholars more recently have begun presenting a case that was not, in fact, what happened to Paul (or even that Judaism was quite so legalistic and works-oriented). Instead, Paul remained an observant Jew called by the risen Christ to a special mission in much the same way Old Testament prophets had been called to their missions. Paul’s mission was to be apostle to the Gentiles so that they, too, would realize they were part of the covenant blessings made originally with Abraham, whose “true heir” was Christ.

    Neither Paul nor Luther would recognize Christianity today and would be dazzled (or maybe baffled) by our complex, pluralistic, and multicultural world. Maybe God is calling Community of Christ to a new mission, which like Paul’s, will not necessarily mean giving up our past but challenge us to enlarge our vision. The recent counsel suggests to me that will involve how we understand the sacraments and human sexuality. That includes the realization that it’s only been within the last few decades that same-gender relationships can exist (legally and normatively) on the basis of equality and mutuality. President Veazey was right to identify Galatians 3:26-27 as embodying the principles necessary for the church to move ahead.

  14. “Until those of us in the debate are willing to take time to look at specific scriptures in a disciplined way and discuss what they mean in fellowship with those we disagree, I’m afraid yours is a Pharisee’s argument.”

    Not sure how that argument casts me as the Pharisee any more than anyone else, but I figured I’d be called the Pharisee soon enough and maybe I am. I am trying mightily not to be, but it is always going to be easy to target the ones who stand for a more traditional understanding as the Pharisees. Yet in some ways I think that many of those pressing for the more out-of-the mainstream stances are just as much prisoners of their way of thinking and approach as us Pharisees.

    Rich,

    I suspect your statement about our complex world is more accurate with Luther than with Paul. After all, his was a pretty pluralistic world in its own right. Dozens of little different ethnic groups getting all mixed up in the Roman Empire.

    I don’t know what is meant by “challenge us to enlarge our vision.” How does it get larger than preaching the Gospel to all? Lately our vision has seemed pretty narrow – peace and justice all the way baby! Nothing much about salvation. I think there’s room for both.

    • mg

      “Not sure how that argument casts me as the Pharisee any more than anyone else, but I figured I’d be called the Pharisee soon enough and maybe I am. I am trying mightily not to be, but it is always going to be easy to target the ones who stand for a more traditional understanding as the Pharisees. Yet in some ways I think that many of those pressing for the more out-of-the mainstream stances are just as much prisoners of their way of thinking and approach as us Pharisees.”

      This sound equivocal, mg. I’m not name calling. Can I respond, then share my testimony, again? I confess I’m a Pharisee (see above) b/c I engage in these debates. I’m not posturing. I’m vulnerably sharing my spiritual journey and walk with the Gospels – something I’m struggling to see you reciprocate.

      I’ll say it one last time. You seem more interested in critiquing the Church, “the liberal wing,” the “theology in vogue,” etc. Help me see what you are saying that is constructive.

      In the statement above, I am using Pharisee with specificity. The Pharisees, as you may know, were critical to reconstructing Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. With their spiritual, ethnic, and national center destroyed (i.e. Temple), Pharisees were integral in replacing the Law (i.e. scripture) at the center of Jewish identity and practice. Pharisees upheld that adhering to the written Law in one’s life and practice exemplified Jewish exceptionalism, their election with God, demonstrated salvation, and showed “the way.” You can take modern Christian conservatism and make an almost exact parallel. I’m not pointing fingers. It is a modern Pharisaism. Is this where you want to see the Church go? Your claims about scripture seem to push in this direction.

      My faith is guided by many things. One thing that is central to my faith is the Lord’s Prayer. After praising God, “Our Father…Hallowed…”, Jesus instructs us to pray this plea: “Thy Kingdom come….on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” To me, the RLDS call to Zion reflects precisely this Christian priority in Jesus’ prayer to us. The earthly Kingdom, for me, is not second to personal salvation or Christian moral conduct. It is first for Jesus, followed by the prayer for bread. I read much of Christ’s ministry, including the purpose of his death and resurrection, through this plea for God’s Kingdom to come. It was Jesus’ first plea in his prayer for us. I believe disciples who attempt to pray and follow this prayer, not construct some bullet-proof Christianity or adhere to legalistic or moralistic Biblical axioms, are going to fulfill Christ’s call to follow him. I’m not sure I’m good enough for that in my life. But, I want to be. That is salvation for me. It is not in some heaven far away, nor in saving my personal soul.

      If you read God’s revelation in Jesus Christ in light of the Old Testament, i.e. God’s calling forth of a nation of God’s own people, I think you’ll see how peace and justice fit the Gospel vision in Christ. Luke 4:18, as Blair has pointed out, is the rule by which I understand Christ’s ministry. I don’t see it exclusively through Luke 4:18, but it is important. It is the first thing Jesus does before he performs any miracle or ministry in Luke. Everything follows that. Are you saying none of this is biblical? Or right, enough? Is this just theological mumbo jumbo to you?

      If so, you win. I don’t know what to say.

      I’m not calling you a Pharisee to name call. Come join us – 😀 – and see how God’s word changes once you see you not just a sinner, but also a Pharisee. More than some theological exercise, this is my continuing spiritual journey. I’m a Mission Center President, for Lord’s sakes. I can’t NOT be a Pharisee, in the sense that I’m a “religious leader.” Moreover, I am as critical of the Church as anyone. (I’ve written about it in the Church’s theology series.) But, I have not left.

      There is so much more to being a Pharisee. If you accept yourself as a Pharisee, you might see as I have (or not) that Christ’s call to repentance is not a one time deal. It is an ongoing act that is necessary to function. I cannot renounce being a Pharisee. So, I have to repent for more than my sins. It was the Pharisee’s righteousness that blinded them to Jesus. They had the answers. Pharisees walk a fine line. They had the right vision – scriptures are key!! But, they are not the rule of salvation. Jesus is. Jesus took our faith beyond written scripture and righteousness of the Law (insert Paul, here.) For me, Christ cannot be just a new law. If Christ is alive, salvation has no formula. It’s a relationship with a living Logos of God. Scripture, then, comes next.

      I know very few that have had their heart changed through argument. Perhaps, this isn’t argument, so much as my testimony. I just hope that as you sort out your problems with the liberal wing, the political compromise you see in the Church, and the “theology in vogue” you are able to embrace the fact that you are joining a Pharisee’s argument.

      We all have our code of righteousness for ourselves and the Church. How much does yours mean to you?

    • The Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel has the risen Christ presenting the challenge to go and “make disciples of all nations.” While preaching the gospel is part of that, “discipling” is a far bigger task. Much the same can be said of the difference between “making church members” and “making disciples.”

      When our focus is primarily on personal salvation, the scenario tends to be limited to (1) preach repentance, (2) get an individual to accept Jesus in their heart, (3) baptize them, and (4) move on to the next individual and repeat. That, to me, is a good start but really just scratching the surface of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  15. Matt, between you (“I’m a Mission Center President, for Lord’s sakes. I can’t NOT be a Pharisee”) and me (a religious editor formerly employed by the church) I think we’ve got the “Scribes and Pharisees” territory pretty well covered. Yeah, we have met the enemy and….

  16. I have appreciated reading this discussion, as usual.

    I am in total agreement that the relationship to Jesus must come above all. I’m not so sure that there is quite the hierarchial distinction between bringing the Kingdom and personal salvation as the discussion implies. As the song in Godspell puts it, “When wilt thou save the people, Lord, not thrones and crowns, but men?” And I think God is optimizing the possibilities of life on BOTH the community and individual levels.

    But I think when we debate Jesus vs. the Pharisee’s in regard to who is worthy to be in the church to comply with the Law, we’re not appreciating that it isn’t the framework of the Old Testament OR the New Testament that defines the debate. It hasn’t since the marriage of church to Rome and the formation of Christendom. (I.e., Luthor wasn’t reemphasizing Jesus compassion against the Law, but against the corruption of the church, and he was supposedly hurt and appalled that the rebellion led to the incredible religious wars of the Reformation Period.)

    The church has supplanted the Torah (and other Scriptures) as the “other side” of the debate. Evangelicals argue about faithfulness to the Bible; but, in the Restoration, we argue about faithfulness to the calling to the institutional church as revealed in the nineteenth century.

    So I think both of you (Matt and Rich) are going to talk PAST Western conservatives as long as you continue to frame your arguments in terms of the larger-than-Restoration Christian tradition rather than answer the more fundamental question to those conservatives: what is the SPECIFIC mission of the Community of Christ.

    If it’s Zion, how does THIS institution play into God’s plan for Zion? It can’t be credible to them if it is the same answer as could be given by an Anglican or a Methodist, because they’ve bet their earthly lives already on a decision NOT to be Methodist or Anglican. To tell them that bet was mistaken (by, for example, questioning the answers in Section 20) gives them no way FORWARD, but merely furthers their sense of alienation. It tells them the church doesn’t need or value their gifts or sacrifices, and you’ve both seen how much that hurts.

  17. I would have to say Firetag has nailed in the last two paragraphs. Ex. I recently read comments by a church member who said he had been away from the church for a time, but had now returned. Wife is the branch pastor. He expressly stated he did not believe the B of M and added a number of other such statements. He went on to say our church was clearly moving in his direction on just about any issue and he could not understand why the conservatives would even want to stay. Hard to argue with that.

    As a “western conservative” member of this church, however, it saddens and, yes, angers me that he is right. The church is embracing those who reject many of the central tenets that caused it to come into existence in the first place. Just what is the point of non-merger between CoC and the Methodists, for example, if there are no doctrinal differences? If we only are paying lip service to the BofM and use the D & C only from Section 156 on and only then to turn 1 to 155 on their collective heads what indeed is the functional difference between these churches.

    Firetag is correct. We are alienated. It would seem we are not valued further than the extent of our tithing dollars. This is where I came in on this thread. Brother Steve, a fine man by all accounts, is trying to make everyone happy with a “revelation” (that I do not believe is divinely inspired) that gives a little bit to everyone. There is no longer any stomach for telling anyone they need to repent (and I am first in the need to repent line) unless they are smoking tobacco or driving an SUV. This is exactly why I said at the outset that this document strikes me as more of an attempt at political compromise than anything else.

    I am not a theologian and have never been to the seminary. I am, however, an educated man and well informed enough to know that there are plenty of seminaries turning out well trained churchmen and women who don’t buy the theories that are coming out of Don’s shop. I also have had the blessing in my experience and profession to see that good old fashioned conservative church work takes a back seat to no other thing or theory in making a positive difference in people’s lives. I come from one of the few congregations in Michigan that has actually increased in attendance and membership over the last decade while taking a conservative line in general, but also engaging in community outreach and services as well as ecumenical activities. And I (we) are the ones who are out of touch with reality. You bet we feel alienated.

    • Thank you Fire Tag for opening the door that allowed MG to express the pain and loss they are feeling.
      Thank you MG for being vulnerable in this format. The last two entries have reminded me of the value of relationships; to one another as well as the church.
      I sense mg’s story is like that of a couple who have married. Though still deeply in love one feels as though the other has drifted away, perhaps even been temped away. Don’t get too wrapped up in the metaphor as it’s sure to fall apart if we pick at it too deeply. But in some respects the one longs for the lover who once was, yet finds them slipping away as time goes on.

      Our Enduring Principles say we exist by having unity in our diversity. This is not new, it’s as old as the Apostle Paul. Paul counseled the church in I Corinthians and Romans, chapter 12 in both books, that the church only exists in its diversity; toes and eyes, skin and muscle. This church must belong to “conservative” as well as “liberal” saints. In addition this church belongs to an addicted friend of mine, while he may never be a regular part of congregational life and longs for a day when he can be saved from his prison, he still is a witness for the CofC and brings others into her membership. Perhaps our challenge is to learn to exist as the whole of the body with all our many parts, each given full permission to be who they are such that we don’t have to be “hurtful to some of God’s beloved children and creation.” (Unity in Diversity)

      I think President Veazey is being led on the path he is on not as a compromise, but as a way a being the diverse body we are. Let’s face it, all of this discussion is a distraction from being representative of the kingdom come near for both personal as well as communal salvation, but without the discussion there are dividing walls between us. On the other hand perhaps this discussion and learning to be reconciled to one another will be representative of the kingdom come near. I pray we are all up to it.

    • mg,

      Thanks for your last post. FT is a brilliant guy. I have respect him for that. While his point doesn’t summarize everything I’m trying to say, I’ve been thinking about what he’s said all afternoon. If his insight describes you, I understand this thread more. I appreciate the clarity, but I more deeply feel badly for continuing the alienation. It is both my sin, and the sin of our situation I cannot escape. Forgive me

      I’m only saying this now, but I think I know who you are. I wish we could talk more in person. I think you’d find me a better human being in person than you probably do mediated through a screen.

      Your comments have picked at some painful things for me. For some reason, I’ve grown up in a church where there seems a forced either/or choice between going to seminary OR being RLDS. Theological education must somehow mean you’re no longer RLDS or can be RLDS. I often don’t know what language I’m supposed to speak, either the RLDS language I grew up with or the ecumenical Christian theological language I’ve learned to know and love. I went to seminary to enhance my faith, not abandon it. My testimony is that God lead me to the people and institutions I’ve been to. Some people think that’s impossible. How do I make sense out of the God they believe and the one I testify led me on this spiritual path?

      I don’t know if I can answer FT’s challenge, here. But, I accept the challenge. His post caused me to think of something I’ve not begun to articulate. I do believe the Community of Christ, as a unique Christian tradition, has sacred testimony to share as well as a unique contribution to make to God’s unfolding Kingdom work. I hope this point in the direction of FT’s point, “what is the SPECIFIC mission of the Community of Christ.”

      I don’t think the answer is that we are better or spiritually superior to everyone else. That is something I reject. In fact, I think one of the reasons the church is in such spiritual turmoil today is because God will not abide with us in our self-righteousness. I think we’re amidst a correction, so to speak. In the last couple of years, I’ve felt led to the parallels between the transition the church is undergoing and what transpires between the Old and New Testament. I’ve come to see the Community of Christ as the New Testament of the RLDS Church. (I think FT’s point about Jesus vs. the Church today is so insightful.) In both, Jesus changes everything. He is the fulfillment of the Kingdom, the Messiah, that some accept and some reject. (Don’t read this as a slam against the Jews; it is much more complicated.) Perhaps, I can easily accept this perspective because, for whatever reason, I did not receive the One True Church indoctrination in my entire 18 years growing up at Union Ave Branch in Michigan. But, I did clearly get more about the Church and the Spirit than I did about Jesus. Jesus rounds out and embodies what I learned about Zion and the Holy Spirit from the RLDS Saints around me.

      Apostle Harmon said this to me recently in a conversation. I think it looks forward to the future possibilities of the church. To paraphrase, he said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if our radical belief in Jesus Christ, our testimony and response to his mission and revelation of God’s Kingdom was our distinctive?” I think these are apostolic words.

      I believe the Restoration Gospel is still living itself out in history, but in ways we could have never imagined. Kinda in the same way Jesus fulfills the Law in ways the Pharisees could not imagine. The Temple has been built. That means, Zion either is one its way or has come. However, it does not come in an apocalyptic end. Nor does it come to a select few RLDS’ers in Independence. Zion came to the church as its commission. It came to Independence through the hearts and minds of its leaders. Zion has come, and his name is Jesus’ community. He is not just a biblical figure, but an ongoing revelation of God’s work in the world through the church and its call to repentance and redemptive community. Zion lives in the lives and hearts of those who come together in humility and worship, as living sacrifices.

      I think, here, RLDS faith and radical Christianity come together.

      • Matt:

        I think that you are on to something with the notion of the changing church as the New Testament of the RLDS, but I would invite you to consider it in the context of the New Testament of the Restoration. There are many from outside our denomination who are also the “beloved children of the Restoration” to whom the closing portions of the Proposed Section 164 can truthfully be addressed by a loving God.

  18. FT,

    You said, above – “I’m not so sure that there is quite the hierarchical distinction between bringing the Kingdom and personal salvation as the discussion implies.”

    Abstractly or metaphysically, I could agree. It’s a both/and. But, in the world I believe exists out there, I can’t. Churches that preach individual salvation in a world in which 18,000 children die of hunger daily, Americans drown in their own debt and “stuff,” and 2/3 of the world live with severely limited access to basic health care, education, or good government, I can’t agree. I think our individual salvation is wrapped up on every others’. Jesus’ sacrifice shows that to me…and I’m not sure I can follow him. For that reason, sometimes I’m not comfortable saying, “Yea! I’m a Christian!”

    I’m concerned that individual salvation reduces Christian discipleship to self-centered concerns about salvation. If individual salvation was more than salvation formulas and concerned with Jesus’ ministry, God’s justice, God’s grace to those who suffer, and new life in new community with Christ, I’d feel differently.

    I can keep up the intellectual rhetoric. But, my real concern is the evil and self-righteousness I see perpetuated in the name of Christianity from Christians who think the bible message really is about personal salvation. My grandparents, who I loved dearly, brought me up in fear that I was going to hell because I was RLDS. They believed scripture (their interpretation of it) was inerrant, that God was both sovereign and impassible, and that I should be saved by renouncing my Restoration faith and asking Jesus into my heart. I was a young boy as they showed me the scriptures that condemned me to hell. (This is one way I relate with lesbians and gays who are constantly told the same thing.) That version of Christianity, to this day, makes me wonder if I want to be Christian.

    I still struggle to walk with Jesus in spite of Christianity. And, I continue to learn more about how much I need Christ because of it.

  19. Matt:

    At the risk of oversimplifying a continuum into a simple yes/no, anyone who is not passionately concerned about the material welfare of all humans has not yet met Jesus or let Him into his or her heart, and is not saved even by the Evangelical definition. So it seems to me that what you are objecting to is the FALSE salvation of guiltlessness. You’ve spoken elsewhere very elequently (and taught me a lot) about the necessity of understanding that we must accept our complicity in the ills of the world because there is always a price we will NOT pay to stop them.

    Yet, we all die one on one, and in that reality no one is more or less privileged than anyone else. For us to NOT speak to such concerns is also cruel and unChristian, IMO.

    In my personal theology, the material and the spiritual are inseperably connected — not metiphorically, but literally. Indeed I suspect that the spiritual and physical may be merely alternative descriptions of the same all-encompassing reality, simply seen from different perspectives.

  20. I believe that one should pick a denomination the way one picks a spouse.

    Spouses don’t, and shouldn’t always agree and always get along, however, they should have common goals, common basic understandings on important issues. At the same time, we shouldn’t believe our personal relationship, family, way of living, is the ideal. That other families live in our community and, while different and in some cases at odds, are of equal worth and value.

    Similarly, a denomination, while necessarily having conflict and struggles, should also support and encourage its membership, and have a common mission and basic beliefs. If it does not, for whatever reason, then the individual should find a new denomination rather than trying to squeeze into a bad fit – just as I believe one needs to get out of an abusive relationship, or one that does not nurture both participants.

    Personally, I have moved on (or am in the process of moving on) from the Community of Christ, as I see it as a denomination, becoming far more aligned with “western conservatives”. While I am ok with differences, the notions that God is “against” certain things and “for” certain things and we need to react to that by rejecting/excluding some and elevating others, is so contrary to my understanding of the Gospel message, that the relationship has become irreconcilable.

    What was difficult was achieving the recognition that Zion is not made up of one denomination, all believing alike, but of many people, in many denominations, following their own faith paths in peace.

    It has helped me, because I am less invested in what the “church” does. If the Community of Christ opens itself to LGBT and rejects the remnants of the “one-true-church” theology, then I will rejoice. If it does not, then it will still be a haven for those who share that theological structure, wrong as I believe it is.

    Fortunately, there are others with whom we may align ourselves that can feed us as we need to be fed. And that’s ok.

    • Beware…,
      While I understand the perspective that we can only put up with so much so long and that at some point we feel we just don’t have any other alternative than to move away, I am not sure it’s the right thing to do. I am not sure it’s the high road.
      From what I understand of the first century Jesus and Judaism at that time, his desire was not to start a new faith movement, for that matter neither was Luther during the Reformation. Rather I think it was to reform the old, to allow them to see that what they had turned into was not what was intended.
      It seems to me from what I understand you to say, and please correct me if I am not hearing you, is that it’s ok to walk away, to join up with something else, or perhaps even start something new.
      I think it is that response that now has Christianity being represented in some 30,000 plus denominations. From one perspective they could say that this represents all the various parts of the body that Paul talks about. From another perspective one could say that the body of the chruch is highly fractured. I could go along with the former if the 30,000 plus all played well together, supported one another and all that stuff that is necessary for the body to be well. But in my understanding that is not the case, rather the later, fractured scenario is the case.
      Each differing part of the body has taken its toys, gifts and whatever and said “Now we are the body, and the rest of you are someway in error of what it means to be the church.” We/they don’t call it “One True Church” anymore, but it sure does seem to play out that way in many instances, granted not all, but many.
      Because I see the family unit as a micro scale Zion, I think it is also the perspective that I understnad you to promote that allows so many covenant commitments to be broken, i.e. marriage. Rather than find unity in our diversity, which is more often than not tough work, we go somewhere else and try that out, if that doesn’t work we go somewhere else.
      I know in my own marriage there have been times when I have checked out emotionally and wondered what I am doing waking up next to this person day after day. When I reflected on that, I discovered it was my covenant with God that kept me there and then called me to check back in to this thing we call marriage. Many in the straight world don’t get this when it comes to LGBT relationships and just how important the public marriage covenant can be.
      Unity in diversity is not unity in that we all think the same or have something in common. Unity in diversity is that we value one another because of our differences not in spite of them. To me that is what it means to be the body of Christ.

    • BTC:

      Your choice is certainly understandable to me. I would disagree only with the phrase “becoming” more aligned with Western conservatives. To me it seems less aligned with Western conservatives than at any point in its history, though perhaps more conservative when Western and third world conservatives are added together.

      You’ve said things from time to time that suggest your early church experiences were outside America. Is that so? If so, you may be experiencing deep surprised at how conservative a country America actually is compared to Canada or Western Europe, for example.

      Good or bad, Americans are majority-conservative.

      • I don’t think your statistics about Americans being majority-coservative are reflective of recent polling FireTag – but I do acknowledge that, as a whole the US is far more conservative than pretty much any non-muslim country.

        I suppose it’s a matter of defining the label of Western conservatives, but I think that Western religious conservatives, with their notions of the afterlife, salvation, Christology, scripture, are far more aligned with the Community of Christ now, than when we were touting communal living, Book of Mormon, multi-tierd glories, etc.

        As our theology becomes more “mainstream” I believe that mainstream reflects more of the Western conservative theology.

      • BTC:

        Joanna Brooks (Mormon Girl) put up a post over at Mormon Matters a few days ago where she linked to the daily Gallup tracking poll summary for all of 2009 (published on January 10, 2010. The link is “http://www.gallup.com/poll/125021/mormons-conservative-major-religious-group.aspx” if you’d like to read the whole Gallup piece on the religious/political party/political philosophy of various religious classifications.

        It has some surprises about how the political spectrum breaks down by religions, but probably demonstrates much about why America is a center-right country.

        I took the data in the first Gallup table and computed a “net conservative %” score by ignoring the self-identified moderates among the 7 religious classifications listed by Gallup. The results:

        Mormons +41%
        Protestants +30%
        Catholics +20%
        Islam -7%
        Non-Abrahamic Faiths -19%
        Non-Religious -21%
        Jedaism -23%

        American Chrisitianity is mainstream America, and American Christianity self-identifies as much more conservative than liberal.

        Interestingly, American Jews are more liberal than any other faith groups, and Islam lies at the middle of the spectrum. Although Mormons are the most conservative major religion (i.e., large enough to show up even in the large Gallup aggregated data) they are more like the other Christians than the other Christians are like any non-Christian group.

  21. The only part you may have misunderstood is the notion that somehow I’ve taken the “high road”. I certainly don’t feel that way and I make no claim it is the “right thing to do” for everyone.

    I appreciate that unity in diversity is not that we all think the same. It is, as you say, valuing one another because of our difference, not in spite of them. I feel the Community of Christ is not a place where that occurs, at least not at the policy level where it counts. This is one of the basic tenants, for me, that drives me to seek out a faith community that does value diversity for diversity’s sake.

  22. But isn’t “not playing well with others” exactly what WE do when we presume that unity in diversity is to center around the 1/10,000th of Christianity that is comprised by our denomination?

    And does God think that Christianity is the only important part of His community, when Christianity might be less than 1/3 of the planetary population (with a generous definition of being involved in Christianity)?

    If we think God’s work centers in us, we ought to be able to give reasons. What does this denomination offer the planetary civilization that will become Zion? After all, we were formed from people who LEFT other denominations in the first place. Those denominations could (and probably DID) also argue that people should stay in the denominations despite their differences.

    We need to constantly check ourselves to be sure we are focused on Christ, not denomination, in order to build the Kingdom.

  23. “The US church now has less than 110-120 thousand known baptized members,”

    The last number I saw was 39,000 in North America. But as mother Teresa often said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

  24. We are a small congregation of 32 here at Crossroads Community of Christ. However, don’t get the idea that we don’t do mission. We do…in a big way for our size.! Most of the time we have from 6 to 16 in attendance but several years ago we decided we would do mission anyhow. We are limited by being located in the country between two communities but we do everything we can anyhow.

    We do the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Boxes project every year and pack a couple of dozen or more shoe boxes of holiday gifts to be sent overseas to poor countries. We have done this for five years.

    We also contribute $100 a month to the FAST program in Independence, Kansas and $100. a month to the Genesis program in Coffeyville, Kansas. These two programs help with rent, utilities and food for families in need. We have done this for five years. The past two years we have also contributed $100. a month to help pay for medications for people who come to the Montgomery County Medical Clinic, a clinic providing low cost health care for people without insurance in both Coffeyville and Independence, Kansas.

    Through Outreach International, we help support a school in the Dominican Republic. We have done this for twelve years though for the first ten years it was a Jamaican school.

    We buy school supplies for the Caney, Kansas, elementary school every fall. We have done this for six years.

    We keep a food basket in our foyer for needy families who need food.

    One couple are active in the PINCH (People For Institutional and Community Harmony) organization, an organization that promotes racial justice and harmony in the community.

    Our people participate in all sorts of community projects. One woman heads up a Relay for Life in Independence, Kansas, and serves on the board for the American Cancer Society. one serves on the board of the Montgomery County Medical Clinic. We have a couple who have been involved in the two community’s ministerial alliances for thirteen years. One of our members has served as president of the Independence, Kansas Ministerial Alliance and another has served as president of the Chanute, Kansas Ministerial Alliance. One member is the secretary-treasurer of the Coffeyville Ministerial Alliance.

    The Independence Alliance and the Coffeyville Alliance cooperated during the massive 2007 flood in southeast Kansas and worked to bring together the communities to help those who lost everything in that flood. They worked to set up a store where people could get household goods and clothing to replace those they lost. Two members worked on committees as chaplains on that occasion. One couple serves on the board of directors for the senior center in Neodesha, Kansas and this same couple organized a parade and community dinner for that community for Veterans Day last year.

    One woman is a Hospice Volunteer.

    Our philosophy is that we may be small but we still want to make an impact on our communities. I believe we worry too much about things we cannot change and don’t worry enough about the ones we can.

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