What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective?

Update (11/19/10):  I am grateful for a note from a friend who reminded me of the problems of the term “North American.”  North America refers to not only the U.S., but also Canada, Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean.  By using this term in my blog post, I risk a long-standing imperial practice of defining “North America” under largely U.S. history and experience.  I appreciate this sensitivity to language.  Community of Christ/RLDS practice is certainly not innocent of this tendency.  To clarify, when I use the term “North American church” I am inclusively referring to the U.S. and Canada, those areas of the church in which I have my religious experience and heritage.

I’ve given this question attention since as early as I can remember, or at least since I started learning and doing theology.  It seems to me that Community of Christ, when considered from the vantage point of our RLDS memories and experiences, faces decisive identity questions as it moves into the future.  These are inescapable theological problems that are deeply related to our past.

On one hand, identity issues emerge because the Community of Christ has become an international church with a diverse membership across many cultures.  Many North American church members have no direct access to the true diversity of worship practices and beliefs that make up the Community of Christ today.  Instead, we in North America are more deeply rooted in our RLDS upbringing.  This RLDS upbringing shapes our sense of solidarity with one another, holds memories of defending or explaining ourselves to others…but without ever the satisfaction of that deep connection within the church.  This experience structures our deep sense of intimate community.

On the other hand, I also believe the North American church struggles with theological issues and dissension regarding basic issues of Community of Christ identity, message, and beliefs because too few of us truly grasp how the internal logic of RLDS identity has reached its logical limits.  The identity structure that held the RLDS message, identity, and experience together for much of the 20th century came to a kind of impasse.   To blame changes in RLDSism on apostate church leaders or ecumenical conversations that lured the church down the path of destructive liberalism to generic Christianity, as some conservatives and Restorationists believe, is intellectually short-sighted and reactionary.  Scapegoating does not stand up to a more faithful exploration and there are better explanations.

The Community of Christ does not emerge as a global Christian church because church leaders didn’t do enough to protect RLDS dogma and tradition.   In fact, the RLDS dogma and tradition that many cling to today belongs to the early and mid-20th century, while emerging Community of Christ identity flows from deeper currents in our North American Restoration heritage.  The post-RLDS nature or feel of Community of Christ identity comes from the internal structure of RLDS identity, which over the last 100 years has reached interminable and decisive contradictions.  The Community of Christ has responded not by diluting, but prophetically embracing the positive (verses negative) aspects of RLDS identity and heritage.  We still need to hone and clarify these positive aspects of our Restoration heritage today.

Identifying the decisive identity issues in the North American Community of Christ today is, itself, a difficult task.  But, I think its essential if the North American church is going to understand and fully embrace the transformation of the RLDS to global Community of Christ identity.  By limiting the scope of our perspective to a North American perspective, it helps provide some focus on the problems we face finding unity (let alone consensus) around theological and ethical issues that involve basic identity questions.  Some of the identity issues we struggle with emerge directly from within our North American post-RLDS context.

Taking a look at the church’s current identity issues, there are some things that become apparent.  First, the Community of Christ emerges out of its roots in early American Christianity.  Still claiming our Restoration heritage, the Community of Christ has distinct roots in American Christianity.  The same early American mythos and post-Enlightenment ideas that shaped America’s sense of promise, exceptionalism, and manifest destiny also shapes Community of Christ faith and history.  Liberal democratic principles, economic freedom, communitarianism, and our expectation that God’s promises and authority remain in human reach all shape RLDSism and the post-RLDS Community of Christ identity.  These are the legacy of our 19th century Restorationism.   Simply, the American belief in a promised land predestined for liberty and expansion only needs to be radicalized a bit to become the Restoration belief that the restoration of God’s authority, people, and promised is at hand for Christian Americans.  The RLDS focus on a Kingdom-building faith, reshaped today by critical theology and lessons from the past, remains deeply ingrained in this history.  Christ’s Kingdom as the cause of Zion remains a key witness of Community of Christ message and identity.  But, this vision is tempered by the church’s also classically held liberal beliefs: the worth of persons, personal faith formation, and non-credal tradition.  These things come together to create some of the basic challenges and tensions of Community of Christ identity today.

The second thing that becomes apparent is that RLDSism is defined by its inability to transcend its particular position within Mormon history.  I’m convinced that the reason the RLDS church is undergoing its transformation toward a new identity as Community of Christ is because RLDSism’s position between Utah Mormonism, on one hand, and American Protestantism, on the other, has reached its limits.  The liberalism that clearly sets the RLDS church apart from its Mormon cousins pushes RLDSism away from its historical sectarianism.  For the RLDS, this liberalism is expressed and felt in the RLDS emphasis on individual spirituality and internal dissent from spiritual authority, which makes the RLDS more Protestant than Mormon.    This is what has made critical scholarship (theological and historical), theological evolution, critique of authoritarian leadership, and critique of the authority of tradition possible.   Those who who reject this liberalism adhere to RLDSism’s sectarian strands, which continues to unfold in conservative RLDSism.  In the Community of Christ, however, the historical tendency toward sectarian belief and identity (i.e. the righteous remnant) is overcome by the universalizing logic embedded deep within liberal Christianity, as well as in biblical Christianity through Paul.   The theological significance of this inclusive and universal vision for Christ and Christ’s Kingdom has moved late RLDSism, its sense of community, and mission toward a more universal and inclusive center of identity.  Against the negativity of a RLDS sectarian identity structure, the Community of Christ finds its mission, message, and future in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In this way, the church is becoming “more Protestant,” but only because the roots of the Restoration movement are in the universalizing vision of biblical theology and American Christianity, which shares in the universal spirit of modern Protestantism.  In this sense, the Community of Christ is not a break with RLDSism, only RLDS sectarianism and its negatively-structured identity.  It is, in fact, historically the fulfillment (cf. D&C 164:9a) of its essentially Christian Restoration vision and heritage in American Christianity.

However, the universalism of the Community of Christ’s essential Christ-centered Restoration identity bumps up against these limits when Community of Christ leaders and members, remembering their RLDS heritage, ask themselves, “What is particular about the Community of Christ?”, or ” What sets the Community of Christ apart from American Protestantism?  What about our distinctives?”  Another way to ask these questions is, “What endures of RLDSism amidst Community of Christ’s relationship to American Protestantism?”   The problem with these questions is they are reminiscent of RLDS identity in its essentially negative structure, which fueled its sectarianism and structured itself negatively between Mormonism and American Protestantism.  So, the question is better stated, “What endures of RLDS tradition, theology, and identity in the Community of Christ?  What endures positively?  In light of our roots in American Restorationism (Mormons, Disciples of Christ, congregationalism, etc.), what remains of our RLDS heritage and testimony in the Community of Christ – if RLDSism is essentially neither wholly Mormon nor Protestant.  This is what is being asked when North American church members ask, “What is distinctive about the Community of Christ?”

Here we reach the current impasse.  The problem with RLDS identity is that it has historically always been negatively defined between Mormonism and American Protestantism.   Furthermore, I believe this negativity – especially for the early and middle 20th century of the RLDS church – has been the most important and influential aspect of RLDS identity.  Identifying our distinctive place is what has kept the church alive in the 20th century as it vied for denominational legitimacy amidst American Christianity.  The negativity of RLDS identity has been reinforced by both Mormon’s and Protestants.  Historically, both have rejected core RLDS positions with regard to fundamental identifiers of Mormonism and American Christianity:  what defines scripture,  what and who defines religious authority, who are God’s elect, and perspectives on salvation and salvation history.  It is our deep emotional attachment to this negative identity and its sectarian-esque feel that leads some to schism and others to question our basic identity.

There were clearly divisive controversies with regard to each of these defining aspects of RLDS theology and identity in the decision to accept women in the priesthood in 1984.   In 1984, the issue of scriptural authority and forms of church  religious authority split the church, which separated along more sectarian and liberal lines.  More conservative RLDSers rejected the leadership of both the 1984 Conference (the church’s liberal-democratic side) and the defining leaders of the church (the church’s theocratic side) in order to preserve the traditional forms of RLDS sectarian authority:  the belief in the one true church, in the sole election of the RLDS church as righteous remnant of God’s Restoration, belief in salvation through the church and an RLDS Zion.   This dissension, tragically, culminated in the divisive question of the church’s ultimate form of spiritual authority, women or men.   More sectarian RLDSers separated from the more liberal RLDS who accepted the change in form of authority, the shifts toward ecumenism in the church, and the move toward a more inclusive sense of religious identity and salvation history.

Here, I think, we see the negative structure of RLDS identity in the relationship between the more conservative, theocratic, and sectarian tendencies of RLDSism (that resembles Mormonism) in contrast with the more liberal, democratic, and ecumenically Protestant tendencies of RLDSism which, against Mormonism, resembles American Christianity.  Against those who would claim otherwise, I’m arguing both are essential aspects of RLDS identity.

After the split of the conservative Restorationists from the more liberal-democratic RLDS, I think the negative identity structure of RLDSism has reached its culmination and its limits.    Positively, instead of refocusing the future of the RLDS church on redefining RLDS identity negatively against the schismatic Restorationists, against the Mormons, and against Protestant Christianity, the emerging post-RLDS church prophetically moves toward a positive identity.  It is symbolized powerful in the name change to Community of Christ.   Emerging out of its essentially negative position against Mormons, congregationalists, and Protestantism, the Community of Christ is now a global church that seeks a positive relationship (not merger) with American Protestantism equipped with a positive identity that is Christ-centered, community focused, and aspiring for peace and justice missionally.  (This is how the powerful counter-narrative of the Temple unfolds against the schismatic tendencies of RLDS sectarianism in light of D&C 156.)

The problem that haunts the Community of Christ internally, however, is the ghost of its negative identity.   Historically, the negative relationship of RLDSism to both Mormonism and American Protestantism is what structured RLDS sectarianism with a cherished sense of community and essentially negative identity.  The Community of Christ’s sense of community cannot be separated from its lived historical experience as a marginalized movement negatively positioned in obscurity between Mormonism and American Protestant Christianity.  The challenge, therefore, is to shape the negative aspect of this marginalized experience of community in a positive identity position.  I believe, consciously or not, this process has already been taking place in the church for a few decades.   As we face the future, however, I want to suggest a few places where, I hope, the positivity of RLDS identity can emerge with both historical and theological integrity.

1.  Community of Christ proclaims Jesus Christ and community as it is lived, experienced, and understood among those who are marginalized.   Moreover, the agents of Christ’s salvation community are common folk, ordinary sojourners in search of salvation with one another in their walk with Christ. The RLDS church emerged out of the American wilderness among many poor and dispossessed.  Its early communitarian experiments emerged out of concern for the poor.  The spiritual experiences of Joseph Smith, Jr and the early church testify of the Holy Spirit’s activity and testimony of Jesus Christ amidst such communities.  The Community of Christ has its roots among farmers, frontiersmen and women, and immigrants who saw God’s community brought forth by and for common women and men.

2.  Community of Christ is not a church unto itself.  Community of Christ identity does not stand alone, but is always expressed positively in relation to other Christian denominations and movements.  It would be an error for the Community of Christ to revision or reimagine its identity in a sectarian manor, negatively defined and independent of American Protestantism or global Christianity.  In truth, RLDS identity has always been defined in relationship to other Christian denominations and movements, especially when defined negatively.  The RLDS legacy has been its search, from generation to generation, for a positive expression of God’s Christianity between Mormonism and American Protestant Christianity.  What is emergent and unique in Community of Christ identity today is that this identity is now positively positioned in relation to other forms of Christianity.  Identity in Christ is understood in a Pauline way, in relationship to Christ’s body as it is understood internationally and denominationally, to break down barriers of the flesh that separate God’s people into righteous and unrighteous, saint and sinner, oppressor and oppressed.  In this way, Community of Christ seeks to understand itself globally as both a Christ-centered people amidst other Christians, but also unique in its history and testimony of community.

3.  Community of Christ understands salvation in light of God’s Restoration.  The cause of Zion – temporally and spiritually – is the call to discipleship in light of God’s Kingdom among us, both heavenly and earthly. RLDSism’s emphasis on the cause of Zion and its experience of community shapes both its understanding of scripture and salvation history.   Scripture is more than revelation.  It is community forming.  The millennialism and Christian primitivism that shapes Community of Christ heritage among America’s early 19th century great awakening focuses Community of Christ understanding of church and faith on living the reign of God.  This reign is wherever Christian discipleship and faith in the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is made real in the relationships of sacred community.  In this sense, the Community of Christ shares a realized eschatology, which is the experience of Zion that is available to human experience when faith and mission in both church and world.  The mission of the church to proclaim Jesus Christ and establish the cause of Zion flow from this understanding of Gospel-Acts.  That is the active presence of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Christ’s church, its sacraments, and priesthood.

There is certainly much more that should be addressed, here.  There are many questions about RLDS particularity (or distinctives) that could and should be explored.  What is important, however, is to first sketch out what  are the foremost aspects of emerging Community of Christ identity as they emerge out of North American RLDSism.  It is my contention that it is not only possible, but its necessary for RLDSism to be fulfilled in order to realize the coming of the Community of Christ.  The Temple, I believe, marks that transformation.  RLDSism is attempting to move beyond its 175 year legacy of negative identity between Mormonism and American Protestant Christianity to a positive identity among the world’s 2000 year old Christianities.  In this global community, the Community of Christ reflects a unique and prophetic sense of American Christianity.   In terms of Community of Christ identity, theology, and mission, I believe what I have identified here flows from the Spirit and prophetic message of our most recent sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, 161-164.  Certainly, by the grace of God, each generation is “poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church.”  (D&C Section 164:9a)  This sense of expectation and spiritual anticipation, matched with uncommon devotion, is the character of Restoration Christianity today.

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57 responses to “What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective?

  1. Pingback: What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective? « Saints Herald

  2. There are some great insights here, Matt. I believe you have laid a cornerstone in the foundation of the new direction for the Community of Christ. Now we need some bricklayers!

  3. The promise and future of the Community of Christ lies not in our history but in our willingness to look beyond the box and development of a passion to live outside of who we were or are and seeing God’s work within the very issues that confound and challenge us. Well put Matt. I enjoy reading your blogs for they make me uncomfortable with my comfort and reminds me to beware of satisfaction.

  4. I agree with Michael ~ great insight, much to disgest. Let’s get busy and reach out to our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. May we learn to truely share the hope, joy, love and peace of Christ.

  5. Matt, great article. I’ll have to read it a few more times to digest all of it. It is about time we stand alongside our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. We are more alike than different. Even the church of the 1830’s wasn’t all that different from what was happening in American Christianity at that time. There are also other church’s who have a similar sense of community that we do – Salvation Army for instance. Imagine what could happen if our sense of community was expanded to encompass all those who follow Christ regardless of denomination!?

    I also wonder if part of the source of discomfort within the North American Community of Christ is the same as that of the western Church as a whole – the shift of the center of Christianity away from Europe and North America to the south, namely Latin America and Africa.

    • Tom,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my posting. I agree with your last paragraph. This “internationalization” of our common faith, especially in light of our comfort with its U.S. RLDS version, is a challenge. In the end, xenophobia accompanies all things unfamiliar.

      I hope our sense of community follows this inclusive sense of universalism and grows. There is more that could be said, here. Suffice it to say that I believe it is one of the most prophetic witnesses of the church to date if we continue in that direction.

  6. Phew, that’s a mouthfull Matt.
    read it again your self and edit the sentences which have mistakes which make it un clear what you are saying please.
    It is an interesting journey for me, an exat of RLDS/C.O.C. “nation”.
    I, was not only unable to live with the conservatives and scriptural literalists, icouldnt even stay with the Libs and felt the need to move on theologically and enjoy the freedom to explore notions of ultimate reality with out the strictures of a closed theology and a scriptural authority that would have kept me in a box into which my intellectual honesty and integrity would not allow me to remain.
    this journey required me to suffer the pain of letting go of the loved community/extended family I had grown up in. Sorrowful as that was I do not regret my path while yet lamenting the loss of that community.

    It is a new experience after many yrs apart from my “home town” community to re-engage again somewhat on FB. It is good to see in your writing an update on the journey of the community since I left.

    Thankyou for that.
    I think a question of authority is central to all these issues of identity. I left on my own authority. I no longer opperate in this world under the auspices of a credo or a set of scriptures or a “spiritual constitution” of sorts. In the end I believe that while most religious folks opperate under the authoratative sanction of a set of scriptures (spiritual constitution) none-the-less they/we all ooperate under our own authority. We each chose the Torah or the Bagavad Gita or the Bible and or the B.O.M. /D&C…or in my own case none of the above/all of the above. The difference is the degree to which we are able to acknowledge this fact(to me) that we all are our own authority. It is a scarry place. When we realize this we must take responsibility upon our own shoulders which we before were able to put on this or that scripture or tradition ot minister or my father or mother whi taugt me.
    the conservatives of whom you speak are much afaid to make the moves that the libs are willing to make. When we are able to stop relying on the books we are able to strike out on our own ie: prophetically.
    In this moment ubity becomes a problem but then again even with the sources of authority unity is still the main problem underlying your whole communication.

    I just migt come to the next world conference to re-experience this community which incubated my developmental journey so long ago.
    Thanks Matt.

    • Hey Mark,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Of course, I don’t know the details. But, your course could have easily been mine. My mom took a similar trajectory. She is her own authority, not in the selfish sense but as you mean it. In my post, this trajectory, too, is an outgrowth of the liberal Protestant Spirit in RLDSism and American Christianity. In that sense, by taking responsibility as you did for your own spirituality, you’ve always been on an RLDS journey.

      I could say more and want to hear more. Someday, perhaps, over coffee. I did go back and re-read the post again. I have some very long sentences and edited a few. The terms I use and points I make don’t lend themselves to shorter ones. There is always room for improvement, however. So, thanks for the feedback.

      Peace & Hope,
      Matt

  7. Brother, thank you for investing yourself into creating this dialog. I find my head nodding in agreement with the direction you are taking, even as I also find myself asking a couple of questions:

    – do you and I qualify as “common folk”? Are we the marginalized, poor and oppressed? If not, how do we fit into this movement?

    – in fact, one of the issues to many in the church is the belief that it has been taken over by an elite group of leaders who are out of touch with the “common folk”. Do you see a disconnect here?

    – clearly, the RLDS church has added to the practice of American Christianity as early influencers in areas such as Sunday School, tithing and stewardship, even the use of oil for prayer. Is part of our call is to be salt of the earth, are these elements partial fulfillment of that call?

    – finally, I hear nothing in here about the idea of continuing revelation. If there is one thing that seems to clearly separate us from our Christian fellowship, it is the idea that God continues to reveal Godself to his creation corporately, not just individually.

    Great insight, Matt.

    • Doug,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. Your questions are awesome and touch on deep issues. Can I respond to them here briefly for some clarification of what I mean, knowing much more needs to be said? I know, too, some of your points require more pondering than answers from me.

      – do you and I qualify as “common folk”? Are we the marginalized, poor and oppressed? If not, how do we fit into this movement?

      When I say common folk, I mean that the church historically upholds laity against an idea that only clergy hold spiritual authority. I also think this idea is based on the conviction that ordinary people, “citizens,” can transform the world.

      We are not the marginalized and poor or oppressed from almost any objective measure. But, the salvation of the church is that we, too, are “elect.” We fit into this movement because I am using marginalization in a broad sense. Oppression is one form of marginalization. Poverty is another. The RLDS historically don’t have that sense of marginalization as a whole, except perhaps for the largely poor who made up its beginnings. We fit into the church because all are called. And, while we cannot escape our history or privilege, we can cast our lots as much as possible with those who do not share our privilege. I think the counsel of D&C 163:4a is divine, here: “…For in their welfare resides your welfare.”

      – in fact, one of the issues to many in the church is the belief that it has been taken over by an elite group of leaders who are out of touch with the “common folk”. Do you see a disconnect here?

      I think this observation is fair, but one-sided. I do see the disconnect, but I think elitism is the wrong diagnosis and actually hinders a better understanding of the problem. Same is true when elitism is cried in American politics. But…the church.

      This complaint has few alternatives. Should we go the path of the Restorationists? Eliminating elites would probably mean further decentralizing the church. In that case, you’d still need a group of elites who’s training and experience qualified them to work across diverse groups and facilitate unity across its local divisions.

      I think part of the problem with “elitism” is that people feel barred from positions of influence. At the same time, these same people would argue that positions of influence should have some qualifications. I think we should start the discussion there. Then, we can come up with a worthy critique of our current modus operandi.

      – clearly, the RLDS church has added to the practice of American Christianity as early influencers in areas such as Sunday School, tithing and stewardship, even the use of oil for prayer. Is part of our call is to be salt of the earth, are these elements partial fulfillment of that call?

      Yes! The diversity of ritual, practice, and theology are a part of the richness of Christianity, American and otherwise. In American Christianity, both Mormonism and RLDSism enhance the sacramentality of American Christianity in my view.

      – finally, I hear nothing in here about the idea of continuing revelation. If there is one thing that seems to clearly separate us from our Christian fellowship, it is the idea that God continues to reveal Godself to his creation corporately, not just individually.

      Great observation. In a sense, my post attempts to show the logic of continuing revelation in the church. Revelation is almost always historically grounded. Jesus didn’t drop from the sky, but was born a Jew and cannot be understood outside of that. The Community of Christ is the same way.

      On the other hand, our witness about continuing revelation is uniquely expressed – at the level of tradition. What is important to remember is that other churches have a deep and rich understanding of how God continues to reveal Her/Himself through scripture, creation, and plenary revelation. The corporate aspect of that, however, is what makes (I think) tradition and community so important. Our church, I believe, has swung far to the side of individuality (a curse of liberalism) that rediscovering the power of tradition and revelation needs to be explored again.

      Doug…when do you want to meet in Brenton Harbor for coffee? 🙂

  8. I found much in your post to ponder, Matt. Joseph Smith, Jr.’s sectarian (LDS) approach created great division between the church and people in surrounding communities, who felt threatened, particularly by the church’s political activism. Joseph Smith III’s (RLDS) approach was entirely different. As we know, the center for the church was for a time in Plano, IL, and we are told that Joseph Smith III was respected and loved by the community for his peaceful and inclusive manner of dealing with those already established there. Hopefully, and thankfully, Community of Christ is now shedding the last vestiges of LDS sectarianism, and embracing the best of RLDSism, which was always centered in unity with the community in which it finds itself.

    Additionally, as you pointed out, the church has been traditionally centered in small rural communities. Now that we have a more inclusive, global message to offer, we are entering larger urban areas with the unique insights that have emerged from our mixed tradition (LDS/RLDS). In this time of transition, we may need to rethink where we are focusing outreach efforts. It is telling that in the Chicago Mission Center, many church buildings are located in smaller rural areas, while the downtown Chicago congregation is “homeless.” Where is God asking us to go?

    • Carol, there are some caveats to your assertion that the CofC is giving up LDS sectarianism for the best of RLDSism.

      The leadership of the Community of Christ, by rejecting the finality of the scripture, is gradually pushing its own revelations and oracular pronouncements as the guide to the church. This is what happened with the LDS church in Utah, where the “Living Oracles” pronounced Genesis to be “baby stories” made up to avoid telling the real truth about how man came to be and what the male/female relationship was all about. As such, the CofC has pushed off into the same sex as the LDS church. Using the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as the figurehead on the ship doesn’t change the nautical location of the vessel.

      The matter of female ordination was handled in the same authoritarian, heavy-handed methods used by the LDS General Authorities in enforcing African ordination. It is almost as if the First Presidency borrowed the LDS playbook.

      What I’m trying to say is that the Community of Christ is not becoming “more Protestant,” but “more LDS” in its centralization of tyrannical authority in the whims and personal agendas of the high ranking leaders. And its natural allies are the postChristian denominations of Protesantism who are wandering away from the faith once delivered to the Saints in search of a Brave New World. There is no absolute truth; there is only what the Living Oracles are teaching this week.

  9. Thanks, Matt, for raising some very challenging issues.

    I recall the standing joke back in the day that the real name of the church was “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but We’re Not the Mormons!” There is a temptation now in a similar way to refer to ourselves as “Community of Christ but We’re Still Not Protestants!” This gets at the negative imagery you wrote about.

    A key consideration is that we have been, we are, and quite possibly we always will be a people “in between” two realities. Our Latter Day Saint roots form us as a community, but we are considerably more individually focused than our LDS “cousins.” We are drawn to Mainline Protestantism, which exhibits strong “individual salvation” themes, but we continue to understand the concept of salvation as more than an interior, personal, private, and individualized “decision.”

    One important area is how we view scriptural authority, and I’ll use Apostle Paul as an example. For a big chunk of Christianity the Bible is the ultimate authority, and everything in it is to be accepted as authoritative. Paul’s writings present a particular challenge: practically all scholars/students of the Bible accept seven letters as authentically written by Paul (Rom., 1 and 2 Cor., Gal., Phil., 1 Thess., and Philemon). Two more (Col. and Eph.) are subject to vigorous debate, and the remaining four (2 Thess., Titus, and 1 and 2 Tim.) are widely thought to have been written later on by associates. One difficulty in breaking it down this way is that (1) some Christians believe Paul wrote some of these letters but not all of them while other Christians contend they’re all his work; (2) Paul and/or other letter writers did not write them to be canonized scripture but as individualized counsel for specific situations in the late 1st century and possibly early 2nd; (3) Paul’s name is on all thirteen; and (4) they are all accepted as part of the New Testament canon, as holy writ–the “word of God,” if you will. There’s some slippery slopes in all of this for folks attempting to pick and choose. Do we get to pick and choose, and even if we do then by what criteria?

    Various Christian traditions attempt to balance scripture, church tradition and teaching, and experience, but however they do that scripture is almost always given prominence. And so along comes the Latter Day Saint movement with a concept of continuing revelation which says, essentially, “It’s OK to add to scripture.” It’s worth noting that in the decision of the National Council of Churches USA to unanimously admit Community of Christ to its membership, CofC leaders carefully pointed out that the Book of Mormon is not actually on the same level as the Bible (a statement that no doubt will come as quite a surprise to some current CofC members).

    In other words, we appear to be willing to compromise (maybe “fudge” is a better word here) to achieve acceptance from other faith communities but we’ll hang on to the BofM (and the D. and C.) as a way to deal with the huge issue of scriptural authority: “Yes the Bible is central, but there’s more to scripture than just the Bible.” Let’s face it, we’re a “pick and choose” kind of people.

    Frankly, I’m a bit surprised the NCC let CofC leaders get away with that, and I fully expect there to be blow-back from our own membership. Here’s my question: Are we “happy” to be an in-between people, or do we feel caught between a rock and a hard place?

    • Personally, since I have a very different theology, I prefer to be an in-between person.

      I cannot accept the We Share document since it insists that we believe in a trinity..something that was written some centuries after Jesus died. It also accepts the divinity of Jesus, something I believe was taught by an uneducated people to try to explain why their master died and to try to help his memory compete with Caesar, who made the same claims and held the same titles.

      To my understanding, Jesus taught a very different theology. He accepted all classes of people and taught them to do the same. He taught God’s Kingdom as apposed to Caesar’s Kingdom…which got him crucified.

      That’s what we should be doing. We should spend the bulk of our money helping marginalized people develop a way of supporting themselves and their families instead of paying headquarters salaries and developing more church structure. Since we stopped developing our own curriculum, we should not need a huge staff.

      We are attempting to mimic protestant churches with Sunday school classes, which few attend, instead of developing small study groups where each can express his/her opinions.

      I consider the Book of Mormon to be a 19th century document.

      I especially object to our developing creeds of our own which we expect our people to embrace.

    • Rich,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. I like you’re question: “Are we “happy” to be an in-between people, or do we feel caught between a rock and a hard place?”

      I’m trying to answer that question. Foremost, I don’t believe we should be happy between Mormonism and American Protestantism if we simply negatively define ourselves in between the two. If we don’t know what we contribution to each, and the contribution we offer is not an essentially positive testimony of Christ’s call to uncommon community and uncommon discipleship, then we offer little, I think.

      I believe flashing our modern-day canonization process and BofM is not enough with regards to Protestantism. This is essentially a difference in religious artifacts and tradition, an excuse to see ourselves as religiously superior in some way. It’s not an incarnational witness. It doesn’t say to American Protestantism why “the fullness of the Gospel” matter. Our version of the “fullness of the Gospel” has been little more than a self-righteous claim to have “more truth” than our fellow Christians. They mean little, I think if they don’t positively form and shape the way we live.

      The question on homosexuality is case in point. If we simply wish to rebel against Section 164, against leadership’s call to discern God’s will together, and break from the church to go our own way – we are simply acting like American Protestants. What real difference do our canonization process and BofM make if we simply split, again, in liberal/conservative fashion? Such liberal/conservative tensions are the reflection of liberal Protestantism. Our church’s difference, then, is just a difference in religious artifacts and tradition. We still act the same as every other individually-minded American Christian in its conservative and liberal stripes.

      In regards to Mormonism, our claim to the true Mormon history also does not say enough (if it is important, anymore). Our position on critical thinking and dissent, our respect for the individual journey, and rebellion of religious authority is positive with regard to Mormonism. But, again, if it doesn’t demonstrate why it matters in shaping a new community and world- mission, it isn’t that important. Protestantism already offers that to Mormonism. For our liberal Mormonism to matter, it has to display a positive relationship to the world and positive witness to prophetic community. We cannot simply relate to the world in a Mormon way, i.e. throu evangelistic mission to join the true religion of “true” Mormonism. Our witness to the Mormons must be some sort of positive relationship to denominationalism.

      So, to thrive in this in-between space, we must prophetically confront the rock and hard place. That is, on the one hand, its easier to retrench into the sectarian side of our Mormon history and retreat into the self-satisfaction of being the true church. On the other hand, its also easier to take the Protestant road, i.e. to Protest against religious authority, deem it unworthy of both our commitment and a covenant, and walk away. That is one way to face the rock and hard place we face.

      These are just initial responses to your question. I appreciate the way you’ve framed it, Rich. It adds alot. Thank you.

      Matt

      • Matt:

        One of the most intriguing and stimulating books I’ve read the last couple of years is one by Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence. She expands on the ideas of others regarding the approximately 500-year cycle of major, new forces within Christianity. Briefly, in the 16th century there was the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation (and subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation); the 11th century brought the East-West split between Roman and Orthodox churches; the 6th century was the time of Gregory the Great and the emergence of monastic orders with their internal spiritual disciplines that essentially guaranteed the survival of the faith through the so-called Dark Ages; and of course the 1st century which included Jesus, Paul, and the founding of the Christian church separate from Judaism. Jewish scholars sometimes take a couple more steps backward with the Exile (Babylonian captivity), the establishment of the monarchy, and the Exodus from Egyptian slavery.

        In any event, Tickle attempts to discern what’s at work within Christianity today, something much bigger and more important than just what’s commonly referred to as the “emerging church.” Like the previous incarnations, this new emerging “something” adds to what’s already there but expanding Christianity in ways previously unimaginable. It’s impossible to understand just what’s going on because we’re still in the midst of it (just as Luther really had no idea what would come of all his contemporary turmoil).

        When I look at the Community of Christ today I see something emerging, something still “in between,” if you will. If I can be excused for extending the metaphor a bit further, it’s a bit like a tiny plant somehow growing between two stones (a rock and a hard place?). It shouldn’t be happening and no rational person gives it much chance of survival–but we’ve all seen plants and saplings growing out of the side of a rock cliff so maybe there’s something to it. The thing is, we can’t know right now. Neither can we know just how the CofC fits into the larger picture of Christianity.

        Someday somebody will probably look back at these early decades of the 21st century and explain the “aha!” aspect. But until then we’ll struggle for survival, we’ll have our share of doubts and questions, and along the way we’ll probably also see signs of remarkable growth.

      • Rich:

        I think I agree here, if I can extend the analogy a bit to say that the changes in the religious life we see on the multi-century frames are results of much larger historical forces that rearrange civilizations, including those that are non-Christian.

        No sparrow (and no blade of grass) is beneath God’s notice, but the importance of the CofChrist lies in its being OUR blade of grass between OUR two stones, and its significance to the evolution of all grasses is probably tertiary in our decision-making to what happens to us individually or the ecosystem — all the things that interact with grasses — as a whole.

      • Matt:

        I think the challenge isn’t to look at our relationship to Protestantism. It is to NOT do what Catholicism did when confronted by Luthor. Catholocism attempted to HOLD the Protestants to the authority of the church TO PRESERVE THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH — and ultimately linked with secular powers that resulted in centuries of religious war.

        I suggest that on both the Mormon side and the “mainstream” Protestant horns of our dilemma, the challenge is really the same: to be willing to RELEASE people instead of holding them where we think they should be “for their own good”.

      • Rich & Firetag,

        Thanks for continued discussion. I’m not sure where to go from here. I find both of your responses interesting. But, I’m beginning to get the sense that I’m being framed as a defender of a liberal Protestant future for the church. I’m not.

        I think Matt B’s line of thought is right. I was simply trying to point out the current impasse and the fact that liberal Protestant strain of our heritage in American Christianity has won out over the negative identity of sectarian RLDSism. The future, however, presses us positively beyond both. Exactly how is yet to be seen. I see you both responding to that same question in your comments.

        Matt B’s frames it as some kind of CofC evangelical future. By evangelical, I’m not exactly sure what Matt means. But, for me, it is meant best in the original sense of the term – as witness to the Good News. This evangelical identity, I hope, is rooted in our tradition…but not necessarily conservative (in the other use of the word).

        Perhaps that’s where the discussion about our CofC future lies. If so, I appreciate the ideas you express. I’d love to take the discussion deeper.

        Thanks, again, for reading and responding!

    • Joseph Smith Jr. presented the B of M as a supplement to the Bible. He said that the Bible is our primary book of scripture. The B of M is an appendage or lesser work. Interestingly there a Jewish rabbi’s today who accept the B of M as Jewish work – not scripture to them but writing originating from Jewishness.

      • I can see that, Gary. But, for me, our identity questions go beyond what we define as scripture and to how we live in light of it. Can our identity be more in what we practice than what we, as a religion, have?

  10. Thanks for the thought provoking article Matt. Just some comments though from one seen by some “as one of those conservatives”, although I see myself as being “in between” the extremes with my beliefs.

    I never had a problem with the feeling of being “in between” the extremes with either the conservative/liberal members or traditional RLDSism/Protestantism. Frankly, I felt that I understood the reality of being a peculiar people and the major affirmations being presented which brought upon ourselves this unique nature.

    1) For us, Jesus was never a mere historical character, or a savior who died and resurrected now residing in some far off place next to the Father. Rather, our message was how Jesus is literally with us always, even in ways unfathomable by many. In essence, our core message taught not about merely a restoration of denomination, but the restoration of relationship with Jesus. It was dogma which polluted this basic affirmation when the Church of the Lord become more real and important than the Lord of the Church.

    2) From the beginning our movement had a sense of purpose in assisting God in his work. For many Protestants, this work is centered on saving people from hell when they die. Yet for us, this work was not focused on preparing people to die, rather in preparing the world to receive heaven on earth. Simply stated, our sense of purpose was in bringing heaven to earth.

    Our vision speaks of creation not being confined to a six day biblical process, but a continuing process, culminating in the “coming kingdom”. This is the pinnacle of creation which was envisioned from the beginning by God and the process is not complete until “thy kingdom come”, or in other words, God is coming here to dwell with mankind. Our sense of purpose in restoration was to help people know enough to choose to line up with God and his work. To get on and go with him in this work of creation through restoration.

    In an effort to keep this short I will limit this to my two points above, yet I believe we can find many more positive “historical” affirmations leading to identity. In short, in my opinion, we fail ourselves in seeking identity the way the world seeks identity when our core identity was in Jesus Christ and his earthly mission entrusted to us and through our assistance with him. If these things remain of central importance, then we will always be “in between”. But as a light on a hill, it is freely shared with all and we are told how many will respond because what is offered will be desired and savored by many.

  11. A good post, Matt. Lots to ponder and chew on for a while, so my question here is an initial, perhaps slightly muddled, reaction, rather than a well thought out response.

    -In its core geographic areas of North America — where the RLDS elements of identity hold the most cache — the Community of Christ is an aging and dwindling movement. This has been quite soberingly demonstrated by George Walton’s statistical analysis.

    -Meanwhile, growth is occurring outside this core, in Latin America, Africa, Asia, but the church there resembles more an evangelical, sometimes Pentecostal, church that has little in common with the RLDS roots of the North American core. Indeed, churches in these areas have little significant attachment to the traditional ‘RLDS distinctives’. But they also have little interest in what the ‘liberals’ offer either. They are, very broadly speaking, evangelical protestants.

    This poses a difficult problem for identity and structure. It remains to be seen what impact this will have. One possibility is that the growth of the evangelical periphery transforms the core and recreates its entire identity as a diverse, largely evangelical church with a dwindling number of both North American liberals and RLDSers. An alternative is that as the numbers, wealth and power of the core reduces, and it becomes more associated with liberal Protestantism, they will lose hold of the evangelical periphery, which will either break off into smaller parts or join other denominations (particularly over the issue of homosexuality). The third, possibly more likely possibility, is that we will see both happen at the same time in complex and contradictory ways. What that will mean for CofC identity is something I haven’t really been able to think through or predict yet. But it could be interesting 🙂

    The task at hand, I believe, is for us to hold in tension the need for the church to do two things at once:

    1) Figure out whether it is possible to revitalize the geographic core of the movement and halt or slow its decline with some newly rejuvenated identity

    2) Figure out how to tie that core in with the church outside North America in a way that incorporates cultural diversity without splintering it into factions

    What do you think Matt?

    • Also excellent, Matt B. And thanks for mentioning George’s work. The work was IMPORTANT, and the stuff in his raw data is more amazing than he could summarize in his paper in Restoration Studies.

    • Matt,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post. I’m both intrigued and appreciative of the practical points you bring out in light of the existing church. I also deeply agree with the tension you describe with regards to identity internationally. Taking my thoughts about the ideological roots of the U.S./Canadian church back to the current international context is the right and logical place to go. You’ve shaped the problem well, here. I want to stay brief because I have lots of thoughts in several directions regarding where you go with this. Frankly, I’d love to have a kind of panel on this question.

      First, and likely unneccessary, I just want to be clear. I’m not defending a liberal future for the CofC. I don’t believe the positive aspects of our RLDS heritage are yet clear and liberalism has only some things to offer. Certainly, it is not enough. My observations about U.S./Canadian RLDS identity just describe where I think the U.S./Canadian CofC is.

      If we follow the argument that RLDSism’s share in liberal Protestantism can be an asset, I think this dynamic helps the church internationally. As opposed to sectarianism or othodoxy, liberalism promotes tolerance and appreciate for a pluralistic body. I think that is where we are practically, today. But, of course, the problems with this liberal configuration comes when cultural and theological differences clash at the level of deeply held ethical and social norms, as they do with sexuality. Here, liberalism is not enough.

      I am torn on the question about whether or how we can revitalize the U.S./Canadian church. I am hopeful, personally, but also realistic. In fact, there is little evidence we can revitalize anything if the CofC continues on its liberal trajectory, especially in its current educated middle-class individualistic approach. I mean something very specific when I label the church’s current spirituality and sense of leadership this way, and I cannot spell it out here. Suffice it to say, something desperately needs to shift in both our organizational/spiritual approach to leadership and sense of identity if we are to grow. I’ve argued in print that the church’s current approach to faith and identity is, itself, time bound and contingent. It follows both the cultural norms and historical experience of the RLDS babyboomers. Therefore, it retains semblences of both U.S./Canadian RLDSism and liberal Protestantism, which is held together theologically with aspects of Christian orthodoxy and social justice missionalism.

      Your language of living in the tension is precisely what I think will continue to unfold. In many ways, this will take even more leadership than before. But, perhaps it will not be the kind of results-oriented leadership our professional culture would have us expect. In fact, I think what is decisive for our future is making some decisions, decisions along theological and missional lines that place our stake in God’s future beyond the tolerances of liberalism. It may also mean some fundamental shifts in our polity that distribute and decentralize the church more so that the intercultural nature of the church can be strengthened, not weakened, by a sense of unity that is covanental rather than organizational, in other words, confessional and missional instead of authority driven.

      There is alot more to say, but I’ve already said alot. 🙂

      • “covanental rather than organizational.”

        That’s what I signed up for at age eight in baptism, and as a teenager when first ordained. I will hold to the covanent and mission; it’s the organization I am increasingly finding hindering.

      • Hi Matt

        I guess as I have thought more about this, I think your analysis is very useful, but perhaps requires an additional pole/variable — evangelicalism — beyond RLDSism and liberal protestantism.

        In a sense the various possible futures of the CofC identity will all be different combinations of those three variables.

  12. Does anyone else find irony in the fact that as Community of Christ ventures more widely into the world it encounters the impact of those American fundamental evangelical missionaries who have influenced the theology of our newest converts? Just as the North American church is tending towards a more liberal outlook we find ourselves pushed back by a quite conservative theology we’re finding in Africa and Latin America.

    And those new conservatives find allies among the most conservative elements in the North American church who perhaps had considered themselves overlooked or marginalized just a few years ago. It seems to me this one source of the struggle now to find some mechanism to live with this diversity–e.g. national conferences.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Marion. We are allowing the church to be influenced by extreme conservatism, not only from the African part of the church but by American conservatives. We talk about “We Share” as though we are all on the same page. That’s not true. I and many others are not interested in accepting a creed. I thought we had come away from that point of view years ago.

      It’s true..I am disappointed in the lack of leadership we are getting. While we wait for a “consensus” we will never gain with all the diversity, the church is quickly diminishing. I have nothing against diversity but when it comes to leadership, someone needs to make the hard
      decisions.

  13. Re: Your update.

    I should also apologize for not clarifying the context of “North American”. I’m used to speaking from a statistical basis, and statistically, the United States and Canadian church grow and decline in an identical fashion, and have shared common district level jurisdictions since before I was born. Western Europe (and Australia) shares the same statistical behavior, but has not had a large enough membership in recent decades to impact the statistical trends.

    Other parts of the North American continent mentioned by Matt share the statistical trends of the emerging international church on other continents — rapid growth from a small base that is not fast enough to reach the relative size within their own cultures reached by the US church in its culture in the mid-20th Century — and I tend to consider them part of that pool.

    Again, sorry.

  14. Matt,
    Great blog, and a great post. I feel like I’m reading someone else’s mail. I can identify with many of the issues you identify but, putting them in a different context also makes them look different.
    My two cents: I think you are exactly right to insist that the church not identify itself negatively but should rather be able to articulate is positive identity. That position would still need to be able to dialog with, offer criticisms of, and alternatives to other positions, especially Mormonism and liberal Protestantism. I understand why these two positions must be dialog partners. Still, if you want a positive position, you don’t want to locate yourself either between these two, nor identify with either one. And both have serious weaknesses — sometimes the same weaknesses. I don’t know the depth of your theology of Zion, but that sounds like a promising place to go.
    I got an education reading some of the comments too. Thanks.

    • Greg,

      Thanks so much for reading and responding to my post! Great to see you “here.” Your comments are really helpful and intuit well where we need to go. Moving beyond between is very helpful and spot on. Thank YOU….

  15. Hello Matt,
    I read your blog post with considerable interest. I’m in Australia and it’s really a Sleepy Hollow place when it comes to this kind of introspection. I get a real sense that the crew here don’t ask the questions, and don’t align themselves with anything except themselves. Yes, it’s not the Mormons and it’s not the Protestants … but what IS it? I ask myself the question regularly.

    The USA experience seems quite different. Yet I found the hopeful theme of your post to be very encouraging. I experience the church (here) becoming more Protestant. I experience the church (here) speaking less and less (if it ever spoke much at all) about who we are. The positives. The distinctives. The benefits of being distinct like this. The good spinoffs. The avoidance of bad consequences to regular Protestantism, such as you mention (sola scriptura = no new revelation = God is functionally unable to communicate further = he may as well be dead).

    I also liked your observation that the church should not exist outside of the denominational spectrum – that we provide our best service as part of the whole, not in splendid isolation.

    And I loved Steve Ferguson’s telling comment on how the function of Protestantism is to save folk from hell, while our function is to prepare people for heaven on earth … brilliant. I used to read Steve’s posts on the old CofC’s forum. While we are light years apart in theology, I really respect his zeal and drive and I loved this point.

    I’ll bookmark your blog and keep reading!

    • Tony,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and respond! I appreciate your comments. I don’t know alot the Australian church, so your comments help me. Part of my point is that the future of the Community of Christ can only be positively constructed if we don’t fall back on our traditional ideas of religious identity and forge the future together. I look forward to “seeing you here” more!

      Blessings…Matt

  16. I’m somewhat inclined to think that the liberals have pretty much run the church into the ground. It makes me feel sad to lose what I thought was something valuable.

    • Hey Gary,

      Thanks for responding again.

      I could empathize or not depending on what you mean. In regards to the BofM, I’d like to know what you think of my longer response to Rich Brown above. I don’t think just having the BofM offers anything, not in and of itself. Otherwise, the only thing that makes us different is our religious artifacts or possessions. In other words, “We have the BofM and you don’t!” And, they say, “Yea? Well, we have the Common Book of Prayer (or some other aspect of their tradition) and YOU don’t!”

      What does that matter? Where does that get us?

      If having our distinctives doesn’t amount to a radical witness in the way we live and worship, then I think our “distinctives” are lost to empty religious arguments. What about our RLDS distinctives matter?

      I think liberalism offers us that challenge. But, I also think liberalism has colossal failures that the U.S./Canadian church must recognize. But, we cannot recognize them if we stay entrenched in our sectarian debates.

      What do you think?

      • Hello Gary (& Matt),

        I am a left wing liberal (of the Australian variety). Howdy.

        For me, the Book of Mormon has good value in the church because it has scriptural status without being “Bible”.

        And that makes the BoM a very handy thing. Consider: in Australia, most of the Protestant denominations would argue that God has said all He can; that there is no new revelation that CAN come to us; that we have the scripture, and the scripture alone to guide us. The Holy Spirit exists only to point us to various passages in the bible.

        Whereas the BoM is NOT “bible” but is revelation. And when we speak of revelation, we (here in this church) have the expectation of continuing revelation, in which we take part in the discerning process. The BoM began this process, and we continue it today with the Doctrine and Covenants.

        The BoM got people out of thinking “sola Scriptura” and back into thinking that God is interested enough in us, here and now, that we can hope for revelation for our time and our needs, in words that make sense for our day.

        For this alone, I have a debt of gratitude to Joseph Smith Jr.

        Regards,
        Tony Barry

      • For me the Book of Mormon is a record of God’s broken heart for Israel. This by extension can include us too. The voice in the B of M is the same as the voice in the O.T. It’s God’s lament for His people. When the Book came forth I believe it was God’s way of re-introducing both Jews and Gentiles to their roots. In other words when you read Romans 11 Paul never foresees the Gentiles separate from Israel. We are to be grafted onto the tree of life or the tree that prophetically represents Israel – the Jews. God’s own people. Centuries of anamosity between the two groups separated both from each other. The B of M is an attempt to bring them together. Church history verifies the Restoration Saints felt connected to ancient Israel. So much in fact they invent a new priesthood office. One that does not show up in the Bible. The office of Patriarch. Imagine that. They felt connected to the ancient patriarchs and their blessings. For me that is a powerful witness. This is what we bring to the table with the B of M.

      • Gary,

        Thank you for your responding to my question. I hope you don’t find me callous about the BofM. I don’t think our approaches have to be incompatible. I appreciate the theme you see in the BofM. I don’t think your view of it has to be in conflict with the question I’m asking.

        Thanks for the dialogue, Gary. There is alot more that could be said. The meaning of the BofM is certainly something that begs much discussion.

        Blessings…Matt

  17. I do uphold the Book of Mormon as scripture, but I agree that simply having it is not enough. We have become too comfortable with being uncomfortable with it. I also continue to hold to the position that the Community of Christ is the one true church (and I do appreciate the fact that many people in the church now struggle with such a concept, or outright reject it). But, just as with the Book of Mormon, being the one true church becomes pointless unless we appreciate what that means for us, which is something I’ve been pondering a lot of late; and what I think it may really be about is not so much the traditional ideas associated with it, but much more to do with accountability. To be quite honest, I think God perhaps expects a little more from us, and hopes that we might in fact take others with us on our journey, either as converts, or just by adopting some of our ideas into their own denominations (or lives). I think our future might be in finding some equilibrium in our Restoration heritage, and our need to be a 21st century church.

    We need to find our passion and what ever we do must have relevancy. I think our church is striving to do just that, focusing on being a relevant, 21st century church, helping people to move beyond less productive discussions that dominated us for so long, towards discussions centering on what matters most, what does it truly mean to be a disciple of Christ, what it the full meaning of our baptisms, etc. The enduring principles and other church identity statements that have been shaped over the last few years have a great deal of value and they force us to put a stake in the ground on some subjects which frankly I don’t see as prominent in other denominations. This is my hope for our future, that we will continue to push forward as a 21st century church, empowering ourselves to more readily respond to the call of Jesus Christ. But we can’t sustain this without our Restoration heritage. Our drive to be a relevant 21st century church does itself require balance. We can be the Restoration and a 21st century church at the same time, and in my view, we must, if we are to truly move forward in the most effective manner possible. If we fail to do so, we will become just another street corner church. God once Restored us, now He seeks to Restore others through us.

  18. My first reaction was perhaps we should just disband as a
    religion and melt into some other protestant group. If we have lost
    our uniqueness, our history and our identity, what is left and
    further, what is the point of continuing on? I guess I will turn in
    my priesthood card since I won’t be needing it any longer.

  19. I do not see that the Community of Christ will continue to have any meaningful expression of the RLDS faith. After all, to join the NCC, the CofC sent in paperwork stating that the Three Standard Works that, by Conference resolution, are the final benchmark for RLDS doctrine, are actually just private internal documents (auxiliary or “fifth wheel” stuff) that have no value outside the confines of the Community of Christ, if indeed they have much of any value within the CofC.

    I see the Community of Christ either dwindling until it disbands, or until it agrees to unite with a Protestant NCC denomination in the same way the Evangelical United Brethren did with the Moethodist Church in the late 1960’s. The last vestige of the EUB only survived as the word “United” in the new name the “United Methodist Church.” When the CofC finally merges with another church or religion, the only surviving part of the church will be the word “of.”

    George

  20. Matt, I just wanted to ask a question before leaving this thread.

    How in this world can there possibly be a “conservative RLDSism” of which you spoke in your post. The Community of Christ is very far to the left liberal, and it has asserted total legal control over the name “RLDS.” If one is conservative, one is automatically prohibited by U.S. trademark law from being RLDS, since there is no effective expression of conservatism within the ranks of the paid priesthood hierarchy of the Community of Christ. Like “the man without a country,” the individual who believes and practices the RLDS faith that identifies RLDSism has a similar problem. He is a man belonging to a religion without a name, because the Community of Christ won’t share. Quite a contrast with Islam, which (to my knowledge) has never sued to force the Nation of Islam to stop using the name “Islam.”

    • Hi George,

      Your description of conservative RLDSers as a “man without a country” is agonizing. I think of many European Jews before the reestablishment of Israel.

      To clarify terms: When I talk about conservative RLDSers, I largely mean Restorationists who separated. I understand the politics regarding who separated from who is important. But, not all did. There are more or less conservative RLDSers that remain part of the Community of Christ in membership and affiliation. So, the question about who owns and controls the RLDS name depends on where you (or anyone) stand in the history of splintering.

      IMO, the issue of Islam is different. Many denominations and movements call themselves Christian without being sued by one Christian church or another. I would not compare the name RLDS to a global faith like Christianity or Islam. They are not the same. Perhaps the problem is that RLDSers see themselves as a whole religion as opposed to a church or particular movement within Christianity. That is part of RLDSism’s sectarian mindset and negative relationship to other churchs, which I talk about in my post. The Community of Christ does not claim to be the only community of Christ’s, and I think that is critically important

      Thanks for reading, George.
      God be with you,
      Matt

      • http://mattfrizzellonline.com/2010/11/17/what-is-the-future-of-the-community-of-christ-in-a-north-american-post-rlds-perspective#comment-759

        Matt, I understand what you are saying.

        My own personal interpretation of the situation is that real RLDSism is actually a religion of its own, even to the point of being distinct from LDSism. To see RLDSism as a sect or denomination of Christianity is to assume a viewpoint outside the ocnfines of RLDSism.

        I understand also your point that the current incarnation of the church does not claim to be the “only” community of Christ. I guess the name “The Community of Christ” is just poor wording. By way of example, when some of Edgar Goodspeed’s colleagues translated the Old Testament, and published it in one volume with Dr. Goodspeed’s translations of the apocrypha and New Testament, the title of the volume was: The Bible — An American Translation. Had the title been “The Bible — The American Translation” you would see the problems that might have ensued.

        I notice that some Catholic parishes have signs that say, “St. Jonavic’s Catholic Community,” or something like that. I suppose that maybe their command of the language is better.

        But this is all becoming a moot point for me. I could handle RLDSism, but the attempts to change the church from a separate religion to a unitarianistic-type entity drove me nuts, so I had to leave the church. It’s been about ten years now, and I think that I might actually be able to go to some kind of a church now. It’s just really hard to get over the spiritual damage caused to and by the entire system. I’d call it something like an autoimmune reaction — the educated RLDS is allergic to his own religious beliefs. The chief symptom is complete anger and inability to talk to anyone who had anything to do with the change, or who agrees with the change. The only image I can come up with for the anger is the scene of a pregnant woman shooting the surgeon who performed her tubal ligation.

        In a humorous vein, it’s similar to when Garfield told the tragic story of an uncle of his who had received a “species change operation.” According to Garfield, his uncle had himself changed into a dog, and “chased himself to death.” That’s what happens when you take a church whose chief tenet is that Christianity is apostate and give is a religion-change operation from RLDS to Christian.

        Hang loose.
        George

  21. Matt, has your time as campus minister at Graceland given you a clearer picture of Community of Christ’s theological/cultural trajectory? I would think that your daily contact with CoC youth from around the world (and especially those who are more spiritually-minded, and thus more likely to take on positions of leadership in the church) would grant a perspective on this issue that you didn’t have when first made this post, both in terms of the tension between RLDS distinctives and liberal Protestantism as well as the “North American” Church v. the International Church.

    • This is an excellent question, Mark. You’re right; being at Graceland would shed light on this post since I wrote it. I only want to make some generalizations because I think it would be very easy to distort or misinterpret what I’m trying to say.

      In terms of doctrine and belief, I see religious distinctives as less and less important among the young adults I work with. In fact, many clearly distance themselves from religion because of its doctrinaire nature and divisiveness. Distinct religious beliefs continue to be deeply important for some. But, young adults compartmentalize religious differences very well. Opposing views don’t have to mean division. Many young adults are open and willing to be led by what sustains relationships.

      In addition to young adults seeing religion as deeply personal, many see religion as less and less about doctrine and more about spirituality and identity. There is a greater focus on inclusion and acceptance even among more conservative students. This poises many Community of Christ students to being open to cultural differences and interfaith issues in the church.

      As to the tensions I discuss regarding RLDS distinctives and liberal Protestantism, it seems that these kinds tensions are more academic. With spirituality more important, all kinds of traditions are resources for spiritual experience. I see RLDS distinctives are the historical source of the communitarian feel of our church. Even without these doctrinal distinctives, passion for the communitarian feel and close relationships of Community of Christ faith remains very important to young adults. The influence of liberal protestantism lives on in the deeply personal nature of religious views in Community of Christ. This tension between the priority of shared and individual faith remains.

      • I think I understand what you are saying, Matt.
        I have no idea what is going to happen to the Community of Christ, either.

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