Joseph Smith III on the Calling of the Seventy

“There is a possibility that in its very arduousness lies the secret of its success”
— Joseph Smith III on the Seventy

JSIII

As I’ve been researching about the activities of the Seventies in the early church period (1835-1860), I have a number of books all around my desk.  I picked up Volume 3 of the old blue 8-volume RLDS history, and opening it at random I came upon this text (pp. 436-439), which I’ve retyped in order to share here. While Joseph Smith III’s thoughts on the Seventy are 150 years old, many of his words continue to resonate.*

ON THE TWELVE AND THE SEVENTY

On May 1, 1866, President Joseph Smith [III] published over his own signature a document defining the duties of the Twelve and Seventy. This document is well worth preservation, both because of its merit, and because it treats of the duties of two of the chief quorums of the church. It is as follows:—

“The duties of the Twelve, as a quorum, are to sit in council upon matters appertaining to the spread of the work abroad, and the firm continuation of it in the land of Zion; and upon this is based the recognition of their right to ordain and set in order all other officers in the church.

“Now, it seems to follow, that as they are to be representatives of the church while the gospel is being carried to the ends of the earth, and the church is to become as a light set upon a hill, this quorum of people should travel under the special direction of the spirit of their calling, and should live as it becomes righteous people to live. This being the case, the former requirements are seen to be essential, either inherent or in the process of acquirement.

“Their decisions (if unanimous) are of high importance, equal in authority to those of the First Presidency and are to be made in righteousness; how carefully then ought this band of especial witnesses to walk as a quorum and as individuals.

“At our April conference, just passed, the Spirit seem to indicate that the establishment of lines and boundaries over which the Twelve as integral parts were set to preside, was a contradiction of duty inconsistent with the character of the work, and an effort was made to place them more immediately under the impulses of the Spirit of God and the direction of the Presidency of the Church. We can all see that this accords with our understanding of the law; and no fears ought to be entertained that the Spirit will direct to be done that which is not in keeping with the law and the revelations heretofore received.

“The day has now come when the dread demons of distrust and suspicion must be exorcised by the efficient prayers of the faithful saints, for there are many lo heres, and lo theres, and few shall be able to stand.

“Let every one then go to with their own might to purge the evil from their own heart, and united, stand for the bulwarks of our liberty in the gospel.

“The Seventy are a body of elders set apart for the work of the ministry as a travelling quorum, working under the more immediate call of the Twelve, to preach the word, build up churches, officiate in the various directions necessary in spreading the gospel, and all acts that an elder may do by virtue of their office as such elder, a seventy may do. But there are certain conditions which require a seventy to travel, as especial witnesses, that are not binding upon the body of elders.

“There can be by the law seven quorums of Seventy, seemingly too small a number for evangelization purposes; and yet when we consider the number of elders there may be in the church, we are forced to acknowledge that God is wiser than man, and does not wish to cumber the legislative bodies of the church with too great numbers.

“The Seventy are to be people of action; ready to go and to come, full of energy and zeal; prepared at a moment’s warning to follow the lead of the Spirit, to the north, east, south, or west: proclaiming the gospel as they go, baptizing all who come unto them, laying their hands upon the sick in common with their brethren of the Twelve; under no responsibility of presiding, but when the Spirit so directs, or exigency requires, they may preside by virtue of their right to officiate as elders in the church.

“The law also contemplates the Seventy as a legislative body, and a decision made by these quorums (if unanimous) is of like importance as a decision of the Twelve.

“It may be also be concluded that any act which an high priest might do, while abroad as a minister of the gospel building up the church, might be legitimately done by one of the Seventy; for in speaking of the difference between the two quorums, the law says: that those who belong not unto this quorum, neither unto the Twelve, are not under responsibility to travel, nevertheless they may hold as high and responsible offices in the church; evidently carrying the inference that this was an office in authority greater than an elder, and if an elder may, why may not a seventy, or an apostle preside.

“It is eminently becoming to the office of a seventy to be contented and cheerful, full of hope of a renewed covenant; free from the resident care of a local congregation, nevertheless wise as a counselor both to the world and the church, having soberness as a safeguard against the levity of the world; always bearing about the consciousness of a slain and risen Redeemer, with assurance of a realized hope; and ever able to give by precept and example a reason for that hope.

“Is it an arduous undertaking? Most unquestionably it is; but while it is so arduous, there is a possibility that in its very arduousness lies the secret of its success, for in its successful ministry the devils are to be subject to the power of God.

“May the Lord God help the Seventy is the prayer of every well wisher of the latter-day work.

“There is a duty devolving alike upon these two quorums, i.e., the Twelve and the Seventy, that it is well to notice here. We mean the duty of being prayerful people, for by this shall come their power. Now if we could suppose that people could successfully propagate the work of the last dispensation, without the faith requisite to yield to obedience to its laws, we could imagine a ministry without purse or scrip, going to the ends of the earth declaring the way of life, without prayer, but we cannot, it follows that these people must be cared for by the divine Ruler of all, and must exercise the faithful prayer, the earnest desire of the soul, by which they are blessed of God.

“Purse and scrip are laid aside. It is the Lord’s work. He has promised to provide for them. Self-denial is to become a pleasure, danger is forgotten, fear overcome and cast out; revilings accepted with humility, and scoffings without reproach; the goods of this world measured only by their usefulness to the advance of truth; wisdom taken as a companion — a lovely handmaiden of the Lord; and with the blue dome as their rooftree, the Lord their refuge in sunshine and in storm; his hand their guard, his Spirit their comfort and their guide; Christ their pattern, his followers their brethren, and all the world their neighbors, the pass out, away from the scenes dear to them into the great harvest field, there to weild the sword of truth as ambassadors for Christ, and him crucified. Here is the sublimity of their calling, the excellency of their hope, and who shall then be found to deny them their reward? We trust no one.

“Away with the bickering jealousy of place and of power, let the ultimate accomplishment of our salvation enable us to overcome the divisions of the hour, and the distraction of the time, uniting for the present redemption of Zion.”

— JOSEPH SMITH [III]

 

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*In six places, I’ve used the word “people” to update the word “men” and in two I’ve substituted “their” for “his.”

What’s a Seventy?

Crazy70

Since Adam Wade* traveled from Australia to Toronto earlier this year and presented me with his moving and earnest testimony of a call to join the Quorums of Seventy in Community of Christ, I’ve been studying and pondering and praying about the role.  In this first post, I’m going to reflect on the origin and conception of the Seventies in the early Restoration movement.

The use of the word “Seventy” as a priesthood office is fairly unique in the Restoration tradition of Protestant Christianity.  Early members of the movement were alarmed at the explosion of rival sects in the early 19th century and sought to “restore” the organization and practices of the original 1st century Christians.  Lacking the results of some two centuries of study in the academic fields of history, literary criticism, and archaeology that we possess today, 19th century seekers had only a single, dusty lens through which to glimpse their vision: the New Testament texts as they were rendered in the King James Bible.

This source became the blueprint for Restored priesthood roles including deacon (1 Tim 3:8-13), teacher (1 Cor 12:28), priest (Rev 20:6), bishop (1 Tim 3:1-7), evangelist† (2 Tim 4:5), pastor (Eph 4:11), and prophet (1 Cor 14:29-32).  In addition, a misreading of the theological proposition that Jesus Christ is the high priest of the new covenant (Heb 3:1) led to the ordination of “high priests” and the separation of the offices into two orders, Aaronic and Melchisedec (Heb 7:11).

The role of apostle — then as now — was frequently confused with a special group set apart as “the Twelve.” The Twelve in the new covenant of God’s Kingdom symbolically represented the Twelve Tribes of the new Israel (q.v. Mat 19:28).  While it may be true that all of the Twelve were apostles, not all apostles in the New Testament were numbered among the Twelve.  Paul is the most famous example of an apostle (Rom 1:1) who was never one of the Twelve, but others explicitly named as apostles include a male and female pair, Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7).

The idea of a special group known as “the Seventy” derives from this wider category of apostles in the New Testament period.  The name itself comes from a story told only in Luke. In this text, having just sent out the Twelve on a preaching mission (Luke 9:1-6), Jesus sends out another group:

After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” (Luke 10:1-11, KJV)

The Seventy, then, were meant to be itinerant preachers who lived by begging and the hospitality of those they encountered who accepted their message.  This passage in Luke inspired early members of the Restoration in 1835 to create a quorum of Seventies alongside a quorum of the Twelve.  As we read in the contemporary Doctrine & Covenants Section 104:11b-e:

Of the Melchisedec priesthood, three presiding high priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the church. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ, in all the world; thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned. The seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling; and they form a quorum equal in authority to that of the twelve especial witnesses, or apostles, just named.

In the same document, we read that “The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve, or the traveling high council, in building up the church, and regulating all the affairs of the same, in all nations” (D&C 104:13a) and that “it is the duty of the traveling high council [i.e., the Twelve] to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel, instead of any others” (D&C 104:16).  Finally, we read that “the order of the Seventy… should have Seven Presidents to preside over them, chosen out of the number of the Seventy, and seventh president of these presidents is to preside over the six” (D&C 104:43a).

From their starting point in the Restoration tradition, therefore, the Seventy have been linked with the Twelve in their calling of traveling and building up the church community by sharing the good news and inviting people to join the movement.  Among the Seventies called in 1835 was my own great great great great grandfather Stephen Winchester, who had recently served as a captain in the Zion’s Camp expedition.‡

In my next post, I’ll look at the development of the role of the Seventies in the early Restoration and Reorganization, but reflections on their role today will probably have to wait for a third post.

 

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*Adam Wade had been Community of Christ President of Seventy for the Quorum that included Canada.  Since the fields were redrawn at the 2016 World Conference, Canada has been moved to John Glaser’s Quorum.

†This word was used interchangeably with the term patriarch.

‡The early Seventies were called from among those men who had served in Zion’s Camp, an abortive attempt to retake lost lands in Jackson County, Missouri, by force. See Joseph Young Sr., History of the Organization of the Seventies (Salt Lake City: 1878), p. 3, where Stephen Winchester is listed among the original members of the First Quorum of Seventy.

Does Your Church Need to Have a Shower?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responsible Revelation

prophets

Community of Christ practices what I like to call “Responsible Revelation”. This means that the president of the church, even in his capacity as prophet, is accountable to the church. Or, in other words, revelations to be canonized or which impact the presiding councils, quorums and orders of the church must be approved by the church.

Community of Christ has never professed that the prophet receives revelation from God daily, or even frequently. The church does not consider every word, article, action, address, sermon, etc., provided or undertaken by the prophet to be revelatory in nature. The day-to-day operation of the church has been entrusted by Christ to those called to serve in leadership positions. Policy changes, budget approval, missionary efforts, property management and acquisition, etc., are not viewed (automatically at least) as being the result of divine revelation (though we trust that God rests with us in our decision making activities).

From time to time, the prophet-president does receive revelation from God. It may come in response to prayer, or it may come unbidden. The prophet attempts to articulate in written form what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him, and the church takes action upon it. An overview of this process, and why we have, and how we benefit from continuing revelation, follows.

Why is Continuing Revelation part of the church?

We have declared Continuing Revelation to be one of our Enduring Principles. In discussing the development of those principles, President Veazey stated:

“One Enduring Principle that rose up quickly was continuing revelation. The principle is so ingrained in who we are that we cannot describe our faith without giving ample attention to it. Revelatory experience is a key part of our church’s beginning. It has functioned in transforming ways through-out our history. It will play a vital role in the future.”

He also stated in the same article:

“I believe one calling of Community of Christ is to keep the tradition, principle, and practice of continuing revelation alive.”

In his 2009 annual address to the church (“A Defining Moment“), while speaking about scripture, President Veazey made this statement:

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

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

Clearly, revelation is tremendously important to the church. Our church leaders have spoken of it’s significance and role in our church. It is not a belief or conviction that just sits in the background, or is interpreted as taking the form of sermons and such, but manifests as specific documents that have blessed us tremendously over the years, and which continue to do so (note: while we commonly regard these documents to be revelations, Community of Christ understands that in fact, they are records of encounter with the divine. This is an often overlooked, but important distinction. The actual revelation is an even that took place in a moment in time, between the prophet and God. We do tend to call the resulting inspired documents revelations, but they are merely the written record of the revelatory experience). Revelation in Community of Christ is alive and well, and is in fact on the rise and we are a better people because of it.

How are revelations shared with the church?

Only those individuals who have actually held the position of prophet-president of the church could truly describe just how they receive revelations from God; and I suspect that trying to articulate such an encounter is very difficult. However, at some point, they put those experiences into written form.

These written revelations are then presented to the church for consideration. With a few exceptions (noted below), they are subjected to a formal approval process. These written items are known as “inspired documents” or (in more recent years) as “Words of Counsel”.

Let me make a point of clarity here. In Community of Christ, a presented revelation takes the form of a document that is specifically presented as a revelation. Letters, sermons, conference talks, addresses, magazine articles, etc., are not regarded as being revelations from God simply by virtue of having been provided by the prophet-president of the church. While these may indeed be inspired, they are not regarded as formal revelations.

Revelations also clearly state that they are the result of God’s efforts to work through the prophet (some might say that it could be understood that the prophet seeks to discern the mind and will of God – I view it as a partnership, a two-way process).

Therefore, only those words presented as a revelation are regarded (or considered) as such. Think of the many revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants that Joseph Smith Jr. provided. Same idea.

Here is a very brief example:

http://www.cofchrist.org/onlineresources/DocCovenants/section160.asp

How are revelations approved?

For the most part, a revelation is presented for the first time during our World Conference, held every three years. However, on occasion, a revelation will be presented outside of World Conference.

Normally, it is our custom for all revelations to be subjected to the delegates of World Conference for consideration and approval. This means that a revelation is not deemed authoritative or binding simply because the president of the church has issued it. It must be considered, and voted upon by the people in order to be regarded as officially authoritative.

This is, as I understand it, a process that gradually came to exist in the early church.

During the approval process, the delegates study, ponder, pray and discuss the Words of Counsel. They meet in various caucuses or priesthood orders, quorums, and councils to review the document and openly discus and question it.

So, all the evangelists meet as the Order of Evangelists, the bishops meet as the Order of Bishops, the high priests meet as members of the Quorum of High Priests, the seventies meet as members of the Quorums of Seventy (I can’t quite recall if they meet as individual quorums or all together under the leadership of the presidents of seventy), the apostles meet as the Council of Twelve apostles.

Elders meet in a “mass meeting of elders” and deacons, teachers and priests meet as a “mass meeting of the Aaronic priesthood”.

In addition, there is a caucus for non-priesthood members, a non-delegate caucus, a couple of non-English speaking caucuses, and a youth caucus.

On the day that the inspired document is to be voted on (and when consideration is to commence), the president may make a few remarks, but quickly turns the chair over to someone else, and leaves the conference chamber. This further empowers people to speak and act as they wish.

The revelation is usually read one more time, and the various bodies mentioned above, along with the other two members of the First Presidency, present reports on how each body views the revelation. If I recall correctly, there is normally time for some further discussion, asking of questions, etc.

Eventually the chair calls for the vote. In the past, I have seen each paragraph voted on individually, and then a vote on the document as a whole, though I don’t know if that is always the case. Only delegates and ex-officio staff can vote (so even though I mentioned above that there is a non-delegate caucus, they meet to discuss and share their views but they don’t actually vote – likewise, members who attended the youth caucus or the non-English caucuses don’t get to vote unless they also happen to be delegates)

The purpose of the vote is to accept or reject the revelation as representing the mind and will of God. If the vote supports the revelation, it is added to our Doctrine & Covenants, becoming a new Section, and it therefore becomes authoritative, and part of our standard of authority, and canon of scripture.

After the vote is taken, the chair then calls for a courtesy vote, open to all members in attendance, including non-delegates (this is the only time that non-delegates get to vote).

So far, no revelation has ever been rejected, but this is not, as some people think, a rubber stamp process, nor a simple formality. It is a very serious process, and there has often been some difficult questions asked, some deep concerns expressed, and outright (and very vocal) opposition. There have even been occasions where members of the leading church bodies questioned a revelation.

Votes are not generally unanimous. People can, and many do, vote against a revelation. And they do so free of risk.

If the vote supports the revelation, a contingent of church leaders fetch the prophet-president, and they march back into the conference chamber, from the back, walking down the center aisle, as the attendees sing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”. Its very moving.

Then the chairperson officially informs the prophet that the revelation has been accepted, and turns the chair back over to the prophet, who may make some final comments before moving onto other business. The entire process ensures that a responsible check-&-balance system exists.

Are all revelations added to the Doctrine & Covenants?

A change arose during the presidency of W. Grant McMurray. Prior to his tenure, many revelations combined spiritual counsel with administrative counsel (i.e., changes in senior church leadership). Or, sometimes a revelation would contain only the latter.

This resulted in the Doctrine & Covenants becoming cluttered with a great deal of content that largely dealt with just changes in senior church leadership.

Under President McMurray, changes in church leadership would no longer be combined with spiritual counsel, and would be presented in documents for just that purpose.

Such documents are termed “Letters of Counsel”. So, a Letter of Counsel provides administrative counsel (changes in church leadership), and the documents known as Words of Counsel provide spiritual counsel (encouragement, admonishments, direction, guidance, etcetera).

Sometimes a Letter of Counsel will be the only revelation presented at World Conference (as God does not provide spiritual counsel every single time).

Generally, the same process of consideration is utilized. The delegates consider the changes, the various bodies present reports, and there is a vote to approve the changes.

However, the outcome is not the same. Letters of Counsel do not become new Sections in the book of Doctrine & Covenants. For this reason, when President McMurray first made this alteration, and presented the first Letter of Counsel, explaining how things were now going to work, he was asked if such documents are to still be regarded as revelations, and he replied “yes”.

Are all revelations subjected to the approval process?

On rare occasion, a revelation containing spiritual counsel has been presented to the church and *not* subjected to a vote. The first time this happened (that I’m aware of) was in 1996. President McMurray presented a document to the church, but felt that God had more to impress upon him, and therefore, he did not permit the World Conference to take any action on it. Nor was that permitted in 1998. However, in 2000, an expanded version of the document was formally submitted for consideration, and became Section 161.

More recently, during the 2013 World Conference, a new inspired document (“Words of Counsel”) was presented, which President Veazey, from the start, said would not be voted on at that time, as he wanted to let it rest with us during the three years between that conference and our next World Conference in 2016. This was highly unusual, but represents I feel a very sober and mature approach to revelation: let the people really study it and ponder it and explore it before taking action on it.

Another more recent development is for Letters of Counsel to be shared outside of World Conference. Between World Conference 2010 and World Conference 2013, some key church leaders had to resign for personal reasons. Therefore, two different Letters of Counsel were issued naming interim leaders, with the understanding that they would officially fill the vacancies if accepted by the delegates at the 2013 World Conference.

During that conference a new Letter of Counsel was released summarizing the prior two and announcing some additional changes, and so that single document was actioned during that conference.

Note that, while in the above examples, immediate action was not taken on various items presented, everything that was (or is), intended to be canonized, was eventually (or will be), subjected to a vote. Likewise, before changes are made to the presiding leadership bodies, a vote is eventually taken, *before* the new leaders are installed. So, in all cases, if it is intended for an inspired document to be canonized, or for leadership changes to go into effect, the Words of Counsel and Letters of Counsel are subjected to the formal approval process. The point of this section was simply to show that, sometimes the church has provided the membership with more deliberation time than in previous eras of the church’s history.

However, if there is a revelation that is not intended to be canonized, and which does not impact leadership changes, it does not have to be voted on.

The only example of this that I’m aware of pertains to a short revelation that was presented to the church in 2009, towards the end of President Veazey’s first ever annual address to the church (and first ever annual address ever made). He shared, at the end of his talk a beautiful revelation which took the form of God providing encouragement.

It reads as follows:

(with a short introduction)

As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed through the following words to the church:

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.

Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Being Responsible

I really love the way Community of Christ handles revelation in our church. I love that throughout our entire history, we have added new counsel from God to our book of Doctrine & Covenants, and I love that we practice responsible revelation: we don’t just treat everything that the the prophet says, writes, or does as being the result of Revelation. We don’t just accept all impacting revelations as authoritative simply because the prophet has said that he’s received a revelation. I love that the revelations are written, circulated, deliberated upon, prayed over, and finally voted on, as moved by the Holy Spirit.

And I love that we have grown in corporate church maturity to understand that if you’re going to claim that God has blessed the world with new scripture, its best to let the people voting on it have more than just a few days to delve through it, if the issues or themes are complex. This change, is perhaps the clearest example of how Community of Christ practices responsible revelation. Not only does the prophet’s revelation have to be written down, circulated, studied by whoever wishes to, and ultimately voted on; but he has given us three years to study it, before asking us to take the critical step of affirming to the greater church and the word that what has been presented warrants being upheld as scripture, and becoming part of our threefold standard of authority.

I also love how we ceased adding administrative changes to our scriptures, and I love how we have continued to embrace revelation in new ways, by seeing the revelatory process take place outside of World Conferences; and I love that the members of the church, are part of the ongoing prophetic process. We are, as others have said before, not just a people with a prophet, but a prophetic people. It is not one or the other, but a partnership.

I am so thankful to belong to a church that not only believes in continuing revelation, but celebrates it, finding new ways to incorporate it into the life of our church. And its on the rise! As near as I can determine, we have been blessed with approximately 15 revelations since they year 2000. Continuing revelation is truly a blessing to us all, and I am grateful to God for His never failing love and patience for His people, and His eternal patience for a flock that does not always listen, or which often fails to understand His purposes. Thank you Lord for never giving up on us, and for continuing, even now, to speak to us. It is my hope and prayer that we will become better at hearing you.

Responsible revelation. What a concept!

Where I can find the most recent revelations?

Examples of our most recent additions to the Doctrine & Covenants can be found here:

https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-161
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-162
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-163
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-164

The 2013 Words of Counsel can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/041413wordsofCounsel/

An example of a letter of counsel can be found here:

http://ddonblog3.wordpress.com/2013-letter-of-cousnel/

A Personal Testimony

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. The rest is bonus content.

I want to add that being part of the process of approving a Revelation is hugely rewarding. There is something really exciting about holding in your hands a copy of a new revelation from God, and there is something exhilarating about getting to be at World Conference where a new revelation is considered, voted on, and ordered for inclusion in our Doctrine & Covenants.

I’ll never forget how I felt during a conference several years ago. I was not able to attend, but I heard there was a rumor that there was a new revelation. But I was not sure if that was true, or if the document was perhaps something else (like a pastoral letter).

When I found the document, I was still not sure what it was being presented as. Then I felt a chill, when I noticed that the paragraphs had been versified. This was not just a pastoral letter, but a revelation.

And then I saw these words:

“To the Councils, Quorums, and Orders, to the World Conference, and to the church”

I should mention, that a large number of our revelations begin with those words. I don’t think they are used in any other way. At least, not that I’m aware of.

And they are just words. Not even part of the actual revelation. Nothing special about them. Pretty boring right? Pretty non-significant. And yet, when I began to read those words that day, I started to cry. For you see, as soon as I read those words, I knew it was official. I knew that I was reading God’s most recent counsel to the church, and it connected me to an experience, a sacred experience, taking place far away from my home, that I could not be at.

I’m getting choked up right now as I write this, as I think back on that experience. They are, for me, despite otherwise being meaningless, among the most powerful words I have ever read.

No matter how many revelations they commence. Its funny how something so minor can resonate with me so much, and draw me closer to God. I noticed that they were not used for the 2013 Words of Counsel, but I hope that if that document is one day formally submitted to be considered for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants, that they will be added, and I hope to be sitting in the conference chamber, to hear someone speaking into a mic, reading those words, calling us into the presence of the divine, as God’s guidance and counsel are shared with His people.

Lead with Grace

shepherdTwo weeks ago I was talking to some people about different leadership styles in the church, and how leaders handle various situations differently. At one point I was trying to express how I felt leaders should deal with all issues, especially those that, if mishandled, could cause resentment.

I’m not sure where it came from, but suddenly I said “they need to lead with grace”. I kinda liked that. Even impressed myself :) I liked it so much that I mentioned it several times today in a meeting I attended with several church members from across our mission center.

All church leaders, all ministers, all disciples, all members, when making decisions, when weighing options, when enforcing policies and positions, when dealing with both paid staff as well as volunteers, when dealing with issues of doctrine and theology, and in particular, when working through any controversial issue, *must* lead with grace.

In other words, we should not be cold, or heavy-handed, or callous in how we handle any matter that we are working through.

We are a church, and that means we are a community of people. And, as in all communities, there are differences of opinion, and sometimes, that requires people in positions of authority to invoke “the official stuff” (policies, positions, principles, church law, doctrine, theology, scripture, etc. etc.), and that is perfectly fine (especially if you’re making a reference to scripture).

However, how we deliver the message is of paramount importance. This is why it is imperative that when we do so, when we deliver that message, whatever it might be, we must lead with grace.

In fact, if we truly lead with grace, we might find an alternative solution that we would not otherwise have considered. As Stephen Covey discusses in his book “The 3rd Alternative”, there are always more than two courses of action. However, if we are unwilling to lead with grace, we might be blind to other possibilities.

Sometimes, we might feel that there are no options, because we do have policies that, if strayed from, may seem to warrant enforcement.

I’m in favor of supporting church policies. But we still need to lead with grace.

In 2007 President Veazey presented an inspired document to the church that was approved for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants as Section 163. That revelation includes the following words:

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship….” -7b

This counsel was given to the church because, throughout history, mankind has had a tendency to worship scripture instead of God, to the detriment of many.

The Latter Day Restoration Movement, including Community of Christ, has not been an exception. We must not be so narrow minded and short sighted, that we, through our use of scripture, to justify our actions, or positions, etc., ultimately worship scripture instead of God.

The above counsel is not just guidance, but an admonishment, perhaps even a rebuke. And because of this guidance, the church is rightly moving away from worshiping scripture.

Yet, there are those who seem to worship policies. I have had conversations with people in the past who have almost become outraged to learn that, inadvertently, a particular policy was not adhered to. This has happened even when the policy was a minor one. I’ve actually been taken aback on these occasions at how annoyed people can be when this happens. It also has struck me as likely that if the policy in question were to be changed, or dropped from our books, they would not have cared. I sensed no loyalty to the particular policies in question, just an overzealous need to respond with sharp criticism over the fact that a policy had been strayed from.

Policies are not canonized, so if we can take the position that we should not worship scripture (even making that stance itself a verse of scripture), we would do well to not worship policies. Instead, we should lead with grace.

Section 163 also included this deeply profound statement:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

In his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address to the church, President Veazey took the above, and transformed it into a question that he posed to the church.

“So, after all that is said, what matters most?”

The concept of what matters most was also referenced in Section 164, when we were told that the mission of Jesus Christ matters most.

As a question, “what matters most?” is a brilliant thing to ask. When we deal with anything, including church policies, we need to ask that question. Again, I’m not advocating that policies be ignored, but we should still take a moment to pause, and ask ourselves, “OK, truly, sincere, honestly, what really matters most here?”

Lead with grace.

I also love how that verse in Section 163 starts: “There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church.” Yes indeed. And that is why “the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Lead with grace.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not called to be Pharisees. But we run the risk of becoming just that if we fail to lead with grace, if we fail to consider what matter most. So, just keep it simple. Consider what matters most, and lead with grace. Always.

Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace!

Where Jesus Appears: Interpreting the Post-Resurrection Narratives

Resurrection. Rising from the dead? Empowerment? Continuing presence? Mythology? I’ve grown rather bored as of late with the historical quests for who Jesus really was. It’s tiring, really. One scholar says this, the other says that-next thing you know, Jesus hasn’t been deconstructed but shattered. Of course, that is somewhat exaggerated. I’ve definitely gained some valuable insights into who Jesus was and what he stood for. What I want to do now is move away from the historical criticism dimension and towards the metaphorical/literary approach. I would like to study the texts not for historical truth but for the value beyond the reductionists’ snare. As a start, I want to return to the Resurrection, not in terms of whether or not it was bodily, but what it tells us about the meaning of Jesus.

Jesus’ death should have ended his movement. That’s what happened, that’s what happens. Revolutionaries from the marginalized realms of society almost always contain the lifeblood of the movement. They are the standard, the incarnation of hope, the essence of the resistance. Yet in decapitating the head of the Jesus movement, Roman authorities unleashed a hydra that spread and grew in strength. Something was amiss. This is both a theological and historical question: Why did Jesus’ followers continue and grow, in contrast to the many other marginalized groups who have clashed with authority in the history of the world? I don’t intend to deal with this question directly in this post. Instead, I will focus on how Jesus’ life and message was internalized by his followers. Perhaps this will clarify future examinations of that question.

dawnLet’s now turn to the post-Resurrection narratives, starting with Matthew. Matthew is quite terse.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

I find this anecdote to be the most illuminating in Matthew’s recounting. Think in a Jewish context of the imagery of the mountain. Moses spoke with God on top of the mountain.

Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites…” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after” (Exodus 19:3-6, 9).

I emphasize the Moses connection because from the start of Matthew’s Gospel, he compares Jesus to Moses. Take, for example, the accounts the Israelites’ flight from Egypt and Jesus’ flight from Herod. In the former, the Israelites escape the Pharaoh in Egypt and go to Canaan. In the latter, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt to avoid tyranny in Palestine. Jesus, then, is to be a liberator. But there’s a problem. Unlike Moses, Jesus wasn’t able to lead the Israelites on a long journey into the wilderness, away from bondage. Instead, he is killed. Matthew, then, is not so much concerned with the Resurrection as a triumph over death as he is with developing a profound truth: Moses never left. The Jews are always waiting for either divine or prophetic intervention but then don’t recognize it. They have a defeatist attitude, a sense of saying “no” to life. The Pharisees and Sadducees don’t deconstruct the system that oppresses them, but long for a future day when some powerful figure will. Those are the doubters mention in Matthew’s verse above-not doubters in his Resurrection (in the ancient world, the realms of earth and death were intimately connected), but in whether they have the ability. Matthew is turning this on its head. Jesus was the spark, but now is followers realize they have the ability to tend the flame of this new kingdom of freedom and community. And just as God does when speaking with Moses, he reminds them that he is always there, to the “end of the age,” the end of the age of oppression, when a new type of world will come forth.

Luke’s account uses a different angle. His narrative of the road to Emmaus is, for me, the most profound account of Jesus after the Resurrection. It is an account of communal mourning and compassion, breaking bread even in sorrow. According to Luke, the two disciples encounter a stranger whom they are unable to recognize in their despair. They allude to prior hopes that he was the redeemer-notice how the onus is on Jesus just as traditional Jewish thought placed the responsibility on some great intervening person or force. They discuss some other matters as the day progresses.

“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:28-35).

These verses reveals how Jesus’ followers saw him, how he continued to be among them. Jesus is found in hospitality and welcoming the stranger. But, even more important, it is the breaking of bread, the sharing of the meal where Jesus is most pronounced. In the meal, life is nourished and friendship may be cultivated. The meal is about community, loving your neighbor, participating in something more than oneself. The focus should not be on the figure of the stranger as Jesus rather, Jesus is to be found in the act itself. That is where the realization occurs.

The cross leaves us, as it did with the original disciples, with a feeling of loss. It is a moment of total deconstruction. Everything that gives comfort appears to fall away. Yet the Resurrection tells a different story. It reveals how the evils that Jesus stood against are the ones that crumble. For in the crucifixion, we are left with uncertainty and anxiety, but also new freedom. The Resurrection is our encounter with this freedom, showing us how we can turn what we thought was lost into a call for action, a call to dismantle that which stands against love, courage, and freedom. It is not about beating death, but embracing life.

Thoughts on Suffering and Peace

Well a lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately, I can’t use blogging as an excuse to not do homework or study for the SATs… Anyways, I’m back, and since Easter was just last weekend, I figured it was as good a time as any to discuss suffering (and peace).

Before continuing, I want to stress that I don’t intend for my posts to (necessarily) have any rhyme or reason. If I contradict myself or appear to evolve, it’s because I’m simply discussing new insights. For me, guides to “truth” are no longer static entities.

buddha

As I have discussed before, Christianity has a suffering problem. Many atheist writers have come up with sound logical arguments against God’s existence using the problem of evil. The larger theological problem, as I see it, is that Christian theologians have boxed themselves into a corner with God. Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, described this issue in depth. In the west, God became a deity of philosophers. The ability to redefine God paved the way for Protestant theologians to proffer new images. The many denominations of Christianity today attest to the often unacknowledged malleability of God.

Perhaps, in an effort to solve this theological conundrum, Christianity could find value in two unlikely sources: Buddhism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Buddhism is dedicated to overcoming suffering within a non-theistic framework. Achieving a state of peace and bliss, nirvana, involves release from ideas. The Christian God, as it is usually discussed, is an unsystematic medley of ideas and concepts. In discussing nirvana, Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh said:

And that is why Nirvana is not something that you get in the future. Nirvana is the capacity of removing the wrong notions, wrong perceptions, which is the practice of freedom. Nirvana can be translated as freedom: freedom from views. And in Buddhism, all views are wrong views. When you get in touch with reality, you no longer have views. You have wisdom. You have a direct encounter with reality, and that is no longer called views.”

In a Christian context, FORGET EVERYTHING YOU WERE EVER TOLD ABOUT GOD! Or at the very least, don’t take symbolic language literally. Applying this Buddhist framework is truly radical, but it’s sound advice. Think about views and notions. They are individual and self-based, based in the ego. Our individual views are the foundations for our prejudices and biases, and thus cause our suffering. They prevent us from seeing in a pure light. And as Hanh has repeatedly emphasized, they serve as the justification for religious wars and deaths of countless people. Removing our views would open up our eyes and allow for us to interrelate in a less judgmental and selfish manner.

Now how can Jacques Lacan, a heterodox Freudian psychoanalyst, offer any help in solving Christianity’s theological problems? Lacan spoke of a three-part framework: the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Contemporary theologian, Peter Rollins, has discussed this framework’s relation to God in some detail:

“We treat someone at the imaginary level when we see him or her as fundamentally like us. In other words, they are someone who we can admire, love, hate, be jealous of etc. This is relatively easy to understand as we’re broadly aware of the way we exist in competition, or solidarity, with those around us….

In traditional theological circles God operates more on the Symbolic level. Here God is not named as such, it is claimed that what we say about God reflects ourselves and that we must speak of God as “beyond being,” “ground of being,” or in some other way that avoids the idea of us “speaking of ourselves in a loud voice” (Karl Barth). It is claimed that there is an ineffable reality to God that cannot be penetrated; yet this impenetrable God exposes us to ourselves.”

In other words, the Imaginary is narcissistic and egotistical, while the Symbolic relates more to the customs and rules of a culture. At the Symbolic level, for Lacan, God is the Other, an illusory structure of existence that pervades our consciousness. Thus, as a societal structure, it is subject to change.

Yet similar to the Buddhist concept of nirvana, and release from ideas:

“The Real is a rupture. The Real cannot be imagined or symbolized, it does not occupy a place, and yet it takes place. The Real is a crack within our existing political, religious and cultural configurations, a resistance that prevents systems from claiming absolute knowledge. It is a destabilizing event that threatens to disrupt the balance maintained by our ideological commitments.”

Perhaps understood in this way, the experience of Christianity could be freeing and able to reduce suffering.