Rebaptism, Boundaries, and the Journey Ahead

In his April 5th Address, “A Defining Moment,” President Steve Veazey tackled several pressing issues facing Community of Christ.  Most anticipated were his remarks regarding rebaptism and conditions of church membership.   A recent article in the Herald by Church Historian Mark Scherer indicates that this is not a new issue for Community of Christ, the church at certain times and under certain conditions recognizing the baptisms of another Restoration church.  These instanced included, under Joseph Smith III, recognizing the baptisms of those who had followed Brigham Young west if they had been baptized before the 1844 schism, and members of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) from 1918 to 1926.  A recurring issue, Community of Christ is now engaging it in new ways and with new eyes, considering whether baptisms of other Christian faiths are acceptable for new members entering into our community.

Of the nineteenth-century context, where the church’s position was one of exclusivity, Scherer states that “launching a new religion in the volatile American era was a daunting task.  No guarantee existed that Latter Day Saintism could compete with other denominations” (Herald April 22).  He then quotes Nathan O. Hatch, a historian of American religion, who “described the times as ‘a wildly diverse religious culture [that] made both denominational identity and authority fragile creations.’  Most churches, including ours, believed that theirs was ‘the only true church’” (ibid).

Drawing from the Catholic lexicon and experience, we find another example of ‘the only true church’ in a Latin phrase chanted by monks for centuries: extra ecclesia nulla salus, or “outside of the Church there is no salvation.” While Community of Christ might have equated the Kingdom of God with their institution alone for more than a century, today we are seeking to be a true and living church, no longer denying the extra-ecclesia experience of other followers of Christ outside of the Restoration or even our body of believers.  And there seems to be some justification for this in the early Doctrine & Covenants, where Sidney Rigdon was told that, while a Campbellite minister, he had “baptize[d others] by water unto repentance” (See D&C 34:2, LDS D&C 35:3-5).  As a mission-oriented church, it is not surprising that we are considering accepting other Christian baptisms when so many potential converts insist that getting rebaptized invalidates their previous commitment to and walk with Christ.  Many of these persons are already in our congregations, but are unable to take part in the full life of the church and its sacraments because they are unwilling to be rebaptized.

For a missionary church that is looking to develop a bigger net to cast, however, there is a danger in making the holes in the net too large—for both those we are seeking to draw in, and those already within.  Hatch’s statement regarding “denominational identity and authority” being “fragile creations” is most interesting when coupled with comments by Armand Mauss, a sociologist of Mormonism.  Mauss argues in his book, The Angel and the Beehive, that Mormonism has oscillated between retrenchment from and acceptance towards mainstream society, necessarily remaining in tension in order to maintain its identity and value among followers.  In this same vein, regarding Community of Christ, he states:

It seems to me that the issue is one of maintaining boundaries (at the institutional level) and identity (at the psychological level)….  For [Community of Christ] (or any other liberal denomination) it is not enough that the message or the truth-claims be clear, coherent, and well articulated.  They must also make demands on adherents, demands for money, for time, for commitment, and for a certain number of at least mildly stigmatizing “peculiarities” (like no abortions, no birth control, no divorce, and no meat on Friday for pre-Vatican II Catholics; no wine, no non-marital sex, strange temple rites and underwear, big families, commitment to angels and golden bibles, etc., for Mormons).  Whether [Community of Christ] or other denominations, the ones that are growing and thriving are those that make these kinds of demands on their adherents as a way of drawing and maintaining boundaries.  It is not only the [Community of Christ] but virtually all denominations whose boundaries have eroded that are in trouble….  Coherent gospels and truth-claims are also important but are secondary (after all, believers tend to stylize formal dogmas to meet their own needs).  To avoid losing its identity altogether, [Community of Christ], like other liberal (or liberalizing) denominations, will have to “turn up the tension” (with the rest of the surrounding culture and surrounding religious market) by increasing the ideological and life-style demands made on the membership, thereby [re]drawing boundaries by emphasizing peculiarities. (Quoted in Lawrence Foster’s “Beyond Black Muslims and Reorganized Mormons,” JWHA Journal Vol. 28, page 57)

Reading Mauss within Hatch’s nineteenth-century assessment, authority and identity are still fragile, but where it was once so because of its newness, it is now so after being codified and becoming rigid.  Not because of being green, but from being brittle, the church is in danger of schism when it attempts to change identities, boundaries, and conceptions of authority.

There is significant sociological data that the churches that have liberalized and become more inclusive, since the nineteenth-century to the present day, have tended to lose members.  And many sociologists, like Mauss, have concluded that in accepting too many and too much, their identity as a unique group is watered down until it no longer matters.  For this group of researchers, less is more, for their data shows that longtime members break off or simply quit coming—or, more likely, their children see no reason to continue with the tradition of the parents—and new members become nonexistent.  It was the exceptionalism of RLDS identity, of a separate people from the rest of Christianity and the rest of Mormonism, that gave it staying power and steam across generations.  It mattered because they were a peculiar people—unique and special among all others.

Exceptionalism, however, has a dark underbelly.  Many wars and acts of violence and oppression have been waged and perpetrated by countries and peoples who felt that they had a God-ordained role that made them exceptional, and in some ways, unaccountable to their neighbor.  While not entirely disagreeing with Mauss’s assessment, I am wary of those peculiarities that posit identity in opposition to another.  “Turning up the tension,” as he puts it, is an act of negative identity formation that pits a community against the world, and creates an inward looking group that does not need to value strangers except as potential proselytes (NB that both of Mauss’s examples consider[ed] themselves to be the one true church).

Community of Christ ought to embrace the rest of the Restoration, of Christianity, and all of religion as, to varying degrees, God founded, God led, and God pleasing; recognizing the worth of all religions, however, does not mean that we ought to honor the acts of violence perpetuated by some on the basis of ecumenical relativity and relations.  As a prophetic people, a recent revelation calls us to “courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace” (D&C 163:3b).  This prophetic call involves challenging all enemies to the peace of God, foreign and domestic.  Here, I think, is our peculiarity, among a few other oddities.

As a unique people among many, instead of the exceptional people without peers, we have boundaries that need not apology but celebration: additional scriptures, a current prophet, and an open canon—along with a very colorful and inspiring history.  Further, Community of Christ offers a distinctive, meaningful, and worthwhile message as it champions the worth of all persons and establishment of zionic communities of Christ’s peace throughout the world.  The church’s current challenge is to continue to develop its identity, as a people of reconciliation and Christ’s peace, while maintaining boundaries necessary for cohesion.  Patience is important, for persons on both sides of the issue.

The realization of our identity as Restoration Christians will take time to develop and gel.  Earlier efforts of negative-identity formation, against the Mormons and against other Christians, will not do if our message and mission involves restoring holiness to all of creation, which in total was pronounced “good” by the Creator.  We are not to shun the world, but embrace its potential embodied in Zion, or the world at its best.  So, in acknowledging the good out there beyond our own little institution, it is fitting that we consider the value in other ministries, and value in others’ sacraments such as baptism.

There is, however, the question of timing.  Community of Christ identity is in a Vatican II-esque, post-RLDS phase that will require time to gel; consequently, moving too quickly in changing our most basic concept of identity found in baptism and membership may further dilute our sense of “us.”  If we leave the 99 to go after the 1, we may find only 89 or less when we return.  This is acceptable, for me, if it is a human rights issue.  Rebaptism, however, seems to lack that urgency.  We are cautioned that “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” (D&C 163:11b).  We would do well to focus on those things that bring us together, that give us a unique and special and meaningful place in the world, and allow us to move forward in proclaiming Jesus Christ, and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.

Community of Christ’s celebration of unity ought to be a celebration of “unity in diversity” (one of the church’s Enduring Principles).  While rebaptism is an important issue, it pales in comparison to the second-class status of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in terms of the sacrament of ordination.  We can be unique—or “peculiar” to use Mauss’s terminology—in regards to our commitment to the marginalized, oppressed, poor, and hated.  Our current mission, in fact, demands this sort of requirement of our people.  While I am hopeful that we will rise to the call already articulated, it seems than another exodus will occur when and if we become more inclusive towards either sacrament, ordination or baptism—as occurred when women were ordained to the priesthood in the early 1980s.

Consider that identity and boundaries tell believers who they are and where they stand, individually and collectively.  When identity and boundaries are coupled with beliefs and a message and a mission, a church transforms into more than an institution, but a worldview for and meaning and purpose in life.  Baptism is emblem to identity, boundary, beliefs, message, and mission—and for many, they have staked their entire world and sense of self on it.  If they leave over this issue, it is because the current direction of the church is no longer in accord with their views of the universe and with themselves: with the way things are, were, and ought to be.  For many, literally everything of lasting importance is riding on this debate, and so I urge caution.  There needs to be time to percolate; and similar to the development of the name of the church, which John Hamer posted previously to SaintsHerald, over time and with patience God’s will will be made manifest.

If there is to be a high cost in church membership, then our stand ought to be on principles of human rights.  And if tension with society is necessary for church-identity cohesion, it is telling that very few outside of the Restoration will care if we open up baptism, but the next World Conference will have twice the protestors if we honor the worth of all persons in the ministry of the priesthood, regardless of sexual orientation as we have done with gender (and race, since the beginning of the Reorganization).  It will be a requirement on the community that will strengthen boundaries and identity, mission and message—and a worthy cause if some feel they can no longer worship alongside us.  This, to me, is “what matters most for the journey ahead.”

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36 comments on “Rebaptism, Boundaries, and the Journey Ahead

  1. FireTag says:

    Seth:

    You do a very good job of looking at the issues involved in rebaptism and boundaries. I think this is not an issue we should focus on — certainly not to the point of making it a major focus of discernment between now and the 2010 conference. And if we must consider it, it should be from the same perspective of what’s just that you refer to regarding the issue of homosexuality and ordination.

    In fact, there will be no cost in membership one way or another. Our policy on this may decide WHO is is the church, but not HOW MANY. Our denomination is simply too small to be affected by anything we do programmatically or theologically within the church. It has been that way for at least 130 years, which far preceeds the current conservative vs. progressive framework in which our theological debates reside. (If you wish to see the full data and evidence see “Growing the Church to Impact Public Life” in Theology 14: Religion and Public Life by Graceland Press)

    This should be freeing; the future is being decided at “a higher pay grade” than the denominational level. We can follow what each of us hears our calling to be without worrying about how it will affect the church’s “market share”.

    To answer Matt Bolten’s question on another post. Will it be managed decline? Well, yes, but that is perfectly all right.

    • I disagree. I think simply transferring memberships from other churches baptisms should be done. We can then confirm them in our church. After all, we have been giving them communion, recognizing their Christian baptisms for several years.

      • Jeff Winship says:

        I disagree with you Margie. Just because we have been “giving them communion” for years does not make it right. Our baptism is similar yet diffrent than other denomination’s baptisms.

        Yes, it is a statement of faith, but far more than that. It calls us to truly follow after Christ and His example. To do the things and teach as He taught. Jesus could not accept other’s baptisms and neither should we.

        Matthew 9:18-21
        Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law? But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law. I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing. For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away.

        Yes, we should “recognizing their Christian baptisms” but only for what they are. Was their previous baptism wrong? By no means was it wrong, their baptisms have brought them to an understanding of Christ and his ministry. It is a closer walk than they were, but He calls us to a walk that is intimate.

        By accepting their previous baptism and just confirming them into the Church puts the cart is before the horse.

        Jesus established the pattern and authority by which His doctrines were to be practiced. it is not up to us to change these for convenience.

  2. Adam Smith says:

    Good thoughts. But you seem to focus on the idea that the premise behind open membership or acceptance of other baptism is about becoming more liberal or attracting more membership. I don’t think this is the case, or at least, I don’t think it should be the case.

    What it should be about, is making our theology more sound.

    Why is baptism required for membership in the first place? Why not some other ritual? Why only baptism by our priesthood, in our sacrament?

    All of these questions have theological implications. They say something about who we are and what kind of God we believe in.

    Do we beleive in an exclusive God who calls a particular people and favors a particular denomination? Or a God who loves all people and does not endorse any particular denomination?

    Do we believe in a God who requires certain physical rituals in order to be saved? A God that needs us to undertake certain symbolic gestures in order for Him to grant us His blessing? Or do we believe in a God who lets all human-kind find Him through the process most comfortable and meaningful to them?

    The issue of rebaptism say far less about the membership, in my opinion, than it does about who we are as a denomination and what we believe.

    And these things are important.

    • And let’s keep in mind that Jesus accepted John’s baptism. It is the intent of heart that counts. People are baptized for the remission of sin and confirmed into membership.

      • Jeff Winship says:

        Margie I never said that Jesus did not accept John’s baptism, not sure where you came up with that??? Jesus pointed to John’s baptism becaue it had authority unlike the baptisms of the Pharisees as I stated from Matthew.

        Yes the intent of the heart is important, but if the mind and will of God is not understood, anything can be placed within the heart. [Gen 3:7] And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, for he had drawn away many after him; and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God; wherefore, he sought to destroy the world.

        Zion was called such because the people were unified in the understanding that God’s way was more important than their way. [Gen 7:23] And the Lord called his people, Zion, because they were of one heart and of one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there were no poor among them.

  3. John Hamer says:

    I think the baptism candle here is burning at both ends. On the end, we are hopefully rejecting the idea nulla salus extra ecclesia — you can have salvation outside of the church, in both the sense of the denomination (Community of Christ) and the broader Christian communion. The act of baptism is not a “saving ordinance,” because people who live and die without baptism are not necessarily unsaved. And, indeed, there are no saving ordinances, only symbolic ordinances. Rituals do not have magic powers, their magic comes from their symbolic and thematic power.

    At the other end of the candle is the burning idea that not recognizing another denomination’s baptisms dishonors those baptisms. By refusing to accept another’s baptism as legitimate, we are aggressively delegitimizing other denominations, which is aggressive. (Coupled with this is the less noble worry that this act isn’t so much cutting other Christians off from the Community of Christ, but rather is cutting Community of Christ off from the mainline body of Christianity, i.e., if only the church recognized all Christian baptisms, then the church would be accepted as real Christians and not some strange thing associated with those Mormons.)

    While both these flames have been burning, I’m not sure that they’ve taken much note of each other. If we do the revised math, understanding that baptism is not a saving ordinance subtracts the offense from not recognizes some other church’s baptisms. We recognize it the same way we might recognize any similar symbolic ritual in any religion, not just Christian, but also Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. as having legitimate importance for those individuals, their faith, and their faith community. That recognition should compel us look back to our own ordinance of baptism and find similar value in it.

    Baptism has long been an important tradition in the church that symbolizes, among other things, that a person has committed to become a member of a congregation and the denomination. I think that value remains and so I don’t see any need to make this change.

    And, as far as tearing down the last stones in the wall that used to mark the boundary between the Community of Christ and mainline Protestantism, I think the church would do well to consider stacking some of those bricks back up, to create a new understanding of itself as a unique tradition with a place among the broadest worldwide community of faiths, rather than merged formlessly into the narrower realm of Christendom.

    • Adam Smith says:

      “Baptism has long been an important tradition in the church that symbolizes, among other things, that a person has committed to become a member of a congregation and the denomination. I think that value remains and so I don’t see any need to make this change.”

      John, I appreciate your thoughts. But I think you stated in your comment several very good reasons to change the tradition of using the symbol of baptism as a condition of membership.

      I think it is much easier said than done to say that we no longer consider baptism a saving ritual and we no longer consider it a magical event – but we nonetheless consider it a mandatory rite of membership. This is because the act of baptism is a universal symbol and this is not easily undone.

      Imagine instead that our membership rite were the sacrament of marriage, as opposed to baptism. That all new members are required to stand up with and symbolically marry the pastor of a congregation – with flowers, wedding march, bridesmaids, cake-in-the-face, etc.

      Aside from the obvious silliness – the problem is that marriage is not just a CofC symbol, it is a universal symbol. Obviously committed couples would be troubled by saying vows of that nature to a church body. Its, well, sacreligious.

      And it would not be easily remedied by the church saying – “no, no – you don’t understand this is just a rite of membership here, a tradition. We know that you probably look at it as a sacrament of love and commitment to your spouse, but that’s not how we see it here.” I can’t imagine that would fly.

      So to suggest that we just “change” the symbol of baptism by saying that it’s no longer a sacrament of commitment to God and the cleansing of sin – but a membership ritual, seems kind of unlikely.

      • John Hamer says:

        Adam,

        I’m not suggesting that the Community of Christ eliminate the ideas that baptism represents a commitment to God and a cleansing of past sins. It can be those things in addition to being a public statement that you are joining the church.

        I think your comparison between baptism and marriage is inevitably strained because the two sacraments have very different existences in broader society.

        On your point that baptism is a “universal symbol” — I want to push back on you. Marriage may be relatively universal. It’s not just Community of Christ people who get married. And it’s not just Christians who get married. Peoples of most faiths from Hindus to Bahai’s marry, as do wholly secular people. (And, by the way, I consider people who pair off and shack up to be married, whether or not they get government or religious recognition for their relationship.)

        Baptism, however, is quite different. Secular people don’t get baptized. Baptism is not found in all religions. It is therefore not a universal symbol, it is a distinctive Christian symbol, and its understanding in the Community of Christ is distinctive within Christianity.

        Concerning the silly forms of a tradition — arbitrary things like throwing the bride’s garter and having the bride and groom feed each other cake are obviously not essential to the ritual of marriage. You can be married without any ritual; you just need to sign some forms to have most marriages recognized by the government. Thus, marriage obviously transcends the magic/historic ritual of having the female partner led down the aisle in a white dress (signifying her virginity) by her father and having her hand placed in her future husband’s (signifying the father’s transfer of his filial property to the husband).

        Is baptism more than the magic act? If it is, and I think it is, then you can be baptized by simply stating that you’ve crossed this threshold into the Community of Christ, and by signing a form at church to that effect, witnessed by an appropriate priesthood member. If you’ve become committed to God and the church and if you’ve felt a cleansing of your sins (if you feel that’s part of the experience), then no water needs to be involved.

  4. Lyle II says:

    As Community of Christ we still have a lot of work to do to truly understand sacraments and our unique place in the global communities of Christians, faiths, and humanity. Developing resources and saying “Let’s discern as a people” is a step in the right direction, but still much theological work is needed to deepen our understandings as a people and ensure those understandings are reflective of both who we are, who we are called to be, and the One who calls us.
    Is Baptism unrepeatable as the 1982 World Council of Church’s Faith and Order Commission paper “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” claims?
    Or in the context of the Restoration tradition is it a repeatable sacrament? Our history and experience as a people provides indication and evidence that it may be a repeatable sacrament in the context of the Restoration. In recent years as we have been counseled to look at the sacraments, to embrace them we have gown to see the sacrament of Evangelist Life Blessing, once seen as unrepeatable, as perhaps not “repeatable” but something that can be continued.
    Perhaps the same is with Baptism. Perhaps we should not practice “re-baptism” but “Continuing baptism” not just for those from other traditions but also those from within our own… perhaps not.
    Perhaps as we grow to understand what it is to be “Community of Christ” we can as well deepen our understanding of baptism as communal sacrament rather than focusing primarily upon the one being dunked and their entering the community but the ways the whole gathered community is actively participating in the sacrament and encountering the Holy in that moment, time and place.
    As Community of Christ continues to grow up and become an adult, we have a lot of work before us to deepen our theological understands and life expressions of sacrament, Temple, scripture, liturgy, and more. We are on the road, we are making good turns, and perhaps some bad ones, stumbling at times, but still we have a lot of work to do and sometimes we seem to want to either speed up and not take the time to truly reflect and discern, or slow down to try and avoid and put off reflecting and discerning…. I pray we will be more open to the Holy and each other, and to possibilities so far unexpressed, or expressed but muted by the choices with the loudest voices…
    Peace

    • Margie Miller says:

      There’s an article concerning re baptism in last month’s Herald. It is written by Mark Scherer, church historian. There is some history of allowing folks to simply transfer their membership if their congregation accepts that alternative. I recommend the article for a clearer understanding of the issue.

  5. Sam Young says:

    This is a very interesting post with many great comments. I personnally do not have a strong feeling either way on rebaptism to be a member of the church. I agree with one of the posts that baptism is not required to be saved. However we are commanded to be baptized so to show obedience we have to be baptized.

    What about those who were baptized as babies? Our theology says such baptisms do not meet the intent of scripture. Baptism is a personal decision, so in this case I would expect new members to be given our reasons for being rebaptized.

    Final note: The original post mentions that only if a principle of human rights were being violated should a decision be made that could cause a high loss of members. When did human rights become the highest principle of the church? We must be careful that we keep our priorities straight. The vote to allow women in the priesthood was justified not by a “principle of human rights” but rather through study of the scriptures and guidance by the Holy Spirit.

  6. People who were sprinkled or baptized as babies would have to be re-baptized by the criteria set by the church as having to be immersed and also having to be old enough to make their own decision to repent.

    We really need to remove baptism as a membership rite and keep it as a symbol of a change of life direction.

    • Jeff Winship says:

      Margie, on one hand you acknowledge the fact that those who were sprinkled or baptized as babies would need to be re-baptized ‘because they weren’t immersed or able to make their own decision’ and then on the other hand you are ready to throw out baptism as a condition of membership totally. So sometimes it is necessary and other times it is unnecessary? Why not just allow it to happen as Jesus ordained it to take place. By those having authority administering it unto those who wish with all their heart mind and strength to follow after Christ, seeking to abide all His commandments with a desire to live a selfless life, bringing others to the knowledge of Him who gives eternal life.

      • Jeff, note that I said “by the criteria set by the church”. As I said earlier, baptism is a “sign” of a changed heart and a desire to follow the way of Jesus. It is confirmation that makes one a member of a denomination. So I see no reason why the criteria could not be changed and baptized people could just be confirmed as members of our church.

  7. Doug Gregory says:

    We are not baptized into the church by immersion in water, but are confirmed as members of the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands by the elders of the church. At least, that is what I was taught and have followed these many years.

    In reality, it may be this second baptism that sets the Restoration movement apart from most Christian sects that I am aware of. This confirmation is one of the unique aspects of the church and our common theology, that we are a church led by God through the common impress of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that calls us into relationship with Jesus Christ, that confirms us into the body, that cleanses us from sin, that ministers to us during time of sacrament. It is the Spirit that calls us to become sons and daughters of God, to live in the peace of Christ. It is within that Spirit that we truly walk and talk with God.

    In this, I believe we are unique, peculiar, or whatever term should be used. I personally have no problem being a part of a small denomination, because Christ called his followers to be the salt of the earth, not the meal. He called Gideon to sort through all of those who responded to identify the remnant. I am not uncomfortable at all being identified as such. Changing who we are to increase acceptance by the world seems to be in direct conflict with how Paul called us to look at the world. I could care less what the world, common opinion, the media, or philosophers think. Remember that Paul said that Christ was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, so why do we care so much about what the world thinks?

    We do well to remember when the first 70 returned to Christ complaining of another who preached repentance but would not honor their calling. Jesus welcomed the ministry of this unidentified person, and we would do well to do likewise. Jesus didn’t call for us to make sure no ones feelings got hurt – he came to bring a sword to divide by making us choose who we will become and whom we will follow. We neglect the “hard” Jesus to our own detriment when we just want to talk about the “kind” Jesus.

    To become a part of the body of Christ now known as Community of Christ, I have little problem with accepting anothers baptism if made by choice after the age of 8, but I do feel it important that confirmation into the church take place under the hands of the elders of the church imparting the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the pearl of great price, to be valued above all else.

    Baptism of water is for the remission of sin.

    Baptism of the spirit is for confirmation.

    • Sam Young says:

      David you make many great points. As Margie mentioned above, it would be nice for the church to have some symbolic act for new members to take to show a recommittment to Christ. Rebaptism would do this but may not be fully justified by scripture as a requirement for all new members.

      However, I had not though to include comfirmation in the discussion. This is a sacrament that is more than just a symbolic act but rather is the calling of the holy spirit to take an active part in our lives.

      If the church ends up dropping the requirement for rebaptism, then comfirmation should be retained for new members.

      • Jeff Winship says:

        Sam,

        You said “it would be nice for the church to have some symbolic act for new members to take to show a recommittment to Christ.”

        I agree; I think the best symbolic act would be rebaptism. I believe baptism into an organization is more involved than just a statement of faith in Christ. It deals with authority of those performing the rite. Whether that authority was God-given or man-given. That is one of the major differences between most all denominations. Baptist or Methodist, or Lutheran or what ever are all different in some way or another, mostly doctrine & authority. We are no different. If someone really wants to become a member of this church or any other church and being rebaptized would allow that to happen, why wouldn’t they like the Eunich say, here is water baptise me. Part of the Rite of baptism is coming with a broken heart and contrite spirit, if they can’t accept the simple yet beautiful expression of faith and commitment through baptism or rebaptism, I would kinda question their reason for wanting membership into an organization by only going halfway.

        you also stated, “Rebaptism would do this but may not be fully justified by scripture as a requirement for all new members.”

        Could you explain this, or give me the reference in scripture you are refering to.

        Here is a true story for you and others to consider.

        A very good friend of mine was baptized into the church when he was 8 or 9 years old by an Elder during the time that there were many men being silenced in the church because of disagreements in direction of the church. Fifteen years after this took place he found out that he was never placed on the roles of the church because this man had been silenced so his baptism was not recorded. In talking to the leadership of the church their ONLY suggestion was to have him be rebaptised, which he did.

        It seems rather inconsistant that on one hand the church would allow someone who was baptised outside of the authority of the church to come into the fold with out rebaptism, but on the other hand would require a young man to be rebaptised because the man who baptised him was silenced not for moral but as punishment for disagreeing with the direction of the leadership.

      • FireTag says:

        After months of reading the church’s materials for discernment, going back to the 1990’s, I am utterly mystified by what the underlying issue really is about.

        I understand why people may want to maintain ties that do not in any way devalue their previous Christian covenants. But what exactly do we have as a denomination that we aren’t giving them NOW without their formally becoming members in our denomination? What sacraments are being denied them now without rebaptism? Confirmation? Ordination? If we did either of those, wouldn’t that also devalue their belonging to their previous Christian communities, since those communities surely have rites playing the same role as confirmation or ordination?

        If they believe this denomination is special enough to join to better follow Jesus and/or to receive greater outpourings of the Holy Spirit, do they not want their communities to notice that they are doing something special? Do they think they can follow Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit just as well in their current communities, and so there is nothing special about joining this denomination?

        Or are they trying to unite the two communities? That might be admirable, but if so, would their Christian communities be willing to accept us into their communities without rebaptism on the basis of our original covenants?

        Before we finish discerning the answer, it might do us some good to actually more fully discern the question.

    • Jeff Winship says:

      Doug,

      Membership into the church has a two part beginning: baptism by water & fire. These are only a beginning not an end, all is not done.

      Water baptism comes because of faith (belief) in who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is a response to a call by Him for us to follow after Him and His ways. It calls us through faith to come with a broken heart and a contrite spirit to be washed by Him and become born again. Without faith and repentance water baptism is not of much worth. Remission of sin comes with the baptism of Fire or the Holy Ghost. Both of these must needs be by those who have the authority of Jesus Christ to perform these rites, if there is no authority by the one administering, then the rite is of little value. Included are scripture from all three books to clarify these points. The baptisms are thus a ‘starting point’ of a true follower of Christ and not the end-all.

      II Ne 13:24-32
      For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water: and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire, and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; And ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye enter in by the way, ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask, if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far, save it were by the word of Christ, with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save; Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven, whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

      III Ne 5:49
      Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility, and be baptized; for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.

      Mat 5:4
      Yea, blessed are they who shall believe on your words, and come down into the depth of humility, and be baptized in my name; for they shall be visited with fire and the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.

      Mark 1:3
      John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

      Sec 17:7a-d
      And again by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism: All those who humble themselves before God and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins,
      and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.

      Sec 18:4d
      And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism and by fire; yea, even the Holy Ghost.

      Faith and repentance brings one to the waters edge, remission of sin comes from the Holy Ghost.

  8. I agree. Ever since this discussion has come up in the church, I have said we could just confirm those who were already baptized and that would make them members of our church.

    That would give us the seemingly necessary symbol.

  9. Barb says:

    Have they decided one way or another? I have both a triune Lutheran baptism (sprinkling, age 22), and a Utah Mormon baptism (age 25, left the Church, was not ex’ed). I’m currently investigating CoC and like it so far.

  10. No, it will not be decided until next April at Conference. I hope you decide to join us then.

    • Rick Collins says:

      I wouldnt put too much hope in all of this being “decided” at conference. It will likely be discussed, perhaps we’ll even get a little discernment in there.
      But a final resolution? I doubt it.

      I personally don’t have a problem with asking people to be baptised again.

      There are some big issues with
      I believe that D&C 163:3c provides us with a warning against simply accepting the authority of all “Christian” ministers:
      “There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.”
      If we are to accept all baptisms, would we accept a baptism performed by Fred Phelps? Personally, I have not seen anything which could make me believe that he represents Jesus. Are we to accept modes other than immersion, (despite that being the method prescribed by our tradition). Do we accept the baptism of children, which our religious tradition has historically objected to?
      I dont believe there is anything wrong with the Community of Christ having its own traditions and beliefs – otherwise the best reason to attend would be because it is the most convenient church to get to.

      Perhaps what is needed is a re-visioning of the sacrament, rather than a alteration of it.
      I believe that we should approach both Baptism and Confirmation as part of “The Sacrament of Discipleship”.
      Think about it in this way, we do not celebrate the sacrament of “weddings”, but of “marriage”. The sacrament goes on for every day of their married life.
      The same is true for baptism and confirmation. It is not just that day, but every day after that.
      I would hope that if a Christian chose to convert to the Community of Christ, their experience would be one which does not just consist of becoming a member because they attend a lot and being simply “added to the books”, but a commitment to a new life of discipleship. What better way to do this than baptism? They’ve chosen the Community of Christ for a reason, let’s celebrate their decision and celebrate and support them in this path they have chosen, and lets celebrate and support them sacramentally.

      Perhaps this is a way that we can better embrace baptism as the beginning of a new path of discipleship, rather than as a formality of membership.

  11. Membership in our church is membership into a fellowship that also includes voting rights and the possibility of becoming a minister.

    There is the opportunity for service through not just participation in service organizations in the community but also as a minister in many ways. For example, I write a Minister’s Message for our local newspaper. I also do the Editorial for another newspaper. I am given that privilege because I am a “minister” in the community.

    I am an officer in two Ministerial Alliances. This gives me a certain amount of authority in the community that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I do the invocation at City Commission meetings and at County Commission meetings on a rotating basis. I help conduct worship services at a local nursing home.

    Because I am a pastor, I am known in the community as a pastor. I have the opportunity to speak and write about the message of Jesus.

    I have six friends coming with me to our Peace Colloquy for the third year in a row because they like the feeling of participating in an important recognition.

    It is the feeling of “belonging” that people want. They like our mission as well. Most protestant churches require them to be pew sitters while they hear a message of personal salvation. They don’t often get that same kind of fellowship in large protestant churches. They feel “lost in the crowd” and many object to the creeds their churches require allegiance to in order to participate in a fuller way.

    In my opinion, we have a special kind of fellowship and certainly a special mission if we participate in it.

    Because we are very small, we give monthly to two service organizations that assist the poor with their utilities and rent. There are only 32 on our rolls and about 20 or so who come regularly. But we are one third support of a school in the Dominican Republic. Our people are involved in Hospice, PINCH, Senior Services, and many other service organizations and we are known for that involvement.

    • FireTag says:

      Margie:

      Somehow I just can’t picture you waiting around for others to give you a place on the organization chart to find opportunities to be a minister. Do you read your own blog? :)

      Many congregations already have made a practice of extending “voice and vote” to long-attending non-members for at least a couple of decades, and our membership records are so far behind (especially in the 3rd world) that WC representation is a “best-guess” anyway. Baptism reports in Africa in the 2007 WC were clearly running up to 2 years behind in many parts of Africa, and losses were not being reported at all. Has membership already brought them immortality?

      So again I ask: what is so important about belonging to our church that is simultaneously not worth being rebaptized. What is the real issue to these searchers that we need to be addressing?

  12. Barb says:

    This is a complex and interesting issue. Most Protestant bodies accept one another’s baptisms provided certain basic theological criteria are met. Catholism will even accept some Protestant baptisms for the same reason. They also have a ‘conditional’ baptism for situations that make people just a little uncertain as to whether the prior baptism was valid. Given the present uncertain state, not getting rebaptized doesn’t mean the same thing as it would if, for example, a person started attending a Utah Mormon church, believing and contributing, and kept it up for decades without submitting to baptism. Over there, the rules and expectations are very clear. But the remarks about the need for defining boundaries are correct, as history shows. Jan Shipps talked about that regarding Utah Mormons, how in the early days of that church, the way you showed your committment to Mormonism was to gather to Utah (Zion). Hence, other things such as meeting attendence and the Word of Wisdom were not as emphasized as they were in modern times when I joined. By then, Mormons were all over the place, and had to draw their distinctive boundaries on a personal basis. (I spent my childhood very near the spot where Joseph Smith was baptized. Not a Mormon for miles around back then.) So, maybe the question should be, what are the distinctive marks of the “brand” CoC, that might attract someone to choose it over the alternatives (I am not intending to be crass, just trying to express it in terms of a believer’s choice). I would cut CoC a considerable amount of slack here, because they are still in flux and exploration (and laud them for admitting it, as opposed to the Mormon Fundamentalist movement which largely claims to be a preservation of the past which it is not!). As for me, I am looking forward to CoC Sunday School starting up after Labor Day, and to make sure I learn correctly about what I have gotten myself into. So far so good, I am enjoying everything. I feel that especially that the so-called “Liahona” Mormons ought to consider taking a look at CoC, and also other Mormons who have silent objections to one or more aspects of the Utah faith (which is a lot of them believe me). I plan to be looking for polite venues to suggest this to them as I become more acclimated (and know more what I’m talking about). Perhaps by then, the CoC will have settled the question of what I need to do to officially join :). Meanwhile, there is a barbeque and block party on Sunday, no rebaptism required. :)

  13. Barb says:

    For me, rebaptism is not a do or die issue. I just felt like I’ve had a whole lotta baptism already. It would just make things easier, that’s all. If I were to return to the Utah Mormons, I’d have to get rebaptized. No disciplinary issues, I just went to the trouble of having my name removed, being strongly urged by Evangelical friends at the time. Looking back, it no longer seems important to have done that.

  14. Rich Brown says:

    I don’t have much hope for the church to change its official position on rebaptism as long as we tie this to priesthood authority, a remnant of our “One True Church” history (see D. and C. Section 20). There are other ways to approach the subject, one of which is to look at a couple of the letters attributed to Apostle Paul.

    In Romans 6:3ff Paul offers this: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life…” (NRSV). It is the same divine power who raised Christ who raises those who wish to “walk in newness of life.” By the time Colossians is written (and it’s worth noting that many scholars believe it was written by Paul’s disciples, but even those who don’t, agree it came after Romans) baptism takes on added meaning: “In him [Christ] also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision…” (Colossians 2:11 NRSV). Baptism becomes a marker for those in the church (just as circumcision was/is a marker for Jews). As such, there is an implied institutional authority of some sort, albeit an early form.

    In any event, if we were to emphasize Romans over Colossians and Section 20, it might be a more fruitful way to deal with this issue. Of course, there are those in our fellowship who automatically place greater worth on the “latest revelation” rather than “early precedent.” I’m not one of them, obviously, but we need look no further than the way priesthood was opened to women (Section 156: “…do not wonder that some women of the church…”) to see how that doesn’t necessarily settle things happily.

    Rich Brown

    • Jeff Winship says:

      Rich

      You said:
      “I don’t have much hope for the church to change its official position on rebaptism as long as we tie this to priesthood authority, a remnant of our “One True Church” history (see D. and C. Section 20).”

      Revelation given through Joseph Smith, Jr., prophet and seer to the church, April 1830, at Manchester, New York. This instruction came in answer to Joseph Smith’s inquiry concerning the status of those who desired to unite with the church and who had already been baptized. (*in other denominations)
      * my note, not in the text.

      [Sec 20:1a] Behold, I say unto you, that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing, and this is a new and everlasting covenant; even that which was from the beginning.
      [Sec 20:1b] Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times, it availeth him nothing; for you can not enter in at the strait gate by the Law of Moses, neither by your dead works;
      [Sec 20:1c] for it is because of your dead works, that I have caused this last covenant, and this church to be built up unto me; even as in days of old.
      [Sec 20:1d] Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen.

      When there are in place instruction from God about His work and the way He wishes it to be done, why do we feel that we have to seek to change it? To do such, would it not make us equal with satan and his attempts?

      You properly made the statement…a remnant of our “One True Church” history.

      Conditions for membership is one of the only remnants left regarding the 1830 restoration church. Once change enters into the church we become no different than any other church. We lose our distinctives as the True Church of Christ and thus the purpose we were ordained to accomplish. Have we succeeded in our mission that God has set before us, absolutely not; but by seeking to become like every other church it will definately not bring us closer to fulfilling that task.

      “There are other ways to approach the subject, one of which is to look at a couple of the letters attributed to Apostle Paul.”

      “In any event, if we were to emphasize Romans over Colossians and Section 20, it might be a more fruitful way to deal with this issue.”

      Romans Colossians and D&C 20 do not disagree at all but verify each other, so I do not see your point.

      “Of course, there are those in our fellowship who automatically place greater worth on the “latest revelation” rather than “early precedent.” I’m not one of them.”

      ALL scripture if from God, builds upon previous scripture or previous scripture forms a foundation for latter revelation. I think scripture teaches harmony in revelation and not confusion, it is associated, not disjunctive.

    • Ron G Wood says:

      I like the way you put it, Rich. I would like to add my thoughts:

      How many of those who have commented here have either planted or resurrected churches? I have done both, for most of my life. In this sense, any way, commensurate with this Pauline definition, and allowing us to create “safe places” for worship and growth, I am in favor of. This included both major issues that may be currently before this coming conference.

  15. To my way of thinking, seminary trained ministers of another faith have every bit as much authority as our people, especially if they truly felt “called” to the ministry.

    I saw to the removal of priesthood “authority” of a man from our congregation who was attending another church and using his priesthood from our church to be paid for his preaching.

    And there is plenty of “dead wood” in the church too. People who do not do anything with their priesthood authority except hold it.

    • Jeff Winship says:

      Margie, I hope you don’t mind if I agree with one of your statements, I know you are not used to it.

      Before I do that I want to be myself and clarify a couple points you made.

      “To my way of thinking, seminary trained ministers of another faith have every bit as much authority as our people, especially if they truly felt “called” to the ministry.”

      I agree that they do have authority and do well in teaching those under their ministry. But their authority is limited by the teaching of men, though some of those men are godly and well versed in scripture and application.

      “I saw to the removal of priesthood “authority” of a man from our congregation who was attending another church and using his priesthood from our church to be paid for his preaching.”

      If a man’s priesthood office is truly given by God’s authority, then you or nobody can remove it except the one who gave it. Will he be accountable to the giver for his actions and motives, you bet. He still holds the authority of that office, while the church can “unsanction” his ability to function within the body.

      “And there is plenty of “dead wood” in the church too. People who do not do anything with their priesthood authority except hold it.”

      Amen on that. Maybe that is why the Lord states that he will visit the earth not with a flood, but with fire. He will have plenty of dead-wood for the bonfire.

  16. There was an article in the Herald a couple of months ago by Mark Scherer. Mark says that once a Methodist couple wanted to join the church and Joseph Smith III said they could just transfer their membership if it was alright with that congregation.

    So there is a precedent for acceptance of people on their Protestant baptism. After all, we are the church of Emma and Joseph Smith III. Joseph Smith Jr. propagated a lot of doctrine we do not follow today.

    • Jeff Winship says:

      Here is the letter… it was JS Jr not III

      Nov. 10th 1837

      My Dear Friend
      I had a short time ago the pleasure of receiving your kind Epistle, which gave much joy to your friends in this neighbourhood, I need not say how glad I was to find you well, and the work of Our Lord prosspering, you had a very favourable voyage, an[d] although trials persecutions, privations and sorrows await the Saints, yet God will not forsake them; yea, in the hour of their greatest need, he will stand by them to deliver.
      You wish know how we stand here, I shall tell you how we appear to stand, (but God knoweth the heart,) all who belong to this branch are faithful
      I believe, but Bro. Hunter & Sister Bell, who appear to me to be rather doubtful, however I wont judge, I baptized Isaac and Robert Scott,9 so you see the old man10 has all his sons,—The old lady11 and Sarah12 are still obstinate. John Scott’s13 brotherinlaw has joined the Church also, George Nelson’s Mother is also a member, 14 Mrs. Graham stands fast in the faith I believe, and I have heard but little of Mrs. McKnoll, The little branch down at Bro. Larances15 has not lived up to their privileges, but I hope they will do better for the future. Mrs. Rowse and her mother went to Rochester some time ago, the old Lady is not what we took her to be I am afraid, but God knoweth, therefore I dare not condemn, Bro. Turley16 and Bro. Thompson17 have built up a little branch in the upper part of Chyugeonsy[?]18 of 12 members, Mrs. Thompson19 has resided with us for some weeks, She is very anxious to hear from her brother20 who went with you—
      Your Sisters in Toronto are well, and stand fast in the faith, desiring to be remembered to you, Mrs. Walton21 was over in Kirtland a short time ago,
      and wishes me to say to you that your wife is well, and appears to be more comfortable and contented than she has seen her for some time—your children
      are in good health &c—We had the blessing of a visit from Bro. Joseph Smith Jr. and Bro. Sidney Rigdon, they were here for four or five days,22 from
      whom we received much information, one thing I would mention he says we have a right to administer to such as Sister Graham, who is prevented by their
      husbands from baptism, we may confirm such and give the Sacrament $c.—
      Bro Joseph is truly a wonderful man he is all we could wish a prophet to be—and Bro. Sidney what Eloquence is his, and think how he has sacrificed
      for the Truth.
      I rejoice that so many are likely to join the Church [in?]23 England, I trust they will prove faithful that we may all meet in Zion from every
      C[lime?]24 Bro. Babbit25 & Taylor26 are labouring below Toronto and and the Lord is bringing many in.
      You ask me if I would join you in your labours and be your Companion in the work. I would rather travel with you as than any other one, when I do
      travel, but I think I shall be directed by the Presidency to what quarter of the world I shall go—. I do not know how soon my way will be open but when it is I shall go forth in the strength of Jacob’s God—
      I am aware we must endure affliction, but I wont shrink from my calling though I should have to sacrafice all things—
      The difficulties at Kirtland are all settled27 and the high minded ones have become humble, Mr. Scott28 and family send their Love to you, Mrs. Law29 & Mrs. Thompson30 send their love to you, and all your old friends wish to be remembered to you, if Bro. Snider31 is with you remember me to him, and
      tell him his family is well &c. I believe we will have a rebellion in the Lower Province and perhaps in this [i.e., Upper Canada]32—I suppose Bro. Turly
      told you that he sold and will move off next spring &c.—I would go very thankful if you would write me soon again, as I am very desirous to hear from
      you often— Mrs. Walton wishes you to ask Robert Walton if there is anything coming from the Holyfield Lead Mine now, and mention it when you write.— And that the God of our Fathers may always bless, comfort and deliver you is the prayer of your Brother in the Bonds of the Ever lasting Gospel of Christ, /s/ Wm. Law.

      Lets remember that this was a personal not official letter. Let us also remember that Wm Law was not a too credible testimony of the church in the 1840’s.

      I also remember that there were some areas of the church who served ‘open communion’ long before the church adopted this practice. Did that make it right? If it is not of God, but comes from man it does not make it correct.

  17. Mark’s column in the August Herald points out the the early Reorganization did not require rebaptism for those of other denominations and that JSIII made exceptions and consented to confirmation only in some circumstances.

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