What does the Community of Christ believe?

I often wonder how much of a bubble I live in.  I found myself as a guide at the Kirtland Temple for the summers of 2006 and 2007.  From April 2008 to the present, I’ve been a guide in Nauvoo.  While by no means speaking ill of those experiences, both have been remarkable, I wonder what it has done to me and my perceptions of the Community of Christ.  Have I lost touch?

Through my brief tenure of guiding at the church’s sites, roughly two years total by now, I have become (as virtually every guide does) the very face of the CofC for visitors.  I’ve taken thousands of people through Kirtland Temple and Joseph Smith’s homes in Nauvoo telling them the stories and events of people long since gone, and at times still witnessing ongoing history as it unfolds in the present day.  But amongst those experiences, there are constant situations of visitors inquiring about the Community of Christ.  Who are we?  What do we believe? How do we explain this…?  What’s the church’s official statement on _____?  Do you still use _____?  In answering the questions, I’ve recently begun to ponder whether I am even aware of the answer to many of these.  Or have I been on my own too long, as the lone CofC representative many of these people will ever meet?  I believe I’ve been accurately answering their queries, but I wonder if I’ve used this forum as a chance to craft the church into the institution I wish it was, rather than what it is.

Maybe this’ll be a recurring thing, maybe not, but I want to toss out a few questions here and in later posts with no commentary on my part to see how CofC or other casual readers would answer them.  Comments would be loved, trying to figure out what exactly is the Community of Christ…if that is a question that can even have an answer.

Here’s one I’ve often heard, what are your thoughts or how would you explain this one:

Why’d the RLDS change its name?

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25 comments on “What does the Community of Christ believe?

  1. The old name The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints really said very little about the mission of the church and the message of Jesus and was long and tedious to use. Furthermore it caused the membership to constantly have to try to answer the question, “Are you Mormons?” We would go into the long explanation of why we were not LDS and our association with Joseph Smith III and Emma.

    The new name Community of Christ says what we as a church are all about…building community.

  2. Rick Collins says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:
    http://rlds.org/name/
    (I cant believe it’s still accessible!)
    In particular, Geoff Spencer’s history of the subject “The Search for a Name” was quite helpful to me.

    These are a great resource for looking at what the church was saying about it at the time of the change.

    Personally, I feel the RLDS name was unweildly and tended to create confusion. It talked about who we’re not, rather than who we are. The name also more closely reflects the simple sentiment of the church’s original name: “Church of Christ”.
    But that’s just my opinion.

  3. jeswitts says:

    To me, the name change was accepting an unfolding calling beyond our denomination’s heritage and into a future lived in Sacred Community relationships, and formed more deeply in Christ.

  4. I always loved this statement we used for years when Grant was president. I noticed that under Steve, it has been changed.

    Our Faith and Beliefs

    Recognizing that the perception of truth is always qualified by human nature and experience, there is no official church creed that must be accepted by all members. However, through the years various statements, such as those listed below, have been developed to present the generally accepted beliefs of the church. All people are encouraged to study the scriptures, to participate in the life and mission of the church, and to examine their own experiences as they grow in understanding and response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. John Hamer says:

    There were lots of reasons; and I think that different groups in the church supported the change for different underlying reasons, some of which might have been at odds with others.

    For myself, I think the change was good and I supported it when it was happening because I think “RLDS” had several strikes against it as a brand. Most importantly, I think adding “Reorganized” to the traditional name absolutely made it seem like the RLDS Church was a break-off from the LDS Church. And, of course, the story is much more complex than that and that shorthand doesn’t favor the RLDS version of the narrative. Also, the distinction between being “organized” vs. “founded,” while important in the mid-19th century is essentially meaningless now. Finally, “Reorganized” sounds hopelessly soulless and bureaucratic. It was a good thing to move away from.

  6. Kevin Bryant says:

    My understanding, as others have mentioned, is that it no longer reflected our mission and now the CofC name allows us to form an identity based on who we are, rather than who we are not. What I wonder is when this change occurred? Naturally, I doubt a date or event can really capture this change, but at some point the name Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was deemed suitable for identifying us. Now, many others (myself among them) do not believe that name reflects who we are. How did this happen? Proposed name changes had been in the works for quite some time preceding 2001, what was it about this time and this particular name? Was it our identity that shifted, public opinion, leadership leanings, cultural identities or something else entirely? Or perhaps more likely a combination or many of those and others.

  7. As I recall the discussion, a group of the leadership went on a retreat in Colorado to discuss many of the challenges that faced the church at that time. Someone came up with the suggested name and after much prayer they decided that that might be the name we should be called by. It took a couple of years after that before it actually happened but right after that event, they told us that our congregations could name themselves anything we wished. We built a new church in 1999 and named it Crossroads Community of Christ. Later after the church chnaged it’s name, we were on the cutting edge.

  8. This is all the website has to say about it.

    In 2000, legislation was brought to the World Conference to change the name from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to Community of Christ. It was felt that this more adequately represented the church’s theology and mission: “We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” Grant expressed his belief that the name caught up two central focuses of the church: (1) the centrality of Christ, and (2) the emphasis on building model communities, caught up in the church’s tradition of Zion. This name change officially took place on April 6, 2001, the founding anniversary of the church.

  9. TH says:

    This is a timely topic as there continues to be lots of discussion regarding what pieces of our (the Community of Christ’s) identity/principles/beliefs/practices remain and what is changing or should change. While what the institutional church “thinks” is important, it is also important for each member to figure out what he or she believes. Sometimes I think people are waiting for the church to decide on an issue rather than tapping into the prophetic themselves. I think that is one of the values of a blog like this. As we articulate our ideas and learn from others we have a better understanding of who we are, who we have been, and who we (each) can be.

  10. Judy Lewis says:

    But what do you believe?

    Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, lived a sinless life, was tried by the San Hedrin, beaten and crucified on a cross by the Romans, was dead and buried in the tomb and resurrected on the 3rd day; walked among His followers for 40 days and ascended into Heaven at the witness of many and is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven?

    Do you believe this about our Lord and Savior?

    Because all the discussion in the world, and concepts of men are lost, IF you do not believe in Christ as personal Savior and Lord of your life!

    Many of you are my neighbors, and the best earthly neighbors one could have; but if you miss this fundamental required belief that Jesus commanded of us, then you will miss Heaven with Him. Please read the Bible in John 14:6. God Bless you.

    • FireTag says:

      “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, lived a sinless life, was tried by the Sanhedrin, beaten and crucified on a cross by the Romans, was dead and buried in the tomb and resurrected on the 3rd day; walked among His followers for 40 days and ascended into Heaven at the witness of many and is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven?”

      A majority of us probably believe something pretty close to that quote, although we might not be rigid in the language we use to describe it, and love people, like Margie and BewaretheChicken who believe very differently than that. Indeed, if you peruse all of the threads on this site, you’ll see the extraordinary range of beliefs held by our membership (and the membership of the church as a whole tends to be more conservative than the membership that posts here).

      What is left out of your statement is the emphasis we place on the mercy and grace of God. In our theology, we make a clear distinction between the importance of believing the correct things about Jesus, and having a relationship with Him. In fact, a lot of people have a deep relationship with Jesus even while they deny that they know Him, because they have a passionate belief in justice. (Worked for Peter.)

  11. No, Judy, I personally do not believe that. Although many, if not most, of our membership does. I personally believe Jesus was fully human, although very gited enough to know that the world he lived in was not just and the poor and sick were discriminated against in his society. His teaching about “doing unto others”, and “love your neighbor” and even “love your enemies” were far ahead of his time. In fact his entire teaching about the “kingdom of God on earth” was phenomenal for his day and culture.

    I do not believe he was born of a virgin either. I do not accept the entire concept of salvation theology. His message as found in the synoptic gospels was all about building God’s kingdom on earth.

    But the church allows a lot of latitude as far as individual’s theology is concerned. This is the disclaimer they had on their website until recently.

    Recognizing that the perception of truth is always qualified by human nature and experience, there is no official creed of the church that must be accepted by all members. However, through the years various statements, such as those below, have been developed to present the generally accepted beliefs of the church. All members are encouraged to study the scriptures, to participate in the life and mission of the church, and to examine their own experiences as they grow in understanding and response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The gospel of John was a very late development in writings. It was much later then the synoptic gospels which were written from the oral tradition.

  12. I’m with Margie. While there is no formal creed, I have become increasingly more uncomfortable that in an effort to figure out “what” the Church believes, we seem to be sliding faster into the traditional U.S. evangelical protestant in both theology and practice.

    It disturbs me to see the CofC Christology (which encompasses incarnation/salvation/sacraficial theology) embedded in what we call our “core beliefs”. If my belief in God is ever contingent on the sexual habits of a 2000 year-old teenager, then I’m sure I’d be the worse off for it.

  13. Doug Gregory says:

    It seems to me the We Share document pretty well speaks for most of the church membership. My understanding has always been that the only thing one needs to believe to become a member of the church (this is showing my age)is that one believes in Jesus Christ, and recognizes the need to be baptized in His name and confirmed under the Holy Spirit. Everything else is optional, and that is both the beauty of this denomination and its “curse”, if you will.

    We will never be goverened by any creed except perhaps to seek truth and to seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion (the kingdom). I personally believe in the revelation contained in the Book of Mormon, but that belief is not a requirement of membership. It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus was born of a virgin or not, because that only puts him in the same “claims league” as Alexander the Great, and I am no follower of his.

    Jesus’ proclamation (as I have been reminded by my fellow blogpals) was the kingdom of God being at hand more than his own divinity, and I am growing increasingly comfortable with being called back to that focus. The uncomfortable part about that is that participating in the building of the kingdom seems to require more of me than just believing in the divinity of Christ, the one who called us out to become fishers of men for the kingdom’s sake.

    • Of course even “believing in Jesus” and “being baptised in his Name” are up for much debate. I believe there was a person named Jesus, but I doubt that would be sufficient to meet Judy’s standards. And the church is currently in quite a discussion as to what it means to be “baptised.”

      I only point these out to show the difficulty in discussing these topics without a frame of reference. My disapointment with the current statements on “general beliefs” or “enduring principles” which are trying to convey this definitional framework, adopt millenia old theological stereotypes, from which it is difficult to grow.

  14. “disturbs me to see the CofC Christology (which encompasses incarnation/salvation/sacrificial theology) embedded in what we call our “core beliefs”.”

    Oh, I couldn’t agree more, Chick. I think that is definitely taking the wrong path. I am sure those who have a MDV know better. I can’t imagine why they choose to adopt that ancient error for our church and our time.

  15. TH says:

    Judy,

    First, I wanted to say how much I appreciate your interest in what CofC believes. I haven’t read enough of your posts to be clear on what you think about the questions that you’ve raised, but I would be interested in knowing not only what you believe but why you believe what you believe. Doesn’t have to be too personal, just what you are comfortable with sharing, if at all. I see that FireTag and Doug responded with what the “average” beliefs might be of church members, and Margie and Chicken have shared their personal beliefs. There is a lot of diversity within the Community of Christ. One of the things about the church that is interesting is that while the church itself upholds the principles in the We Share document currently, there has been a lot of change regarding identify, principles, and practices. Also, members are encouraged to figure out for themselves their relationship with God–but not to do so in isolation but as part of a larger community, including community with others of our faith tradition. In that respect, there is a lot of freedom. There are people who have very liberal, almost secular theologies, like Margie has articulated. Then there are people who have very conservative theologies. Then there are people throughout that spectrum as well as on different spectra. The emphasis seems to be on building the kingdom of God and on sharing Christ’s peace here and now, rather than getting everyone to agree to the same beliefs and ideals.

    As I began to mention when I asked you about your beliefs and why you believe the way that you do, I am really interested in why people believe what they believe. I remember studying the Wesley quadralateral, which basically says that people form their beliefs based on one or a combination of the following factors: (a) scripture, (b) tradition, (c) reason, and (d) experience.
    I think it is fair to say that people use all of these, but place more or less emphasis on each, and may even vary the emphasis according to the issue at hand.

    So, if I’m looking at what the Community of Christ believes, that belief is shaped by the 3 books of scripture, by the history of the church as well as the current focus of the leadership, the logic and reasoning headquarters and membership uses to form and refine beliefs, and the personal and corporate experiences of each. The church seems to be placing less emphasis on the book of mormon and on doctrine and covenant scriptures before the late 150s sections, while placing more emphasis on the bible and the most recent doctrine and covenants. We’re placing less emphasis on historical tradition, except as the enduring principles, and more on the traditions of the multicultural church body, and more on reason and personal experience.

    What I hear in your post is your strong belief in the importance of believing in Jesus as savior. I also hear that that is very important for many members, but less important for some members. Differing worldviews…

    I also hope that this is a safe forum in which we can share different opinions while still upholding the worth of each. That is a core principle of the CofC.

  16. My own belief is that salvation is for this day and rime and not for an afterlife. If we don’t salvage the world in which we live and the people who live in our world, concern about an afterlife, which none of us have actually experience are simply moot.

    We need to be deeply involved in our communities as a force for doing the right thing if we hope to experience salvation. Salvation is all about our world and not a selfish concern about whether or not “we” are saved. That was the emphasis Jesus taught.

    • Doug Gregory says:

      Seems to me that on several occasions, Jesus also taught that there was such a thing as resurrection, an eternal life to consider, and a relationship with God that mattered.

      How this all works and exists seems to be beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend, let alone describe, but I look at it perhaps a bit differently.

      If God is eternal, which I think we can all agree on, and if we are made in God’s image (which I take to be spiritually), then it would seem to be a reasonable conclusion that our spirit is also eternal. While Jesus talked about salvation, and he spoke at great length about being in right relationship(s), I do believe (as I have been so kindly corrected on) that his emphasis was on kingdom-building. One requires the other, does it not?

      Jesus taught us to build up our treasure where it will not perish, and I think this helps create an understanding that our eternal life is something of a continuation of who we were while here. That calls us to “celestial” living here, not just to hope in celestial glory later. So, getting back to your point – Margie – what we do here and who we become matters greatly, both for our time here and for whatever existence God has planned for us in His eternal realm.

      So much for that deathbed conversion/confession I was planning on! Drat…

  17. What we do here in this life is very important because we have the power to change our world if we choose to try to make an impact.

  18. Doug Gregory says:

    The power of the human spirit led and empowered by the Holy Spirit can indeed build God’s kingdom. If not, why would Jesus has asked us to do it?

    I’m with you, Margie.

  19. I don’t know whether this had anything to do with the name change but it is my experience so I’ll share it. Some years back, I worked in radio advertising as a sales representative. I was required to read a book called “Positioning” about the success and failure of similar products based entirely on whether they had a winning name. It occurred to me that our name was long and unwieldy and was not what I would call a “winning name”. It said nothing about our mission. I visited with Bud Sheehy at the time and gave him a copy of the book. He was flying to California that weekend and promised me he would take the book and read it on his flight.

    He contacted me when he returned and told me it had been a very interesting read and given him a lot to think about.

    It wasn’t long before the name change occurred. I have no idea if the book had anything to do with it or not, but I thought it was a strange coincidence.

  20. Susan says:

    As I understand it the church changed its name so as not to be affiliated with the LDS or Mormon church. But I find this very interesting that the RLDS/now Community of Christ still has the original Book of Mormon as part of their “supportive ” documents and has the original in a vault in Missouri. The COC also holds to the teachings of Joseph Smith and The Pearls of Great Price and most of the teachings of what is believed to be their prophets. As far as can be told they have tried to immesh with traditional Christian teachings and call themselves Christians in their communities. But the very definition of Christianity is the belief that the Holy Bible is the infallible word of God and needs NO supporting books or documents ; and Jesus Christ is the son of God and his blood is sufficient for redemption and salvation (he is not a prophet and no one is equal to him and his blood is sufficient no works are accepted in its place ) and God/Jesus Christ/The Holy Spirit comprise the Holy Trinity; There is one Heaven and One Hell – we can’t work our way to heaven and we must be saved by the blood of the Lamb no exceptions and be named in the Lambs Book of Life.
    As far as can be seen this is NOT what the Community of Christ believes or teaches. There is no possible way when they cling to the Book of Mormon and their own version of the Holy Bible called “holy scriptures ” which in no way are from the Holy Spirit or God Breathed.

    • mark agee gibson says:

      Susan: I am a former RLDS of 40 years who became LDS. I could certainly give you stories on how the RLDS got to the point of confusion they’re in now if you’re interested.

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