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

I just published a long-ish blog post that responds to the question, “What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective?” The post focuses on questions of Community of Christ identity in light of its North American heritage.

I share the link here to invite reactions and comments to my observations about the nature and limits of RLDS identity and how I believe Community of Christ logically fulfills essential non-sectarian strands of RLDS heritage in Restrationism and early American Christianity.   I welcome responses from Mormonites, ex-Mormons, Community of Christ members, Restorationists, historians, theologians, and others.

CLICK HERE to go directly to the post, or follow the links above to my blog.

Blessings,  Matt Frizzell

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

  1. FireTag says:

    Matt:

    Your post is well worth reading several times. Since I have only had time to read it once, I’ll confine myself to initial points of agreement and disagreement, reserving the right to change my mind on further reflection. (I continue to stand by my comments in Rich Brown’s NCC post.)

    POINTS OF AGREEMENT:

    The tension between the RLDSism and Protestantism has reached its logical limits.

    A righteous remnant believing itself to be the one true church is too small to represent the purpose for which God moved in the Restoration

    The church was indeed created from common people who were marginalized by the elites of the day.

    WHERE I DISAGREE:

    God does not work a collective of denominations at the center of His work any more than he places a single “true church” at the center of it. Churches are NOT the center of sacred community. Humans did that well after the writing of the initial Pauline letters. If the genius of the early Restoration was indeed the emphasis of self-identification with the marginalized, that emphasis WITHIN the Restoration didn’t last long before we formed our own elites.

    That makes the creation of church hierarchy on a super-denominational level, nationally or internationally, as a means of identifying with the marginalized a paradox subject to easy corruption and needing a re-Restoration.

    The process you’re seeing, I think, is better described by the Finke and Starke model of “cult to denomination to schism” in which institutions move, but individuals find (or found) new religious habitats more amenable to their personal views of religious truth.

    Neither side of the schism is necessarily more prophetic than the other, just as neither progressivism or conservativism are more prophetic, nor fish or foul are more prophetic. Rather, they are different evolutionary paths, as the split of Christianity and Judaism was.

    Those who stay within the Community of Christ may enrich Protestantism, though I am unconvinced that the North American CofChrist will do that institutionally more than its members would by joining Protestant denominations individually.

    I am personally more interested in the value to Christ’s work of those who stay Restorationist and NOT Protestant. As someone pointed out to me on another blog, there are more Mormon anythings than there are CofChrist liberals.

    God builds the future from the marginalized, not the elites.

    • mattfrizzell says:

      Firetag,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. I’m not sure I’m following all your thoughts. Perhaps, I am misreading or we are attempting to describe different things. For instance, I did not mean to imply that God works through churches primarily or alone. I think God works with churches in a certain manner. Context always shapes how we perceive how God moves.

      I’m also unsure how we can compare denominationalism with Christianity’s earliest communities without alot of qualification. Today, some theologians suggest Christianity only works on a communitarian mode or on a local scale. I disagree. Denominationalism simply reflects a modern form of faith, whose flaws are not all answered by retreat to local story-formed communities. For that reason, I’m not sure I can follow the idea that progressivism and conservatism are equally prophetic. What defines what is prophetic, anyway, if our fundamental understanding of dynamics of change and differentiation in church and world is evolutionary?

      I, of course, agree that God builds the future from the marginalized and not elites – at least theologically. I try to make that point. But, marginality is not fixed and I’m not sure that elites don’t also shape the future in reality. I’m not sure if your making a value statement or neutral observation, here. As I responded to Doug on my blog, I think decrying elitism in the church is fair, but its also one-sided. If our view truly is evolutionary, then it can help explain the dynamics and historical conditions by which these “elites” have come to their positions. There’s been some kind of natural selection. I think my depiction of what’s happened between the liberal-democratic and sectarian sides of RLDSism helps explains this natural selection and why the leaders we have are in place. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree or don’t have a critique of it.

      I’m not interested in defending elitism. I just think the language and protest surrounding elitism today is disingenuous. There is another observation that matters, here. Americans think anyone can speak for God and define reality, therefore religious elites who do so are unnecessary. But only doctors can operate on us or our family. The difference in the social value of doctors and religious leaders is that God-speak has become inconsequential. Therefore, religious elites are gratuitous and unnecessary.

      I appreciate your insights, as always.

      • FireTag says:

        Being prophetic, in an evolutionary context, is probably worth very long conversations as a topic in itself. I happen to think it’s one of the Really Big Principles by which God works.

        But we have developed in the West a concept of prophecy that regards actual knowledge about the future as a magical world view. Prophets ask questions because historical forces cause those questions to come to mind, and historical and social forces plus the divine determine the answers the true prophet hears.

        But if I may paraphrase Asimov, sufficiently advanced physics is indistinguishable from magic. If we are to believe that God gives wisdom about today, I simply find it impossible to believe because of the interconnectedness of space and time that he doesn’t give wisdom about tomorrow.

        So my view is that God is actually one loop ahead of what the West gives Him credit for: He’s actively directing the social and historical forces (on geological and cosmic scales, call them the evolutionary forces) that give rise to the questions prophets ask and their contributions to the answers the prophet receives. Everything is just God living.

        So, in this personal worldview of mine, the 19th Century American exceptionalism and milleniumism and the specific origins of the LDS/RLDS tradition in JS’s revelations aren’t a system bug, they’re a system feature. We’ve speciated, and we are probably going to speciate again. God has a purpose for all of the children of the Restoration in all human cultures (as with everything else on the planet), and that purpose, for most of them, is inadequately captured by the movement of the CofChrist into Protestantism.

        What’s “prophetic” in the context of both the individualist-communitarian axis or the elite-commoner axis is always situational. Societies (and ecosystems) can destroy themselves by going off either edge of the knifeblade, and can even outgrow their own niche and collapse.

        But societies that have undergone rapid growth would seem most vulnerable to the double whammy of elitism coupled with individualism; I can’t imagine societies that were very communal and had no real expertise growing much in the first place.

        The potential for global destruction only becomes possible with globalization. I expect that a God who bothered with the Restoration in the first place might be addressing that issue, not simply plodding forward with the next 2000 years of Christian development. Joseph Smith certainly talked about it a lot, so if I stay in the movement that historically accepted him as a true prophet, I do so with the expectation that some times — these times — are more portentious than most.

  2. FireTag says:

    Matt:

    Your post is well worth reading several times. Since I have only had time to read it once, I’ll confine myself to initial points of agreement and disagreement, reserving the right to change my mind on further reflection. (I continue to stand by my comments in Rich Brown’s NCC post.)

    POINTS OF AGREEMENT:

    The tension between the RLDSism and Protestantism has reached its logical limits.

    A righteous remnant believing itself to be the one true church is too small to represent the purpose for which God moved in the Restoration

    The church was indeed created from common people who were marginalized by the elites of the day.

    WHERE I DISAGREE:

    God does not work a collective of denominations at the center of His work any more than he places a single “true church” at the center of it. Churches are NOT the center of sacred community. Humans did that well after the writing of the initial Pauline letters. If the genius of the early Restoration was indeed the emphasis of self-identification with the marginalized, that emphasis WITHIN the Restoration didn’t last long before we formed our own elites.

    That makes the creation of church hierarchy on a super-denominational level, nationally or internationally, as a means of identifying with the marginalized a paradox subject to easy corruption and needing a re-Restoration.

    The process you’re seeing, I think, is better described by the Finke and Starke model of “cult to denomination to schism” in which institutions move, but individuals find (or found) new religious habitats more amenable to their personal views of religious truth.

    Neither side of the schism is necessarily more prophetic than the other, just as neither progressivism or conservativism are more prophetic, nor fish or foul are more prophetic. Rather, they are different evolutionary paths, as the split of Christianity and Judaism was.

    Those who stay within the Community of Christ may enrich Protestantism, though I am unconvinced that the North American CofChrist will do that institutionally more than its members would by joining Protestant denominations individually.

    I am personally more interested in the value to Christ’s work of those who stay Restorationist and NOT Protestant. As someone pointed out to me on another blog, there are more Mormon anythings than there are CofChrist liberals.

    God builds the future from the marginalized, not the elites.

  3. […] Matt Frizzell posted an article on this blog reflecting on the differing possible identities for the Community of Christ. I have been reflecting […]

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