Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark of the Reorganization and the church today.
—President Veazey, “Facing Our Challenges Interview” Part 2 (2009)
As I know some people struggle with the Book of Mormon, and its place in the church, I decided to try to write a series of blog posts about it, as I felt that it might be worthwhile to write something that seeks to help all members of the church grow more comfortable with the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite features of Community of Christ; but I know that many people struggle with it, and so I hope that my posts will help people overcome some of their concerns with it, and hopefully be open to the merit that it may have.
There are many diverse opinions among Community of Christ members regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon. Some people, like myself, regard it as both a historical and scriptural record. Others view it as scriptural, but not historical. Some would prefer that it would not be viewed as scripture, and may not be comfortable with its position in the church. Others regard it in such high esteem that if the church abandoned it, they might abandon the church.
In 2009, in the Facing Our Challenges interview (part 2) conducted by Apostle Linda Booth, President Stephen Veazey stated “It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory”. It seems to me, regarding the many views people have of it pertaining to its status or role, it quite clearly (and understandably), also defies consensus.
Recognizing this, my intent with these posts is not to convert people to any particular view regarding the Book of Mormon’s status, but simply, as indicated above, to seek to help people be more at ease with its presence & role in our faith group — and to highlight some of its key themes and noteworthy scriptures. If you are unsure about how you feel about the Book of Mormon, or if you already fully embrace it, I hope that these posts will still be worthwhile to you.
A Debt of Gratitude
One of the things that I cherish most about Community of Christ is our belief in continuing revelation. We not only claim that this concept is one of our doctrines (and one of our enduring principles), but we also celebrate it. We practice it. Collectively. In my opinion, we are unique in this sense.
Naturally, being a church that claims to have extra-Biblical revelations has resulted in us being a church that professes to have an open canon of scripture. This concept and that of continuing revelation, go hand-in-hand.
I tend to think that these foundational principles derive from, and are only possible, because of the Book of Mormon. These concepts, and our heritage, as well as our present cultural identity, and, indeed, our very future, owe a great deal to the Book of Mormon.
The early Restoration emerged during a time when the mere suggestion of extra-Biblical scripture, or new revelations, would most likely result in some very heated conversations (to put it mildly).
Imagine living in the 1800s, and being given a few short documents purported to be revelations from God. You see, in comparison to the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are brief. In isolation (without the Book of Mormon), with no prior grounding whatsoever in the concept of an open canon, I suspect that it would be very hard to accept a claim of divine revelation for such documents, as it would be difficult to accept something that would not take too much effort to write. After all, many of our revelations are short, and could in theory, with a little effort and time, be written by anyone, and if someone tried to pass one off as having a divine origin, I’m sure that I’d have a hard time being ok with that.
But the Book of Mormon is an altogether different type of revelation. It’s not just a few pages long; it’s an entire book with rich detail, complexities, and more, woven throughout.
Granted, not everyone who read it back in the 1800s was convinced, but it would have been something that I’m sure would be far more difficult to dismiss when compared with the much more brief revelations found in our Doctrine and Covenants.
For whatever reason, many people did accept the Book of Mormon as being just what Joseph Smith Jr. claimed it to be; and therefore, accepting Joseph as a valid prophet of God, they became open to an ever expanding canon, and eventually even comfortable with new scripture and with new revelation. In my opinion, this would never have happened without the Book of Mormon. It paved the way for everything that followed, and the church has been shaped, and deeply blessed, by this willingness to embrace modern revelation.