Stance of the Church
How does the church view the Book of Mormon? Does it consider it to be historical? Does it matter? I tend to believe that all that truly matters, on this point, is what you believe.
The church definitely gives total freedom to all members to believe what they wish on this point. We are not required to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical. However, we are also not forced, or even prodded, towards rejecting it as historical.
The church does not, at least in this era, offer an official position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. And that is fine.
But it has occurred to me that there may be some people who have a need for the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical. I’m not sure why this would be, as I don’t feel that we should have any such need. I don’t. I’d be concerned if the church had a requirement to reject it, but, though I believe that the Book of Mormon really is an account of an ancient people, I don’t require the church to officially sanction that perspective.
But, if you do, truly, in your heart, have some sort of need, for the church to view it as historical, then you can just simply have that opinion. In other words, if you want the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical, just make the decision that it does. You won’t be able to quote anything that clearly and cleanly states that we regard it as such. Nor will you be able to claim that such a viewpoint is official.
Nevertheless, there are some things that the church has stated (and which are official), that you are totally free to interpret, if you so wish, as indicators that the Book of Mormon is regarded by the church as historical.
Such statements include:
The church says the Book of Mormon is scripture:
Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission. We affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—not to replace the witness of the Bible or improve on it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship. —Basic Beliefs (Scripture) http://www.cofchrist.org/ourfaith/faith-beliefs.asp
Community of Christ recognizes three books of scripture: The Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. We believe in continuing revelation and an open canon of scripture.” —FAQ ( Scripture )
Please note (understanding that the church views the Book of Mormon as scripture) that the above quotes contain wording such as:
“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit”
“The scriptures provide divine guidance and inspired insight”
Understanding the above, we could conclude, if we so wished, that the church does view the Book of Mormon as true, because writing inspired by God’s spirit, providing divine guidance, cannot be based on a grand deception, an outright and massive lie.
Now consider the following statements about scripture:
It is to Christ that scripture points, —Scripture Affirmation 1 http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/scripture.asp
How can a mass lie point to Christ?
We find the Living Word in and through scripture. —Scripture Affirmation 2
Can the Living Word be rooted in a mass deception?
God’s revelation through scripture. —Scripture Affirmation 3
Can God’s revelation take the form of a mass deception?
Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ. —Scripture Affirmation 4
Christ is not regarded by the church as a charlatan or mass deceiver.
Scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings. —A Defining Moment, http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/sermons/_040509Veazey.asp
Inspired writings are not given to spread a mass deception.
Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation. —A Defining Moment
God’s revelation does not take the form of a deliberate falsification of a cultural history.
The church affirms that scripture is inspired. —A Defining Moment
Inspired to pull the wool over our eyes?
Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth. —CofC Doctrine and Covenants 163:7a
A lie is the path to darkness, and a falsehood – how can such things be a witness of God’s eternal light and, especially, His eternal truth?
Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. —CofC Doctrine and Covenants 163:7a
The Holy Spirit does not reveal or inspire people to concoct a mass fantasy, passing it off as truth.
Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. —CofC Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d
A lie does not point to the true will of God.
I think what bothers a lot of historicity members is that someone can express their rejection of the Book of Mormon from the pulpit and have it excused as a “personal faith stance” but a rejection of women’s ordination from the pulpit would invoke disciplinary action. I’m speaking of the CofC church.
I also believe that the Foundation for Research in Ancient America fell out of favor with the RLDS in the 80’s because of their historicity stance.
Mark, that is a very interesting point. However, there may be a shift on that. With the recent reminder that priesthood should not be preaching contrary to church policy from the pulpit, we may notice a trend to discourage those kind of remarks. A person would still be free to say that they don’t regard the Book of Mormon as historical, because that is not a church policy. However, the church does officially regard it as scripture, so I would think, going forward, that it would be deemed (or should be deemed) inappropriate for a priesthood member to preach from the pulpit that the Book of Mormon is not scriptural.