Does Your Church Need to Have a Shower?

showerI wanted to share something that we did in my congregation about four or five years ago. We gave our building a shower.

As part of my congregation’s pastorate team, I often wander around looking for things that need to be fixed, or improved. Structural things I would bring up with our Buildings & Grounds minister. But when it came to things like a new vacuum cleaner, a new kettle, or other equipment, I thought that I would just take it upon myself to replace some of those things personally.

I can’t remember what item I thought I really wanted to replace, but whatever it was, I decided, I’m just going to go out one day, buy it, and donate it to the church. I decided that I was not going to ask our financial officer to reimburse me. I love my congregation, and our building, and the many events that we have together. So, I really wanted to just donate the replacement object to the congregation.

But then I saw something else I really wanted to replace. It was never a begrudging thing, but an opportunity, a reason to be excited. However, I don’t have unlimited money, so I knew I could not just keep buying things and paying for them out of my own pocket.

One day, I decided to approach our congregational leadership team, as several of them had also noticed there were a lot of things that just really needed to be replaced and updated. So, I said to them, something like “can we make a list of everything we need, and perhaps people would be wiling to pick it up”?

I then, probably with a bit of anxiousness, asked something like “and because we’ve been really trying to keep our congregational funds directed to other things, I was hoping that if people are able to, they might be willing to donate it” and I spoke about how I think of the church building as not just a building I go to, but as a home. Its God’s home, and it should also be my home and the home of everyone who attends, and just as we freely buy stuff for our own home, maybe some people might feel inclined to do that for the sake of our congregational building.

I was greatly moved that everyone was very enthusiastic about this idea…and the excitement grew! People felt invigorated to do what they could to help improve what we consider to be God’s house – people wanted to be personally part of the process of taking care of God’s house. We posted a list, and everyone went around to each room (probably most especially the kitchen), and then added items to our purchase list. It was almost like making a gift registry.

Once the list was posted, people could volunteer to take care of whatever item they wished (presuming it was still available of course) signing off beside the item they agreed to purchase.

But it did not stop there. Very quickly, people said “we need to celebrate this – we can’t just quietly bring in the items on different days and put them away” – so, soon, a date was picked – a target date to have all the items purchased, and it was decided that on that date, after the service, and probably a luncheon, we would sit in a circle, and each item would be presented.

I honestly cannot remember if they were gift wrapped, but I would not be surprised if they were. Either way, it was very fun to see each new exciting pot, set of spatulas, vacuum cleaner, etc. We even used this opportunity to buy things we never had before. One person suggested TV trays so that seniors could manage their food better when we had pot lucks. My wife took care of that, and she took great joy in going out and buying a really nice sturdy set of folding wooden trays that sit on a stand all compact when not in use.

It was a really joyful occasion to come together and replenish some things that really needed to be replenished, as well as getting some new things for our church that were very practical, but which we never had before. People seemed really happy to help out, and it was heartwarming to see the love that everyone has for our congregation expressed in this different kind of way. One of my fondest memories was seeing the joy that everyone had, particularly on the faces of the people who most often work in the kitchen. There was some real excitement and genuine gratitude for each gift. It was almost like watching kids on Christmas morning!

So, if you’ve never thrown your church building a shower, you might consider doing so. I tend to think that the love, generosity and creativity that results will be a warm blessing to your congregation in many diverse ways.

Responsible Revelation

prophets

Community of Christ practices what I like to call “Responsible Revelation”. This means that the president of the church, even in his capacity as prophet, is accountable to the church. Or, in other words, revelations to be canonized or which impact the presiding councils, quorums and orders of the church must be approved by the church.

Community of Christ has never professed that the prophet receives revelation from God daily, or even frequently. The church does not consider every word, article, action, address, sermon, etc., provided or undertaken by the prophet to be revelatory in nature. The day-to-day operation of the church has been entrusted by Christ to those called to serve in leadership positions. Policy changes, budget approval, missionary efforts, property management and acquisition, etc., are not viewed (automatically at least) as being the result of divine revelation (though we trust that God rests with us in our decision making activities).

From time to time, the prophet-president does receive revelation from God. It may come in response to prayer, or it may come unbidden. The prophet attempts to articulate in written form what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him, and the church takes action upon it. An overview of this process, and why we have, and how we benefit from continuing revelation, follows.

Why is Continuing Revelation part of the church?

We have declared Continuing Revelation to be one of our Enduring Principles. In discussing the development of those principles, President Veazey stated:

“One Enduring Principle that rose up quickly was continuing revelation. The principle is so ingrained in who we are that we cannot describe our faith without giving ample attention to it. Revelatory experience is a key part of our church’s beginning. It has functioned in transforming ways through-out our history. It will play a vital role in the future.”

He also stated in the same article:

“I believe one calling of Community of Christ is to keep the tradition, principle, and practice of continuing revelation alive.”

In his 2009 annual address to the church (“A Defining Moment“), while speaking about scripture, President Veazey made this statement:

“Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.”

Clearly, revelation is tremendously important to the church. Our church leaders have spoken of it’s significance and role in our church. It is not a belief or conviction that just sits in the background, or is interpreted as taking the form of sermons and such, but manifests as specific documents that have blessed us tremendously over the years, and which continue to do so (note: while we commonly regard these documents to be revelations, Community of Christ understands that in fact, they are records of encounter with the divine. This is an often overlooked, but important distinction. The actual revelation is an even that took place in a moment in time, between the prophet and God. We do tend to call the resulting inspired documents revelations, but they are merely the written record of the revelatory experience). Revelation in Community of Christ is alive and well, and is in fact on the rise and we are a better people because of it.

How are revelations shared with the church?

Only those individuals who have actually held the position of prophet-president of the church could truly describe just how they receive revelations from God; and I suspect that trying to articulate such an encounter is very difficult. However, at some point, they put those experiences into written form.

These written revelations are then presented to the church for consideration. With a few exceptions (noted below), they are subjected to a formal approval process. These written items are known as “inspired documents” or (in more recent years) as “Words of Counsel”.

Let me make a point of clarity here. In Community of Christ, a presented revelation takes the form of a document that is specifically presented as a revelation. Letters, sermons, conference talks, addresses, magazine articles, etc., are not regarded as being revelations from God simply by virtue of having been provided by the prophet-president of the church. While these may indeed be inspired, they are not regarded as formal revelations.

Revelations also clearly state that they are the result of God’s efforts to work through the prophet (some might say that it could be understood that the prophet seeks to discern the mind and will of God – I view it as a partnership, a two-way process).

Therefore, only those words presented as a revelation are regarded (or considered) as such. Think of the many revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants that Joseph Smith Jr. provided. Same idea.

Here is a very brief example:

http://www.cofchrist.org/onlineresources/DocCovenants/section160.asp

How are revelations approved?

For the most part, a revelation is presented for the first time during our World Conference, held every three years. However, on occasion, a revelation will be presented outside of World Conference.

Normally, it is our custom for all revelations to be subjected to the delegates of World Conference for consideration and approval. This means that a revelation is not deemed authoritative or binding simply because the president of the church has issued it. It must be considered, and voted upon by the people in order to be regarded as officially authoritative.

This is, as I understand it, a process that gradually came to exist in the early church.

During the approval process, the delegates study, ponder, pray and discuss the Words of Counsel. They meet in various caucuses or priesthood orders, quorums, and councils to review the document and openly discus and question it.

So, all the evangelists meet as the Order of Evangelists, the bishops meet as the Order of Bishops, the high priests meet as members of the Quorum of High Priests, the seventies meet as members of the Quorums of Seventy (I can’t quite recall if they meet as individual quorums or all together under the leadership of the presidents of seventy), the apostles meet as the Council of Twelve apostles.

Elders meet in a “mass meeting of elders” and deacons, teachers and priests meet as a “mass meeting of the Aaronic priesthood”.

In addition, there is a caucus for non-priesthood members, a non-delegate caucus, a couple of non-English speaking caucuses, and a youth caucus.

On the day that the inspired document is to be voted on (and when consideration is to commence), the president may make a few remarks, but quickly turns the chair over to someone else, and leaves the conference chamber. This further empowers people to speak and act as they wish.

The revelation is usually read one more time, and the various bodies mentioned above, along with the other two members of the First Presidency, present reports on how each body views the revelation. If I recall correctly, there is normally time for some further discussion, asking of questions, etc.

Eventually the chair calls for the vote. In the past, I have seen each paragraph voted on individually, and then a vote on the document as a whole, though I don’t know if that is always the case. Only delegates and ex-officio staff can vote (so even though I mentioned above that there is a non-delegate caucus, they meet to discuss and share their views but they don’t actually vote – likewise, members who attended the youth caucus or the non-English caucuses don’t get to vote unless they also happen to be delegates)

The purpose of the vote is to accept or reject the revelation as representing the mind and will of God. If the vote supports the revelation, it is added to our Doctrine & Covenants, becoming a new Section, and it therefore becomes authoritative, and part of our standard of authority, and canon of scripture.

After the vote is taken, the chair then calls for a courtesy vote, open to all members in attendance, including non-delegates (this is the only time that non-delegates get to vote).

So far, no revelation has ever been rejected, but this is not, as some people think, a rubber stamp process, nor a simple formality. It is a very serious process, and there has often been some difficult questions asked, some deep concerns expressed, and outright (and very vocal) opposition. There have even been occasions where members of the leading church bodies questioned a revelation.

Votes are not generally unanimous. People can, and many do, vote against a revelation. And they do so free of risk.

If the vote supports the revelation, a contingent of church leaders fetch the prophet-president, and they march back into the conference chamber, from the back, walking down the center aisle, as the attendees sing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”. Its very moving.

Then the chairperson officially informs the prophet that the revelation has been accepted, and turns the chair back over to the prophet, who may make some final comments before moving onto other business. The entire process ensures that a responsible check-&-balance system exists.

Are all revelations added to the Doctrine & Covenants?

A change arose during the presidency of W. Grant McMurray. Prior to his tenure, many revelations combined spiritual counsel with administrative counsel (i.e., changes in senior church leadership). Or, sometimes a revelation would contain only the latter.

This resulted in the Doctrine & Covenants becoming cluttered with a great deal of content that largely dealt with just changes in senior church leadership.

Under President McMurray, changes in church leadership would no longer be combined with spiritual counsel, and would be presented in documents for just that purpose.

Such documents are termed “Letters of Counsel”. So, a Letter of Counsel provides administrative counsel (changes in church leadership), and the documents known as Words of Counsel provide spiritual counsel (encouragement, admonishments, direction, guidance, etcetera).

Sometimes a Letter of Counsel will be the only revelation presented at World Conference (as God does not provide spiritual counsel every single time).

Generally, the same process of consideration is utilized. The delegates consider the changes, the various bodies present reports, and there is a vote to approve the changes.

However, the outcome is not the same. Letters of Counsel do not become new Sections in the book of Doctrine & Covenants. For this reason, when President McMurray first made this alteration, and presented the first Letter of Counsel, explaining how things were now going to work, he was asked if such documents are to still be regarded as revelations, and he replied “yes”.

Are all revelations subjected to the approval process?

On rare occasion, a revelation containing spiritual counsel has been presented to the church and *not* subjected to a vote. The first time this happened (that I’m aware of) was in 1996. President McMurray presented a document to the church, but felt that God had more to impress upon him, and therefore, he did not permit the World Conference to take any action on it. Nor was that permitted in 1998. However, in 2000, an expanded version of the document was formally submitted for consideration, and became Section 161.

More recently, during the 2013 World Conference, a new inspired document (“Words of Counsel”) was presented, which President Veazey, from the start, said would not be voted on at that time, as he wanted to let it rest with us during the three years between that conference and our next World Conference in 2016. This was highly unusual, but represents I feel a very sober and mature approach to revelation: let the people really study it and ponder it and explore it before taking action on it.

Another more recent development is for Letters of Counsel to be shared outside of World Conference. Between World Conference 2010 and World Conference 2013, some key church leaders had to resign for personal reasons. Therefore, two different Letters of Counsel were issued naming interim leaders, with the understanding that they would officially fill the vacancies if accepted by the delegates at the 2013 World Conference.

During that conference a new Letter of Counsel was released summarizing the prior two and announcing some additional changes, and so that single document was actioned during that conference.

Note that, while in the above examples, immediate action was not taken on various items presented, everything that was (or is), intended to be canonized, was eventually (or will be), subjected to a vote. Likewise, before changes are made to the presiding leadership bodies, a vote is eventually taken, *before* the new leaders are installed. So, in all cases, if it is intended for an inspired document to be canonized, or for leadership changes to go into effect, the Words of Counsel and Letters of Counsel are subjected to the formal approval process. The point of this section was simply to show that, sometimes the church has provided the membership with more deliberation time than in previous eras of the church’s history.

However, if there is a revelation that is not intended to be canonized, and which does not impact leadership changes, it does not have to be voted on.

The only example of this that I’m aware of pertains to a short revelation that was presented to the church in 2009, towards the end of President Veazey’s first ever annual address to the church (and first ever annual address ever made). He shared, at the end of his talk a beautiful revelation which took the form of God providing encouragement.

It reads as follows:

(with a short introduction)

As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed through the following words to the church:

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.

Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Being Responsible

I really love the way Community of Christ handles revelation in our church. I love that throughout our entire history, we have added new counsel from God to our book of Doctrine & Covenants, and I love that we practice responsible revelation: we don’t just treat everything that the the prophet says, writes, or does as being the result of Revelation. We don’t just accept all impacting revelations as authoritative simply because the prophet has said that he’s received a revelation. I love that the revelations are written, circulated, deliberated upon, prayed over, and finally voted on, as moved by the Holy Spirit.

And I love that we have grown in corporate church maturity to understand that if you’re going to claim that God has blessed the world with new scripture, its best to let the people voting on it have more than just a few days to delve through it, if the issues or themes are complex. This change, is perhaps the clearest example of how Community of Christ practices responsible revelation. Not only does the prophet’s revelation have to be written down, circulated, studied by whoever wishes to, and ultimately voted on; but he has given us three years to study it, before asking us to take the critical step of affirming to the greater church and the word that what has been presented warrants being upheld as scripture, and becoming part of our threefold standard of authority.

I also love how we ceased adding administrative changes to our scriptures, and I love how we have continued to embrace revelation in new ways, by seeing the revelatory process take place outside of World Conferences; and I love that the members of the church, are part of the ongoing prophetic process. We are, as others have said before, not just a people with a prophet, but a prophetic people. It is not one or the other, but a partnership.

I am so thankful to belong to a church that not only believes in continuing revelation, but celebrates it, finding new ways to incorporate it into the life of our church. And its on the rise! As near as I can determine, we have been blessed with approximately 15 revelations since they year 2000. Continuing revelation is truly a blessing to us all, and I am grateful to God for His never failing love and patience for His people, and His eternal patience for a flock that does not always listen, or which often fails to understand His purposes. Thank you Lord for never giving up on us, and for continuing, even now, to speak to us. It is my hope and prayer that we will become better at hearing you.

Responsible revelation. What a concept!

Where I can find the most recent revelations?

Examples of our most recent additions to the Doctrine & Covenants can be found here:

https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-161
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-162
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-163
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-164

The 2013 Words of Counsel can be found here:

http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/041413wordsofCounsel/

An example of a letter of counsel can be found here:

http://ddonblog3.wordpress.com/2013-letter-of-cousnel/

A Personal Testimony

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. The rest is bonus content.

I want to add that being part of the process of approving a Revelation is hugely rewarding. There is something really exciting about holding in your hands a copy of a new revelation from God, and there is something exhilarating about getting to be at World Conference where a new revelation is considered, voted on, and ordered for inclusion in our Doctrine & Covenants.

I’ll never forget how I felt during a conference several years ago. I was not able to attend, but I heard there was a rumor that there was a new revelation. But I was not sure if that was true, or if the document was perhaps something else (like a pastoral letter).

When I found the document, I was still not sure what it was being presented as. Then I felt a chill, when I noticed that the paragraphs had been versified. This was not just a pastoral letter, but a revelation.

And then I saw these words:

“To the Councils, Quorums, and Orders, to the World Conference, and to the church”

I should mention, that a large number of our revelations begin with those words. I don’t think they are used in any other way. At least, not that I’m aware of.

And they are just words. Not even part of the actual revelation. Nothing special about them. Pretty boring right? Pretty non-significant. And yet, when I began to read those words that day, I started to cry. For you see, as soon as I read those words, I knew it was official. I knew that I was reading God’s most recent counsel to the church, and it connected me to an experience, a sacred experience, taking place far away from my home, that I could not be at.

I’m getting choked up right now as I write this, as I think back on that experience. They are, for me, despite otherwise being meaningless, among the most powerful words I have ever read.

No matter how many revelations they commence. Its funny how something so minor can resonate with me so much, and draw me closer to God. I noticed that they were not used for the 2013 Words of Counsel, but I hope that if that document is one day formally submitted to be considered for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants, that they will be added, and I hope to be sitting in the conference chamber, to hear someone speaking into a mic, reading those words, calling us into the presence of the divine, as God’s guidance and counsel are shared with His people.

Lead with Grace

shepherdTwo weeks ago I was talking to some people about different leadership styles in the church, and how leaders handle various situations differently. At one point I was trying to express how I felt leaders should deal with all issues, especially those that, if mishandled, could cause resentment.

I’m not sure where it came from, but suddenly I said “they need to lead with grace”. I kinda liked that. Even impressed myself :) I liked it so much that I mentioned it several times today in a meeting I attended with several church members from across our mission center.

All church leaders, all ministers, all disciples, all members, when making decisions, when weighing options, when enforcing policies and positions, when dealing with both paid staff as well as volunteers, when dealing with issues of doctrine and theology, and in particular, when working through any controversial issue, *must* lead with grace.

In other words, we should not be cold, or heavy-handed, or callous in how we handle any matter that we are working through.

We are a church, and that means we are a community of people. And, as in all communities, there are differences of opinion, and sometimes, that requires people in positions of authority to invoke “the official stuff” (policies, positions, principles, church law, doctrine, theology, scripture, etc. etc.), and that is perfectly fine (especially if you’re making a reference to scripture).

However, how we deliver the message is of paramount importance. This is why it is imperative that when we do so, when we deliver that message, whatever it might be, we must lead with grace.

In fact, if we truly lead with grace, we might find an alternative solution that we would not otherwise have considered. As Stephen Covey discusses in his book “The 3rd Alternative”, there are always more than two courses of action. However, if we are unwilling to lead with grace, we might be blind to other possibilities.

Sometimes, we might feel that there are no options, because we do have policies that, if strayed from, may seem to warrant enforcement.

I’m in favor of supporting church policies. But we still need to lead with grace.

In 2007 President Veazey presented an inspired document to the church that was approved for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants as Section 163. That revelation includes the following words:

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship….” -7b

This counsel was given to the church because, throughout history, mankind has had a tendency to worship scripture instead of God, to the detriment of many.

The Latter Day Restoration Movement, including Community of Christ, has not been an exception. We must not be so narrow minded and short sighted, that we, through our use of scripture, to justify our actions, or positions, etc., ultimately worship scripture instead of God.

The above counsel is not just guidance, but an admonishment, perhaps even a rebuke. And because of this guidance, the church is rightly moving away from worshiping scripture.

Yet, there are those who seem to worship policies. I have had conversations with people in the past who have almost become outraged to learn that, inadvertently, a particular policy was not adhered to. This has happened even when the policy was a minor one. I’ve actually been taken aback on these occasions at how annoyed people can be when this happens. It also has struck me as likely that if the policy in question were to be changed, or dropped from our books, they would not have cared. I sensed no loyalty to the particular policies in question, just an overzealous need to respond with sharp criticism over the fact that a policy had been strayed from.

Policies are not canonized, so if we can take the position that we should not worship scripture (even making that stance itself a verse of scripture), we would do well to not worship policies. Instead, we should lead with grace.

Section 163 also included this deeply profound statement:

“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.”

In his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address to the church, President Veazey took the above, and transformed it into a question that he posed to the church.

“So, after all that is said, what matters most?”

The concept of what matters most was also referenced in Section 164, when we were told that the mission of Jesus Christ matters most.

As a question, “what matters most?” is a brilliant thing to ask. When we deal with anything, including church policies, we need to ask that question. Again, I’m not advocating that policies be ignored, but we should still take a moment to pause, and ask ourselves, “OK, truly, sincere, honestly, what really matters most here?”

Lead with grace.

I also love how that verse in Section 163 starts: “There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church.” Yes indeed. And that is why “the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Lead with grace.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not called to be Pharisees. But we run the risk of becoming just that if we fail to lead with grace, if we fail to consider what matter most. So, just keep it simple. Consider what matters most, and lead with grace. Always.

Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace!

Sacramental Truth

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read on my blog site here.

For a few years now I have viewed truth as something that should be regarded as a type of pseudo sacrament.  As I understand the sacraments, they are rites or rituals that bring us closer to God – they bring us, in a spiritual sense, into God’s presence.

Truth is similar to a sacrament in this manner.  Obviously, we cannot regard truth as an actual sacrament, because truth is a concept, not a ritual or ceremony.  Yet, like a sacrament, when we are honest with ourselves, and with each other, and with God, we move closer into God’s presence.  We become more aligned with what Christ wants us to be, as a people, and as individuals.

Conversely, if we are dishonest – in any way – we must expect that we drift further from God’s hopes for us.  We cannot expect to be more reflective of what God wants us to be if we are not truthful.

We also have to consider the fact that as Christians, as members of the Later Day Restoration movement, and as members of Community of Christ, we have a duty to be truthful.  I will even say that we have a duty to seek the truth – but let me put that in context.  We must, when we are exploring a particular issue of doctrine or theology, seek the truth. I don’t mean that we are otherwise obligated to keep hunting for truth, as that would become a full time vocation.

When we consider that Christians are called to follow Christ, to be His disciples, it than of course automatically follows that we need to embrace his teachings, and follow his examples.  This means that we need to promote truth.  How can we be regarded as model examples of Christian disciples if we do otherwise?

There is an even more important reason why we should ensure we are reflecting truth in our lives, in particular in our religious experiences.  Pontius Pilot asked Christ “what is truth?”,  however, before Christ could answer, Pilot turned away to address the multitudes.  Therefore, whatever Christ’s response may have been was not revealed.

I have often wondered what Christ’s response would have been, had Pilot not walked away (perhaps out of fear of hearing the answer).  A couple of years ago, I concluded that Christ would have indicated that truth, ultimate truth, is the mind and will of God.  Its just that simple, and it does not need to be any more complex than that.  Whatever is the mind and will of God is truth.

Being honest and truthful is, quite simply, our responsibility.  Meaning, that in our efforts to understand our doctrine and theology as fully as possible, we must ensure that we are being honest in our conclusions, and always fully truthful in all things.  Including our motives.

This is, however, perhaps not always easy.  As religious people, we each approach any doctrinal issue encumbered with our own beliefs.  Beliefs about scriptural interpretation, beliefs about scriptural authority, beliefs about the sacredness of tradition, beliefs about the church, beliefs about our history, beliefs about God, beliefs about how we think things ought to be.

The more controversial the doctrinal topic being explored, the greater the potential exists that we may compromise our own honesty, and our duty to the truth.

I’d like to use female ordination as an example of this.  A while back, I was engaged in a dialog with a person about the validity of the call of women to the priesthood.  He presented his reasons why he felt female ordination was wrong. I refuted them each.  This went on for a while, until he was no longer able to offer any further reasons for opposing female ordination.  He was unable to defeat my responses to his reasons for his opposition.

However, he still was against it.  It occurred to me that, ultimately, he just did not want female ordination to be valid.  He just didn’t want it to be right.  He preferred, and was quite comfortable, with viewing it as wrong.  Even when he realized there was no actual doctrinal basis to do so.

Of course, this was just my own conclusion and I had no way of knowing for sure if I was right.  So, I asked him.  Or, to be honest, I told him.  I said that I suspected that the real, ultimate, true reason why he was against female ordination was simply the fact that he did not like it.  He didn’t want to see things change.

He acknowledge that I was correct.  That actually surprised me.  However, it also impressed me.  He was being truthful with me.  Which of course, is commendable.

However, the fact that I was right is also troubling, because it proved to me that many people, in fact, probably all of us, are prone to behave like this from time to time.

He may have been truthful with me, but he was not being truthful with the doctrine in question.   To oppose a doctrinal change, simply because you don’t want it, is not an honest approach to God’s church – even if you are being honest with the reason for opposing something.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  It is perfectly fine to oppose doctrinal changes. I have done so on many occasions; and I have gone to great lengths to do so.  I’d almost say that I like it, however, that would suggest that I oppose doctrinal changes simply for the sake of doing so – for fun, and that is not at all the case.    However, when I do, sincerely feel in my heart that something is not right, I confess I do enjoy laying out my reasons for why I feel that way.  I like to explore and wrestle with doctrinal issues.  Pondering the scriptures, as Nephi counsels us, is something that helps me to relax.

Therefore, please be assured that I do not object to objecting.  However, I would hope that if we do so, if we object to something, that we have doctrinal reasons for doing so, so that we have something more substantial and legitimate than merely not caring for something.

The real test for all of us is this: how do we respond when we run out of doctrinal reasons?  Since opposing a doctrinal change without a doctrinal reason is not an honest approach to opposing such a change, than we had better find a doctrinal reason to object.

Often, the doctrinal reason is there first.  We oppose the change because we already believe that the change would conflict with our understanding of existing church doctrine, of our understanding of theology, of scripture, etc.

However, we have to ponder, what if all of the reasons that we have are soundly refuted? What do we do then?  Do we, like the person I spoke with, acknowledge that we still can’t support the change simply because we don’t like it?  Again, we already know that doing such is not an honest approach to rejecting a doctrinal change.

Or do we go hunting for additional doctrinal reasons to resist the change?  Doing that to some degree is probably acceptable. However, there has to come a point when, if we keep having our reasons refuted, yet we continue to keep hunting for more and more doctrinal reasons to object to a change, that we are equally guilty of not being honest since clearly our basis for doing so, if the first and even second wave of doctrinal reasons are refuted, is so that we can avoid accepting the change.

If we have to keep looking for more and more objections to try to defend our point-of-view, what than is the true, honest reason or our objection in the first place?  It would seem obvious that when it comes right down to it, we just don’t like it.

And that is not honest.  That is not valid.  That is not Christ-like.

As I suggested previously, I think we probably all fall into this custom, from time to time.  I’m sure I have.   However, I have to recognize that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have a duty to the truth.  Jesus Christ is God, and God is the source of all light and all truth.  Therefore, those of us who take upon the name of Christ must be upfront with ourselves, and with God, and with each other.  How we approach doctrine and theology and scripture, and any church issue must reflect our duty to the truth.  Truth is sacred, and if we obstruct truth, even our own personal truth, than we are undermining our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.

We are called to be perfect, to strive to be Christ-like; and if Christ ever said that he was against something, I’m quite sure, if he were asked why, his answer would not be “I just don’t like it”.

Questions to Ponder

1) How do you view the relationship between truth and discipleship?
2) What gets in the way of personal honesty?
3) How can we ensure that our motives are honest?

Quit Counting!

3in1On many occasions I’ve had the opportunity to chat with members of other Latter Day Restoration factions (often including members of the Restoration Branches, the Temple Lot, LDS, and others). Many of these conversations have left me with the impression that a lot of members of these other groups tend to think that the purpose of the Restoration is to be the Restored Church. I also happen to know that a lot of members of Community of Christ feel the same way. However, this is in fact not the case.

Let me state at this early point that I do believe with all my heart that Community of Christ is the Restored Church; and that the very concept of the Restoration is integral to our existence.

However, we do not exist to be the Restored Church. The Restored Church does not exist to be the Restored Church. Or to be the Restoration. Say it anyway you want, but the simple fact is, we were not restored to be the Restored Church. That is, quite simply, just what we happen to be, as a result of the Restoration having taken place.

This might be a bit of a mind snap, so let me try to clarify what I mean. What is “the Restoration” a restoration of? Or, what is the Restored Church a restoration of? Quite simply, Christ’s church. That’s it. However, its an important distinction that I feel is often overlooked.

I’ll say it again. We were not established to be the Restored Church. We *are* the Restored Church, but we were created to be, and are, first and foremost, “the church”. If you have traditional Restoration beliefs, you have to accept this as valid.

I feel this all warrants highlighting, because, as I mentioned above, many people in Latter Day Restoration factions (again, including a large number of us) tend to overlook this foundational truth.

And it generally manifests in this manner: Counting.

Counting how often Restoration concepts are used. In the conversations I’ve had, many people have said to me “Your church (Community of Christ) is no longer a Restoration church” or “We are ceasing to be a Restoration church”, etc.

The same rationale for such thinking is presented over and over: “Your/our publications and your/our World Conference sermons seldom, if ever, quote from the Book of Mormon, early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Inspired Version of the Bible; or reference Joseph Smith Jr., the sacred grove, the restoration of priesthood authority, etc.”

This kind of thinking always makes me smirk, because I know with all my heart that we are not called to count such things. The original twelve apostles did not have the Book of Mormon. They did not have Joseph Smith Jr. They did not have the various unique features of the Restoration. Christ did not make such things the heart and soul of the church. They are not the spiritual foundation of Christ’s church, nor are they the purpose for which it was created, in any era.

The church was, I suspect, established for many reasons – but not for *any* the above. The church today is meant to be a restoration of the ancient church. It is, after all, not a new church, but a restoration – a new iteration, in modern times, of the ancient church.

However, a new iteration is not a new church, anymore than a reorganization of a church does not make it a new church; and we must always remember, we are, first and foremost, the church of Jesus Christ, not Joseph Smith.

We are called to be “the church”, not the Restoration. Our primary concerns should be ensuring that we are in alignment with the mission of Jesus Christ, that we are driving the Great Commission; that we are helping to further the cause of Zion by (among other things) feeding the poor, tending the sick, helping to diminish tyranny, protecting the environment, encouraging animal conservation and promoting communities of joy, hope, love and peace as we proclaim Jesus Christ.

The people who tend to count how often Community of Christ makes use of Restoration concepts or Restoration resources also tend to believe in the concept of the one true church. While this concept is no longer a focus item for Community of Christ, it is a doctrine that I personally believe in.

Yet, I find the combination of “church truists” and “counters” to be ironic because, I’m quite convinced that if the doctrine of a one true church really is of God (as I believe), then the church so recognized as the true church in the mind and will of God will be so viewed, by Him, for a plethora of reasons which will include the various causes I mentioned above (mission of Christ, feeding the poor, cause of Zion, etcetera).

If there is a true church, it will not be, in my opinion, regarded as the true church (by God) for how often it references the sacred grove. Or (ahem) priesthood keys.

It is also my conviction that any church that is obsessed with counting the usage of restoration teachings (in itself or others), or which is primarily focused on ensuring that it is the Restored Church, above all other considerations, will never be regarded by the Lord as His one true church.

In other words, once you start counting how often others reference Restoration theology, and/or become prideful of how much of a Restoration faction your own denomination is, you can kiss any claim you feel you have to being the one true church goodbye.

I don’t wish to give the impression that I reject Restoration concepts, doctrines, or resources. I embrace them, I celebrate them, I use them and I believe in them.

In fact, it is my deep conviction that our Restoration heritage is what makes us so awesome (and we are awesome).

Nonetheless, I tend to regard all of our Restoration characteristics as tools, to help us spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, to help people encounter God and Reflect Christ. Our Restoration heritage is what keeps us relevant; and we need to recognize that our Restoration beliefs resonate with a larger number of seekers.

There is just so much tremendous value in our various Restoration concepts and resources. The more we embrace them, the more relevant and redemptive I think we will be.

However, they are meant to help us drive the Great Commission, and the mission of Jesus Christ. They are not meant to be our very purpose, the reason for why we exist. Christ’s mission has never been to promote the Book of Mormon, or the Inspired Version, etc. His mission has little do with such things, but as we have been reminded, his mission is our mission.

It is however not just our mission. It is the mission of all Christians, including all the other factions of the Restoration.

So, let us all work together in furthering Christ’s mission, let us remember to “let contention cease” and let us stop counting!

Balanced Stewardship

“Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son…”
-Doctrine and Covenants Section 147:5a (CofC)

This blog is based on a sermon I preached, which you can read here.

A few years ago my congregation decided to identify six ministriebalances that we would focus on. After an extended period of consideration, the team that spearheaded this initiative decided that one of these six ministries had to be stewardship.

However, we recognized that the term stewardship has some baggage in our church, and is also limited in scope. We therefore wanted to rejuvenate and expand the meaning of stewardship.

As a result, we decided to gave this particular ministry, as we envisioned it, the term “balanced stewardship”. The aim of this ministry was defined as follows:

“Focus the careful and responsible management of time, talent, and resources to support the long term plan of the congregation…”

We also attached two primary objectives to this ministry:

1) To be a congregation made up of people who are individually and collectively inspired to joyfully offer their gifts in response to God’s grace.
2) Embracing a whole-life stewardship that is not limited to monetary responses.

However, I felt that it would be a challenge for many of our members, even with the above statements, to get their heads around the concept of stewardship being an aspect of all expressions of their discipleship, not just generosity.

Therefore, in a sermon I preached, I described five *possible* forms of balanced stewardship, which are as follows:

One: Fiscal Stewardship (A Disciple’s Generous Response)

This is the traditional understanding of stewardship. Financial contributions to the church…because as much as we felt that the concept of stewardship needed to be expanded, tithing and offerings, etc., are still critically important.

Fiscal stewardship is of vital importance to the mission of the church, both locally and globally, and it’s reflective of our generous response to the needs of others. Additionally, generosity is an expression of charity, and charity is an expression of love.

Your loving and generous contributions to your congregation, to your mission center, and to World Church, and to various programs such as World Accord, touch the lives of people all around the world, truly having a beneficial impact on those whose ministerial needs outweigh our own.

Our current tithing program is termed “A Disciple’s Generous Response”. This program teaches us that generosity is a spiritual discipline. It also encourages us to respond faithfully, spend responsibly, save wisely, and give generously.

These are all wise words, and we need to embrace them. Yet in a system that promotes balanced stewardship, fiscal stewardship is but one form of our call to be good stewards. And its important to remember that fiscal stewardship is not about guilt. No one is expected to give beyond their means, or to give when they can’t.

Two: Earth Stewardship (Environmental/Conservation issues)

This is perhaps a more recent expression of stewardship, at least, for many of us, but it is an ancient discipline among aboriginal communities. Yet now the rest of the world has finally caught on; and God is encouraging us to embrace our call to be custodians of the whole world.

One of my favourite scriptures is the following :

“The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.”
–Doctrine and Covenants 163:4b (CofC version).

This passage truly resonates with me, and I am eager to explore ways in which our church, and our congregation can help protect the world on which we live. This planet is a gift from God, as are all things in creation. We can’t take anything, even the world itself, for granted.

Three: Zionic Stewardship (Peace & Justice)

This is the responsibility that we have, beyond our charitable gifts, to help improve the conditions of all people throughout the world. To care for one another.

A very, very, very, long time ago, God asked a rather short and simple question: “where is your brother” and the reply that He received was this: “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is “yes!” you *are* your brother’s keeper! You are a keeper of all children of God.

We are reminded of this calling, this aspect of our stewardship, by another verse from Section 163:

“God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.” -4a

So you see, God has charged us with the task of helping to improve the lot of others, building a better world, living our mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ, and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. This is Zionic stewardship.

Four: Ministerial Stewardship (time, energy, resource management)

This is sort of a catchall. This is the stewardship of our own blessings; or, to put it another way, our time, energy, gifts and talents, and how we use them, our willingness to use them, our willingness to risk; to move beyond our comfort zones.

This type of stewardship could also be understood as an expression of our discipleship; and it deals with our willingness to identify those things that we are passionate about, and finding opportunities to give expression to those things in a church context.

Five: Temple Stewardship (physical, emotional & spiritual wellbeing)

The name of this form of stewardship comes from First Corinthians, in which we read the following:

“…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?” -19 IV (adapted)

This verse reminds us that our bodies are gifts from God. They are temples of the Lord. They are not ours, but His. As such, we would do well to take very good care of them. Therefore, we must always be attentive to our personal health, in all it’s many forms. Our health is multi-dimensional, and therefore, so must be our efforts to take care of our health, our temples of the Lord.

And this also includes our spiritual wellbeing. We must be careful to ensure that we don’t experience burnout. And if we do, then we need to recognize it, and appropriately cope with it. This is also a key aspect of our temple stewardship.

***

A member of my congregation decided to use the five examples of balanced stewardship by creating a “spring cleaning challenge” for our membership, which was as follows:

IT’S TIME FOR SOME SPRING CLEANING!
spring

Free yourself up to connect with God! (via the following five goals)

1. Earth Stewardship
Set a goal to find a way to look after the earth. Achieve the goal!

2. Fiscal Stewardship
Set a goal to manage your money better. Achieve the goal!

3. Ministerial Stewardship
Set a goal to cultivate your blessings. Develop your use of your time, talents, energy, and gifts. Achieve the goal!

4. Temple Stewardship
Set a goal to improve your health and lifestyle. Achieve the goal!

5. Zionic Stewardship
Set a goal to find a way to improve the lives of others. Achieve the goal!

Breathe Clearly Again!

***

I hope, after prayerful consideration, that you will agree that balanced stewardship, however one might define it, is important. There are many reasons. For example, it could be neglectful, or even maladaptive, to focus on only one expression of stewardship.

Plus, we are encouraged to broaden our ministry, to become more diverse in our witness of Jesus Christ. This promotes our own spiritual growth, not to mention the positive impact that may transpire in the lives of those to whom we minister, which may not occur if we are not willing to render new forms of ministry.

The church needs balanced stewardship. From each of us. That need has never been more urgent. Our discipleship and stewardship must be flexible, and relevant. We must be open to change, because the church has changed, and the church has changed because the world has changed, and that is perhaps the most important reason why balanced stewardship is so vitally important.

***

What does stewardship mean to you? Is it appropriate to envision stewardship in a broader manner than previously understood? Do the five examples above resonate with you? How do you envision balanced stewardship?

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 1 of 5

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)

BoMComboAs 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.