Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 4 of 5

Stance of the Church

explorebookHow 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 )
http://www.cofchrist.org/pr/GeneralInfo.asp#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.

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

Uncovering the Gems

gemsIf we can set aside or even undo the concerns that we bring to our exploration of the Book of Mormon, concerning the folklore and sticky passages, etc., we might then be able to more readily consider some of the great stories, themes, and powerful passages contained within it.

Naturally, what constitutes a “scriptural gem” is a matter of personal opinion. However, I’m excited to share some of the ones that I’m fond of.

To begin with, I want to share a few words regarding some Book of Mormon themes.

There are some great themes that run throughout the Book of Mormon. One of these themes is that of community building. I intend to talk more about that elsewhere, so I don’t want to elaborate on that at this time — but mull it over.

Another theme is that of the dangers of pride. All through the Book of Mormon there are warnings to beware pride, and the hardships that result when society gives into pride. This is something I noticed the first time I read the Book of Mormon, and it stands out, as many people have observed it’s presence.

The Encyclopaedia of the Book of Mormon (Herald House, ©1978, 4th printing, 1991) offers the following on this subject (page 269):

Pride set in among the Nephites beginning with their second king. From that time, the Nephites fluctuated between pride and righteousness throughout their history. A period of righteousness brought prosperity. Prosperity led to pride, pride led to dissension, dissension led to desertion, desertion led to war, war led to grief, grief led to repentance, repentance led to righteousness, and righteousness led to prosperity; thus the cycle began again.

Some of my favourite passages from the Book of Mormon include the story of the Vision of Lehi (and Neph’s interpretation of it). There is something intriguing about the love of God, word of God, etc. etc. being represented by the rod of iron, the tree of life, and so forth.

Tangent: I sometimes chat with an LDS member. He often boasts that his church must be the true church because of how large it is. Whenever he (or any Mormon for that matter) does so, I caution them not to be too caught up on that fact. After all, in Lehi’s vision, the great and spacious building represented the pride of the world.

I also have always enjoyed the story of the glowing stones that God provided in order for the Jaredites to have light in their eight barges as they sailed across the ocean. Its just a neat story that reminds me of the fun Old Testament stories we learn about in as kids in Sunday school.

I guess that is one of the things I really admire about the Book of Mormon. It has, like the Old Testament, some “epic” stories, which are sort of lacking in the New Testament, yet, like the latter, it has a great deal of the pastoral wisdom & compassion focused ministry that is not as abundant in the Old Testament.

Some of my favourite verses are as follows:

And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood…your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  (CofC 3rd Nephi 4:49)

And I, Nephi, said to my father, “I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord gives no commandments to the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commands them.” (CofC 1st Nephi 1:65)

And there came a voice to me, saying, “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said, “Lord, how is it done?” He said to me, “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.” (CofC Enos 1:7-10)

…after you have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say to you, No…Wherefore, you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God, and of all men…and there is no other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen. (CofC 2nd Nephi 13:27-32)

For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. (CofC 2nd Nephi 3:29, 30)

O Lord, will you give me strength, that I may cope with my infirmities? For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people pains my soul. O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; will you comfort my soul in Christ? O Lord, will you grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions…O Lord, will you comfort my soul, and give me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me…even all these will you comfort, O Lord? Will you comfort their souls in Christ? (adapted from CofC Alma 16:109-112)

Finally, I’d like to end this blog by sharing what may be my favourite Book of Mormon verse of all. It is in fact, in my own opinion at least, nothing less than the long sought after meaning of life itself; and it is so short, so concise, and so simple, which only makes it seem that much more significant in my mind and heart, and it is something that I encourage all of us to remember.

Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (CofC 2 Nephi 1:115)

A Different Way of Looking at our Scriptural Canon

I’ve always been very fond of our three volumes of scripture.  For  that reason, I have often wondered if each has a distinct theme, intent,  or purpose.  Beyond the obvious.  After all, we can clearly see that  the Bible introduces us to the person whose church we belong to.  The  Book of Mormon is said to have, at least as part of it’s purpose, the  function of helping to clarify the Bible.  And clearly, the Doctrine and  Covenants provides a lot of instruction on administrative issues; and  it also provides modern guidance.

But is there any other role  that each has?  I finally have come to realize that indeed, there is.   And this realization dawned on me as I noted some common ground in some  things that a few of the pastors in my area have been talking about.   About once every month or so, I participate in a meeting of all the CofC  pastors in my area. And I’ve noticed that one of them keeps talking  about communities. Church communities. Building sacred communities.

And I’ve also noticed that another keeps talking about relationships.  The importance of, and basic need to form real, meaningful relationships  with people.

Now, as I heard both of them talk about these  things, which occurred on different occasions, and not at the same time,  I heard them, as is so often the case, in isolation.

But one  day, I was thinking about a concept that I’ve been talking about a great  deal this year, in my congregation: invitation. The ministry and  blessing of invitation. And then the Holy Spirit brought it all  together. I suddenly recalled what my fellow pastors had mentioned,  often just in passing, so many times at our meetings. And I realized  that the three things that we have each been talking about, form a three  fold model. They go together.

Invitation will of course lead  to relationships being formed. Relationships, as they develop and  multiply, will ensure that community building takes place. And as the  community grows, the more potential there will be to have things to  invite people to.   And this is when I realized, that these three  concepts, invitation, relationships, and community building, form the  backbones of our three volumes of scripture.

You see, at the  heart of the Holy Bible, is God’s invitation. When we consider the  Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament, it is quite clear that the  entire second half of the Bible is all about invitation: To follow Jesus  Christ. That is the continual theme throughout the entire New  Testament: invitation.  But it’s mirrored in the Old Testament. In that  record we see God is inviting people to be civil, to be people of faith,  and to be responsible. The New Testament, by inviting us to follow God  through Christ, invites us to be people of charity, faith, and peace.  So, the entire Bible can be summed up as God’s invitation.

The  Doctrine and Covenants, perhaps more clearly seen in the 160s, but  scattered throughout all the Sections, has ample passages that focus on  how we respond to each other. The Doctrine and Covenants is all about  establishing relationships.

The Book of Mormon is, from start  to finish, a testimony of community building. That is what the Book of  Mormon is all about. Community!  Community building. Quite literally!  That is almost all that the Nephites did. They established spiritual  gatherings, and they physically built camps, villages, towns and cities.  And the spiritual gatherings and the domestic settlements were  generally one-and-the same: they built Zionic communities. And they did  so over and over. They were continually assaulted with hardships,  trials, tribulations, internal corruption, descent and all manner of  setbacks. But, somehow, they kept moving forward.

The church  has no greater scriptural example of community building than the Book of  Mormon. No greater focus on relationships, than the Doctrine and  Covenants. No greater invitation than what is found in the Holy Bible  (and of course, there is some overlap).  As these three themes are so  prominent in our three volumes of scripture, they *must* be modeled in  our discipleship. Our covenants with Jesus Christ must be founded on  these concepts.