Sticks and Stones and … Compliments?

Several years ago when my congregation attempted to join the local ministerial alliance (in a town right next door to Independence, Missouri), I was met by a coalition of fundamentalist and evangelical pastors intent on keeping out the (then) RLDS Church. Their reasoning ranged from claims we were “non-Christian” all the way to “not Christian enough” and, finally, to “it would just open the door for Mormons to want to join.”

As it turned out, they only wanted to talk about Joseph Smith. Apparently, our faith movement’s founder represented all that anybody needs to know about contemporary Latter Day Saint groups.

To shorten a long and rather nasty story, I’ll just skip to the part where representatives from United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and Roman Catholic Churches prevailed. A Methodist pastor put it this way: “Nobody asked me to prove I was ‘Christian enough’ to join, so why should we start now?”

Eventually most of the fundamentalists/evangelicals bolted from the alliance when an LDS representative was admitted a few years later. They formed their own group, which over time has dwindled in size and influence.

I mention this episode as a way to ask, “Do we expect to be misunderstood or misrepresented?” Is this a natural outgrowth of religious discrimination and persecution experienced by our forebears in the almost two centuries of our faith movement’s existence? Although nobody’s getting tarred and feathered these days (at least here in North America, as far as I’m aware), has suspicion become our default setting?

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Community of Christ and the telos of the Restoration

I want to introduce a word: telos. Telos is a Greek word that means “aim” or “purpose.” However, the “aim” or “purpose” in the meaning of telos is not the goals and objectives that defines today’s business or organizational thinking. Telos refers to the purpose or aim unfolding,  guiding, and innate within a thing or an event.

Telos indicates the essential aim of purpose of a thing as it comes to fulfillment in a process of growth and change. It points to the deep, even divine, purpose that is unfolding and fulfilled in the outcome of its evolution. Considering something’s telos is a way to grasp or understand how the change at work in something works itself out and is fulfilled in its life.  This telos connects a thing to its true being, its fulfillment, and origins. Continue reading

Is Mormonism Christian?

I’d like to revisit the theme of the most recent Restoration Studies, while keeping my comments largely to the LDS Church (although with obvious implications for Community of Christ).

For most Mormons, to be “Christian” means being a believer in Christ.  But orthodox Christianity has higher standards, not unlike the standard of “the one true church” of the Latter-day Saints: Christian churches are true expressions of salvation through Christ; and to admit a church into this elite category requires recognition that it falls within the doctrinal, spiritual, and sacramental traditions of the universal church, handed down and preserved from Christ to the apostles, the apostles to the bishops, and the bishops to the present-day.  Before being recognized as part of this “one true church,” Christians are as exclusionary as Mormons, for, for both groups, salvation is on the line. Continue reading

What Would the Apostle Paul Say to the Community of Christ?

Rich Brown is the newest columnist here at saintsherald.com. He recently posted the following on his own blog, ForeWords, published at the Isaac’s Press Web site.

The letters attributed to Apostle Paul offer particular guidance to Community of Christ in its current struggles related to baptism and human sexuality. Of course, they need to be considered along with 2,000 years of Christian history and doctrinal development, almost two centuries of the same in Joseph Smith Jr.’s Restoration movement, and 150 years of the Reorganization.

Let’s begin with baptism.  One basic statement stands out in the seven letters just about everybody agrees were actually written by Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon):

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” –Romans 6:3-8 NRSV

Clearly Paul positions the act of baptism as participation with Christ in being raised from “death” to “life.” Thus believers experience a symbolic death to the power of Sin and a rising to new life. Note what’s not in that passage: the idea that baptism washes away sins (meaning individual transgressions), the ministerial authority of the person administering baptism, the particular method of baptizing, any connection with an institutional church, and baptism’s relationship with confirmation.
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Reunions as Sacred Spaces, Sacred Metaphors

As the weeks of summer slip by, Community of Christ reunion grounds have sprung to life across North America and Europe. Tens of thousands of church members will attend reunions this year, giving us pause to consider the theological and historical connections that reunions share with the wider Christian tradition as well as our own unique understandings of sacred space.

As noted in a previous post, annual Community of Christ reunions in their earliest incarnations resembled the camp meetings familiar to so many Protestants in the early 19th century. Indeed, the history of reunions parallels the evolution of the camp meeting among American evangelical Protestants. For instance, early 19th century Methodist-style camp meetings evolved from tent meetings that varied from place to place to settled meeting grounds where people camped during the summer and engaged in recreation beyond simply prayer and preaching. Continue reading

What does the Community of Christ believe? Vol. II

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  I grew up hearing that as a campfire song, and took a certain meaning from it through my own interpretation as something along the lines of the little things you do can have a big impact.  That has become clear with visitors at the CofC historic sites. 

Sometimes this “spark” lights a fire of tension between visitors and guides.  Starting off tours in Nauvoo, we traditionally show a 12 minute video before heading off to visit the homes.  In this video is a line, one which I had heard many times but never gave a second thought about, which seems to infuriate many visitors and leave them permanently annoyed throughout the visit.

Talking about Joseph Smith’s first vision: “In a quite grove of trees near his upstate New York home, Joseph prayed for guidance and there had an experience with the divine.”

Harmless to me, but borderline blasphemy to others.   In my experience, no single question has more often accompanied the start of the tour than a visitor asking for clarification about that point and why the Community of Christ chose that language to describe it. 

I’m well aware of the multiple versions of what happened out there in the grove, which is why I believe it is worded the way it is in the video. ( http://en.fairmormon.org/First_Vision/Accounts  This is the best website I could find with the different accounts in a quick search, I’m sure there must be a better option out there.) That’s the point I try to explain, but it rarely (if ever) makes it across the way I intended.  It usually just gets crossed arms and a glare, with an occasional nod of understanding, even if in disagreement.

My wondering is: why does this even matter?  Why is this such a big deal to some, and a seeming non-issue to others?  Does the Community of Christ even care about what did or did not happen in the grove, if anything happened at all?

Taking the tour through the Independence Temple sometime back, I remember the entrance to the worshipper’s path was designed to replicate the grove in New York.  Clearly it had some significance to somebody at that point.  It was chosen as the starting point for entrance to the sanctuary.

Does the “First Vision” matter in the present-day CofC?  What, if anything, might it mean?  Why’d we put it in the Temple?  Did this vision even happen at all?  Does any of this debate even matter or is it all a waste of time?  What does this event (in whatever understanding you may have of it) mean to the CofC in late-June 2009, or what did it used to mean to the Church or to you?