Sin & the Cross, and Why We Need Them

I want to share my recent blog post: The Cross, or Why We Need It.  It is on my blog.  I take on the dominant view of the cross about personal salvation and sin. My testimony is that the cross is a witness from the ancients about life in empire, the fate of God, & human relationships. I welcome your comments.

(Click to go to mattfrizzell.com)

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Some Walls Just Came Tumbling Down

The boundaries separating Community of Christ from other Christian denominations have just gotten considerably more porous.

Item No. 1:
Last week CofC leaders released details on new procedures for church membership for Christians previously baptized in other denominations. An interim policy takes effect January 1, 2011, and will be valid through the following August 31.

On September 1, 2011, an official policy becomes effective. It is anticipated that a new church-members introductory course will be available by that time, and all new prospective members will be required to complete it. Until then existing resources (Walking with Jesus: Disciples in Community of Christ and Sharing in Community or We Share: Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs) may be used by local authorities.

A key element in both the interim and official policies is that this procedure is only for those people who were baptized (1) at the age of eight or older and (2) their baptism involved water [full or partial immersion, pouring, or sprinkling]; in other words: infant baptism does not qualify. All people seeking membership in Community of Christ in this way must agree to a Shared Understanding of Baptism statement.

Included with the official announcement of this significant policy change was a letter from church president Stephen M. Veazey. In it he explains how the policy came into being, its direct connection to Doctrine and Covenants Section 164 (approved in April 2010 at World Conference), and a brief personal reflection.

Item No. 2:
On November 10, delegates to the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. unanimously approved Community of Christ for membership. A report by a NCC committee recommending approval is here (the report also includes the church’s “We Share” document). The NCC report makes for interesting reading, particularly the section that notes that the Community of Christ’s “founder” was not Joseph Smith Jr. but Joseph Smith III (admittedly, this information is provided by a representative of Roman Catholic bishops and excerpted from a letter by him to the committee).

The announcement on the church’s Web site is here. While this announcement is not totally unexpected (recall that the NCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, addressed the CofC World Conference this year and expressed his strong support for this step), it does represent a significant (some would probably substitute “radical”) development in RLDS/Community of Christ history.

These separate announcements are not simply administrative actions, of course. There are major theological and historical issues involved. Clearly there are those who view this moment in the church’s long history as a leap into religious maturity while others see it as damning proof of apostasy.

Perhaps in both cases this becomes a core question: Now that the Community of Christ allows church membership for Christians without requiring rebaptism and the denomination is a part of the National Council of Churches USA, what difference is that going to make as the church (understood as a worldwide communion, national churches, mission centers, congregations, and faith movement) moves ahead?

In its shortened form, it’s simply this: So what?

Appalling…

The Quran

On September 11, 2010, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is hosting International Burn a Quran Day.

From 6-9pm “Christians” can burn the Quran at the local church.  The city of Gainesville has refused a burn permit for safety reasons, however the church has vowed, “BUT WE WILL STILL BURN KORANS.”

Dove World Outreach Center’s pastor Terry Jones is quoted by CNN as saying, “We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it’s causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times.”

Dove World Outreach Center's Pastor Terry Jones

Some other local religious leaders have organized a Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope to occur near the same time to counter this book burning.  At least there is some attempt being made to counter the Quran burning.  This story is attracting some media attention, and likely moreso as the planned date approaches–assuming the Outreach Center sticks with the plan.

To me, this is appalling.  The very concept of this idea is contrary to everything I see the Community of Christ standing for, or atleast what it should stand for.  I see this as an attack to an entire religion of people, and just one day after the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan at that.  And worse yet, this is being done in the name of Jesus.  Shameful.

I’ve been blessed in my life to get to know many people intimately of very diverse religious backgrounds.  I have worshipped in Islamic mosques openly before, with no hesitation or concern.  I have celebrated Ramadan with Islamic friends three seperate years and endured the month-long fast, multiple times.  I know personally of three other Community of Christ members who engaged in Ramadan at least once as well.  It is a complete test of mind, body, and will.

I cannot believe that if Jesus Christ was with us at this moment that he would join in or approve of the burning.  Same as I do not believe, as others argue, he would join them holding up GOD HATES FAGS signs.  This is not the Christ that I’ve come to know.  And this is not the Jesus that the Community of Christ knows.  I pray this is not the Jesus known by most of Christianity.

We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.

We have a special calling, and the world needs to hear the “liberating truths of the gospel.”  Jesus is hope, not hate.

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?

Continue reading

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

What does the Community of Christ believe?

I often wonder how much of a bubble I live in.  I found myself as a guide at the Kirtland Temple for the summers of 2006 and 2007.  From April 2008 to the present, I’ve been a guide in Nauvoo.  While by no means speaking ill of those experiences, both have been remarkable, I wonder what it has done to me and my perceptions of the Community of Christ.  Have I lost touch?

Through my brief tenure of guiding at the church’s sites, roughly two years total by now, I have become (as virtually every guide does) the very face of the CofC for visitors.  I’ve taken thousands of people through Kirtland Temple and Joseph Smith’s homes in Nauvoo telling them the stories and events of people long since gone, and at times still witnessing ongoing history as it unfolds in the present day.  But amongst those experiences, there are constant situations of visitors inquiring about the Community of Christ.  Who are we?  What do we believe? How do we explain this…?  What’s the church’s official statement on _____?  Do you still use _____?  In answering the questions, I’ve recently begun to ponder whether I am even aware of the answer to many of these.  Or have I been on my own too long, as the lone CofC representative many of these people will ever meet?  I believe I’ve been accurately answering their queries, but I wonder if I’ve used this forum as a chance to craft the church into the institution I wish it was, rather than what it is.

Maybe this’ll be a recurring thing, maybe not, but I want to toss out a few questions here and in later posts with no commentary on my part to see how CofC or other casual readers would answer them.  Comments would be loved, trying to figure out what exactly is the Community of Christ…if that is a question that can even have an answer.

Here’s one I’ve often heard, what are your thoughts or how would you explain this one:

Why’d the RLDS change its name?

Sexual Policy and the Church

This post focuses on the sexual policy and the church in the U.S. and Canada.  It does not address the international issues regarding sexual policy, which I believe are significant in considering the church’s progress on addressing same-sex ordination and marriage as a global church.  For more information, see H-6: Committee on Homosexuality and the Church Report from the 2007 World Conference.

On May 22nd, the First Presidency of the Community of Christ issued a letter to administrators about the authority of priesthood to conduct same-sex marriages.  Not intended for wide distribution, the letter restated the church’s current position against this practice. It requested, again, that leaders respect the current position while the church continues to struggle for a way to adequately address the issue.   This letter circulated among some members on the internet.

The letter was prompted by inquiries following Iowa Supreme Court’s decision.  Same-sex marriages have been legal in Iowa since April 29th.  On May 17th, Michael and Chuck Hewitt of Community of Christ’s Cornerstone Congregation (see KMBC 9 story) married in Roy A. Cheville Chapel at Graceland.  June 2nd, Graceland’s President, John Sellers, issued a letter stating his administration did not know that a same-sex wedding was planned.  Given current church policy, it would not have authorized the service knowing a Community of Christ minister was officiating.  The letter invited responses. Continue reading