5 Cool Things About the Community of Christ

Clay Whipkey 5CT, community of christ, diversity, inter-faith, Leaders, Priesthood, prophets, religion, RLDS, scripture 25 Comments

This post is another installment in my “5 Cool Things” series. Today I’m giving a list, again in no particular order, of some things I think are really cool about our prairie cousins, the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church).

Just in case some readers don’t know, the Community of Christ is not one of the polygamist branches of Mormonism. They formed about 10 years after the LDS left Nauvoo, out of the saints who were not convinced that either Brigham Young or Sidney Rigdon should be the successor to Joseph Smith. They rejected polygamy especially, but also most of the theological evolution Joseph Smith went through during the Nauvoo period (i.e. ordinances for the dead, God as an exalted man, etc.).

Thus, from their beginning they were sort of founded on a very different profile than LDS. One of questioning authority and viewing a prophet as something more nuanced than the LDS view, something which LDS are only now beginning to experience in a mainstream way through things like Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and the church-sponsored Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Without further ado, the list:

  1. Pragmatic Priesthood
    Members are only given the priesthood when they are called to a position which requires it.  Teenagers are rarely ordained.  The priesthood is not considered a rite of passage for spiritual maturation, but a tool that is used when necessary to perform the Lord’s work.
  2. A Democratic Canon
    We all agree that all human beings, even prophets, have the potential to be fallible.  The CoC leaders embrace that admission to the point that even new revelation from God is put to the membership at their bi-annual world conference to vote and either approve or reject as new scripture.  I don’t know if there is a corollary, but they also have a much more active canon than their LDS cousins.  The Doctrine and Covenants of the CoC only shares the first 120 sections or so with LDS, and yet they currently have 163 sections, with the latest one coming in 2007.  In the last 100 years, the LDS church has only added one document to the official canon.
  3. Formally Trained Leadership
    In order to be an Appointee (an equivalent to a General Authority), a bachelor’s degree is required.  Once someone becomes an Appointee, they are admitted into an Advanced Leadership Study program which results in the equivalent of seminary graduate degree. Many callings actually have an application process where the needs of the position are measured against the talents and gifts of the candidate to provide a good match.  That process is combined with spiritual inspiration for the ultimate selection, but generally callings are qualified on the basis of a person having the appropriate skills for the job.
  4. An Open Diversity of Opinion
    Just as with LDS, the Community of Christ membership hosts a wide diversity of opinions and beliefs.  There are CoC members who believe the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical translation of ancient scripture and there are those who see it as complete fiction which may or may not be useful as a source of poetic inspiration.  The primary difference is that the Community of Christ, at the leadership/authority levels, does not impose an orthodoxy upon its members.  They can freely and openly discuss these varied opinions in their public discourse and its just totally normal.  This cultural aspect actually harkens back to early church history when it was fairly common to see a public debate between Orson Pratt and Brigham Young (at the time was the Prophet) heatedly arguing some pretty core doctrines and walking away as friends and fellow saints in good standing.
  5. Cyclical Leadership
    The modern leadership system in the Community of Christ is not a lifetime calling.  Even their prophets retire before death.  Current president Stephen Veazey is quite a young man, and I would guess based only on physical appearance that he may be younger than any LDS church president since Brigham Young, and younger than any current LDS apostle.  Some CoC apostles serve for only a couple years (their world conference, in which major priesthood business is conducted, is every two years).  The position of Pastor (like an LDS bishop) is only a one year call which has to be re-confirmed each year (I think most pastors get “renewed” for a while, though.)

Honorable mention: women in priesthood and leadership (but I’ve already written about this before), focus on peace and justice, and fearless approach to facing reality.

Comments

comments

Comments 25

  1. Clay: Interesting post providing a glimpse into the Community of Christ. You are correct. Stephen M. Veazey, president of the Community of Christ, is 51. He is younger than any LDS church president since Brigham Young and younger than any current LDS apostle. David A. Bednar, the youngest member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve, is 56.

  2. Agree Clay, all those things are cool! I tried to call the closest CoC and was hoping to attend in lieu of the recent stake conference broadcast, but I only got an answering machine (on a Sunday morning) and my message was never returned. Perhaps the congregation has closed, I don’t know. I think you could perhaps list as an honorable mention: less zealous proselyting?

  3. And they don’t have a Correlation Department!

    Although under Frederick Madison Smith, there was a bureaucratic crisis called the Supreme Directional Control controversy which established central control in Independence over congregational autonomy (a la Southern Baptists).

  4. Matt Thurston Suggested in one Clays posts

    2.) Two “Visit Another Church Days” per year. Just an opportunity for members to visit other churches and interact with people of other faiths. The benefits to individuals and the community are obvious.

    Can’t wait to visit one very soon if they have one here in the UK

  5. Agree… all of this is super cool. What I wouldn’t give for the Brighamites to adopt just one of these ideas. If I had to rank them in order of preference, I’d do it like this:

    1.) An Open Diversity of Opinion
    2.) Women in PH/Leadership
    3.) A Democratic Canon
    4.) Focus on Peace and Justice
    5.) Cyclical Leadership
    6.) Fearless Approach to Facing Reality
    7.) Pragmatic Priesthood
    8.) Formally Trained Leadership

  6. Post
    Author
  7. I just attended a CoC service this past General Conference weekend and I liked how they did the Sacrament prayer (although they called it Communion): they combined the two prayers to bless the bread and wine at the same time. It seemed very efficient.

  8. I find these posts tedious as they smack of apostasy.

    You favor the wisdom of the world over the foolishness of God.

    Particularly galling to me is that you actually find the rejection of a universal priesthood “cool”. You also think that limiting the highest levels of Priesthood authority to those who have a formal education is “cool”?!

    Thus disqualifying not only Peter, James, and John- and in fact all of the original twelve except Matthew, but it would also disqualify Joseph Smith! Not to mention Jesus!

    You may find such things “cool”. I on the other hand think it extremely cool that God can call whoever He thinks best as His Apostles- including the uneducated.

    I also find it extremely cool that he wants all of His faithful sons to hold His priesthood, not just those with leadership callings.

  9. I have to share Cicero’s sentiment. I don’t find many of the things you listed appealing.

    These are the exceptions.
    1)Open Diversity of opinion. I know there is already a lot of this, but I think we often feel we cant disagree with each other in a civil manner.

    2)Focus on Peace and Justice. It think we do this but could to a better job. I also think we could do more in the way of personal sacrifice to help the world’s people.

    3)I could possibly see women in the priesthood. We see this already in some of the temple ordinances and language. It would be a big difficult step for the Church. I think it would probably require further “light and knowledge”. It would require in the restructuring of some of our programs. I think it would be executed quite differently that what you see in the CoC.

    I believe technically have a “democratic cannon” I believe in the recent past whenever documents are presented for addition to the cannon (OD 1 & 2) it is put to a sustaining vote before the General Conference. Although, Section 138, which looks to have been added in 1918, seems to have been sustained by First Presidency and they Twelve. I personally feel we ought to canonize the “Proclamation on the Family” as a new section in the D&C. More isn’t always ‘better’ though.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “fearless Approach to Facing Reality”. It seems to me that some of the “realty” that the president of the CoC is facing is that some of the things we’ve (LDS) known and believed about Joseph Smith’s life and teachings all along are an actuality. Granted, I think we could do a better job of informing the Faith of our members with more than the “faith promoting” details. I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we present church leaders, past and present, as anything more than human. The Church and the lives of it’s members and leaders can be a bit messy, and at the same time. . .inspired, authorized and true. At the same time I understand the position that we need to streamline and simplify our message into multiple languages. . .that’s the tricky balance to find.

  10. I like 3 and 4.

    While I don’t think that a formalized secular or religious education should be a requirement for a leadership position, the current leadership training scheme needs to be adjusted to make it more comprehensive and prevent good people from falling through the cracks.

    As far as the allowing for dissenting opinion goes… the church could benefit from it. As things are now, dissenters are punished if they push the envelope to far. Other faiths have official doctrines of infallibility. If their leaders say the sky is red and not blue, it has to be true no matter what. We don’t have one and we shouldn’t act as if we do.

    We are led by mortal men. That’s the beauty of it all. Screw ups happen. If they are wrong, they are wrong. If they are right, they are right. The Spirit should dictate rather than a position. I’ve seen many a Sunday school and Priesthood lesson go off the deep end and no one stopped it because it was a higher ranking leader giving the lesson.

    Cicero, good logic and good reasoning. I agree. We don’t have have an aristocracy based on education and to have one would be exceptionally spiritually counterproductive. All worthy men should hold the priesthood. If I remember right, priesthood restriction is common in almost all other Christian denominations.

  11. If you take Cicero’s post and make it gentler, and add a bit more diplomacy, that’s what I’d say, too.

    I’d be happy making lists of things I admire in other faiths. I like Catholic cathedrals and monasteries. Those are cool. I like the geometric art on many mosques. I like the wording of some passages from the Qur’an. But I can’t tell if the tone of this discussion is “stuff we should adopt” or “stuff the CoC does better than the LDS church” or if it’s just “stuff that is cool for them.”

  12. First of all thank you for not putting up my last comment. I fear it’s easy to become enamored with the sight of your own words.

    One of the things about this subject that seems to be a problem is the feeling that if that’s the way the church does it, that’s the way the Lord wants it, so what is the reason to talk about it. The aaronic priesthood was reserved for grown med until about 1870 or so when BY decided to extend it to boys. It was never given as far as I know as a revelation as far as I know but as a way to educate and involve boys in the responsibilities of the priesthood. I think that some things that have been and are done started out as good ideas and if they worked were kept and if not were discarded. I don’t think talking and reasoning about these things brands anyone of “smacking at apostacy”. If we don’t think and talk about things we’re left to just sit and wait to be told what to do. Not always a very good idea.

  13. Well, I’m more of an apostate than Clay, cause I had the temerity to label these ideas as “super cool” in comment #5.

    In defense of Clay, I don’t see that he made any argument that the church adopt these ideas (though I did in #5), just that they were “cool” (i.e. interesting, thought-provoking, good, etc.) ideas. He could have just as easily written a post entitled 5 Cool Things About the Buddhists. What’s wrong with an ecumenical approach to other religions?

  14. My first LDS institute class was comparative Christian religions. We looked at a lot of “cool things” about other religions that were not about adopting those things into our own religion. This concept seems to challenge some members of MY family when it is applied to the CoC. Instead of looking at their unique qualities as cool, they become riled by the differences have been stumbling blocks to being good neighbors to our “prairie cousins”. I would like to erase from my mind a commentary directed from one of my family members to a guide at the CoC temple several years ago. It was embarrassing. Thanks to Clay for a positive look at a few of their qualities.

  15. I hold a BS and an MS from BYU but I take exception to the idea of requiring a BS for individuals involved in church leadership positions. My experience has been that I have learned a great deal from individuals that have not had the opportunity to attend a university. Especially as the church becomes increasingly world wide it seems short sighted to consider excluding people without a BS a good idea. Thanks.

  16. I am a woman elder in the Community of Christ and have been pastor for about five years this go around. I had been pastor before several years past but this is my longest continuing service. We at Community of Christ voted at our last conference to space the conferences to three years. So, our next World Conference will be held in 2010.

  17. I’d point out several facts that are fundamentally wrong about those cool things about your church.

    1. Christ who has made us “kings and priest unto God and his Father” has all of the sudden just been an administration tool for those who really need it. I’d point out that your church doesn’t have the priesthood at all. The history of your church bears this as a fact. Your church was started by men who were excommunicated from our churhc, but your church claims they opperated under their independent priesthoods. What does that mean? It means they ignored the law of common consent which made it so Brigham Young and the apostles were the leaders of the church, and that they ignored the law of God on this point to establish their own will.

    2. Which leads to the second point, you talk about a Democratic canon. While Brigham Young receieved revalations for the church, your members ignored that point, as you ignore the point that Brigham Young was givene the common consent to lead the church in that so called “succession crisis” which had nothing to do with Jospeh Smith III but was between Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young. On top of that, what you failed to point out was that members of your church are not required to accept the Book of Mormon as your so called “President” overruled that point at the 2007 world conference.

    3. Having at least a BA is not a requirement to be called of God. Being called of God is a requirement to being called by God. Peter was not the most learned person. Joseph Smith was not well educated either, neither was denied a calling because of a lack of education. Maybe you should look it up in the scriptures, and while you are at it, look to see if Temples are suppose to have gift shops in them.

    4. Orson Pratt and Brigham Young would not debate on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Does your church allow so many diverse opinions that you would entertain the opinion that Jesus might not be historical? Give me a break. The only reason your church would not require that the members accept the Book of Mormon as we would is because your leaders are hoping to nab some evangelicals who don’t want to believe in the Book of Mormon at all.

    5. I can see Moses annoucing to the children of Israel that he’s ready to retire from the prophet business.

    My Mormon friends my not like what I have said to you directly, but your church is like Reuben, “thou art as unstable as water”

    1. “I’d point out several facts that are fundamentally wrong about those cool things about your church.”

      I think the author is LDS, not Community of Christ.

      “I’d point out that your church doesn’t have the priesthood at all”

      That is a matter of perspective. Let us explore that….

      “Your church was started by men who were excommunicated from our church”

      That is a gross distortion. The early saints who rejected Brigham Young, and who would eventually go on to “reorganize” the church, were numerous. The reorganization was not the work of 1 or two men, but of several people, and I doubt that they were all excommunicated by Brigham Young. But, even if they were, that does not matter. All of your statements are based on the presumption that Brigham Young, and those who followed with him, were the valid continuation of the church. That is just not the case. As we shall see below.

      “It means they ignored the law of common consent which made it so Brigham Young and the apostles were the leaders of the church, and that they ignored the law of God on this point to establish their own will.”

      There is a great deal of confusion in these positions that you have. Just because a decision is made through the process of common consent in no way guarantees that such a decision was the right choice, or agreeable to God. Look at your own example in your 4th point. What if the early followers, through common consent, voted to endorse the position that Christ was not historical? Would the fact that such a decision was made via common consent make it the right choice? Nope!

      What the people did, in supporting Brigham Young, was itself not lawful. You spoke of my church ignoring the law of God. Well, in fact, the law of God does not state that all decisions made through the process of common consent are automatically right. But the law of God *does* address prophetic succession. It also talks about the roles of the presiding quorums. The law of God specifies what the duties of each are to be. This is laid own in the very word of God! All of these laws were ignored by Brigham Young, and by those who supported him.

      In a crisis, other quorums can provide leadership. The Twelve, when unanimous are equal to the First Presidency. However, so are the Seventy, *and* so is the High Council. God placed checks and balances in place, which your church ignored. The Seventy and the High Council should have reigned in your apostles, but they did not. Brigham Young eventually disbanded the High Council. Think about that. He disbanded a body established by God, which had as part of its role, equivalency to the First Presidency, as a check-and-balance.

      During the crisis, I’d say that the apostles did have the right, given that the First Presidency only had 1 member, to provide leadership to the church. But the mandate was horribly exceeded. The membership voted the 12 to become the First Presidency. This was wrong, and violates the law of God. The twelve form a body, again with the Seventy and the High Council, equal to the First Presidency (but only when decisions are unanimous – clearly an intent to limit abuse of power and limit such presiding authority to a narrow scope, i.e., an emergency). However, again, the duties of the Twelve, and the other councils, are set forth in the word of God. Although the 12 can provide leadership, it can never itself be a First Presidency! But this is what your group voted to make it! In defiance of God’s law! The First Presidency is the First Presidency. And the Twelve are the Twelve. The 12 are to be missionaries. They can never become the First Presidency. This violates the duties that they are scripturally charged with.

      Regarding prophetic/presidential succession, the law of God specifies how that is to be accomplished. And Joseph Smith Jr. designated, more than once, his son Joseph Smith III to be his successor. Again, your group ignored this. Naturally, Joseph Smith III could not immediately take over, as he was only a boy when his father was killed. This is why the other councils should have acted in compliance to God’s law, and provided interim leadership.

      By the way, Joseph Smith III, when he was anointed his father’s successor, was told that when he succeeded, he would succeed to all the “powers” that his father held. This answers the oft asked question by LDS “but what about the keys?” Having been ordained and anointed as the successor to the office of president and prophet, with all the “powers” that his father held, the keys automatically fell to him.

      Two courts of the United States have ruled that the faction under the leadership of Joseph Smith III is the true continuation of the church that his father presided over. LDS will often that they don’t care about the decisions of a court of law. Well, they should, because those rulings were *not* uneducated decisions! Those involved did their research, examined the factions, interviewed, called witnesses, etc. etc.

      So, the facts of history reveal that the people who supported Brigham Young voted to recognize the remnant of the Twelve as the new First Presidency. Brigham Young and those apostles accepted that. Brigham Young and all who sided with him rejected God’s law regarding succession. They ignored the fact that Joseph Smith Jr. ordained his son as his successor. Furthermore, Brigham Young was never actually ordained as president or prophet. That is not a mere technicality that can be ignored. You cannot hold an office of priesthood by just saying you do. If you’re not ordained, you ain’t it! For rejecting these crucial laws of God, that were specific to protecting the church from doing exactly what they did, all those involved forfeited their priesthood, and became apostate.

      So guess what? The facts of history actually reveal that your church does not have priesthood.

      “While Brigham Young received revelations for the church, your members ignored that point….”

      Hold on, what revelations? Your fellow LDS member who wrote this blog said that Young had, what, one? In how many years? And how many since then? I’m not really sure what you think we ignored. Plus, if I recall correctly, Young’s revelation (which is not even termed “revelation”), was well after the split took place. I’m not sure its fair to judge us for ignoring a revelation which at the time, we would not have known about. Especially since it was not valid.

      “which had nothing to do with Joseph Smith III but was between Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young.”

      In actuality, the were many people who claimed the right to replace Joseph Smith Jr. It was not, as you say, just between Rigdon and Young. They did indeed have a more direct contest, but there were many who felt they had a claim. And, given that Joseph Smith Jr. ordained his son as his successor, which Young and others ignored, the leadership crisis in fact had *everything* to do with Joseph Smith III.

      “On top of that, what you failed to point out was that members of your church”

      The author is a member of your church, not mine.

      “are not required to accept the Book of Mormon”

      Have you not been taught that one of the founding principles of the Restoration movement is Free Agency?

      “as your so called “President” ”

      So called? He really is a president. Just like your leader is a president. Just like many groups have presidents. I don’t see the logic behind this particular jab.

      “overruled that point at the 2007 world conference.”

      He over ruled a motion that would have mandated how we are to view the Book of Mormon, and he did so because we don’t feel the need to have “tests of membership”. We are not a tree house club of 10 year old boys with our membership tests, secret handshakes, code names, special tokens, and cereal box decoder rings. We are a church that honors God’s gift of free agency.

      But, in so ruling, our president did make some comments, in which he did affirm the fact that our church considers the Book of Mormon to be scripture. And he reminded us that it is one component of what we call our “standard of authority”, which also includes the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Inspired Version of the Bible. And nothing else. And the role of our standard of authority is to be “the standard of authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising, or which may arise in this Church of Christ” -World Conference Resolution 215.

      And as you say, this action by our president, was done in 2007. So this is not some sort of out-of-date perspective.

      “Having at least a BA is not a requirement to be called of God.”

      That is not our position. I’m ordained but I don’t have a BA (or anything equivalent). There are some positions in the church that do require that a person meet particular qualifications. This is because being in such positions involves more than just functioning in a particular priesthood office. I challenge you to dig deep and find out how many member of your church’s presiding bishopric, over the years, have not had any previous experience dealing with finances, properties, and so forth, or who only had a high school education.

      And what about money? I don’t know if this is factual, but I’ve often heard that LDS apostles are required to be millionaires. If that is not a requirement, I would not be surprised if being well off is a requirement. How many uneducated, poor, Average Joseph Smiths sit in high leadership positions in the LDS church?

      “and while you are at it, look to see if Temples are suppose to have gift shops in them”

      Is there a verse that says they can’t? Is there a verse that says temples cannot be entered except by members? And only by those deemed extra worthy? Is there a verse that says temples can be built when ever you feel like it? Seems to me that God expressly commanded the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples to be built.

      “The only reason your church would not require that the members accept the Book of Mormon as we would is because your leaders are hoping to nab some evangelicals who don’t want to believe in the Book of Mormon at all.”

      LOL…I’m not sure that we hoping to “nab” people. But, I’m always grateful when anyone joins our church, as I know they will be blessed by having done so. Don’t you want to see evangelicals join your church?

      “I can see Moses announcing to the children of Israel that he’s ready to retire from the prophet business.”

      Hmmm. Moses. Interesting choice you made there. In fact, Moses did retire. He turned leadership over to Joshua. So, he did not die in “office”. Oh, I’m sure he remained a prophet until his death, but in those days, and in the days of Christ, multiple prophets operated simultaneously.

      But in this era, while there can be multiple people who have a prophetic calling, there can only be 1 prophet of the church at a time. This is God’s law. But, why must a prophet remain in that office until death? Having served likely for many years, having labored hard for so long, can he not enjoy his golden years in retirement? If Moses could retire, I don’t see why a church president can’t retire. Is it better to keep a president and prophet in place who is so old and sick that he can’t function in that role? Consider your President Benson.

      Also, your church views the other members of the First Presidency, and the Quorum of Twelve, and the Presiding Patriarch, as prophets, not just the president of the church. And I understand that form time to time, some of these other prophets do retire. In fact, you retired your President Patriarch years ago, took away his prophetic status, and never replaced him. Our presidents, when they retire, revert back to being regular high priests, so they are no longer regarded as holding the priesthood office of prophet. But, at least they are replaced. I can’t imagine how your presiding patriarch emeritus must feel, being booted out for no clear reason, having held the status of prophet, only to latter lose it, but *not* yielding his role to a successor! That is just harsh! Also, Id say that in my church, one could make the theological argument that our retired presidents actually do still hold the priesthood office of prophet. They no longer preside over the church, and no longer serve as active prophets, but I don’t know of anything written down that states that the priesthood office of prophet is nullified in retirement. But, your presiding patriarch had that happen to him. He was a prophet, but he had that taken away.

      “thou art as unstable as water”

      Well, we’ve been around since 1830. We survived some turbulent years from 1844 to 1860, and we have been fully operational ever since. We are flexible like water, which means we evolve. We are not inflexible and cold like rock. God made water spring from a rock. Christ left his tomb of rock, yet he took a stroll on water. He did not feed his people with spiritual rock, but with “living waters”. Rock is our foundation, but it loving holds the waters of life. But if your church does not hold waters of life within it, then it is dry and lifeless.

  18. Peace, Mr. Terrill,

    I respect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints very much. As a member of the Community of Christ I know there are striking differences between our two faiths. But at the same time I often feel a more profound connection with Mormons than those of other Christian denominations. I suspect this is because of the shared foundation of our churches.
    The one true church IS NOT the Community of Christ. We have moved well pass this point of view. Are their “cool” things about my church? Yes indeed! Excuse my bias.
    But the coolest thing about our church is something I think you and I will hopefully always agree on.

    Jesus Christ is whom he claims to be.

    My church proclaims Jesus Christ! And it is our mission to create communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.

  19. Brian, even though a majority of the 12 followed Brigham, some of the leadership and membership followed James Strang. Both Young and Strang held competing conferences which ex communicated the other. You also had the congregations, that refused to follow Brigham west. So Brigham only had the common consent of those who decided to follow him. Seeing that Brigham was not Joseph’s chosen successor, which I believe was James Strang, Brigham did not have the authority to excommunicate anyone.

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