The Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), is a Christian denomination that stems from the Latter Day Saint movement initiated by Joseph Smith Jr. While theologically unique in several ways, the major doctrines of the Community of Christ are generally more congruent with mainline Christian attitudes than those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the larger offshoot of Smith's original movement. The Community of Christ follows a largely non-liturgical tradition based loosely on the revised common lectionary.
From its headquarters in Independence, Missouri, the church places special focus on peace and Christian evangelism, and is dedicated to justice, outreach and youth. As of 2006, the Community of Christ had approximately 200,000 members enrolled in 50 nations.
The Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or RLDS), was organized as a separate denomination in 1860 in Amboy, Illinois as a reaction to Joseph Smith's ambiguous directions as to whom should follow him as prophet-president of the movement. In the decade before his death, Joseph Smith had indicated at least eight possible means by which to choose his successor. One such possibility was that his son, Joseph Smith III, would assume the role. However, upon the death of Smith, his son had not yet turned 12 years old, and no one else had been chosen as an interim leader of the movement until Smith III was old enough to assume leadership himself. The larger body of believers held the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to be their rightful leaders during this time. Brigham Young, the elder apostle of this group, came to assume the position of leadership, and would eventually lead the Mormon faithful from Nauvoo, Illinois to present day Utah.
Not all Mormons approved of Young's leadership, however, including Joseph Smith's widow. Emma Smith's chief discontent was with the persistent practice of plural marriage, and Young's idea that it was a doctrine that had been veraciously taught by Joseph Smith. In addition, Young and Emma Smith disagreed over the settlement of Joseph Smith's estate, including the manuscript of Smith's revision of the King James Version of the Bible. In the wake of these disagreements, much distrust developed between the two, which eventually deteriorated to contempt. Some of Young's followers even went so far as to make attempts to forcibly banish the Smith family from Nauvoo. This imperious treatment no doubt had an effect on the way in which Joseph Smith III perceived Brigham Young, and gave him the impetus to steer the church in a different course.
Meanwhile, other dissenters were organizing rebellions against Young. In 1848, Jason W. Briggs, leader of the branch of the church located in Beloit, Wisconsin, also rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and became affiliated with a number of anti-Young movements over the next three years. However, he became estranged from most of these movements as well due to the fact that they too espoused polygamy. On November 18, 1851, Briggs claimed to receive a divine revelation that outlined the future of the church, and his followers promptly distributed disseminations of this account. The most important purports of the document insisted that the next leader of the church would come from the line of Joseph Smith. During the winter of 1852, a group of Latter-day Saints followers in Wisconsin and Illinois led by Briggs began to etch out the plans for what they considered to be the genuine continuation Smith's original church, many of which were put into effect at the church's first official conference on June 12-13, 1852. Although Joseph Smith III rejected the RLDS's initial invitations to assume the position as prophet-president of the church, he eventually did accepted the position after a number of revelatory experiences and was sworn in on April 6, 1860, at Amboy.
Today, the Community of Christ considers the period of time between 1830–1844, during which Joseph Smith's latter day Saints movement was just beginning, to be a part of its official history. However, the period between the murder of Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844, and the official reorganization of the church on April 6, 1860 is considered by the RLDS to be a period of disorganization, and is left out of standard RLDS history.
Since 1844, the doctrine and practices of Community of Christ have evolved separately from the other denominations sharing origins in the Latter Day Saint movement. Joseph Smith III was influenced by his mother's vehement opposition to polygamy, and repudiated the idea that it had ever been considered doctrinal by his father. By the end of the nineteenth century, the RLDS had also rejected numerous LDS doctrines such as the plurality of the Godhead, and the exclusion of black people from the priesthood, all in an attempt to distance themselves from the larger, mainstream sect. Within the past several decades, the church has moved in the direction of greater tolerance, emphasizing its role as a peace and justice church which serves a variety of peoples all over the world. Some recent changes include the ordination of women to priesthood, open communion, and changing the church's name from Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the current name in April, 2001. The name change to "Community of Christ" was put in effect in order to affirm the centrality of Christ within the purview of the church.
The Community of Christ states that it recognizes that the "perception of truth is always qualified by human nature and experience" and therefore has not adopted an official religious creed. Nevertheless, it identifies a number of beliefs commonly held by its members and leaders to be the "generally accepted beliefs of the church." As Stephen M. Veazey, president of the church, phrased it: "Community of Christ is a church that provides light for the way as well as space for the personal faith journey." Thus, the movement is not based in rigid conformity to a series of dogmas, but rather allows for a significant amount of individual discretion in developing personal beliefs.
Unlike the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believes the members of the Trinity to be distinct entities, the Community of Christ generally accepts the doctrine as it is formulated by mainstream Christianity. The community states that the "one eternal living God is triune…." and acknowledges God as Creator and Source of love, life, and truth. It adds that "God alone is worthy of worship." Jesus Christ is described as both Savior and as a living expression of God and is acknowledged as having lived and died, undergoing resurrection after his death. The Community of Christ's Theology Task Force states that "Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, both fully human and fully divine." As the name of the denomination implies, Jesus Christ is central to their study and worship. The Holy Spirit, meanwhile, is described as the "continuing presence of God in the world" and as the source of divine inspiration.
Peace is of the utmost importance for the Community of Christ's followers. The call to "peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit" is a recurring theme in Community of Christ and is reflected in its official vision statement. Doctrinal statements by the church suggest that "because of our commitment to Christ and belief in the worth of all people and the value of community building, we dedicate our lives to the pursuit of peace and justice for all people." In keeping with Community of Christ's role as a "peace and justice church," the Independence Temple was "dedicated to the pursuit of peace". Each day of the year at 12:30 pm Central Standard Time, a "Daily Prayer for Peace" is held in the sanctuary of the Independence Temple.
The Community of Christ International Peace Award has been bestowed annually since 1993 (except 1996) for purposes of honoring and bringing attention to the work of peacemakers in the world. The Peace Colloquy is a major conference on peace held annually at Community of Christ headquarters, and the church maintains a Peace and Justice Ministries Office at this location throughout the year. In addition, Community of Christ promotes its Young Peacemakers Club as a means of teaching and promoting peace among children all over the world.
The doctrine of human worth or "worth of all persons" is another well established belief in the Community of Christ. Community of Christ states that "God loves each of us equally and unconditionally. All persons have great worth and should be respected as creations of God with basic human rights, since the willingness to love and accept others is essential to faithfulness to the gospel of Christ." Recognizing that scripture has sometimes been used to marginalize and oppress classes of persons, president Stephen M. Veazey has noted that "it is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much violence has been done to some of God's beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices." The church accepted this statement into the Doctrine and Covenants in 2007, thereby identifying it as revealed scripture.
In the mission statement given on its website, the church declares that "We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace." The vision statement, meanwhile, states that "We will become a worldwide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit." The current vision and mission statements of Community of Christ were initially adopted in 1996 by the leading quorums of the church's leadership and reflect the peace and justice centered ministries of the denomination.
The belief in continuing divine revelation is a distinctive aspect of the Latter-day Saint movement, and is also a key belief of the Community of Christ. The community states that "the process through which God reveals divine will and love is called revelation. God continues to reveal today as in the past. God is revealed to human beings via scripture, the faith community, prayer, nature, and in human history." Thus, the Community of Christ canon is still open, and the serving president is able to bring occasional inspired documents to the church. These revelations are usually brief passages of text that provide encouragement, counsel and direction to the church. For this reason, the president of Community of Christ is sometimes referred to by the title "Prophet" or "Prophet-President."
When an inspired document is presented to the World Conference by the president of the church, an elaborate review process takes place. Each quorum of the church and several caucuses review the document and vote on whether or not the document is indeed valid revelation. Debate is allowed and the body has been known to refer the inspired document back to the president for further reflection or clarification. Often, however, the documents are carried unanimously. When the document comes to the floor of the World Conference for debate, the president retires from the room to allow for impartial consideration. The World Conference may vote to include the document as a new section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is regarded as scripture by the denomination. If the delegates at the World Conference do approve an inspired document, it is the custom of the Church to then have a courtesy vote of approval, which is opened to all non-delegates attending the conference. This is the only time non-delegates are permitted to vote on World Conference business. Through this action, the Prophet of the Church can be assured that a large representation of the Church membership support the inspired document.
The concept of Zion, or the "kingdom of God," as both a present reality of Christian living and a promised community of the future, is an important concept in Community of Christ. Based on references made in the Bible to Mt. Zion, or simply Zion, this place was initially regarded as a city, sometimes called the New Jerusalem. Prior to 1920, most members of Community of Christ identified Independence, Missouri as the New Jerusalem. However, Zion is now understood more as a way of living or a state of existence promoting justice and peace rather than a specific place. The denomination states that "The 'cause of Zion' expresses our commitment to pursuing God's kingdom through the establishment of Christ-centered communities in families, congregations, neighborhoods, cities, and throughout the world." While the Concept of Zion is rarely associated with the Jewish concept of Zionism by Community of Christ members, in the early 1900s some members of the RLDS from Maine were intrigued by notion and established a refugee center near Tel Aviv during the initial return of the Jewish diaspora to Israel. (Can you find a source?—Scott… there is very little about this on the net so we can probably take it out.
Community of Christ commonly attests that "all are called according to the gifts of God unto them." Published statements of belief proclaim that "All men, women, youth, and children are given gifts and abilities to enhance life and to become involved in Christ's mission. Some are called to particular responsibility as ordained ministers (priesthood) in the church. The church provides for a wide range of priesthood ministries through calling and ordination of both men and women."  Thus, the Community of Christ does not discriminate on the basis of gender or race.
Community of Christ also differs from most other Christian faiths in its belief in prophetic leadership. Since virtually anyone can become a member of the priesthood, nearly one in ten members currently hold priesthood office. These are primarily unpaid bi-vocational ministers who are called to teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church does maintain a relatively small group of professional ministers who typically serve as administrators, financial officers or missionaries. The ministry of the church at the congregational level is lead by the priesthood members and carried out by all priesthood and laity. In most congregations the pastor(s) and other elected and appointed leadership positions are unpaid positions. Upheld by a unanimous vote, women were given the right to hold the priesthood in 1984, as the church sought to embrace what they felt was the will of God.
Members commonly believe that Sacraments (or ordinances) express the abiding presence of God in the life of the church, its members and its priesthood. Sacraments are metaphorical acts designed to create and renew spiritual relationships with God, which serve to solidify covenants with God in response to His grace. The Community of Christ practices eight sacraments; Baptism, Confirmation, Blessing of Children, The Lord's Supper, Marriage, Administration to the Sick, Ordination, and the "Evangelist's Blessing," a special blessing exclusive to the Latter-day Saints movement, which is given by a patriarch to a church member. "Laying on of hands" is a popular method of performing blessings, and is used by various Community of Christ sacraments, including confirmation, ordination, blessing of children, administration and Evangelist's blessing.
The Community of Christ points to Jesus Christ as the living Word of God and affirms the Bible, along with the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture. The Community of Christ's view of scripture is that it should be "reasonably interpreted and faithfully applied." It understands scripture as an inspired record of God's activity with humanity, and, while it recognizes scripture as the revelation of God, its members would not typically suggest that scriptures constitutes the literal "words of God." Accordingly, the community does not view scripture, including the Bible, as inerrant. Members are encouraged to understand the historical and literary context of Bible passages and not to interpret all of the language literally. In words of counsel delivered to the church in 2007, President Stephen M. Veazey stated that:
Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture. Scripture is not to be worshipped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God's nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.
This passage itself is now included in Section 163:7a-b of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Community of Christ draws its readings from a three year lectionary cycle based upon the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) used by other Christian traditions. The readings from the biblical canon are those of the RCL except where the Joseph Smith translation differs from other biblical canons. In these instances verses from the RCL are given along with the corresponding verses of the Inspired Version. In addition, the church has added readings from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants to supplement the biblical verses.
In congruence with mainstream Christianity, Community of Christ upholds the Bible as the paramount scripture. Both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are utilized in public worship as well as private study. The church encourages prayerful meditation upon the meaning and importance of Bible passages, often quoting James 1:5-6: "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting…" This passage is quoted mainly because it was the scripture that Joseph Smith II read as a boy when he was trying to determine what church to join. The Community of Christ does not identify a single, superior translation of the Bible, though they do base the liturgy of the church on more recent translations such as the New Revised Standard Version. Although Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible was retained by his family and was eventually published by the RLDS as the Inspired Version, the book has not been widely used by Community of Christ due to its reliance on the now-difficult-to-read language of the King James Version.
The Community of Christ views the Book of Mormon, a history of ancient peoples of Semitic origin who lived in what came to be America, as an additional witness to Jesus Christ. The church publishes two versions of the book. The Authorized Edition is based upon the original printer's manuscript as well as the 1837 Second Edition (or Kirtland Edition). Its content is similar to the Book of Mormon published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the verses differ slightly. Community of Christ also publishes a 1966 "Revised Authorized Edition," which attempts to modernize some of the language in the original work.
High-ranking members of the Community of Christ have not hesitated in identifying difficulties raised by the Book of Mormon. In 2001, for instance, then-President W. Grant McMurray reflected on increasing questions about the book's merit with the following statement: "The proper use of the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture has been under wide discussion in the 1970s and beyond, in part because of long-standing questions about its historicity and in part because of perceived theological inadequacies, including matters of race and ethnicity." At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled a resolution to "reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record" out of order. In so doing he stated that "while the Church affirms the Book of Mormon as scripture, and makes it available for study and use in various languages, we do not attempt to mandate the degree of belief or use. This position is in keeping with our longstanding tradition that belief in the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the church." Thus, belief in the Book of Mormon is not necessarily a fundamental priority of Community of Christ members.
The Community of Christ differs from most other Christian faiths in its belief in an open canon of scripture. New documents that are classified as revelation are recorded in the church's version of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is regularly appended during the annual World Conference. The Community of Christ edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is a growing work of scripture containing inspired documents given through the prophet-presidents recognized by Community of Christ. Current President Stephen Veazey presented the most recent words of counsel to the church, which were accepted as scripture on March 30, 2007. This document, now officially Section 163 of the Doctrine and Covenants, further challenges the membership of the Community of Christ to engage in ministries that foster peace, and are specifically designed to “pursue peace” and to “strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth.” As with the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants is considered to be an additional witness to Christ's mission.
The Community of Christ is lead by a prophet-president in the tradition of Joseph Smith and his son Joseph Smith III. The prophet-president, along with two counselors, forms the church's main leadership committee known as First Presidency. The church's ministry is overseen by a Council of Twelve Apostles and the temporal needs of the church are guided by the Presiding Bishopric. Meeting together, these quorums are known as the World Church Leadership Council. Other key leadership positions include Presiding Evangelist, Senior President of the Presidents of Seventy, and the President of the High Priests Quorum. Every two years, delegates from around the world meet together with these leaders to vote on church business at the World Conference.
Originally, succession of the prophet-president was decided by the outgoing president, with the choice dictated mainly by familial relations. After his death in 1914, Smith III's first successor was his son, Frederick M. Smith (1874-1946). Frederick M. Smith was followed by Israel A. Smith (1876-1958) in 1946, who was succeeded 12 years later by William Wallace Smith (1900-1989), Smith III's third son, who served as president until 1978. In that year, Wallace B. Smith (b. 1929) took over for his father. The next president, W. Grant McMurray (b. 1947), who took over in 1995, was the first president of the church who was not a descendent of church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. He stepped down from this position in 2005 and was replaced by current leader Stephen M. Veazey, who was chosen to be president by a joint council of church leaders led by the Council of Twelve Apostles.
The Community of Christ owns two major temples, the Kirtland Temple dedicated in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio, and the relatively new Independence Temple in the city of Independence, Missouri, dedicated on April 17, 1994. The Kirtland Temple operates mainly as a historical site as part of the church's educational ministry, while the Independence temple serves as the church's main headquarters. The Independence and Kirtland Temples are places of education and worship for all people, and there are no restrictions as to who can enter. The Auditorium in the Independence temple houses the annual Children's Peace Pavilion, which plays host to a number of exhibits designed to teach the concept of peace to children under twelve. The Auditorium is also the site of the World Conference, the major legislative assembly of Community of Christ. The church also owns and operates some Latter Day Saint historic sites in Far West, Missouri, Lamoni, Iowa, as well as in Plano and Nauvoo, Illinois.
In addition to the temples and historical sites, the church sponsors a number of educational and scholastic institutions. Graceland University, located in Lamoni, Iowa, is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Community of Christ. An additional campus of the university is located in Independence and houses the Community of Christ Seminary, the only seminary based upon Community of Christ theology. Publications related to the Community of Christ are produced by Herald Publishing House, also based in Independence.
In 2006, the Community of Christ's membership was estimated to be approximately 200,000 members. The church is officially established in the following countries and territories: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, British Isles, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji Islands, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Grand Cayman, Guam, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan , Kenya, Korea, Liberia, Malawi, Mexico, Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippine Islands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan (Republic of China), Ukraine, United States of America, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Not surprisingly, it is estimated that more than half the active members of the church speak a primary language other than English. With this in mind, the church translates resources into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Telugu, Kwi, Sora, Tahitian, Chewa, Chibemba, Efik, Lingala and Swahili.
A number of elements of the Community of Christ have created minor controversies. With the expansion of the RLDS to more than 20 nations under the presidency of William Wallace Smith in the 1960s and 1970s, the church naturally decided to expand its cultural breadth by promulgating a more universalistic message. This lead to a doctrinal reinterpretation in 1966 that viewed the notion of Zion in "worldwide terms." Thereafter, Zion was no longer seen as an exclusive colony in Missouri, but as a more pluralistic concept for actualizing social change all over the globe. A small group of RLDS members interpreted this teaching as a rejection of the idea that RLDS were essentially a remnant (that is, an exclusive group of people remaining loyal to God despite many trials), and therefore a weakening of Joseph Smith's original vision for the church.
Additional controversy arose in 1984 when section 156 of the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants was put forward at the annual world conference by Wallace B. Smith. This section allowed women to be ordained for the priesthood, a position many members of the church felt should be limited to men. So intense was the sentiment against this ruling that an effort was made at the 1986 world conference to rescind it, although this effort failed. As a result, various dissenters formed a number of independent branches that continue to deny women for the priesthood.
Throughout its history, the RLDS/Community of Christ has made a concerted effort to separate itself from so-called "Utah Mormonism" of Brigham Young that is practiced by the much larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, Community of Christ has attempted through the years to convert Protestant prospects by deemphasizing aspects of their faith which link them to the larger LDS church, instead choosing to focus on commonalities with mainstream Christianity. As a result, the Community of Christ has come to resemble orthodox Christianity more and more closely throughout its development, and as a corollary has grown less recognizable as a part of the Latter-day Saint movement.  However, the RLDS/Community of Christ's effort to differentiate itself from the LDS was complicated by the similarity of the names of the two sects. This nagging difficulty was dissolved only recently when the RLDS changed its name to Community of Christ in 2001.
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