In the first installment of this two part series we examined the unusual history of the denomination now called the Community of Christ (COC). We showed how that body, until 2001, was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). Like its much larger cousin, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church), the COC has historically claimed Joseph Smith, Jr., as its founder. Unlike the LDS, however, the COC had Smith’s oldest son, Joseph Smith III, as its first President/Prophet (see Part 1- The Community of Christ Part 1: The Scope and History of the Community of Christ ).
For several decades, the COC has distanced itself increasingly from the LDS and Mormonism. As a result, the COC has minimized its historical connections to Joseph Smith, Jr., and has de-emphasized its theological and ecclesiastical distinctives. As we indicated in installment one, over the past several decades the COC has morphed from a splinter Mormon cult to what is essentially a Liberal Protestant denomination.
So What Does the COC Now Believe and Teach?
The Prologue to the COC’s official Website states: “The Good News of Jesus Christ is at the center of the faith and beliefs of Community of Christ. We are a worldwide community and are committed to follow Jesus, bring forth the kingdom of God, and seek together the revealing, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit. We offer here our Basic Beliefs, not as the last word, but as an open invitation to all to embark on the adventure of discipleship. As we seek God’s continuing guidance, we encourage all people to study the scriptures and think about their experiences as they engage in the life of the church.” (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
This article will present and analyze some of their statements on essential doctrinal issues and evaluate them from an evangelical Christian standpoint.
“We believe in one living God who meets us in the testimony of Israel, is revealed in Jesus Christ, and moves through all creation as the Holy Spirit. We affirm the Trinity-God who is a community of three persons. All things that exist owe their being to God: mystery beyond understanding and love beyond imagination. This God alone is worthy of our worship.” (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The COC statement of belief affirms the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, though it never refers to God as “Father.” Unfortunately, this is a growing tendency in some liberal mainline denominations. Many mainline publishers now do not even use the male pronoun for referring to God in their literature, referring to God generically as “God” but never as “He,” “Him” or “His.”
Further, as written, the statement does not clearly affirm the biblical view that the One Eternal and Infinite God exists eternally in three distinct Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). It uses the vague term “community” to describe their relationship.
We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the Word made flesh, the Savior of the world, fully human and fully divine. Through Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, God reconciles the world and breaks down the walls that divide. Christ is our peace. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
Again, the COC statement concerning the nature of Christ seems, on the surface, to reflect the traditional orthodox view of Christ’s deity. Jesus Christ is the eternal, pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity (see John 1:1-14; 5:17-18; 8:56-59; 10:30-33; Col. 1:15-20; 2:9). The statement is weak however regarding His saving work of redemption (see “Salvation” below).
We believe in the Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, holy Wisdom, true God. The Spirit moves through and sustains creation; endows the church for mission; frees the world from sin, injustice, and death; and transforms disciples. Wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, there the Holy Spirit is working. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The statement lacks a clear affirmation of the personhood of the Holy Spirit and fails to describe His work in individual salvation and sanctification. The personality of the Holy Spirit is evidenced numerous times in the New Testament (see Luke 12:12; John 15:26; Acts 5:3-10; 13:2-4; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:7). His deity is demonstrated by His divine attributes. He convicts the lost of sin, indwells believers at conversion, and empowers them to live the Christian life (see Matt. 12:31-32; Mark 3:29; John 14-16; Rom. 8:4, 26-27; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 2:18-19; 5:14-33).
The gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ: forgiveness of sin, and healing from separation, brokenness, and the power of violence and death. This healing is for individuals, human societies, and all of creation. This new life is the loving gift of God’s grace that becomes ours through faith and repentance. Baptism is how we initially express our commitment to lifelong discipleship. As we yield our lives to Christ in baptism we enter Christian community (the body of Christ) and have the promise of salvation. We experience salvation through Jesus Christ, but affirm that God’s grace has no bounds, and God’s love is greater than we can know. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The statement fails to mention the sacrificial nature of Christ’s atonement. It also does not adequately explain the need for lost individuals to respond to God’s grace through faith in Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. There is also a hint of universalism in the last sentence. Salvation is received totally and assured only by repentance and receiving Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior – not through baptism or church membership (see John 1:12; 5:24; Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:17-24; 2:2; 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8,9; 1 John 5:13).
God intends Christian faith to be lived in companionship with Jesus Christ and with other disciples in service to the world. The church of Jesus Christ is made of all those who respond to Jesus’ call. Community of Christ is part of the whole body of Christ. We are called to be a prophetic people, proclaiming the peace of Jesus Christ and creating communities where all will be welcomed and brought into renewed relationship with God, and where there will be no poor. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The statement does not reflect the COC/RLDS traditional view that it is the “restored Church of Christ” on the earth. It also fails to mention its traditional claim to possess the restored Melchisedec and Aaronic priesthoods as established by Joseph Smith, Jr., and affirmed by later RLDS leaders (claims that cannot be substantiated scripturally or historically).
There is no organization or denomination that can claim designation as the “true” or “restored” church. The universal church consists of all the redeemed in Jesus Christ in all of the ages (see Matt. 16:15-19; 1 Cor. 1:12-14; Eph. 2:19; 3:11-12).
We affirm the Living God is ever self-revealing. God is revealed to the world in the testimony of Israel, and above all in Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit we continue to hear God speaking today. The church is called to listen together for what the Spirit is saying and then faithfully respond. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The statement reflects the traditional COC/RLDS view that its prophets, presidents, and apostles are divinely inspired leaders who are capable of receiving direct revelation from God. The Bible warns of false prophets and prophesies which can distort clearly revealed biblical truth (see Deut. 18).
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. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
The statement fails to mention the traditional COC/RLDS view that the standard Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible were corrupted by the apostate church following the New Testament era. Thus, the RLDS view was that the standard editions of the Bible are unreliable and incomplete.
Since 1867 the COC has published the Joseph Smith Translation – also known as the JST or Inspired Version – of the Bible, which it claims was translated by Smith miraculously. He supposedly corrected the Bible’s corruptions by adding, altering, or removing hundreds of verses and passages – including one entire book, the Song of Solomon.
The Old and New Testaments, nonetheless, are the unique, revealed, and inspired Word of God. Their extant texts are reliable, complete, and were never corrupted. The Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice for Christians. All alleged extra-biblical scriptures – such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants – must be rejected as false, misleading, and historically untenable (see 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; Rev. 22:18-19).
Sacraments are special ministries given to the church to convey the grace of Jesus Christ to his followers and all those he yearns to touch with his compassion. Sacraments are baptism, confirmation, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, blessing of children, laying on of hands for the sick, ordination to the priesthood, and the evangelist’s blessing. In these ministries, God sanctifies common elements of creation to bless human life and to renew and form the church to seek the peaceful kingdom of God. (http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/faith-beliefs.asp )
There is no biblical basis for the eight sacraments of the COC. The statement seems to imply that the COC teaches a quasi-form of sacramental impartation of grace. Grace comes through faith in Jesus Christ directly and not through any earthly ecclesiological entity.
Jesus instituted two ordinances-baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is an act of obedience that symbolizes the believer’s identification and faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Lord. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Neither ordinance is an instrument or provider of grace – only symbols of grace provided through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (see Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-21; 11:23-29; Col. 2:12).
Witnessing to People in the Community of Christ
1. Have a basic and clear understanding of the Christian faith and the gospel.
2. Have a clear understanding of the controversial history and traditional beliefs of the Community of Christ, which formerly was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS).
3. Understand how the COC has changed in the past decades and how it has sought to distance itself from traditional Mormonism.
4. Seek to build a personal and respectful relationship with the member of the COC.
5. Establish the sole authority of the Bible. Tell your COC friend that any book or authority that conflicts with clear biblical teaching must be rejected.
6. Focus on the essential elements of the Christian faith. Do not get sidetracked defending your denomination or nonessential issues.
7. Share your personal testimony of God’s grace and your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.
8. Present the basic plan of salvation – including repentance, grace, and faith. Encourage your COC friend to receive Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior. Make clear that salvation is based only on faith in Christ and not in church membership or sacraments.
9. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you as you share with your friend.
In this two part series we have examined the historical roots of the Community of Christ and its current theological distinctives. Though the COC was born out of the cult of Mormonism, as created by Joseph Smith, Jr., it is fair to say it has doctrinally separated itself from the bizarre tenets of that faith. That being said, it is unfortunate that COC leaders and theologians did not choose to take the church into the more evangelical sphere of historic Christianity. Instead, the COC seems to have drifted into the nebulous and shifting theological perspectives of modern Liberal Protestantism. That choice may well have determined the church’s eventual demise.
© 2013 Tal Davis