Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

29 09 2012

BY KEITH McMILLAN, president of seventy

I

Keith McMillan finds joy and love in the intergenerational makeup of congregations.

grew up in a small congregation in San Antonio, Texas, where my dad was pastor for many years. Immediately following him, my mom became pastor of the Dellcrest Congregation and “did it right!” (her words).

I am the youngest of six kids. We all pitched in to mow the extensive church yard, do upkeep and gardening, and install and update the large outdoor sign. We attended every service, youth group, potluck, and activity.

We all rode together in our family station wagon (I was always stuck in the back) and laughed and talked to and from these events.

I remember as a young boy going to the homes of “mentors” from this congregation between the morning Sunday service and the evening one, where they would hand me back to my parents (sometimes with a sigh of relief).

Sometimes I would go on rounds with Dr. Melanyzer from our congregation to visit his sick and dying patients. I learned so much about compassion and sympathy during these years. Other times I would visit the office shop of an electrician (Dick Duke) from my branch. It had the most amazing train set and fun gadgets he had invented. I learned the value of creativity and hard work in seeing a vision of what something could become and then making it in his workshop.

There is something wonderfully inspiring in talking about how to design—and then create—a monkey on a unicycle that rolls to the door on a wire above one’s head to greet customers with a smile.

The balancing act between congregational love and family love was always easy for me. Regularly I would eat with an elderly couple (the Halls). They taught me the love and value of a fellowship of believers with a common goal of sharing Jesus Christ and this fellowship with others.

Many, many times we would invite guests back to our home for Sunday pot roast to continue fellowship begun at church that day. I learned the value of “putting your feet under the table” with others and just sharing lives.

The congregational events and my family were intertwined in a wonderful fellowship that continues today with those of the older generation who are still alive.

We shared birthdays, weddings, and family events with other families of the congregation, and they shared the exciting events of their lives.

We lived in community. We were a community of Christ. I am Community of Christ, and I find that vibrant community wherever I go.





Attuning to the Master’s Pitch

27 09 2012

BY LAURIE GORDON, Livermore, California, USA

Keith McMillan finds joy and love in the intergenerational makeup of congregations.

I once asked a friend, a gifted musician, what he listened for when he tuned his guitar. I’d watched him perform this critical task several times, but I couldn’t for the life of me hear the nuances that turn a hollow, out-of-tune, wood box with strings into a finely tuned instrument capable of rich, glorious harmonies.

He plucked a string and asked me to listen closely—not to the surface of the sound, but for the waveform hidden within as the sound vibrates. Indeed, there was an ebb and flow inside the note, a subtle oscillation with height, depth, and length peculiar to that tone!

Then, still sounding the master pitch, he plucked the neighboring string. Listening all the while, he tightened or loosened guitar pegs until the waveforms produced by the two resonating strings aligned.

Attunement has become my master metaphor for prayer: Prayer is both a listening for the hidden resonance of holy mystery quietly sounding beneath the world’s chaos, and a tuning of one’s heart and soul to mirror the waveform of Spirit’s song.

Watch for “tuning” practices that come naturally to you. Tuning our lives to the holy can take many forms and be experienced in all arenas of life. What makes it prayer is attention and intention!

Body can pray with movement—yoga mindfully practiced, for instance, or a quiet walk in the woods. Healing can be sought by imaging wholeness or through the intentional practice of right relationship. Nature is constantly alive with divine mystery. Caring for someone who suffers can be an act of prayer.

And, yes, our minds can frame deeply felt longings with words, and words allow prayer to be shared in community.
For me, prayer begins and ends in deep stillness, “tuning in” to the hidden pulse of Spirit and allowing God to work God’s work beyond my conscious control.

Attunement prepares the instrument of my life for right action in the world. My hope is that, properly aligned, my life will sound a harmony played to God’s melody line.





Story of the Sacred Pole

24 09 2012

BY DEB CROWLEY,
Eaton Rapids, Michigan, USA

An Australian legend tells of the Archilpa tribe, whose life focused on a sacred pole. The pole was fashioned from the trunk of a gum tree by a divine being, Numbakulla. After creating the pole, Numbakulla anointed it with blood, climbed it, and disappeared into the sky.

As recounted by Mircea Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane, this pole became the physical connection between the tribe and its divine source. Daily life centered on the pole. It gave direction in tribal members’ wanderings and protected them.

But at some point the pole was shattered. Chaos ensued. People lost contact with their ancestral spirit and the meaning of life. They wandered aimlessly until they lay down and waited for death.

It is human nature to seek physical symbols that connect us with the Divine. For Moses, it was a mountain. For others, it was a rock, a temple, a piece of land. Perhaps today it is “my” campground or church building that becomes sacred because it is where we encounter God.

It is also possible for traditions to become sacred poles. Perhaps it is the Communion prayers, the form of worship, who inhabits the pulpit, or Community of Christ scriptures that become sacred to us.

Yet, when a sacred pole breaks or changes, it can throw us off-center! Hurt, anger, fear, frustration, finger pointing, and discouragement are just a few results that bubble up.

Change causes us to reflect deeply and question, “what made the object or tradition sacred in the first place?” Perhaps an honest question is, “How does the loss of ‘x’ change the relationship or connectedness with God to me and to the world?” Will this loss cause me to lie down and wait for “death?” Will it destroy my spirit, my faith, my hope, and trust in God? Will the world end with God’s Spirit no longer dwelling in it?

As the Israelites discovered when their temples were destroyed, God did not leave. God was available everywhere. God remained in everything—and still does! With broken economics, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, and more wreaking havoc, it would be easy to be like the Archilpa tribe and just give up. When threatened by loss, the tendency is to cling even tighter to sacred poles, as if they contain answers.

But, God does not desert us when poles are broken. Sacred poles are not God! Those things we identify as sacred—a physical space or tradition—are valuable in helping us experience the Divine. But they are not to be worshiped. God alone is worthy of our adoration, praise, and trust.

Rather than retreat, we are called to reach further into the world so all may experience God’s love, compassion, and life!
As Community of Christ, we are challenged to take a deep look at our lives as individuals and as congregations. Are we clinging to sacred poles? Jesus shattered many sacred poles during his ministry. He died so we could put sacred poles in perspective as tools. He rose to show us God is with us always, with or without props.

Are we willing to release sacred poles that restrict the vision of what matters most? Let Christ’s mission become our mission.





Pursuing Peace?

21 09 2012

Bombs, Missiles, and Drones! Oh My!

BY BOB WATKINS, Lakeland Florida, USA

(Reprinted excerpt from the Florida USA Mission Center)

This reference to the Wizard of Oz makes Dorothy’s calamitous “Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!” seem downright tame.

As we Pursue Peace on Earth, it is hard to envision peace while we are bombarded with threats of nuclear holocaust from Iran and North Korea.

Uprisings in the Middle East continue, resulting in deaths of countless young adults raging against harsh governments. Even in our own country, we have seen people “occupying” public places in protest. We seem to be a world at war.

However, an event in 2011 may provide a glimmer of hope. On October 25, the last B53 bomb was dismantled at the Pantex nuclear weapon plant in Texas. Built in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose threat is well-known to Floridians, this bomb was heralded for its accuracy. Weighing 10,000 pounds and at the size of a mini-van, it was 600 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. It carried the capability of leveling everything within 18 miles of the landing site.

Even as we are assured that this is a first step in reducing instruments of war, we hear that engineers in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are working on weapons to provide a paralyzing force field.

How can we, with our incredible God-given gifts of intelligence and ingenuity, create such monstrous instruments? What do these terrifying tools say about our faith? What does this tell us about our humanity and our commitment to a nonviolent Jesus?

I have the greatest admiration and respect for our military. My father and father-in-law both served our country in World War II. We need a strong, well-trained, and well-equipped military. We are certainly more secure with it at its posts.

Yet, perhaps one day the world will see that weapons of mass destruction do not provide real security. In fact, they inspire others (like Iran) to build similar weapons to ensure an uneasy balance of power.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c calls us to

sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering.

Perhaps one day our world will realize that real security begins when we align ourselves with the Prince of Peace, end wars, eliminate extreme poverty, and promote democracy through nonviolent means.

True security arrives when we share our wealth with those less fortunate so no babies starve, no families live on the streets, and all people feel a sense of worth.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. —Isaiah 11:6 NRSV

May we, as a faith community, step confidently into a future as children of the Living Christ.





Develop Disciples to Serve

19 09 2012

President and Prophet Stephen M. Veazey recently discussed Luke 4:18–19 and the five Mission Initiatives with Apostle Linda Booth. The Herald will run excerpts from their conversation in a six-part series. To see videos of their interview, visit http://www.CofChrist.org/mission/Veazey-Booth-interview.asp.

 

Linda: Our fourth Mission Initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. This Mission Initiative, as you’ve articulated to the church, equips disciples—and that’s disciples of all ages—to live out Christ’s mission. What is the role of congregations, mission centers, and the World Church in developing those disciples?

Steve: I would hope that all aspects of church presence in the world…are focused on developing disciples, as you said of all ages, to serve. When we say serve, we’ve already defined the fields of service, if you will: Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; and Pursue Peace on Earth.

So we are motivating, we’re educating, we’re spiritually forming. We’re giving people experience in all of those Mission Initiatives so they can grow in their own involvement from the earliest age to the most experienced senior members of the church.

We want to equip current disciples and expand the number of equipped disciples engaged in the mission of Jesus Christ. After all, if there aren’t disciples willing to be the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of Jesus Christ, then no tangible mission is being done.

Linda: Sometimes, when I travel in congregations, I hear them lament that they don’t have any young adults or few young adults. Sometimes they don’t understand how to empower those young adults, not only in the service in the congregation, but in sending them into the community. Could you share some insights to help congregations in developing young adults to serve?

Steve: Well, first the good news is there are a lot of young adults who were shaped in their faith in Community of Christ. Some are involved in congregational life; some are not. Almost all are motivated around the notion of doing mission and not just talking about it.

So if a congregation wants to attract young adults, it will get involved in mission. It will create opportunities for disciples of all ages to engage in mission. It will invite young adults to be involved in ministries that make a difference in the lives of people.

Those young adults will respond when they see we are serious and we’re going to be consistent in pursuing the mission. They also perceive they have a lot to offer the church. I think they’re right. They are educated, equipped, and know how to use all the technology to communicate.

But they feel—now this is a generalization, so I want to be careful—some feel they have offered themselves in service and ministry and have not been given that opportunity. They were perceived to be too young or not experienced enough. Or there was a fear they might change some things. After running against that wall multiple times, they’ve gone other places to give expression to their motivation for ministry and mission.

So the best thing a congregation can do is invite them into ministry and mission-leadership roles and then provide support, provide mentoring. Young adults are very open to mentors who really care for them and are willing to walk with them in ministry and mission. So giving them the opportunity, being serious about mission, and providing mentoring will all produce more response from young adults.

Linda: Good. So we’re Developing Disciples to Serve. Could you describe what a disciple’s behavior, attitudes, and immersion in the service of Jesus Christ would look like, and what the result would be?

Steve: Discipleship would be a joy in their life. It wouldn’t be a burden. It wouldn’t be a job. It wouldn’t be something to show up for every now and then. They would be so immersed in discipleship their whole life would become whole in Christ.

They would be involved in ministries aligned with their gifts. So whatever their passion is, whatever their gift is, they would find a way to express that in ministry. That brings a great deal of joy and meaning.

I think they would be generous, and what we do with money is one of the best indicators of what is really important in our lives. So I think they would support the Mission Initiatives locally and globally through their generosity. And they would experience that as something deeply spiritual, not just putting money in an offering envelope, or not just carefully calculating what to send through online giving.

It would be a whole-life response. The promise of the scriptures would be true. You’ll have the joy, the hope, and the peace of Jesus Christ in your life and relationships.

Linda: Yes, absolutely. So you’ve touched on the generosity, in sharing the invitation, the sacraments, and obviously the sharing of our financial means. If someone gave to this Mission Initiative, how would that expand the way we develop disciples?

Steve: Well, a number of possibilities could be funded. An example that has already occurred through generosity is the Disciple Formation Guide on the church’s website (www.CofChrist.org/dfg/). It provides resources, lesson plans, activity ideas, and links for all age groups. That Disciple Formation Guide was developed out of the generosity of people who wanted to see more excellent Christian education or disciple formation in the church, especially congregational life.

So we would be able to expand those kinds of offerings, resources to help with spiritual formation, resources to help with priesthood training and faithfulness. All of those possibilities could be fulfilled and increased through generous giving to this Mission Initiative.

Training for pastors—a very critical need not just for pastors but for congregational leadership teams—we could do a lot more. We could provide much more support for pastors, priesthood, and members of all ages.





Learning from the Good Samaritan

17 09 2012

BY DONA KAE EMERSON, Addison, Maine, USA

A gardening program helps sustain the Spanish-speaking community in Main.e

In some ways my Tangible Love journey began with the story of the Good Samaritan. I was raised by good converts to the church, so I grew up with a firm foundation in the Restoration.

But real acts of tangible love, (and by this I mean in the pay-it-forward category) were not something I joined except for occasional offerings to worthy causes and the international church.

Some years ago a good friend invited my husband, Art, and me to an outreach program that helped distribute bags of toiletries and blankets to migrants arriving in Maine for the August blueberry harvest.

Art went a few times, but it was too far out of my comfort zone. Later, this same friend invited us to join her on a United Methodist mission trip to Nicaragua.

We went and were stunned. Not by the abject poverty, but by the joyous welcome we received! Excitement buzzed about the message God had for them, brought by these welcome strangers.

These events, along with a pressing desire, compelled Art and me along a path previously unknown to us. We immersed ourselves in the Latino community in our area and opened the doors of the Comunidad de Cristo Congregation in Harrington, Maine.

A Tangible Love grant, funded through the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, helped us. We engaged the local Spanish-speaking community with classes and activities in our Family Center.

In the last year or so, we have begun a “grow your own vegetables” program and a revolving loan program. Art, I, and now our congregation, continue to partner with our first outreach program, Down East Maine Missions, to provide a used-clothing store, toiletry bags, and blankets for migrants and immigrants.

Our congregation stepped completely out of its norm and provided more than 100 emergency bed nights to workers who arrived early and had no money for food or lodging until work began.

Art and I have taken the message of Tangible Love to heart. We have provided a home for visiting ministers from El Salvador for up to eight months. And last year we sheltered a Latino man who we helped to receive major heart surgery. He had no money or place to go, so he lived in our home four months until he was healed and through cardiac rehab.

We never know what the day will bring. Members of our congregation often come to our home unannounced. They bring a wide variety of problems and people who need help.

Sometimes it’s as simple as documents that need translation for kids at school, or a medical bill. Other times it has been a worker’s compensation claim (the man was terrified he no longer would be allowed to work), or issues with papers to gain employment.

Each new day brings new challenges and ministry opportunities.

I finally understand the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”





Invitation on Wheels

15 09 2012

BY SCOTT BLAIR, Independence, Missouri, USA

A few years ago, I was working in a congregation as a youth minister. I encouraged the youth to be invitational, and they were good at bringing friends. But one young man had no clue how his invitation would grow.

Naithan, who had a difficult life, lived about three miles from church. He had made contact with our congregation through his aunt. He hadn’t attended long when he asked if he could invite some friends. I told him absolutely and added that—with parents’ permission—we would pick them up.

I was driving a five-seater, so I had some room. Naithan started by inviting his brother and sister. They soon invited others.

Because of the many youth starting to come, my wife and I decided to get a minivan. It added another row of seating. That was important because those friends started inviting more friends. Soon, there wasn’t enough space. I had to start asking other drivers to help.

Some days, up to 17 youth came from the neighborhood! Over the next couple of years, we invited them to follow Christ.
Several took the path of the disciple and claimed membership in Community of Christ. They all had stories of why they decided to follow Christ, but each had the same origin.

Through Naithan’s passion to invite others, our youth group and congregation experienced God’s movement in new ways.





Signal Communities…Speak and Live Christ’s Mission

13 09 2012

by Ron Harmon, Council of Twelve Apostles

Long before God’s redemptive vision was revealed in Christ, Abraham responded to the divine impulse to trust in a journey to an unknown destination. Abraham did not have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story, but he exercised deep trust in the One sending him. Abraham said yes to the encounter.

His response in faith would make him homeless and uproot his family for generations. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would become permanent exiles, living in tents as “strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Others would look back, but for Abraham the destination was never in question. He looked forward to a “better country…a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:16, 10).

Perhaps the only way we can understand Abraham’s response is to consider the faith of a man captivated by an invitation that resonated deeply within. A glimpse of meaning led to a journey of faith, hardship, and transformation. So he went. Because of his response to God’s invitation, men and women throughout the ages have responded to “the Voice that echoes across the eons of time and yet speaks anew in this moment” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:1b).

This invitation to a journey and the willingness to go is at the heart of what it means to engage in God’s emerging vision for creation. It is about pulling up our tents, wandering in the wilderness, and emerging as transformed people of God. This story of invitation, journey, and transformation is a pattern of meaning that runs through the scriptures and reveals to us God’s desire to work out God’s purposes with us for the sake of all creation.

This pattern of meaning continues throughout the centuries, finds powerful expression in the message and mission of Jesus Christ, leads to Christian witness, and provides the foundation for another story of invitation, journey, and transformation—Community of Christ.

Beginning with the inquiring mind of a young man praying in a grove, our desire to give tangible expression to Christ’s mission in the world has shaped our experience. This divinely inspired quest seeks to understand how God’s invitation to a journey is a call to each generation to become a transformed people—to be captivated by a clear and compelling call to God’s emerging vision throughout history and in this present moment.

As we consider the scriptural accounts of the sweep of God’s activity throughout human history, we recognize we are part of that story today. We are ordinary people from all walks of life, called into covenant relationship with God and one another for the sake of the world. We, too, receive glimpses of divine purpose that capture our hearts and imagination and disrupt our lives.

To engage in Christ’s mission is to ask if we are willing to put aside our agendas and follow the One who walked along the shore and simply said, “Follow me.” This is the simple, yet profoundly disruptive, invitation we must follow to engage in Christ’s mission.

Mission begins with disruptive encounter. I was 10 years old and asking many questions. I remember hearing moving stories of encounters with the living Christ and praying I would come to know Jesus beyond words on pages and the testimonies of others.

On a clear night at a youth camp in western Pennsylvania I became aware I was not alone. As I looked into the depth of the night sky I felt an enveloping peace and assurance that God knew and loved me. What remains with me to this day is a deep desire to respond by inviting others to join me in discovering God’s vision as decisively expressed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Many years later I encountered the living Christ in the eyes of a young woman who came to Imani Mission (a ministry of Community of Christ in Columbia, Missouri) in search of help. She had left an abusive boyfriend, had been rejected by her family, and had been turned away by local shelters because of a criminal record.

She had nowhere to go when she arrived at the Imani Mission. Her eyes reflected hopelessness as she shared her story and asked for help. Judy Hubbard, pastor of Imani Mission, responded. Within the hour she identified a place for the young woman to stay. I saw the hollow glaze of a defeated woman begin to turn toward hope. Mission begins with disruptive encounter.

In both of these stories God’s love initiated a new future. For me it was the beginning of a journey of discovery. In a way, I came to more fully understand the meaning of my baptism. I sensed things never would be the same, and I no longer saw myself or others from the same perspective. For the young woman it was the hope that tomorrow might be different than today.

When we encounter the living Christ we see through a new lens. This involves a willingness to become vulnerable to the possibility of disruptive change. We see more clearly the space between the reality of the present and the possibility of God’s future. This prophetic tension leads to unsettledness with the status quo. It leads to a desire to join in Christ’s mission of healing and restoration.

Allowing the Holy Spirit to disrupt our lives can be unsettling, even risky. It feels safer to keep God at a distance and to establish boundaries for our ministry and service. God calls us to move beyond our fears. Scripture counsels that the Zion of our hopes cannot advance unless we are willing to become vulnerable to the disruptive and transformative power of the Holy Spirit in community:

When your willingness to live in sacred community as Christ’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation, you will become who you are called to be. The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of Christ, awaits your wholehearted response to the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ. —Doctrine and Covenants 164:9b

The power of the gospel is in its call to journey with God together for the sake of the world. When we are living Christ’s mission, no one has to walk life’s journey alone. We share in the unsettledness and the joys of discipleship and mission together.

What does it look like to live and speak Christ’s mission together? Our understanding of the good news is grounded inGod’s unconditional love, which finds its most tangible expression in relationships. We speak and live Christ’s mission when we convey God’s love and uphold the Worth of All Persons. This proclamation moves beyond affirmations of human worth to challenging unjust circumstances, relationships, and systems that limit people from becoming who God created them to be.

I listened with disbelief as my daughter, Lindsay, shared her experience of trying out for eighth-grade basketball. Nine girls tried out. One girl, who was overweight, was cut from the team. Lindsay did not feel the decision was right. She decided if the girl was cut, then Lindsay would not participate, either. The next day I called the principal and shared our concern. The principal agreed the action was unjustified and assured me the girl would be reinstated.

Our response and the response of our brothers and sisters around the world begins with a clear picture of how our families, congregations, neighborhoods, and the world would look different if we expressed the mission of Christ more tangibly.

In the words of Eugene Peterson from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, “What does it look like for Jesus to move into the neighborhood?” If the church is to embody the mission of Christ, what does it look like to live out what Christ said he came to fulfill? This is the question that must completely shape our worship, study, prayer, proclamation, and action as congregations. (See President Veazey’s “The Mission Matters Most!” sermon for a detailed discussion of Luke 4:18–19 and the Mission Initiatives at http://www.CofChrist.org/presidency/sermons/041011Veazey.asp.) How do we prepare ourselves to be Christ’s living expression of evangelism, compassion, and justice and peacemaking?

As Apostle Linda Booth wrote in March, “Community of Christ congregations have developed a form of Christian amnesia, forgetting what it is that congregations are to signal, focusing on themselves rather than Christ’s mission of evangelism or invitation, compassionate ministries, and justice and peacemaking for all persons.”

We Experience Congregations in Mission when we remember and become fully awake to the world around us. We begin to see circumstances and relationships through the lens of God’s future and then have the courage to act in the present. Our purpose for gathering becomes more focused and urgent as we see a hurting world through the gospel lens of possibility and hope. We come together to learn not only about the gospel but its application to the problems in our relationships and neighborhoods.

Worship becomes an opportunity to reencounter the meaning of our baptism as we join in Christ to see with new eyes God’s future for our individual lives, families, congregations, and neighborhoods. Our service together becomes a continuing response to the disruptive action of the Holy Spirit among us as a people on a journey of discovery, purpose, and transformation.

When we speak and live Christ’s mission, disruptive encounters become the norm. We respond to God, who is always seeking those who are willing to represent the healing and restoring presence of Christ in the lives of others.





Theological Foundations

10 09 2012

Jesus Christ

Christian scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is the decisive revelation of God’s nature and will (John 14:8, Colossians 1:15, III Nephi 3:63). We need to ground our theology in a faithful understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ as guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:15 f) and experienced by the church community.

The church’s more comprehensive statement on the person and work of Jesus Christ (Christology) titled, “We Proclaim Jesus Christ,” affirms:

Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, both fully human and fully divine. In him, we see ourselves and we see God, whom he tenderly called Abba, the compassionate One, who gave birth to all creation and declared it to be “very good.” Together with the Holy Spirit, they are one.

By the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus, born of Mary, came into the world to live and dwell among us to reveal God’s nature and will. He prophetically condemned injustice in the temple and proclaimed the good news of the coming reign of God on earth, preaching liberation to the oppressed and repentance to the oppressors. He taught his followers to love God, to love their neighbors, and to love their enemies. By eating with sinners, serving the poor, healing the unclean, blessing children, and welcoming women and men as equals among his disciples, Jesus declared that all persons are of worth in the sight of God.
Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed.

Belief that Jesus Christ is “both fully human and fully divine” is foundational to Community of Christ Christology. (Read “We Proclaim Jesus Christ” at http://www.CofChrist.org/OurFaith/Christology.asp.)

Jesus—Fully Human

By saying that Jesus was fully human we mean he was a real human being who experienced human life in its many facets. He left footprints on the earth. He loved, laughed, and cried. Jesus was not an illusion or an image of a person who just seemed human. He was human in every possible way.

Affirming Jesus was a human is not enough. We need to examine what kind of person Jesus was. Daniel Migliore offers this observation in Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology:

Jesus is indeed fully human, but his is a new humanity. The intimacy of his relation with God and his solidarity with sinners and the oppressed are new and offensive. He is the human being radically free for God’s coming reign and therefore radically free for communion with and service to the neighbor. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal child, Jesus extends the welcoming love of God to those who are thought least deserving of it (Luke 15:11 ff).

Jesus’ inclusive hospitality is a revelation of God’s all-encompassing love and the Blessings of Community. That revelation was shocking in his day and remains so for many today. However, if we take seriously what kind of person Jesus was, we cannot ignore his emphasis on realizing God’s justice and peace on Earth as “it is in heaven” (Matthew 6–10 NRSV).

Jesus—Fully Divine

With belief in Jesus’ full humanity, we affirm that he was fully divine. While this aspect of our faith is difficult for some to embrace in tandem with Jesus’ full humanity, it is an important part of the scriptural witness about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

New Testament teaching proclaims that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NRSV). This statement, which is the central witness of the New Testament, provides the foundation for these affirmations:

  1. Our forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation with God come through God’s initiative in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The full presence of God in Jesus Christ assures us that spirit and physical body are not opposites or natural enemies. Spirit and body together in Jesus Christ was the dwelling of God in creation. Any view of creation or human nature that separates spiritual as good and physical as bad denies a healing truth revealed in the incarnation.
  3. God was fully present in Jesus Christ. Therefore, what Jesus did and said is a trustworthy revelation of God. God is not less than what we see, hear, and experience in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God relates to humanity from within all the joys, experiences, and suffering of the human condition.

The Greatest Commandment

As stated previously, what Jesus did and said is important to our understanding of God’s will. When Jesus was asked about which commandment is greatest he said:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
—Matthew 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–34, Luke 10:25–28, Romans 13:9, Leviticus 19:17, Deuteronomy 6:4–5 NRSV

Viewing this passage as foundational, we affirm love—love of God and love of neighbor as self—as fundamental to Christian discipleship, theology, and ethics. But, how do we understand the nature of “love”?
We are helped by examining Greek concepts of love found in scripture to broaden our understanding. While it is challenging to precisely define the following words, providing basic definitions is useful:

Eros is the love that grows from one’s need to love and be loved. It is love that fulfills one’s dreams and desires. It is the impulse toward life, union, creativity, and productivity. Sexual attraction is a dynamic of eros, but eros is more than mere sensation of physical pleasure.

Agape  is an equally significant dimension of love. it is unconstrained compassion for another. Agape is freely offered, selfless giving. It is generous response to another’s need beyond any gain for oneself. Agape love creates goodness and blessing in the world.

Philia is friendship and mutuality. Loyalty to friends and community is an expression of philia. It is the “brotherly” and “sisterly” love spoken of in many New Testament books (Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Hebrews 13:1, 2 Peter 1:10).

Storge is natural affection. For example storge refers to the warmth and fondness shared by parents for their children.
The qualities of love described by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 also help us comprehend the kind of love revealed in Jesus Christ as God’s vision for our relationships:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. —1 Corinthians 13:4–8

We also need to clarify what Jesus meant by the word “neighbor.” A common definition of “neighbor” was clearly broadened by Jesus in the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). Neighbors are not just close relatives, friends, or members of the same tribe. Neighbors are other people as you find them in life. Neighbors include strangers in need, “unclean” outcasts, and even assumed enemies. According to Jesus, one should love all “neighbors” as if their condition in life were one’s own.

Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a

Every aspect of our lives—including expressions of sexuality—must come under the authority and vision of the greatest commandments. Through stressing the greatest commandments, Jesus Christ graciously has revealed how to conduct our lives with assurance that we are living within God’s will. As we grow in true loving relationships with God and others we reveal God’s image in and vision for human life in the created order.

Jesus offered additional guidance about how we faithfully can live the greatest commandments. Particular attention should be given to Jesus’ proclamation of mission in the Nazareth synagogue as recorded in Luke 4:17–19 (NRSV):

…He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

To love God and neighbor as self is a call to embody the vision, love, and mission of Jesus Christ. While this call obviously involves loving others as they are in life, it also includes a strong emphasis on helping people free themselves from unjust and dehumanizing situations in which they are trapped. Jesus’ mission is a summons to love God and neighbor by enlarging God’s reign of justice and peace on Earth.

Another area of helpful study when considering how to faithfully live the greatest commandments is the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5—7, III Nephi 5:50—7:2). These collected teachings of Jesus present his core message and peace ethics. In the early Christian community these teachings were considered essential for those entering the way of Jesus Christ through baptism and discipleship in covenant community with other disciples.

Freedom in Christ

In addition to presenting Jesus’ teachings about life in God’s peaceful reign, the New Testament proclaims Jesus Christ as the power of God’s grace, reconciliation, and salvation at work in the world. Reception of grace is not through strict obedience to all details of the Law (legalism). It comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1–11, Enos 1:7–10). From the gospel perspective, knowledge of the Law shows us how we have not lived up to all the demands of the Law. It can teach and condemn us, but it cannot redeem us (Romans 3:19–20, Alma 16:215)!

Instead of rigid rules and prescribed sacrifices to erase sins, the gospel offers freedom in Christ through faith and life in the Spirit, which includes freedom from religious legalism. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NRSV).

Freedom in Christ is freedom from fear that salvation and righteousness come through rigid obedience to the Law. This is freedom from having to gain God’s favor by works. Jesus described that view as hypocritical. He said it caused people to neglect “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. …You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23–24 NRSV).

Freedom in Christ offers opportunity to shape life characterized by mature love, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, justice, joy, hope, and peace. It is freedom to live the greatest commandments by making responsible choices in love. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the way of Jesus Christ: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NRSV).

Freedom in Christ built on the greatest commandments is foundational for Christian ethics. This freedom is not abandonment of moral standards or permission to do whatever we feel like. It is the call to embody the ethics of Christ’s love and peace, which leads to empowerment through the Holy Spirit to live according to God’s will. Such living brings great joy, hope, and meaning to our lives.

Apostle Paul urged:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves (servants) to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” —Galatians 5:13 ff NRSV

Whatever we think, say, and do must be aligned with the greatest commandments and the gospel vision of freedom from legalism through faith in Christ and response to the Holy Spirit.





Baptism: What’s It all About

7 09 2012

BY JOHN S. WIGHT, senior president of seventy

This outdoor baptismal scene in Lake Huron is perhaps reminiscent of baptisms during the early days of Christianity.

After being present at the baptisms of 10 people over the last two weeks, I felt the urge to write about this extremely meaningful rite of the Christian faith. There is not room here for a thorough examination, but let’s explore a couple of questions: Where did baptism originate? Why is it so important?

The Beginning
The Jewish faith had practiced ritual cleansing, known as mikvah, long before the birth of Jesus. Priests would evaluate a person’s “uncleanness” according to Jewish law and then prescribe the method of cleansing to become “pure” before God.
Because Christianity emerged from the Jewish faith, it seems natural that this practice would be easily adopted for what was and is known as the remission of sin. John, known as the Baptist or the Baptizer, apparently performed countless baptisms for this purpose.

But apparently there was and is something more. Even Jesus went to John and asked to be baptized. If one views Jesus as the Son of God, Emmanuel (God with us), and God in human form, it stands to reason he did not need to be baptized for the remission of sin. In fact, when John at first refused to baptize him, Jesus said he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15 NRSV).

Jesus’ insistence that he be baptized also may have indicated a desire to unite with all humanity through this use of physical substance (water) to connect with the Divine.

Baptism in Community of Christ
Community of Christ Basic Beliefs (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/faith-beliefs.asp), published in 2010, offers this explanation of baptism in this faith movement:

Baptism is how we first 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.

The church’s official policy on baptism (www.CofChrist.org/policy/10-01OfficialPolicy.pdf) notes that “baptism has several significant meanings.” Among them:

  • Evidence our commitment to follow Jesus Christ in a life of active Christian discipleship.
  • Display an attitude of repentance and receive the promise of forgiveness.
  • Receive the promise of salvation and new life through symbolically engaging in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

As one theologian put it, “baptism is equalizing and leveling.” Every person can share in the same baptism with Jesus Christ regardless of their status in life. Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5 NRSV). By following Jesus’ example and entering the waters of baptism, each person not only rises as a new, forgiven creation, but as an equal member in the body of Christ.

An Ongoing Process
By uniting with Jesus in the waters of baptism, a person reaps the benefits of being in relationship with the Christ. Logically, disciples of Jesus would want to invite others to unite with him in the waters of baptism—not just to gain numbers, but so they would reap the benefits.

Samuel Shoemaker, pastor, author, and former seminary president, put it this way: “The only appropriate motivation is being obedient to our calling and helping any and every person near us to know the love of God and the blessing of living in God’s favor and fellowship.”

Baptism is not an end in itself; it is a beginning. It marks a person’s willingness to practice discipleship on an ongoing basis; to accept the invitation to be active in the mission of Jesus Christ, which is “what matters most for the journey ahead” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:9f).