The Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), is a Christian religious denomination that emerged in the Latter Day Saint movement. Here is an overview of what the Bible teaches about this group:
History and Origins
The Community of Christ has its origins in the larger Latter Day Saint movement started by Joseph Smith in the 1830s. After Smith was killed in 1844, there was a succession crisis over who should lead the church. A faction believed Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, was his rightful successor when he came of age. This group later coalesced into the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1860, with Smith III as its first president. They rejected Brigham Young’s leadership and doctrinal innovations like polygamy.
The Community of Christ does not see itself as a new church, but as a continuation of the original church Smith founded. They believe the other Latter Day Saint factions are corruptions of this original church. Their internal scriptures and doctrines show more continuity with Smith’s teachings and the Book of Mormon. The church was known as the RLDS church until 2001 when they changed their name to Community of Christ.
Beliefs and Practices
The Community of Christ shares some beliefs with other Latter Day Saint factions, but has also diverged theologically. They believe in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants as scripture, but have added two additional books. They reject the doctrine of plural marriage. Here are some key beliefs and practices:
– Monotheism – Believe in one eternal God, the Eternal Father. Reject LDS teachings about God being an exalted man.
– Jesus Christ – Believe Jesus is the Son of God, Savior and head of the church. Place strong emphasis on the grace and atonement of Christ.
– Book of Mormon – View as sacred text, but not utilize it as much as other LDS groups. Place greater emphasis on the Bible.
– Priesthood Authority – Bestow priesthood authority onto both men and women. Have had women apostles since 1984. Leadership is hierarchical.
– Temples – Have built several temples used for worship services, education and church conferences. Perform some ordinances like baptisms for the dead.
– Missionary Work – Engage in global missionary work and have around 250,000 members worldwide. Most members reside in the United States, Africa, and Asia.
– Peace and Justice – Place strong emphasis on peace, social justice, human rights and community impact. Reject violence.
– Revelation – Believe in continuing revelation through the prophetic leadership. But revelations have generally led to progressive stances, unlike early LDS innovations.
Relationship to Mainstream Christianity
The Community of Christ considers itself a part of mainstream Christianity. Here are some ways they align with Christian orthodoxy:
– Affirmation of the Bible – Uphold the Bible as the Word of God and authoritative source for doctrine and practice.
– Historic Creeds – Accept foundational Christian creeds like the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.
– Statement of Faith – Their statement of faith affirms orthodox Christian doctrines like the Trinity and human sinfulness.
– Jesus Christ – Emphasize Christ as Lord and Savior. Focus on grace and atonement.
– Baptism and Communion – Practice common sacraments like believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
At the same time, they differ from mainstream Christianity in a few ways:
– Additional Scriptures – Belief in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and other unique LDS scriptures.
– Latter Day Saint History – Acceptance of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, the Book of Mormon, and other parts of early LDS history.
– Progressive Revelation – Belief in modern revelation through church leaders that can change doctrines and practices.
– Deification Theology – Some belief that humans can become perfected and divine through Christ’s salvation.
So there is both overlap and divergence between the Community of Christ and historical Christian orthodoxy. They share core doctrines but add uniquely Latter Day Saint beliefs and history.
Community Relations and Perceptions
Due to their unique origins and beliefs, the Community of Christ faces mixed perceptions within Christianity:
– Anti-Cult Movement – Have sometimes been classified as a cult by the anti-cult movement due to their connection to Mormonism.
– Isolation – Tend to not have close ecumenical ties with other Christian groups. Their unique LDS background isolates them.
– Rejection by LDS Members – Viewed negatively by other Latter Day Saint factions for rejecting historical doctrines like plural marriage.
– Liberal Mainline Acceptance – their progressive theology and policies have led to greater acceptance by liberal Protestant groups in recent decades. But conservative Christians remain suspicious.
– Interfaith Work – Increased involvement in interfaith dialogue and partnerships, especially with progressive Christian organizations.
Overall, the Community of Christ occupies a complex middle ground between mainstream Christianity and the radical Latter Day Saint movement they emerged from. They attempt to emphasize their commonalities with more orthodox Christian beliefs and practices.
Current Issues and Controversies
Some current issues and controversies facing the Community of Christ:
– Membership Decline – Membership peaked in the 1960s and has since steadily declined, especially in the USA. This has led to church closures and financial strain.
– Relevance – As a progressive church they struggle to stay relevant to younger generations and differentiate themselves from secular society.
– Women’s Ordination – Despite having a female president, some members still object to the ordination of women as priesthood members.
– LGBTQ+ Policies – After baptizing LGBTQ+ individuals for years, a 2013 USA conference approved gay marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals. This caused division over the speed of doctrinal change.
– Abortion – Recent First Presidency statements approved abortion access, upsetting more conservative members.
– Racial Reconciliation – Seeking greater diversity in leadership and membership but still 90% white. Efforts to rectify racist church history have been polarizing.
– Financial Issues – In addition to membership decline, costly building projects have strained the financial health of the church. This has required cutbacks.
– Sexual Abuse – Have faced growing scrutiny for how abusive leaders were removed and re-assigned to different ministry positions in past decades.
The Community of Christ faces many challenges as it attempts to progress doctrinally while hemorrhaging members financially. They struggle to appease both liberal and conservative factions of a divided church. Their declining relevance and influence has called into question their long-term sustainability and impact.