Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Community of Christ Quadrilateral?

Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.
(D&C 163:7d)

In Community of Christ tradition, we periodically look to our church leadership to discern a direction for our international and congregational work as the body of Christ in the world. Such guidance comes in different forms and venues: some informal and casual, some so formal it rings of legalese; some spontaneous, some planned and orchestrated; some programmatic, some conceptual. One form and venue, however, holds a special place in our hearts and heritage - so special, in fact, that on these occasions we feel so moved and addressed by the Spirit that we decide as a church to incorporate this guidance into our permanent record, to hold ourselves perpetually accountable to its guidance, to measure the life and mission of our faith by it, in addition to the enduring witness and guidance of the scriptures. We include it in our "Doctrine and Covenants."

This past April, our church adopted such a document. (Our church president presenting this "counsel to the church," is pictured above.) This document is, and ought to be, inspiring radical dialog and profound response throughout the church. And, I suppose, I'm no exception. For those readers not tied to the Community of Christ, I hope you will find the following more than a merely denominational or sectarian diversion. Thanks. -FC

I'm at the church headquarters, attending the church Seminary, in classes on Community of Christ Scriptures and Community of Christ Theology, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that denomination-peculiar issues have been on my mind. Indulge me.

In Christian thought, there is what is often called the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral." It is a box of four squares with Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience written respectively in each quadrant. I'm not sure of the significance of the layout, but the basic idea is that there are four fundamental sources of truth in Christian thinking. Any informed and faithful consideration of an issue must address each of those.

In this recent inspired document, though, in the seventh paragraph (dealing with scripture: basically, "don't use it as a way to beat up on people"), there was embedded the sentence I quoted at the top of this post: "Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God." And I started to wonder if this wasn't the beginning of a Community of Christ-specific quadrilateral.

These four elements really do matter to us in our discernment of what we should do and who we should be. We are always coming back to scripture - that's part of our heritage and responsibility as Christians accountable to the tradition. Our community isn't unique for it, but is peculiar in seeking prophetic guidance - that is, the truth spoken to us that holds us to our faith in spite of our fallenness and shortcomings, ever hopeful of our ability to respond to the call to walk with Christ. Such guidance speaks powerfully to us of a God that is still involved with the life and mission and work of people who would seek to follow more faithfully.

"Knowledge," or perhaps "study," has always been an important part of our tradition, and both informs and is informed by scripture and prophetic guidance.

And one of the perennially defining qualities of our church is the struggle for discernment in and as a community. We embrace a great deal of variety partly because of our conviction that community requires a freedom to be different in order to cultivate a genuine freedom of solidarity. We believe that God is revealed in the struggles and joys of relationship. Discernment in the faith community isn't easy or quick, but it is essential for our sense of who we are and our continuing faith journey.

More so than the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, this list of four elements accurately and insightfully identifies our peculiar sources of truth, the foundations that we return to and grow out of, the principles that underly our questioning and appeals. Could this be the seed of a new way of speaking about the way our community arrives at truth? After claiming proximity to the larger Christian community with the four Wesleyan sources of truth, are we beginning to be confident to articulate a sense of our own unique place among the others who call on the name of Jesus?

(Or am I reading too much into one sentence?) ;-)

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  • I'd say it's definitely a formalization of something that has already existed for some time. That doesn't mean that it was unnecessary or that it really doesn't change anything. Other groups, such as the Utah Mormon church, opted for a more centralized, authoritarian structure, whereas the Community of Christ has followed a path that involves participation of the entire fellowship.

    By Blogger Adam Gonnerman, at 9:21 AM  

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