Community of Christ
The Reorganized (RLDS) Church was renamed the Community of Christ. It was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) from 1872 to 2001, when it was renamed. The Community of Christ has approximately 250,000 members in 50 nations. Although the Community of Christ was originally a spin-off of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes erroneously called the Mormon Church, its doctrines have moved towards those of mainstream Protestant religions.
The center of the church is in Independence, Missouri. Recently, with the economic problems besetting the United States, and to a lesser extent, the world, the church has edged to the brink of insolvency. The church focuses on "evangelism, peace and justice ministries, spirituality and wholeness, youth ministries and outreach ministries. Church teachings emphasize that 'all are called' as 'persons of worth' to 'share the peace of Christ' (Wikipedia.org).
- The Community of Christ is led by a First Presidency, consisting of a President and two counselors. The President is regarded as a prophet. The church's ministry is overseen by a Council of Twelve Apostles and the temporal needs of the church are overseen by the Presiding Bishopric. Meeting together, these three quorums are known as the World Church Leadership Council.
- Other key leadership positions include Presiding Evangelist, Senior President of the Seven Presidents of Seventy, and President of the High Priests Quorum. Every three years (formerly two, until a change made in 2007), delegates from around the world meet together with these leaders to vote on church business in World Conference (Wikipedia).
The church traces its roots back to Joseph Smith, Jr. through Joseph's son, Joseph Smith III. Upon the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, most Latter-day Saints migrated west from Nauvoo, Illinois. Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, stayed behind and remarried. Although Joseph had conferred all the keys of the priesthood upon his twelve apostles before he died, some felt that the prophetic line should descend through Joseph's sons. These few approached Joseph Smith III to urge him to declare himself a prophet and lead a church. Since 1844 the doctrines and practices of Community of Christ have evolved separately from the other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement. Since the 1960s the church’s proselytizing with other world cultures in countries outside North America forced a re-assessment and gradual evolution of denominational practices and beliefs. Some changes included the ordination of women to priesthood, open communion, and changing the church's commonly-used name from Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the current name in April 2001.
The church owns two temples, the one in Kirtland, Ohio, which was built by the original Latter-day Saints, and one in Independence, which also serves as the central offices of the church. Unlike the temples of the Mormon Church, in which sacred ordinances take place, the Community of Christ temples are open to the public and are used for classes and gatherings. A few of the Mormon Church's historical sites are in the hands of the Community of Christ, also.
One of the things the church has held on to in common with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) is the belief in an open body of scripture. The church uses the Book of Mormon, and its own version of the Doctrine and Covenants. Scripture references provided for congregational worship generally follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Its philosophy that "Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, both fully human and fully divine," and that the Holy Spirit the "continuing presence of God in the world" and the source of divine inspiration, show that the church is leaning towards the common Protestant notion of trinitarianism. Mormons believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings, but one in purpose.
The denomination does not expect strict doctrinal adherence on such matters of belief. This differs from the Mormon Church. Members of the Mormon Church (13.5 million worldwide) are all at different levels of understanding and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, since doctrine is revealed through the scriptures and prophets of God, there's no debate on doctrine. The Community of Christ practices eight sacraments; baptism, confirmation, Blessing of Children, The Lord's Supper, marriage, Administration to the Sick, ordination, and "Evangelist's Blessing". "Laying on of hands" is used in confirmation, ordination, blessing of children, administration and Evangelist's blessing.
Over the years, the Community of Christ has slid in its philosophies and loosened its doctrines. Community of Christ Scripture and Theology Specialist, Dr. Anthony Chvala-Smith, in 1992 wrote "there can be no `perennial theology, only a theology of wayfarers'" (Saints Herald, December 1992). Outsider critics have commented that "The important source for theological truth is not God's word, but rather that subjective, existential experience," and speculated that this development may be a result of the church's struggle over its roots, as well as a "tendency to reflect the latest social trends.
The church has also had some problems with succession of leadership. Originally, the prophet was to be a descendant of Joseph Smith and to serve until death. "The church has been criticized for various changes in policy and leadership. In 1978 W. Wallace Smith became the first church president to retire rather than serve until death, becoming President Emeritus, similar to the circumstances facing his son Wallace B. Smith two decades later. President W. Grant McMurray, however, resigned as church president due to health, "family issues" and "inappropriate choices" in his personal life. McMurray also did not name a successor, marking the second time the succession decision had been left to the leadership of the denomination, the first being at the death of Frederick M. Smith and the selection of Israel A. Smith. Additionally, although he had been designated as successor by the previous prophet-president, McMurray's church leadership was questioned due to the fact that he was the first church president who was not a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr., which was considered a distinguishing trait from other denominations of the LDS movement" (Wikipedia.org).
A revelation presented by Wallace B. Smith in 1984 that resulted in some "disaffection" and "led to intense conflict in scattered areas of the RLDS Church" is contained in the Community of Christ's Doctrine and Covenants, Section 156, which called for construction of the Independence Temple and the ordination of women to the priesthood, among other changes.
The church also came under scrutiny when McMurray allowed the priesthood ordination of practicing homosexuals, something which he acknowledged was already occurring. The church would later renounce this practice, prohibiting the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. However, the church allows those who were ordained against policy to continue in priesthood office.