This post will refer to the first issue, on conditions of membership and communion.
While undoubtedly this new Section 164 will grease the skids for membership growth in certain parts of the world, what I consider truly historic are its theological implications. Few could argue the Church has been moving away from the notion of the Community of Christ as “the one true Church” – especially over the last 50 years or so. Like many issues, some feel this move has been too slow and tentative, while others have actively resisted or outright denied its occurrence.
This is understandable. The Church was founded on the notion that we were The One True Church in the Latter Days. This concept is very appealing to many. Imagine – out of the billions of people in the world, YOU have fortunately stumbled upon the ONLY group through which one can attain salvation!
But this is a poor, and dangerous theology. The idea of having a unique and exclusive line to heaven has lead to many tragic events throughout history – from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the Holocaust. The idea is completely counter to the other major pillars of the Church, such as Worth of Persons, Sacredness of Creation and All Are Called.
The movement from THE true church to A true church has been slow. But I think it would be difficult going forward to argue that we have not arrived. Paragraph 2a of the new Section 164 leaves little wiggle room:
2 a. Instruction given previously about baptism was proper to ensure the rise and cohesiveness of the church during its early development and in following years. However, as a growing number have come to understand, the redemptive action of God in Christ—while uniquely and authoritatively expressed through the church—is not confined solely to the church.This is a major historical step and, in some ways, was likely made easier by the controversy over the second substantive point of the Words of Counsel regarding human sexuality. I’m sure some feel that this acknowledgment that the Community of Christ is one church among many, struggling to follow that still-small voice to attain enlightenment, will cause a rift. But I don’t think so.
Those who continue to believe the Church is alone in its authority and truth will not see any outward policy changes resulting from this new theological position and that will make it less painful, and less easy to convince members to leave their comfortable pews. For those who have long waited for the Church to clarify its position on this matter, it will embolden them in new ways.
This is an important and historical step, to becoming A true church and to becoming a community of Christ.
UPDATE: My prior post below has a 15/04/10 update.