By Trevor Wolfe from Haven Ministries
Check out an article on the overall history and doctrine of the Community of Christ by clicking here
My approach to witnessing to followers belonging to the Community of Christ (CoC) is different than when I witness to Mormons, or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It is important not to assume that those who belong to the CoC believe exactly like Mormons do. Unfortunately, one of the first things I notice Christian believers do when they try to share their faith with CoC members is they believe they can use apologetic material that might be effective with Mormons.
Trust me, using material that might be effective with Mormons won’t work with the Community of Christ followers. I guarantee that. Still, it’s possible to have success by understanding several different tactics.
For one, many CoC members believe that Joseph Smith became a fallen prophet sometime around 1833. They may believe that Joseph Smith was only a “true” prophet for a few years. Mention any of Smith’s teachings from 1834 until 1844 and you will probably be told that Smith was in error with his later teachings. In fact, CoC members will agree that the Book of Abraham is not scripture and that Smith’s teaching on the existence of multiple gods is heretical.
To set up this tactic, I suggest asking a CoC member at what time he or she believed that Smith became a fallen prophet. Then you can focus on Smith’s character previous to the time of whichever year they choose. This could include how Smith was involved in money digging in the 1820s or utilized seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon. It is possible to take it a step further by asking if the church’s current prophet can fall like Smith. If the member agrees, ask how they know if the prophet (currently Steven M. Veazey) hasn’t already fallen. After all, if the prophet somehow lost his authority like Smith did in the 1830s, how would anyone know? (The prophet would certainly think he hasn’t lost his authority!)
Another question to ask is if the CoC member believes the church went thorough a second “Great Apostasy.” Since the Community of Christ didn’t begin until 1860 and this was supposed to be a continuation of the restored church, it would seem that this organization inherited damaged goods from Joseph Smith who passed the mantle to his son Joseph Smith III, the new church’s founder.
One thing I have noticed throughout the years is that the members are no longer claiming theirs to be the one true church like they once did. This is strange because their doctrine has always been that theirs is the one and only true church. Doctrine and Covenants 1:5e (1:30 in the LDS version) says,
and also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.
A great question to ask is, “If D&C 1:5e is true, why is your church starting to fall away from this passage?”
I had the chance recently to talk with one of the CoC apostles who told me that there were legitimate baptisms when the “Great Apostasy” was taking place before Joseph Smith founded his church. This is a very strange comment because the LDS claim is that no one had the priesthood authority to perform any legitimate baptisms during this time. Yet is it possible for an apostle to contradict what God said in His scripture?
When it comes to the Book of Mormon, many CoC members believe that Joseph Smith did not have gold plates and that this scripture is not historically accurate. Some even claim that it was a 19th century production, which would be anathema for a Latter-day Saint to say.
I suggest opening up the Book of Mormon and showing a church member how it claims to be a historical book. In fact, the CoC version includes the “Testimony of the Three Witnesses and Also Testimony of the Eight Witnesses”–just as the LDS version does–to describe how these eleven men all claimed to see the plates of gold used by Smith in his “translation.” The preface of the 1966 “Revised Authorized Edition”—a modern version of the Book of Mormon—reads as follows,
The original record was written by twenty-four authors, and their work was finally condensed, or abridged, by Mormon. When Moroni hid the plates in the earth, he wrote that the record is of great worth; and whoever shall bring it to light, him will the Lord bless…It shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God; and if there be faults, they be faults of a man.
Were the “witnesses” and Joseph Smith just playing a game? After all, they told others that the story was real. Is it really possible to treat the Book of Mormon like the Chronicles of Narnia or The Hobbit? If so, then ask the CoC member why, if someone like you were to consider joining their church, you should be convinced when a fictional book is necessary to support a literal God and Jesus? After all, if the Book of Mormon events didn’t happen, then the Jesus described in the scripture’s pages is not real.
Another possible inroad is the doctrine of God. For instance, the church teaches in the Trinity, yet I have asked members what they think this teaching means and I am provided with a Modalistic misunderstanding. They describe a God where the Father is the Son who is the Holy Ghost, or three different modes in the same same person. It’s an easy mistake to make, but this is still an incorrect version of this important doctrine. For more on the important doctrine of the Trinity, visit here.
When it comes to heaven, many CoC members believe in the three kingdoms of glory like Mormons. Ask the CoC members if they would they have the assurance that they would be in the highest kingdom if they were to die today. If they say yes, ask if they have done everything that is required of them.
Even though grace is officially taught in this religion, the message conveyed is that this is a works-based religion. I like to utilize 1 John 5:9-13 where it explains how true believers can know right now that they have the assurance of the forgiveness of all their sins. Being able to say “I am forgiven”–not “I hope to someday be forgiven”–is what separates biblical Christianity from all other works-oriented faiths.
Like talking to anyone else, it is vital to let CoC members know how much you care. Once they understand your heart, the conversation can open up and a more honest dialogue can ensue. By using one or more of the strategies I have discussed here, I promise you that it is possible to successfully converse with a member of the Community of Christ.