In 2001, the delegates of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints voted to change the common name of their church to “Community of Christ.” Besides being shorter and easier to say, the new name changes the focus from their past to their present and future. The group was formed in 1860 when many Mormons refused to follow Brigham Young’s vision of moving west, among other differences.
After the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, several men made claims on the leadership of the Mormon Church, resulting in several offshoot groups being formed. One group was led by Jason Briggs, Zenos Gurley, and William Marks. These men disagreed with the revelation authorizing polygamy, and believed that Joseph Smith III, rather than Brigham Young, should be the new prophet of the church. After several years of struggle, Joseph Smith III agreed to lead the newly formed “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” with 300 members.
The Community of Christ upholds the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants to be sacred texts and uses Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible. Their beliefs are similar to those originally taught by Joseph Smith, including the belief that all of Christianity had fallen into apostasy (1 Nephi 13:28), and that Joseph Smith had restored the truth to God’s church (Mormon Doctrine, p. 670). According to the Community of Christ, Jesus is a separate being from God the Father, as stated in Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version, John 1:1 “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.” In the King James Version, and most other English versions, that verse reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These two versions present two diametrically opposing views of Jesus. In Smith’s version, Jesus is “of God,” but not the same as God. In the KJV (and all other reliable versions), the whole point of the section (John 1:1-14) is to show that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but is Himself fully God, and the One by whom all things were made in Genesis 1.
The theology of the Community of Christ today is somewhat difficult to pin down. In the past, the RLDS primarily identified their beliefs based on what they disagreed with in LDS theology (e.g., polygamy, marriage for eternity, Adam-God theory, closed temple services). In 1992, Graceland College, owned by the church, hosted a symposium examining their beliefs. Paul Edwards, then dean of Park College Graduate School of Religion, said, "One of the most important needs for RLDS people today is to look existentially at primary experiences as the starting point for their theological activity." In other words, he was advocating for each believer to start with his own experiences to determine truth, rather than start with scriptures or church statements. Current statements of faith on the Community of Christ website sound quite similar to traditional Christian statements, but use sufficiently vague language as to fit within a wide variety of meanings. When it comes to the doctrine of baptism/salvation, it is clear that the Community of Christ does not hold a biblical position. The following statements come from the official church website:
"Disciples are people whose lives are transformed as they continually seek to pattern their lives after the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. Becoming a disciple in the Community of Christ begins with these steps:
1. Listen within yourself for the call of Jesus Christ in your life.
2. Be involved with a congregation, participating in activities that help you learn, grow, and serve others."
In contrast, the Bible says: “Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’” (Acts 2:38).
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel...by which ye are saved...how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The teaching of the RLDS focuses on good works and intentions and redefines Jesus Christ. Their brand of religion fits well with Paul’s description in Romans 10:2-4, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The RLDS shares the two beliefs common to all false religions: they encourage their members to “seek their own righteousness” (a works-based salvation), and they promote a false view of Jesus Christ.
(Editor’s note: many of the references in our articles on Mormonism are Mormon publications, such as Mormon Doctrine, Articles of Faith, Doctrines of Salvation, History of the Church, Doctrine and Covenants, and so forth. Others are from the Book of Mormon itself, e.g., books such as 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Alma.)