The Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share the same roots, including Restoration scriptures like the Book of Mormon. Yet these faith communities have over 170 years of divergent history and evolution, including how they approach the scriptures. This interview with Kat Goheen and Joshua Sears discusses scripture in the Community of Christ and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Read more about the Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in dialogue in Restorations: Scholars in Dialogue from Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Table of Contents
- Doctrine and Covenants
- New Translation
- Scripture and Revelation
- Enduring Principles
- Common Consent
- Scripture tensions
- Common ground
Why did you join this discussion?
Kat Goheen: When I write about scripture, it is primarily for a Community of Christ audience. This opportunity challenged me to take a broader perspective of our relationship and history with scripture, which was a good growth experience. I also was drawn to the project because of its dialogical nature—it was good to share Joshua Sear’s work—and the conversation that arose from our combined efforts.
Joshua Sears: As a nineteen-year-old missionary I first learned that few things make me appreciate or think more deeply about my beliefs than discussing them with someone who does not share them. Arguing isn’t helpful for anyone, but an honest and charitable interfaith conversation always helps me understand others and see my own faith from new angles.
What did you learn from each other?
Kat Goheen: I was reminded of the difference our churches seem to have in giving privilege to the historical voice. In Community of Christ, we often look ahead more often than we look back at our roots. I also appreciate the story Josh shared about the pastoral way that he used scripture when he was on mission.
Joshua Sears: My previous exposure to Community of Christ was mostly from interacting with their guides at historical sites, which usually doesn’t allow time for deep discussion. My back-and-forth with Kat, as well as reading the rest of the chapters in the book, corrected several erroneous ideas about Community of Christ that I had picked up, and helped me appreciate how much our traditions still have in common.
How has the Doctrine and Covenants evolved differently?
Kat Goheen: I can only speak for Community of Christ, but I believe that our Enduring Principle of Continuing Revelation prompts us to orient forward, as we have been told to look “beyond the horizon to which you are sent” (D&C 161 1a). As we have grown into our new name, we have learned the importance of spiritual discernment and traveling light, and we use recent revelations in our Doctrine and Covenants as signposts for our future direction.
Joshua Sears: The obvious difference is that we each include new revelations that the other church does not accept. More subtly, I am fascinated by Kat’s explanation that they focus on their recent additions to look forward to the future. Our church, by contrast, has been more conservative in formally canonizing new revelations in recent decades, while we have seen an increased focus on studying Church history and learning lessons from the past. We embrace the fact that the revelations reflect the language and concerns from when they were given, because the old-timey nature of those texts reminds us that God spoke to our forebears.
How have relationships with the Inspired Version of the Bible changed?
Kat Goheen: As a child, my Bible was the Inspired Version and it was what we used for preaching and teaching in my congregation. There are still members who cherish it, but now it is not used widely in public ministry. As a body we are more open to mainstream biblical criticism than we were 40 years ago, including source criticism.
Joshua Sears: Our story is the opposite. When my parents were growing up in the 60s and 70s, Joseph Smith’s new translation was little known and seldom used. But the 1979 Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible quoted from nearly a thousand verses of the Inspired Version, and by the time I grew up in the 80s and 90s it had become an integral component of our Bible study.
If I teach a Sunday School class today and skip a really juicy Joseph Smith revision in the footnotes, the class is sure to chime in and point it out.
Describe the tension between scriptural canon and ongoing revelation.
Kat Goheen: Everyone who reads scripture has interpretive principles—assumptions that color how we receive passages emotionally, theologically, and intellectually.
I treasure Doctrine and Covenants in 163:7 for proclaiming how we as a church commit to receiving scripture. We agreed by common consent that scripture is an indispensable witness of God yet that it is not perfect, that we will not use scripture as a tool of oppression, and that multiple forms of discernment are necessary to understand God’s will in scripture.
Joshua Sears: Elder Neil L. Andersen from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
The iron rod is the word of God [see 1 Nephi 15:23–24]. I like to think of it in this way: The word of God contains three very strong elements that intertwine and sustain one another to form an immovable rod. These three elements include, first, the scriptures, or the words of the ancient prophets…. The second element of the word of God is the personal revelation and inspiration that comes to us through the Holy Ghost…. [The] third part of the iron rod represents the words of the living prophets.Neil L. Andersen, Hold Fast to the Words of the Prophets
So we have a sense that we rely on all three of these sources. But as a community we prioritize living prophets, who we understand have the authority both to interpret ancient scripture and to update previous revelation with current revelation.
Which sections of the scriptures tend to be emphasized?
Joshua Sears: In the last half century the Book of Mormon has risen to the top for us. It’s only one-fourth of our four-year rotating curriculum, but Saints often hear counsel to read from the Book of Mormon regularly, regardless of whatever else is happening in Sunday School.
When our young people serve missions, they devote most of their time to studying the Book of Mormon and encouraging others to read it, which usually cements a life-long devotion to that volume of scripture.
How do the Enduring Principles affect the reading of scripture?
Kat Goheen: These principles, along with our five Mission Initiatives, also serve as interpretive principles for reading scripture. For example, Genesis 1 offers humanity dominion over the created order, but our Enduring Principle of the Sacredness of Creation balances that mandate with a sense of reverence for creation. Our principle of Unity in Diversity cautions us against narrow interpretations of some Pauline counsels and reminds us of the beauty of diversity.
What about the principle of Common Consent?
Kat Goheen: There is a respect inherent in Common Consent: we may not agree unanimously, but we have all been heard and have agreed that we can carry on together. This principle helps instill a sense of humility in our approach to scripture along with the reminder that we are a non-creedal church.
How do tensions produce cohesion?
Joshua Sears: In the book I quote from an essay by David Holland of Harvard Divinity School, who uses the analogy of a painting. His argument is that, like the individual brushstrokes of a painting, Latter-day Saints’ numerous and often contradictory impulses with regard to revelation produce cohesion because of, not in spite of, their differences. Lines and colors that are at odds in isolation produce masterful, even beautiful complexity when one steps back and takes in the whole canvas.
So we might, for example, hear one talk from general conference discuss the unique ways that God works through His covenant people, while another talk might proclaim that God loves and blesses His children in every nation. One talk might stress personal accountability while another highlights being charitable with others’ weaknesses. One might insist that we give generously of our means, with another explaining that wise stewards save for a rainy day.
No one talk, article, revelation, or proclamation can explore every nuance, exception, or counterpoint. But competing teachings find balance and richness when paired with each other.
What scriptural tensions do Latter-day Saints navigate?
Joshua Sears: Some of the pulls we feel in different directions include weighing the authority of written, canonical scripture against the authority of living prophets. Some general authorities have taught that if a Church leader says something that contradicts the scriptures, then we reject the leader’s statement and go with the scriptures. In recent decades, that position has receded as living apostolic keys have been rhetorically prioritized over the written word.
Another tension is the relative priority we should give to different books in our scriptural canon, with the Bible coming out ahead in the nineteenth century and the Book of Mormon moving to first place by the end of the twentieth century.
A third example is navigating whether we stick with traditional interpretations of the Bible—the traditional authors assigned to biblical books, for instance—or whether we embrace modern academic approaches.
All of these issues can be described as being “in tension” because there are compelling reasons to keep all options on the table. Sitting between two approaches like a magnet hovering between two poles can be a little challenging at times, and yet as a people we have found it very helpful to live in that state of suspension.
Is there common ground in your approach to scripture?
Kat Goheen: I felt in both of our responses a deep respect and appreciation for scripture. Both churches see our scriptures as being a testimony of God’s work in the world through Jesus Christ.
Joshua Sears: I agree with Kat: in the scriptures we encounter both Jesus Christ as the Word—and Jesus Christ through His words. And in both communities, the open-ended nature of the Doctrine and Covenants reflects our earnest desire to hear Christ’s living word in our lives today.
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About the interview participant
Kat Goheen grew up in Independence, Missouri, and has been active in
Community of Christ her whole life. Her roles include high priest, pas-
tor, and mission center copresident for Western Canada. She has two
degrees in biblical studies from the Vancouver School of Theology. Kat
also serves on various church boards and teams, teaches Hebrew Bible
in weekend intensives, and is a trained spiritual director. She shares her
love of music and laughter with her husband, Jon, and two wonderful
daughters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Joshua Sears is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham
Young University. He has a PhD in Hebrew Bible from the University
of Texas at Austin and writes on Israelite prophecy, marriage, and fam-
ilies in the ancient world and on the publication history of Latter-day
Saint scripture. He and his wife, Alice, live in Lindon, Utah, with their
- What Have Scholars Learned About the Book of Mormon?
- How Did Joseph Smith Produce Ancient Scripture?
- What Has Thomas Wayment Learned About the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?
- How Have the Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Interacted in Nauvoo?
- How Was the New Testament Canonized?
- Restorations: Scholars in Dialogue from Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (BYU RSC)
- Community of Christ: Official Statement on Scripture (Community of Christ)
- The LDS Church and Community of Christ: Clearer Differences, Closer Friends (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought)
- The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Use of the Old Testament (Ensign)
- Here Are Some Community of Christ Theological Stances (Salt Lake Tribune)