My wife and I recently visited Independence, Missouri on our way to Sunstone in Nauvoo, Illinois. There are a lot of interesting church history sites in Independence and in nearby locations. The most prominent is the 63.5 acre section occupied by three restoration churches: the LDS church with a visitors center, Community of Christ with their temple/headquarters, and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) with their visitors center/headquarters. Plus, that last church owns the actual plot where Joseph Smith said a temple would be built.
Church of Christ (Temple Lot)
87-year-old Marvin Case was our delightful host at their visitors center/headquarters. My wife Royleane told him that I was previously LDS but had joined Community of Christ, and his eyes got big and he looked surprised. “You no longer believe in the Book of Mormon!” he said. “How did that happen?” I told him “Community of Christ still recognizes the Book of Mormon as scripture, but I don’t believe it’s actual history.” He looked at me sadly. “I know people in Community of Christ who wish they would use the Book of Mormon more. They believe in it.” There are some conservatives in Community of Christ who still hang on to the truth claims. Some of those people have left to form other restoration-based churches that have more literal beliefs. Marvin enjoyed telling us stories about his church, and how he could prove the Book of Mormon was literal history. When it was time to go, we warmly shook hands and I told him how much I appreciated his talking to us and being such a good host. We have a shared history, although we don’t agree much on theology. “I’ll pray for you, that you regain your testimony in the Book of Mormon!” he told me. “Thank you, Marvin!” I responded. “I appreciate that.”
Community of Christ
I was confirmed a member of Community of Christ back in July. They have been a wonderful place for me to heal and grow spiritually. Community of Christ has a shared history with the other restoration churches, but for me, their take on scripture is a healthier way to look at things. Scripture is something written down by people who have had an encounter with the divine. But those writings go through the filter of their own understanding, culture and language. Also, Community of Christ is fine with those who don’t take scriptures as literal history.
Community of Christ has their headquarters in their temple. They never accepted any of Joseph Smith’s theology from Nauvoo, which means they don’t believe in the LDS temple rituals. Instead, they pattern the usage of their temple after the Kirtland temple: space for the public to gather, space for religious instruction, and space for church leadership. We were given a short tour, and it really is a beautiful building.
Other Restoration Churches
When Joseph Smith was murdered, various people thought they should lead the church. Brigham Young took a majority of the church with him to the Great Basin, but thousands stayed behind in the Midwest. For a while many of these people, including several of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon gold plates and many of Joseph’s family, followed a man named James Strang, He was eventually killed, and many of his followers were part of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). Over the years, as the RLDS church became more liberal, some people refused to go along with the changes. Some of those disaffected members started their own churches. Independence has many churches that are break-offs in one way or another from Joseph Smith’s original church. I did a web search and found a few, and it was fun to drive around and check them out. I wonder about their history, how they arrived at their beliefs and theology, and how the different churches differ from each other. I marvel that all of them started from a relatively uneducated young farmer way back in 1830, and those churches are still around today.