Lifeline Ministries to RLDS Welcome to Lifeline Ministries to RLDS...  
  Chapter 12   

Position Papers Chapter 12





    Poets and philosophers have in their own way been captured by the desire to achieve and preserve certain social values, expressing these concerns in images of a perfected society. In these we find reflection of a universal desire of men to find identity and meaning in their personal and social experience.
    Across the span of scriptural history flows the persistent idea that there is a divine plan for men in his historical existence, with God himself participating in this history toward these ends. This anticipation is caught up and expressed in a number of scriptural symbols such as Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of God, each with its own particular variation of the central theme of history transformed and redeemed.
    Hebrew imagery centered upon a condition of peace in which Jerusalem would be the focal point of a gathered elect. From its "Holy Hill," Zion, the law would go forth and the "word of the Lord" to all nations. The prophets variously glimpsed the divine intent in terms of a world mission that would minister peace and plenty to men on grounds of obedience and loyalty to Yahweh. Some, such as Isaiah, saw this as taking place within the history of the nation, while later Judaism saw the ideal as lying beyond history, and breaking in to negate the existing order.
    In the New Testament the concept of the Kingdom of God signifies the kingly rule or sovereignty of God. Its basic intention is to affirm the fact that God reigns in all aspects of personal and social life. Whereas rabbinical Judaism encountered the rule of God through obedience to Law and looked forward to the full and complete establishment of God's rule, the New Testament generally asserted that in a new and peculiar way the Kingdom of God had already come. Thus in the New Testament, and specifically in the life of Jesus, the Kingdom is a manifestation of God's power and sovereignty in which his nature, power and will are brought to bear. Life is being transformed within history so as to bring it into conformity with an ever-present dynamic will of God.
    But the New Testament also contains references to the Kingdom as still to come. Particularly does the apocalyptic material of the New Testament (as does Daniel in the Old Testament) suggest that history is to be negated by a total judgment as God ushers in his Kingdom through a new heaven and a new earth. Thus the Kingdom of God is "at hand" and at the same time is "yet to be".
    Thus the New Testament itself provides diverse sources for a variety of interpretations of the concept Kingdom of God. A similar spectrum may be discerned in the literature of the Restoration movement which suggest the need to hold a number of complementary ideas in tension. It may be held that the very concept of the Kingdom of God, or Zion, is so dynamic that it constantly brings forth a series of options.
    The concept of the Kingdom emphasizes the freedom and sovereignty of God over the created order. In a sense Zion, or the Kingdom of God, is the full manifestation of the sovereignty of God, which at present is seen only by faith in a world that presents an ambiguous face. However, this is to affirm God's concern for his creation, and the goodness of his creation. The world is the raw material of the Kingdom, not the building blocks from which the Kingdom is to be extracted. It is the world which is the Kingdom in process, coming to self-realization. At the same time we affirm that the Kingdom is never the inevitable consequence of human life and history, but reflects the freedom of God, and is established at the divine initiative.
    In a sense, the Kingdom is always "at hand," in judgment and promise, confronting men with the claim of God's rule. It may be present in the partial realizations of God's will in history. But all partial realizations find their meaning and fulfillment in the fullness of the Kingdom, which stands always "over against" or at the "end" of history.
    The Kingdom of God is already present as a special perspective through which men are called to a new life. This perspective is deeply and necessarily rooted in the revelation of God in Christ, so that incarnation is understood as the means by which God indwells his creation for its redemption. This is the process by which the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of God. Christian faith sees man's life in its personal and social dimensions "in depth" and hails it as the locale of the incarnation of God. The incarnation of God in human experience is both a revelation and prophecy of what the Kingdom is to be. In Jesus Christ we see personally expressed the qualities of life that manifest the Kingdom in corporate mode.
    The symbol of the Kingdom implies a close relationship to analogous structures of life and history. The symbol includes, by its very nature, the personal and social aspects of our life and speaks to the social structures of our experience. On the one hand God's judgment is acknowledged to apply to all social structures and programs. No social order or proposal for reform can be identified simply with the will of God. The liberal optimism of the late nineteenth century has been chastened, and the confident assumption that the social order would inevitably evolve into the Kingdom of God has been rejected.
    This does not however constitute a denial of the church's obligation to speak to the social order. The responsibility of the church is to constantly confront the existing order (including itself) with the judgment of the law of love and to seek positive ways for the establishment of relatively more just relations among men. This will involve the explicit recognition that the economic, social and political processes shaping our lives constitute ways in which our humanity is realized, and are therefore the proper concern of men who confess the sovereignty of God.
    William Temple has reminded us that part of the greatness of the Christian faith is precisely its ability to take up the earthly and to make it the vehicle for divine self-expression. This is to abide by the principle of redemption through incarnation. "By the very nature of its central doctrine, Christianity is committed to a belief in the ultimate significance of the historical process, in the reality of -matter and its place in the divine scheme" (Nature, Men and God, p. 478). Thus a faith that is secular and worldly is precisely the kind of faith that must express itself in the institutionalized fabric of human existence. The earthen vessels bring grace and revelation to bear on the life of a society within the world.
    Thus the Kingdom of God is relational in its ethic, it is essentially a social entity. Any kind of privatized religion (beginning and ending in individual personal experience) is contrary to the Christian experience, for it is in humanized relationships that the Kingdom of God is prophesied. In the measure that the Christ-life abides in man (and men), in that measure the Kingdom exists. Thus the establishment of the Kingdom (Zion) is part of the process of "bringing into" human society the rule of God.
    Zion, or the Kingdom of God, implies a strategy for discipleship in the world. Zion implies that men, "come of age," accept a creative responsibility for the world and the interpersonal relationships which exist within it. Persons become gripped by the love of God, and involve themselves in the life of the world.
    As Christ was the incarnation of God in man, so Zion symbolizes the incarnation of ultimate spiritual values in society. The church is seen in this process as serving several functions:
  1. Discerning. The servant church is called to the task of discerning the world as the scene of God's redemptive action. Gibson Winter has called this the process of reflection, and writes: "Discerning the meaning of events is the stuff of daily life . . . Christian reflection deepens this personal process by opening both past and future to questioning in the light of God's saving actions for men . . . The work of the servant church is to engage the world in reflection on the meaning of it history, to summon men to the search for meaning . . . " (The New Creation in Metropolis, pp. 70-71).
  2. Revealing. Richard Nehaus writes, "The church is simply that part of the world that envisages and celebrates the coming Kingdom in terms of Jesus the Christ . . .our discernment and appraisal are always clouded and provisional. We are warned against saying 'lo here, lo there,' and thus are reminded that the truth of the Kingdom promise cannot be overthrown by our momentary disappointments. Yet we dare not withhold our commitments from signs of the Kingdom." (Christian Century, December 20, 1967). This means that the church manifests an undiscouraged faith in the Kingdom and lives its life in witness of that confident expectation. The church points men beyond what is to what may be, and proclaims the hope of the Kingdom in midst of unfaith.
  3. Judging. The church speaks with the voice of judgment in the midst of sin. The church has discerned the action of God in the world and therefore becomes an instrument of God in setting the action of God over against the life of the world in such a way that its unfaithfulness and in authenticity is revealed. The church exists to call people to an awareness of who they are, and serves to illuminate the points of their unfaithfulness. It is important to recognize, however that such judgment does not exhibit itself in castigation and denial of the world. We remember that the judgment of God was to be seen in what Christ was. Similarly God calls the world to judgment through what the church is and what it does in the life of men.
  4. Facilitating. The church as a fellowship of disciples lays upon men the responsibility for engaging in the transforming of the devices and institutions by which their common life is shaped. In this way the church acts to facilitate the changes which allow men's freedom to be guaranteed and his true humanity to be expressed. In proclaiming the genuine openness of the future for which men may be responsible, and in establishing a climate of love in which men may be embraced, the church emerges as the expression of God's gracious presence and promise in the midst of a world which is yet to awaken to its true nature.

    The Kingdom of God attests to the supreme value of personhood. Zion is to be considered as a humanity-granting enterprise. Even so the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the new man, who as the incarnation of God affirms humanity and summons us to be fully human. Christ is the source of a new dispensation, a new order of life on earth, and this through the ministry of reconciliation.
    Whatever institutions arise from the Zionic endeavor are valuable only insofar as they facilitate this process. In this respect the task of the church, as a serving fellowship in the world, is reflected in the proclamation attributed to Jesus; "And the spirit of the Lord is upon me for He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
    As we view the development of the Zionic thesis in the Restoration we see several streams of influence all merging into a body of thought that has exercised considerable influence on our history, reflecting the historical circumstances in which the movement was grounded and the attempt to find appropriate answers for the times.
    A part of the thought-world of the New England culture was the sense of divine destiny in this new land, and the anticipation of literal Zion.
The idea of Zion was an important one in the opening stages of American-Christian history, especially in New England. The Puritan dream of a Bible Commonwealth was not infrequently described by those who left their homeland for the new world, but never more clearly than by Captain Edward Johnson, who flatly declared, "This is the place where the Lord will create a new heaven, and a new earth, in new churches and a new common wealth together."
Robert T. Handy, "Zion in American
Christian Movements," p. 284, from
Israel: Its Role in Civilization,
Harper Brothers, New York
    Zion was thus not an uncommon theme in the Protestant thought world of the pre-Colonial and Colonial period. Taking its early appropriation from the Old Testament terminology the concern with the Kingdom of God reflected the desire for a reconstituted social pattern which would bring security and prosperity to meliorate man's earthbound existence. Handy points to this in saying ,"As the idea of Zion was transmuted to refer to the Church Militant or to a promised future, and as it was secularized until the term itself was dropped-the longing for a visible Zion on earth, a Zion like unto that of which the Puritans had dreamed, did not wholly disappear from Christian hearts. There were always some in whom the hunger was deep, and who still sought Zion, and in religious terms, as a place where the redeemed might gather."
    During the period of Joseph Smith's development of the Zionic idea the following streams of influence were present.
  1. A period of biblical literalism in a time of millennial expectancy. There was great interest in the immediate second coming of the Lord and anticipation of the coming of the New Jerusalem.
  2. A Period of economic stress, acute hardship on the frontier, and proliferating attempts at Christian communitarian establishment. Utopian thought was a part of the current. The milieu of religious fervor in the "burnt-over" district of Western New York cradled a number of communitarian experiments, some as close as 30 miles from Palmyra.
  3. Something of the exhilaration of the sense of destiny in this land and its future as a free nation in which men from all lands were gathering was part of the vigorous optimistic spirit of frontier America.

    Essentially, Joseph moved as typical of his times and still peculiar to his times. He not only reflected the various streams of thought but out of this emerged with a distinctive emphasis on the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God particularized in such experiments as the early settlement of Independence and the subsequent development in Nauvoo.
    As we trace the development of the Zionic idea through the literature of the church, there is an unmistakable correlation of the spiritual condition of the people to the type of community life that emerged. The motivation to gather together was a mixture of many colors. Some came out of a sense of divine impulsion to fulfill the will of God as they saw it in terms of their day; some came out of the appeal of economic assistance that would mean a better life for them; some came out of the more lustful self-interest that meant exploitation and gain.
    The early attempts at gathering and community development is a story of pathos and determination. In their struggle to find a workable formula to their motivation of Zion building they laid a foundation in particular experiments but were never successful in achieving the full dreams that called them forth.
    In their beginning attempts to ground their enterprise in such techniques as land purchase, inheritance, consecration, stewardship, surplus, and storehouse, they were endeavoring to meet the practical needs of people in an agrarian culture within the context of their spiritual ideals. Their experience informs us at many points and leaves us with many questions, not only concerning the particular strategies employed, but also concerning aspects of the basic perspective.
    We may question the separatist tendencies reflected in early Zionic thought and practice, and the accompanying emphasis upon exclusive geographic location of the Zionic enterprise.
    In being faithful to the call of Christ the church, seeking to fulfill its mission in the world, is called by the very nature of human need into involvement with that world. The character of this involvement is expressed in the Doctrine and Covenants in the following manner: "in the world but not of it, living and acting honestly and honorably before God and in the sight of all men, using the things of this world in the manner designed of God, that the places where they occupy may shine as Zion, the redeemed of the Lord" (D. and C. 128:8b,c).
    In the finest sense of the word, then, the role of Zion is one of involvement. The only sense in which apartness, or separation from the world is a viable stance for the fellowship of disciples, is in their acknowledgement of a distinctive perspective by which their participation in the world is informed, or in such gathering as is necessary for the delineation of strategies for involvement. The expression of reconciling love in the world, the bringing forth of divine life in human society, makes such a stance mandatory. The gospel of the Kingdom is concerned with the structures of our common life together. When the church operates in separation it denies the real life in which all men participate and perpetuates an artificial segmentation. Even the withdrawal of the denominational churches into middleclass suburbia tends to reflect a flight from reality and commitment.
    Similarly, the image of the "City of God" does not point to the establishment of separated "ideal" communities enjoying the advantages of prosperity or superior moral behavior. Rather does the Zionic ideal have to do with the task of making every city more compassionate, more humane, more responsive to man's need and more receptive to God's grace.
    The viewpoint expressed here has particular bearing on our current understanding of such concepts as the gathering. The gathering principle stated by the Presiding Bishopric as follow, suggest a flexibility in application: "Gathering is a process by which there are mobilized and placed in coordinated, effective service the abilities and economic powers of many people. The principle of gathering rightly adhered to will bring together a people and resources with a great power to implement the whole law and witness with grace and truth the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world." (Lesson VI, p. 3, Stewardship Is Response, Presiding Bishopric Outline).
     For Zion to be the servant to the needs of man it has a dangerous path to walk. In its gathering role there is the danger of slipping into ethnocentric escapism that turns the values of gathering inward. On the other hand an indiscriminate scattering of its forces throughout the vastness of the world's needs without a sound base from which to operate would dissipate its resources and never fully achieve its intent.
    How shall Zion be operative, then, in its involvement in our modern pluralistic complex world? Zion is revealed wherever men, in their common perspective and commitment operate out of a recognition of God's intention for his world and participate in the world in love to win men to their true freedom under God, thus bringing into life the fruits of the new humanity in Christ.
    This witness and process are not limited to specific geographic locations in isolation from contiguous places, but are found wherever the grace of God indwells the structures of man's social experience.
    Zion has been appropriately described as a "moving target;" that is, it is characterized by a particular perspective or a sense of direction rather than an absolutized formula.
    Zion seen as a static state or an end achievement once and for all attained, is essentially deceptive for the simple reason that personality and the social order are not static. There is no "suspended" state of existence, because choice making is continuous.
    We see in creation itself an evolutionary process in which there continually emerge newness beyond the simple rearrangement of the familiar. Creation is as much something that is yet happening as it is an accomplished fact. Where our grandfathers could look at the world and say soberly that there was "nothing new under the sun," such a perspective is quite impossible for us today.
    Because the framework of each generation and culture is different the specific forms of Zionic strategy may vary. Zionic expression in Africa may well very from that of the Orient, and the A.D. 1960 variety is quite likely to be different from the A.D. 2250 style.
    There always exists the danger of absolutizing systems of Zionic organization, of identifying some particular social system with the ultimate will of God. It is true that we need to search for the authentic elements in the past but at the same time we need to see how our time requires its own formulations. In this sense the need for continuing revelation is always present. The prophetic church will participate in the change which characterizes our world with an open stance assured that the instrumentalities of Zion are valid only insofar as they facilitate man's achievement of full humanity through his social and interpersonal experience.
  1. We will need to recognize that our understanding of the meaning of Zion, or the Kingdom of God, is itself a developing process, and exercise caution in making definitive claims regarding particular concepts which have been advanced historically.
  2. We will also exercise caution in specifying any "master plan," by which the intentionality of God for his creation is caught up in some specific set of social reforms or devices. The tendency to accept the particular practices of the 19th century rural setting as being the answer for all times and conditions will need to be overcome. It will be necessary to use some judgment in discriminating basic principles from exigent strategies. This is not to deny the role of the church in speaking to the existing social order.
  3. The "servant" role of Zion will need to be emphasized, rather than its selective and/or protective roles. Zion as a one-place-only city of safety and refuge is essentially out of context with the call of Christ to serve the needs of man.
  4. Zion as involvement rather than separation will need to be emphasized in educational materials. This will require that we consider under what circumstances and for what purpose "gathering" may take place, and that we avoid the identification of "Zion" exclusively with any particular geographic location.
  5. It may be necessary for curriculum materials to develop a sensitivity to the circumstances out of which particular historical interpretations of the Zionic thesis arose. This would be helpful if it encouraged a disposition on the part of the membership to acknowledge Zion as a moving target rather than a definitive system, and cultivated among them an openness to the future.
  6. The curriculum should treat more seriously the actual contest of man's contemporary experience in his social life-that is, it should take the world, and the life of the world seriously. This will be aimed at helping the membership become familiar with the world in which they are called to witness the sovereignty of God and to consider it seriously as the scene of God's redemptive action.
Lifeline Ministries to RLDS