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MISSOURI CHURCH CONTEMPLATES NEW REORGANIZATION - OF ITS NAME

SHARE MISSOURI CHURCH CONTEMPLATES NEW REORGANIZATION - OF ITS NAME

Constantly moving toward a more Protestant look and feel, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is considering changing its name.

Last November, the RLDS First Presidency asked church members to discuss using a short name for the denomination, the "Community of Christ." Some congregations are already using the title. A less official proposal suggests calling the denomination The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Missouri).One of the factors prompting the name change has been frequent confusion with the Utah-based LDS Church.

Depending on the feedback they receive from congregations, the church leadership may propose the name change during the church's biennial conference next April.

Roger Yarrington, RLDS Communications Director, said "They (the First Presidency) proposed a churchwide dialogue during the past two years and no decision has been reached as to what they will recommend."

Like a giant seashell, the spire of the church's Temple pierces the Midwestern sky, symbolic of the distinct direction that the RLDS Church has taken from its roots in 19th-century Mormonism.

Today the RLDS Church seeks an identity as a herald of peace. The Temple is the site of a daily prayer for peace and a place where the world is invited to learn how to become peacemakers. The Temple complex, across the street from where Joseph Smith Jr. dedicated land for a millennial Jackson County temple, is also used for counseling and church ministries and leaders' offices.

A worshiper's path to The Temple's main sanctuary draws from the spiritual experiences of Joseph Smith Jr. and Christianity.

A carved glass window depicts the grove of trees where Joseph Smith said he had a vision of God, a shadow of a cross reminds visitors of the death and resurrection of Christ and a fountain where water runs like glass over smoothed stone reminds that Christ is the "living water."

In a smaller Temple chapel, visiting church groups meditate as they are surrounded by paintings depicting the church's sacraments or ordinances. The paintings show the sacraments in different settings around the world, with some directed by women. The RLDS Church decided in 1984 to let women hold its priesthood.

The Reorganized Church emerged during the 1850s from a schism over leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the death of church founder and prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith's son, Joseph Smith III, assumed leadership of the Reorganized Church in 1860, bringing together dispersed church groups in the Midwest. Three of his sons served as prophet-presidents. Joseph Smith III's grandson, Wallace B. Smith, took over leadership in 1978.

There are about one-quarter of a million members of the church, with 583 in the Intermountain District.

While the LDS and RLDS churches share common beginnings and scriptures, including the Bible, Book of Mormon and parts of the Doctrine and Covenants, and similar organization including a first presidency and 12 apostles, there remains great doctrinal distance.

"The RLDS Church seems intent on shedding many of the vestiges of its sectarian background of early Mormonism. To what extent it can discard these while retaining its identity as a recognizable part of Latter Day Saintism remains to be seen," wrote Richard P. Howard, RLDS historian emeritus, in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The RLDS Church is a reflection of the Kirtland, Ohio, period of early Mormonism and a rejection of "the fullness of the gospel" or doctrines LDS members believe to be introduced during the Nauvoo, Ill. period, agrees Jan Shipps, historian of religion at the University of Indiana-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

Doctrines attributed to the Nauvoo period include ordinances practiced in LDS temples such as baptism for the dead or the practice of polygamy, Shipps said.

No weddings or baptisms are performed in the RLDS temple. Unlike LDS temples, there are no provisions for proxy ordinances for dead persons there either, according to Yarrington.

In 1970, the RLDS Church rejected baptism for the dead as a doctrine of "local character" related to the Nauvoo period.

"The RLDS Church is what the LDS Church would have become if they hadn't made the trek West and accepted the `fullness of the gospel' " Shipps said.

Both churches believe that God through Joseph Smith Jr. "restored" priesthood authority and doctrines that had been lost in the centuries after Jesus Christ's death. For the LDS Church, that has meant remaining aloof and distinct from other Christian groups.

But for the RLDS, it has meant building a theology based on early Mormon teachings combined with more widely accepted Christian principles.

For example, the RLDS conception of God is a Protestant-like Trinity, where "God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are One," its statement of beliefs reads.

Prophetic revelation also takes on different meaning to RLDS believers when compared with the LDS system. In a mix of theocracy and democracy, prophetic pronouncements must be voted on in world conference, Shipps said.

Prophetic statements only become part of the church's Doctrine and Covenants and, therefore, accepted as scripture, when approved by a vote of elected conference delegates, Yarrington said.

In the 20th century, the Reorganized Church's movement toward similarities with mainstream Protestantism has continued. Some 4,270 women have been ordained to the priesthood since 1984.

Such changes haven't come without conflict. Ordination of women and the building of the temple resulted in the breakaway of conservative "restoration branches," estimated at 3 percent of the church's membership, according to Howard.

In 1994, the church adopted an open communion policy allowing any Christian to partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The action reversed an 1868 policy which said that partaking of bread and wine was restricted to persons who had an RLDS baptism.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Headquarters: At The Auditorium and The Temple in Independence, Mo.

Seal: Lamb, lion and child with word "Peace." The symbol refers to Isaiah 11:6.

Church officials: The church is headed by a president-prophet, Wallace B. Smith, who with two counselors compose the First Presidency. The Council of Twelve Apostles is responsible for field administration and is the chief missionary quorum of the church. The Members of the Presiding Bishopric are the chief financial and and fiscal officers of the church. The presiding evangelist is the president of the order of patriarch evangelists.

Scriptures: Bible (Inspired Version), Book of Mormon and RLDS Doctrine and Covenants.

BELIEFS

Nature of God: Belief in the Trinity.

Sacraments: Blessing of children, baptism by immersion, confirmation, communion of Lord's supper, marriage, healing of sick, evangelist blessing, priesthood ordination. (Evangelist blessing was formerly patriarchal blessing. Office title was adapted to allow women to give blessings.)

The Temple: The church owns the Kirtland, Ohio, temple and new 1,600-seat temple in Independence, Mo., which is dedicated to peace.

Dietary law: The church prohibits church officials from using tobacco or alcoholic drinks. Church members generally abstain also.

Tithing: Members pay tithing on their yearly increase or money left over after housing and food expenses are paid.