In the 1970â€™s for reasons yet unexplained the Mormon Church suddenly found itself under scrutiny by mainline Protestant denominations. The basic charge was that the Mormon religion is a non-Christian cult. The Mormonâ€™s response was to reposition Jesus in the Mormon display case. There emerged a Jesus consciousness that was unlike anything that had ever existed in the Mormon Church. With the repositioning of Jesus the Churched moved from stage one Jesus to a stage two Jesus.
From the very beginning the role of Jesus has been obscure in the LDs Church. In the officially approved First Vision account God the Father, Elohim, introduced Jesus, Jehovah, telling Joseph to â€œhear Him.â€ Jesus took over then. In every way it should be apparent that Jesus is the man. He is the God of the Old Testament to whom the people prayed and who answered their prayers. He is the God of the Book of Mormon, hearing and answering prayers. And his is the voice of the revelations Joseph Smith received, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet Mormons donâ€™t address Jesus, they pray to Elohim, and more or less believe that it is He that answers their prayers.
While in Christian religions the primary message was (and is) Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the primary message in Mormonism centered on Joseph Smith the prophet who restored the gospel. He was extolled, acknowledged and celebrated for restoring the only path to salvation and exaltation. In the process of celebrating the man who communed with Jehovah, Jehovah Himself was pushed off to the side. The atonement was acknowledged, but based upon what was heard over the pulpit it was clear that Christâ€™s atonement was insufficient in of itself to bring about the Mormon version of salvation. Without the restored Churchâ€”thank you Josephâ€”humankind was lost.
Was that doctrine? It is hard to say, but it is what was taught, and is still taught with some modification. The modification found in the second stage, was to celebrate Jesus the Savior of the world. It became fashionable to express oneâ€™s love for the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. Coupled with that was the intense effort to convince the doubting world that Mormons truly are Christians. After all, it is the church of Jesus Christ and it is Jesus who stands at the head of the Church. But donâ€™t forget it is God the Father, Elohim, to whom we ask for direction, guidance, and blessings. It is to Elohim that we express our sincere gratitude for the blessing He bestow upon us. When it is said the Lord directs this church, are they referring to God the Father, or God the Son?
The second stage, after nearly fifty years, is giving way to the third stage where Jesus is being repositioned even further. The availability of historical documents, long unavailable, has left many seeing the Prophet Joseph as being quite different from the picture they were exposed to in church. Not only do they see Joseph as having feet of clay, they find his successors equally clay footed. Faced with a challenging historical Joseph, the jello-like status of doctrine/theology, and what looks to many as unbending, rigid leadership, many members are facing what is often labeled a faith crisis.
It is this crisis that is producing the third repositioning of Jesus. What we see are people confessing they arenâ€™t church centered they are Christ centered. Since they are Christ centered and not church centered they claim to have found a way to sidestep those challenging and distracting behaviors, teachings, and practices of past and present leaders. While many in the Church adhere to the council to keep your eyes on Church leaders and you will be safe, this third stage is restating it to keep your eyes on Jesus, and you can look past the human failings of Church leaders.
Initially that may seem to work, but it isnâ€™t without its hurdles. One major hurdle, and there are many, is that it is simply a platitude. Once you get past the surface expression, and ask such questions as what it really means to be Christ centered in the Mormon Church, and how is it manifested in practice; how does being Christ centered in the Mormon Church differ from being Christ centered in any other church; how does a Christ centered Mormon, differ from a church centered Mormon? Once you begin down that road I think you will encounter mostly barren ground.
I suspect, though, that those questions really donâ€™t matter. First off, Christâ€™s Special Witnesses havenâ€™t been able to position Christ at the center of the Church in any meaningful way. They have as difficult a time explaining Mormonâ€™s trinitarian Christâ€”Christ the son, Christ the elder brother, Christ the Father, as others do the Trinitarian Godhead. In fact, they havenâ€™t been really clear as to what it means to be a Special Witness.
In addition, the Mormon Church is the proclaimed Kingdom of God, and that means it is institutionally centered. The gospel and the church are one and the same, members have been told. You simply canâ€™t eliminate the challenges by announcing you are Christ centered, while e actively participating in a culture that is institutionally bound. You are going to have to find another way to deal with the challenges.