The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deliberately distancing itself from the label “Mormon.” Current The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson recently taught that the words “Mormon” and “LDS” are offensive to God when referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Perhaps this will present an opportunity for other religious communities that trace their origins to Joseph Smith and accept the Book of Mormon as scripture (such as the Community of Christ and The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to creatively take greater ownership of the labels “Mormon” and “Mormonism” to apply more particularly to a broader and more inclusive umbrella of religious communities, denominations, cultures, theologies, and peoples. According to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, about 6% of all Americans identify as “nondenominational Christian.” What might a parallel “nondenominational Mormonism” look like?
To help answer that question, I recently reached out to David Ferriman of The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. According to its website, the Fellowship is “a branch of the Latter Day Saint Restorational movement (Mormons) started by Joseph Smith Jr. We are a nondenominational Mormon branch of the Christian faith.” As of the time of writing, the Fellowship has about 5,000 Facebook followers and a several hundred supporters in North America, Africa, Australia, and Great Britain. I asked David to share more about his views on what the word “Mormon” means, his view of nondenominational Mormonism, and The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. — BK
In brief, what is “The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship”?
The Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship, or the Fellowship, is an online ministry. It is a place of hope, peace, and love for those looking for an inclusive form of Mormonism. Because of our inclusively we consider ourselves a nondenominational Mormon ministry where all Latter Day Saints are welcome to fellowship.
Could you clarify what you mean by “online ministry”? Is the Fellowship a formal, licensed religious organization? Are there formal members and/or formal meeting places?
The nature of the organization at this time is “unorganized.” It is not yet licensed and no one other than myself is authorized to speak for the movement. My top priority is changing this. Currently people seem to enjoy learning from the website and worshiping on their own, but none other than myself have felt called by the Holy Spirit to take on roles that would help us organize into a legally recognized entity.
We do not have any physical locations. Members meet in their homes, or the homes of friends and families. Some are still members of the Latter-day Saint Church, and/or worship with Community of Christ while studying and/or practicing Mormon Kabbalah in their homes.
What does it mean to say that the Fellowship is a “nondenominational Mormon” community?
A nondenominational Mormon is one who identities as a Christian Restorationist and a Latter Day Saint. They’re individuals with a testimony of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon who do not identify with any of the organized Latter Day Saint denominations. This also includes those who belong to one or more Latter Day Saint denominations or who sympathize with multiple doctrinal theologies.
What is the relationship of the Fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the wider Restorationist/Mormon religious family?
Much like the original restorationaists went back to the Book of Acts to restore what they saw as the original Christian church, the Fellowship is seeking to restore a more fundamental, yet relevant and modern, form of worship in Mormonism. We’re going back to the writings of the original Church of Christ to its ending in 1844. An easy way to describe it would be to say, we’re trying to move forward where Joseph Smith Jr.’s church ended. What would it look like today, had it continued?
The Fellowship teaches that all Latter Day Saint denominations are sisters in Zion, and that the Lord has gathered Saints in various parts of the vineyard to help people meet God where they are and grow in Grace from there.
What do you think of the efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to promote their full name over more common names such as “the LDS Church” or “the Mormon Church”?
The naming style of various Latter Day Saint denominations have changed over the years. The Fellowship identifies as a Mormon faith because of our belief in the Book of Mormon as Holy Scripture. Joseph Smith Jr. identified as a Mormon, as he was the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, we too are Mormons. We also see ourselves as LDS because we are Latter Day Saints.
What does the term “Mormon” mean to you?
To the Fellowship, a Mormon is a Christian that has accepted the New and Everlasting Covenant of Jesus Christ. Personally, I see anyone that regards the Book of Mormon as scripture as a Mormon, but understand that some denominations accept the scripture, not the term.
What are some of the key similarities and differences between the Fellowship and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in terms of belief?
We also have an additional book of scripture: the Book of Avahr, which we invite all to read prayerfully and ask God to confirm the truth of what it teaches. “The purpose of the Book of Avahr is show the Book of Mormon coming forth, and to guide others to follow the prophet Joseph in seeking the Lord and gaining their own sacred experiences.”
Beyond that, we see all places of worship as temples, encourage members to dedicate an area in their homes to be temples, women and members of the LGBTQ community are fully integrated and may enjoy active service in the Priesthood. We follow Joseph Smith Jr.’s teaching of ordaining women. We seek revelations from the Lord to guide us, expanding what will be our version of the Doctrine and Covenants. We also accept revelations from other Latter Day Saint denominations as scripture, though official adaptation will need to be put to a vote at some point in the future. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible. We follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon in that we believe in one Heavenly Church with a number of earthly churches, all with portions of the truth. In other words, we do not believe we are the “one true church” or that such a thing exists upon the earth.
What are some of the key similarities and differences between the Fellowship and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in terms of practice?
Like the Latter-day Saints, Christ is the center of our worship. We share many of the same priesthood ordinances and practices. Some of these have slight variations. We practice a restored version of the temple ceremony that is given to those that join the ministry, with each endowment given as one grows in their duties rather than all at once. Our temple services are not for salvation, nor are they secret. They also do not ask for compliance from women to their spouses per the Second Article of Faith, “We believe that men and women will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam or Eve’s transgressions.”
What is your role in the Fellowship?
I am the founder and First Elder; the prophet, seer, revelator, and translator. At this point, my role is to help people draw closer and maintain their relationship with Jesus Christ. I also strive to move the Fellowship and its ministry forward as moved by the Holy Spirit.
How did you come by this role in the Fellowship? What things happened to lead you to this particular path?
I was raised LDS, as they were known at the time. I was an Elder when I left. I was ordained a High Priest by the angel Raphael, given all they keys needed to organize this movement.
I know it sounds crazy; I doubt I would believe it myself had I not seen him, shaken his physical hand, and felt his hands upon my head ordaining me. I was still in the LDS Church at that time, I didn’t know why I was given those keys then. I was told to go to my bishop and talk to him about becoming a High Priest. He told me I’d have to receive a Stake calling or become a grandfather to become one. When I went to the Lord to seek further instructions, he sent an angel to do the job. I did feel called to a ministry but thought it would be in the LDS Church.
When I found out that children of same sex couples couldn’t get baptized in the LDS church, I knew I was to start the Fellowship, though it didn’t yet have a name. I felt a peace come over me, and a voice spoke to me, saying: “It is time.” And I understood what I was to do. From there, prayer and revelation moved me and the movement forward. It’s been rather amazing. I’ll need something done, and people will just show up when the time is right, do that task, then move on. So it’s not all me doing the work.
More information on my personal background is on the Fellowship’s website here: http://cjccf.org/category/learn-more/history/page/2/
What is your vision for the Fellowship?
My vision for the Fellowship is merely for it to be everything God needs it to be to help people, myself included, grow a stronger relationship with the Lord and grow in their spiritual gifts. My hope is to see active participation grow so that a full council and First Presidency can be established, and we can fully organize as a church.
The concept of “Mormon Kabbalah” figures prominently into the CJCCF website. The term “Kabbalah” often refers to Jewish mysticism. What is “Mormon Kabbalah”? What is its relationship with other types of religious mysticism, including Christian contemplation and Muslim sufism?
Mormon Kabbalah is a shorter way of saying “The Book of Mormon + Kabbalah” to set it apart from other Kabbalistic schools or philosophies. Kabbalah was the original Israelite religion that took a backseat around 600 BC, after Lehi left and Israel was conquered. Christ’s teachings in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon are clearly Kabbalistic. It is my belief that Lehi, Daniel, and Jesus, among many others, were Kabbalists. The first seeds of Joseph Smith Jr.’s religious experience were Christian folk magic and Hermetics. Mormon Kabbalah is a way to both get back to the magical world view that started the movement, and move the movement forward, propelling Mormonism into the future. It is a part of the restoration of all things. I’m not sure that Mormon Kabbalah has anything to do with Christian contemplation and Muslim sufism.
For those who are interested in the Fellowship, what do you recommend in terms of practice/belief/worship, etc.?
If one feels God directing them to the Fellowship and they wish to stay in their current denomination, I would recommend they pray on how to do this, and follow the revelation or inspiration they receive. If they need an idea to pray on, they might wish to either fast from their current denomination one Sunday a month to do home worship and do a home study of some sort once a week. For example, a Latter-day Saint could use Fellowship resources for Family Home Evening.
For those looking to make the Fellowship their main or only denomination, I recommend they reach out to me to see if there is an active role they can take. If they do not feel comfortable with this, we have instructions on our website for home worship. Anyone baptized in a Latter Day Saint denomination does not need re-baptized, likewise those ordained to the priesthood do not need to be re-ordained.
To those in either group, I would love to chat with them to see how the Fellowship can meet or is meeting their spiritual needs. The movement gets better the more others contribute.
If anyone reading this feel the Spirit directing them to join or participate in the Fellowship, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.