“In Search of the Phoenix” by N. James Weate, Jr.

This article is from Courage Vol. 1, No 3, March 1971 Pages 180-183.

Indian legend conveys the idea that dead ashes of a people have no potency or constructive use. But from the smoke of that burned there arises a Phoenix or the true spirit or true meaning which does have power to enter into men’s beings and change them. In like manner, we need to make sure we do not worship the dead ashes but instead search for the Phoenix. The following ideas are some of the ones which may represent the Phoenix which mankind should now be finding if we are to continue in our search for meaning in religion.

Attitude Toward Conformity

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were highly in favor of a strict conformity. Perhaps more than any other attitude which the Pharisees portrayed was the one which stressed following the letter of the law as it was then being interpreted. They believed in a body of absolute knowledge and they thought they had access to these absolutes. Jesus was a nonconformist of his age; he questioned that the people of his times had the final answers.

The Phoenix which we should seek today is that spirit which disavows the ability of man to find absolutes. This means that we must be forever cautious in entertaining those individuals or groups who promise to give us “the law,” since their interpretations will invariably lead us to an absolute body of doctrine or practices. The acceptance of these absolute beliefs rules out the opportunities of experimentation which have been part of mankind’s religious quest. Moreover, stress upon beliefs has the detrimental effect of causing people to focus upon the law to the neglect of love.

Dictatorial organizations promote the uncritical transmission of an official belief or ideology; a democratic organization relies upon the people being involved in the intelligent interpreting of the cultural heritage to present-day living. The very emphasis in Western life and religion upon the dignity and worth of the individual should cause us to seek a democratically oriented approach to life. The Phoenix we must be after will be one that is democratic and accepting rather than legalistic and conforming.

Concepts About the Creator and Revelation

It is quite possible that there is a rationality or order to the universe that that man, in his greatest moments, becomes attuned to understand. Thus, at the outset, the writer wishes to make quite clear that he has a firm and profound belief in a Creative Force that he siders to be the Originator of the universe. The writer hesitates to the word “God” to designate such a Being since that word automatically summons up so many preconceptions that the writer does not intend to present to the mind of the reader.

While we need not deny the possibility of ESP, revelation, or mysticism, it would be advantageous to reconsider our interpretations of these experiences. Who among us has seen the Creator of the universe either during this life or in that enormity of time that preceded this life? A few claim they did, but that is doubtful. It is more probable that a Being as infinite and vast as the One we call God cannot be known or fathomed or viewed by such as we. Our knowledge of Him is probably limited to our sensing of the order and rationality of the universe – a universality of being that we can all comprehend in part.

The universality of being that can be sensed by all has been felt by people of all walks of life – chemists, poets, athletes, businessmen, politicians, herdsmen, educators – as they have contemplated their relationship to the universe. Far from being limited to the religious leader about religious matters, it penetrates every phase of life. As these people have sensed the universality of being that is present around them, they have given their interpretation of the Creator rather than the Creator giving them His interpretation of Himself.

The Phoenix for which we should seek is the spirit which says that man interprets God through sensing God’s creativity in the universe, not through a direct apprehension; man senses God through the order and rationality of the universe, just as a hunter senses deer by seeing the hoofprint of a doe in the newly fallen snow. We must not wait for another man to say he has heard God’s words when the same knowledge can come to all of us regardless of our occupation. The knowledge which will come will be the meaning for daily living which the individual constructs. It cannot be the thoughts of the Almighty as He muses over religious questions in man-like language patterns. Such a Phoenix calls for greater accountability of every man than man has ever before been willing to assume or recognize. Buck-passing becomes impossible.

Concepts About the Church

The church must be viewed as a dynamic functioning of purposeful individuals. Only in this sense can religion change the world. Moreover, only through living lives that exemplify unity with fellowman can we become one in spirit.

The concept of a church built upon beliefs is static. That organization or those people who stress beliefs will ultimately end up judging righteousness by beliefs and not by works. The the elimination of constructive or regenerative elements because these elements do not fit into the belief structure which has been created.

The Phoenix of the church must be one which views the true church as people with the right practices. Apostasy would consist of failure to live one’s religion rather than departure from a belief structure. The ultimate in restoration would be the engendering of brotherly love which is the essence of true religion.

Attitude Toward Hierarchical Control

The view that the prophet should be the president of the church, as is found in RLDS organization, presents a built-in conflict. The Hebrews had high priests who ruled over the temple with other men called prophets who served as ecclesiastical watchdogs over the priests. Such division of responsibility between the administration and prophetic offices would have eliminated the embarrassing situation of the 1968 World Conference when the Bishopric was called into question by the same personality with whom they had had contention. The separation of the two offices of prophet and president would have allowed an impartial third party to exercise judgment.

The Phoenix to be sought after is the creation of a chief administrator of the church who is open to a freely functioning church populace. The substitution of a presbyterian or congregational framework for the present episcopal structure would be one facet of the needed change. The separation of the offices of prophet and president so that the president could be viewed in a more fallible frame of reference would be the second facet. The democratic spirit of our times indicates the need for such reformulation.

Attitude Toward Finances

National, state, and local taxation plans in the United States have undergone drastic revision down through the years. A complete reassessment is currently being called for again in order to achieve equity.

It may be wise for the RLDS Bishopric to review the contribution plan of the church. The writer would suggest that all contributions to the church – local or world church – be considered tithing. It may even be a strategic move for a certain portion of a person’s contributions to other charitable organizations to be counted as tithing. The Phoenix, in this case, would be the recognition that brotherly love reaches beyond denominational lines.

Concept About Scriptures

We need to look for a Phoenix in the RLDS approach to Scripture. Just as the Bible is not a collection of prophetic messages concerning priesthood calls to various offices or messages to a corporate body, perhaps we would be best today not following such format so precisely. Perhaps the incorporation of hymns, history, great writings and sermons, and world events would create a better scriptural record for succeeding generations. The greatest portions of the Bible are its poetry, history, proverbs, and biographical literature. The real essence of scriptures is that they provide succeeding generations with the interpretation of God that preceding generations have formulated. The richness of man’s interpretations are not found in semi-legal documents but in literary expressions of various types. It is the variety of expression that the Bible contains that gives it the greatness of its religious value. We should search for a Phoenix of no less import.


Mankind has forever been engaged in a search for the Phoenix or the true meaning of religion. Reinterpretations do not lead always to a worsened state but have frequently resulted in greater light and truth. With such a hope in mind, the writer urges the RLDS Church populace to engage in the search for the Phoenix. Rather than follow a form which was created in a bygone age, we must seek for the true spirit so that we might create new forms for a new age.