Sunday, August 30, 2009

Salvation Army Doctrines - Time for change

I would like to open these comments by restating, for reference, the doctrines of The Salvation Army as they presently exist
  1. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
  2. We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.
  3. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead-the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.
  4. We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united, so that He is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.
  5. We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.
  6. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.
  7. We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.
  8. We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.
  9. We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.
  10. We believe that it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified, and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  11. We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.
I think it is necessary to make the point up front that these doctrines are not the truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6). These doctrines are instead pointers to the Truth (capital T). At times I get the impression that the doctrines are immovable, unchangable and anyone who suggests otherwise is considered a heretic. The major problem with this attitude, whether it's explicitly stated or not, is that it actually forces its adherents to contradict themselves. What do I mean by this? Well, the first doctrine states that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments "only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice". To suggest, then, that the doctrines are beyond the need of regular editing actually contradicts this doctrine. Consider, as well, that most Christians now use a different translation of the Scriptures (the most popular being the NIV) than what was in vogue 100 years ago (the KJV the clear favourite then). What does this suggest about the content of doctrine one??? Yet some would suggest that updating the language of the doctrine itself is beyond suggestion. Seems strange to me...
I have suggested above that the doctrines are not the truth, but rather pointers to the Truth (Jesus Christ). I would like to suggest that the doctrines, in their present format, are deficient in the way they do in fact point to the Truth. Let me suggest a few examples of why this is so:
  1. The use of exclusive language (e.g. "men") excludes half of the population unnecessarily. One of my lecturers wisely said to me early in my study career; "If you can use a word that doesn't exclude people just as easily as one that will then which one should you choose?" In this example replacing words such as "men" with gender neutral words such as "human" or "humanity" is long overdue. Particularly true for a denomination that has always professed equality for women and men within the organisation (at least in its rhetoric).
  2. The change from "Holy Ghost" (D3) to "Holy Spirit" (D7) is confusing and even misleading. "Ghost" is a word with two many science fiction, fantasy world connotations and relies significantly upon the KJV translation which most congregations no longer use in corporate worship. Consistency in this regard would be a simple editing process to use the same language across both doctrines.
  3. A major issue is the lack of reference to the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of the body does make an appearance in the final doctrine, but this is not a reference to Jesus' resurrection but rather the hope of our resurrection. Again, these doctrines are pointers to the Truth (Jesus) and if there is no reference to the resurrection of the Truth, then that is a glaringly obvious omition for me.
  4. The separation of Doctrines 2 and 3 is misleading. Whilst I can see that this is an attempt to show that we worship one God who has been revealed in the three persons of Father, Son and Spirit, the importance of stating this mystery together rather than apart is far more necessary in my mind. The Trinity is a central tenant of the Christian faith and the Doctrine of God needs to be, at one and the same time, the Doctrine of the Trinity - together, not apart.
  5. Order is also important. Whilst it's like saying "where do you start on a circle?" or the old "Chicken and the Egg" problem, at the same time it's necessary to carefully consider this starting point. Is what we believe about the Scriptures foundational to what we believe about God, or is it the other way around? On this particular point my mind is not made up, but I think it's a discussion point worthy of consideration.
  6. The semi-Pelagian nature of Doctrine 9 is a significant problem. There is no mention of grace within this doctrine and so it gives the impression that "continuance" is entirely dependent upon "obedient faith". Whilst I would automatically qualify this by stating that this "faith" is itself a gift of God's grace anyway (Ephesians 2:8), still greater clarification of this is needed, lest Salvationists profess to a doctrine that suggests that God has nothing to do with keeping them secure in his love.
  7. Doctrine 10 relies heavily upon 1 Thessalonians 5:23, more specifically the KJV of this verse. No modern translation of the Bible uses the word "unto" but rather "at" in reference to the "coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". This is a significant alteration and, if we are to continue to rely upon this verse for our doctrine of holiness then some strong exegetical work needs to be done regarding this.
These examples above are a few of the obvious examples of the need for the doctrines of The Salvation Army to be updated. They have served us well for over 120 years, however they are at risk of not serving the purpose for which they are there for - namely, point to the Truth. If we are forced to exegete them in order to then be pointed to the Truth, then that is evidence enough for me that work need to be done in order to update them.
I would hope that this would happen sooner rather than later.

Sermon: Matthew 13:1

I love questions. Many here would be aware that I’m working on a PhD in theology. I’ve also been a teacher of theology, worship, and critica...