It’s no secret that I think the Doctrines of The Salvation Army should be updated. I’ve written on that topic before and I’m definitely not one who thinks of them as somehow beyond the need of revision. Whilst they are historically significant, and the “Truth” that they point to is definitely something (or should I say “someone”) that my faith is built upon, the actual wording itself is cultural formed and so this in itself demands frequent updating over time to ensure that they are doing their job in the best way they can.
Having said that, I also take my Officer’s covenant seriously and it includes the following line.
“…to maintain the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army…”
How do I reconcile a belief that the doctrines will always require ongoing revisioning with a covenantal promise to “maintain” those very doctrines?
Well, I consider there to be two options in approaching the task of “doctrinal maintenance”. We can treat them as a museum piece to be preserved or a tool that needs to be kept in good working order.
Option one is that we treat the doctrines like a piece in a museum. We take out the white gloves whenever we touch them, ensure that only the trained and qualified deal with them, keep them locked behind bullet proof glass, but ultimately we stop using them because our goal in this understanding of “doctrinal maintenance” is preservation. Items in a museum are no longer used for the purpose they were created for but only to give us an indication of what they used to be used for.
This is not the way I intend on fulfilling my promise to “maintain the doctrines”.
The second option is that we see the doctrines as a tool in our arsenal which has been effective in the past, but like any tool it will require regular maintenance to ensure that it will remain effective in the future. Think of “car maintenance” or “garden maintenance” here. If you want you car to continue to run effectively and efficiently then it will require regular servicing to keep it in good working order. Similarly, if a garden is to continue to produce fruit then it will require regular pruning, fertilising and mulching (so I’m told!). In contrast to the museum approach, though, the objective here is not preservation but continuation. The desire here is that the doctrines continue to serve the purpose for which they were created for. In the case of the doctrines it is to point us to the Truth (capital ‘T’).
This is the way I understand and intend to fulfil my promise to “maintain the doctrines… of The Salvation Army.”