Thursday, March 28, 2019

Considering the Eleven Truth Statements of The Salvation Army

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

Doctrine is a dirty word in our society today.  But the word doctrine simply means "truth."  Historically church movements have always considered the entirety of the Bible, the sacred scriptures, and tried to apply those teachings in declarations of "What We Believe."  I find it fascinating myself, and highly useful as I try to understand as a human what the Bible says about life and how I can apply it to my life.  

 To that end I'd like to walk through some of the core teachings of the Salvation Army the movement that I'm part of!  If there's one thing I love about The Salvation Army, and there's a lot that I love about the Salvation Army, tons and tons, but one thing that I love is the 11 doctrines.  Here they are:

"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.

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.

We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost—undivided in essence and coequal in power and glory.

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.

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.

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.

We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit are necessary to salvation.

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.

We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.

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.

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."

These truths are pretty epic and amazing if you ask me.  They've remained the same for many years. Maybe it's because they are really hard to change.  Which is probably a good thing.  Otherwise we would've mucked them up by now, by changing the wording to make sure we don't offend anyone. But in any case, I just love these truths. They speak volumes. Let's dive right in!  

The first doctrine states that we believe the scriptures of the old and new testaments were given by inspiration of God... and so on.  Essentially the first doctrine is declaring that the scriptures are where we find our authority for understanding and practicing the Christian faith.  As Wesleyans we lean more toward "infallibility" as apposed to "inerrancy."  Infallibility would state that the truths of the scriptures are authoritative in all areas of Christian faith and practice, while inerrancy would take a wider lense.  Inerrancy would say the scriptures are perfect, infallibility would say there are minor errors that don't affect the content.  It's a fairly nuanced difference, I tend more toward inerrancy, TSA would tend more toward infallibility, both are reasonable positions.

Doctrine two, we believe there is one God, and God only should be worshiped. God created the universe. God preserves the universe. God is also the active governor of the universe. While a pantheist would say that God created the universe but isn't active in it, we believe God is active in His creation. An atheist would say there is no creator, preserver or governor. And a deist would say that God created and preserves, but doesn't govern. We as Christians believe God is creator, the originator, the one who holds the universe together as preserver, and one who morally governors the universe and holds humanity accountable. He is the origin, the sustenance and the authority. 

Doctrine three, is the truth about the trinity that God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Undivided essence, co-equal in power and glory.  So we have three persons who are of one undivided essence. This ties in to doctrine two, there is one God. Yet we know it's more nuanced than that. God is three distinct persons, while also being one entity. The fact that we state they are of one essence declares God as one, while the division of persons indicates we recognize the reality of the mystery of the Trinity.   

Four, we believe that Jesus was and is fully man and fully divine. Why is this so important?  Well, because many in the the world want to think of Jesus as only one or the other.  You've probably heard it before: "Jesus was a good moral teacher but he was just a man."  People want to claim Jesus for whatever they believe: Jesus was a revolutionary, just like Che Guevara.  Jesus was just looking for balance, he was a good Hindu, or Jesus was just a prophet, just like Muhammad.  People take Jesus, remove him from his own teachings and make him part of their agenda.  Which is why we have to recognize Jesus was fully divine.  And Jesus was fully human. Some super spiritual types try to subtly remove the humanity of Jesus.  They say things like, "Jesus wasn't really tempted as we are, Jesus can't be tempted because he's God."  And that isn't correct.  We can't remove Jesus' from his humanity.  His favorite title for himself was "son of man."  

Five, the fall of man.  To properly understand our past, our present and our future we must understand our beginning.  Humanity was made perfect and right.  But humanity rebelled against God, and through this rebellion we lost purity, we lost happiness, and we lost eternal life.  Not only that, but now every human that is born is born with original sin.  And because of this, each person is justly exposed to the wrath of God.  God's wrath is against those who live in sin and reject his son Jesus.  And that is just, and right, because sin is terrible, it ruins everything.  Humanity has fallen, creation is cursed, and we find ourselves in a precarious situation, under the wrath of God naturally, while also able to turn to Christ to find salvation.

The first five doctrines of SA are pretty much the bedrock for evangelical Christianity, and much of mainline Protestantism. The first five doctrines jive with most Calvinists, Arminians, and most theological systems within orthodox Protestant Christianity in the world today. 

The sixth doctrine begins leading us more along Arminianism, a theological system, a way of understanding the scriptures.  Jesus Christ has by his suffering and death made an atonement, and when we add there "for the whole world and that whosoever will may be saved" brings in two factors: universal atonement and free will.  The atonement of Christ is freely available to anyone, and humanity fundamentally has a choice to make about either receiving or rejecting Christ.  This differs from Calvinism that would say the atonement is limited to those who God foreordains to salvation.  And free will would be minimized to emphasize that God is the only one who can enable one to be saved. We would call this an "in family" debate. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, Calvinists, Arminians, and so on, and though we disagree, we recognize them as part of the wider family of Christianity.

Doctrine seven, we believe in three aspects that fold into the salvation equation: Repentance, faith, and regeneration. A new believer has turned away from the old life of sin, put their faith in Jesus Christ, and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into a new person. 

Doctrine eight, we are saved by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the classic declaration made by Martin Luther during the protestant reformation five hundred years ago.  How are we justified before God?  By faith alone in Jesus Christ.  And we also include in this statement, that if we have believed in Jesus, we will give testimony to that in words: "He hath the witness..."  We each have a testimony of a personal encounter with Christ that saved our lives. 

Doctrines seven and eight would once again be fairly universal within evangelicalism, mainline Protestantism and the larger fold of Christianity.  

Doctrine nine, we believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.  This declaration once again places us firmly within Arminian theology.  A five point Calvinist would say that once your legitimately saved in Christ, you can't lose that salvation no matter what you do.  We believe that to 'abide' or 'remain' in Christ (John 15) that we must be both faithful and obedient to Christ.  As it says in the scriptures "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven." We see again and again in the scriptures this calling to "continue in the faith" and "remain steadfast in the faith."  We are warned not to fall away.  We can fall away from Christ, by renouncing Christ, leaving fellowship in the body, or by engaging in willful sin. But we also believe that God preserves us and helps us remain close to Him. 

Doctrine ten places us not only in the Arminian camp, but also in a specialized area known as Wesleyan holiness theology.  We are a holiness movement church.  We believe in the concept of living the Christian life in purity. We believe we can and will be preserved blameless and spotless by Christ.  We believe a believer can be holy as God is holy (1st Peter 1:14-16). We refer to this as "whole sanctification."  Holiness is missing in the modern evangelical church, in my opinion, and I hope we can help bring a renewed emphasis on living holy lives, free from sin. 

Doctrine eleven says that there will be an end to history.  Every human soul is immortal.  No one just dies and ceases to exist.  Everyone will spend eternity in one of two places.  Additionally we don't believe that human souls will float around in a vacuous eternal dimension. We as Christians believe in the resurrection of the body.  We will have real physical bodies in the next life.  We know at the consummation of history, that God will judge all people.  Every person will stand before the judgment seat, and be either rewarded for the good they did, or condemned for the evil they did.  This judgment will either lead to eternal happiness in the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God, or in eternal punishment in the lake of fire, hell.  

Most Christians would affirm much of what we say in doctrine eleven, though there may be some slight differences.  Some Christians believe in annihilationism, that souls who reject God will be destroyed, not sent to hell.  Some Christians don't believe believers will be judged at all, but would instead say there are two separate judgments, one being the judgment seat, and one being more of a court of awards.  There is a lot of diversity in end times doctrine in general, but the basic precepts of the eternal soul, the resurrection of the body, judgment, and condemnation or eternal joy are shared by all orthodox Christians.  

So those are some very, very brief descriptions of the eleven doctrines of The Salvation Army. There is a lot more that one could delve into in regard to the doctrines.  I think they're great and they help us shape and understand the larger meta-narrative of scripture. We should always be careful and wise in our doctrine, just as Paul taught Titus, and Timothy (Titus 2:1, 2 Tim 3:16). There is a lot of bad doctrine out there in some churches and movements, so we should always be steadfast in holding fast to the truth, and teaching it wisely to others. But ultimately, it's all about Jesus Christ, His gospel, and winning people to Christ! 

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