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    Class Act

    When was the last time you had a serious theological discussion? Do you ever stop to think about what you believe and why? April 29, 2011 by Major Fred Ash
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Old teachers never die, they just lose their class.” With an opening like that, some of you are probably thinking that I have finally lost mine. You may be right. If so, I take solace in the fact that I am not alone. It seems that most of the Evangelical Church, including The Salvation Army, has lost its class. Bible class, Sunday school class, soldier's class—many no longer exist or are very poorly attended.

    When we do manage to entice a few to Bible study, the content is like the inside of a cream puff—sweet and gooey but mostly air. It was one of the complaints of the Apostle Paul that the Corinthians were not ready to get into the meat of the Word. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2). The writer to the Hebrews expressed the same sentiment: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's Word all over again. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

    We Salvationists are not known for our theological prowess. We minister with emotions and action. We feel compassion for the hurting in society and rush out to do something about it. As one of our mottos puts it, we serve “with heart to God and hand to man.”

    That is all good, but there is more to a human being than that. God also gave us a mind. God gave us the ability to think, ponder, reflect and learn. While we are eager to feed the hungry with bread, we shouldn't forget to feed our minds with the Word. Peter put it this way: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). Perhaps we can expand our motto to read: “Reflecting on the Word, we serve with heart to God and hand to man.”

    While we like to recount the stories of Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and raising the dead, nowhere in Scripture is Jesus ever referred to as “doctor.” Most of the time when Jesus is addressed, he is called “teacher.” His reputation was that of a teacher. In the King James Version, the word for teacher is translated “master” or “rabbi,” but the new Bible translations correctly use the word “teacher.” Each of the four Gospels addresses Jesus as teacher. Together they refer to him in this way more than 50 times. While the sacrifice of Jesus brought salvation, it can be argued that his teaching turned the world upside down. Yet in the Church we often relegate teaching to 20 minutes on a Sunday morning. This is not because the pastors and officers don't see the importance of teaching; it is because most churchgoers are not interested in learning.

    When was the last time you had a serious theological discussion? When was the last time you talked at length about holiness, redemption or the Incarnation? What about church history? Most Christians jump from the Book of Acts to the present day and completely ignore the two thousand years of church history between then and now. They don't know how we got the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed, if they even know they exist. They know almost nothing about how the Western Church divided into Roman Catholic and Protestant factions or the issues that brought that about. They have very little understanding of the work of the Jesuits, Moravians or Methodists. They barely recognize the names Martin Luther and John Calvin, although most Salvationists do have an appreciation for the work of William Booth and Billy Graham.

    I am afraid that in most Salvation Army churches, the old teachers have indeed lost their class. There is no one interested enough to show up and learn. Yet, according to the Bible, teaching is one of the most important sacraments of the Church. A sacrament by definition is a means of grace, and what better means of grace is there than one should teach and another should learn?

    The Bible says, “So Christ himself gave [to the Church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). The pastor-teachers are a gift that Jesus gave to the Church. They are right up there with the apostles, prophets and evangelists. Theirs is a holy calling, the purpose of which is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). Before we rush out to do our works of service, we first have to meet with our teachers to be equipped.

    We can't do a class act of service in the world without a classroom of learning in the Church.

    fred_ashMajor Fred Ash is the corps officer at Burlington Community Church, Ont.


    On Saturday, May 28, 2011, walter boland said:

    As perusual Maj.Ash is being very candid in his reflection to what was once adhered to as
    GOD BLESS the CHURCH !!!!!!!
    ret'd csm. walter boland

    On Thursday, May 26, 2011, Stuart A MacMillan said:

    I would like to take exception with Major Ash's comment that "most church goers are not interested in learning". I wonder what experience this statement is based on. I believe that this may indeed be the case in Salvation Army circles but sadly the issue may be the Teachers not the "churchgoers". The church I regularly attended in the Toronto area had thousands of people who attended regularly specifically for the teaching. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding fairly good music, many of the people avoid the music and just arrive for the teaching. Interestingly enough, this teaching is being soaked up by many former salvationists and ironically existing salvationists who come to the early service so they can get the teaching before they go off to "meeting".
    All one has to do is take a look at the percentage of time that "teaching" gets in a typical Sunday Morning Holiness Meeting to see that it isnt even given the priority by the institution itself, that music receives. By the time you add up the Band selection, the songster selection, the congregational singing , the endless prayer choruses at the end of a meeting and the weekly soloist... you have made up approximately 40 minutes of your average 75 -90 minute meeting. If the officer speaks more than 20 minutes, the congregation is up in arms because its too long! It is important for the Major to know that this is not the case outside of the Army. In growing churches, the teaching typically takes up 50% of the service and in the good ones, people are wishing it was longer. Could this be more about the content of the teaching? The pablum that typically is served from the average Salvation Army pulpit pales in comparison to what is being communicated in the growing in North America. Who is to blame? The education level of the average Salvation Army Officer is substantially lower than their counterparts in the growing churches. Their "seminary" teaching is limited to a portion of their two years at The School for Officers Training. Could it be that Major Ash has the situation completely backwards? Maybe "churchgoers" and even salvationists are looking for teaching but finding it elsewhere. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the precipitous decline in Salvation Army congregations. Perhaps people ARE looking for deep Bible Based teaching.
    As far as teaching being the most important sacrament; I am not sure that The Salvation Army is in any position to teach on the Sacraments. Rather their position on Baptism and The Lord's Supper is actually counter to the Bible's position. While defended through the years, they remain the Christian Denomination who believe they are "enlightened" enough to interpret that Jesus didnt actually mean what He said.
    Rather, the teaching is peppered with exclusionary, legalistic non biblical based messages.
    Major Ash, while I respect your position, it seems to me that you consistently write from within the confines of a Salvation Army Cultural bubble. There is a whole big world of Christians out there, drinking,dancing and getting baptized and not wearing uniforms from the 1800's while they are participating in The Lords Supper. They are taking advantage of a promise for an abundant life without the legalism and guilt which is often laid on young people for generations, often over issues that are not biblically based.
    People ARE looking for more teaching... and that is why they are leaving .

    On Tuesday, May 3, 2011, marvinyouden said:

    Thanks to Major Fred Ash for the article, Class Act. It came at a good time for me since my corps weekly Bible study on Salvationist disctinctives has the importance of the Word as its topic for tonight. I will use the article as a resource.

    On Monday, May 2, 2011, Daniel Giversen said:

    First of all, my understanding of a sacrement follows the Lutheran accepted by John Wesley, which is "means of grace prescribed by Jesus" - as such only Baptism and Last Supper are sacrements (originally roman soldiers pledge to his commander) - and the army does not practice these sacrements, except if you consider church meals as AGAPE-meals.

    When talking systematic theology, I'm methodist, as was the founder, and when speaking practical theology I'm salvationist. And I love to engage in theological disputes. And honestly without know the basics of the word as well as the Nicene & Apostollic creed, you hardly know what christianity is, and therefore hardly know what you believe. And if you don't know, what you believe, it is risky to engage in ecomenical work, cause how can you differ, what is biblical teaching, wrong doctrines and interpretation. Church and Theology history helps us to understand the different interpretation and understand why Adventism an Salvationism is acceptable interpretations, while Jehovah's Witnesses' (JW) neo-arianism is contrary to ecomenical christian belief. The theological differences seems smal, since both salvationism and adventism have roots in methodist revivals, while JW branched early from adventism and kept the Whitean misunderstanding - neoarianism - that E.G. White later rejected. As such the fundamental understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit differ, and that's a major difference.

    Church disciplination in some forms has been used in SA, too - we simply prefer a more loving aproach and suspend membership including use of uniform - schoning on the other hand is based on 1. Cor. 5, disregarding 2. Cor. 5-11 that seem to follow up on the incident. Thus schoning is biblical, but must be administered with love and care, not condemnation.

    Thus I already got far beyond the topic, but that's the the beauty of theological disputes, it is a journey with sidepaths, that help us to grow in knowledge of the word and learns us to distinguish the nescessary from the less important. And certainly lack of knowledge about our beliefs can end up leading us far more astray and eventually turning a possible revival and renewal into a strive between two parties resulting in choking the revival, and thus becoming stagnant in tradition for traditions sake - organisation for organisation sake - without life - in the end the fight for souls can become retreat which is hardly beneficial for our God-given cause!

    On the other hand disputes for the disputes sake can also be non-beneficial - that why the founder chose not to practice sacraments - that could be the policy of SA for a hundred years or for ten years to avoid breaking the nely started movement - since it has not been regarded since, it has been for more than 110 years - maybe time has come to adapt baptism and Last Supper in a form, that is acceptable to SA, since SA has developed from a revival movement into a organised church... But I know it is a fragile issue.

    On Sunday, May 1, 2011, Rob Jeffery said:

    Major Ash raises some great points. All too often we're content to remain ignorant in our knowledge of the scriptures, theology, church history, etc.

    I think pardoxically however, there's a growing number of salvationists who are more theologically literate than ever before. This is evidenced in the plethora of deep and theologically rich articles that appear regularly in this publication, and others such as The Rubicon. It's quite a different tenor than the 'War Cry' of old, evidence of our maturation as a movement. I'm fortunate to be in a corps where people love to learn; Bible study is our best attended weekly activity.

    That all being said however, give us the passion, courage, and foresight of our Army forefathers/mothers. Let's continue to hold holy living and wisdom in tension with one another. "Unite the pair so long disjoined: knowledge and vital piety." (Charles Wesley)

    On Saturday, April 30, 2011, Concerned said:

    Major Ash has, once again, offered pointed comments on an important issue.....the at times shocking ignorance of Salvationists not only regarding the Bible and the basics of Christian theology but the entire history of the Christian church. No, it did not all begin in the "east of London"....

    All kidding aside, this trend is yet another which is serving to empty our halls and further "dumbing down" or Salvationism. Salvationists simply do not know what they believe, or how we got to where we are.

    So it goes....

    On Saturday, April 30, 2011, Charles wiscombe said:

    Major said, "here is no one interested enough to show up and learn."

    Show people that they are important!
    A lot of people are being hurt because they do not felt wanted in their church.

    In the Horizons "a leadership jurnal" Lieut-Colonel Gwenyth Redhead page 11, 2005 Dreams said, "If you have ever talked of fixing whatever you think is wrong with the Army, you will empathize with these dreamers.
    We were attending a tailor-made course arranged by THQ and run under the Auspices of Simon Fraser University, especially designed to stretch the minds of people finding themselves in new roles as a result of the changes recently implemented in the Army.
    Need I say more Quote, "smaller Corps will be adopted by larger corps--Laity will have no uniforms"

    I started a bible study about 10 years ago at my office it is ongoing, it was around the time when cell groups were starting.
    What happened to that focus?

    Stop to think--Has your experience in worship deepened and broadened throughout the years or all too often do you find yourself wanting to stay home?

    Stop to think If God is to be the only proper object of our worship why don't we keep Him as the object of our focus.
    The Leaders have become distracted more bent on getting something rather than giving something
    Don't mean to be negative, little is much when God is in it.----I am not the one who closed down a Sunday School with on any given sunday we would have up to 50 Children.
    God have mercy!

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