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Jun3FriAn Army that's disciplined will not only be better at service, but will be a much more accurate reflection of Jesus Christ. June 3, 2011 by Lieutenant Robert Jeffery
There's a path that's sometimes thorny,
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
There's a narrow way, and straight;
It is called the path of duty,
And it leads to Heaven's gate.
In a recent discussion about the upcoming release of the new Salvation Army Song Book, a colleague of mine said that he hoped the song By the Pathway of Duty wouldn't be included. Caught by surprise, I listened as he outlined his reasons as to why a song I thought was fairly innocuous should be removed from our collection of hymns. His primary argument was that the well-known hymn espoused a theology of works: By the pathway of duty flows the river of God's grace. As I reflected on these words, they did seem to suggest that it is our good works that save us. Where is the message of solo gratia (grace alone) that is key to our Protestant understanding of salvation?
But is the song really saying that at all? Are we to equate the word duty with works? After further reflection, I would have to say no. I guess I'm reluctant to totally let go of the notion of duty. I hear people say, “One should serve God out of love, and not out of a sense of duty.” While that is absolutely true, I would caution that one must have a firm understanding of the word love if they're going to use it as a reason to serve God and others.
My reluctance stems from people's tendency to consign love to the realm of feeling. Service to God and the requirements of Christian living should come from our love for God. When things are going well in our lives, it's easy to say that our Christian service originates out of the love we have for God. But what about those other days when things are not going so well? Those days when we're sick and tired, when we don't feel especially nice and, dare I say, when we don't feel especially Christian? What is it that holds us to our faith? The answer may not be duty, but rather discipline.
“By the pathway of discipline” may not be the actual words of the song, but I think they work well, given that duty and discipline can be used interchangeably in the context of the song's meaning. When we don't particularly feel like serving God, it is discipline that keeps us going. This discipline is not generated from ourselves, but one that is given by God's Holy Spirit.
Discipline is the key to an army's effectiveness and The Salvation Army is no exception. Yes, wearing your uniform every Sunday may be one way to show your discipline as a soldier, but if that's the only way we show our discipline then we're in trouble. Attending church regularly is also a discipline. I tell my people on occasion that although they may not feel like coming to worship on any given Sunday, their absence may be causing someone else to stumble in their faith. Soldiers and adherents must be encouraged to develop discipline in their prayer lives. Fasting, meditation, study and worship should be encouraged as a means to draw closer to God. And the fact remains that when we're close to God, we can continue to serve him even on the days we don't feel like it. Discipline matters.
An Army that's disciplined will not only be better at service, but will be a much more accurate reflection of Jesus Christ. We'll be the deep pools of spiritual refreshment that others can drink from. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster acknowledges that the classical disciplines “invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.” Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Regardless of what you think of the song, I hope there's room in your spiritual vocabulary for discipline and duty. Wherever there is discipline, mercy and grace are soon to follow.
While we tread this path of duty,
We will find our needs supplied
From the river of God's mercy
That is flowing close beside.
Lieutenant Robert Jeffery is the corps officer of Spryfield Community Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Married to Hannah, they have two children.