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Apr24TueIs it reasonable to expect Salvationists to live up to the standards expressed in the Soldier's Covenant? April 24, 2012 by Rob Perry
While The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant contains some extremely demanding promises, perhaps the most challenging one is this:
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I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral.
In other words, I not only promise to not speak or act in an immoral or impure way, I promise not to even think bad thoughts!
The Soldier's Covenant is a statement of sacred promises; it is a covenant with God. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that covenant is of the utmost importance to God. So, how can any human being possibly sign a document promising the all-knowing God that they will allow nothing in thought that is unclean, immoral or unworthy? This statement isn't prefaced by “I will try my very best” or “As far as I am able.” There are no out clauses. Salvation Army soldiers around the world and throughout the years have covenanted to God that all their actions, all their words and all their thoughts would be pure and righteous.
Is it possible to keep such a promise? Suppose that someone cuts you off in traffic and nearly causes an accident. Not only are you not allowed to curse them (with word or finger), you can't even think a disparaging thought about them. How about when a beautiful guy or girl walks by and your eyes linger a bit too long? Once again you've broken a sacred covenant with God.
On the other hand, maybe this all sounds familiar:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment … ” (Matthew 5:21-22). Or, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
This is just a small excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' most famous collection of teachings. As with the above, the Sermon on the Mount is overflowing with instructions that seem impossible to fulfil, culminating at the end of Matthew 5 with the challenge, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v 48).
Be perfect. Be perfect in action, word and thought. This is a great goal, but is it too lofty? Is it an example of rhetorical hyperbole by the Master Teacher? Or, is Jesus being literal? Are we truly meant to live perfect, sinless lives, even in our thoughts?
At a Salvation Army youth conference, a friend of mine led a workshop on sin. When he asked a room of Christian teenagers whether they believed that tomorrow they would commit a sin, every single person said, “Yes.” When he clarified that he did not mean an involuntary mistake or fumble, but rather a conscious and willful choice between right and wrong, every single person still admitted that they would sin tomorrow.
Has the pendulum swung? Have we gone from having seemingly too lofty expectations about our morality and our choices to having no expectations of ourselves at all? Have we stopped believing that true holiness is actually possible, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can be sanctified in not just our words and actions, but in our thoughts as well?
This is a difficult discussion and could easily lead to puritanical and pharisaical practices, but this is not what is required. In this sermon, Jesus takes the commands from the Old Testament and dives to the heart of our intentions. It is not just actions that matter, but rather our motivations, our inner monologues and our emotions. When Jesus gives us these seemingly insurmountable standards in the Sermon on the Mount, he is not describing an even more difficult rulebook that no person could ever follow. This would stand counter to his consistent message of grace and forgiveness. Rather, Jesus is calling people to a different reality of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God there is no hatred, war or abuse, there is no racism or sexism, and there is nothing whatsoever that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral—not in our actions, words or thoughts.
So, is it possible to live up to the second promise statement in the Soldier's Covenant? If it is only about keeping rules, we have lost before the game has begun. However, if it is about embracing God's Kingdom, and allowing his new reality to take root and have ownership in our lives, this is a promise we can make, and with his help, strive to keep.
In Luke 17, Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” This is perhaps the essence of the Sermon on the Mount. Where God reigns, there is no sin. Allow God's Spirit and Kingdom to reign in you, and you will not sin. Instead, you will be a forerunner of the new reality in our broken world.
Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Toronto's Corps 614.