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  • Apr24Tue

    Reality Check

    Is it reasonable to expect Salvationists to live up to the standards expressed in the Soldier's Covenant? April 24, 2012 by Rob Perry
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    While The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant contains some extremely demanding promises, perhaps the most challenging one is this:

    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.


    On Thursday, May 7, 2015, Christina said:

    "But the question is wether it should specifically be in the covenant, or wether it should simply be standards for the salvationists life"

    Though I can see where the S.A is coming from with this, that they don't see drinking in moderation as "wrong" but that when you are dealing with alcoholics its a bit hypocritical, for lack of a better way to put it, to tell them to get off the booze if you have a drink once in a while yourself.

    Now I don't drink myself, not because I think its 'wrong' but I am just not interested
    At the same time however, if a Salvationist is NOT a drinker, but just has a drink once in a while on special occasions like Christmas or whatever, I don't think it right to dictate to such people what they should do in the privacy of their own home.

    On Thursday, May 7, 2015, Christina said:

    "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. "

    I have a problem with that that for though we should do our best to live that way, no one is perfect! Remember that being saved in Christ doesn't make us perfect it makes us forgiven! We have FREEDOM in Christ! though we are not free to sin with impunity we are free to be the imperfect creatures that we will be right up till we die, creatures that will slip up a little now and again but knowing that we are still cleansed and washed in the blood of Christ

    On Sunday, May 13, 2012, Daniel Giversen said:

    I think Peter Wolczuk has a simple, but clear point: High goals and God's grace. Jesus told us to be perferct and that our righteosness should supercede the pharisees, well knowing each and and everyone of us will come short. But he has also stated that the grace of God compensate for our imperfection and shortcoming. I think it is clear that Jesus expects us to do our best effort to live a life according with God's will. Due to the original sin, mankind is infected with the sinful nature, and accordingly christian perfection is impossible in this life - claiming the opposite would be foolish pride. But it is clear, that we must try to forsake the devil and sin - instead we must follow the path towards holiness under God's abundant grace and let the Holy Spirit do the work. Salvation is not just a gift - it is an ultimatum with redemption, adoption, rights AND duties. The point of high standards is not to discourage us, but help us avoiding indifference and sleepyness in our christian life. This said, it could be time for a tiny adjustment of article two to stress this point.

    But another point about the soldiers covenant is manmade laws, which Jesus himself rejected in his teaching - e.g. smoking ban, jewelry ban etc. Of course it isn't healthy to smoke, but it isn't a sin either; except if it becomes an idol. And of course you shouldn't smoke when wearing the uniform. One trouble is that the smoking ban isn't even enforced in all territories. Also you shouldn't wear jewelries or makeup when wearing uniform, in a way that you look like a christmas tree, but I have also seen meaninglessness and abuse of power in connection with officers upholding a strict jewelry/makeup ban. I won't argue against the alcohol/drug ban itself because it makes sense! - even tough it is not a sin to drink a beer or enjoy a glass of wine occasionally (of course drunkenness is lowering the defense against sin), it is obvious, that we must be an example when helping alcoholics and drug abusers, and we must avoid leading others into temptation. But the question is wether it should specifically be in the covenant, or wether it should simply be standards for the salvationists life. E.g. the covenant could state: >>With God's help, I will strive to uphold the salvationist standards in my christian life!<< Of course the standards of the salvationists life must be a compulsory topic in soldier class before being sworn in as Senior Soldier. To clarify my position, I think it is sad that there is salvationist out there, who cannot serve in their corps or take up soldiership simply because they can't quit smoking. And even if we only speak of a handful in each corps - probably we speak abouth tenthousands globally - what a difference they could do - especially in countries where the army is on retreat!

    On Monday, April 30, 2012, Peter Wolczuk said:

    The difficulty in understanding this may be helped by looking to Matthew 19:23-26 23 "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be saved?' 26 Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
    And also to Mark 10:24-2724 "The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, 'Who then can be saved?' 27 Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
    I am so grateful that He designed His plan with a way for us to achieve whatever task He directed us to undertake, even if it involved great pain for Himself.

    On Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Philip Brace said:

    I believe R.B sums it up well: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
    or what's a heaven for".

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