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Jul22TueHow our first doctrine helps us walk the talk. July 22, 2014 by Major Ray Harris
Convictions matter! At least the important ones do. The Salvation Army has core convictions called doctrines. In this new Salvationist series, I want to explore the meaning of these doctrines for today and ask how they shape the life of The Salvation Army now.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Take, for instance, the Army's first core conviction about the Bible. In a culture that views the word “bible” as a kind of instruction manual—The Golfer's Bible, the Home Renovation Bible—Salvationists have a different take on it. The Salvation Army's first doctrine affirms: 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.
This doctrine has been hammered out over the centuries and holds together a number of important elements.
1. Salvationists take as sacred Scripture both the Old and New Testaments. There have been attempts over time to delete the Old Testament from the Bible. Marcion in the second century and the Nazis in the 20th century viewed anything Jewish with suspicion. From a Salvationist perspective, both Testaments, Old and New, are essential for Christian faith.
2. The Christian Bible is a fully human creation. For instance, Luke wrote his Gospel because “it seemed good to me also … to write an orderly account” of the life of Jesus for Theophilus (see Luke 1:3). And yet the conviction of this doctrine is that the Gospel of Luke is also “given by inspiration of God.” As such it is God's contemporary Word to us. We hear the Bible as both an ancient text and as God's Word to us now.
3. The Bible is shaped as a narrative, a story. Leviticus, Amos, Mark and Hebrews are not thrown together like some kind of tossed salad. The Bible has been crafted into a story that moves from the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to John of Patmos' vision, “Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth' ” (Revelation 21:1). This is what is meant by saying the Bible is a “Divine rule,” or canon.
This doctrine expresses the conviction that the Bible is The Salvation Army's defining story. It has been argued that if we want to know who we are, we need to know the stories that shape us. Do you recall Roch Carrier's story, The Hockey Sweater? Carrier grew up in Quebec and expressed interest in receiving a hockey sweater for Christmas. He understood there was only one hockey sweater worth owning, that of the Montreal Canadiens. But when the package arrived from Eaton's, he was shocked to see a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. Canadians understand the story; we laugh because it's us.
Stories create identity. But one of the major concerns of our age is that there seems to be no story to create identity for the whole of humanity. In his 1999 CBC Massey Lectures, Robert Fulford put his finger on the issue: “The need to shape the past as a coherent narrative will not leave us, no matter how many disappointments we endure.” Salvationists embrace many stories that help to create a sense of identity, from family to vocational and national stories. But the biblical story creates a wider canvas by which to understand who we are.
For this reason, we view the biblical story as authoritative. Through it we come to learn what it means to leave our homes in response to God's calling, as did Abraham and Sarah. We are shaped by the praying of Moses who interceded with God on behalf of a disloyal Israel. We find in the Psalms words to help us pray when faced with tragedy or unimaginable joy. We are encouraged in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus to realize that “outsiders” such as Rahab and Ruth form an important part of his ancestry. We let the parables of Jesus tease our own imaginations so that we begin to view our 21st-century world through them. We walk with Jesus “toward Jerusalem” knowing that our own path of suffering has a companion. We listen as Paul instructs the Philippians in how the mind of Christ shapes the community. And we trust with John of Patmos that God's future will be characterized by the “healing of the nations.” The Bible as authoritative Scripture forms us.
For this reason Salvationists read, pray, preach and live out the Bible in our times. It is an ancient text, and it is God's contemporary Word to us.
Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. He and his wife, Cathie, have served across Canada in various congregational, college and administrative appointments. He lives in Winnipeg, where he enjoys cheering for the Jets.
Convictions Matter, Major Ray Harris' new book, is available at store.salvationarmy.ca, by telephone at 416-422-6100, or by e-mail to email@example.com. For e-books, visit amazon.ca.