More significantly, I believe the Christian faith has much to commend it. C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I believe in God's saving grace, because by it I have come to understand the dignity of every human person, the depths of my sinfulness and that of the world around me, the transforming power of the gospel and the hope to which I have been called. And part of that saving grace includes the community of faith in which I have been nurtured, The Salvation Army.
We believe…. Salvationists believe many things. We believe a sense of humour is vital to faith. We believe God's presence can be found in a soup kitchen, a floor hockey game, the response to a prairie flood, a Stampede Parade and our corporate worship.
We also believe in the importance of doctrines. Our doctrines, or core convictions, have shaped who we are and what we do. We have offered this Salvationist series about our doctrines because they are too easily dismissed in our time. It's my conviction that Salvationists hold to a “ruled faith.” Let me explain.
Like many other grandparents, I enjoy watching my six-year-old grandson play Timbits hockey. It's great fun to cheer from the stands. This level of hockey has few rules. Some of the players barely know into which goal they are trying to shoot the puck! They take a position for the faceoff, but after that virtually everybody chases the puck at the same time. Next year, Dylan will attempt to play at a level governed by more rules. He will learn about offside, icing the puck, goaltender interference and more.
The rules are not the game, but they shape the game. They give us the beauty of hockey as played by Jean Béliveau, Hayley Wickenheiser and Sidney Crosby, and the men's and women's teams in recent Winter Olympics. The rules create the possibility of exciting goals, bone-crushing checks, clean passes and outstanding saves. Ruled hockey shapes the game. In a similar way, doctrines help to shape the way Christian faith is practised. By practice I don't mean rehearsal, but vocation. Lawyers practise law; surgeons practise surgery. It's their vocation. Christians practise the vocation of living out Christian faith. It's what we do.
Doctrines have their beginning in the early church, where it soon became evident that a brief summary of the gospel message was necessary in order to clarify genuine faith from its counterfeits, such as Gnosticism. Summaries of faith, created by early church fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian, were called “the rule of faith.” In time, the writings of the New Testament were formed into a canon, or rule. And other concise summaries, called creeds from the Latin credo, or belief—were created.
The Salvation Army was born into a Methodist heritage, which had its own core convictions. And in 1878, when the name “The Salvation Army” was given to this movement in East London, its doctrines were also formalized. From its early years, The Salvation Army has been an expression of the church committed to ruled faith. These core convictions shape the faith we live.
As Salvationists celebrate 150 years of history, in 126 nations, we recognize the role our doctrines have played in shaping one Army with one message and one mission. We hold the conviction that the Christian Bible tells the story of God's saving grace and we can find ourselves in that story. We understand ourselves to be created in the image of the triune God, yet deeply flawed by sin, both personally and communally. We also believe that we are immersed in an immense salvation with its focus on the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As we work out that boundless salvation through the Holy Spirit, we are transformed personally and communally, and seek to be a transforming influence in our world. These convictions matter!
Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer. This is his last column and we thank him for his contribution.
Convictions Matter, Major Ray Harris' book, is available at store.salvationarmy.ca. For the e-book, visit amazon.ca.