“Doctrine is the drama!”
In an uncertain world of shifting values, the International Doctrine Council maintains the Army’s spiritual foundation.
by William W. Francis, Commissioner, with Karen Gleason –
The Salvation Army’s doctrine—its theological underpinnings—provides the firm foundation for the drama of its mission. What we believe to be true about the Scriptures, the triune God, sin, salvation and sanctification supports and empowers the drama of our mission.
In 1931, General Edward Higgins (1929-1934) created a doctrine council at International Headquarters. Its duties were “to examine and report to the General as to the correctness and harmony with Salvation Army principles and doctrines, as defined in our Deed Poll of 1878, of the teaching contained in all Salvation Army publications such as Song Books, Company Orders, Directories, Advanced Training, and similar Lesson Courses and Text Books, and other publications in which doctrinal teaching appears in any form.”
The council’s first chairperson was Commissioner Alfred Cunningham. One of the founding members was Major Frederick Coutts, who 34 years later would become the Army’s eighth General. The council’s first secretary was Brigadier Carvosso Gauntlett, father of the future Chief of the Staff, Commissioner Caughey Gauntlett.
Over the years, the most arduous and challenging task of the council has been to recommend to the General the content of successive Handbooks of Doctrine, including the 1942 and 1969 Handbooks and their successor volume, titled Salvation Story, published in 1998. In 1982, the Doctrine Council published The Doctrine We Adorn, a condensed study of Army doctrines deliberately targeting those for whom English is not their first language.
The General—in consultation with the International Appointments Board and others as appropriate—appoints members of the International Doctrine Council (IDC) for normally a five-year period. In order to enhance the gender and cultural balance, in Jan. 2007 General Shaw Clifton increased the number of council members by 60 percent (from 10 to 16), of which 70 percent are new members. In addition, the General introduced a new category of “corresponding members,” who participate via email and conference calls.
Membership reflects, as far as is practical, the Army’s internationalism, with appointments made in consideration of gender, age and variety of experience. Both officers and soldiers may sit on the council; members will be uniform-wearing Salvationists, active in Army life and service.
Academic qualifications of the current membership include 14 bachelor degrees, 13 master’s degrees and four doctorates, with a sprinkling of other diplomas and qualifications. Intentionally placed on the council are members who have no formal theological qualifications but who have demonstrated a capacity to think theologically.
Role of the Council
In his address to the International Doctrine Council at the start of its meeting at IHQ in April 2007, the General outlined the principal duties and responsibilities of the Doctrine Council. The council is:
entrusted to be “faithful custodians of Army doctrinal positions” including the Articles of Faith and other positions set down in approved Salvation Army publications or statements.
asked to recommend ways in which Salvation Army beliefs might be taught more effectively.
empowered to undertake interchurch dialogue at the General’s direction.
expected to keep in touch with theological trends internationally, maintaining contacts with relevant institutions and academics both inside and outside The Salvation Army.
Meetings typically occur twice a year, usually in or near London to allow personal interaction with the General and/or the Chief of the Staff.
Any member of the IDC or the General’s Consultative Council can submit agenda items. The General approves the agenda, in consultation with the chairperson; once approved, no other items may be added.
In recent years, the International Doctrine Council (IDC) has participated in formal dialogues with other Christian denominations, including representatives of the General Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA). These meetings commenced in Washington D.C. in Jan. 2004 at the initiative of the Adventists. A second dialogue took place in Toronto, Canada in March 2005, followed by the third and final meeting in February 2008. The goal of these meetings was to enhance mutual understanding between the Army and the SDA, who from time to time has partnered with the Army in emergency responses and in other community endeavors.
Similar dialogue has occurred with representatives of the World Methodist Council (WMC), an umbrella group that includes the United Methodists, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodists, and other Wesleyan churches. The WMC represents a total of 74 separate denominations in 130 countries with a combined membership of 37 million. Despite our Wesleyan theology and origins, the Army is not a member of the WMC because that council recognizes us as a Christian World Communion in our own right. The goal is one of increased mutual understanding through dialogue. Both bodies stand firmly in the historic Wesleyan tradition of free and full salvation through faith in Christ. The first meeting with the WMC was held at Sunbury Court near London in June 2003, and the second at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, in Jan. 2005. Future plans anticipate further meetings through 2011.
Bilateral dialogues will not take place if the other denomination sees these meetings as leading to ecclesiological merger, absorption, or organic union of any kind. The goal must always be that of strengthening friendship, learning from each other, and affirming fellow believers.
In October 2009, the IDC met at the International College for Officers and Centre for Spiritual Development in London. Among the agenda items considered were plans for the council’s ongoing, mutually-beneficial, dialogue with the World Methodist Council on shared matters of faith, and preparations for the Theological and Ethics Symposium at Sunbury Court, London, which will take place in October 2010. Approximately 55 delegates (including IDC members) have been invited. Captain Amanda (Amy) Reardon, a Western Territory officer presently serving at National Headquarters as editor of Young Salvationist magazine, is a delegate to the symposium.
The IDC completed the third round of bilateral dialogues with the World Methodist Council in London over March 30-April 1, 2009. The fourth and final dialogue is scheduled to take place at their world headquarters in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina from March 21-23, 2011.
Other council work included the review of the IHQ publication, The Salvation Army in the Body of Christ—An Ecclesiological Statement (London: Salvation Books, 2008), along with the revision of The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, discussed below.
Handbook of Doctrine
General Shaw Clifton recently announced that IHQ is publishing a revised edition of The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine for Easter 2010. In a recent communication, the General wrote: “This re-issued, single volume edition is in line of succession to the very first Doctrine Book, entitled The Doctrines and Discipline of The Salvation Army, prepared by General William Booth in 1881. There have been many successive editions since then, with a variety of titles, most recently the entirely re-modeled Handbook of Doctrine which appeared in 1998 with the title Salvation Story. This was swiftly followed by a related Study Guide in 1999.
“This new 2010 Handbook of Doctrine retains the wording of the 1998 edition except for minor clarifications and stylistic changes. The principal aim has been to maximize user-friendliness, for example by:
• reallocating the Bible references, inserting them into the main narrative at the relevant place;
• renumbering the chapters to match the numbers of each Doctrine;
• merging the main Handbook with the 1999 Study Guide into a single volume,
• removing outdated material from the latter and condensing some parts of it;
• revising certain Appendices and introducing three new study aids by way of Appendices 5, 6 and 9.”
The International Doctrine Council worked on the new handbook, which will be available in hardcover for an affordable price. Look for it in coming months at the Supplies and Purchasing (Trade) department.
The International Doctrine Council asks Salvationists around the world to earnestly pray for the council as they strive to fulfill their sacred mandate—that of articulating, promoting, resourcing, teaching, proclaiming and participating in the Army’s doctrinally based, mission-driven “divine drama.”