Move Forward in Freedom
by Commissioner David Edwards –
I have just finished reading again the report of the Spiritual Life Commission published in the May 7 issue of New Frontier. This is a historic document, and one which I feel should be read carefully, studied prayerfully, and welcomed gratefully by Salvationists.
I was privileged to be present during the discussions that gave birth to the Spiritual Life Commission at the International Conference of Leaders in Hong Kong in 1995. It would be true to say that the focus of the discussions on that occasion was the Army’s position on the sacraments.
Hopefully an end to the debate
Some of us, myself included, while fully supporting that position, felt that the time had come to put an end to the debate begun with the Founder’s decision to discontinue these practices in Army worship over a hundred years ago. We felt that a thorough study of the issues involved was necessary. We felt that any decisions taken should be as a result of theological considerations and not for pragmatic reasons.
It is to the General’s credit and foresight that the focus was shifted from just a review of that position to the much broader and more important issue of the Spiritual Life of the Salvationists. I believe that over the years this narrow focus of attention has prevented us from fully appreciating the tremendous contribution that we have to offer to the life and witness of the Church Universal.
Method and manner of approach
Apart from the fact that I have been fortunate to be party to some of the inside discussions which took place within the meetings of the Commission, my wife being a member, the report does share with us some idea of the approaches taken by the commission in its research of the various issues involved, the prayerful manner in which the tasks were undertaken and in which the members arrived at their conclusions. I would again refer readers to the New Frontier issue of May 7.
It was also my privilege to know personally several of the members of the Commission. Some of them are people with whom I have had long personal relationships over the years and whom I have come to respect for their intellectual integrity and their high level of scholarship. There were others on the Commission whom I have known only by reputation but in either case these were people who are deeply committed to Christ and his body.
Membership of the group was fairly representative of cultures and of constituencies. It would be wrong for anyone to suggest that the group was out of touch with reality or the grass-roots or that the group was speaking for and to only one set of persons. I have every confidence in the Commission and in its conclusions. I commend the report to you.
Read all of it carefully – study it prayerfully
I call on Salvationists throughout the Western Territory to read carefully and digest the report in its entirety. It is important that you give it the time it deserves. It is important that you regard it as a whole and not focus attention just on one particular aspect of the report.
I call on Salvationists throughout the Western Territory to study the report prayerfully. I plead with you that you do not read into the report anything that is not there, especially with regard to the practice of the sacraments. That would only lead to further confusion and division.
Move forward in freedom
The report in the opening paragraph states The Salvation Army has a God-given freedom in Christ which, if used to the full, could enrich the Army’s spiritual life and total ministry in ways far beyond those already enjoyed.
I concur. Whether or not this report will put an end to the debate about the practice of the sacraments, as I had hoped, I do not know. I suppose only time will tell. My prayer is that we will all heed the call of the Commission to Move Forward in Freedom. Salvationists should not feel themselves second class citizens of the Kingdom. Our unique witness will continue to make a difference in the Church and in our world.