By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
Two articles in the current edition of The Officer magazine emphasize the Army’s commitment to the process of human transformation—a changing of one’s belief system and lifestyle. One, by General Linda Bond, titled “I Believe in Transformation,” focuses on her hopes for the international Army’s accomplishment of one of her 12 goals: “We will reaffirm our belief in transformation.”
In her article, she speaks poignantly of her great friend, General John Gowans, recently promoted to Glory: “He experienced the ultimate transformation, that dramatic change, ‘…the perishable clothed with the imperishable, the mortal with immortality…death swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor: 15:53, 54).
Bond considers a number of dramatic accounts of different individuals who, themselves, were transformed. “Let’s never shy away from our belief in transformation,” she writes.
“What God has done, he still can do; his power can fashion lives anew” (Salvation Army Song Book, no. 335).
The second article, by Lt. Colonel Laurie Robertson, questions the reader: “Are people being transformed by God?”
“The Salvation Army exists because God still wants to use it to transform people—which means getting people saved and living holy lives,” Robertson writes. “It involves a complete change.”
Both Bond and Robertson refer to John Gowans’ song in our Song Book (no. 324):
I believe in transformation,
God can change the hearts of men,
And refine the evil nature
Till it glows with grace again.
Others may reject the weakling,
I believe he can be strong,
To the family of Jesus
All God’s children may belong.
It’s evident here that the word “transformation” as used by these writers has spiritual intent, probably based on Romans 12:2, where Paul urges: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Anything that can change can also be transformed. Also, anything that can be transformed can also be converted. These are all synonyms. Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language contains more than two pages of words beginning with the Latin prefix “trans.” The prefix itself has multiple meanings as does the word “transform.”
Paul’s phrase “the pattern of this world” indicates anxieties found in various religious circles concerning aspects of “worldliness.” The Army perceives itself as “in” but not “of” the world. Thus, we circulate among sinners. The concern here is negative incursion on individuals by the common culture. The “new” becomes threatening and, therefore, often receives the label of “sin.” There has always been, and there is now, great tension between the enticements of some facets of the common culture and the belief systems of religious groups. This fact has not changed since the beginning of time.
Paul, himself dealt with it in Galatians 1 as the Christian churches he had initiated in this region were confronted by Judaizers, Jewish Christians who believed that a number of ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were also required by the New Testament churches.
For instance, if a group holds values that demands strict separation from a society that embraces the values of the common culture, it would isolate itself and resist anything that facilitated information about or connection with others acting on those values. No telephones—wireless or wired. No television—cable, satellite or regular transmission. No newspapers or magazines. (My grandfather, a retired Salvation Army lt. colonel, was shocked that my father allowed my brother and me to read the comics in the Sunday paper.)
The culture grows. Some call it progress. Others call it sin. Each must test God to determine for himself or herself right action versus wrong action.
Let’s explore, now, factors of a spiritual nature related to Paul’s phrase “the renewing of your mind.”
The prefix “re” comes to English usage through the Latin and means “again” or “again and again.”
Paul writes that the means by which one is transformed comes with mind renewal. We must change the way we think. Thought triggers feeling, and feeling triggers behavior.
Referring to our first parents, he writes of the godlessness of mankind: Since (mankind) did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:28).
We must, therefore, grow in knowledge of God and, thus, make our minds new.
From this, I presume that Paul saw the relationship between thought and behavior. Belief is “mind” driven. We use our cognitive processes, our minds, both to maintain a strong belief system in a God we’ve never seen as well as to justify mind slippage as the culture presents us with a wide array of choices—some very good, and some very harmful. To achieve transformation, we must change the way we think as we seek to test and approve God’s will for us.