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Spiritual Life Commission Meets

By A/CSM Warren C. Johnson –
Commission Member

If there were any questions in my mind regarding the “internationality” of the spirit of Salvationism, and the ability of Salvationists, both officer and soldier, to come together in harmony and unity of spirit when faced with challenging tasks, my membership on the International Spiritual Life Commission has answered those questions.

The diversity of opinions, viewpoints and experience is our strength. In light of the intensity of our discussions, the seriousness of our task and the enormous sense of Christian love and mutual respect which continues to grow among the Commission members, the Commission continues to seek God’s guidance, direction and wisdom throughout its deliberations. General Paul Rader has spent valuable time with the Commission over the last two meetings as an observer and contributor to the discussion concerning a number of issues under consideration. The General’s attention and attendance continues to give great support and encouragement to the Commission as well.

With the recent International Youth Forum’s recommendation that a young person be appointed to the Commission as a full-time member, Rader moved quickly to appoint Ms. Susan Harris (UK) as the youth member. She has already made a significant contribution.

The greatest encouragement that the Commission has received recently has been the volume of personal letters from officers, both active and retired, and soldiers from throughout the Army world. The response from the Army has been overwhelming.

Many have also shared their views and thoughts about all topics under consideration. Their papers and presentations have been thought-provoking, articulate, positive and reflect their love for the Lord and for this great movement of believers called The Salvation Army. Each Commission member has reviewed and read all letters, documents and presentations sent in from the field. These papers have had a great influence on our discussions.

The makeup of the Commission was enhanced by Rader’s appointment of two new members: Lt. Colonel Stuart Mungate, territorial secretary for program from Zimbabwe, and Captain Oscar Sanchez, divisional secretary serving in Chile, were added to the Commission to complete the representation from every Army region of service.

In the November 1996 meeting, Vice-Chairman Lt. Colonel Robert Street divided the Commission into three working groups as a way forward in addressing major categories such as Education and Study, Worship and Sacraments, and the Christian’s Spiritual Disciplines.

Group #1, under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Linda Bond (Canada), is considering those subjects that are critical to the Salvationist in the area of Education. These topics include: Bible study and teaching, soldiership training, conferences, recruit classes, discipleship training and Christian ethics. Under the leadership of Captain John Read (UK),

Group #2 is developing responses to the area of Worship and Sacraments. This embraces such topics as biblical preaching, meeting leadership, pastoral care, music, congregational participation, cultural dynamics, visual art, the mercy seat, ceremonies planning and evaluation, public prayer and the sacraments.

Group #3, headed by Colonel Philip Needham (Principal, ICO), is contributing information relative to the Christian’s spiritual disciplines such as private prayer, personal devotions, private Bible study, meditation, fasting and service.

The format for the presentations of all three groups is to develop (1) Affirmations, (2) Theological Foundation (Scripture base), (3) Practical application, and (4) Available resources. Final recommendations will be given to Rader in this format by January, 1998.

In a recent article in the British War Cry, Street was very candid in his assessment as to whether the Commission can possibly do justice to the deep and far-reaching subjects it has been assigned. “The members of the Commission know they need to capture the hearts and minds of fellow Salvationists with their findings. They are also well aware that when their deliberations are over, their proposals must be exciting, well communicated and workable.” I would concur and add a volume of words that describe our task as riveting, relevant, transforming, inspiring, humbling, practical and helpful.

Certainly one subject that has captured the attention of Salvationists around the Army world is the Sacraments and the consideration of their re-introduction to Army worship. There are those who have called our Commission the “Sacramental Commission.” Others, facetiously, have called it the “Warren Commission.” It is neither! But, we do understand the enormous interest in this subject and our discussion.

Our discussion has focused on the biblical, historical and practical application of both water baptism and the Lord’s Supper concerning the place of the sacraments in the Church as a whole and their absence in traditional form from our worship. At our March 1997 meetings, speakers addressed the Commission on this and other subjects.

Among these was the Rt. Rev. John Austin Baker, formerly Anglican Bishop of Salisbury and the Chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission; Commission members Captain John Read (UK), Dr. Roger Green (USA East), Needham and Major Lyell Rader (USA East) provided the Commission with helpful papers on the subject.

The Commission has not come to any conclusion regarding this and other subjects under consideration. But, I would like to make some personal observations that I believe will help New Frontier readers understand the Commission’s enormous task.

First, the Commission members are fully aware of the great impact our recommendations will have on The Salvation Army. We are humbled by this, and overwhelmed with our responsibilities. We do need your continued prayers.

Secondly, we are listening! If you want to make a difference in the future of the Army, please take the time to address the Commission, on any subject, and provide the Commission with your views and thoughts.

Finally this is an historical moment in The Salvation Army. It is also a defining moment. Much of our discussion has been in our learning about each other’s culture and uniqueness in the Body of Christ, and the great impact that one of our decisions might have on one of the over 100 countries the Army serves.

It is critical that we approach this task with a world view and a sensitivity to our brother and sister Salvationists serving in every field of Christian endeavor around the world.

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