Monday, April 29, 2013

Doctrine 8


Doctrine 8

We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.

If I cannot save myself, and God has to do it, then I am glad that doctrine 6 says  God has done that for everyone through Jesus. I am also glad that doctrine 7 gives me confidence that it is not hard to be saved, God wants me in relationship with him. But the really cool bit comes in doctrine 8.

Stop trying! Stop striving! Being in relationship with God means you don’t have to pretend. It is not about being painfully good, it is about being authentic. ‘fess up! You cannot do it by yourself. Only God’s grace gives you any hope at all, and you can’t earn grace.

This doctrine says God did all the work, and if you believe that you know it. No-one else then, can comment on your salvation or lack of it. You know, who and what you believe. You know what God has said to you and there is no external “thing” that makes you justified. Not a uniform, not baptism, not communion, not  playing in a band, not even being General. No, it is God who makes things right, and lines you up with his purpose. Who does he do that for? Every one who turns around and faces him.

Former Officer

Doctrine 7 What must I do to be saved?


Doctrine 7


We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.
How can I be saved? From what comes later in the doctrines, but how can I be saved?  In this doctrine we explore the response to the work of God outlined in doctrine 6.
Three things are considered to be needed. Firstly repentance towards God. To repent is to turn around. My understanding of this was impacted when I saw my brother with his daughter in a park. She was running away from him, towards some swings, and he called her name. She stopped in her tracks, spun around and ran towards him. This is repentance, stop where you are going and turn towards God. Simply really, but everyone makes it sound hard. It does not come with heaps of rules, just turn around and face God.
Having done this, believe that Jesus did what he said he did, that is  acquire doctrine 6 for yourself. Know that because Jesus suffered and died a way to relationship with God is open to you. Trust it and be confident in the work of Jesus.
Finally let the Holy Spirit work in your life. Let God change you, from the inside out, healing the broken places and making them new.
Simply really, to be saved I need to face God, trust he wants relationship with me, and let him make me what I was created to be. Now why do we make it so complicated?
Former SA Officer

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Doctrine 6 - He died for me


Doctrine 6

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.




“I need no other argument
I need no other plea
It is enough that Jesus died
And that He died for me”
                  E.E. Hewitt

This doctrine is all about why Jesus died the kind of death he did, the purpose of his death and the scope of salvation. It sets Salvationists firmly in the Wesleyan tradition with a broad and rich understanding of the grace of God.

Recently a number of theologians and pastors have started to engage with the doctrine of the atonement in new ways. The traditional understanding that Jesus had to die to satisfy the need of the Father for justice can be seen as constraining God. It also makes God out to be somewhat capricious if, having created beings with free will, he punishes them for exercising that will in a way that does not please him.

So what can we say then about doctrine 6? It reflects on the suffering of Jesus. It is not just his death that mattered, but that he suffered, as we suffer, the consequences of a world not running as intended.  He was subject to false accusation, injustice and persecution. He suffered death. But more than that he suffered the stress and strain of everyday life, with sickness and temptation, grief, pain, disconnection from family and betrayal by his friends.

The death of Jesus must be placed in the context of him suffering just as we do, we need a god who understands our pain, who identifies with us in our grief, who has walked the path as we have. Jesus suffered as a man as well as suffering as god. We elevate him above the suffering we experience at our peril, because this makes him less than he is.

He did not just suffer as we did, he died. He walked the final path that we all must walk. In doing so he went ahead of us. Did God require a sacrifice to “pay” for our sin in our place? On a very literal reading of the bible you would say yes, he did. But the sacrifices of the old testament were a parable to help people understand that we were separated from God and could not make our own way back. This is what the total depravity of doctrine 5 refers to, not “badness” but frustration of purpose. We cannot do it on our own, cannot love God, cannot turn to God, cannot experience God unless we are shown the way. So, recognizing our need, God showed us that death was not the end, that we could enjoy relationship with him and that there was hope. The atonement is about bridging the gap between what we are able to do in a sin-corrupted world, and what God will do to restore us to relationship with himself. The atonement is not about what we accept or do not accept, how we live or what we believe. It is the act of a merciful God to a creation crying out for intervention. It is not about payment but about process and passing through, God creating a way to explain that death is not the end.

For who then, is this atonement effective? Who benefits from the suffering? In this we nail the Salvationist colours to the mast.



Jesus died for the whole world, rich and poor, Jew and gentile, fat and thin, beautiful and not, clever and not, gay and straight. All are covered by the suffering and death of Jesus.

Former SA Officer

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Doctrine 5 B




The second creation story has Adam and Eve “knowing good and evil”.  Such knowledge means having an awareness of opposites.  All of us become aware early in life of this self-world distinction.  This understanding emphasizes not the disobedience and sinfulness of the fall, but its inevitability. We begin life in the womb in paradise.  But the very process of growing up, and the birth of consciousness that is intrinsic to it, propels us into a world, not completely reliable, even dangerous.  Consequently, we become focused on the self and its well-being.  We learn that it is in our best self-interest if we follow the rules.  We learn that the world functions better when we are kind to others, for they in turn may be kind to us; and if we give love, we may become the recipients of love.

We also discover that there is a “serpent” in every garden, wise and crafty, who takes advantage of our self-centeredness.  We find ways and means to get around the rules.  We think that we can avoid being caught if we hide “behind the trees” and lie.  It is this self-centeredness that is sin, and sooner or later we go through our own fall, and live in a state of exile and estrangement.


When centering on the self is the problem, forgiveness is not an adequate remedy.  A person, afflicted by self-centeredness can be forgiven, and feel forgiven, and still be unchanged.  The remedy is a radical re-centering of the self.  We need to center ourselves in God, not in our own concerns or in the powers of those who rule over us.


Ironically, a person comes to Christ, out of self-interest.  He or she hears the promise of “life in all its fullness”, and believes that in accepting Christ, his or her life will become better. The person is accepted by God, and in turn, accepts his or her acceptance.  The Holy Spirit enters his or her life, and thus begins a life-long process, of taking oneself out of the center.  He or she is now able to love other people, with an unselfish love.  This love is unconditional, and is available only through the source: the God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.  It is called grace.

As we grow in grace, we become witnesses to its power.  We speak out about the ways we were wounded, and about the need we had for healing and transformation as well as advocating that need for others.  We speak, not just about sins in the plural, and the need for forgiveness, but about the sin that holds people in bondage.  We become committed to justice, and confront the Pharaohs who rule the lives of others, the Babylon in which they live as exiles, the self-concern that dominates them, and the limited vision, that is the product of growing up in a particular time and place.  This is the ministry to which we are called as followers of Jesus, who truly is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”.

Dr. John Sullivan
Former SA Officer
Canada
<)))><

PART 5 A

Friday, April 26, 2013

Doctrine Five A


SA Doctrine 5.

“We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocence but by their disobedience, they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall, all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”

I am certain, that the framers of the doctrine believed, that the universe was created exactly, as it is described, in the two Creation stories found in Genesis: 1:1-2:3; and 2:4 to 3:24.  They were not present; neither were we, so no one really knows if it happened as recorded; or whether it proceeded by natural laws on its own, or by a God-directed evolutionary-process.

 I remember how relieved I was to learn in Hebrew class, that the word Adam is not a proper name, but the Hebrew word for Humanity; and that Eve, is the Hebrew word for “Mother of all living”. That being the case, we are not bound to the belief that “our first parents” were historical; nor that the first sin happened exactly as recorded in Chapter 3.  The story is not about “the fall” of the first man and woman, but rather the story of every man and woman.

Some people are surprised to discover that the term “Fall”, does not occur in the Genesis story.  As a description of the events surrounding Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise, it is largely a Christian label; Jews, typically do not speak of it at all.  To Rabbi Harold Kushner, eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was not an act of ‘disobedience’, but a step towards becoming human, with a rich sense of pain, joy and morality”.

Within the Christian tradition, “the fall” has usually meant “the fall into sin”.  It has also been associated with “original sin”, which is not simply the first sin, but the concept of a sinfulness that is transmitted to every individual, in every generation.  This later notion, known as “total depravity” goes beyond what the Bible says, and is usually attributed to Augustine, around 400 C.E. or A.D.

Pelagius, a contemporary of Augustine, questioned this position.  He claimed that there is a difference between being inherently sinful, and inherently capable of sinning.  To say that we are inherently capable, means that we have the freedom to sin, coupled with the ability to be good.  Then what we do, reflects our choice, and is therefore worthy of praise, or “wrath”.  This tendency, he insisted, is “acquired”, not that we are held responsible for a sin committed by Adam, but to imply that we are affected by what other human beings do.  Our attempt to go on our self-centered way, leads to destructive behaviour, and the repercussions never cease.

In Doctrine: Systematic Theology, Volume 2, James Wm. McClendon rejects the concept of original or inherited sin “as a doctrinal experiment that was found wanting.  It must be replaced”, he writes,” with the concept of social sin, which passes from generation to generation, but requires each generation to answer to Christ not for its ancestors’ fault, but for its own fault.” P. 147

To quote William Wordsworth, not only “trailing clouds of glory does a child come” into the world, but he or she comes in some way smeared with the dirt that has accumulated in the course of human events.  

This isn’t theological theory, this is a realistic fact, and anybody who faces his or her own existence is aware of it.


Dr. John Sullivan  <)))><
Former SA Officer
Canada


Thursday, April 25, 2013

DOCTRINE 4 - B



Installment Two:

In the last of the Gospels to be written, John pushes the Son-ship of Jesus even further back. Christ is not the Son of God because God raised him from the dead, or ‘adopted’ him at his baptism, or impregnated his mother. According to him, Jesus is the Son of God because he co-existed with God from the beginning, even before the creation of the universe.

As I wrote before, to ancient Jews, being the Son of God did not make a person God; it made the person a human being in a close relationship with God, one through whom God’s will was done on earth.  But John goes far beyond this.  Jesus is the pre-existent Word through whom the universe was created, who has become human (1:1-4), who is equal with God (10:30), who can claim God’s name for himself (8:58), and who is himself God (20:28).  This is the view that became the standard doctrine, but this was not the original view held by the followers of Jesus.  

The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention. only to be found among the gospels in John.

Many Christians interpret this to mean that Jesus is God in human form.  They think that Jesus was divine unlike the rest of us, and that Jesus, even during his earthly life, had divine power and knowledge. They think that this is orthodox Christianity.

This image of the earthly Jesus as a divine and superhuman figure is described by Robert Capon, a contemporary Christian writer, as being the equivalent of the comic strip Superman.  He writes: “If this isn’t popular Christology, I’ll eat my hat.  Jesus, gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more than human insides, bumbles along for thirty three years, nearly gets himself done in for good, but at the last minute struggles into the phone booth of the empty tomb, changes into his Easter suit with a single bound and leaps back to planet Heaven.”

This view is actually one of the earliest Christian heresies, known as Docetism, from a Greek word meaning “to seem” or “to appear”.  Jesus seemed, appeared, to be human, but he really wasn’t, he was really God.  Most Christians would deny this, but they do see Jesus as having divine knowledge, that’s why he could speak with authority, and know the future; as having divine power, that’s how he could walk on water, heal the sick, change water into wine, multiply food, and raise the dead.
This way of telling the Jesus story presents a problem.  Namely, if Jesus had superhuman power and knowledge, he cannot be a model for human behaviour.  Yet the gospels speak of following Jesus, and Paul speaks of imitating Christ, and being transformed into the likeness of Christ. But if Jesus was really God, and thus not really human, it makes no sense to speak of becoming like him.
Whatever else may be said about Jesus, he is not the revelation of “all of God”, but only what can be seen of God in a human life. For example, a human being cannot be present like God everywhere; he or she cannot be all powerful; and what could it possibly mean that Jesus knew everything, including the theory of relativity?  So there is much of God that cannot be seen in a human life.  But what can be seen is the character and passion of God.  The first is called the nature of God, and the second the will of God.  That is what Jesus reveals.

The question remains, where did the concept of Jesus being divine come from?  

From what source did John find his exalted view of Jesus (a high Christology), while other passages speak of him in very human terms, not at all as divine, but rather a human being chosen to fulfill God’s purpose on earth (a low Christology), for example in John 1:35-52, where Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”.

Scholars have puzzled over this question, and a kind of consensus has emerged over the past thirty or forty years.  They now think that the passages of Jesus in human terms (the low Christology) were the oldest traditions, while (the high ones) were developed later, as Christians started to think of Jesus as someone who was not of this world, but of the world of God, and thus developed the belief, that Jesus is God.

This view is already found in Paul, the earliest Christian author.  He even speaks of Jesus as the one who was with God before he came into the world, and who had a level of quality with God; but he chose instead to come into the world to suffer death for the sake of others, after which God exalted him, brought him again to heaven, and “gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”  In the Old Testament it is only to God that every knee shall bow (Isaiah 45:23).  Now it is to Jesus as well (Philippians 2: 6-11).

This belief in Jesus as being divine did not develop in every Christian community at the same time, or in the same way.  For centuries there continued to be some communities that did not hold to this belief, such as the Ebionites.  In some communities the view came into being remarkably early (evidently in Paul’s).  In others there is no evidence that it happened at all (Matthew and Mark’s).  In others it took several decades (John’s).  But by the second and third centuries it had become quite a common doctrine, as the various communities exchanged their views.  Jesus was not simply the Jewish son of God whom God had exalted at his resurrection; he was himself God.

This belief in the divinity of Jesus created an obvious problem, for early Christian theologians, who wanted to reject the pagan notion that there are many gods, and stay within the firm, monotheistic tradition of Judaism.  What were Christians holding to the divinity of Christ to think?  If Christ is God and God is God, are there not two Gods?   As is true, of all the theological questions of the early Christians, there was a range of answers to that question. Those questions have already been  answered, by the person who commented on doctrine three.

Dr. John Sullivan <)))><
Former Officer
Canada

DOCTRINE 4 - A


“We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united, so that He is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.”

Christology is the term, used to describe how Jesus is the Christ.  Some Christians however, are unaware of the fact that from the beginning of New Testament times, there have been many definitions; some characterized as “low” (emphasizing Jesus’ humanity); and others as “high” (emphasizing his divinity).

It actually took several centuries, before the Church was able to define how Jesus might be related to God.  In 325 A.D. the Council of Nicaea declared that Jesus was “of the same substance as the Father”; and in 451, the Council of Chalcedon described him has having two natures, fully human and fully divine.  They used Greek philosophy to come to these conclusions; and while there may be nothing wrong with philosophy, who can say that it closes the book on what it means to be human and divine?

When the Greek creedal formulations focused on the nature of Jesus and his being, something vital was lost. The Creeds ignored what he did: his teaching, his healing, his befriending, and his incarnating God’s love and justice in the world.  In making belief in his dual nature central to the Christian faith, it sidelined his actions and his teachings.

While we are grateful for the inherited wisdom of our Christian forbears, each generation, and each of us as individuals, need to make faith our own, not only in what we believe, but also, in how those beliefs direct our lives.  If we take our faith seriously, just as we grow and change in other ways, our beliefs about Jesus are also likely to develop and change.

I will address the fourth doctrine in two installments.  In the first, I will show the development of a “low” Christology, and in the second, a “high”. I will begin with the kerygma (the earliest Christian preaching of the gospel), and then proceed to the synoptic gospels in one instalment; and follow with the gospel of John, in the second.

In Acts 2, Peter speaks of “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of powers, wonders, and signs that God did through him”.  In other words, Jesus is a human miracle worker, empowered by God, but not God.  He continues: “Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus, whom you crucified.” It was only subsequent to his death, at his resurrection, that God named Jesus Lord and Messiah.  And in Acts 13, Paul proclaims: “What God had promised to our ancestors has been fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

It was not long after, that some of Jesus’ followers decided that he must have been the Son of God, long before the resurrection. Thus the gospel of Mark has Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized. As he emerges from the water, he hears a voice coming from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. For Jews, a son of God usually meant someone who was God’s mediator on earth.  The person stood in a special relationship, as someone chosen to do God’s will.  In Mark, Jesus is the Son of God because he has been appointed to be the Messiah; but not one word is ever said, about Jesus being God.

Years later, the gospel of Luke was written, and Jesus is declared to be the Son of God, not starting with his baptism, but from the moment of his conception.  The Virgin Mary is told, that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born from you will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” According to Luke, Jesus is the Son of God, because God is literally, his biological Father. Jesus Is now said to be the Son of God, not after the resurrection, or for his public ministry, but from the moment he was born.

Occasionally someone will ask me “Do you believe that Jesus is God?”  They are expecting a yes or no answer.  I may respond by saying: “do you mean, do I think Jesus thought of himself as divine”?  Do I think he had the mind of God, that is, did he know more than his peers, or anyone else who has ever lived?  In addition to having a human mind, did he have a divine mind?

There is no evidence whatever, that Jesus went about telling people that he was God.  What the evidence does show, is that he went about being God-like: loving people who had been left out of life; healing people who were broken in body, mind and spirit; forgiving people who were carrying incredible burdens of guilt; lifting people up, reassuring them, teaching them the ultimate and absolute demands of God’s will.  He went about being God-like, and as people watched him, they somehow had the feeling that the God they had groped for, and dreamed about and hoped for, had come near, and was “in” him. So Paul could say: that “God was ’in’ Christ, reconciling the world”, and that Jesus was “the visible image, of the invisible God”.

Jesus did wondrous things, because he was in accord with the will of God; but have you ever noticed that no deed is claimed for Jesus, which is not claimed for other people in the Bible?  He healed the sick; so did Peter.  He raised the dead, so did Peter.  He walked on water, so did Peter.  He multiplied food, so did Elijah.  There’s nothing attributed by way of a powerful deed done by Jesus, that’s not attributed to other people before or after.  If the Resurrection is cited to show the contrary, let it be remembered that Jesus didn’t raise himself from the dead, God raised him, a very important distinction that many miss!

Tomorrow’s FSAOF blog installment will deal with the emergence of the “high” view of Christology, which claims that Jesus is God, as it is expressed in the gospel of John.

Dr. John Sullivan <)))><
Former Officer
Canada


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Doctrine Three


We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead-the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.
If we believe there is one God, how can there be Father, Son and Holy Spirit? In fact one of the charges leveled at the early church is that they had abandoned the worship of the one true God to worship other Gods.

It is more than different roles, each person in the God head has a role, function and authority, but no one person is pre-eminent or in charge, or first among equals. This is not the Roman gods, or the greek gods, or hindu gods where each is independent of the others.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit while having different roles and functions are a person within the same being (undivided in essence)  and absolutely equal in their power and position (co-equal in power and glory).

This does mean that we need to understand that all three persons were in existence from before the creation of the world. Jesus the son is not a product of his birth as a man, he has always existed just as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have.

And if in existence before the foundation of the world then it follows that they exist outside of time.

Ultimately an infinite God is bigger that our finite minds. This is how God chooses to reveal his/her nature to the world.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Doctrine Three - The Trinity


We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead-the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.
_______________________________________

In many of the 12-Step programs there is a common definition of insanity. It states that insanity is repeating the same behavior while expecting different results.  This “insanity” could often be applied to us as Christians in our attempts to understand the nature of God.  We study, and we study, and continue to come to the same conclusions. Rather than accept whatever conclusions we arrive at, we decide we don’t like it, and conduct another study; arriving, yet again, at the some unsatisfying conclusion.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The word “Trinity” does not appears in the Bible. It is a term that was first used in the late 2nd century AD. However there were a number of references to the three persons of the Godhead in very early church writing.  This article is not about the theological history of the Trinity, but more about how and why we view the Trinity as we do in 2013.

First, I’d like to make something very clear. I do not have an explanation of the Trinity. We have all seen the mathematical explanation that 1 X 1 X 1 = 1. Cute, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Trinity. That is an attempt of giving our intellect some logical explanation of the Trinity. Forget that! It is not logical. Not to our minds. I have seen the equation F + S + HS = G too. The problem here is that F = G, S = G and HS = G.  The arithmetic won’t work. God is not a math problem waiting to be solved.
So, where does this leave us? Should we say because we can’t explain it we shouldn’t believe in it? Nonsense! We believe in many things we can’t explain. The scientific community still has more than one idea of what the nature of light is, but every time we turn the switch we expect to see light, even though we don’t understand what it really is. Can any of us explain how a human being comes into existence, how the soul arrives on this earth within a human body. Where is heaven exactly, or hell for that matter? Is there an understandable reason why God loves you? He just does.

That leaves us at the point of looking to the Bible, the “…Divine rule of Christian faith…”  There are a vast number of references that point to the existence (not the explanation) of the Trinity. Space precludes me from listing a substantial portion of them, but I will mention a few.

Genesis tells us that God created the heaven and earth, yet John tells us that Jesus created all things.

Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit, and in the breath that Ananias had lied to God.

God told Moses at the burning bush that His name was “I AM”. Some 3,500 year later Jesus used the same name for himself! In case you think that isn’t really what Jesus meant, you might note that the crowd listening to him tried to immediately kill him with stones. The crowd that heard Jesus apply the divine name to Himself knew exactly what he was saying; that He was the same person who spoke to Moses at the burning bush.

My favorite is a series of scripture verses that speak about the resurrection of Jesus.  In John 2, Jesus says that he will raise himself up in three days after being destroyed.  In Acts 2 it is the Father who is credited with the resurrection and finally in Romans 8 the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. Three persons all given the credit of the resurrection, yet the Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is ONE LORD”.

Hallelujah!

There are these scriptures and dozens more. They speak to the existence of the Trinity, yet there is no explanation of the how it functions. Again, as an example, there is no logic in God’s grace, but as Christians we rely on it for our eternity. Why give the Trinity any less credibility?

I think that there are several explanations why we get so perplexed about the Trinity.

First the obvious one; we simply can’t, in our sinful state, understand. Paul says that we see through a dark glass, but we will know fully one day. Our own doctrines tell us that sin has caused us to become “totally depraved”. Nothing about us has escaped the harm of our sinful nature, including our minds and intellect. Is it at all reasonable to expect our sinful intellect to understand the complete nature of the perfect creator of the universe?
Secondly, we don’t need to know. The Bible has not given us an explanation, only the fact of the Trinity’s existence. In the end the Bible’s primary purpose is to point us to Jesus Christ and His salvation. We don’t need to understand the Trinity.

Thirdly, we often are confused about who is being referred to when Bible used the words God and Lord. Who among us has not assumed the God of Genesis was the Father, when John tells us that is was the Son, or perhaps the Triune God.

Lastly, our need to understand God comes directly from our sinful nature.  Remember Satan as the serpent speaking to Eve?  The temptation was not that the fruit was good; it was that if she disobeyed God and ate she would be like God! That same temptation haunts us to this day.  We desire to be like God. We desire to be God.  Look how that turned out for Eve and the rest of the human race.

In the movie, “The Da Vinci Code”, the main character Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) speaking about God says, “…my mind tells me that I can’t understand God, my heart tells me I’m not supposed to.”  What a precise and profound statement of his view of God. We as Christians should be so meek.
Perhaps it is best if we simply take the Bible at face value. It reveals the Trinity. Let that be enough.

Tony Hussey
Former Officer
USA West

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doctrine Two - viewpoint 2


We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.

One God, not 3, not many, not one for each part of life. One God who needs no improvement. He is perfect from all time and for all time. There is no fault in him. Therefore if we see inconsistencies in the nature and work of God it is our understanding or explanation that is flawed, not God.

This perfect God creates all things. They have their being and origin in him. He created different races, cultures and musical styles. He created male, female and intersex, all in his image. God has therefore no gender. All things have their origin in him/her. Clever and not so clever, beautiful, and not so beautiful, physically perfect specimens, and not so perfect specimens, political left and political right, gay and straight. 

He is a god comfortable with duality and opposites, because he expresses both sides of each issue in his/her very being.

Not just the creator but the preserver the one who keeps things going, the one who maintains the universe on its course and ensures that “the arc of history bends towards justice” as Martin Luther King said. The one who lifts up the downtrodden and brings low the proud.

Not content to just preserve the status quo, to set the universe on its course and watch disinterestedly from the sidelines. This God is a god of governance, and because he/she is infinitely perfect the governance is good and brings about the best for the creation. Of course, “best” is from the perspective of the infinitely perfect, infinitely good god and may not accord with the creation’s view of what is good.
Notwithstanding this,  we know that this God, genderless, all powerful, creator, preserver and governor is the only person to be worshipped, and worshipped in all his/her fullness.

This is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as large as his pow'r,
Who knows neither measures nor end.
J.Hart SASB 962


Doctrine Two


The Salvation Army    Doctrine Two

We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.

The Salvation Army’s second article of faith, found within its’ doctrine, would seem very straight forward and succinct.  But to the thinking person, it is anything but straight forward. This one statement throws up a myriad of thoughts, questions, and challenges.  When we begin to really look at it, we realise it is one of the more existential statements within our doctrine.  It raises questions that have been debated by the great philosophers throughout time – and none have adequately answered.  I am not so arrogant as to assume I can answer such questions when such great men and women before me have been bested.  I simply intend to highlight some of the questions that are implied within this statement, and in so doing, reveal the depth and beauty of this article of faith.

Taken as a whole, as one sentence and one thought, it is simply the definition of God.  If God were not infinitely perfect, nor the creator, governor, and preserver of all things, then by definition, he would not be God.  Good.  We have established that God is God.  Something that must be done at the beginning of any Theological doctrine.  For many of us, we can leave it there.  But those who want to think deeper, read on.

Let us now concentrate on God being the ‘creator, governor, and preserver of all things’.

This very statement first of all throws up the question ‘what does it mean to exist?’  Some of you will quickly come back with Descartes, who summarised all creation and human thought into two words ‘ego sum’ ‘I think, therefore I am’.  I as a human being know I exist because I can think about my existence, and ask the question ‘do I actually exist?’  What about non-sentient life?  Do we assume that animals have this same capacity of introspection? Do things that can’t reason as Descartes reasoned, not exist?  Do we, through our existence and contemplation, therefore bring about the existence of all else – meaning that everything we see around us is but a construct of our own making?

This may seem like ridiculous logic, and to an extent it is.  But let me ask this question.  What about concepts?  Do they exist?  What is ‘good’?  What is ‘evil’?  These questions are generally answered by pointing to examples of actions.  At best, we can point to people who personify such constructs – such as Mother Theresa, or Hitler.  But in the end, we have to acknowledge that they are just constructs.  They have no existence outside of our socially constructed, ever changing, thought processes.

You see, to say that God is the creator, governor, and preserver of all things, is to say that he is also, along with the creator of good, the creator of[ the possibility of evil.  If we acknowledge that evil exists in real form, then we have to acknowledge that God created it .  Can an infinitely perfect God create the possibility of evil ?  At that point, doesn’t the very article of faith which seeks to prove that God is God, end up proving that God doesn’t exist?

Perhaps the problem is not with the article itself, but with the limits of our  understanding and logic.  Our Theology and faith is generally stated as being monotheistic.  However, our thoughts around good and evil in our modern world, and in our relatively modern church, is very dualistic.  Many will be surprised to find that it is only relatively recently (late 15th to early 16th Centuries) that the concept of an actual ‘Satan’ took form within the Christian church and faith.  Prior to that, evil was simply something that opposed God.  In Biblical times (particularly Jewish culture), Satan simply meant ‘adversary of man’ or ‘The accuser’ – like a personification of Freud’s ‘super-ego’.  In other words, any person or thought that was opposed to the betterment of mankind (or the path one is on) was ‘Satan’.  This can be seen by looking at the way Satan is portrayed allegorically in Job (Job 1:6-12), or how Jesus said to Peter ‘Get behind me Satan’ (Matthew 16:23).  Many Christians have re-interpreted our holy scriptures with a dualistic Theology (God of Good and God of Evil), and to some (certainly the casual outside observer), our faith has become a dualistic faith – not a monotheistic faith .  By this I mean that many have personified a mythical archetype, and elevated Satan to an almost god-like level – the arch-villain of the infinitely good and perfect God.  By definition, there is no room for the existence of a physical Satan in a monotheistic faith.  All faiths (monotheistic and other) need to have the archetype of evil (in our case – the construct of Satan) in order to know and appreciate what good is (how do I know what ‘well’ is if I don’t know what it is to be ‘un-well’?).  However, The  concept of an ultimate evil force existed in just about all the polytheistic and dualistic theologies in the world, but never in a monotheistic religion.  That was what was so unique about monotheism.  There was no such thing as ‘whose side are you on’.  There was only God’s side.  This was the lesson that Joshua learned as he approached Jericho.  As he approached, he saw a man standing with a sword above his head.  He asked the man “are you for us or for our enemies?”, “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:13-14).  There is no choosing sides.  We are either on God’s side, or we are opposing Him in our own strength.

So then, it is our ability to oppose each other, and to oppose God, which has brought about evil.  This poses two obvious questions. Where did this ability come from? And are we capable of creation?  Our ability to choose to oppose comes from our God given power of free will.  If we did not have free will, we could not oppose anything, and therefore, God created the capacity for evil rather than evil itself.  This then implies that God created the possibility of evil by endowing us with free will (most essays on the subject of good and evil end here).  If this is the case, then it makes the second question even more relevant.  Are we capable of creation?  If we answer ‘yes’ (as our logic so far would seem to imply), then we have just opposed this very doctrine which attempts to prove the existence of God.  Whilst God is the only one that can create ex nihlo (out of nothing), we become, and are, co-creators with God. So how do we become co-creators with God, and thereby share in the creative act with God?

One answer to this dilemma is to acknowledge that we are created in the image of God .  Most statements of faith in the ancient world assumed an implicit understanding that we are all ‘imageo deus’ ‘in the image of god’.    The standard explanations of being created in the image of God have generally revolved around understanding that there are three parts to us – mind, body, spirit – just as there are three parts to the Godhead.  Although this idea is commonly preached and taught, it is a huge error of logic (and almost borders on heresy) which comes from us personifying God in our image.    It was only at the account of the fall in Genesis that we find mention that we shall become ‘like the gods’ (Genesis 3:4-5).  Perhaps this is what is meant by the concept that we are created in the image of God – that as co-creators with God, we have been given the divine spark to engage in limited (not ex-nihlo) creative acts of our own.  Therefore, it is the image of God within us (not God Himself) which enables the existence and creation of concepts such as evil[AE12] .

So far in our discussion, we have only unpacked the concept that God is the creator of all things, and suggested that God did not create evil, but by creating us in His image, we have engaged in our own creative work and created evil.  This says little about God as preserver or governor of all things.  To begin to unpack these concepts, we need to go to the prelude of John’s Gospel.

John 1:1-3 says ‘1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ (NIV).

I am going to assume here that we understand that ‘the Word’ refers to Christ – the divine logos.  To unpack that concept alone requires an entire volume.  Here I do not mean that I think there was a divine discussion or debate occurring within the Godhead regarding creation.  I understand it in the concept of ‘the royal we’ (‘we are not amused’ Queen Victoria).  Though some might have difficulty with the concept of the pre-existence of Christ, I resolve it for myself by the same argument that St. Augustine uses, when he views all members of the Godhead as being outside of time and space – and therefore concurrently at all points within time and space – at the beginning of creation, and at the final judgement at the end of the world.  Hence, we can begin to explain the omniscience of God, and the ‘foreknowledge’ (God chose us before the foundation of the world, and he knew before the creation of the world who were going to be saved, and who were not).

In John’s prologue above, the original Greek goes deeper than just suggesting that all things were created by God through Christ.  It suggests that all things are maintained and keep their existence through the existence of Christ.  In other words, God – through Christ – is the preserver and Governor of all things.  All of time and space are held in balance and existence through Christ.  As a result, when Christ died on the cross, all time and space momentarily collapsed in upon itself.  The dead rose from the grave, the curtain in the temple was ripped in two, the sky clouded over.  St. Augustine, in his tenth confession, unpacks this concept beautifully for those who wish to explore it deeper.  He contends that this is the reason (at least in part) that Christ was the sacrifice ‘once for all’, because all time and space collapsed into that one point when Christ was on the cross.  We can only make this argument if we first begin to understand that there are three persons in the Godhead, and that Christ is both truly human and truly divine.

So we now come to a point where we realise that to unpack this second article of faith, we must introduce and set the scene for a discussion of the rest of Christian Doctrine.  That Christ is both divine and human, that there are three persons in the Godhead, that we are created by God, that we fell (bringing into existence evil into the world), that Christ suffered and died for all humankind, and the general judgement at the end of the world.  How we unpack these concepts is a matter of interpretation and debate.  As we delve into the various articles of faith, we will realise that none of them are as definitive as we first might think.

By writing such incredible concepts in such a simple statement, the writers of The Salvation Army doctrine have created an atmosphere where all can come and sit together and worship, no matter our Theological perspective.  There is room for ultra conservative right through to extreme liberal.  We can simply say that God is God and leave it there, marvelling at the mystery of our faith.  Equally, we can delve into it deeper, debating any aspect of Theology, yet acknowledging that at no point does Salvation Army doctrine say ‘you can’t believe that’.  At least on paper, we truly have an inclusive Theology.  The challenge to us is ‘Can we live it?’

GRAEME RANDALL
Former Officer
Australia