16″ Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Salvation Army Doctrine #1: “We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.”
I do not mean to stir the waters, pun intended, but I have often wondered what your Salvationist response would be on this topic. I must confess that I have often struggled with reconciling our doctrine with the lack of fulfillment of the great commission as described in verse 19; “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Yes, I understand that we are non-sacramental in religious practice, but one wonders why even such a discussion often evokes the same response one might expect from a discovery of a sin issue. Seriously, it’s generally frowned upon, knee-jerk reactions abound every time Communion and Baptism are even mentioned. It almost seems like we treat such conversations as heresy and equate such talk to sin. Why is that?
Why such harsh attacks on even the mention of these religious practices?
I bring the topic of Baptism up today in this pondering so that we can dialogue together, so that we might bring a deeper understanding of our theology to the forefront and that we do not linger amongst the shallow answers of “Because that’s how we have always done things“…but why?
We ought to recognize that Industrial England, the birth place of The Salvation Army, certainly had it dichotomy of the upper class and the poor. Many within the lower East-end would not have been welcome in The Church of that day. Also, within the lack of practice of Baptism and Communion, we know that our theological tradition precludes the need of such symbolic practices because we are “baptized by the Holy Spirit” and “The Sacrificial life is more important than participation in the Sacraments”. Understandably so, but I wonder if such staunch views have prohibited some in recent years of full membership? What I mean is, does our lack of practice or participation in these fundamental “Christian” elements, distract some would-be soldiers in joining our ranks? There are certainly many views on the subject. On one extreme – there are those within other denominations who feel since one was never “properly” Baptized they cannot claim to be Christians. And then on the other side of the spectrum, there are those who view practices of water baptism to be archaic and unnecessary.
So back to my original question…
If we believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice, Why do we fail to include parts of the “Great Commission”? Again I don’t mean to stir up controversy, but I would like us to answer this…I want you to help me fill in the content here that I struggle with. No, I don’t have a baptismal in my corps building, no I don’t baptize my members, but I’m curious how we decide to fulfill some of the “Divine rule of Christian faith and practice” while excluding others? Why is this topic so taboo?
Another question that comes to my mind then is this: Are we a fluid moving Army or are there somethings that cannot change within our structure and practice? I am in no way advocating we change our stance on Baptism or Communion; but is there a point where the reasons we refrained from such practices in another age and era should be reconsidered in another age and era? Would this be going backwards or progressing forward? Or perhaps there is too much emphasis on the baptism part and there ought to be more emphasis made on the “make disciples” component to the Great Commission. Perhaps this is the “happy middle”?
Again, I’m curious on your answers here.
As always, I look forward to the responses that sound off with shock and awe that such a question should ever be asked within the Army. Again, it is surprising to me how we often treat this topic as “hush, hush“, almost as if we’re talking about a sin. Why is that? Couldn’t we even deepen our understanding of our own doctrine by talking out-loud about such things and there by adding clarity to the topic for others? Also, I am not looking for a lecture here either, simply a dialogue and what your response might be on this specific topic.
Something more for the Army to ponder today, hopefully you don’t label me a heretic for even asking the question. Blessings on you today!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are not necessarily the opinions and views of The Salvation Army, but rather the writer’s own thoughts, questions and opinions expressed. Reader discretion is advised.