A Comparison of Salvation Story and the 2010 Handbook of Doctrine

I’m working on a post for the Rubicon on the section of the new Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine which deals with the sacraments.

In the preface to the new Handbook, General Shaw Clifton writes:

This 2010 Handbook of Doctrine retains the wording of the 1998 edition except for minor clarifications and stylistic changes. The principal aim has been to maximise user-friendliness, for example by reallocating the Bible references and inserting them into the main narrative at the relevant places; renumbering the chapters to match the numbers of the Doctrines; merging the main Handbook with the 1999 Study Guide into a single volume, removing outdated material from the latter and condensing some parts of it; revising certain Appendices and introducing three new study aids by way of Appendices 5, 6 and 9.

I guess the part on the sacraments falls under the category of “revising certain Appendices,” because there is clearly more going on here than “minor clarifications and stylistic changes.”

I’ve made a chart which puts the two texts side-by-side, so you can clearly see the changes that have been made to Salvation Story’s treatment of the sacraments (Salvation Story was the 1998 version of the Handbook).

I’ve got a pretty good idea how I’m going to structure the post – around two major points. But I’m interested in getting feedback from others.  Feel free to comment here, or email me (james [dot] pedlar [at] gmail [dot] com).

Here’s the chart in pdf: Comparison of Salvation Story and Handbook of Doctrine on Sacraments

If you want more context, you can find a pdf of Salvation Story here, and the Handbook of Doctrine can be downloaded here.

16 thoughts on “A Comparison of Salvation Story and the 2010 Handbook of Doctrine

  1. Interesting stuff.

    A few quick points.

    The 2010 document states that “The Salvation Army is a permanent witness to the Church as to the possibility, and practicability, of sanctification without formal sacraments.” Who’s to say that this is a necessary witness, and on what basis does the Army feel that they have been set apart to take on that so-called ‘prophetic role?’ That is besides being ‘led of God’ to do so, of course.

    I understand and agree with the idea that we are called to sacramental living, or ‘demonstrating the grace of God in the ordinary’, but whose to say that partaking in the external sacraments preclude this way of living?

    And third – something that has always been a huge problem with the Army’s position, in my books – the Army’s insistence that we need to be reminded of the “danger of trusting in
    the external rather than the grace it signifies or points to” is somewhat of a joke considering the ritualistic nature of soldiership, the pledge, the uniform and so on.

    I’ll be interested to read your response. In thinking about this, I can’t help but think of some Salvationists reactions when Chris Holmes told his class in MB that a non-sacramental church is no church at all. Can’t say I disagree with him.

    • They would have been better off leaving it asit was that they simply “chose” tobe diobedient to Jesus’s command to do it, then to now suggest that God Himself has led us to be disobedient to His own command. That’s ridiculous. Think of all the other things we could get away with by simply claiming that God led us to ignore it. Like submission to government. There are already many who believe that we don’t have to pay taxes to any evil government that does evil things with the money. People would love the suggestion of such a leading.

  2. James:

    Thank you for your great work. I sent you an email but I believe it got deleted – – or something…so let me quickly retype that which I originally sent you…perhaps it will be a little more succinct the second time!

    I have to say, up front, that I agree in the general principal that a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace and that this must mean that sacraments are not NECESSARY.

    However there are some troubling things in this revision of the SA’s theological position regards the sacraments.

    Firstly, the assertion that the Army’s position was a divine activity – – in other words ‘God told us to do it’ is at least troubling, if not worse. I am sad to see that the original version which simply stated that the Army ‘chose’ this position was changed to have this self-righteous tone…a tone which I sense exists a lot more in this revision than in the version it is replacing!

    Secondly, the revision would have done well to include more Biblical discussion around the topic rather than rely on internal theologians and manuals for its supporting evidence. The tip-toeing around Scripture and the internal citations make this a weak piece.

    Thirdly, it is odd to compare the Lord’s Supper with ‘standing under a flag’. The table is sanctioned in the Scriptures and has been practised by the Church for hundreds of years. The flag is a denominational symbol which is rarely used except in the enrollment of soldiers – – and this is an exclusive ritual for only some in the Salvation Army. The Lord’s Supper is (or ought to be) wildly inclusive, and transforming for all who partake. This is just a weird comparison to me. It fails in terms of Wesley’s quadrilateral – – hands down.

    Finally, there is no excuse for printing material in 2010 which is not committed to language which is gender-inclusive. Especially in an institution which puts out there that it is committed to being so progressive on this front.

    These are just some thoughts. I’m sure I’ve neglected other things I spoke about in my original email – – but I must head out. So for now – – I’ll be done!

    Again, thanks James for you work.

  3. Thanks guys. These are some great questions!

    I see you both picked up on the “specific” and “prophetic” calling – this is obviously the most significant addition to the text. And you’re right to ask about the basis of this claim. When we invoke God’s name so explicitly I think we need some pretty firm ground on which to stand, and that isn’t really spelled out here, except by asserting that the Army was led of God to do this.

    If you take that specific divine calling out of the equation, then you’re left with “the sacraments are not necessary to salvation.” This is at least something that can be discussed and debated. But, even if this is true (and I think some major Christian traditions would agree if they were pushed on this question), by itself, this principle doesn’t exclude the observance of the sacraments, as you said, Ian.

    It is interesting that the Army is increasingly pushing the “sacramental” aspects of its own practices. Just yesterday an article was put up on Salvationist.ca which referred to uniform wearing as a sacrament [http://salvationist.ca/2010/06/the-witness-of-worship/]. Again, without the notion of a specific calling *not* to observe baptism and communion, it would seem that there is no reason for Salvationists to be non-observant of the sacraments. If other things can be embraced as sacramental, then surely the historic sacraments can as well.

    Lots more to be said….

  4. I like to touch “God told us to not practice the sacraments.” Also, we forget that the Quakers had our theology on this long before we did. Also, they do a better job of being true to it. We often just replace the ritual.

    As an officer I do not feel that the changes are radical changes to the internal conversation and they are in line with what our leaders have said. But I agree with you on the “God told us” thing. Also, there is no looking at the Quaker theological tradition that we borrowed this from.

  5. Hi Bill

    Good point about the Quakers. Salvationists often appeal to the Quakers as a support, but I don’t think many have ever looked into Quaker theology, and even official documents don’t delve into Quaker sources. The tendency is to simply make mention of them as another non-sacramental tradition and leave it at that.

    That would make a very interesting study, actually. Quaker theology is (in relation to matters other than the non-observance of the sacraments) quite different from SA theology.

    Thanks for chiming in.


  6. Thanks for this piece, James. I’m looking forward to more. We need to have these conversations and think through these elements of faith, for all Christians.

    Also, it’s great to hear from the others. A couple guys with a Roblin connection.

    The S-word; wow! Is this the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to TSA and their sisters and brothers in Christ from other denominations and traditions?

    The Sacraments are not a deal-breaker for me. Is that unChristian? Superficial? Lame? Lazy?

    I’ve got nothing against the Sacraments; they’re a beautiful thing. I’ve partaken in the Lord’s Supper at Ecumenical worship meetings, where I think it is expressed at it’s greatest.

    I do have to admit an uncomfortable feeling with all the SA rhetoric about being “raised up” and how our non-practice of the Sacraments in the tradition of the Church is God-given and is a witness. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    I just reread Servants Together and there is a quote from Luther slipped in the text about, something to the effect of, the Sacraments and the Word of God being preached being the signs of the Church. Holmes would agree.

    However, “no church at all.” No way. I have all the respect in the world for the Sacraments and for folks who do feel they’re a deal-breaker. However, Christ said “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

    Another thought: James you should do the same for Servants Together.

  7. Thanks for your comments Mark.

    I think most Salvationists are probably in the same boat as you – comfortable with not having baptism and eucharist, but also appreciative of their value and willing to participate in them. I think there are also lots of Salvationists who are nervous about the use of “God-given” language in this situation.

    You’re right, “Word and Sacrament” is the classic protestant test for a church, which Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed churches, and even more radical protestant traditions would use, although they might add other items to the “test” of a true church (such as church discipline). But the Word / Sacrament thing is pretty mainstream in protestant ecclesiology. Of course Catholics and Orthodox have a really high view of the eucharist. And baptism is something that people generally recognize across denominational lines (though some evangelical groups might ask people to be re-baptized, it’s normally the case that any baptism in the triune name is recognized as valid by all churches).

    So the fact that the Army doesn’t observe the two historic sacraments is a really big deal, theologically, and ecumenically. I’m not sure that the average Salvationist has an appreciation of how significant the issue is from the perspective of other traditions.

    Does it de-church the Army? That is a huge question, and definitely debatable. Of course it wasn’t an issue for the early Army, because they claimed they weren’t a church.

  8. Hi James…

    Thanks for going to such a detailed effort here. I’m sure it took a long time but the benefits of a close analysis of the text will be very beneficial. Helpful for some “Redaction criticism” of the more recent text here.

    A couple of points.

    Our so called “prophetic voice” is only useful if people are actually listening to it. Take one example here from James Dunn

    “Even though we acknowledge the Quakers and Salvation Army as Christian bodies, even so any attempt to define the boundary markers which identify and distinguish Christians as Christians will almost certainly give a primary place to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” (James D.G. Dunn, New Perspective on Paul, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 110).

    He notes it, but barely misses a beat. He just skips right over the issue and continues on making his point that the sacraments are generally considered that which distinguishs Christians as Christians. This from a highly respected Biblical scholar. Our prophetic voice is not actually being heard or listened to.

    Secondly, it’s worth noting the great effort taken in the rest of the HoD to relocate the Scripture references into the text (Hoop-di-doo!)… Interesting task now. Count the number of Scripture references in this section on the sacraments… How many fingers did you need for that?

    Looking forward to the finished article when it comes out.


  9. Hi Adam

    Interesting quote from Dunn, and a good point to consider. Do people actually take notice? Or, if they do notice, does it have any affect on their position? Probably not, in part because the Army and the Quakers are such a tiny group in comparison to the rest of the Church. If you read through the Army’s response to /Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry/ (called /One Faith, One Church/), you can see that they are pretty ticked about places where B.E.M. identifies baptism as something which all Christians share. It’s almost like the authors of B.E.M. forgot about the Army and the Quakers when they were writing the text…or maybe they just wanted to ignore the issue?

    Another related thought comes back to me from Dunn’s quote: he refers to sacraments as “boundary markers”, whereas the Army has always focused on the question of necessity for salvation. I think there are some traditions that would have room in their theology to support the idea that sacraments are not necessary for salvation, but they would say that necessity for salvation isn’t the only issue to consider here. You can say “sacraments are not necessary to salvation” and still argue that they are important as something which binds the Christian community together. Of course it is hard to disentangle salvation and our being bound together with the Christian community; the two ought to go hand in hand, and I think that’s another aspect of this that the Army needs to wrestle with.

    I don’t have anything to add to the comment about scripture!


  10. Pingback: Three Quotes from William Booth on the Sacraments « James Pedlar

  11. My great criticism of “Salvation Story” in its treatment of the sacraments was that the opening definition, which remains in the revision, is incomplete. It is generally agreed that sacraments quite explicitly point towards and recall the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection: the Last Supper points obviously to his death, but also to his resurrection insofar as He is the living bread which continues to feed those who celebrate and recall his passion; baptism, especially in the Pauline literature, is spoken of metaphorically as a dying and rising with Christ.

    The revision recognises this in a later addition, but fails to reflect on its significance for our practice. A sacrament is not just any action which transmits or expresses grace: much of what we describe as a “sacramental life” would be better phrased in terms of incarnation. A sacrament is an action in time which recalls -or recapitulates- Christ’s death and life and invites the participant to imaginatively (or spiritually) enter into that event (this is the explcit function of the Passover meal, which Jesus adapted and reshaped).

    The issue is not whether sacramental observance is necessary for salvation (it is not) but whether it is irreplaceable in shaped our shared life through the recapitulation of the Easter event. I believe that sacraments are not indispensable, but the decision to do without them places a special responsibility on us to ensure that Christ’s death is proclaimed in our worship….and I am not sure we always do manage that.

    I am inexorably opposed to the increasing tendency to describe our lives and our symbols in sacramental terms (the sacrament of the uniform, indeed!): I think it marks a loss of confidence in our original stance of unchained and unrestricted grace -which is perfectly valid, though I don’t think anybody has yet made the full and proper case for it- and attempts to pacify those who want the sacraments reintroduced.

    I also find the attempt to define Christ as the one true sacrament deeply unconvincing. The problem here is that the category is too weak to do justice to Christ’s significance. A sacrament is a symbol: it points towards a greater reality, but it also lacks any deep (ontological) connection to its signified. In that sense, I want to insist that Jesus is not a sacrament: he is the signified to which the sacrament points, and his own manifestation of grace is not best described in terms of a sacrament, but in terms of incarnation -Jesus is the incarnation of God’s grace.

  12. Hi David

    Thanks for your insightful comment. I’ve never thought of it like that before. You’re definitely right that the two traditional sacraments are explicitly focused on the cross, and not simply about “spiritual grace” in general. Perhaps Salvationists have been using a definition of sacrament which is too generic. Are you drawing on specific authors when you make this distinction between “sacramentality” and “incarnationality”, or is that your insight?

    I also think you’ve put the question in a very helpful light – rather than “are the sacraments necessary for salvation?” you’re asking “are they irreplaceable in our coporate life?” I’ve often thought along these lines about Christ’s command to “do this in rememberance of me.” Salvationists often point out that the “this” in Christ’s commaand need not necessarily point to a specific, once a month or once a week observance in worship on Sunday morning, but might point simply to a shared meal. The question is, however, do Salvationists take actually the opportunity to remember Christ’s death and resurrection when they share meals together?

    Thanks for stopping by!


  13. Hi All..

    Major David, speaking of Christ as the one true Sacrament is only unconvincing if you employ a Zwinglian understanding of “sacrament” as “pure symbol”. From what you’ve written I believe that’s the definition you’re employing (please correct me if I’m wrong). I would suggest that a sacrament does in fact have a deep connection to that which is signified; not ontological but mystical. Thus sacraments do point to and recall the Christ event, but also enable participation in that event. We must also remember the eschatological aspect as well, that is, looking forward to eating with Christ “on that day”.

    Thus when Paul speaks of believers dying with Christ in a death like his through baptism (Romans 6), it is not that the person baptised is actually nailed to the cross with Christ physically, rather the believer participates in this historical event through co-crucifixion and co-resurecction. This is a mystical, but still very real, connection with the death and resurrection of Christ through baptism.

    I personally think that Salvation Story moved away from a Zwinglian understanding of sacrament towards this more holistic view. This was a good thing, for me. I personally prefer this deeper mystical view of sacrament because Zwingli’s interpretation lends itself much more easily to a dualistic anthropology – it’s “just s symbol” and so it means nothing. The consequences of this dualism are disastrous and taken to their extreme lead to a concern for “only” spiritual matters and not the physical reality.

    My preference is for an understanding of sacrament (indeed a view of all reality) that does not separate the material from the spiritual, or in this case the sign from the signified, but rather deliberately unites them. That’s why I agree with referring to Christ as the one true Sacrament, because in him we see material and spiritual, the sign and the signified, perfectly united. The dominical sacraments point to, recall, invite us into, and enable believers to share in his life, death and resurrection here and now. They also remind us of our eschatological hope in Christ.


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