By What Authority?

2 Timothy 1:12

Anyone who wants to join The Salvation Army is asked to sign the Articles of War (soldier’s covenant), and to declare that he is “thoroughly convinced of the truth of the Army’s teaching.” But what is the teaching of The Salvation Army and where did it come from?

Eleven articles of faith sum up the beliefs, unchanged since 1878. Of course, the faith professed by Salvationists was not suddenly discovered in 1878. But why is it necessary to express beliefs in written statements—and why these particular eleven articles? Surely we cannot put God down on paper! Many of the ideas we find in later statements of faith are already found in Paul’s letters. There have been various important statements of faith through the centuries, including the Army’s eleven articles of faith.

By what authority? One could reply, firstly, “I know that what I tell you is true, because God has made it known to me personally.”

But there is an obvious danger in the “personal inspiration” theory. How can you be sure that your idea is right and that your new truth has in fact come from God? Personal inspiration is of great importance; indeed we cannot have a living faith until we say, “I know in my own heart that it is true.”

A second answer to the question is the appeal to tradition. Tradition plays a great part in all religious faiths. But we see at once two dangers in relying on tradition only. The first is the weakness of human understanding. Again, traditions become twisted by pride and greed.

We can reply to the question, “How do you know?” by saying, as Jesus did to the tempter, “It is written,” or “Scripture says” (Matthew 4:4).

Here then are the three sources of authority for Christian doctrine: personal revelation, tradition and the Bible. All churches recognize them in some degree. All agree that personal faith is necessary for genuine religion, all have worthwhile customs and traditions handed down from the past, and all value the Bible.

We must apply both heart and mind to the study of the Bible. We use our brains but we also need humble hearts to receive what James Denney called “the Word of God, the revelation of God to the soul in Christ, attested by the Spirit.”

John Coutts, This We Believe

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