10 October 2014

AFTER months of anticipation, 42 officer and soldier delegates from 34 territories around the Salvation Army world gathered at the historic Sunbury Court, near London in the United Kingdom, for the 2014 International Theology and Ethics Symposium. The theme, ‘Jesus – Universal Lord and Saviour’, seeks to affirm a strong Salvationist Christology. Called by the General and coordinated by the International Doctrine Council (IDC), the appointed delegates reflect a broad variety of appointments and ministries. 

This is the fourth in a series of such symposia, with the previous gathering at Sunbury Court in 2010 being preceded by those in Winnipeg, Canada (2001), and Johannesburg, South Africa (2006). 

The Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William Roberts) greeted participants at the Wednesday evening welcome meal. He said that, while the gathering was scholarly in character, this was to be ‘more than an academic exercise’. This attitude was emphasised by Commissioner Robert Street (IDC Chair) in his keynote address. He told delegates that the symposium is ‘a meeting of hearts and minds’.

Captain Grant Sandercock-Brown (Australia Eastern Territory) presented the first paper, ‘The Jesus of the Gospels’, on Thursday morning, affirming that the gospel narrative ‘gives meaning to our existence’. He told delegates: ‘The historical Jesus is the gospel. He didn’t just come to announce the good news, he didn’t come just to model a life well lived or even a death well died. He was the good news.’

Lieut-Colonel Ian Barr (United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland) followed with the paper ‘The Christ of Theology’. Following the classic theological counterbalance to the historical Jesus focus, the colonel concluded: ‘The Christ who emerges from the pages of the Bible and the life of the Church remains partially hidden from view. We approach him, not solely as individuals who are on familiar terms with him and with his story, but as worshippers in awe and reverence at the mystery of the self-revealing, self-giving God.’

The final paper of the day, in the late afternoon, was presented by Lieut-Colonel Karen Shakespeare (IDC Secretary). Addressing ‘Christ in Culture’, it noting the unmatched influence of Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture. With particular emphasis on Christ transforming culture, Lieut-Colonel Shakespeare challenged: ‘The Salvation Army must find a way to respond to the many cultures in which it operates without compromising the essential values of Christ. It may not look the same in every context and the critical issues which each territory must address may vary, but it cannot uncritically embrace cultural change.’

Each paper was immediately followed by a prepared response and forum discussion and debate. Throughout the day, the dialogue was articulate and respectful; insightful and poignant. Insights and questions from the numerous ethnicities and cultures in the conference room were a particular highlight.

Following small group discussion the day concluded with corporate evening prayers in which delegates gently sang the worship chorus:

Jesus, name above all names,
Beautiful Saviour, Glorious Lord,
Emmanuel, God is with us,
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word.

(Writer: Naida Hearn)

All who have gathered for this symposium can attest: God indeed has been ‘with us’.

Report by Colonel Richard Munn
IDC Vice-Chair

  • For more information, and to read the keynote speech in full, go to sar.my/doctrine


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