The anticipation was palpable as 49 officer and soldier delegates from 26 territories gathered in the historic mansion of Sunbury Court, Sunbury on Thames, England, for the commencement of the International Theology and Ethics Symposium, a truly global gathering of Salvation Army theological thinkers and ethicists.
This is the third in a series of such symposia, commencing in Winnipeg, Canada, 2001 and Johannesburg, South Africa, 2006. Collectively they have produced a collation of doctrinal and theological papers that articulately convey Salvationist scholarship. Surely Sunbury Court 2010 will augment this collection.
Called by the International leader of The Salvation Army, General Shaw Clifton, and steered by the International Doctrine Council (IDC), these appointed delegates, representing a wide array of appointments and ministries, communicated a collective sense of ‘privilege’ for the chance to attend and participate.
“We come as Salvationists as part of God’s divine design,” observed Commissioner William Francis, Chairman of the IDC, in his opening welcome.
The central theme of the presentation of theological papers during the ensuing days is the doctrine of holiness. This will be ‘studied carefully’ said the Commissioner, ‘for when we focus on holiness, we study the very character of God.’
During this opening evening delegates saw a documentary video of the first historic High Council convened at Sunbury Court in 1929, culminating in the election of General Edward Higgins, the Army’s first elected international leader.
Commissioner Robert Street, vice chair of the IDC, presented the opening paper by General Shaw Clifton, ‘Our Holy Heavenly Father – Characteristics of a Holy God.’ The tone for the symposium was set with a cogent, scholarly and forthright treatise that arrayed essential attributes of the first person of the Trinity.
A symposium is defined as ‘a formal meeting where several specialists make presentations.’ In that purposeful regard this gathering of Salvationists is accurately convened.
The opening hours could not have concluded more poignantly than under the devotional leadership of Lt. Colonel Karen Shakespeare, who asked us all ‘What are you bringing to the Symposium?’ and ‘What will you take back from the Symposium?’
The words of Colin Fairclough outlined in the closing song beautifully summarize the shared aspirations of the Symposium:
Gracious Lord, thy grace apply,
Both to save and sanctify;
All my life wilt thou control,
Calmly ordering the whole,
That the world may ever see
Christ, and only Christ, in me.
With many shaking off the effects of long travel and swiftly adapting to Greenwich Mean Time the global gathering of delegates to the International Theology and Ethics Symposium commenced the day early in prayer and moved forthrightly towards the presentation of four papers on various facets of holiness. There proved to be a sequence and natural unfolding in the progression of the day.
Commissioner William Francis commenced, focusing on ‘Our Heritage of Holiness – Biblical Foundations.’ “Sanctification is both an initial crises, followed by a never-ending process” noted the Commissioner in his treatise on Romans 6:18, ‘You have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness.’
Dr. Jonathan Raymond followed with the paper ‘Our Heritage of Holiness – Historical Heritage.’ Tracing a Salvationist theological lineage that includes the incomparable John Wesley, Raymond stated, “Wesley’s practical theology has promoted a theology of free salvation for all people and full salvation from all sin (holiness) that has had an immeasurable impact on the world.’
Courageously commencing the early afternoon hour, Lieut.-Colonel Philip Cairns addressed ‘Personal Holiness – Perspectives of the Holiness Experience,’ noting the influences of Christological holiness (living life in Christ) and Pneumatological holiness (an emphasis on the sanctifying event) upon current Salvationist thinking. ‘I believe that the future of the Army’s holiness doctrine lies in a synthesis’ concluded Cairns.
The final presentation was from the seasoned pen of Commissioner Robert Street, ‘Personal Holiness – Holiness for a New Generation.’ Here the plea was for nurturing relationships. ‘Any teaching on holiness which has its emphasis away from relationship – centred on terms, labels and defined experiences – runs the danger of detracting from the main issue’ cautioned Street.
Commencing upon a Biblical basis, recognizing a precious legacy, acknowledging the need for a personal experience and always seeking to missionally relate to our day – there was shrewd brilliance to the sequence of the day.
Each paper was immediately followed by a prepared response and forum discussion and debate. Throughout this series, the dialogue was courteous and intelligent; diplomatic and engaging. Here was scholarly debate at its finest.
Following the opportunity for increased examination naturally provided by small group discussion a full day ended with corporate evening prayers in which delegates warmly affirmed the holy truth of the beloved Albert Orsborn song:
My Life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign,
That other souls, refreshed and fed,
May share his life through mine.
Yes indeed, today our cups were full and overflowing.