A personal and public relationship with God

Holiness Symposium for Officers 2015

Major Young Sung Kim, the territorial ambassador for holiness, welcomed delegates to the Holiness Symposium 2015 and urged everyone to make the most of their 24 hours together.

He introduced the host, Colonel Janice A. Howard, assistant chief secretary and Spiritual Life & Development Department secretary, who encouraged delegates to think about holiness, digest it, and make it their own. She challenged them to make a difference in the territory and around the world.

Commissioner Philip D. Needham, symposium speaker, shared the theme: “Holiness & Ecclesiology” (the doctrine of the Church). He began by talking about the purpose and the limits of theology.  “Theology,” said the retired officer of 37 years, now retired, “is a road map, not the real thing. It represents the divine reality rather than the reality itself. Theology has value only when it is lived and used in the here and now.” Needham, who studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and completed his formal studies at the University of Miami, also described a tension that exists between Western individualism and God’s tendency to deal with the Church as a community.

In the first session, delegates tackled the concept of our Trinitarian God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in relation with Christians who model that concept in community. Needham highlighted God’s focus on the Church as community and led challenging discussions on the difficult concept of the Trinity.

Needham reminded delegates that, as believers in the holiness tradition established by John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement (Wesleyan theology), they know that love is the primary factor in God’s nature. His love, shared within the Trinity, is in covenant and in community with all believers.

We are community

“As a community, we will make our faith journey not alone, but with others in community,” said Needham, who authored Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology, among other titles. “Our relationship with God is personal, but not private. It will take place in front of the community for all to see.” Needham pointed out that the Holy Spirit descended on groups of people, rather than on individuals, showing that holiness is both singular and plural at the same time.

Needham stressed another point: Salvation Army corps (churches) are essential to bringing people to salvation and in the spiritual formation of Christians. “It is only through the community of the corps that we can learn to embody our holiness,” he said.  “It takes the faith community of the corps to show us how this is done.”

Needham pointed out that the Salvation Army’s doctrines, beliefs, and theology are all relational. They involve Salvationists’ interactions with God, with themselves, and with other people. He said these tenants of the faith guide the formation of relationships and lead to effective discipleship.

Worshipping Him

Needham elaborated on how we worship together, noting that worship is about blessing God, rather than self-directed. Needham used an analogy based on a famous quote that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” (Act 2, Scene 7), which says “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”.

“All worshipers are players whose intent is to please the Spirit of God.  God Himself is the congregation and the play is to bless Him.”

In the process of worshipping God, the worshippers are blessed. Yet the focus is to be on Him, rather than the worshippers. The Commissioner noted how a solid understanding of Biblical holiness informs and helps our worship. He also described ways in which worship nurtures the process of becoming holy, both personally and in community.

After enjoying a time of food and fellowship, the delegates launched the final session of the day. Interacting with the world as a holy people was the topic. “Holiness and mission are intertwined,” said Needham. “And if they are not, we are neither holy nor missional.” Needham stressed that a Salvationist must have a firm grasp on both holiness and mission to further the Kingdom.

Breaking boundaries

Delegates discussed how believers in ancient times were hindered in spreading God’s love because of their self–imposed boundary between themselves, “the pure,” and other people, “the impure.”

Needham said that Christ shattered this paradigm. With His compassion and love He crossed that boundary and brought the excluded people into His embrace.

Needham’s concluding remarks centered on Wesley’s doctrine of prevenient grace (the divine love that surrounds all humanity and makes us able to identify right from wrong and to recognize a loving God, even in our sinfulness) and how it is foundational to spiritual formation and discipleship.

As a delegate, this symposium deepened my knowledge of holiness in community and how the Lord wants to relate to us as individuals and as a corps (church) community in The Salvation Army.  I learned that Holiness is not about me but about “us.”  Now, we must take this transformational information and use it practically in our communities to reflect Christ in all our relationships.

by Captain Joshua Simpson


— Captain Joshua Simpson is the Curriculum Officer at the College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y.