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Salvation Army and the Holy Spirit: Doctrine, Orders & Regulations or Indwelling Experience?

What is The Salvation Army’s first priority for Salvationists? Right belief, correct behaviour or an actual inner experience of the Holy Spirit?

Before I launch into this subject, you may have been wondering why my blog (apart from my sermon podcast) has been so quiet for the past two months. On 17 July 2019, my Mum was Promoted to Glory (passed away). I spent a good deal of time up to that point with her in the hospice in Norwich, and had no time to write blog posts. I feel sure she would have appreciated this post.

The Charismatic Early Salvation Army

In its early days, when it came to The Salvation Army and the Holy Spirit, the Movement was considered to be amongst the most flamboyant of Christian movements. The Salvation Army was most definitely Charismatic in its early years.

Contemporary evidence suggests the Movement to have been charismatic, with shouting, lying prostrate on the ground, and leaping in the air being reported in 1882. Also practised was ‘revelling on the floor in the glory’ and ‘jumping for Jesus.’ 

Glenn K. Horridge

Meetings were marked by the presence of signs and wonders. People experienced the real presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in a Highly Structured Movement

The problem is of course, that the Holy Spirit is not easily constrained by a tightly organised, quasi-military system. Increasingly, whilst our leaders welcomed the blessings of the experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit, they were concerned about the impact of it on our highly structured Movement. By the 1960s and 1970s, the Movements response to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit being experienced in the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches led to losses of officers and soldiers to those churches.

The Gospel of the Indwelling Presence of God

Since then, I worry that we now emphasise doctrine and even more, right practice (e.g. orders and regulations) above the experience of the presence of God. But the whole point of the Gospel is that the Christian and Salvationist can experience the indwelling of God in our lives in the same way as Jesus himself. And I am coming to believe that we cannot fully understand our religious beliefs (doctrine) nor the ethical ideals of Jesus (as interpreted by our Officer and Soldier covenants and Orders & Regulations) without first having and keeping a real, inner experience of God.

Cultivating the Presence of God

I do not mean that we should seek for charismatic shouting, Toronto Blessings, leaping up in the air, jumping for Jesus or speaking in tongues, although if that’s how the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest himself in our Movement then we must embrace it. But I am saying that everything we do must be to help us be aware of that inner presence of the Holy Spirit and to cultivate space for the presence of God. Time spent in prayer, in meditation, in pleading for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, in waiting, in learning to listen and many other spiritual disciplines are all there to open our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to God’s presence.

When God comes to us, we experience his presence. It is always current, always fresh. Doctrine and Orders & Regulations are creations of the mind. They follow on from the experience of the presence of God. For The Salvation Army and the Holy Spirit, I believe if we seek him first, cultivate his presence in our lives, and right belief and right practice will inevitably follow. My prayer for myself and for all Salvationists and Christians everywhere are the words of General John Gowans:

Burning, burning, brightly burning,
Brightly burning fire divine,
Satisfy my spirit’s yearning.
Fill this empty soul of mine.

Burning, burning, always burning,
Holy Spirit, stay with me;
To your will my will is turning,
What you will I want to be.

2 Burning, burning, deeply burning,
Deeply burning holy fire,
Now, your perfect plan discerning,
Your design is my desire.

3 Burning, burning, gently burning,
Gently burning fire within,
From your love my love is learning,
Now I feel your work begin.

John Gowans (1934-2012)
© The General of The Salvation Army.

Used By Permission. CCL Licence No. 30158
Copied from The Song Book of The Salvation Army
Song Number 317

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

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