Legalism and The Salvation Army

by Sam Stinson

"There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:12).

A man named Johnny Harsh, who calls himself a captain in the Salvation Army, has faced media scrutiny in recent days. Harsh, by all accounts a gentle man, was once married to a fellow member of the group. However, his wife passed away last year. Desiring not to be alone and having the right as a widower to take a new mate, Harsh met a woman, not a group member, and decided to get married. This would have been fine except that group has an established rule which forbids such a union. The policy states that those who marry outside the group are to lose their position and privileges. Speaking on this topic, one poster on an Internet site said, "Your employer likely has rules and regulations that you agreed to when you took that job and if you don't like them, you can simply leave. Your employer, and an organization such as the Salvation Army, can dictate terms and conditions as they see fit, and that's not discrimination." A group asserting that it is Christ's body is not the head. It lacks authority to make new law. This behavior is legalism. Interestingly enough, the Salvation Army lists on its web site, under the noted topic "Sabbath keeping" that "We are not to be bound by legalistic practices."

James teaches those who pattern themselves after Christ are not to act as though we are lawgivers. The Bible teaches that God's ministers work for him and are to be supported of God's altar. God dictates terms: we listen. We are executors, not legislators. The root issue above is the creation of the new office of captain. Such discussions are incomplete if we only discuss the failings of our neighbors. Let us consider their failings our own since we are of the same nature as human beings (cf. James 5:17) we share many of the same troubles and temptations as others. Roman Catholic authorities believe they have the right to legislate that their officers may not marry. Salvation Army authorities believe they have the right to legislate that their officers may not marry outside their group. What do those within our number believe, practice, preach, and teach? Do we mandate the abstinence of things which are to be received with prayer and a thankful heart? (I Timothy 4:3; Colossians 2:16) Having policies can be helpful in executing our given stewardships, commissions, and orders from the Lord. However, we are not at liberty bind such punitive consequences. There is one King who legislates as he desires and if we hope to be found as good stewards of what he has commissioned us, let us instead set our minds on executing our prescribed duties, not putting a stumbling block in the way of others. Brethren, let us take this to heart.