By Kevin Jackson, Major -
It’s easy to become weary in our faith these days. Far too often we see Christians at odds with others, both inside and outside our religious worldview. Yet faith is about more than who’s right and who’s wrong. Faith is a world-changing and life-transforming relationship with God. There is joy, peace and good will on earth, yet these things should be more common between Christians. Alas, what should be more common, tends to be less so in recent years.
A recently published collection of documents, jointly written and collected by The Salvation Army International Headquarters and official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, allow for a much needed breath of fresh air for the person of faith—“Conversations: with the Catholic Church, 2007-2012” (Salvation Books, 2014). At first glance, the reader might suspect that the contents of this book contain long diatribes of dry theological speak that only resonate with scholars, theologians and those interested in canon law. A closer look reveals otherwise.
This work contains an informal collection of papers representative of the book’s title. Written by members of the participants from The Salvation Army and the Papal delegation over a five-year period, the papers alternate between The Salvation Army’s Sunbury Court and the Vatican in Rome. Each section opens with a summary report of the shared time together, and the conversational nature of the gatherings is evident. The official papers shared are written in a manner where neither an advanced degree, nor in-depth knowledge of the subject is necessary. In fact, the papers seemingly are written for the average individual, simply explaining a selected topic.
Topics included in the dialogue include the nature of the Church, social justice, and salvation and sanctification. Often times in our world we do not dialogue well. What I most appreciate about this work is the civil tenor taken throughout. Yes, there are differences in Salvationist theology and the Roman Catholic tradition. Yet, at the end of each section we realize we have more similarities with our Catholic family than differences.
The significance of a book like this is seen in its demonstration to produce a civil, faith-based conversation. From the outset of the gathering led on the Salvationist side by Commissioner William Francis, he wisely asked each of the participants from both sides of the table to share their testimonies. This set a common ground purpose for the remainder of the sessions: a general agreement among all the delegates that a relationship with God is what both of our faith purposes ultimately aim for.
As you read these conversations, it may or may not increase your knowledge of the things we hold dearly and believe, but it is sure to breathe a fresh perspective into a weariness plaguing many in the world today. The book provides a common platform for people of faith and a glimpse of a hope for the future.