Last weekend The Salvation Army hosted an International Theology and Ethics Symposium, considering the statement
Jesus Christ, Universal Lord and Saviour.
In the run-up to the Symposium, they invited Salvationists to comment on what this phrase might mean to them, and this and the next two posts were my contribution. Obviously, these posts only scratch the surface of some of the issues that the subject raises – but for what they are, here they are…
On reading the title of this symposium, I was first drawn to the phrase “Universal Lord”. Thinking about what that means raises all kinds of questions, and I have tried to categorise some of them below:
- Christ, Universal Lord of Creation
- Christ, Universal Lord of Mankind
- Christ, Universal Lord of the Church
I will attempt to say something about all of these aspects in separate posts: In this post I begin with the first:
- Christ, Lord of Creation:
Col 1:15-17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
In the New Testament, Christ is several times linked directly to God’s acts of creation, and so when considering his Lordship, it is appropriate to consider also what we mean by his sovereignty over the created universe as Triune God.
At one end of the spectrum, we have the theistic view of the “watchmaker God”, who creates the universe with its regularities and laws and then lets it live its life without further intervention. This is a view which is very convenient in the context of the natural sciences, as it allows room for theories about the development of the Universe and the evolution of life on Earth which are independent of theology. It also to some extent lets God “off the hook” in relation to the human pain and suffering that natural events can cause. This view of God as inactive and distant is however very problematic in relation to Christ, who in the incarnation represents God as active and involved in the World.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Reformed/Calvinist view that God’s sovereignty is absolute and specific, so that every event in the natural world, whether harmful or beneficial from a human point of view, is seen as a reflection of God’s will and purpose. This is a view which fits well with the general view of the Old Testament, but which may be offensive to modern ears, both because we can demonstrate the natural causes of most events, and because we are reluctant to admit that God would wish to cause the pain and suffering that follows from natural catastrophes or epidemics.
As I understand it, the Salvationist understanding has been a middle way between these extremes. We believe that God has created the Universe, and sustains it – which is to say that its continued existence is dependent on his continuing creative will. But for the most part the Universe has developed according to laws and regularities that are part of God’s original creation, so that any particular event may be seen as the outworking of the mechanics of the Universe, rather than a direct “act of God”. Nevertheless, we also believe that God can and does from time to time intervene directly in his creation, so that an unexplainable healing or other “unnatural” event may be seen as a sign of his active presence in the World. The laws of nature belong to God and may be bent to his will.
The question that then arises is whether this middle way is genuinely the consensus view in the Army, as I have supposed, and whether we have a biblical foundation for it?
Finally, of course, the Bible promises that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Exactly what this phrase means is impossible for us to know, but it emphasises that creation belongs to the Lord, and that (regardless of “natural laws”), it is in his power to renew it when his purposes are fulfilled. From this point of view, the dual roles of Lord and Saviour eventually come together in Christ’s ultimate victory.