Culminating a quarter century of informal contacts, theologians from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and The Salvation Army met for four days of theological dialogue Jan. 5 to 8.
“As with relationships with other Christian world communions, we recognize there are more things that unite us than divide us,” declared Colonel Earl Robinson, secretary of The Salvation Army’s Office for Spiritual Life Development and International External Relations. Both delegations, the seven-member Salvationist and the eight-member Adventist panel, were grateful for the opportunity to develop “a better understanding of each other,” and an awareness of ways in which the two “might partner together in Christ,” Col. Robinson added.
Dr. Bert B. Beach, director of Inter-Church Relations for the Adventist world church, said he was very pleased that the long-sought dialogue came about.
“It was most important to see the very similar approaches to the Gospel message that we have; very compatible lifestyles and Christ-centeredness in The Salvation Army and the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Dr. Beach told ANN. “Adventists have always had considerable respect for the work of Salvationists, and I hope that in the future we would increase our knowledge of each other and our cooperation in meeting many of humanity’s crying spiritual and material needs.”
The dialogue between the two worldwide Christian movements brings together two organizations that were each founded in the 19th century; Seventh-day Adventists in America and The Salvation Army in London, where it was originally called the Christian Revival Association, and, later, the East London Christian Mission. Each organization had a married couple as formative influences: Ellen and James White for the Adventists and Catherine and William Booth for the Salvationists. And, each group traces its roots back to the Methodist movement started by John Wesley.
Representing the Adventist Church were Dr. Beach; William G. Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review; Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University; Dr. Andrea Luxton, associate education director for the world church; Biblical Research Institute director Dr. Angel Manuel Rodríguez and former director Dr. George W. Reid; Dr. John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the world church, and Dr. Woodrow Whidden, professor of historical theology at Andrews University.
In addition to Col. Earl Robinson, the Salvationist delegation included: Col. Benita Robinson, associate secretary for International External Relations; Maj. Karen Shakespeare, assistant training program director, William Booth College, London, England; Maj. Lester Fergusson, a Salvation Army pastor in Nassau, Bahamas; Maj. Edwin Okorougo, principal of The Salvation Army Training College, Lagos, Nigeria; Dr. Roger Green, professor and chair of Biblical and Theological Studies, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts, United States; and Lars Lydholm, information director, The Salvation Army, Copenhagen, Denmark.
During the course of the four-day meeting, Adventists presented papers and talks introducing the Adventist Church and its fundamental beliefs, as well as the Wesleyan roots of Adventist theology. Also presented was a paper on “Adventist Biblical Interpretation,” also known as hermeneutics. Salvationist delegates said each of these papers was interesting and informative, and they offered many questions and comments about the papers’ contents.
From The Salvation Army side came papers on the way the movement is organized and governed; Salvationist doctrine; a survey of Salvation Army history; and an introduction to the Army’s holistic mission. These papers introduced Adventist leaders to an organization that came from very small beginnings in London to become a global mission active in many of the same nations that host Adventist churches.
The dialogue sessions are expected to continue in 2005 at The Salvation Army’s Sunbury Court Conference Center near London. Among possible topics for discussion are the relationship between the Gospel and social services; the formative roles of Catherine and William Booth for Salvationists and Ellen and James White for Adventists; the Church and the Sacraments; and theological anthropology.
“This was a very interesting and very friendly dialogue between two groups that are involved in helping others, and who have respect for each other,” commented Dr. Graz, who is also secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association. “Traditionally, it takes some time to ‘break the ice,’ but in this dialogue we felt very comfortable with each other from the start, as part of the same extended family.”