Andy Miller III
Cover Image for A Reason to Shout "Hallelujah"

A Reason to Shout "Hallelujah"

May 18, 2021

I was caught off guard. My Salvation Army worshiping tradition has produced in me a naturally interactive worship style that wasn’t ready for what I was about to experience. Surrounded by fellow students from many denominations, my “Amens” and specifically my “Hallelujahs” distinguished me amongst hundreds of my colleagues at Asbury Seminary. Then role reversal came when I was the unresponsive, reserved worshiper. Outfitted in liturgical gown, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas majestically read the Scripture lesson for the morning. When he finished, my eyes were drawn to him as he raised the Bible in the air, not just to eye level, but above his head as far as his arms could reach. With a joyful thunder in his voice he declared, “This is the word of God for the people of God.” I was overcome with emotion with the respect being given to Scripture, and I had a “hallelujah” ready to burst out of my mouth, in old-fashioned Army style, but I was interrupted. I was interrupted by the non-Salvationists in the room, everyone but me that is, as they said back with vigor, “Thanks be to God!”

Dumbfounded in that moment, I realized that maybe this liturgical style was not as dusty as I thought. I was taught in Corps Cadets to simply repeat, “May the Lord add a blessing to the reading of His word.” In that moment in the seminary chapel service I was disappointed with our movement. “Come on….we’re the people with brass bands, fire volleys, waving flags, Joe the Turk, and hallelujahs. We’ve got to do better.” In becoming friends with my fellow students, I found a similar love and respect to what my tradition taught me about Scripture. I learned their hearts were filled with deep conviction when they responded to the affirmation, “This is the word of God for the people of God.”

Despite our lack of a liturgical formula in the Army, we do whole heartedly agree with many other denominations about the authority and power of God’s word. We affirm in our first article of faith that the Old and New Testaments are inspired Scripture, representing “the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.”

When we say the Bible is the “divine rule” in this context, we mean so much more than a rule book. While reading a fairly technical book on theological hermeneutics (I get tired just saying that), these words of Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer hit me right between the eyes: the Bible is “less textbook [rulebook] than playbook.”[1] With this image of the playbook, Scripture becomes a basis for how we practice, live, breath, and battle as Christians. It is the source for our action as a movement of God. It is the battle plan for an Army: a fight which we know we will win. Scripture then is more than ‘do’s and don’ts,’ or a “instruction manual” but this vision sees Scripture saying to us today, “Here we are in the fight, and here we go!” If you take away the revelation of God that comes through Scripture, then we are running around in circles lacking reason and rhyme. So the divine rule is more than rules.

It is no surprise that when General William Booth crafted the articles of faith of the Christian Mission (later The Salvation Army), he primarily copied the doctrinal formations from his previous denomination—The Methodist New Connexion. That is where we get this phrase the “divine rule.” John Wesley, our spiritual grandfather in the faith, is the source of this language. He called it the “rule of faith” or the “analogy of faith.” In his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament he explained that this rule is:

The basis for understanding the grand scheme of doctrine…original sin, justification by faith, and present and inward salvation….any question should be determined by this rule… interpreted according to the grand truths which run through the whole.[2]

It was Wesley’s way of keeping the big story of salvation in front of his reading of Scripture. Essentially the divine rule implies that we should keep the “fight” in mind as we read the Bible. Or with a sports image, the “action on the field” is the purpose of the playbook. The action that we affirm as this “divine rule” is that God is working in history to save the world through the resurrected Christ. Scripture constitutes this divine rule and the authority of the God who inspired it. The pages and the ink itself are not our authority, but it represents the divine rule, which is God’s authority. British Bible Scholar, N.T. Wright helped me understand the point that Scripture is authoritative not by itself but because is carries the authority of God.

With this confidence in Scripture as the foundation for my identity as a Salvationist, I have adapted a practice in worship that affirms what I have been itching for since my days at Asbury Seminary. Just as my friends in more liturgical contexts relish their opportunity to affirm the place of Scripture when the reader proclaims, “This is the word of God for the people of God,” and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God,” we in The Salvation Army can develop a distinct affirmation. One suggestion that has been meaningful in a corps that I serve gives people an opportunity for an old fashioned “fire a volley.” The person reading scripture symbolically lifts up the Bible after it has been read and declares, “This is the word of God for the Army of God” to which the corps’ congregation responds “Hallelujah!” The interactive worship style that we love in Salvation Army congregations can meet up with the consistency of liturgical drama. This practice has been a beautiful part of our worship.

This statement affirms that the word of God—the Bible— is the engine of God’s Army and consequently a good reason to shout hallelujah. Wherever I have preached during the last few years, I have introduced this practice. Just after I preached for the Territorial Executive Council and explained this idea, a wise senior officer in my territory came to me with a little concern. “Andy, about that…” My stomach turned a little as he started to speak because he had the ability to give me “marching orders” right then and there. Sheepishly I responded, “Yes, sir?” “The word of God is not just for the Army of God…it’s for all the people of God.” Then as he and I discussed the point, we both affirmed that this concept of the “Army of God” is bigger than “The Salvation Army.” Salvationism and the divine rule of Christian faith and practice is about the way all Christians rally around the authority of God as revealed in Scripture. With his encouragement I kept the practice up. I confidentially encourage every believer, but specifically the battle focused Salvationist, to let out a “Hallelujah” when hearing the “word of God for the Army of God!”

This article appeared in the July 7, 2012 edition of The War Cry

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: WJK, 2005), 145. [2] John Wesley, comment on Romans 12:6, in Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (London: Epwoth Press, 1954), 569-570. 

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