Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 2

2. Disciple making.

Inherent in the concept of disciple making is the concept of the Holy Spirit imparting to us the grace we need to become, in essence, little Jesuses to our world. The early disciples ate, breathed and slept ‘Jesus’. Their task as talmidim, followers of their Rabbi Jesus, was to become like him in every way, to somehow begin embodying all there was about him in terms of practical expression of his spirituality as well as simply the teaching he gave. The Hebrew disciple wanted to be so close to his masters footsteps that the dust from his feet would be continually in his face. The implication being that as the Rabbi moved, so did the student.

We notice that Jesus’ method of discipleship and teaching was very pragmatic. Yes, there were times when he sat them down and taught them, but much of the teaching was ‘on the go.’ He recognised that the best way to get these guys to think like him, was to first teach them to act like him by practically ‘doing the stuff.’ The thinking came out of the action. Look at the example of Jesus sending his 72 disciples out to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom in Luke 10. It was at this point that he was saying to a group much wider than his initial 12 ‘Look…you’ve seen me do it, you know the score, its your turn.’ They obey, the respond and faithfully go only to return with a extreme excitement of all they had accomplished. Right off the buzz of their missional accomplishment, Jesus enforces their experience with the theological back-up to explain what had just happened.
When we delve into the history of our own Jesus movement, our own discipleship training mission, we see early Salvationists in the cut and thrust of active discipleship. Catherine Booth explains the discipleship emphasis like this: “There is no record since the Apostles of a body that has so encompassed the Divine idea, all its members being taught to make all other objects and aims of life subservient to the one grand purpose of preaching the Gospel to every creature and striving to win every soul with whom they come in contact to its salvation (Catherine Booth. THE SALVATION ARMY IN RELATION TO THE CHURCHES. p31,32).

Hinting herself at the discipleship making element of Apostolic Genius, she reflects on the contrast between discipleship in the Army and in other churches of her day. The fact that the soldier saved at the drum was pinned with an Army badge, called upon to testify straight away to their new faith in Jesus and in uniform serving Jesus at the front line the next week is proof enough of this dynamic. In Scotland, we have a phrase that goes something like ‘its better felt that telt’ – in other words, learning comes from experience, not from simple accumulation of knowledge.
As we have developed as a Salvation Army, we’ve taken up the very discipleship practices that Catherine Booth was protesting against. We She said that “these people stand in these paths of traditionalism and routinism just where their forefathers left them occupying all their time admiring the wisdom and benevolence and devotion of their forefathers instead of IMITATING THEIR AGGRESSIVE FAITH, and MARCHING ON TO THE CONQUEST OF THE WORLD. (Catherine Booth. PAPERS ON GODLINESS, emphasis hers.)

If ever there was a danger for The Salvation Army, it is this very same thing. It is imitation that is the key, seeking to live out the aggressive and apostolic faith. Not necessarily of Booth, or Railton or any other such name that played a part of throwing the mission of The Salvation Army round the globe, but in the ways of Jesus that threw the Christian faith worldwide; the same passionate commitment to living the life of Jesus that has permeated modern-day China with Christians.
Authentic discipleship can never be about either membership or about simply what we do at the Army. We must ask ourselves, ‘what exactly is the everyday, practical requirement of the follower of Jesus?’ How transformed would our world be by a group of people who covenanted to flesh out in real terms the life of Jesus in every area of life? What would our officer training look like? How would this approach change our teaching and training methods for soldiers and local officers?

It strikes me that if there is to be a future for The Salvation Army, our ‘members’ must cease to be members and begin passionately run after Jesus to see what he is doing in our day in the lives of our communities and learn from him, by his Spirit and grace within us, what it means to be a little Jesus in that immediate context. I wonder if we will have the courage to take our discipleship learning outside the classroom and hit the road with our crazy itinerant Rabbi.

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