Articles of War

As soldiers we cut a pretty big covenant (read it here). Covenant is becoming pretty big these days in the wider church…there are neo-monastic missional orders springing up all over the place. For example, the Order of the Mustard Seed originally began by the great Moravian prayer warrior, Count Zinzendorff and more recently revived through the 24/7 prayer movement, of which The Salvation Army has been a big part. This is all great stuff…its a great emphasis on the fact that God calls us to sign up to live our lives missionally where God has placed us.

The difference between the Army and both the ancient and the new monastic orders, I guess, is that we go on to provide a place that people can continue call their spiritual home when they’ve got saved through the mission we carry out. In that sense, we become the place where people live out their Christian lives as part of the body, or where they journey with us to explore Christian life and faith. Thats fine.

The Articles of War are a rule of life, a covenant. This is not the document we say that one must be able to sign in order to become a Christian. The path for that is simple repentance and faith in Jesus…no document necessary! This is a document that all who sense the call to live as covenanted soldiers of The Salvation Army sign. Clear distinction.

As a Salvation Army in the UK, we’ve largely lost sense of the radical call of soldiership because we’ve confused it with being a part of the body of Christ. In trying to be inclusive, we’ve concluded that the standards of soldiership must be lowered, and thus we have a soldiers covenant which can mean everything and nothing at the same time.

When my son was too young to become a junior soldier, he asked me “well what can I be now, dad?” My reply was, “son, you can become a Christian, a follower of Jesus.” Friends, this is the place we begin, its where we always belong, we are always followers of Jesus. And hey, you can be a great follower of Jesus without being a soldier. Yes, its true. In many ways, we are doing our job when people come into the Kingdom and become followers of Jesus. Let me clarify, this is the priority.

However, we also want to call people to soldiership. Why? because at the core of our movement should be this covenanted, missional, out-reaching, extravagangly loving, sacrificial, and disciplined people who have heard the call of God to ‘sign up’ to the covenant we make and keep with God. Its a path of obedience, of duty, obedience, simplicity, and sacrifice. If every soldier lived out the covenants they sign, the world truly would be a different place…it really would.

Soldiership is a set of vows we take, like the monastic friar, brother or sister wherein we chose to live the radical expression of Jesus-following I mention above. Not everyone will be called to take these, but its a fairly good thing to suppose that it may just be that those God choses to win through us would be the ones he might call to become soldiers and become part of the covenanted community.

But hey, if they don’t, they already belong amongst us a) because they’re saved already or b)becuase they are journeying with us as they explore faith. I’d argue, on those grounds that Adherency is yet another red herring on the landscape of The Salvation Army. Its a form of membership that we don’t really need. Why? because we should be the kind of community where you belong anyway. Where your turning up instantly makes you ‘one of us.’ This is radical hospitality. From that position of belonging, you may hear the call to soldiership, to take on the covenant. Church membership is a legacy of Christendom which has increasing irrelvance. What is relevant, is maintaining the covenant community at the heart and mission of The Salvation Army in the form of its soldiers. Covenant is the glue of The Salvation Army as it gives us our common purpose.

I’m not naive. I know that many of our corps are far away from this model. I know that in many places, soldiership has been so operated that it has presented itself as an insiders club. Believe me, I’m as much apposed to this idea as I could possibly be.

How do we deal with this? We simply must find ways of encouraging each other and keeping each other accountable to living out our covenant individually and as a covenanted community. We need to cultivate a culture where people are open to being asked ‘in what ways have you fleshed out your covenant today?’ The easiest place we can do that is in the recruits class, but more than that, it needs to be build on trust with existing soldiers.

I really believe that grasping the distinct nature of our covenant will be the glue that will keep the Army from further fragmentation. Not because that by doing it we’ll ‘keep the numbers up’ or ‘halt the numbers decline’ but because we’ll solidify the Army at its heart…either that, or we become Samson without his hair…we will lose our inner strength and it will all come tumbling round about us!

4 thoughts on “Articles of War

  1. "Why? because at the core of our movement should be this covenanted, missional, out-reaching, extravagangly loving, sacrificial, and disciplined people who have heard the call of God to 'sign up' to the covenant we make and keep with God. Its a path of obedience, of duty, obedience, simplicity, and sacrifice."Isn't this what being a Christian should be, full stop. My problem with soldiership is that it seems to "allow" you to do more than anyone else. The irony is that it's those things that are the least missional of all.I'm not sure actually if we should place a higher emphasis on soldiership as something more than simply being a Christian, maybe we should lower it to simply affiliating yourself with the Church and the values of the Salvation Army.

  2. I'm with white flash on this one.Much of the Army's mission in the early days seems to have been carried out by people who were converted and loved and lived the gospel. The served their neighbours and sought out people in need. Hospitality was provided in homes, food was shared from the table or the pantry and help was given out of personal resources.Now it seems like the organisation respond, not the individual. Much of our energy is spent on maintaing the organisation so that the army mission can be pursued.The Army mission is God's mission. All Christians are (or should be) God's soldiers. I have a sense that until individual salvationists embrace that mission on a personal level we will continue to mark time (or go backwards in the West).I like the concept of evangelism as dance – or we could call it mission as dance.We invite others to hear the music of God and move in tune to the beat of God's heart.The Army, through Corps and Social Centres and relational communities, provides venues or avenues where the music of God can be shared and heard. The invitation to listen to the beat of God's heart comes through close contact with another who is moving with that beat.Maybe it doesn't sound like aggressive Salvationism, but the way most people come to know christ is through a relationship with someone who knows Christ. All the covenants in the world have not changed that. The articles of war are a personal commitment to lifestyle, and a written statement of a commitment to 'missio dei'. Let's promote them in that way and get on with it.

  3. White flash….Yes, Christianity should be this. Thing is, to be a Christian today means everything and nothing in our society which is now emerging from a Christendom era where everyone was considered 'Christian' simply because they were born here. Like I said, there are many, when asking what it means to follow Jesus today are looking to go deeper and many of them now take steps much like what the Army has historically….a covenanted community with a rule of life something akin to The Articles of War.There are several key shifts happening in our society, where Christianity is returning to the margins, not just because it feels called to, but because it is being pushed…the 'church' as establishment no longer holds the influence it had. Now, if this trend continues, and Christianity returns to the margins that it inhabited before Christendom, we are going to enter huge times of challenge. The church pre-Christendom (pre 312AD) made it really difficult to become a Christian because you had to be sure to belong to that kind of fringe movement.To be a Christian will no longer be a cultural choice, but a matter of deep commitment and integrity because it may very well become increasingly challenging to be a Christian. Those who’ve been cultural Christians are the main people leaving churches today…in many cases because there isn’t an alternative. The other people who are leaving are those who haven’t seen a radical expression of discipleship. I’d suggest it is the same in the Army…we have a soldiership now which has come to mean nothing. Some have never seen radical soldiership, never been invited into it and have only experience the ‘in-club’ that you describe…major turn off. Across the board, we need to raise the bar of discipleship in order to become a fluid centered-set community…where there is a solid core but where there are people journeying with us. Interestingly, most commentators on current day Christianity are saying the same – the bar of discipleship needs to be raised. Why? because we need to capture the radical discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Rather than just let soldiership fizzle away to a bland nothingless that in so many places it has become, we have the opportunity to see it restored to what it should be…an picture of radical Jesus-following.If being a follower of Jesus doesn't become so much more hard core, we are in trouble. Now, where soldiership comes in is that it actually invites people to go deeper, it has the potential to shows them a different pattern from bog-standard Sunday Churchianity. We have the centered set set-up that the missiologists suggest the church needs to have. However, because we have lowered the bar, it has become a bounded set – soldiership has, as you say, become the barrier at which you either belong or don’t. Here is what I’m proposing: the Salvation Army needs to become a revolutionary movement of covenanted warriors who exercise holy passion to win the world for Jesus. We won’t get there by dumbing down….soldier up and go for it. Just some thoughts in response to your commentAndrew

  4. Graham, just a few points added on in response to your words too…there is little I'd say to disagree with what you've written. I don't know how much you pop into the blog, but if you do in any depth, you'll know a bit more about what my line is when it comes to individual salvationists being missional. If you're not a regular, then I'm not entirely sure that you'd be catching the full essence of what I'm saying. Anyhow…What I'm saying is that salvationists should rediscover that radicalness of covenant they've signed. The Army, by and large, has hindered that by what it has made soldiership become…bland membership.I am all for the reintegration of community and social work into the missional life of The Salvation Army where all that stuff comes out of who we are as a people engaged in the mission of God as opposed to being a social agency. Aggressive Salvationism is one which lives out the alternative Kingdom of King Jesus, works for the expansion of its rule and his reign and invites people to become citizens of it.

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