Now, having said what I’ve said in the previous two articles in this series, I now move on to something which sits on the nest of these. I propose to you that the concept of clergy should not exist in The Salvation Army. I want to present the problem and an alternative in this post. I have written some of this before, but is key to my thinking at this time.
A greater treatment of this subject has been carried out by Major Harold Hill in his book “Officership in the Salvation Army : a Case Study in Clericalisation” and I recommend it to all who see this issue as important, and especially to those who don’t see it as an issue.
This thesis attempts an historical review and analysis of Salvation Army ministry in terms of the tension between function and status, between the view that members of the church differ only in that they have distinct roles, and the tradition that some enjoy a particular status, some ontological character, by virtue of their ‘ordination’ to one of those roles in particular. This dichotomy developed early in the life of the Church (mainly at the beginning of the onslaught of the Romanising of Christianity) and can be traced throughout its history. Jesus and his community appear to have valued equality in contrast to the priestly hierarchies of received religion. There were varieties of function within the early Christian community, but perhaps not at first of status. Over the first two or three centuries the Church developed such distinctions, between those “ordained” to “orders” and the “laity”, as it accommodated to Roman society and to traditional religious expectations, and developed structures to defend its doctrinal integrity.
This has happened throughout the Christian church as a part of the Christendom model, and post-Christendom, we find ourselves in an interesting place. Certainly in the Army, there seems to be an adoption of the clergy/laity model.
One of the things I’ve been struggling with personally recently is to do with my complete angst against clerical and priestly officership. One of the things which has become really apparent in recent years is the heightened sense that people see officers as priests, professional clergy. In Scotland in particular, which has a strong Presbyterian culture, there has been the exhaltation of the role of the minister which then actually dis-empowers the ‘laity.’ I’ve always been for the restoration of that ministry back to the people.
In many Salvation Army situations the world over, Salvationists have been fundamentally and systematically raped of their role as the people of God by an over-powering, un-biblical, and un-Salvationist mindset and regime of officer-priests. Disempowered to the stage that it is very possible that this generation of Salvationists don’t know how to take back the privilege of being co-workers with Christ. The sad thing is that this has often happens under the ministry of godly officers who’re trying to follow God’s sense of calling to service on their lives. I, as I’ve already confessed, have been party to this in the past. I’ve had a vested interest in the survival of this denomination and to the preservation of officership because of what it gives me.
Clerical and priestly officership at its worst removes from the people the mission of the Army and thats which I suggest that a non-clerical officership is the best way forward for our movement . We are an Army run almost entirely by officers, many of whom are godly, hard-working, self-sacrificing people and who do what they do from a deep sense of the call of God on their lives to serve. When soldiery has the concept that the officers role is to perform this priestly ministry, they then become simple recipients of ministry done to them instead of co-missioners. You know, almost every reformation the church has ever had has had anti-clericalism as one of its roots. Every revival of the Christian church has involved the empowerment of the people of God, taking the mission out of the hands of the ‘clergy’ into the hands of the people as mentioned above.
The Salvation Army system and structure was born in almost complete rebellion against clericalism and the evil division of laity and clergy. In dreaming up the Army, the Founders (I include William, Catherine, Bramwell, Railton etc etc), created a system where every soldier was a missionary. This is why when you read something like Os+Rs for Soldiers its like reading a manual for ‘ministers’ – because that’s almost exactly what it is! Local Officers and Officers were simply appointed as leaders of those soldiers to co-ordinate the battle. It wasn’t that William Booth was attempting to ‘abolish the clergy’ but to abolish the laity and turn every man into a missional person. This is not a far cry from the missional sending of Jesus, sending out the 12, then the 72 then the 120, they every disciple unto the ends of the earth. Jesus fans out this missional living from himself, as true prophet priest and King, into Peter’s phrase as a whole nation, royal and prietly. Thats you and me.
This pattern of officer-priests where officers do the vast majority of the ministry is not sustainable in mission terms, given the decreasing number of people offering for the priestly officership model that is so predominant in the west. I firmly believe that officership applications will increase significantly when we shake of this idea of priestliness.
I know that you will realise that the word laos, from which we get laity, simply refers to the people of God…all of us. When we go down the road of creating laity and clergy, we create a breed of super-Christians, professional Christians. Clergy is a bad word, a swear word…and actually, so is ‘laity’ when used by someone purporting to be ‘clergy.’
I fundamentally believe that officership is more to do with function than it is to do with status/office/position. I believe an officer’s role is to lead and co-ordinate the mission and ministry in a corps. That involves primarily identifying, training and releasing the pastors, teachers, evangelist, apostles and prophets (cf Ephesians 4) to their God-given role in building up the rest of the body. Yes, the officer has his own fight/ministry role too, but his/her main role is to mobilise his fighting force, to act as co-ordinator, mission team leader if you like, alongside the rest of the soldiers. I’m a soldier first.
Even the ministrations of a corps should never be officer-centered. The preaching, the worship leading, the testifying, the bible teaching should be for all and by all. The closest I’ve come to this in my short officership so far was probably towards the end of our time in Pill with the introduction of the Ward System whereby not only did pastoral and teaching ministry begin to be shared, but where the mission of the Salvation Army corps was basically handed back to the soldiery on a plate. Where the work was needed was in helping folks to then know what to do with the mission of a corps! That’s our successors tasks in Pill and I believe they will be doing that well.
If The Salvation Army is to survive, we must get the work of The Salvation Army out of the hands of officers, back into the hands of the soldiers. You must understand that I’m not being anti-officership here, but I am being anti-priest/anti-clerical. I believe that officership can be a powerful thing…so long as it does what its meant to do.
If you are an officer reading this, can I appeal to you to
– rid yourself of your priestly trappings if you have any;
– refuse to be a priest at every turn, invest your life in giving away leadership and ministry to the people you’re called to lead;
– think seriously about whether you’re in officership to function as a leader or because you have been misled by a doctrine of unbiblical, unsalvationist and apostate priesthood that takes its cue’s from Romanism and Old Testament Levitical priesthood models more than it does the model of Jesus and the Apostles.
One of the questions that I am asking now is whether the Salvation Army wants an officer who refuses to be a priest. I still do not now if they really do. I totally reject that my calling is higher than that of any of my soldiers, past or present.
I say this in the context of recent months where official minutes have been issues saying, for example, that only officers can dedicate children and make soldiers in Salvation Army ceremonies. Why? Only commissioned officers can conduct weddings, whereas Envoys are not entitled to do so…not because of any position of the law, because the Army could chose to facilitate that ‘status’ for envoys which would allow them to function in that way.
This is a life and death issue for The Salvation Army. Its one of those things we need to be hotly getting to grips with both as officers and soldiers. Please forgive me if this post has more destructive than constructive. In my next post, I want to carry this idea together in much more positive light as I share a possible model for helpful, biblical and sustainable officership in the future as non-clerical ‘catalysts’ for mission and ministry. Hope you will tune in!