Straight into ‘mark’ number 4:-
4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
These set of 12 marks have their context in the US, that melting pot of nationalities and races. I don’t claim to be up on the scene over there, but there are still clear racial divisions. Both in the states and here, especially in the cities here, there are many ethnically divided churches. Black churches, chinese churches etc etc. A lot of this was a part of the church growth movement that thought you had to get everyone who was the same together in order to win them. We are reminded in scripture that we, united in Christ, are a new nation, a new people, a royal nation in fact.
One day we will stand before the throne, every tribe and every nation under God and sing the song of the Lamb. It strikes me that in a divided world, outrageous unity is one of the most significant prophetic acts we can perform. In Aberdeen, we never would speak a word against our Eastern European neighbours and, actually, we had to take a family in and provide a few days sanctuary for them against some rampant racism against them. We’re especially proud of Ben, who happily and intentionally befriended the E European lads in his class. Bramwell Booth, writing about the context of the World War commented that ‘every land is my father land, because every land belongs to my Heavenly Father’ – this against the backdrop of trying to keep a unified International Salvation Army amidst world wide conflict.
Again, however, it starts at home. Actively advocating for justice, reconcilliation between peoples whereever or whatever the context….even if its just one neighbour who doesn’t speak to another. We have this ministry of reconcilliation, says Paul.
5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church
Paul exhorts the Ephesians to ‘Submit to one another our of reverence for Christ.’ This is a recognition of the fact that the whole body manifests and ‘makes up’ the Body of Christ. The inclusion of ‘allelon’ (Greek – ‘one another’) here and quoted several other places just emphasises the unity of the body. We are to do a whole lot of ‘one another-ing’.
I’m not sure where I got this from, I think it might be from the Chinese language, but I remember someone telling me about how in a particular culture, a common Christian greeting is ‘I submit to the Christ in you’. Profound, absolutely profound. It is a submission that we see modelled in the Trinity, mutual submission. But just the wonder of the discipling of seeing Christ in our brother/sister and submitting to Him in them. This doesn’t preclude leadership, but it certainly adds to the picture of leadership scripture calls us to. I think this statement is the one key to the abuse of power in church – for everyone to submit to the Christ in each other. There is transformation in that!
6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
This is huge, especially potentially so for The Salvation Army. One of the troublesome things about Christianity these days is that the term ‘Christian’ means everything and nothing. Because we’ve typically had the bar high on our standards of church and low on standards of discipleship, the disciple can be difficult to find in some areas.
Now, my testimony is that whilst in the Salvation Army I still witnessed ‘nominalism’, the one thing that was a potential counter to that was Articles of War. In the Army, discipleship is partially defined by a rule of community, a soldiers covenant. You serve your time as a recruit, you see if you can cut the mustard, you enrol and you embrace the covenant with the community.
It has to be said, that this sort of thing is secondary to conversion….being a member of the body of Christ, getting saved, requires no rule, covenant or promise. However, that is why monasteries were often called ‘Schools of Conversion’ and monastic life as a ‘second conversion.’ When you confuse membership of the Body of Christ with membership of an order, you get into sticky ground. The Army is the prime example of this. I believe it is wrong to see soldiership as church membership for those reasons. Soldiership is a commitment to a community and a way of life as outlined in the Articles of War and the Orders & Regulations.
Leaving that aside, I believe the day has come where many churches need to articulate in clear terms what they mean when they speak of ‘discipleship.’ This is not about creating a second tier of Christian, this is about calling up those who’ve lost the discipleship vision to live as a radical follower of Jesus. I believe every community should have a community discerned ‘rule’ or ‘covenant’ where those within it can be supported, guided and kept accountable in their spiritual and missional pratices. Before we left Torry, we had started to explore common practices which, alongside our soldiers covenants (which, admitedly can be a bit less than striking). to help us flesh out our discipleship. I’ll post them in the next post before going on to steps 7-9.
Bottom line: “Lower the bar of how we do church, raise the bar on discipleship’ (paraphrasing Neil Cole!)