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!

Evangelism is not a dirty word

In the times we are in, there has been much that has demoted evangelism to the bottom of the pile. Many people are reluctant to share faith because of the culture of the society we’re in, such as the culture I described yesterday. Some thing that because the church isn’t a norm in society, because we’re pluralistic and multi-cultural, and because the world doesn’t readily except the gospel that everyone once had a knowledge of, what we must do now is just make friends and hope the gospel shines from us. I understand that conclusion.

However, there is an alternative we must consider. You know, especially here in the UK, there are more and more people who have no idea of the gospel story. I make reference to the supermarket Sainsburys who last year put out a press release in support of the sale of all their Easter eggs, stating that they had a commitment to sell them due to them being a celebration of Christ’s birth! Then re-issued the statement stating that it wasn’t, of course his birth, but his death. Then, for a third time, they re-issued a statement and confessed that it was in fact in celebration of his resurrection that they were selling the eggs! People don’t know the story of Jesus.

I think that much of our evangelism has had the purpose of getting people to come to church. Again, I state that ‘church’ as an institution, and as a place you go and have services done to you by the professional clergyman and where you don’t have to buy in further than chipping a few quid into the collection plate are over. If churchianity is indeed coming to an end (please God!), then the people who will be Christians are those who are totally sold out to Jesus and many of the people who have some notion that they should attend church will do so no more on cultural grounds. As things get tough in the world with regards to being a Christian, the tactic of getting people to front up to a service on a Sunday will be useless.

Why? Because church is not what happens on a Sunday or Wednesday night. Its not somewhere you go. Church is something we are..and…there is only one church. The word churches shouldn’t really be in our vocabulary because there is but one body. Someone once said that Jesus is coming back for A bride, not a hareem.

So, if evangelism is not to get people to come along to our church empires, what is it? It is the good news of the Kingdom of God, thats what it is. Jesus preached everywhere that the Kingdom of God was at hand. There is an alternative way that you are invited into, a different world, eternity beginning here and now where the charactistics are righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Where the first are last and the last are first etc etc. The entry point into that Kingdom is through repentance and faith in the key character, Jesus, who steps into history of the human being and provides the keys of escape from our corrupt society and our corrupt lives into this other Kingdom.

We have the incredible opportunity to begin to tell the story, God’s story of redemption. Remember when two disciples were walking along the Emmaus road? They didn’t recognise the Jesus that walked with them, they were caught up in the shock of all that had happened, but Jesus brings some context to what they’d just experience by taking them to Moses and the prophets! Have you ever noticed that? Jesus talks to them about his own significance in the context of history….he tells them the story that they’d maybe never considered.

In any case, we have a load of people who don’t know our story (including Sainsburys!). And here is our chance to present not a ‘come to our church’ gospel but welcome to the Kingdom…come, taste and see the beauty of it…come live it with us and we live counter-culturally to the world we are in through the gateway of the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We have the opportunity not to bring people to church, sit them in a pew and leave them forever unemployed in the salvation story of the world. We can invite them in and have them taking part straight away.

We are a salvation people….this is our speciallity. Getting saved, keeping saved, and getting others saved. And when we’re saved, we’re saved to save (and serve too).

Join the Army…be a soldier…enter the adventure…live out the Kingdom and invite people to join you.

Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 3

3. Missional-Incarnational Impulse.

We saw that a crucial element of discipleship and disciplemaking was a thrusting of ourselves into the world. For Jesus followers, it was the same. The concept of ‘sending’ is central to the mission of the New Testament. Jesus was sent by the Father, the Spirit was sent by Jesus into the context of our lives so that we could then be empowered for witness ‘to the ends of the earth.’ But like Jesus, that ‘sent-ness’ involved becoming one with that which he was sent to. It involved a deep and intimate engagement with the world.
Hirsch describes the missional-incarnational impulse of Jesus like and good preacher and offers us some ‘Ps’:

Presence – Jesus became flesh and blood, ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ and developed a close relationship to us. He didn’t ship out to Heaven every night.
Proximity – He dealt with every strata of society, from Chief Priests, Pharisees, Roman Legionnaires all the way down to tax collectors, prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ He had table fellowship with people in ways that got him a reputation.
Powerlessness – Jesus was the ultimate servant of God. He led from a position of rejecting all the conventional methods of leadership of his day. He didn’t come as a king, priest or prophet, but he was, in the absolute truest sense, King, Priest and Prophet! Jesus influence and authority was spiritual rather than institutional.
Proclamation – Jesus announced the Kingdom as well as demonstrating it. He was at odds with the St Francis of Assisi who thought words we optional. You can’t take away proclamation of the gospel away and remain true to the gospel.
It is clear to see that the early Salvation Army understood missonal-incarnational impulse. The Army invaded and became and integral part of every slum and palace it could get into. In terms of presence, whilst Booth’s Darkest England scheme was happy to ‘get people out’, here was a commitment first of all for the Salvationist to ‘go in.’ The stories of Booth-Tucker in India are legends. With regards to proximity, William Booth’s funeral was attended by queens and prostitutes.

Even with our autocratic rank system and slightly tyrannous William Booth, we find words like this from the likes of Railton: “We are an army of soldiers of Christ, organised as perfectly as we have been able to accomplish, seeking no church status, avoiding as we would the plague every denominational rut, in order perpetually to reach more and more of those who live outside every church boundary. (George Scott Railton, HEATHEN ENGLAND) We resisted the temptation to approach mission from the lofty position of the churches, but instead was happy to be the object of ridicule from the churches who though we ‘dumbed-down’ the glorious body.

In the field of Proclamation, we took need say very little. We were born in the streets and the gospel was broadcast in every genre possible, as we all know.
For today, the questions are clear. Are we sufficiently engaged with the lost? Are we fully participating in the life of our world? What company do we keep? Is our leadership and ‘position’ as Christians expressed in service? Do we assume our position in society? Are we willing to stand up to the requirement of the gospel to proclaim the Kingdom in season and out of season? Are we still creative in getting the message out? Are we a movement accessible by ‘the people’ we are sent to serve and win?

Unleashing the Apostolic Genius in The Salvation Army – Part 1

It seems pretty safe to say that there is probably more conversation going on now about the nature , shape and ‘feel’ of Salvationism that possibly ever before. The fragmentation away from ‘first love principles’ have left us with a Salvation Army which isn’t always encouraging, certainly in the context in which I am placed.
I have personally been convinced that The Salvation Army is something akin to a sleeping bear. When roused and fully awake, its potential is tremendous. I’ve also been one who has been deeply inspired and motivated by the Salvationism of our founders. I’ve long been convinced that there was something in our earliest days as a movement which are key to our regeneration as a missional movement, a permanent mission to the lost.

It was in reading ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch that I began to get a really clear sense of what it was about primitive Salvation Army that was so potent. Its actually something that is common to many movements, especially Jesus movements within the Christian Church over the whole course of its history. Alan Hirsch calls it Apostolic Genius…that is, certain elements that are deeply ingrained in the spiritual DNA of Jesus movements. He draws his conclusions specifically from studying the early church and the present day phenomenon of the under-ground church in China. As I read, I started to explore how his principles applied directly to the missional DNA of The Salvation Army.

My history lecturer at Bible College once said that ‘we cannot know who we are and where we are going, unless we understand where we have been.’ The thing is, when we look at issues regarding who we are as Salvationists, we often fail to go further back than Booth, recognising that what was in him and all that The Salvation Army came to be came from somewhere else. Its all in Jesus.

Let me share each of Hirsch’s elements of what he calls, Apostolic Genius, the stuff that fuels and shapes authentic missional movements.

1. Jesus is Lord
The thing that set Judaism apart from the rest of the religions of its day was the nature of God himself. This is the God who declared in the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4, that ‘The Lord is God, the Lord is One.’ The implication of this was that God was the God of every aspect of life. This explains the somewhat confusing nature of Leviticus! If God was God of everything, then he was God of everything! For Yahweh, there is no sacred/secular divide. The whole of our being is under his Lordship.

As we move into the New Testament, we have a full revelation of God in the form of his Son, Jesus. The concept of the Lordship of YHWH over everything becomes focussed. We are invited to understand God through the Lordship of Jesus. The central war cry of the early church was ‘Jesus is Lord!’ This wasn’t just a statement of theology, it was the heart of the Hebraic mindset that understood that spirituality and religion were not compartmentalised to certain sections of life. It is the ultimate distillation of our faith. The whole of life was to be ordered under the Lordship of Jesus. Everything was spiritual. It is the essence of faith, after which everything else is marginal.

The early Salvation Army no doubt had the Lordship of Jesus at its heart. Catherine Booth wrote: “And what is our work? To go and subjugate the world to Jesus; everybody we can reach; everybody we can influence, and bring them to the feet of Jesus. (Catherine Booth, AGGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY)

More spectacularly, she said at another point, “ The decree has gone forth that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and that He shall reign whose right it is, from the rivers to the ends of the earth. I believe that this Movement is to inaugurate the great final conquest of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Catherine Booth, in John Rhemick. A NEW PEOPLE OF GOD.)

Not only did Catherine believe in the centrality of Lordship of Jesus in faith, but she affirmed his was an organising principle, something which gave reason to our coming together in the first place.

We see this Lordship expressed is various ways with the primitive Salvation Army. Consider uniform wearing at work, the desire to take faith into the workplace. Look at our theology of sanctifying the ordinary and our theology of the sacramental life as opposed to the sacramental rituals. Revisit the construct of The Salvation Army flag with its reminiscent ‘Yahweh our Banner’ (Exodus 17:15) and the desire of William Booth to see it flying from every public building. One need look no further than our response to societal problems! This was a robust desire to see the Kingdom come in every sphere, and in every area of life, temporal and spiritual. Today we call it wholistic; a term we were doing before we knew the term.

Is Jesus the Lord of The Salvation Army today? Do we divide our work, service and ministry into sacred and secular? Are we passionate about bringing the world to the feet of Jesus to the extent that everything we do is organised around this principle? And what of our social work? Does Jesus claim of Lordship find itself at home at the heart of all we do in that sector? As a whole, does our ministry look like an expression of the whole ministry of Jesus as we find in the pages of the gospels?

Keep tuned for thoughts on the other elements.

The one about….our missionary challenge

It is the most obscure thing to be a missionary in your own country and culture. The state of the nation, its spiritual temperature, its distance from the ‘church’ lead us to a very specific challenge. That challenge is how do we share Jesus with people.

In many ways, we face a not to dis-similar challenge to that the Army faced at its birth…a nation far away or excluded from church and in desperate need of redemption. It was on this stage that the Apostolic Genius which Alan Hirsch talks about began to show itself and be unleashed in the life of Booth and his comrages.

Apostolic Genius? At the heart of it all, Jesus is Lord. But also: disciple making, missional-incarnational impulse, organic structures (or at least in the Army’s case, a functional structure which gave the structure needed for that particular time), apostolic environment and a communitas (not community) of people focus and gathered round the one over-arching missional task.

In my little foray recently through the archives of armyrenewal I came across a startling quote by General John Gowans. General Gowans drops this bomb, in reference to some particilar corps in the Army:

“They started taking care of the corps instead of taking care of the lost and the Lord took their candlestick from its place. The glory has departed.”

Wowee!! Strong. It is a reminder, though, that we are certainly not in this business to build churches. That is congregations of people who gather like sheep to be fed. Rather, we make disciples who are then equipped to incarnate the gospel in the work place, the school, the street, the neighbourhood watch meeting, the parent council, the local government, the local prison, the schools, the statutory youth work, the community associations.

I came across a quote from a guy called Hugh Halter, someone I’d never heard of until a few days ago when I came across his book ‘The Tangible Kingdom.’ He says this: “The goal of our missional life is not to grow churches. The goal of church is to grow missionaries. The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church. The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of the deep meaning of a common experience.”

This needs to sink in folks. We can patch up our ‘churches’ or our ‘churchy corps’ until the cows come home with all sorts of schemes, deals and promotions but until we mobilise the Army as a force propelled by apostolic genius, we’re barking up the wrong tree. Halter’s quote could easily have come from the mouth of a Booth or a Railton. And actually, I think it rings true with the very words of the Commander-in-Chief himself, the Lord Jesus.

Affirmations #7 New Army

7. I believe that God can do something unprecedented with The Salvation Army.

I believe God can, but will we let him? Where does the future of the Army lie, how will God do his new thing? What will it look like?

I believe God will be able to do something withus when we get a fresh glimpse of Jesus, when we take our eyes off of ourselves and look to the author and perfector of our faith, the beginning and the end, our Commander-in-Cheif.

Unsurprisingly, there was a quote that caught my eye in Alan Hirsch/Michael Frost’s new book “ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church”. He says this:

“For Salvationists to rediscover the fire and fight within William Booth…is valuable. But, when there is something fundamentally wrong in the basic equation of faith, then it is time to recover a vital and active sense of Jesus: who he is, what he has done for us, the way of life he laid down for us to follow. His passions must become ours.”

Primitive Salvationism (read Booths salvationism) was empassioned by Jesus. Read any work of any Booth and you’ll see how much Jesus was Lord of The Salvation Army. He must indeed become this again. I don’t currently believe every aspect of our Army today is under His lordship. He will do something new in us when we rediscover Jesus.

Going back to what I said a few posts agi, our Christology (our understanding of Jesus from the scripture) should shape our missiology (what we do) and our mission should inform our ecclesiology (what shape we are as an Army).

The extent to which we are a Jesus Army (not The Jesus Army) is the extent to which God will do something new amongst us.

Simple Mission

Just a pause on the affirmations series to interject a post I wrote in Jan 2007, whilst I was still the CO at Pill. As I was reflecting on how things are going here at Torry, God just brought this back to my mind. I was pleasantly surpised about how Torry is beginning more and more to be this! As I re-read this through Torry eyes, it fits so well.

Funnily, since then, I’ve been heavily incluenced by Floyd McClings book and Neil Cole’s books on what has been called ‘simple church.’ When I wrote this, I hadn’t heard of these people or their books. I say that simply to credit our great God about the marvellous ways he speaks to his people to advance his Kingom.

By the way, all we lack in this vision is some bodies to come alongside us and help us. If you feel called, you’re welcome to join us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Simple Mission

I’ve got a dream. Its best encapsulated by the phrase ‘Simple Mission.’ Let me explain how I see it.

It is a corps of soldiers and local officers working a geographical area. It is, of course, a ward based corps, so the main teaching, prayer, worship and pastoral care happens in a network of small groups. New converts are also plugged straight into these groups because this corps doesn’t hold conventional meetings…not every week anyway. Now thats a good job, because this corps doesn’t have a very expensive building to maintain because its much more Kingdom efficient to just rent the local school hall when all the wards come together for celebration.

The corps does, however, have a decent sized shop front in the main street of the town. This shop front is the hub of the mission. It has a 24/7 prayer room too.

There might be a couple of offices at the back, but the front is just kitted out with sofas, a few tables and chairs and a coffee machine, and its open as much as possible. Its not a scant building though, it is simple yet attractive, modern. People float in and out all day, the young people gravitate there in the evening. Its the kinda place you want to spend some time.

As well as the ward meeting, the soldiers engage in brigade activity. They all get together at another time in the week and get out into the community. Maybe there is some outdoor worship, maybe some will be out doing prayer ministry door to door, some will be ministering practically to the poor. Others will be using the hub providing a course for new parents. Others will be prayer walking. Some might do an afterschool club at the hub to keep kids busy until bedtime. Others might be leading midweek worship at another church. Others are mingling in the local pub with the regulars. Yet more are befriending elderly folks, encouraging them to come down to the hub and meet a few people. Folk from all the wards get together to have a band practice because they spend their Sundays speading the word at as many public parks and events as possible during the summer and they love to go carolling at Christmas.

Others give free hours to the local Salvation Army hostel to help maintain the important spiritual work of saving men and women from addiction. The whole corps is invovled in mission yet everyone has much more time to be building personal networks of friends to invite to their ward because they are not down the Army doing all manner of stuff every night. At the bare minimum, people are attending their ward and doing a couple of hours brigade activity. Others are so enthused that mission is happening that they just want to give as much time as possible to the corps mission and they love manning the hub and supporting other brigade activity.

The corps officers devote their time to training the soldiers and local leaders. They get stuck in along with the rest of the soldiers with the brigade activity. They make the hub their base for most of the week. They may even be overseeing two or three hubs. The Army now has a less officer-centred ministry because of this dedication to simple mission because the whole Army is mobilised. The officer is now released to lead, direct and oversee…pointing out gaps in the strategy, manouvering troops, providing coherence, overseeing the pastoral work of the Ward Sergeants. The officers aren’t shattered because they aren’t having to carry the whole Army’s mission on their own. They have plenty of time for their mariages and families and there is much less unrealistic expectation thrust on them compared to what it was like before the change.

The Army has come into its finest hour and we’re opening new corps all over the place. Thousands are being saved, resources are plentiful and joy has returned to The Salvation Army.

Do you see it?

Missional Salvationists Update

Just a note for those interested in the ‘Missional Salvationists’ group. We intended to use because it offered a good variety of media opportunities, however, its not seeming as if its quite up to coping with the numbers of people wanting to join the group! So, we’re going to use the facebook group for the main ‘hub’ of the group as well as other sites for hosting documents/files and good old youtube for teaching videos.

We will be starting in full after Easter and my little holiday after Easter with ‘gospel for the poor.’ For now, there is a ‘primer’ on Primitive Salvationism…a discussion on a document written by Captain Stephen Court which can be found online (in both JAC and Primitive Salvationism website) from the link on the facebook page.

I hope in time to include some video teaching from some other folks, not just little ole me.

Head over to facebook, search for Missional Salvationists, and join up before it all kicks off in full.

Missional Salvationists

So, I’m trying to pull together people interested in doing a bit of online community learning which will hopefully help Salvationists to come together for online encouragement and teaching, encouragement in mission and service through their local corps.

The plan is fairly simple. I’m going to present some sort of short video talks on an aspect of Salvationist mission. I’ll be coming at it from a bit of a ‘primitive salvationist’ angle…the only angle I know well! There will also be some suggested reading for each segment. I’ll then prepare a list of questions to get us going and then we wade in on the discussion forum. We’ll lean on some SA101, 201, and 301 teaching plus whatever else seems relevant.

By primitive salvationist, I mean primitive as in ‘pertaining to the original; according to the initial pattern.” Primitive Salvationism has been defined as ‘charismatic-flavoured mission-focussed heroism.’ Ideally, the word ‘primitive’ shouldn’t have to be in there at all, and maybe it doesn’t, but I am sure I’m not the only one who believes that we need to capture again our reason d’etre.

I hope you’ll join in and find it helpful.

Rough list of topics: mission to the poor, ministry by the Holy Spirit, holiness, salvation, spiritual warfare, evangelism, social justice, mission shape, covenant, soldiership, community transformation etc

Search for teh group on Facebook.