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!

Affirmations #3: World Winning

3. I believe that we should (and can) win the world

Again, this is a topic that has been repeatedly accented on this blog over its however many years now. We realise that the bottom line is that its either Jesus or hell…salvation is in him alone. We don’t hide that, we declare in in out doctrine and everything about us. You may or may not have heard the prophecy given by Catherine Booth along the lines that she believed that The Army would be highly significant in winning the world for Jesus, in facilitating the ‘big push’ for world evangelisation and actually, at 118 countries invaded so far, we’re not doing too badly!

But we don’t just rest on the call of the Booths or the Railtons or even the Cliftons or Gowanses for they are simply emphasising the words of Jesus himself who called us to go into all nations and to make disciples of them. Preaching the Kingdom, demonstrating the Kingdom.

Is it possible? Well, everything is possible with God. However, doubt has crept in about our purpose as an Army. It is interesting that when we talked up winning the world for Jesus, people were actually bold enough to have a go! We were zealous for the Lord in this, absolutely. We know the task remains the same, so whats changed?

a) the task? – nah, the great commission still calls us.

b) culture? – we know the world has changed, church has changed, people’s views of Christianity have changed. However, this is inevitable. Culture is always changing. What often doesn’t change is our mindset or our methods. Commissioner Joe Noland has a little formula:

attack + adapt + attract = some (I Cor 9:22)

The key I want to bring out is adapt. We were very adaptive in our early days, we took leafs from anyones book and had a jolly good go…seeking to grab the attention of our culture. We must do the same today. The message is the same, the method, howver, will be creative as always. Have we lost our creative spark? Have we lost our innovation as a movement? Nah….its there, lets just unearth it!

c) the Army?
– its my long held and annoyingly vocal opinion (to some) that the Army has been guilty in some quarters of losing its focus as a permanant mission to the unconverted. We’ve drifted into thinking we’re a church, which is a grave error. Sure, we are the church (the church is the people/body of Jesus, yes?), but we are a mission. Our soldiers are missioners. But its not terminology thats the problem, lets not fall into that one. The problem is where we set our eyes!

If you set your eyes inwards, you become a people obsessed with the ‘inwards’ of the organisation. You become too focussed on yourself, trapped in unhealthy introspection at the cost of all else. Our frame of reference is how to survive and how to keep us all happy.

If we set our eyes outwards, we become obsessed with reaching the last, the lost and the least and transformation happens in the life of people. It also shapes us because we’ve looked at the call of Jesus, applied it as the priority for our existance.

With a nod to Steve Chalke, we must be careful to let our vision of Jesus and his mission to shape our mission so that we can best win the lost by all means possible. It is that vision of Jesus and mission that then shapes our ecclesiology (how we organise ourselves and what we think we are). We get it the wrong way…we let how we see ourselves as Army shape our mission, which then affects what we say and how we present Jesus. Lets turn that on its head.

The chart flows like this:

Vision of Jesus and his call to us -> How we do mission -> Shape of Church

Not this:

How we do ‘church’ -> how we do mission -> what we say about Jesus

Is the world not too big? No….not if you start where you are. You see, if we all do that, we’ll have the world won by Tuesday (which even gives time for training and equipping!)

Here is a definition of salvationism you may or may not have come across: “The Salvation Army is a revolutionary movement of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus.” Chew on that.

I believe that the world mus be won, that we must lift our eyes up from ourselves and look to the harvest field which is ripe and awaiting labourers. Get yer boots on.

2020 Vision

Some years ago, there was a lot of hype about 2020 vision in this territory.  The idea is that 2020 is a number that symbolises perfect vision, but also reminds us of the fact that statistical decline shows serious consequences for the SA UKT by the year 2020.  There isn’t much about this at all in the recent years.  No idea what happened.

However, having had those thoughts about the whole 2020 thing, imagine my surprise when I came across a new initiative by the South Queensland Division, Australia, through facebook.

Their vision, spearheaded by the Divisional Commander, is to see a life giving Division with 60 Mission Centres – liberating lives,transforming communities, advancing God’s kingdom. 

The group on facebook shows signs too that people are taking the challenge seriously and that its producing focus and results to, so early.  This is a great example of clear, inspiring and empowering divisional leadership.

I hear too much of decline.  I hear too much about hopelessness, so much in fact that I got sucked into beginning to believe it.  If this thing called the Salvation Army is to be true to God in these next ten or so years, it really needs to stand up. 

What a vision…60 vibrant Mission Centres – liberating lives, transforming communities, advancing God’s Kingdom.  Great thing is that I really picked up that the division were doing so much to facilitate it to through provision of training, encouragement and vision casting.  I’ll be watching with interest.

Meantime, what a vision to consider – vibrant mission centre – liberating lives, transforming communities, advancing God’s Kingdom.  Amen!   Amen?

Primitive Assertion!

Much of life, at the moment, is about getting on with it, thankfully! I certainly don’t say that in any negative sense. As I head off to officers ‘retreat’ tomorrow I’m very much aware that I am attending as someone in a very different situation than last year, where I was regretably doubting whether I would be able to continue in officership. That all seems somewhat distant although thats not to say that there are not some things I’m working on seeking to influence or change for the better in our movement.

Primitive Salvationism for me is about rediscovering the bold pioneering spirit of this movement. Its about adapting from anyone’s book if it works. Its about passionate and fresh spirituality. Its about pentecostal daring, with full empowering by God and annointing by the Holy Spirit. Its about the empowerment of ‘everyday’ people in the work of God. Its pertaining to the origins, living to our birthright and celebrating our heritage, yet not becoming entrenched in dead traditionalism.

Essentially, the word ‘primitive’ shouldn’t have to appear there at all. Salvationism should be like that, full stop. This is not always a reflection of our state though, especially here in the UK. Thats not to say that people don’t get saved in the myriad of expressions of Salvationism. God has his way of working in spite of us, of course. It is to say though, that we all often (myself included) need to trace ourselves back to our source to rediscover the power and potency and spiritual vibrancy of our salvationism.

A year on, I’m even more convinced of the essential return to primitive salvationism. There may still be some who will ridicule the very idea, but then that is simply big adventures in missing the point!

God bless The Salvation Army! God grant us a double portion of your Spirit than that which you placed upon the hearts and shoulders of our forebears and may we prove ourselves worthy of the calling God has given us by his grace.


Commissioner Joe Noland (blog listed to the right) has a very poignant quote at the head of his blog. It reads:

“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution”

– ( Hannah Arendt, historian and philosopher.)

I’d say thats a fairly solid peice of truth right there. I think of it as true in terms of the church and its history. After the scandal of the Jesus movement within Judaism, after the feirce persecution of the church and its rapid growth, when the revolution was won, it then became the establishment. It also became the persecutor and the inspiration for many a subsequent revolution, which in turn sparked off more.

I think of it in terms of the Army and its history. We read of old Booth, in his great song pleading that ‘the revolution now begin’. His generation kept the flame burning well and…well, you know the history.

Today, revolution is a byword for rebellion or for some other brand of ‘renegadism’. In our 21st century living, there is no place for the upstart to ‘affect our lives’ with the quite seeds of dissatisfaction. However, a reflection on the word itself just give us different light. The implication that springs to me from that word is the simple need to keep the wheels turning, to keep it moving. Moving is better than stop altogether.

I think there are several revolutions we need within The Salvation Army.

We need a discipleship revolution…rediscovering the power and potency of soldiership as an expression of living and active discipleship.

We need a worship revolution…where its not about style or decade, but of heart intention, adoration and sheer awe of our great God.

We need a mission revolution…where corps are at pains to transform more lives, more communities with salvation and all that means, not being content just to keep the house in order.

We need a prayer revolution…storming forts, establishing Kingdom strongholds, releasing Kingdom power and presence in our lives, our corps and our world.

We need a holy revolution…where we become less like the world, yes, but where we have many more people who believe that holiness isn’t maturity but a living reality for all those who would be obedient to the voice of Jesus.

We need a justice revolution…we need to befriend the friendless, clothe for the naked, feed the hungry serve the cause of the widow and the orphan in their many forms.

In short, its a Jesus revolution we need.

Its been said before, in many different ways. I’ve no idea if I’ve the ability or strength to spark more than a match. I’ve no idea if I’m yesterdays revolutionary just settling down, tomorrows revolutionary winding up or today’s conservative kicking against the trend in the eyes of the world.

This one thing I do know, however, is that I love Jesus. That is the one and only way to ensure you don’t stop revolving!


Today has been one of those days. You know, the kind where the worst you could expect actually happens the way you expected it would, all on the day when you could have done with something much better? Its an occupational hazard for officers to get far too ‘run-ragged’ at Christmas. I’ve really been wondering exactly what is so special about Christmas! It pales into insignificance almost in comparison with Easter, in comparison with Pentecost, yet we’re desperate to feed more, help more, provide more, evangelise more, raise more etc etc than at any other time.

This morning, for the first time in a while, I failed to get my engines running early enough to make sure I had sufficient time for prayer and reading of scripture (it was the case of heading out the door having simply patted the cover of the bible!) to the extent that by the time lunchtime came round, I just found myself standing around shaking my head. I had managed, too, to miss an important hospital appointment because my brain was just elsewhere, on things of relatively little importance in comparion.

Now, its not because of some sort of legalistic lack of formal prayer time that got things off wrong, it was simply about attitude of the heart and mind. Thankfully, the day recovered by around 5pm!

To give my wife a break, I led her little group of ladies in some carols and thoughts this afternoon. It wasn’t planned in advance, but Tracy needed a reprieve. Talking off the top of my head, when it came to giving a little message, I spoke about the real significance of the incarnation of Jesus. Basically, he got invovled with the muck, mess and squalor of our lives and sought to bring about Kingdom presences and reign.

Not sure if the ladies caught on exactly to what I was trying to say, but it was a timely re-revelation to me that the heart of Christmas, incarnation, is one of the principle themes of mission.

This Christmas, I’ve allowed our incarnational presence to be tinselled out of all we’re trying to do here in Torry. If we lose that, we lose Christmas and we lose Jesus in it all. If we lose the strenght or time to allow the incarnation of Jesus to be real to us and to set the tone for our day, we’ve well and truly lost the plot.

Tomorrow is another day. It has to be more about Jesus and following his example as our Cheif Rabbi than it is about what is expected of a Salvation Army officer just short of two weeks before Christmas.

The BIG conversation

I was all of a sudden reminded this evening of Tony Blair’s ‘Big Conversation’ that he initiated. Do you remember the hype? I do, but I don’t know what happened to the conversation.

Translate that into the Salvation Army context: One of the frightfully strange things about the Salvation Army culture in the UK (can’t speak for other places) is that there is very rarely a medium for open discussion…on anything!

The Salvationist (newspaper) only prints supposedly good news. Officers forums are….well, I can’t tell you, because they are private and confidential! The Officer magazine has too wide a distrubution to have real effectiveness in terms of discussion. There is no set up in divisions for wider discussion, and territorally, even official mediums such as advisory boards are becoming less and less.

Where do we wrestle with the grass roots issues? Where do we sharpen, challenge and provoke each other onto greater things?

This territory is quickly becoming a territory of individual islands linked by an over-riding identity, but where there are no ferry crossings, no phone lines and no mobile masts. Its ‘you in your small corner and I in mine’ – well, certainly when it comes to grappling with the big questions together. True, there may well be much local co-operation, such as we have here in Aberdeen.

Urgent conversation in this territory needs to take place about rekindling vibrant salvationist spirituality; about modus operandi in terms of mission; about moral, ethical and biblical issues take by leadership or individual island corps which don’t sit well at all with other corners of our movement; about the role, mission and ministry of the officer and the soldier; indeed, about the nature of the covenant and commissions that both of those undertake.

There have been times over this last few years where, either on holiday or otherwise, I’ve left Salvation Army meetings often wondering where the fire has gone. We’ve so often lost our sense of passion in worship, in soul winning and in radically serving the poor and disadvantaged. I’ve literally left halls, up and down the country, carrying a heavy load and a burden for the spiritual vibrancy of salvationism. I openly confess that there have been far too many times where I’ve felt no other desire but to walk away. There have been times where I’ve felt ‘what is the use?’

However, although sometimes the light burns very low, I am someone who passionately believes that the Salvation Army was created for more than this. I do believe we have a destiny to stand up and fill. I do believe that God has been doing a work in us, there has been a lot of ‘trimming’ of the vine, and there may be more to come.

Everyone who has a heart for what God wants to do with us must embrace the need to engage in the conversation. To ask the big questions, not shrinking back in order to preserve the status quo. Neither must we fall into the trap of ‘only reporting (or discussing) the good and the positive’. Sometimes there is sin to confess, wrongs to right and realities to face alongside all that celebration.

I can’t really expand here what provokes these thoughts, other than to say that this week, again, has been one where I’ve really had to evaluate the ‘is it worth it’ question and ‘do I continue’ question. The answer is a resounding ‘YES’, but that yes comes with a price. Saying yes to persevere is a commitment to change.

Like I’ve said many a time before…they will probably bury me in an Army box.

The nuts and bolts

The lack of blogs on this front are simply due to my internet providers inability to complete a simple task such as switching my broadband to a different number and my Scottish reluctance to spend loads of money on dial-up connection. Occassionaly I can bag some free wifi…anyway…

Pretty much had the whole corps in our living room the other evening…not a difficult task at the moment. However, just so totally refreshed by the attitude to mission here. These folks are willing to try just about anything to win their community. They are willing to take on anything that will advance the war and jettison anything that doesn’t. Thats good Salvationist spirit. The amount of times I’ve heard them say ‘we’re in this together’ is just another blessing. They own the mission of this corps 110%. In many places half the battle is getting people to do that.

On the whole, we are about 12 of us at the moment…12 (that includes the 4 Clarks) who constitute the remnant at Torry here. Nice biblical number, I hear you say.

So, from our wee discussion the other evening, we distilled the elements of our ministry here…its obvious and plain and we’re all pretty stoked up about it.

1. Build a faith community that is representative of Torry, being as inclusive as we can.

2. Making a difference in the lives of children and youth. Our only local officer, Grace, is the YPSM and she has a big heart for children. She is a gift, a beautiful person. We’re blessed too to have teenagers finding faith and working out what its all about.

3. Remembering the poor (remembering in the sense of refusing to forget that we exist for them). Call it what you like: last, lost, least, marginalised, worse off, financially challenged. None of them are great titles, but then the situations that people find themselves in is often far from great. We are going to have to be creative in reaching out in a culture that is not always fast to seek help and support.

So…this is the hymnsheet (or powerpoint slide for the techically advanced) that we are all singing from.

Yes…I was made for this. Have you ever though about the statement that William Booth made that evening he went home to his beloved Catherine and declared “Darling, I have found my destiny!”? What was it? It wasn’t just preaching…he’d been doing that. It wasn’t just evangelising…he’d already been doing that. He was declaring that his destiny was to preach good news, evangelise, win, rescue and help the poor…indeed: the last, lost and least. He set about his life to do this one thing, starting a movement to help him do the same.

Its our birthright, its our reason d’etre (or however you spell that) and The Salvation Army moves in its annointing, calling and purpose so long as it is loving, serving and winning the poor.


I got into a conversation with a Canadian earlier. This Canadian lives a part of Canada where, from what I can pick up, are several decent sized Salvation Army corps, a couple of social centres and one or two charity shops. The said Canadian enthusiastically shared that she volunteered at The Salvation Army.

‘Great’, I said, with as much enthusiasm I could muster. I go on to ask her if she is a Christian.

‘God no!’ she answers. ‘Wouldn’t want to have anything to do with religion.’

‘Why work with The Salvation Army then?’ I ask her.

‘Well, they are a good secular organisation who help people.’

The conversation proceeded relatively typically..gave her a few websites to look up to have a look into what The Salvation Army really is. I hope I haven’t gone and lost them a volunteer, but how ridiculous is it that even our volunteers don’t know what we’re about?

The question that pops to mind is why is it that the general public, even those who have a working knowledge of The Army, don’t know what we do? The common response to this over the years has been about publicity campaigns.

I was looking through a folder of official minutes the other evening looking for something and came across one issued a few years back entitled ‘Boosting The Salvation Army’s Image as a Church’ or something to that effect. Its main thrust was that we were to include the words ‘The Salvation Army is a Christian Church and registered charity’ at the bottom of headed note-paper. Well, thats really going to get the news out.

We’re good at throwing marketing tactics at our missional problems. I was at a seminar recently at Territorial Congress on church transformation, or something like that. I sat and listened to the usual talk about how the Army is declining. Then I sat and listened to the proposed solution to this. Basically, it was 1980’s church growth principles with a new name…a ‘Field of Dreams’ theology, you know, ‘build it and they will come.’

I put my hands on my head and assumed the ‘despair’ position.

In the UK, we’ve seen an influx of Natural Church Development promotion. NCD is basically a church audit programme. Its designed to help people be a better church, a more polished church, healthier even. A plan is then produced to improve the church based on ratings and scores produced by its members. For example, if the soldiers say the worship is rubbish, the report says ‘need to work on worship.’ Its technical stuff, I’m sure you can imagine.

The Salvation Army in many quarters seems bent on elevating the efficiency of our structures, programmes and ministries (mainly to ourselves). Meanwhile, the emphasis on discipleship, radical discipleship, is alien to a large number of people to put a uniform on their back week-in, week-out.

The future revolution for The Salvation Army will be about caring much less about structure/programme and much more about people. In coming up for 8 years of corps officership/leadership in one form or another, I can look back and say with confidence that programme, the maintenance of it and sometimes the preservation of it has been the most time consuming, soul-destroying task I’ve ever had to endure.

When you build an organisational structure at the end of the day, all your left with is a structure which very soon will become a burden. When you build disciples of Jesus Christ, passionately committed to the cause, you build an Army set for taking over the world beginning right where they are.

The world will soon discover exactly what The Salvation Army is when it is full of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus. Bring it on Lord!