Clifton talks about Army future
by Dean Pallant, Captain, and Editor of Salvationist –
General-elect Commissioner Shaw Clifton with the territorial children’s weekly newspaper mascot, Patch.
General-elect Commissioner Shaw Clifton was interviewed by Captain Dean Pallant, Editor of the UK publication Salvationist, at Sunbury Court shortly after he was elected the 18th General of The Salvation Army.
What are your hopes for your period in office as General?
It is not what I want but what God wants for the Army. It is his Army and we have a part in building the Kingdom of God. We love the Army, but we love God more. God still believes in the Army and wants it to be all it was raised up to be. Our original purposes and divinely appointed mission have not changed. We are to be an Army of proactive Christians who seek out the unsaved and needy, offering the gospel message with love in the name of Christ to everyone, without discrimination. We are called to be the face, hands and feet of Christ in the world. But remember, those hands and feet were wounded and just as God comes to an individual believer to break and melt and mould and fill so he comes to groups of believers. I believe God can do this afresh for the entire, international Salvation Army.
Do you have a sense of where that breaking and moulding needs to happen? What strategies do you want to use?
It is too early to be specific but this High Council has mandated the next General to find appropriate, loving ways of asking The Salvation Army some fairly awkward, difficult questions. We are all exercised by the Army’s inability to grow numerically in certain parts of the world. We rejoice that in many places the Army is rapidly expanding. Globally we are bigger than ever before and getting bigger. This High Council has mandated me to ask: If God is withholding numerical growth from parts of the Army, why is that blessing withheld?
Rather than discussing strategy, method, ceremony or even identity, I have a deep sense in my heart that God wants us to follow the example of the Old Testament prophets when they sensed God’s blessing was withheld. The prophets went to God’s people asking: Is there sin in the camp? Now that is a very difficult and pointed question. One has to be very tender and sensitive before even raising it but perhaps God is saying, ever so gently and ever so lovingly: ‘I love you, Salvation Army, but would you please look within and see if there is sin in the camp, and if there is anything that causes the blessing to be withheld we must deal with it.’
Some issues will be personal to individual Salvationists, others will be corporate. I would like to find a way as General of being a catalyst and put that biblical question to Salvationists. We may find that as we draw nearer to him, closer to him in purity and righteousness, the blessings begin to flow where at present they sometimes appear to be withheld.
How important in your opinion are the Army’s relationships with other churches and other religions?
Those relationships are absolutely vital. We need the other churches and they need us. We bring to the ecumenical table two things – who we are and what we do. Obviously there is overlap with other Christian traditions and denominations but God raised us up for his special purposes. We need to be ecumenically engaged and it has been my habit all through my officership. It enriches the life of the Church in general and certainly enriches the life of the Army.
Concerning other faiths – we live in an age when inter-faith relationships is a very tender, sensitive subject. Again The Salvation Army has something very special to bring because we are working with people in 111 countries. Salvationists interact with members of every major faith in the world as well as many of the numerically smaller faiths. William Booth taught the first Salvationists never to criticise the faith of a non-Christian believer. Instead, if there is a natural opportunity, we should converse humbly about the reason for the hope that lies within the heart of every Salvationist, that hope being the Lord Jesus Christ. Helen and I served for nearly five years in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and our experience was that the more self-assured we were about our own faith, the more seriously we were taken by Muslims, thereby winning their respect. That is the message I want to convey to my fellow Salvationists.
One of the challenges of an international Salvation Army is our diversity. The office of the General is vital in holding that together. How do we find unity in our diversity?
We have already found unity and always had it in The Salvation Army. It is grounded in profound, beautiful things such as our doctrines and the covenants we make as soldiers, junior soldiers and officers. These covenants serve a beautiful holy purpose, evidenced by the fact that around the world people are still willing, under the prompting of God’s Spirit, to make those covenants and abide by them by divine grace.
Our unity is grounded in our internationalism. I was moved to the depths of my being as, at Westminster Central Hall a week ago, we sang, ‘They shall come from the east, they shall come from the west and sit down in the Kingdom of God’. Next to me were a beautiful couple from Japan, along the row some Zimbabweans, behind me Indonesians, around me were Americans and Asians, Brazilians and Australians – this is a miracle! We did not of ourselves in our human strength make this happen. It is a miracle of God – and it is going on and on. And I believe God wants us to span the globe. He will lead us into new places he wants us to be. I don’t know where or when but we must be ready. If we are obedient he will open doors. If we are not obedient and faithful and if there is any sin among us he may close those doors and present the opportunity to others.
There are other things holding the Army together. The beautiful spirit that arises from loyalty and support to the office of the General as a focal point for the worldwide Army. Of course we have legal mechanisms that hold us together internationally but I would put those at the bottom of the list. Above those I would put institutions like the International College for Officers, The Officer magazine that goes out in the name of the General from IHQ. Other opportunities like the interchange of officer and non-officer personnel between countries. I would like to see a bigger flow of personnel from the so-called developing world into the developed world. We have a vast amount to learn from The Salvation Army in Africa, South Asia and in other parts of the world. Maybe we are a little over sophisticated in the West and need to learn about the effectiveness for the gospel that arises out of their simple living.
How do you feel about leaving the UK Territory after only 20 months as territorial leaders?
Part of my sense of reluctance to accept this nomination was my heart for this territory. As our home territory we have always felt a strong commitment here and it has deepened since becoming territorial leaders. However, God’s timing has to be honored and respected. We will still be soldiers of this territory and able to see people from time to time.
This is an opportunity to place on record our deep gratitude to the beautiful Salvationists we have met as we have traveled so widely. We have been met with unfailing love and warmth. People have graciously responded to our ministry and it has been deeply moving to see the mercy seat used in so many places. I do believe that the Army – in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England – is still in the hands of God. Whoever succeeds us as territorial leaders will inherit a vibrant territory that has, in recent years, developed a renewed spirit of prayer. I praise God for the openness of the territory and the strong deep desire to be obedient to God whatever the cost.
I value greatly the readiness of my colleagues in leadership across the territory to be in dialogue with me about the shape and future of the Army. This is a healthy debate because it helps us to focus on who we are meant to be and what we are meant to be doing, which is far more important than how we are meant to be doing it. The how will take care of itself if we get the basics right. There are many voices speaking into the life of the UK Army in these days. They are all well motivated and we leave the territory knowing there is a readiness to learn from one another and a willingness to rally round our crucified Christ and risen Lord in a mission to achieve his purposes.