It’s about mission
by Raymond L. Peacock, Lt. Colonel –
“Who are we here for?” asks Leith Anderson in his book A Church for the 21st Century: Bringing Change to Your Church to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Society. Does the corps exist for the sake of the Army, the building, the officers, the soldiers?
There can be some sad responses to the foregoing questions. Denominationalism doesn’t mean what it did in years past. Some denominations are inclusive, other less so. Some think the church is for their kind and no other—you have to be one to go there. Others are more inclusive. An old Army chorus says something about the Army years ago that should be true today as well:
I’m at home in the Army
More than I am anywhere.
You can dress as you like,
You can sit where you like,
You’re all quite equal there.
As for buildings, I attended a conference at a huge sprawling church this past year where the major message was “we are dedicated to retiring our mortgage.” Membership was falling off and they had brought in a new ministry team member to help them rediscover purpose and direction. Do we sometimes think a new building will solve our corps growth ills?
Since officers come and officers go, we can’t really say they own the corps. And yet, how many measure their involvement in a corps by whether or not they “like” the corps officers?
Some corps seem to belong to certain families and old-timers. Incorporating anyone new and unrelated is an oft-stated goal, but is seldom realized. This has a double edge to it, for the families who take ownership are faithful and engaged in serving. You don’t want to be without them, you just want more of them.
Are we here for peace or war?
So, what are we here for? Commissioner Phil Needham rightly says, “The reason is mission. The Church exists primarily for the sake of its mission in the world…to accept the peace of Christ…is to be at peace and in love at the same time.” Those who may have read his Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology, would know that he states the church is a fellowship of believers-in-the-peace on one hand but an army at war on the other. Is our mission peace or war? The answer is not either/or but both/and. But, there is more, there is love
How does a missionary church/Army fight?
As has been noted, our Wesleyan and Army heritage would say that the Church as Army wages not only peace and war, but love. Dr. Larry Shelton, a professor at George Fox Seminary, points out “This theology of love focuses on the application of Christ likeness to the spiritual emptiness, personal brokenness, and systemic twistedness which characterize the universal experience of persons.”
We in the Army are taught that mission is driven by the gospel and we give witness to the gospel in two ways, through evangelism and through social action. Here again I quote Dr. Shelton. “The sanctified conscience is not only personal, but also social. The incarnation of this view of evangelism is necessary for twenty-first century relevance and credibility.” Others have said holiness has both a spiritual and a social application.
Incarnating 21st century relevance and credibility
Early Wesleyans were concerned with abolition, the plight of the poor and women’s rights. Historically and continually Salvationists have been concerned with the poor, abused families and children, chemically addicted, homeless, hungry and hurting. The list of hurts has permitted us to venture into serving victims of aids, families of those incarcerated, and many others. We are well engaged in social action. For over a decade, we have been nationally recognized as “America’s Favorite Charity.” We have navigated the 19th and 20th centuries with an integrated social and spiritual gospel that has netted better than fifty percent of our first generation members saying their first contact with the Army was through our social services. They enlisted because they were served not only material assistance, but spiritual sustenance as well.
So, where will this gospel view be carried into the 21st century? I am challenged by the words of Erwin McManus, pastor of the Los Angeles Mosaic church. He says, the future will be “Whatever we choose…I think this answer is important when we consider the theological passivity of contemporary Christianity…Have we overestimated the effectiveness of methods, programs, and structures and underestimated the transforming essence of faith, love and hope? God is not lost in the past; he is active in the present…Christ is present in our context.”
In the words of the songwriter Walter Mathams, “Make the future in the present.” To the degree we do this, we will incarnate not only relevance and credibility, but also Christ in this century. What a mission for God’s Army.