It’s about the future: the Army as church

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by Raymond L. Peacock, Lt. Colonel – 

The church has a future; that part of the church known as The Salvation Army has a future. However, Brian McLaren, in his book The Church on the Other Side, says, “If you have a new world, you need a new church. You have a new world.” McLaren goes on to say that the future ahead is uncharted and in many instances the church is using old maps for the new world. This sixth and concluding article on The Salvation Army as a church will offer some thoughts on the future ahead as seen from other voices in the church and some within the Army.

Other voices

Does anyone disagree that there is a radical shift taking place in the church today? My mentor, Dr. Leonard Sweet, has observed, “The Postmodern Reformation aspires not to create a church that is ‘good as new,’ but ‘good as old.’ ‘Good as old’ is better than ‘good as new.’” This is called the “ancientfuture” perspective and is held by many who see the church in terms of pre-modern, modern and post-modern eras of history.

What the foregoing means was brought further home to me as I read The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. “The truth is that younger evangelicals are conservative in that they believe the road to the future runs through the past. They definitely are not returning to a ’50s past. Instead, they are returning to the Wesleyan past, to the Reformers of the 16th century, and to the ancient past of the first three centuries of the church, for inspiration and wisdom.”

During modern times, the church was dominant in society and culture. The church agreed that knowledge was rational. In our post-modern church, the church is more like the ancient church than any time since that first century. In other words, we are outside of the mainstream and must do ministry to the larger secular culture.

Knowledge is not just rational, it’s experiential. These two concepts are reshaping the way church does worship, witness and service. They cause us to look back in order to go forward. One of my professors has asked, “Are there precedents in Wesley’s model of Christian community and his commitment to the marginalized and disinherited?”

Salvationists might ask the same about Booth’s models. And, of course, General Frederick Coutts’ words, “fixed in principle, flexible in practice” still resonate. Having said that, younger evangelical leadership is saying the church/next will be shaped by (1) a missiological understanding of the church, (2) theological reflection, (3) spiritual formation, and (4) cultural awareness. (If you have carefully read all six articles in this series, you can pick out these recurring themes.)

Army voices

It has been nearly twenty years since the Symposium on Salvation Army Ecclesiology (doctrine regarding the church) was held at Booth Bible College in Winnipeg, Canada. In the same year the symposium was held, 1987, Commissioner Phil Needham wrote his book Community In Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology. A more recent writer on this topic is Commissioner Shaw Clifton in his 1999 book Who Are These Salvationists: An Analysis for the 21st Century. Are there others? I would be interested in knowing.

Clifton summarizes, “The Salvation Army, however, is not a subdivision of any other structure. We are a free-standing and independent people of God, raised up by him for the propagation of the gospel of salvation for the whosoever, for the living of holy lives and for the alleviation of human suffering in the name of Jesus Christ, according to the means and resources at our disposal. I maintain that the Army cannot rightly or fully be understood in modern times unless seen as a worldwide evangelical Christian church (as well as a human service agency, and in many parts of the world, including the United States, as a non-profit corporation).”1 Clifton goes on to explain what kind of church we are and need to be in changing times.

In conclusion of this six part series, fellow Salvationists, take heart from these words from A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology: “As a force in the world, the church interprets itself as an army…The motif of army and war surface throughout various periods in the history of the church…The [Catholic] Society of Jesus [and the]…More familiar in the Protestant faith is the Salvation Army…[yes] the church is militant but it is also triumphant.” (2 Cor 2:14) Amen.

1 Shaw Clifton, Who Are These Salvationists: An Analysis for the 21st Century (Alexandria, Crest Books, 1999), 8.

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