Third Century Salvationists

by Lt. Colonel Raymond Peacock –

Pure and simple, this is a report on a book, recently arrived at Trade that is worth reading by all Salvationists. The author, Colonel Shaw Clifton, one of five candidates for General at the recent High Council, has just completed his fifth book. WHO ARE THESE SALVATIONISTS? An Analysis for the 21st Century arrives just in time for those sorting out our Army’s identity and place in the new millennium.

Thinking officers, soldiers and all interested in researched answers to four important questions will appreciate this book. The four questions are: (1) are we a church? (And if so what kind of a church?) (2) should the Army change its stand on the Sacraments? (3) Are Salvationists today full of pragmatic daring like the first Salvationists? (4) How do Salvationists make Internationalism work in today’s conflicted world? My apologies to Colonel Clifton for reducing the four parts of his book to these four questions to entice readers. Anyone reading the book will find these questions easily within the aforementioned parts.

The book’s epilogue provides focus on why these questions are important. “When the 21st century dawns, The Salvation Army will enter its third century on which it has been invited to leave its mark. Conversely, that century will also make its mark on the Army, as it should. Genuine interaction with the age in which we live is a two way process…We can hope that someone somewhere will judge that The Salvation Army got it right because it proved itself highly and swiftly adaptable to changing times without betraying its roots or vocation.”

Colonel Clifton hits the nail on the head when he’s talking about the Army as a church. He says, “Some-times (let’s admit it!) we have been too reticent, or too muddle-headed in our thinking, or simply too inward-looking to realize there is a positive need to spell out all there is to tell about who and what we really are.” He then proceeds to remedy this fault. After quickly tracing the historical development of the Army, he views this question of the Army as a church from three approaches: the theological, the sociological and the legal. Read his explanations and I think you will agree he has made his point and settled the issue for those in doubt.

Not content to make the point we are a church, Colonel Clifton asks “what kind of church?” Are Salvationists Protestants? Evangelicals? He says we are both as he cites Army distinctives and emphases that place us in these camps. Distinctives and emphases such as the centrality of grace, the indispensability of faith, the role of scripture, the role of lay Salvationists, our historic holiness teaching, our worship style, our emphasis on conversion, our focus on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and our integration of evangelism on the one hand and social service or social action on the other hand, comprise a few of the evidences he spells out that demand a verdict in our favor.

Next, after articulating Salvationist sacramentalism, he asks, should the Army change its position on the sacraments? What would change mean in practice? Would a change cure what currently ails The Salvation Army? I don’t want to give away his answers, but you do need to know this section contains one of the best insights into the International Spiritual Life Commis-sion that I have read. You’ll also be fascinated by what one Anglican scholar, Dr. John Austin Baker, has to say about the Army’s position on the Sacraments.

Next, Clifton outlines the Army’s relationship to humanity and the secular world. He really wants us to think whether or not Salvationists today are as full of pragmatic daring as the first Salvationist were. He says, “The pragmatic task in our dealings with the secular world is first to understand it, then to have compassion for it, and finally to encourage its laws and institutions to conform as closely as possible to the laws and institutions of the one who signs his name ‘I am the Lord.’ ” As an attorney, he has keen insight into the tension between church and state, faith and culture. As a Salvationist, he understands our Army’s historic pragmatic motives, citing many 21st century examples of Army action and courage.

Finally, he addresses the issue of Salvationists as internationalists. He cites three threats to a united, international Army: nationalism, cultural differences and–the ultimate threat–war. In the Western Territory we often proclaim the world has come to our front door. Our very survival depends on our thinking not just locally, but globally. Clifton emphatically states that our Army’s internationalism dictates many of our values and practices. The examples and principles he cites are applicable and instructional for us as we move to the next plateau of our multi-cultural ministries. These values and practices are not only applicable globally, they are applicable locally. Likewise, we do well to heed his warnings that political and moral neutrality can become a “crown of thorns”.

I hope this report, this overview, will whet your appetite for a good summer read. Again in his epilogue, Clifton poses another question well worth our consideration during this time of visioning across our territory. “Will they say about us, 100 years from now, that the Army stayed alive and relevant, true to its divine calling, because in the 21st century it demonstrated holy nerve and courage, trusting in God’s promise to do a daring, new thing?…Jesus Lord of the future, come and help us now.” To which we add, “And please help us to be bold, daring, third century Salvationists. Amen and amen!”

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