Perspectives Day 2 – Featuring Stephen Court (Major) “Semantics Antics”


(Stephen Court)

Words have power. Yes, this truth is usually used in the context of either speaking life instead of death (see James on the tongue) or of the prophetic (see the creation account of God speaking things into being).


But it also goes for semantics – the meanings of words.


When we use certain words we imply and apply certain meanings. When these words enter the general vocabulary they shape the meaning of the things they describe. Words have power.


We (The Salvation Army) have been using some words and terms far too carelessly. Here are some examples:


lay (as in ‘lay people’ and ‘laity’): this refers to people who are not ordained and otherwise qualified to participate in Christian service. It is carelessly applied to everyone who is not an officer. This is poor theology and terrible history. Despite the spiritual inferiority complex-induced mistake of the late 1970s and the ‘ordination’ of officers, there is not some mystical abracadabra ‘ordination’ that accompanies commissioning. All of our generals and the vast majority of our commissioners (in all of history) have not been ‘ordained’ in the mistaken sense that the relatively recent commissioning exercise has appended. By the loose use of the term ‘lay’ that means Booth, Railton, Booth-Tucker, Higgins, Carpenter, Orsborn, Kitching, Coutts, Wickberg, Wiseman, Brown, Wahlstrom, Burrows, Tillsley, Rader, Gowans, Larsson, Clifton, Bond, and Knaggs were/are ALL ‘LAY PEOPLE’. The term is ridiculous in a Salvationist context. There are no ‘lay people’ in The Salvation Army. There are converts, recruits, soldiers, and officers. That’s it.


Words have power.


clergy: Official SA websites (AUE, USE, C+B, among others) as well as influential sites (e.g. wikipedia) define or equate officers as and with clergy. This is evil. Officers are not clergy. Officers are soldiers who have given up secular employment and covenanted to make themselves exclusively available temporally and geographically for the salvation war in vocational leadership. ‘Clergy’ by definition requires ordination.   Watch the end of the faulty reasoning:

If ‘officer’ equals ‘clergy’; and,


‘Clergy’ requires ‘ordination’ (which it does by definition); then,


All the generals (but our current one) and most of the commissioners were not/are not officers.


By using words like ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ we are reinforcing the unbiblical clergy/laity split, one of the key strategies of the devil against the people of God.


Words have power.


pastor: These are the four New Testament ‘offices’ Paul outlines in Ephesians 4: apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher/shepherd. The last – teacher/shepherd – includes a word that is translated only once in the whole New Testament as ‘pastor’ but clearly means ‘shepherd’.[i]


Those covenantally involved in vocational Christian leadership – our leaders – are called corps or commanding officers, divisional commanders, territorial commanders, and general. They are not formally called evangelist, apostle, prophet, shepherd/teacher even though many fill one or more of these roles. To pick one out of the hat (with the increasingly rare exception of ‘evangelist’ as in ‘territorial evangelist’, the chosen term is always ‘pastor’) is to call hockey hall of famer Wayne Gretzky a penalty killer. Now, Penalty Killer Wayne Gretzky certainly was efficient in killing penalties but to limit his impact on the ice to penalty killing is ridiculous.


Why then do officers (and lots who attend meetings) call officers ‘pastors’? Excellent question, no good answer to which is available, but some explanation is possible:

A. we have an inferiority complex when compared to churches;

B. we have an identity crisis in which we don’t know that we are not a church (see below);

C. we are catering to a church subculture instead of fighting to rescue lost people from hell;

D. we are overwhelmingly influenced by non-Salvationist Christian content (books, conferences, TV, radio, podcasts, blogs, etc.).


Remember, words have power. What are the effects of officers being called ‘pastor’?


i. we sabotage our mission because, among the people we are trying to rescue from heading to hell, ‘pastor’ generally has negative connotations. So we inaccurately identify with something that is unpopular in trying to reach the people with whom it is unpopular. Ridiculous.


ii. we change what it means to be an officer from some heroic combination of apostle/prophet/evangelist/teacher\shepherd leading troops in a salvation war to some bad-breathed, shellac-haired, touchy-feely stereotype aiming to keep the pews warm.


iii. we limit Holy Spirit, who actually works through all FOUR offices, not just a distorted half of the teacher/shepherd one.


Only church people seem attached to terms like ‘pastor’.


Could it be that we use a term like ‘pastor’ because we want church people to attend our meetings and don’t really care about people who are lost?


Words have power.


church: For centuries we have understood the ‘Church’ to be a place where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered. However, The Salvation Army is a revolutionary movement of covenanted warriors exercising holy passion to win the world for Jesus.


Based on these definitions, is your corps a church?


No. (unless you are surreptitiously passing around bread and grape juice and splashing your people with water)


So, by definition, your corps is not a church. Why call it one?[ii] Why identify with something that is manifestly unpopular with the people who are headed to hell that we are trying so hard to reach with the Gospel? Why sabotage your local mission and the mission of our global movement? Your corps is not a church despite what someone stuck on a sign or put in a magazine or said from the microphone.


Words have power.


service: This one is hilarious. Just this Sunday afternoon a salvationist took a phone call at the hall. The person had been calling, apparently, for the last hour but our explain, “we’ve been in service for the last hour and a half… we were in service… we were in service…”


Well, this person was evidently LOOKING for some service and it made absolutely NO SENSE to him that The Salvation Army had been ‘in service’ and yet had neglected to pick up the phone to SERVE him! Now, our friend had been taught that what had just happened was a religious ceremony (that is the definition of her use of the term ‘service’). But to the people going to hell, ‘service’ means service – the act of being served – and we’d not been serving them.


So, for the record, The Salvation Army does not hold ‘services’. We have what are called ‘meetings’. Check out your history. We have holiness MEETINGs and salvation MEETINGS and soldiers MEETINGS and all kinds of meetings. But we don’t ‘have services’. As the sign on the way OUT of one garrison said, ‘The service begins when the meeting ends’. Let’s keep our serving in VERB form, please.


Words have power.


Do you get it? The words you use affect what we are. When you use terms like ‘church’ and ‘pastor’ and ‘service’ and ‘clergy’ and ‘lay’ you are watering down The Salvation Army and compromising the testimony of salvationists and insulting soldiers and limiting Holy Spirit and sabotaging our mission and hindering our effectiveness. Stop it, please.


Don’t even get me started on ‘members’, ‘ministry boards’, ‘sanctuaries’…


[i] 1. ‘Pastor’. For some reason, people like this term. In KJV it comes up once – Jeremiah 17:16 (NIV renders it ‘shepherd’); in NIV ‘pastor’ turns up once – Ephesians 4:11.


But the word in Ephesians 4:11 is ‘poimen’ and it actually appears 18 times in the New Testament, 17 times being translated ‘shepherd’. So it seems like ‘pastor’ is a biblically rare synonym for the much more popularly used term ‘shepherd’.


Since ‘shepherd’ actually means something, apart from being a synonym, and since ‘shepherd’ lacks the negative connotative accretions of ‘pastor’ in today’s society, it makes much more strategic and biblical sense to use that term instead of ‘pastor’.


This says nothing of the replacement of CO with ‘pastor’ (‘pastor’ is not nearly synonymous with CO and so is an even worse replacement for CO than it is for shepherd).


So, let’s agree that ‘pastor’, being unbiblical and unpopular, is a term we should avoid.


[ii] ‘church’. The Bride of Christ? Metaphor. Flock? Metaphor. Building, temple, body? All metaphor. But the Army of God? The Salvation Army? We’re not a metaphor. We’re not a comparison to something that we aren’t. We’re an army. ‘Church’ carries negative connotations throughout the West. The large majority of populations in developed countries vote with their feet that ‘church’ is irrelevant and unimportant and marginalised. Why on earth would we rush to pretend to be a ‘church’ when it is, a. not accurate, and b. not effective? Why on earth would we forfeit our God-given, biblical identity as an Army? (possibly because we got the ‘prophetic trumps relevant’ principle backwards and we have a spiritual inferiority complex).

Catch Major Stephen Court’s Blog Writings at –


3 thoughts on “Perspectives Day 2 – Featuring Stephen Court (Major) “Semantics Antics”

Add yours

  1. “Officers are not clergy. Officers are soldiers who have given up secular employment and covenanted to make themselves exclusively available temporally and geographically for the salvation war in vocational leadership.”

    Tell that to some officers who have a superiority complex. 🙂

  2. “we change what it means to be an officer from some heroic combination of apostle/prophet/evangelist/teacher\shepherd leading troops in a salvation war to some bad-breathed, shellac-haired, touchy-feely stereotype aiming to keep the pews warm”

    You keep stating that words have power, they do. In that one statement, you manage denigrate all of the other servants of God whose language is of the church, who faithfully honor God and try to win the lost for Christ but do so in other denominations and use other words.

    You keep saying the word “pastor” in unbiblical and I am trying to find the terminology of Officer, Captain, Adjutant, etc… in the Bible. Let’s be careful in calling the pot black here.

    I understand one of your missions is to stir the pot, sometimes you try too hard.

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