On “Changing the Army”
A loyal soldier approached me, it was clear he had something important to say. It was Sunday and the holiness meeting had just finished. His index finger was pointed right at me and with an agitated tone he said, “Your goal must be to kill the Army. You are trying to change everything!” Kill? I think not. Advocate for change to advance the fight? Absolutely.
In contrast, a few years ago I received a phone call from a well-known Salvationist writer asking me to contribute a chapter to a volume on Salvation Army doctrine that would feature “liberal” and “conservative” opinions on a variety of theological issues. He said, “We are looking for a solid conservative voice like yours.” That volume never came out, and I was too busy changing diapers, so I declined.
So what gives? Am I conservative or progressive? Do I want to change everything, or remain parked with the status quo? It depends on whom you ask. My experiences have led me to ask, “In what way can, or should, we change the Army?”
In full disclosure, I am a person who loves intra-Army discussions and am invigorated by change. Hence, I am writing this article for Scott Strissel and indulging myself as I do so. I enjoy expressing my passions about the Army so much that I have found it to be a temptation for me. However, my efforts to “change the Army” shouldn’t keep me from “being the Army” while living out my covenant.
While at training, a staff officer said to a group of Cadets, “If you think you became an officer to change the Army, you are in the wrong place [officership, training college, etc.].” There are several ways to think about what is involved in “changing the Army.”
One way to enter these discussions is to list “non–negotiables,” as did General Clifton and General Rader. They have been helpful for my understanding of Salvation Army theology and practice. So when considering change you can ask yourself, “Are any of these values compromised in the process?” Other methods use mission statements, branding promises, or core values to achieve a similar response to proposed changes. For the Salvationist, and particularly the Officer, I suggest Covenant-centered change. If a simple test had to be administered it should be this, go look at your Soldier’s Covenant (Articles of War) and ask, “Is this change in conflict with what I covenanted with God?”
What is it that has formed the essence of the church’s beliefs throughout its history; we could describe this as the canon or orthodoxy. The Army’s canon is most fully summarized in the covenant we share. It is expounded and clarified through Handbooks of Doctrine, Song Books, Year Books, and other publications.
Do some of these articles (doctrines) need nuancing? Probably, but that does not mean they need to change? We need to explain what we mean by “…the divine rule…” We need to shade “total depravity” with prevenient grace. We need to carefully discuss and elaborate on what being “wholly sanctified” is and is not. We need to clarify that we are not platonic philosophers as we present a Christian version of “immortality of the soul.” It could be an American stylistic bias, but I wouldn’t mind gender neutrality in the human pronouns. These pieces are all consistent with how the Army does theology and I don’t think they need, or should, change.
There are areas where I desire to see the Army change. I would love to see a renewed understanding of how we approach training and the connection therein to officer recruitment. A more nuanced conversation on sacraments would be helpful and welcomed. We probably need to do better in understanding the complexities of the marriage relationship in officership and how the dynamics of shared and separate appointments can work. The uniform and its use should be updated or changed as we seek to be a visible people. I have at times found myself helpfully and humbly corrected by experienced officers who have helped shape and refine my “ideas.”
The biggest change I would like to see is this – more soldiers, more corps, and more officers, bringing more people to Christ’s saving grace. This is a necessary change.
Changes that call us to redefine marriage, cut certain articles of our faith, reject original sin, deny the substitutionary nature of the cross, get rid of our name, become a formal high church that is a liturgically drenched denomination or embracing universalism all are changes that move us away from a centered identity, these changes are outside of the scope of Covenant-centered change. These changes are instead, Covenant-rejecting changes.
So what of those changes? First, questions lead to answers and we need to ask good questions to get to good answers. When I was learning to swim in the discipline of theological studies, I had to work through each article of faith. When I came up for air I discovered a richness in Army theology that humbled me.
Second, if you come up for air in your search for truth and are resolutely opposed to the Army’s theology and you can no longer affirm the covenant, and if you are trying to make changes that move away from the canon of Salvation Army teaching or Covenant-centered change, I wonder if you should find another institution in which to serve. I say that not in cruelty or anger, but in love. These things will not change in the Army. I am no psychologist, but I think your life would be much more fulfilled in another movement if this is the sort of change you seek.
A wise senior officer, who taught many years at the training college, described his approach in teaching the doctrines in our covenant. “Andy, I am not telling Cadets what they should believe, I am expanding on what they have covenanted their lives to believing and teaching.”
If the changes I desire remain unchanged, then I trust God. Continued growth and relevance is contingent on our ability to adapt to our changing world. However, that change must be centered in the covenant which unites every Salvationist.
Andy Miller III
Check out my book, Holistic Hospitality: A Bridge to a Future Army, via this the link here.
I agree with pretty much everything you state here.. EXCEPT: How does re-defining marriage [accepting same-gender marriage, or marriage equality] effect our core beliefs?
The opposition to gay rights and marriage equality is basically based on an INTERPRETATION of five obscure verses of Scripture. Over the past 50 years, this ‘traditional’ interpretation of Scripture has done nothing to bring people to Christ, no, what it HAS done is shown the church to be cold-hearted toward gays and lesbians, shown them the love of God is not for them, and has turned countless millions away from the church, and from God Himself. It has even led people to believe that God hates them.
The traditional interpretation of these five verses of Scripture have caused so much pain and anguish that it is impossible to believe that it could be a proper interpretation.
There is no other interpretation of Scripture that does this.
If the Army is committed to winning souls for Christ,than maybe its time we re-examined this interpretation of Scripture.
Eric, Our soldier’s covenant says we “will uphold the sanctity of marriage and or family life.” A Christian marriage has always been between one man and one woman, the Army has consistently upheld this important relationship within our ecclesiology and for the flourishing of human society. There are much more than five verses, every translation much less application is based on interpretation. The Army and orthodox theology has read the bible consistent with its context and the interpretation of two thousand years of history. I know of people who, via the traditional interpretation, have repented and come to Christ. The Army and Church should, and generally is, an equal opportunity critiquer of all sins. I hope that more people who struggle with same sex attraction will come to biblical-gospel centered church that upholds a first article of faith like ours. What they will find is a loving community that wants to support them as they seek to thrive in life based in God’s reality and centered in how He has revealed himself.
We could both go on here, but this kind of change moves against the canon of Army teaching and rejects Covenant-centered change.
So, we should go on supporting an interpretation of Scripture that has led millions of people away from God, and led them to believe that God hates them?
The Army is so set in its ways, and so SURE of it’s interpretation that it is not willing to even consider the idea that they might be wrong?
The FIVE verses used to condemn homosexuality are not central to ANY Christian teaching. They do not take anything away from our belief in Scripture, the divinity of Christ, or any other idea central to our Christian faith.
As for Christian marriage being between one man and one woman… the only place where Paul places that requirement is on elders of the Church… and there it’s only a suggestion. He says SHOULD be, not MUST be the husband of one wife.
As for people having been “changed,” I hope you are aware that Exodus International [formerly the leading ex-gay ministry] has discontinued its ministry because it has stated that homosexual orientation cannot be changed. This is supported by the testimonies of people who had once been involved in the ex-gay movement, as well as other Christian homosexuals. Now, the ‘ex-gay’ ministries focus on teaching gays and lesbians to behave like heterosexuals.. in essence, they are being taught to live a lie, and last I heard God was against lying.
As for the Soldier’s Covenant, well, that bit about Christian marriage was added. It wasn’t in the Articles of War I signed, and it wasn’t in the originals.
And, you’re right, we could go on and on.. We will probably never agree on this.
Bottom line: What’s more important? Keeping an interpretation of scripture that leads people away from God? Or, re-examining those Scriptures to see whether or not you’re right, and then acting on it?
Right now, gays and lesbians not only believe that God hates them, but they also believe the Army hates them to the point where they believe the Army think s they should die. How does this represent a good interpretation of Scripture? If you want them to believe otherwise, then it’s going to take work and soul-searching. It may even take you changing your views on homosexuality. But if you aren’t even willing to entertain the idea that you might be wrong, then the cause is lost.
Sin is convicting, if we affirm our fifth article we all know that to be true. If we don’t repent we could very easily feel that God doesn’t love us. The cross shows he does.
I am aware of what has happened with exodus, international, I am not talking about repairitive therapy. I know enough people who experience same sex attraction and are living within God’s intention for sexual intimacy–that leads me to say what I said above. I also know of people who have left homosexual lifestyles and are in heterosexual relationships who take exception to what you mention.
My understanding of scripture has grown and matured through the years. The whole article here is about change. I will not let emotions and experience interpret scripture for me. This seems to be the crux or your call to change. If x makes someone feel something that is not true, then we should change x. Let’s help everyone understand x ( x=The Triune God revealing a plan to save sinners through the Scriptures).
I didn’t know older version of the covenant didn’t include the statement I mentioned. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Still, I think the Army’s canon has affirmed this same understanding, but I will speak of it differently in light of your help here.