Dear Salvation Army, Identity Crisis or just “More than a Church”?

We are an army of soldiers of Christ, organised as perfectly as we have been able to accomplish, seeking no church status, avoiding as we would the plague of every denominational rut, in order perpetually to reach more and more of those who live outside every church boundary.” (Commissioner George Scott Railton)

No church is perfect.
No Christian witness is flawless.
No song we sing can ever compare to the Holiness of God.

Dear Soldier of The Salvation Army,
prayI don’t necessarily see our mission and identity as completely “Church”.
Yes, we celebrate the resurrected Christ.
We recognize Jesus as the Son of God; the only way to eternal life and the source of salvation to the world; but this good news cannot be contained within four walls of a church building can it?  No!  We are called to go out into the world.  Our mission as The Salvation Army is about being faithful to going out into our communities.  It’s not just about feeding and clothing the poor, but this is a starting place!

We should represent the most welcoming aspect of “Church” in our communities to those who truly will “come as you are”!  Many that we have the opportunity to reach will be unchurched, uneducated in “church etiquette”, and having little to no practice in biblical understanding.  Some will know, but life has often times robbed them (whether through conscience choice or beyond their control) of their dignity, hope and joy.  Yet, because of our mission, we have the capacity to welcome them into our buildings and provide for them more than just a morsel of food, but something more substantial – living water, and living bread.

We Are Not Perfect!
Photo Jul 08, 8 07 19 AMThis organization is NOT perfect, it does have its flaws, it’s politics, its issues, as do we all as individuals.
There are numerous social issues we MUST fight for, however, that begs us to put these faults and imperfections aside and get back to work within our mission.  If we can first get past the fact that we are flawed, we are imperfect even within our uniforms, we can make a more rapid response to the plight of people all around us.

We MUST be humble! 

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Officers & Soldiers, no matter what rank you are, no matter how long you have served, no matter how “high” you go up in the structure of our Army – know this:  we do not serve as soldiers in this Army to attain rank and position.  This should never be our aim and first pursuit.  Unlike the world around us, our mission for Christ is about winning souls, serving souls, and caring for the lost, sick and afflicted.  We cannot afford to become sidetracked on fame, rank, power, position or anything that would entrap us.  The father of lies would love for us to become entangled in this game of church politics and army power wrangling…because if we do become ensnared in this, we become limited within the scope of our mission and its success.

The disciples of Jesus even argued about this very thing.
They wrangled about who would be the greatest disciple.
They tried to show off, look better, be more attentive to Jesus…it wasn’t what Jesus wanted from them.
So Jesus set them straight:
 “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” (Luke 9:46-48)

Dear Soldiers, we must be completely humble.
None of us should think we are greater than our fellow soldier.
We need each other and so we too must humble ourselves.
He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

No, we do not have an identity crisis in our Army…we simply have to recall what our identity is and should be for future generations!  The structure of this Army is to get beyond Church walls, beyond Church boundaries, politics, policy and procedures and to reach into our communities toward those who have been rejected by everyone else.  We must reach into our communities for those who are disparaged, discouraged, disillusioned, drugged out, pimped out, drunk, condemned, and without all hope.

So, what is your identity as a soldier of this army?
Are you humbly serving as a soldier of Christ?
Where is He sending you?
What is holding you back?
Who in your community is the fallen and rejected?
Can you go to them?
Will you show them love and grace and offer them hope?

Dear Salvation Army, let’s keep up this fight!
We are not finished yet!
Our calling still stands – His Holy Spirit will guide us!

Something more for our Army to ponder today!

Disclaimer: These postings and ponderings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Salvation Army.”

Salvation Army Identity Crisis?

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I’ve heard it from both sides of the argument.  The Salvation Army is a movement not an organization…wait what?  Is it an unorganized movement then?  Certainly what began as a movement as grown, hasn’t it?  We are an entity within the universal Christian church.  We, in every aspect of the theological argument have become another denomination, though some within our ranks might spurn that notion.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations scroll down towards the middle of the list of denominations and you will find The Salvation Army listed under ‘Pietists and Holiness Churches’.  

So let’s move on from that identity issue to the two main pivotal perspectives that I would like to look at rather closely. 

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Argument #1: The Salvation Army has become just another social service institution. 

I can certainly see why some within our ranks would argue this point.  Within the US, specifically, many programs to those in need are either completely or marginally dependent upon government funding sources.  Much of our professional staffing can also be used to lend support of this argument.  Also another source that might lend credence to this assumption stems from the adoption of its newest brand in 2005 of ‘Doing the most good‘.  If you merely look at the wording, one could make the leap that the identity of the Army is shifting in the face of public perceptions and opinions.  Put a new branding on the Army such as ‘Doing the most Good’ and now you can compete with other social service agencies which are in turn competing for the same public/government funding sources.  And as we compete, we now how place our services ahead of other agencies because, after all, we do the most good…better than the rest.  

Now before you write me some hate mail, let me just clarify; I am merely presenting one of the arguments within this identity crisis.  This is not specifically my opinion but it is an opinion or as our Army likes to say, it is a perception.  Right or wrong when a brand, even taken out of context, is utilized within a media savvy culture this common perception may or may not prevail.  To say that we do not care what the public thinks would certainly be erroneous and untrue.  Public support, both financially and physically, are necessary to our success as a ministry to those in need.  We need reinforcements as well as the means to make things happen.  

This specific argument that we are shifting our identity to become more of a social service agency and are too dependent on governmental funds does have some merit and weight behind it.  There is certainly a danger that we may lose our identity of origin if we are not mindful of mission that is…which brings me to the other side of the argument…

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Argument #2:  The Salvation Army is a Church.

This argument prevails within our corps’ mission at times.  Corps Councils at times get together and bemoan the fact that there is little to no ‘bridging’ going on between corps ministry and the weekly social service office which is always packed with people in need.  At the extreme end of this argument are those who are so pious and holy in appearance yet they do little besides complain about the state of things instead of actually doing something about it.   Not only is it the job of the corps officer to find and enact engaging and relevant ministry, but it is the primary job of the soldiery of that corps to suggest, lead, engage and do this important work as well!  All too often this identity argument that The Salvation Army is first a church is water thin because many corps are seeing a decrease in Sunday attendance.  It is not that Officers are not trying, however could it be that some of the programs that we offer need to be revamped or even given the boot?  If this identity of Church truly ‘sticks’ then why aren’t we seeing consistent substantial growth in our corps…and I’m not just talking about the bigger corps in large metropolitan areas either, every corps in every city.  In my opinion (here’s my take), one of the reasons we are seeing this identity of ‘church’ diminish in the pews is because of our history.  By that I mean, if we explore the reasons for our initial explosion as a ‘Movement’ we will find that our founders were willing to try and risk anything to get people saved.  Slogans like ‘Go for the worst‘ didn’t come because the early Army was playing it safe.  They tried anything and sought to connect with the culture in which they ministered to.  Today, we have much to lose if we risk as they once did.  Programs are great but I believe sometimes our programs become a crutch and limit what we actually do or risk.  Booth would close corps in a heartbeat if they were not growing, today we have too much invested in them to watch them fail or close their doors.  In essence we are protecting our investments and often times we are more willing to play it safe and rest on our laurels than do something different.  

This identity of ‘The Salvation Army is a church’ insulates us.  It protects our accomplishments and we pull back in the risk department.  

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SO WHAT ARE YOU THEN?  

Are we a social service agency or are we a church?  The answer is….YES.  😉 

What do I mean?  If we lose either of these important aspects of our movement as an Army for Christ then we are finished. We might as well pack up and find another mission or ministry to serve under. There is a fine line here.  It is a cautionary hazard reminding us not to veer too far in either direction.   Church, get out of the slow, protective lane of tradition and heritage.  Social Service, pull your hands back from the governmental piggy bank that places severe limits on what you can do in the name of Christ.  Don’t become so dependent on money and thereby replace Christ with the worship of funds.  We are a mission, an adaptive moving fluid mission for Christ.  This is what we ought to be.  We must not lose sight of why we are here in the first place.  We must not forget that souls need to be both clothed, fed and with the physical and the spiritual.  We cannot allow this notion that we are one or the other to divide us.  We are One army, to quote our recent international theme.  We must continue to serve Christ in such a way that He provides and He blesses instead of seeking for the approval man.  Instead of playing it safe and insulating yet another army rich tradition behind polyester uniforms and archaic irrelevant programs, We need to keep moving forward not backward.  The danger is when we shift from an organized movement to just an organization we stop moving…we stop striving forward in our relevancy in ministry.  

We cannot afford to separate this identity as an Army.  To do so, we face a slow, polarizing organizational death.  I pray for more risk takers to be added to our ranks.  I pray for more missionally minded Officers and Soldiers alike.  I pray that we get up out of our pews and start doing something that reach a poor soul and touches the lost for Christ in the process.  If we keep Christ as the face of our Army, we will not lose strength, we will ever be in tuned to His Holy Spirit’s prompting and moving for Him.  If we ever get to the point that we care more about our Army than we do about Christ and His mission for us then we will have lost this vital and most pivotal identity and risk losing so much more than just our uniform.  

“Who do you think you are?”

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Who do you think you are?”  I heard this from one of my sons just the other day as he was sent to his room and was expressing his outrage at the sentence that I had just handed down to him.  He yelled it at the top of the stairs just after stomping up each step like a charging Elephant.  His comment kind of brought me up short, who was I?  In a moment of tears and anger, my son had struck a chord in me.   It wasn’t so much the situation at hand, he certainly needed to be sent to his room (consequences of poor behavior), but it was an existential question that got me thinking literally “who do I think I am?”

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In order to answer that very basic question, the Lord gave me His response that question.  A moment of epiphany took place within me in my preparation for Good Friday.  I was to bring the message that evening and so my study of God’s word became focused on the crucifixion story.  Prior to the crucifixion story is an amazing yet brief expository examination on the identity of who Jesus was.  Matthew 16:13-16 records this event.  Jesus asks His disciples “who do people say the Son of Man is?”  His question is first what does the common person know about the identity of this Son of Man?  And their response to His question is essentially the Son of Man is a good person, maybe John the Baptist, maybe Elijah, maybe Jeremiah or some other prophet.  It’s a response that essentially declares the people didn’t know who the Son of Man was.  They truly didn’t comprehend what God’s plan was within the identity of the Son of Man.

Then, after Jesus hears their responses He asks them a more directed question…this time it’s personal, intimate, unguarded; “But what about you?”  He asks them looking into their eyes as if He is looking directly into their souls, the very fibers of their created being.  The moment of truth is hovering and hanging upon the completion of Jesus’ question, and slowly He asks it almost as if He’s concerned what their answer may be; “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”  Imagine Andrew glancing at John, as John frowns and exchanges eyes contact with the others and then finally looks at Peter, who always seems to be the boldest of the group.  Peter, as if prompted by the non-verbal exchange looks back at Jesus and makes his declaration of faith, identity and purpose; “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

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In a single solitary sentence, Peter makes a statement so bold that to speak it in the wrong place at the wrong time with Pharisees or priests within ear shot would have meant a death sentence.  Peter declares Jesus to be Messiah and God’s Son!  Jesus’ identity is revealed in scripture, confirmed to His followers, and this epic redemption story is about to unfold for all of humanity.   All because that question “Who do you think you are” is answer by Jesus.

Identity Revealed:

Because of who Christ is, revealed to us, we are then able to be identified with Him, who was crucified for our sins and also with His resurrection which is our door by which eternal life is opened to us!
But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12 ASV)

We now have the right to be called sons and daughters, children of God!  That’s who we are!  If we are members of the body of Christ, then we ought to no longer struggle with this identity crisis!  We are His children!  Christ has been revealed to us, His identity is real and His power as the Son of God has conquered sin and death for us!  When people ask “who do you think you are?”; we can humbly and confidently reply that we are children of the Most High!  Our identity doesn’t give us license to lord it over the world, or judge the world either, but I hope it does provide a measure of peace for our souls.  WE ARE HIS!  If we identify ourselves as Christians, and we also claim that we too are crucified with Christ then our identity is also answered and we ought not to live in crisis over who we are in this world!  (Galatians 2:20)

Who do you think you are today?  This question isn’t asked in a condescending tone, but simply inquiring whether or not you know who you are and more importantly WHOSE you are!

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