The Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant promises God that Salvation Army soldiers will lead their lives in a particular way. As a holiness movement, The Salvation Army calls on its soldiers to emphasise holy living. Is that still relevant today?
I ask, because in a Facebook note, my colleague, Captain Peter Hobbs of The Salvation Army’s Australian Territory, suggests that both Jesus and the majority of people in today’s society are excluded from soldiership because of the lifestyle it demands. By the way, if you’ve been following my three-part series on the Full Focus Planner and the part it plays in my ministry and productivity (you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here) then the third part will follow next week.
The Soldiership Dilemma
Peter’s argument runs like this:
- To be a disciple of a rabbi in first century Palestine, you had to be the best of the best. In contrast, Jesus called the worst of the worst to be his disciples.
- What Jesus required of his disciples was not a moral motivation but he himself was to be their motivation.
- Jesus simply saved and then sent, regardless of the disciples morals.
- Jesus, and the majority of those in our society today would not become a Salvation Army soldier because he and they could not or would not live up to the lifestyle choices laid out in The Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant.
- Salvation Army adherent membership creates a two-tier exclusiveness, which Jesus opposes, because adherents are excluded from some avenues of service (including officership).
- The Salvation Army should remove this blockage by making soldiership “Anyone who follows Jesus and acknowledges his presence in their life and who is part of the Salvation Army family on mission together”.
- The benefit of this would be that we would create an environment of equality without condemnation and simplify soldiership to what Jesus intended.
- The requirement is Jesus and that is enough.
I completely disagree with Peter, for the following reasons:
The Salvation Army Calls the Worst of the Worst
Peter seems to be suggesting that soldiership is exclusive, and has somehow returned to the Temple discipleship of first century Palestine in calling only the best of the best. That should not be The Salvation Army’s intention. General William Booth said:
Go for souls and go for the worst. (Quoted in The Life of General Booth by Hulda Friedrichs)
William Booth targeted the “worst” in our society: the poor, the marginalised, those whose morals were well below what was expected of a Salvation Army soldier, and he called them to follow Jesus. No one was to be excluded. The Salvation Army connected with “unclean people”, those whom the established churches wouldn’t allow in their doors, or if they did, would restrict them to the pews at the back out of the way. Christian discipleship and fellowship was for all as far as William Booth was concerned.
The Salvation Army should continue to “go for souls and go for the worst”. It shouldn’t be exclusive. If it is, then in my view, that is not a problem of soldiership, it is a problem of missional intent.
Calling the Worst of the Worst to be the Best of the Best
I have noticed in recent years that some Salvationists (including me on occasion) have reduced the Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant to “don’t drink and don’t smoke” and these are the only aspects of the Soldier’s Covenant Peter refers to. The Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant is full of other lifestyle choices too; the kind of high moral code that Jesus taught too. Here are some examples:
The Work and Leading of the Holy Spirit
- “I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedient to His leading in my life” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jesus in John 14:26 NIVUK).
Means of Grace
- “I will [grow] in grace through worship, prayer, service and the reading of the Bible” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (Jesus in John 4:23-24 NIVUK).
- “I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). Jesus teaches kingdom values throughout his ministry, including forgiveness, faith, humility and thankfulness (see for example, Luke 17:1-21).
- “I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Jesus in Matthew 12:36-37 NIVUK).
- “I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others; my family and neighbours, my colleagues and fellow salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). There are many instances when Jesus teaches about relationships. Here is just one: “‘The most important [commandment]’, answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. There is no commandment greater than these” (Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 NIVUK).
Marriage and Family Life
- “I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’” (Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6 NIVUK).
- “I will be a faithful steward of my time and gifts, my money and possessions, my body, my mind and my spirit, knowing that I am accountable to God” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). This is about staying focused. Jesus modelled this throughout his ministry, always remaining true to God’s purposes for him on earth: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Jesus in Luke 19:10 NIVUK).
Winning the World for Jesus
- “I will be faithful to the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army, Salvation Army sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, endeavouring to win others to Him, and in His name caring for the needy and the disadvantaged” (Soldier’s Covenant). “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Jesus in Matthew 18:19-20 NIVUK).
- “I will be actively involved, as I am able, in the life, work, worship and witness of the corps, giving as large a proportion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army” (Salvation Army Soldier’s Covenant). “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (Jesus in John 13:14 NIVUK) and “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Jesus in Luke 21:4 NIVUK).
Jesus’ Call to High Moral Living
My reading of the gospels is that Jesus didn’t just save and send. There are plenty of occasions where Jesus teaches and expects a high moral code. He continually called his apostles to high moral living (for example, teaching them about servant leadership after James and John had asked for the best seats in the kingdom). Zacchaeus the Tax Collector recognised the proper response to Jesus’ call was to give back more than he owed those he had stolen from.
Jesus doesn’t expect perfection before his disciples can serve, and neither should The Salvation Army. But we shouldn’t shy away from calling people to live a holiness lifestyle either. Like Jesus, we shouldn’t condemn those who don’t live up to this lifestyle, especially since those of us who have signed the Soldier’s Covenant often fail to live it out. But we should not think of it as exclusive either: anyone can live out the Soldier’s Covenant with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Drinking and Smoking and the Rest
I have no doubt that Jesus would be able and willing to sign up to The Salvation Army’s Soldier’s Covenant. I appreciate that Jesus enjoyed a drink during his time on earth, such that he turned water into wine at a wedding ceremony and is criticised for eating and drinking with sinners.
Our Soldier’s Covenant says, “I will abstain from alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult and all else that could enslave the body or spirit”. We see the problem of enslavement to alcoholic drink on the streets of our towns and cities every Friday and Saturday night. I know people who have died from lung cancer because of their enslavement to tobacco. Addictive drugs can enslave people and put them out of their minds. Even the UK government has recently understood the enslaving nature of gambling and reduced the maximum bet on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals from £100 to £2. We are only just beginning to understand how enslaving pornography is, particularly now that it is so accessible on the web and our smartphones and tablets. The occult can be dangerously enslaving too.
True, some of these things don’t enslave people when used in moderation. But I still believe there is a legitimate place for calling people to abstain from them altogether bearing in mind the danger inherent with them. I have little doubt that if Jesus were here today, he would place their capacity to enslave above our freedom to use them.
Imagine existing volunteers, partners in the mission and those faithful adherent elders at our centres, along with our faithful soldiers all living the kind of high moral lifestyle that Jesus called to. Imagine a fighting force that was responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and leading, growing in grace together, embracing kingdom values and rejecting worldly values, upholding Christian integrity in every area of their lives, maintaining Christian ideals in all of their relationships, staying focused on The Salvation Army’s mission by being faithful stewards, sharing the good news and seeking to win the world for Jesus, actively involved in service wherever they are.
We may not be perfect. But Peter and I agree: If ever the world needed a movement of soldiers, it is now. May the Holy Spirit work in us to be the holy, set apart fighting force he has called The Salvation Army to be.
What do you think? Does Salvation Army soldiership still have a part to play in the twenty-first century? Or are we asking too much? Why not comment below.
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