The Salvation Army:
Retooling for the Post-Modern World
By Charles F. Roberts
The Salvation Army, on appearance, is an anachronisma
throwback to Victorian England, smacking of eighteenth-century Welsh band music, archaic
uniforms and staunch demeanor. However, when one peel back the exterior like the outer
layers of an onion, one will get a clear sense of an unchanging international mission and
a clear, driving vision toward a singular goal: helping those who are poor to know Jesus
and make Him knownalbeit in a "post-modern" world.
||"The origins of the
movement were daring and innovative.
Salvation Army is retooling itself and aggressively seeking to be just as
imaginative in our adulthood"
Postmodernism is known for its paradoxical intentional
reference. Breaking from the hierarchical, empiricist world view of modernism, the
generally accepted ways of looking at the world are rejected and "new" ways are
embraced. Change is good, and changes are no longer based on evidence. Most of the
pollsters tell us that more adults are seeking spirituality than ever before, but the
traditional structures for such seeking have been rejected, as mainstream churches are
The Salvation Army was forged out of the Victorian era, a
time not without its paradoxes. Marked by moral protectionism, the Victorian era is also
known for its widespread moral turpitude (decay). Although, there were noticeable periods
of spiritual renewal, the Industrial Revolution left slums filled with decadence in its
wake. The progenitors of the Army were raised by God to deal with the declining social
conditions using spiritual methods.
In 1865, The Salvation Army began as an evangelical mission
to the unconverted. The cofounders, William and Catherine Booth, were moved to preach the
gospel of Jesus Christ to the underclass, the downtrodden, called by Booth, "the
submerged tenth." The movement took on the trappings of the military because of its
radical mission, and adopted the popular entertainment of the daybrass banding,
because of its attractiveness for the era.
The social work of The Salvation Army began out of the need
for poor people to receive comprehensive, holistic assistance. This work is no less
spiritual than sharing the "Four Spiritual Laws" with someone; in fact caring
for the whole person is the mandate of Jesus (Matthew 25: 31-46) and is a condition for
the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The underlying constructs behind the social work
- Poverty is a sociological symptom of the total depravity of
- Temporal conditions in cities have spiritual sources
- Opportunities for redemption and lift have temporal bridges.
- Social work opportunities are "Barnabas moments",
or times to share spiritual encouragement.
- Helping moments are rich with opportunities to share the
life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Helping moments are relational moments that
connect people to each other and to God.
|"William Booth discovered
that a man couldnt hear the gospel when the words of the preachers were drowned out
by the growling of an empty stomach"
It is often believed that The Salvation Army is not
evangelical, responding instead to a "social gospel"believing that the
renewing of the temporal conditions redeems the whole person.
The international mission statement of The Salvation Army
indicates the gospel is essential to transforming the human condition:
"The Salvation Army, an international movement,
is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the
Bible. Its mission is motivated by the love of God. Its ministry is to preach the gospel
of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs without discrimination."
The international mission statement is radical. William
Booth discovered that a man couldnt hear the gospel when the words of the preachers
were drowned out by the growling of an empty stomach. Salvation may have temporal
dimensions, like rescue from harm, but can be found in no other name than that of Jesus
Christ. In this way, the theology of The Salvation Army is orthodox, conservative and
centrist. To paraphrase Max Lucado: "Jesus loves us as we are, but He is not content
to have us stay that way."
The mission statement also implies a balanced and
integrated ministry. Now it isnt always that neat, but from where I sit the paradox
creates a creative tension that keeps the Army fresh. Our theology may be conservative,
but the ways to reach pre-Christians are not. In each of the 103 countries where the Army
is present, the goal is mission within the cultural context. In my view there are only two
elements of Army ministry that are non-negotiable: holiness and innovation. The Bible
makes it clear that "without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14); we must
continue in our Wesleyan roots and aggressively preach personal and corporate holiness.
The Army must also keep the traditions and reject the traditionalism that retards the
forward growth of the movement.
Many Salvation Army officers (clergy) and soldiers (lay
people) are breaking out of the boxes of convention and tradition. Several of the
Salvation Army mission centers in England (called corps) are joined in team ministry as
teaching and training posts; each of the units bring support and help to the other. I
expect that this concept will make it to the States, in the form of "mega-corps"
regional operations. Many new centers of operation called "New Life Centers" are
opening, using only the Army distinctive that works for that particular neighborhood. So
rather than teaching brass instruments, some of these New Life Centers use worship bands
and gospel choirs to sing and make music. There are some that have abandoned the use of
uniform for worship.
Although many clergy still belong to traditional
organizations, like the Christian Holiness Association, Christians for Biblical Equality
and the National Association of Evangelicals, some also belong to the Willow Creek
Association and visit Vineyard churches. There are international centers for leadership
training on all levels within the movement, bringing the latest technology and techniques
for social action and evangelism.
Since 1985, the USA Eastern Territory (11 Eastern states
and Puerto Rico) has been in a paradigm shift, modifying structure and identifying the
"sacred cows " that need to be sacrificed. Although the organization is
line-and-staff, multi-disciplinary work teams and creative teams are forming worldwide,
making the once-inflexible organizational boundaries permeable. There are Vision Councils
throughout the territory, think tanks for visioning and praying for clearness. I agree
with what church consultant Bill Easum says in his self-titled book: "Sacred cows
make gourmet burgers." Its a great time to be in The Salvation Army.
Even though hard numbers are not available on some of these
shifts, there is a shift in leadership worldwide to include younger people and young
people. . There was an International Youth Forum in 1997 that gathered youth from all over
the world. Leaders listened deeply to their concerns and dreams. The International
Millennial Congress, scheduled for June 28 through July 2 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, will
have a youth-centered visioning and praying emphasis. Youth are not the Army of tomorrow,
but the Army of today. The Army is facing this shift head-on, as leaders are embracing the
views of the grass roots. Its a great time to be in The Salvation Army.
We have been blessed with leadership that is innovative,
daring and visionary. Yet our target is still the reaching the poor. The Salvation Army
will never abandon the poor. Postmoderns want to help the poor, although not in the
conventional ways. In Eastern Pennsylvania, USA The Salvation Army will be engaging poor
people in innovative ways: creating Federal credit unions for Individualized Savings
Accounts, birthing Microenterprise incubators, helping folks to hold to their homes and
other community development initiatives. Its a great time to be in The Salvation
Why I joined the Army
||"The Salvation Army is
retooling itself... to be just as resourceful in our adulthood"
Its been a great time for me. I came to The Salvation
Army as a broken-down, depressed, urban professional who attempted to medicate his pain
with every chemical possible. I met Jesus in the midst of taking my own life. When I
discovered that The Salvation Army was a religious movement, I began to rediscover the
stirrings that pointed to ministry in my own soul. Looking at the Army from my human
services background, it was a great match for me. Ordained as a Salvation Army officer in
1994, my wife and I have been appointed as Church Planters in Boston, MA., USA and are
presently serving as Corps Officers (pastors in a Salvation Army church) in Philadelphia,
On appearance, were kind of a throwback to the
eighteenth century. But take a closer look; the origins of the movement were daring and
innovative. The Salvation Army is retooling itself and aggressively seeking to be just as
resourceful and imaginative in our adulthood.
Salvation Army homepage [http://www.salvationarmy.org/]
By Captain Charles Roberts
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