Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Salvation Army in the 21st Century: Five Battlefronts we Face

God is on the move! As we rally in The Salvation Army to build our base of soldiers, to enlist troops to fight on the frontlines of the battlefields of this world, with the cross of Jesus Christ as our banner, we gather our troops, across the frontlines of the salvation war, gathered in foxholes and firing lines and strongholds, scouting out the battlefields in front of us. We fight many internal and external battles as salvationists. Let us consider how we march forward into this difficult world, that seems to be growing darker, more depraved, and more divided by the day.  I see five key battlefronts for us in the salvation war. The first two issues are internal and the second two issues are external. The fifth issue is both internal and external.

The first issue we as Christian salvationists ought to address is gossip and social media use in The Salvation Army.  Gossip is a danger for any church movement.  It can be quite common, and difficult to deal with.  It often means slander and hatred are able to spread and cause divisions. Gossip is clearly viewed as a sin in the word of God.  Even if we don't like someone, or what someone stands for, we should never spread gossip or slander about that person.  Even if we think we're "speaking the truth."  Often times we think we're speaking the truth, but we're really simply spreading rumors and gossip.  I myself have been the target of gossip and rumors, and slander, often by people I don't even know in The Salvation Army world.  That's very disappointing. 

And yes, I've at times spread gossip and rumors when I shouldn't have, about people I maybe didn't agree with about certain things. I may have comforted myself that I was standing up for biblical truth, or standing against hatred. But if I'm honest with myself, I was spreading slander about people I was angry with, because we have different opinions. I'm going to challenge myself to discontinue that sort of unhelpful gossip. 

Additionally, are we obeying Romans chapter 13, to be submitting to our leaders? I had to challenge myself in that area, to make sure I'm appropriately submitting to my leaders, even if I may disagree with them on certain things. As long as it's not a gospel issue, I should lovingly submit to my leaders. If it is a gospel issue (biblical truth is at stake in a primary way) then I ought to kindly and lovingly raise my concerns with my leaders.

Social media has really been a great tool for spreading the gospel in the 21st century.  It's absolutely essential that The Salvation Army continues to utilize social media to spread the word of God and the love of Christ!  But we must be careful about how we go about doing that.  We should always do that with love and gentleness, while also speaking plain biblical truth, without cowering to culture. That is a careful balance to walk.  

Social media should never be used as a tool to bludgeon those we disagree with ideologically, religiously or politically.  And if we find something objectionable posted by someone, we ought to practice the biblical pattern of conflict resolution found in Matthew chapter 18.  We ought to contact that person directly, over phone or direct message, to deal with them directly.  If we are unable to work things out that way, only then should we contact our leaders to bring our concerns to our leaders. And we should never gang up on a person, and create a sort of "cancel mob" to try to harm someone. That is not biblical Christianity.  That is not Christ-like love.  Go directly to the person. If that doesn't work, go to leadership. But don't generate a public scene. That only hurts people and hurts the organization as a whole. Speak truth in love on social media, it is a great tool, but be careful with it. I myself have in the past been too bold on social media, too intense, and I had to change my approach to social media use to make sure I was keeping a holy balance between grace and truth. There's nothing wrong with seeing a problem and making a change. We should all be lifelong learners. 

The second issue we as salvationists should address is the growing ideological divide between urban corps and medium/small town corps. It's no secret that our country, in the USA, is more divided politically, ideologically, and culturally than ever before. Increasingly we see a divide in our society between the beliefs of urban big city areas and small and medium sized towns across the country, and of course in the Midwest.  That divide found in society often replicates itself in the church.  And we often see very different perspectives on life, culture, politics, ideology, and religion depending on our own viewpoints.  

The important question to ask ourselves, as conservatives and liberals serving in the church together, is: What unites us? Hopefully it is an overwhelming love for Jesus Christ, and a desire to serve suffering humanity without discrimination.  

We disagree on many biblical issues, we disagree on justice issues, we definitely disagree on politics, but we all serve Jesus.  And perhaps we ought to realize that conservative and liberal officers and soldiers need each other. Liberal and conservatives officers, could even be, more effective, if we fight along side each other, and not against each other.  

Yes, we will always disagree on many key issues. We will have to hash those things out for our shared future. But we can also focus on serving Christ together, as often our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other more than we might realize. Perhaps we might even realize that liberal and conservatives officers need each other, to be a strong army, focused on justice and service, truth and grace, love and boldness, looking back to our foundations and looking forward to our progress as a movement.  

The third issue we as salvationists should address is the call to biblical social justice. From the very beginning The Salvation Army fought for justice in society, whether it was providing food, clothing, and shelter for the poor, or advocating for the age of consent to be raised in darkest England. 

The challenge to fight for biblical justice is a great one for us as a movement. We find polarized political positions on both sides of the social justice debate. The danger of politics invading the church and taking over our advocacy is a real concern. So we ought to be very careful what our steps are in standing for biblical justice in a fallen world. 

Many mainline protestant churches have destroyed themselves by placing an over-emphasis on social justice and politics, instead of sharing the gospel and meeting needs. The road of biblical justice is a challenging road, but it's not one that can be ignored or rejected either.  

The Salvation Army must be on the forefront of healing, mercy, and hope in areas like human trafficking, religious persecution, abortion, racism, poverty, political corruption, and so on. But we must be very cautious to make sure we approach these issues from a framework of scripture, and not the ideologies of the world. Some church movements have come to shipwreck, by either becoming too politically focused on the right, or on the left. Often times this zeal for political change, masked as social justice, led to a decline in biblical truth, and the eventual collapse of movements into excessively progressive or fundamentalist bents. So we must sail the turbulent waters of justice ministry with biblical truth as our sextant, and the love of Jesus as our compass.

The fourth issue we salvationists should address is balancing gospel and service. Here we come to the great sacred balance we as salvationists must strike. It is a difficult one indeed. We must balance ourselves, between proclaiming the gospel and meeting human needs.  Too far on one end and we lose social services, too far on the other and we lose our ministry focus.  This is the great challenge, of mission integration.  How can we balance our ministry and social services to be one entwined mission of ministry-based social service; gospel centered, while serving all without discrimination.  That is the great and difficult balance to strike, to strike at every corps, at every facility, at every headquarters. 

How awesome and difficult a task, to balance these battlefronts! How challenging it is to fight a war on two fronts. If we are not careful, we can lose our way. But our mission statement says it well, "Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination."  That is our challenge. And each new generation of officers and soldiers must face that challenge to win the world for Jesus and meet the needs of suffering humanity.  

But it is the right approach.  It absolutely is! When Jesus himself walked the Earth, he preached the gospel and he met needs. Those were his two consuming focuses, teaching the people about the kingdom of God, and meeting the needs of those who were sick, hurting, defeated, hungry, or crippled.


The final and most important issue I'd like to address is theology. The theology of a movement guides it in hundreds and hundreds of different ways, it's the rudder of a ship, though it may seem small, it directs the entire massive ship in our direction or another. 

The Salvation Army is a biblical movement, part of the evangelical church, a quasi-military army, focused on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we must always maintain that high standard of biblical Christianity.  Many large organizations like Goodwill, the YMCA, and Volunteers of America, to name just a few, have completely lost their Christianity identity. They swayed so far toward social work that they lost who they were. They are little more than secular charities today. The Salvation Army must never become that.  

The Salvation Army must always remain a biblical, theologically conservative Christian church movement.  But it seems like we've really lost touch with who we are as theologically.  The Salvation Army is a holiness movement church with severe, whacky, Spirit-filled charismatic tendencies.  The Salvation Army is a revival movement, a street evangelism movement, and a recovery movement.  But how little do we hear true holiness theology preached from the pulpits of The Salvation Army anymore? Have you ever heard a sermon about entire sanctification? Do we even believe in true Spirit-filled Christ-centered holiness anymore? We ought to. Because it's true and it's real. I love The Salvation Army's theology. But too often we seem to preach milquetoast feel-good messages, instead of holiness, heaven, hell-fire, and the blood of Christ! I came for blood and fire.  Too many calvationists (calvinist salvationists) are preaching 'keep on sinning' hyper-grace messages. We need to walk through the fire, and be refined in the fire, and come out glazed and clean pure and holy, not by our own efforts, but all in Christ Jesus our savior!

Additionally, many in The Salvation Army are concerned, rightly so, because the position statements of all the territories were archived two years ago, meaning they are no longer considered valid. The stated goal was to centralize the position statements which are now listed on the international website. Fair enough. However, two key positions have been left unlisted. The position statements on marriage, and homosexuality, in particular are missing.  And this has led many officers and soldiers to tremble with fear that the Salvation Army may be preparing to make a departure from biblical truth. But even if that isn't the case, and I think it isn't, even then, those positions should be listed publicly, or at least, listed as stated positions internally. This is too dangerous of an issue, with far far too many voices trying to pull us toward total apostasy on the issue of marriage, for it to remain a blank spot in our positional statements. It must be listed. Some are even making wild claims on social media, that since the position isn't listed, that must mean that any viewpoints are acceptable.  But that is not the case.  This is a gospel issue. The new testament is clear on this issue (1 Cor 6:9-11, Romans 1:21-28, 1 Tim 1:8-11). Of course we must always love, and care for, and reach out to those who need Jesus. All must be treated with dignity, and served without discrimination. That is clear. We must help those lost to turn from sin, and find freedom. But, to promote any other view than marriage between man and woman is, frankly, a blatant breach of  Old and New Testament scripture, a violation of the first doctrine of our theology, and a violation of the soldiers and officers covenant. However, I believe we will stand firm. Glory to God, who guides our movement, and I'm certain, will prevent us from slipping off the precipice, the same precipice, that unfortunately many other denominations have slipped off of. 

So as we face this continued battle, in the great salvation war, we must stand firm and continue to march forward. Many of us tremble and wonder, will the decline in corps attendance continue? Will corps continue to shut down and decline across the Midwest? Do we have a future as a movement? 

To me it seems clear, God is not done with The Salvation Army. We are uniquely positioned in these last days to make a difference to an increasingly lost, depraved and chaotic world. We are needed more than ever!

The return of Jesus Christ is imminent. This is not the time to shrink back. This is not the time to lose heart. This is not the time to slide into coldness and discouragement.  

This is the time to keep up the fight.  This is a time for hope. This is a time to see a bright future, and cry out in prayer to God to see it manifest, and to fight day and night to make that hope a reality! Our God is really real! Jesus Christ is alive, right now! Keep praying soldiers, keep leading officers, and we will win the day! God be with you sons and daughters of Jesus Christ! Fight on, and never give up! 

"With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!" -2 Samuel 22:30, 33, 47