Christians in the West have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The vast majority of western Christians are church members, pew-fillers, hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again believers or Spirit-filled charismatics—but not true disciples of Jesus. If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship the impact on society would be staggering.
Discipleship, Vision and Mission
In Luke 14:25-35, a large crowd is following Jesus. As was his pattern, when the crowds got too large, Jesus went out of his way to teach something a little bit shocking, uncomfortable or hard to handle. This would thin the crowds, leaving only the most dedicated. It seemed that Jesus was more interested in deep commitment by the few than shallow lip service by the many.
On this particular occasion, Jesus challenged the crowd by explaining the true cost of being his disciple. He claimed that in order to follow him we must disregard our families and “hate” our very lives. He said that to be truly committed we must be willing to face suffering and execution.
Jesus then used two analogies to drive home his point. The first was building a tower. Before construction begins, a builder must ask himself, “Do I have enough money to complete this project?” If not, he shouldn’t even begin, because a half-completed job would only cause him to be ridiculed. Jesus’ second analogy was that of an army going to war. Before the battle, the king must ask himself, “Do I have enough soldiers to win?” If not, he should seek a treaty.
Jesus points out that just like building a tower or going to war, before embarking on a life of discipleship, one must count the cost. And what is this cost? The cost of following Jesus, of becoming his disciple and following his will, is, in short, everything. “Those of you who do not give up everything you have,” Jesus says, “cannot be my disciples” (see Luke 14:33). To be a true disciple of Jesus means giving up our money, families, possessions and even our very lives. That is the cost.
Perhaps the seventh promise statement in The Salvation Army’s Soldier’s Covenant is partially inspired by Luke 14: 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.
This statement speaks to giving a sacrificial amount of our time to the work of the corps, and it challenges us to give as much money as we can to support the work of The Salvation Army.
When The Salvation Army is viewed in the context of a Protestant order, this makes sense (see Salvationist.ca/solemn-vows). Throughout the history of the Church, vows of poverty have been part of the commitment for members of spiritual orders. There has been an understanding throughout the centuries that riches are a hindrance to discipleship. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus says (see Matthew 19:24). As a spiritual order, in which the members have been called to greater-than-average Christian commitments, it is taken for granted that all of their time, money and very mortality are no longer their own. They give all they have.
As with so much of Jesus’ teaching, this passage from Luke flies in the face of how many Christians operate today. These days, many Christians shop around until they find a church that “suits their needs,” and they compartmentalize church membership as just one small aspect of who they are and what they do. Such an attitude would have been anathema to Jesus’ earliest followers, and to The Salvation Army’s earliest soldiers.
In the model laid out in this seventh promise statement, the corps is the conduit through which soldiers serve. Soldiers come together in a corps, each of them having sacrificed all they have, literally and spiritually, and they do this for the good of their communities and for the good of the worldwide work of the Army. This promise statement makes it clear that soldiership involves action. Soldiers become actively involved in the life of their community. There is no room in this model for pew-sitters, for Sunday-only Christians or for me-first consumers. Following Jesus, reiterated and prophetically proclaimed in the Soldier’s Covenant, is a complete cost and a total sacrifice. This is the promise soldiers have made.
Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Toronto’s Corps 614.