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    Solemn Vows

    Should The Salvation Army be considered a Protestant order? January 31, 2012 by Rob Perry
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    In God's economy, vows have always been critical. As far back as ancient Israel, God used vow-driven individuals and communities to accomplish his purposes. When women or men wanted to make vows to him, he seemed delighted to oblige them. God consistently culled out from the ranks of his people a few who would stick out, act out and speak out. God gave opportunity for those outside of the priesthood to set themselves apart for acts of devotions and service to him—a kind of voluntarily
    ostracism. —
    The New Friars by Scott A. Bessenecker

    Is The Salvation Army a Christian denomination? A charity? A social justice movement? The answer to each of these questions is most certainly, “Yes!” However, these answers also lead to more questions about our identity as we continue to explore who we are and how we can best serve God in the world.

    As I begin this series examining The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant—in particular the “I will” statements it contains—I want to first examine our fundamental understanding of what The Salvation Army actually is. This is no small question, and has for decades been an issue of great debate within Salvation Army circles. I have found the following framework helpful in providing a perspective from which to examine the promises made by those who decide to join The Salvation Army as soldiers.

    Throughout history, new life and light have been breathed into the Church (particularly the Roman Catholic expression) through the birth and creation of monastic orders, such as the Franciscans, the Jesuits and the Benedictines.

    An order is, by definition, a society of monks, priests, nuns, etc., living according to certain religious and social regulations and discipline, with at least some of these members taking solemn vows.

    If we replace monks, priests and nuns with soldiers, adherents and officers, this sounds like an accurate definition for The Salvation Army. After all, The Salvation Army is not just another church. In fact, in my grandmother's time, to call the Army a church was looked down upon. We weren't a church, we were a Movement, an Army, a new thing God was doing in the world. We embraced the mission of spreading the good news of Jesus around the world. We committed ourselves to new expressions of worship and evangelism, and we even donned our own unique garb.

    Orders were most often founded by a particular individual who felt God's stirring to deeper commitment and sacrifice than the Church already provided, as well as a desire to prophetically call the Church back to holiness and the poor. In this light, perhaps William and Catherine Booth were Victorian England's St. Francis of Assissi, calling the Church, through their new Protestant order, back to holiness and mission.

    There is a great deal of discussion in Salvation Army circles these days about membership. How can full membership (i.e. soldiership) have more requirements and expectations than the Bible itself lays out for Christian disciples? How can someone who wants to join the Christian Church be required to fulfil promises that Jesus himself did not require? The obvious example is the promise not to drink alcohol. However, when we look at the vow not to drink as an extra-biblical vow taken on by a particular, radical branch of the Church as an example of sacrifice and commitment, this promise resembles the vows of charity and chastity that Franciscans made beginning in the 13th century. Taking it back even further, one could equate The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant to the Nazarite vow, laid out in the Bible most famously by Samson whose parents vowed that he would not touch anything dead, drink alcohol or cut his hair. These were extra vows and promises representing extra commitment made by people who were called to a deeper and more sacrificial obedience to their Lord.

    By viewing the Army's identity through this framework, we can soberly examine the Soldier's Covenant and seek to understand the depth and breadth of the vows Salvation Army soldiers make. We, the committed few, in dedication to God and the world, go where others won't, help those whom others ignore and sacrifice more than others will. We make these solemn promises to God and join him in his mission to redeem the world.

    Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Toronto's Corps 614.

    Comment

    On Monday, February 13, 2012, Major/ SA Captain Patrick Lublink said:

    Thank you Barb for your great comments. I couldn't agree more with you. Coincidentally I have just returned today from a trip to Assisi - the birth place of St Francis. We may not always agree entirely with Catholic theology, but St Francis was a man deeply devoted to saving souls, growing saints and helping suffering humanity. His depth of commitment is a great example for all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise God for The Salvation Army.

    On Saturday, February 11, 2012, Reverend Barbara Moulton said:

    I would hesitate to call the vows made by members of The Salvation Army "...deeper and more sacrificial." Remember that some are not unique to The Salvation Army. I belong to a denomination that requires many of the same vows for its covenant members and pastors as The Salvation Army does for it soldiers and Officers.

    I would caution any denomination against holding itself up as an example of a deeper sacrifice as there are men and women in many denominations who live incredibly sacrificial lives at the calling of Christ.

    While a major characteristic of The Salvation Army is its compassionate ministry, it is an overstatement to say that its members "....go where others won’t, help those whom others ignore and sacrifice more than others will." The truth is many churches outside The Salvation Army do compassionate ministry without the aid of the funds that The Salvation Army receives through public donations. For example, if a little church wants to to help one or two families at Christmas, its members must sacrifice as much, as more as soldiers of a Corps which receives generous support from its community. The story of the widow's mite seems appropriate.

    The Salvation Army should simply do what God has called it to do and not compare itself to others others in the Body of Christ.

    Its members might make some unique sacrifices, but that does not necessarily mean that they live more deeply sacrificial lives.

    It has the resources to engage in large scale acts of compassion, but that does not make its members more dedicated than those doing smaller acts of kindness with the resources they have.

    Blessings!

    On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, Jac said:

    Concerned,

    I agree with Patrick and I look forward to reading these articles!

    On Monday, February 6, 2012, Concerned said:

    I am not really sure I understand the wisdom in opening up this debate. The law in Canada is clear, and I cannot think that any federal government would want to open up the issue after all the country went through in the debate on its abolition. Whether an individual Christian or Salvationist is opposed to it or in favour of it is really, I suppose, irrelevant at this time.

    On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, Major/ SA Captain Patrick Lublink said:

    This is one of the best article I have read in a long time on the identity of the Salvation Army. I loved it. Indeed if I may bring in a historical perspective, there is evidence from history that the early pioneers of The Salvation Army were inspired by the Franciscan movement. Comm. George Scott Railton - a co-founder of the Army - was nicknamed "The Saint Francis of The Salvation Army" by his biographer, LCol Bernard Watson in his book "Soldier Saint". GSR himself acknowledged the Franciscan influence of the early Army ((page 235 in the book). For the record, GSR was instrumental in transforming the Christian Mission into an Army and contributed many of his views to its development, particularly concerning the military terminology, the wearing of a uniform, the framing of Army doctrines, the sacraments, and the role of woman in ministry.

    In the book "Wilson Carlisle and The Church Army" by Edgar Rowan we also find an interesting quote. Although the book is a history of the Church Army, it often refers to The Salvation Army since the two movements originated at around the same time in East End London with the same mission in mind. Great Britain's Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Stanley Baldwin is quoted as saying that William Booth for his work and likening The Salvation Army to the movement created by St Francis of Assisi. This quote is from an address on 7 May 1925 in Queen's Hall.

    Although through the years our movement has involved into a denomination, I still like to think also of a it as a Protestant Order. I look forward to reading more from articles from Mr. Perry.

    On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, Major John Gerard said:

    Rob Perry. I have not met you nor know anything about you. This one thing I do know: I was called of God to the Army, called to ministry in the Army,spent a lifetime in seeking one theme only; salvation of the lost, help make saints, and take up the bowl and towel in servanthood for the needy.

    No room or need for discussions, debate, about the structure of the Army or it's role, other than to refine our methods of evangelism in a changing world. We waist time and energy in any other talkabout.

    In these latter days we all need to be focused on " bringing in the sheaves ". No more and no less.

    I truly trust you are fully blessed with many souls won for the Lord in your area of service.

    On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Christine Faragher said:

    I don't know if you are aware that the mystics, among then Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux, Catherine of Sienna and Brother Lawrence were seen as heroes and models by early Salvationist leadership.A biography of St Francis was published in the 'Red-hot Library' series and William Booth was seen as a modern-day Francis of Assisi. Booth himself described Francis as 'one of the most remarkable men the world has ever seen'.

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