Thursday, October 3, 2013

Radical Discipleship

At our church we are currently exploring clearer discipleship pathways to effectively equip people on a faith journey to discover what it means to live as a Christ follower and how to fully engage in Christ's mission on earth as a part of His Church.

In our context of The Salvation Army, this discussion has an added dimension to explore, as we also evaluate the relationship between DISCIPLESHIP (a Biblical imperative) and SOLDIERSHIP (a Salvation Army distinctive).  Are they interchangeable terms in a Salvation Army context?  If so, does that mean soldiership is the primary pathway for discipleship?  If not, what's the difference and what are the options?  What makes this part of the discussion interesting is that there seems to be no uniform definition of what a Soldier is, nor a consistency in the preparation material used to prepare people for such a commitment.  

In order of date of publication, here are just some of the diverse definitions of soldiership and descriptions of being a "Salvationist" I found from various Salvation Army sources:

"To be effective, the warriors of the Cross must be more than saints; they must be soldier-saints!...We are a Salvation people - this is our speciality - getting saved and keeping saved and then getting somebody else saved." - William Booth, Salvationist, January & February 1879.  

"My comrades, you must answer in purpose and character to the name of the great Salvationist.  You must have the self-sacrificing soul-seeking spirit of Jesus Christ, or you are none of His...You are to be a redeemer, a saviour, a copy of Jesus Christ Himself.  So wake up all the powers of your being and consecrate every awakened power to the great end of saving your fellow-men.  Be a Salvationist!" - William Booth, 1879.

"The Salvationist is a soldier, an idea purely scriptural.  'Fight the good fight,' Paul commanded Timothy (1 Timothy 6:12) and congratulated himself on having 'fought a good fight' (2 Timothy 4:7).  We are soldiers in an Army committed to soul-winning.  Every soldier is , therefore, an evangelist at all times, in all places." - Preparation for Soldiership, 1956.

"A Soldier of The Salvation Army is a person who knows Christ as his/her personal Saviour; who believes in the Army's purposes, standards, and doctrines; who has signed the Articles of War, and who has then been duly and properly enrolled as a Soldier under the Flag." - Manual of Salvationism, 1968.

"No one is a full member of The Salvation Army who has not been enrolled and sworn-in as a soldier of a corps." - Chosen To Be A Soldier, 1977.

"Having accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord, and desiring to fulfil my membership of His Church on earth as a soldier of The Salvation Army, I now by God's grace enter into a sacred covenant." - Articles of War (A Soldier's Covenant), 1989.

"We call Salvationists worldwide to recognise that the swearing-in of soldiers is a public witness to Christ's command to make disciples and that soldiership demands ongoing radical obedience.  We affirm that Jesus Christ stills calls men and women to take up their cross and follow him.  This wholehearted and absolute acceptance of Christ as Lord is a costly discipleship.  We hear our Lord's command to make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We believe that soldiership is discipleship and that the public swearing-in of a soldier of The Salvation Army beneath the Army's Trinitarian flag fulfils this command.  It is a a public response and witness to the life-changing encounter with Christ which has already taken place, as is the believers' water baptism practiced by some other Christians." - Robert Street, Called To Be God's People, 1999. 

"Soldier preparation classes are our form of discipleship and the soldier's covenant is our form of baptism and membership." - Geoff Ryan, Sowing Dragons, 2001.

"Salvation Army church members are known as soldiers.  Soldiers worship at their local Corps (church) and may wear a uniform." - Adherent Membership Leader's Manual, 2007.

"Salvation Army soldiership is about developing warriors in the mode of Jesus Christ with the DNA of William & Catherine Booth; people converted, consecrated, and commissioned to declare war on the kingdom of darkness, wherever it may be found." - Salvationism 101, 2008.

"There is no question that one of the distinctives of the Army's identity is soldiership.  We are called to be "a good soldier of Jesus Christ," as the Apostle Paul put it to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3.  This is a radical call to action against the enemy of our souls, not passive church membership.  We need soldiers of Jesus Christ fully engaged in the battle." - Lt Col James Condon, Pipeline, January 2009.

"Soldier:  A person who is 'converted', i.e. came to faith in Jesus Christ.  Soldiers must be at least 14 years of age and meet with the approval of the census board.  They are sworn-in after signing the articles of war." -, 2012-2013.

"Soldiership in The Salvation Army is about choosing to make a covenant with God; a promise to fulfil God’s work without distraction, to live by the beliefs, values, and mission of The Salvation Army, and to live a life of personal holiness and devotion to God." -, 2013.

Despite the diversity of thought among these individual descriptions, they collectively capture common themes that gives us some insight into the etymology of a soldier:  Conversion to Christian faith, focus on evangelism and salvation, a consecrated life of holiness and sacrifice, radical expression of discipleship, call to action, covenant relationship, fully engaged member, spiritual warrior.  

Scripture describes a disciple as a 'follower' (Matthew 16:24) and a 'student' (Philippians 4:9) whose purpose is to become like their 'teacher' (Luke 6:40) in thought, word and deed (John 13:13-17) and to fulfill His mission to reproduce 'disciples' (Matthew 28:19-20).  

When you bring these two descriptions together, you get a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ who is fully committed to Christ's mission and fully armed and engaged in the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness.  A soldier, therefore, is a disciple who enlists in The Salvation Army and embraces a covenant relationship to sacrificially engage in a radical mission for the salvation of the whole world!  Soldiership is a brand of discipleship that gives a unique expression to a common calling shared by all believers.  

While we continue to explore and discover effective discipleship pathways for our church, a redefinition of this unique expression of being a disciple in The Salvation Army challenges us to rediscover soldiership as a relevant and radical form of discipleship to advance our "saved to save" mission today.  The journey continues...

Published in February/March 2014 edition of JAC:  Journal of Aggressive Christianity
A modified version published in 26th July 2014 Onfire Magazine as - Who Wouldn't Be A Soldier?

No comments:

Post a Comment