Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Denomination Building?

My last post about the Primitive Salvo movement caused a a great conversation. Thanks to all who commented. Aaron raised some great issues about what I would consider denominational distinctives. This generated some further thinking on my part, especially when Bret noted that we did most things for the sake of the Army.

Let me say that I first joined the Army because it was in my blood as a church. My parents are retired officers and I could not imagine worshipping anywhere else. I gave at least some intellectual ascent to the tenets of our faith as I understood them. I also, to some extent, internalized them early on without wrestling with them. I believed them because that was what I was supposed to believe. I was a soldier.

I also bought the whole denominational philosophy of membership, not necessarily real soldiership. Even though I was a soldier in my early teens, missional thinking really was not at the forefront of my thinking. Sadly, while I wrestled with this somewhat in my later teens and in my twenties, I was well into my officership before I really committed myself to the missional component of my "church." I was a son of the regiment. I was in lock step with the denomination and the form of The Army.

I was also right in there when it came to the old "Stepping Up" poster and philoshophy. Cradle roll through Sr. Soldier and every program in between was important. I believed to be part of the movement and to fulfill my role I had to have a programatic mindset. Membership was most important to the program. Jr. Soldiers and Sr. Soldiers were most important in the process.

Recently, the challenge has been re-issued across the US to make more soldiers. We are encouraged to build the Army. In so doing, I believe those challenging us really believe we are building the Kingdom. I believe these Godly people have righteous intentions. While my view of what it means to be a Salvationist is much different than early in my life, I think to many we are seeing our movement as a church and not necessarily what our birthright is. That, in my opinion, is to be a group of Christians dedicated to changing the world through grace, justice and the practical living of holiness.

I love The Salvation Army as a movement! I think that in its various incarnations around the world, it can be vessel used by God for the salvation of individuals and a redemptive force in the pursuit of social justice and the fight against poverty.

I am not sure though that I am convinced about the issue of The Salvation Army as a denomination. I am probably treading dangerously here. I wonder if the Army has gone from a Kingdom movement to a church more concerned with denomination building. I am not sure the two need be mutually exclusive. Although in ever-increasing numbers people are not joining but attending churches because of some of the hard and fast rules that don't allow for the individual to express their faith in unique ways. The more I reflect on this issue, the more I am realizing we are regulated to the point that we have lost the opportunity for the real characters of our movement to come to the forefront as leaders. Instead, I think we often make leaders out of conformists. In other words, those who are in lock step with the denomination.

I am really beginning to wonder about this idea of denomination building. Is it really where we should be going still? Have we forsaken our roots by looking to make soldiers instead of finding new innovative ways to have people fall in love with Jesus? Maybe I am just in a dream state, but I believe that if we are faithful to the mission and I mean really faithful, that God will take care of the movement we call the Army. I am not sure we need a push to build denomination.

I am thankful for the Army and love it. These are just my thoughts. Yet for years, I have struggled with some issues in this movement where God has called me to serve. Here are some question with which I am struggling. Is denomination building a holy pursuit? Is it better to be a movement or a denomination? Would we be better to recruit missioners instead of soldiers? What do you think would happen if we really recruited people to join our movement instead of our denomination?

What do you think?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Primitive Salvationism?

I begin by saying that I know this is probably going to put some people off and anger some of my good friends. For about ten years now, there has been a movement afoot called, "Primitive Salvationism."

This term recently raised again in my thinking, as I read Jim Knaggs's blog. Although Jim did not use the term, a person commenting on his blog did. The idea of this brand of Salvationism hearkens back to by-gone days and invokes the names of Railton, the Booths and other pioneers of the Army. In many of the writings of those who espouse it, the idea of primitive salvo thinking urges us to capture the spirit of early heroes of the faith, especially salvationist heroes.

Those who claim to practice this type of salvationism, see this as the "real" Salvation Army. In fact, there is almost an elevation of Railton and others to saint level with a sense they were infallible. Now mind you, I believe we ought to have a sense of our real history. I would hasten to say that it should not be sanitized or embellished. I also think there might be a sense that we do need to recapture the entrepreneurial spirit and sense of urgency for souls our fore bearers are said to have.

So why do I think that my friends who practice this type of Salvationism and who hold these folks in such high regard in such high esteem might take issue with me? I am not sure that the "good ole' days" of our founding were as good as we would suggest. Were they heroic? In a sense, yes. Were they godly? I think so. So why do I call this into question? Simply, these people no matter how heroic were human and flawed. Did God use them? Yes. Can we learn from them? I believe so.

I think that my issue is the same as one raised by the person commenting on Jim's blog. I am afraid that often we raise people to sainthood and the good ole' days can be painted nostalgically so that they are skewed.

I am of the belief that as heroic and flawed as the Booths were, I think it is not their persona that should be captured, it is their creative ways of ministry that could be adopted. It is also their risky nature in social justice matters that should be mimicked.

Do I think we should return to their practices and their lifestyle? I don't think we need to. What the Booths did worked in Victorian England during the industrial revolution. Uniforms worked ostensibly, in my opinion, because people especially in the US were coming out of civil war and veterans were used to marching behind a band. It gave them a sense of belonging. The military was a way of life. It is not necessarily so now.

Now let me say we should not give up our fight against social injustice. We should not give up sharing the gospel. It is the power to life. What I suggest is that "primitive salvationism" may be the latest fad. It may not necessarily be salvationist, because it may not contain the innovative spirit that God wants for this movement.

I don't doubt the fervor of my friends who practice this type of salvationism. I believe they love God and if it works for them; great. If it builds the Kingdom; I'm for it. I think the issue I might have is that those who practice this type of salvationism, tend to be judgemental of those who don't necessarily practice their brand of salvationism.

Am I a fan of the status quo? I think that practicing what we are now may lead to a watering down of our salvationist DNA. I also think that a new style of salvationism is needed, that does hearken back to our roots, but does not count on hero worship to make it happen.

Here's what I think. Maybe its time to realize that the autocratic style of leadership and the CEO mentality which Commissioner Joe Noland has warned us about is not going to work now. I think it is now time to think that a more democratic and inclusive leadership is needed. I also believe it is time to be risky. It is time to take a stand on issues that may not just be the safe stand and begin to work progressively toward saving the world from social ills while modeling the Gospel of Jesus. I am not sure that primitive salvationism does that.

Is this brand of primitive salvationism the best for us? Can we be happy with what we have? What is the best brand of salvationism to practice? Does our current style work? What do you suggest?

What do you think?

Monday, February 12, 2007

New Department or DNA?

Recently, the General shared that a new IHQ Department of Social Justice would be opening at THQ in New York. This is exciting news. I applaud the General for the appointment of Commissioner McMillan and the opening of this office. There are incredible issues facing the Kingdom. The Army must be a key player in the Kingdom's response. Sexual trafficking, women's' rights, sweatshop conditions for workers, and yes, health care (including AIDS) are among the most pressing issues of our time (at least in my opinion). These are only a few of them.

I am grateful to see the General take this new initiative, but saddened to see that he had to do it. Here is why I am so saddened. I believe that the fight for social justice should be part of our DNA as a movement. The Booths made it their mission to alleviate suffering. Think about the initiatives. The work farms for poor workers and the purchase of a match factory to bring positive change for oppressed workers come to mind. These are but a couple of the initiatives that our founders initiated.

Unfortunately, institutional creep has, I feel hampered the development of the of new initiatives, especially in the Western World as we became more and more concerned with our image and our need to raise dollars. I know that we can argue the Kroc gift is evidence that we need to protect our assets and be conservative in our approach to controversial issues. The problem, we may not be fulfilling the mandate of the Kingdom on our movement if we continue to work this way. Our THQ's and DHQ's are all equipped with Social Service Departments. I fear, however, that we really are not addressing many of the social ills, rather just treating symptoms.

The Social Service programs for the most part do not address the underlying concerns. Our Adult Rehabilitation Centers may be as close as we get to really treating the cause of social issues instead of just treating the symptoms.

When did we get away from taking on the issues of justice? When did we lose our DNA? When did putting a band-aid on a bullet hole replace our social work? Am I just too critical? I am happy for this new initiative. Maybe it brings us back to our DNA. Isn't it sad that it had to take another department to bring us back to where we belong? I would like to hear your thoughts.

What do you think?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Prophetic or professional?

I spent a rather intriguing week in meetings regarding the Kroc Centers for the Eastern Territory. Let me hasten to say that I applaud our leaders for wanting to make sure these centers are built with quality and done with the highest degree of stewardship and integrity. Certainly, The Salvation Army in the United States is both blessed and challenged with the bequest which Joan Kroc left to it.

As I sat in the meetings, I was overcome by the intensity of highly trained professionals who were in the group. Every phase was covered from web design to aquatics to construction to marketing. I have no doubt that everyone in that room wants the best use of the gift to take place.

The subject of the Kroc gift has been debated, dissected and discussed in many forums. The opinions on the Kroc Centers are as varied and diverse as they can possibly be. I believe if we are not careful that The Army could be taken away from its mission of serving the under served. I think the Y is a great organization and has its place. I am not sure The Army should be the Y. This could happen if we are not careful. Although, even a fitness room can be a place of ministry, even if the Gospel is not overtly preached.

As we discussed the business of the Kroc Centers there was mention of quality in construction and programming. I heard very little, although some, about the quality of congregation. I am not lobbying for us to be the next "Crystal Cathedral." I was concerned we heard very little about transformational community. I was very quiet about the fact during the meetings, because I really thought it would surface. It was not ignored. It just did not surface the way and as much as I thought it would.

Here is what I see as the danger and opportunity for the Kroc Centers. They can be prophetic or they can become professional. I know the size of the operations will require highly skilled professionals to run the business. We need to be good stewards and have the best people in these places to ensure our good stewardship. I pray it does not happen at the cost of the prophetic. The best mix will be a combination of the two.

I see the balance here as very tenuous. I cannot help but think that large, glamorous buildings in poor neighborhoods may at first be misconstrued. A beautiful facility amongst devastated homes may be hard for the residents to handle. I also believe it will be very difficult for people of ministry to connect on a very basic level with those entering our centers. The numbers will be staggering. In many ways, we may fall prey to the mega-church syndrome.

The professional will want every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed. The prophetic will want to jump in with both feet and engage in the battle for souls. The professional will want to cover our assets. The prophetic will want to assault the ills of society without regard for protocol. Both at times will be right and wrong.

In many ways, we have become pros at this enterprise of ministry. For many of our number, I fear the prophetic is a fading memory. I don't think it has to be. We can recapture it before it becomes a hazy recollection of by-gone days. It may look different but it can still happen.

How can we strike a balance organizationally? How can we free the prophetic for ministry and still maintain a professional mandate? Are the two incompatible? Can we have the best of both worlds? What will that look like?

What do you think?