Being a Salvo takes more than you think
Sydney-based Salvationist CASEY O'BRIEN recently spent 12 months as an intern at The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission in New York, where she wrote a paper entitled “The Thinking Salvationist”. In an edited excerpt from the paper, Casey challenges every Salvationist to have a Christian perspective on challenging issues facing a sin-filled, chaotic world
The Salvation Army today exists in 126 countries. Its 15,765 corps are made up of a total of 1,132,823 soldiers*. That's 1,132,823 individual minds who have committed to the principles and practices of The Salvation Army as a movement and who claim to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus in their everyday lives.
Those 1,132,823 individual minds each hold the capacity to make their own decisions and form their own opinions on everything from their favorite meal to their governments.
Each of those 1,132,823 individuals live separate lives, in differing environments with a variety of conversations, engagements, meetings and makeup of each day; 1,132,823 minds, created by God, with the capacity to think, engage and form ideas – that's not something to be sneezed at.
However, for these minds to be a strong force in a world which so desperately needs new ideas, they must be active and willing to think. They must be “thinking Salvationists”.
In his 2004 lecture at William Booth College, General Shaw Clifton asked, “What does it take to be a thinking Salvationist?” In his exploration of this question, he paid tribute to the life of General Frederick Coutts, taking a look at what it was that made this man worthy of such a description.
General Clifton pointed out that in order to be a thinking Salvationist, one must have both a knowledge of his history as a Salvationist and a knowledge of the present day.
“Unless we know where we have come from, we cannot know who we are today,” General Clifton said. “A thinking Salvationist has a knowledge of our past, a sense of our history, so that she or he can think intelligently and in context about the present and the future ... a sense of history and a working knowledge of our past are crucial to being a modern thinking Salvationist.”
He emphasised the importance of being simultaneously aware of the world today, saying, “A sense of history is not enough on its own. A sense of the social, moral and political trends of the present day is also crucial to the thinking Salvationist. Keeping in touch with, and understanding, the world beyond the often introspective confines of The Salvation Army is absolutely central to our soul-saving and soldier-making mission under God.”
Today, globalisation and the internet have made the accessing of information and knowledge and, therefore, the capacity for the world to form opinions in a split-second, much easier.
Stretching our minds
On a daily basis we are bombarded with information, facts, propaganda and issues. Watch the news for half an hour and you will likely feel overwhelmed. Too often, when a current issue comes up in conversation, we hear, “Oh I don't know enough about that to be able to comment”, or “I figure someone must know what they're talking about, so I'll just leave the decision-making up to the decision-makers”.
It is all too easy to be so caught up in the goings on of our daily lives that we simply “don't have the time” to look outside our immediate view.
As Salvationists, we must challenge this attitude of accepted ignorance. We must be aware of what is happening in our world and be prepared to inject a Christian perspective into conversations. We must be “teachable” thinking Salvationists.
The beauty of today's fast-paced, information-accessible world is that that information is readily available to us also. Ten minutes a day spent reading the headlines and delving into those topics to which God draws your attention, will slowly dissolve the “I don't know enough about that to comment” urge.
When prayerfully considered, God will use our minds by developing thoughts, opinions and perspectives on issues which we previously knew nothing about. God created our minds with the intention of using them for good – for the furthering of his truth and his wisdom.
While this prospect is exciting, it must be noted that this may be uncomfortable at times and General Clifton's call for Thinking Salvationists comes with a warning: “It sometimes takes enormous moral courage to be true to oneself. Let all aspiring to be a thinking Salvationist note this. There may be a price to be paid. You may often be misunderstood”.
While God will use our minds for furthering his truth, human elements come into play and it is inevitable that, at times, thinking Salvationists may disagree with each other.
As Baptist pastor Scott Higgins writes of all Christians, “Our primary calling is not to agree with one another but to love one another. Jesus didn't say that the world would know we are Christians by our unified opinions on controversial issues but by our love.” The same can be said of Salvationists. We must approach our ideas and thoughts not with arrogance or a spirit of criticism, but with the mind that we are humans, attempting to undertake God's work and inject His wisdom into a sin-filled, chaotic world.
Yet as our calling to be Salvationists came with the warning of self-sacrifice for living counter-culturally and speaking the words of God, we must be ready to experience such misunderstandings at times for the importance of speaking God's truth into a messy, chaotic world.
Romans 12:2 urges us, “Do not to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. We need Salvationists to consistently challenge the thinking of those around them through intelligent, scripturally-based conversation, and this cannot be done until Salvationist themselves are challenging their own thinking.
General Linda Bond's vision for The Salvation Army – “One Army, One Mission, One Message” – states, we are to go “into the world of the hurting, broken, lonely, dispossessed and lost, reaching them in love by all means ... encourag[ing] innovation in mission”.
Christians are designed to do exactly that – to encourage the innovation of new methods of reaching the “hurting, broken, lonely, dispossessed and lost” to complement those methods which already exist.
We can do this through the encouragement of critical and innovative thinking in all areas — including those in which many Salvationists are already experts.
The Salvation Army is blessed with many intelligent, educated people who are contributing to academic debate across the world. However it is my belief that The Salvation Army is full of Salvationists who hold the knowledge and capacity to contribute to conversation on social justice issues in their own areas of life, yet are simply staying quiet.
The circles in which you move and the things on which you think are your God-given area of expertise, and the knowledge and lessons you have gained through moving in this area are unique to you.
We need soldiers, future officers and officers to recognise that whatever it is they are called to do, that ministry is inextricably linked with their calling to be a Salvationist.
Whether you are called to be a lawyer, a receptionist, an exercise scientist, a courier, a Salvation Army officer or an information technology specialist, God has a plan for you to use that calling in your ministry as a Salvationist. Soldiers of The Salvation Army are strategically placed by God in all areas of life to speak into all areas of life.
We need strong Christian voices who are aware of not only their own contexts but of situations in the broader world, and are prepared to speak truth into these situations.
Before we attempt to speak truth into the world, we must be 100 per cent sure that the truth we are speaking is, in fact, God's truth. As General Clifton states, “Being a man of God transcends any thought or aim of being a thinking Salvationist. We can hold all the views we like on Army history, Army personalities, Army policies, Army methods, Army theology, or the Army's future and still not be godly. The greatest need is our personal holiness.”
In our ever-changing and growing world, we as The Salvation Army must be prepared to form God-inspired, counter-cultural opinions.
Let us be vigilant in keeping up with the movements of the world in an effort to stay ever-relevant, intuitive and entrepreneurial in the way in which we share God's love with the world.
Let us be present where God has placed us and use the knowledge which He has given us to educate others about what we know, keeping in mind that, “important as it is that we have in our ranks those who may be dubbed 'Thinking Salvationists', it is infinitely more important that we have godly 'Thinking Salvationists'”
As General Clifton stated of General Coutts, let it be said of us that we are a holy people who place our mind, brain and thinking capacities all at the disposal of our Lord.
Let us be Thinking Salvationists.
* Figures as of September 2012
* Casey O'Brien is a Salvationist who attends Sydney Congress Hall in Australia