There are a lot of things I love about being part of The Salvation Army. There are also things that totally drive me crazy. That being said, I want to approach an issue with as much grace and an attempt at understanding a different opinion as possible.
The New Frontier magazine (available at a Kroc Center receptionist's desk near you), Volume 30, Number 09, featured a front page story by Karen Gleason and Amy Jorgens entitled "Soldier Numbers Rise In The West." It seems that soldiers (Salvation Army church members) are on the rise in the Western Territory of the United States.
First off, that's great. I'm a soldier. I teach soldiership classes. The commitment to being a soldier is one of the things, in my opinion, that is great about The Salvation Army. What bothers me about this article is a quote by Reno, Nevada Corps officer Major Janene Zielinski. The article says:
Offering adherency as a viable and attainable church membership option is also helping to grow the corps. "People (young families) are responding by the boatload," she said. "They are thrilled to be accepted, valued and not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment."
To be fair, I don't know Major Zielinski, and have no idea what the context of this quote was outside of where I read it in the article. However, all I have to go on is this quote and there are several things that rub me the wrong way.
It was an adherent member of our church that pointed this article out to me. Jeff is a member of our music team (he leads about 25% of the time these days), he's a member of our Corps Council (sort of a TSA deacon's board), he serves on the Social Services committee, his wife (also an adherent) is an employee of the Corps and oversees our children's ministry and their whole family are models of faithful service to Jesus. Jeff was totally appalled by the above quote. The way he took it (and the way I read it) is that those that choose to become soldiers are somewhere ahead in their spiritual walk of those that choose to become adherents. It seems like Major Zielinski is trying to communicate that adherents are accepted while at the same time labeling them as spiritually inferior. It's totally possible that I am taking the statement "not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment" the wrong way. I would like to know how I should take it if so.
I think there are two extremes when it comes to this issue. One is that soldiers are clearly superior and adherents (which I have on good authority is a word we shouldn't be using anymore - they are members) are just dodging their responsibility as Salvationists. Soldiers do commit to a pretty strict way of living life. The Soldier's Covenant (aka, The Articles of War) contains lines like:
I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit's work and obedient to His leading in my life...
I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral...
I will abstain from alcoholic drink...
...giving as large a proportion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army...
Those are just a few of the commitments that soldiers make. The entire member's covenant says that they:
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him
Participate through worship, fellowship and service at a local Salvation Army corps
Identify with the mission of The Salvation Army
So, if a soldier is the real deal and the member is being "valued and not judged for where they are in their spiritual walk at the moment," why do we even have members in the first place? If the call to join our army is soldiership, why would we lower the bar just to get more people on our rolls? If soldiership is where it's at, it totally seems to me that members are cop-outs and the army that created that "adherent member" was just trying to pad its statistics by making it easier to get signatures. Again, that's a harsh accusation, and I am fully prepared to be corrected, but that's just what it seems like to me.
The other extreme is that soldiers and members are the same. I think this is both true and false. The big question is,are we disciples of Jesus? That's the club that the Bible forms: the church. Members, adherents, soldiers, officers, those are all things that we have made up since. I don't have a problem with that, but we can't forget the categories that God's Word puts us in in favor of categories that we make up for ourselves. So it one sense, the sense that my good friend and TSA member Jeff is operating from, soldiers and members are the same: disciples of Jesus Christ who seek to live out the mission of His church with The Salvation Army.
However, soldiers are also different, and I hope that's what Major Zielinski was getting at. Soldiers are called not only to identify with Jesus and His mission in specific ways, we are called to identify with The Salvation Army in specific ways. If I am taking my soldier's covenant seriously, I am limiting my personal freedoms, sacrificially giving of my resources, and seeing myself as an ambassador of Christ through The Salvation Army. Can members do all those things? Yes they can, but they don't have to commit to doing them, and they aren't committing to do them while taking into account the values and needs of The Salvation Army.
In our church, there are certain things that only members can do, like lead a Community Group. Why? Because I want to know that they have taken a class (where they learn all about our church), that they really are Christians (as much as we can tell), and that they can represent both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Kroc Church whenever they are asked. The members of our church love Jesus, are generous givers, volunteer their time in service and believe in what we are doing.
Soldiers are a little different. We always have fewer soldiers to enroll than members, but if you become a soldier, you are telling me that you aren't just committed to the Gospel, but you are committed to the leadership of our church and our philosophy of ministry. You are a soldier in the army and you are willing to do what it takes to get the job done. If you are soldier, it might take me a while, but I'm gonna find you a job to do, and in a perfect world, I'm not going to have to make a lot of accommodation for you to do it.
So, where does that leave me and the quote from the New Frontier? Frustrated. Frustrated that we sometimes see officers as more committed to Jesus than soldiers. Frustrated that we see soldiers as more committed to Jesus than members. If you are part of Kroc Church, do I want you to become a soldier? Yes. If you prayerfully consider it and decide to become a member instead, do I look at you as less than me? No. The Salvation Army soldier is not given a higher calling than any other Christian, just a different one. And depending on your views on alcohol, it's not even a radically different one.