Tuesday, June 23, 2015

As the Salvation Army turns 150, what role does it have to play in secular society? Conclusion -

From Buckingham Palace to Harlem's ghetto, from Sydney's Quayside to Hong Kong's tenements, from Moscow's Gorky Park to Kiev’s bloodied quarters, the Salvation Army brings the offer of healing to mind, body and soul; a new life of hope rooted in God’s eternal promises through Jesus Christ - but for how much longer? 
Dr. Sven Ljungholm FSAOF, UK


The Army is ageing as well as shrinking. There is little new blood – most officers I met came from Salvationist families, and some were third- or fourth-generation Salvationists. They were overwhelmingly white, a conspicuous exception being Commissioner Adams, a mixed-race South African. Adams, 58, is a fourth-generation Salvationist who was raised in Cape Town under apartheid, joined the Army at seven and is married to an Abba-loving Norwegian, Marianne, who leads the Army’s women’s ministries in Britain. 

He is a likeable, self-effacing man who discourages people from using his title. After becoming territorial commander in 2013 he relinquished his driver so that the man could minister instead. Adams earns scarcely £1,000 a month, only about £300 more than his officers, and he finds his smart, Army-owned flat near Tower Bridge embarrassing.We could easily move into a council flat down the road,” he said.

Onward, Christian soldiers: preparing to perk up Oxford Street.
Photo: Tom Pilston for New Statesman

Adams is troubled by the falling membership: “An army needs soldiers.” Addressing the problem is a priority, he said. He believes the Army has become too inward-looking, complacent, insular, bureaucratic, white and middle-class. “The further from the source of a river, the more polluted the waters become. The further from the source of the movement, the harder it is to maintain that movement’s purity,” he said. “It’s been 150 years from our start so it’s a challenge for us to keep our principles and our focus alive . . . We need to get people back to basics. We’re not where we should be.

He agrees that the Army should consider more fashionable uniforms and that it should reach out to gay people and racial minorities. “We’ve excluded instead of embracing . . . We’ve failed in our ministry to minorities,” he said. Adams wants the organisation to be more outspoken on some issues – the notion that the poor are responsible for their own plight, for instance – and says its failure to fight apartheid in his homeland still haunts him.

“We’ve hidden behind this thing about, ‘We don’t do cold evangelising any more. We don’t talk about the gospel overtly any more . . .’ We need to be sharing the good news about Jesus Christ. We’ve been neglecting this.”

Specifically, Adams wants more crusading soldiers and fewer “pew-warmers”. He would like fewer Salvationists to walk past beggars without stopping. “When we sing those Army war songs it must not just be a metaphor.”

More churchgoers should work in the charitable programmes, he said, and those programmes should have a stronger religious component, so that they address the spiritual as well as the physical needs of their beneficiaries.

I would hope people were transformed, as opposed to changed. A social programme can change a person’s circumstances, but only the gospel can change a person from the inside out
The Salvation Army should be about transformation . . . We need to understand that people really can be changed by the gospel.”

On any given Sunday thirty years ago, Regent Hall held three services, and 500 worshippers would fill the old ice rink. Today it holds two and attracts roughly 150 people. But, like many other corps, it is trying to reach out. It has opened a coffee shop for weary shoppers, launched a community gospel choir, and still sends a brass band down Oxford Street on Sundays to entice people in.

And just occasionally lives really are transformed. An 83-year-old retired officer called Major Beryl told me how her father was walking along Oxford Street in the early 1920s, stopped to listen to the band, and was invited in. He accepted, found God, fell in love with a member of the congregation and married her in the Hall. They worshipped there every Sunday for decades, even during the Second World War when bombs were falling all around and the glass roof shattered.

Major Beryl’s father was “promoted to glory” while marching to the Cenotaph one Remembrance Sunday, but she kept coming. “Oh yes,” she chuckled. “This place has given me a lot to be grateful for.”

Martin Fletcher is a former foreign editor of the Times

If you're in London the weekend of July 1st, come join us as we celebrate our 150th year of Christian service in another memorable milestone making  march down the Mall - 15,000 Salvationists from 126 countries will be on hand to wish you welcome and God's blessings!


Anonymous said...

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
What hope has this organisation got, when its officers are less-than-engaged in the war to win souls? Hoping is what secular people do, and many secular organisations have soup runs and help the hopeless. If the Clifton chap had mentioned prayer, then the salvation army might have a chance. It is now just another NGO which almost seems ashamed of its Christian beliefs - a salvation army with little concern about salvation. At least William Booth had more enthusiasm for people's eternal destiny and did something about it.

Anonymous said...

An extraordinary leader who has vacated his high end flat to live among the targeted masses.

Next step? Loose the trappings and join in conversation with those who matter most to the movement's future. Engage with your soldiers through conversation with those on the fringes, the unheard, those with one foot already out the door.

Send the occasional alarm and encouragement via the FSAOF blog.

Return to your early UK agenda with regular blog postings.


Name on file

Anonymous said...

Some of the authors comments are unfair,as are some of the T.C.s.The Regent Hall itself is not totally white,its membership is made up of people of all nations.Go some 8 miles East of the Rink and you will arrive at Clapton Corps,itself a miracle brought back from near closure it is packed every sunday with local people ,truly multicultural and have seeded a new corps in Stoke Newington.One of the main causes of decline in the Uk is that many fight any change and pray the Lord will bless their corps and make it as it was in the 1950,s!!

Anonymous said...

Soldiership has been watered down so much that it is now just about belonging and pew warming. There is no commission or responsibility given to new soldiers. So they just sign up, and sit in the pews. If people took exactly what the soldiers covenant states as the way to live, we wouldn't be facing these issues. But if we continue to water down soldiership, we're going to be left with an army that is immobile....

Anonymous said...

I honestly wonder why you have an entire blog and fellowship around former officers and critique of TSA.
Why not use your energies and passions to highlight the Kingdom of God where you see it and are joining Him to extend it?
I am not an officer so this does not come from a place of defensiveness. I really wonder why you would invest in a blog of this nature.
What is the key aim here?

Anonymous said...

The lack of comments on this fine series says it all, doesn't it? There must be some Salvationists out there who would fight to the death to defend the Army against this onslaught of its existence, surely? Salvationist leaders? Salvationist soldiers? Sadly, despite the encouragement by the FSAOF to do so, such comments are not forthcoming.
And as a footnote - there is no-one going to 'Boundless' from my corps: there has been no promotion for it from the platform, and all we've had from headquarters is a pack to help us do some fundraising by having a party. If that's all the leaders have to offer, then we are going to hell in a handbasket pretty soon.

Anonymous said...

The Army is dying. It has abandoned it's calling on a corporate and personal level. It is a culture of bullying and ladder climbing. Its welfare services are largely funded by the government. It is a legalistic movement. It is ironic that an organisation called the Salvation Army is itself in need of saving! The message in this article has been something that has been around for decades, but nothing has been done or will be!


To, "I honestly wonder".... Yesterday was a milestone in the blog's 8 year history - we had our 1,000,000th visitor, and of the thousands of comments, yours is the 1st ever that questions the reason for our existence and our mission.

As the sign reads at St. Paul's, "For those seeking a tribute to Christopher Wren, look around you". For those seeking reason for the FSAOF blog's mission and its popoularity, peruse the thousands of back articles, and the tens of thousands of supporting comments-


Keith And Diane said...

The army has abandon it's first responsibility, that of winning the lost for Christ. A nice meal and a warm bed is a good and noble thing but the person is still going to hell if we do not led him/her to a loving saviour. Until or unless we get back to what God called William Booth to do the army is no different than any other social agency.

Concerned Soldier -Canada

Anonymous said...

Well said, Keith and Diane. Spot-on. I wish the leaders would sit up, take note and take action. Fire a volley, I think the term is. How many times do you hear that, these days? Someone mentioned 'pew-warmers'. That seems an accurate description for most corps these days, with an ageing congregation and few or no young people joining the ranks. It's time for a wake-up call, or we'll be heading for extinction.

Anonymous said...

Three things come to mind quickly as I think about this:
1/ I hear lots of concerned voices about our future, I think there needs to be a form where these types of questions can be safely discussed. I appreciate these discussions, here, but not certain they are considered neutral ground and it needs to be a form more widely accessible to Soldier, Officer and Friends alike. (Don't get me wrong - this is a least a good place to start)
2/ I think Leadership needs to take the issue of our extinction in some areas of the world seriously. I do believe that "without vision we will perish" and that conversation needs to be both frank and honest.
3/ Are we already dead as The Salvation Army, and have just failed to "fall down". Now I realize this is a broad statement, and hope it will generate good discussion and prayerful thought. I think of the frog in the kettle example - that is a frog placed in hot water will jump out, but put him in cold water and then heat it up slowly - he will happily stay until he is dead - unaware of the dangerous circumstances around him. Are we that frog and have we already past the place where we can heed the warnings and jump out?