Tuesday, July 27, 2010

20/20 vision

In 1997 the UKT Church Growth and Planned Giving Department launched an essay competition titled "Do you see what I see?" Salvationists were asked to visualise what the Army would be Ike when 20/20 Vision Is effectively accomplished. Whilst I'm packing this week I came across the runner up entry, "Dreams and Visions". The competition was judged blind (i.e. the judging panel had no idea who had written the essay) maybe that is how my entry got through! It's interesting (from my perspective) that I wrote this article only two years after my conversion and at a time when the small call we attended was experiencing a powerful refreshing. In the space of six months the Corps had gone from approximately 25 to 30 people attending a meeting to well over 100. Many people were getting saved at the time and it was indeed a wonderful thing to have been part of all. Anyway, I don't think this is essay has ever been published on the Internet and so for those who might be interested in reading it here it is. I have resisted the temptation to change the article and it is published here as it was first published in the UK Salvationist on 13 December 1997.

Grace and peace, Andrew

Dreams and visions

"The optimist is right. The pessimist is right ... Each Is right from his own particular view, and this point of view is the determining factor in the life of each. It determines whether it is a life of power or of impotence, of peace or of pain, of success or of failure," said R.W. Trine. He was stating the eternal truth that what we believe today has a significant bearing on tomorrow.

Spiritual health has always been associated with 'dreams and visions'. At Pentecost Peter quoted Joel, who clearly predicted that the hallmark of God's ultimate blessing would be young visionaries and old dreamers.

Spiritual death, on the other hand, has always been associated with a lack of vision. The Book of Proverbs declares that 'where there is no vision the people perish' (29:18 Authorised Version).
What The Salvation Army will be like in 2020 is dependent on where we see ourselves now. Today's priorities are the building-blocks of tomorrow. The fruit harvested in 2020 will be the result of seeds sown in 1997. As General George Carpenter said, we will always be what all our yesterdays have made us.

Accepting the foregoing as fact we are faced with thousands of possible permutations. The Salvation Army is made up of territories made up of divisions made up of corps made up of soldiers. Every cog within the machine is unique and therefore the collective elements (or corps) within that machine will also be unique.

For the sake of brevity I am going to focus on only two of many potential scenarios.

My comments are generic and not targeted at specific corps or individuals. These visions are not portraits lovingly painted but ugly caricatures, harshly drawn in the hope that they will provoke debate. Individuals who see themselves or their corps portrayed in this essay have no need to defend themselves to anyone other than God. If the cap doesn't fit then please don't try to wear it!
As a Salvationist I see the development of two separate movements within our organisation.

The first was accurately predicted by Samuel Logan Brengle and is primarily secular. Its priorities are intellectual achievement, social acceptance, attention to detail and musical expertise - all of which are commendable in their own right.

This Army, as Brengle says, will never fail for want of resources. It will feed from within, nurturing recruits in its own nurseries and rescuing the wounded from other corps.

The high feasts of this Army will be large musical celebrations, justified on the grounds of building bridges into the community. The music presented will be, on the whole, exclusive and require the possession of certain qualifications if it is to be fully appreciated.

The unsaved targeted by such an Army will develop positive relationships with the Movement but will remain onlookers. Admiring and respecting the old lady from a safe distance, they may even lend financial support but they will never become converts or disciples.

Recognising its inability to integrate fully with its audience, this army will experiment with compromise. Total abstinence will be up for discussion on the basis that man-made morality should always come second to what on closer inspection might prove to be biblical pragmatism.

Uniforms, titles, flags will be fanatically protected yet this Army will be neither evangelistic nor militant. It will be insular and incestuous - its parochial attitude marked by pride and blind loyalty.

It will be an Army that meets once on a Sunday with no literature evangelism and no open-air work, the
majority of soldiers funding a minority workers who continue to maintain in-house community service
There will be no Bible study or prayer other than the liturgical remnant still recited on a Sunday.

The social services of this Army will be isolated from the corps programme and rely heavily on funding from outside agencies. The restrictions placed on them by funding will sound the death knell of any remaining evangelistic enterprise.

It will be a justifiably proud institution, self-sufficient, respected and accepted at the highest level of society but, as Brengle warns, it 'will no longer be shepherds of the lost sheep' and 'God will no longer be with it'.

The second vision I would like to resent will be born in the unsuspecting manger of poor corps.

Such corps, as a result of economic reality, will lose their additional financial subsidies and find themselves threatened with closure. Like the prodigal they will discover that lack of funds and impending death has wonderful way of bringing you to your senses. Even so, some will curl up and die.

Others will rediscover the truth their forebears prospered on and this truth, when applied to their circumstances, will set them free. The truth is that 'God's work done God's way will never lack God's provision'.

Such corps have never been hampered by the chains of musical expertise, the bondage of ceremonial uniforms or the doubting which so often accompanies educated liberalism.
Over the years they have become the homes of the disenfranchised within our Movement - misfits who tried every corps within the division until they settled here. They felt at home here and they stayed.

Here it doesn't matter whether you sing in or out of tune. As far as the band is concerned the only qualification is to 'make a joyful noise' (it doesn't even have to be 'unto the Lord').

Here you can wear brown shoes with uniform. Here you feel not only accepted but used. The decision to stay is not spiritual but practical.

Physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual poverty combined with a naive hunger for something better has often proved to be the breeding ground for revival.

At first this Salvation Army will take God at his word because it doesn't possess the capacity to entertain any other possibility. God will bless its inherent humility and soon its members will believe not by default but through experience.

This Army will grow for two reasons. One, The Salvation Army was raised up to reach such people. Two, because they share a culture with those around them.

Contrary to popular opinion, the artistic highlight of many secular social occasions is still a drunken rendition of 'The Birdie Song'. Ultimately this Salvation Army will speak to all sections of society just as it did once before. It will be both militant and evangelistic. It will learn (painfully at first) from the pitfalls of previous revivals and insist on making disciples as well as converts.

In moral terms there is little to choose between these two Armies. The first Army is smart, organised, polished and respectable; its troops unquestionably sincere and committed. The second Army merely confirms the principle that God's glory is better served when the material he works with is (in worldly terms) inferior.
One man's dream is another man's nightmare and you may choose to dismiss both of the above scenarios as unlikely. But if we want a Salvation Army in 2020 then we must 'make the future in the present'.

Already corps once threatened with closure are seeing spiritual rebirth and growth. This is the Lord's doing and only he can take the credit.

However, corps which dispensed with the praise meeting because the band played to the songsters and the songsters sang to the band are now looking to do away with the salvation meeting on the same grounds. Literature evangelism is disappearing and open-air evangelism is on the decline. In contrast our music festivals become grander and greater by the minute.

Look and you can see two brothers struggling like Jacob and Esau for their father's blessing. One bullish and blind, the other weak and wily.

One sees that blessing as his by right. He is strong and disciplined and has earned it. The other has always looked to his mother (in this case the bottomless purse of THQ) to protect and further his ambitions.

Who will win this struggle? I believe it will be the weaker. Why? Because if you reminded him that Christ came to call the unrighteous he would find comfort in the thought. If you said the same to his brother he would take offence.

The first Army is the Army of the optimist. He thinks his position is unassailable and he's right. The second Army is the Army of the pessimist. He thinks he will fail and he has.

Ultimately the Army of 2020 will be the Army that God calls. God is not bound by tradition but the Bible does prove him to be consistent.

When it comes to armies he prefers to start with the bare minimum. The soldiers he calls are amateurish, unskilled and usually led by a coward. If you don't believe me, ask Gideon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Always challenging, vigorous and perceptive - thanks for the blast of insight. I'll be putting on my brown shoes!

Captain Clifton