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The soldiership dilemma

The soldiership dilemma

The soldiership dilemma

18 July 2018

Peter Hobbs (centre) opens up the question whether we have made soldiership too exclusive.

By Peter Hobbs

To be a disciple of a rabbi in a Jewish system you had to be the best of the best.

You had to be someone who jumped through a lot of systemic hoops in order for a temple rabbi to invite you to “follow me”.

It’s interesting that when Jesus started his ministry, he changed the reality of disciple making. He shifted the requirement from being about moral motivation, to himself being the motivation.

He empowered people who didn’t fit the established temple/disciple mould. He connected with “unclean people”, those whom Jewish society wouldn’t have allowed to get anywhere near the temple to worship God. For example, the tax collector Matthew would not have made the cut because his profession and the port where he collected taxes were a disgrace to the Jews.

Jesus called the disgraced Matthew to “follow me”. “Follow me” is what a rabbi says to the best of the best.

So, when Jesus called the worst of the worst to follow him, he sent a strong message to the Jewish religious establishment that the mission had shifted. It was now not only for the Jews but for everyone, and this not only showed Matthew how special he was to God, but even more radical, that he could be a respected missionary of the Gospel and socially reconciled because of Jesus.

Jesus opened up the requirements for what it meant to be a disciple.

He simply saved and then sent, simplifying discipleship to what he originally intended.

Why did he do this? I believe it was for intentional missional strategy. He made this change because God’s answer to problem solving is involving all kinds of people.

Jesus recruited people who spoke the cultural language of those around them and didn’t let anything get in the way of his movement. He started a passionate and internally motivated Kingdom movement, got rid of the movement blockers, and empowered people to share the Good News that the Trinity would restore everything.

He invited/recruited everyone to be involved in his mission without discrimination. In a Salvation Army context, the idea of becoming a disciple is similar to becoming a soldier. To become a Salvation Army soldier, you have to do soldiership classes, promise to live a high and moral life where you’re not going to drink alcohol and smoke, etc.

Here’s the problem: Jesus would make a great adherent. Soldiership not only excludes Jesus but it also excludes the majority of people within our society who don’t wish to make these lifestyle promises. Many people will say, “What’s the problem? That’s why we have adherency, which caters for people who don’t want a ‘higher calling’.”

However, this higher calling creates a two-tier exclusiveness, which Jesus opposed, and allows for unbiblical power and segregation problems within community.

The adherents in my ministry setting are as equally passionate and active followers of Jesus as our soldiers, except the adherents can’t become officers because they are not soldiers. They would argue that they are genuine soldiers because they have encountered Jesus, and he has transformed their lives to the point where they now partner in the mission of God.

So, I ask the question, is soldiership as it exists today similar to temple discipleship in Jesus’ day? A movement blocker? If so, how do we fix this?

Well, the answer is to be like Jesus, remove the blockage and model a different reality. Soldiership would then be something close to: Anyone who follows Jesus and acknowledges his presence in their life and who is part of our Salvation Army family on mission together, is a soldier in The Salvation Army.

The benefit of empowering all people into a soldiership journey with Jesus like this, is that it creates an environment of equality without condemnation, simplifying soldiership to what Jesus originally intended.

When soldiers are raised by being on mission with Jesus, we will also see a radical increase in spiritually mature apostolic and prophetic leaders in The Salvation Army – the type of leaders who pioneer movements.

I’m aware this could be a controversial topic within The Salvation Army, but no more controversial than it was for Jesus when he introduced it to Judaism 2000 years ago.

Imagine existing volunteers, partners in the mission and those faithful adherent elders and leaders at our centres who have never been able to be soldiers because of a few lifestyle choices, now being seen as mainstream missionaries in The Salvation Army. Not only mainstream missionaries, but our future leaders and officers.

If ever the world needed a movement of soldiers it is now. The only requirement is Jesus, and he is enough. 

Captain Peter Hobbs is Corps Officer at Bellarine Peninsula.  


  1. Steven Pearse
    Steven Pearse

    What next Peter Hobbs? Perhaps you could make as clear, the fact that the eucharist and baptism are more mindful of Christ, than anything The Salvation Army practice / include as an alternate or otherwise desribe as "unneccesary" to salvation or sanctification / transformation of the disciples of Jesus.

  2. I mostly agree but this highlights how far the SA has changed.
    Soldiership was originally a way to organise evangelism and efficiently “make disciples of all the world”
    Unfortunately it has become just an entrance to membership of a SA club. Sad.
    I am also saddened that recently, the Top five values of the SA does NOT include Holiness. Don’t we know that all the other values stem from Holiness? We are called to be a Holy people who are set aside for evangelism.

  3. So for 150 years they've got it wrong ... interesting. The answer is easy, there are other churches. Or just remove the promise to live a high and moral life and all take up drinking and smoking. We don't need those restrictions in today's world.

  4. Well said Peter. Could not agree more.

  5. I am saddened by articles such as this within The Army - It’s quite nearsighted as to suggest that this concept is a new one to this generation, or to suggest that The Army has been intentionally Pharisaical generation after generation. The statement “Jesus would make a great adherent” is also quite disingenuous as the inference is that Jesus was a drinker, not to mention it takes The Army’s position on the issue out of context. I think I can appreciate the emotional appeal behind this article, but it’s certainly no “dilemma” -

  6. Eugene Gesner
    Eugene Gesner

    Perhaps soldiership standards are too high, by the author’s point of view. Perhaps one answer is to allow adherents a somewhat larger role in the local Corps. I have seen adherents who would make good youth leaders or Sunday School teachers, however, one then gets into the “What kind of example are they setting?” question.

    The Salvation Army has some great rehabilitation programs, do we really want someone that still drinks alcohol involved in leadership there? On smoking, almost everyone knows it is harmful to one’s health, so is a smoker a good role model for youth? These questions need to be asked before knocking down the entire system.

    Yes, the Soldier’s Covenant asks more than what is required of an adherent. Is that necessarily a bad thing, as portrayed in this article?

    As mentioned, perhaps opening some local officer positions up to adherents, recognized as capable of fulfilling the position by an Officer might be an answer. Lowering standards, on the other hand, might also lower effectiveness. In many countries the above mentioned rehabilitation programs are a primary source of conversions and new blood, all under an even more regulated system, with requirements for getting into the programs and remaining in them requiring changes in lifestyles.

    After all, Jesus didn’t call Matthew, or any of the other disciples to remain what they were.

  7. This is exactly what I've been thinking for decades. Some have stated that Soldiership is 'an exclusive' form of membership in the Army, but it isn't, it's the MAIN membership of the Army. Adherents aren't just denied officership, they are also denied positions in the Corps (Bandsmen, Songster, Leadership of any kind).. We see the same treatement of soldier who are not considered to be 'in good standing.'

    Becauseof the 'higher calling' Soldiers have seen themselves answering, it has made some (not all) soldiers think more of themselves then they ought.

    Is any one of us better or worse than any other? Are our gifts/talents more suitable for use than others?

    If God calls ALL of us to be His followers, and equips EACH of us with something that will help the Body of Christ, then who are we to say someone is 'unworthy' to use their gifts/talents?

  8. Barry Gittins
    Barry Gittins

    Well said ! Christ is, indeed, enough.

  9. I believe there are different ways to follow Jesus so whether that choice is as a soldier or not it doesn't really matter - and who said that soldiership was the 'higher calling' anyway? If that is how it comes across then the way it is portrayed is wrong, not soldiership in itself!

  10. Love this article. Attend Sutton sa in UK where we have a similar context and have been through a significant transition. Were in the past v traditional . Now much more inclusive.

  11. This piece articulates quite a lot of the things that have been buzzing around in my head for a while.

    For years I was (still am) a committed Salvation Army Soldier (member of the Church), convinced that this was pretty much the most effective expression of covenant to God and The Salvation Army within the context of our Movement .

    Now, I'm not so sure whether it still is, and have been wondering, wrestling with the notion that there could be positive reasons why we - corporately - might drop 'Soldership' altogether (especially the kind that asks you, in many cases in your teen years, to make a lifelong commitment)

  12. Jesus is the one true way to our father and we must follow his example.

  13. Johnathan Herzog
    Johnathan Herzog

    I guess this is the first time I've ever heard anyone refer to Soldiership as a 'higher' calling. Every Officer I've ever served with has always made it very apparent that their role as an Officer, my role as a Soilder, or any one as an adherent or lay member/visitors are on the same playing field in God's eyes. Our roles and functions may vary, but their is no class system. Our Covenants are personal to each and everyone of us with God, and if called we answered as He would have us. God doesn't look at us any differently does He? I don't think we should look to one another differently. At the end of the day we're all brothers and Sister's in Christ Army.
    I could see how others outside of the Army, not having been indoctrinated in our subculture could feel this way. I'm thinking that clarity and upfrontness to the Church on a whole from leadership could clear that up.
    -But I do joke sometimes about gaining access to certain "Holiness Chambers" with people going through Soildership class.

  14. Wow, what a brave article. Having been involved in the army for a few years as a volunteer, Sunday school teacher, guide leader and attender of church (albeit have laxed lately), I think removing the two tiered system is a good idea.

    Ironically not only because I think that the two tiered system can create a feeling of ‘not being good enough’to become a soldier because of lifestyle choices, but also because it’s a long way for those soldiers to fall when they themselves aren’t able to maintain such strict rules. It creates an air of hypocracy when you know that there are soldiers, and officers, that aren’t able to keep the promises made.

    The promise made isn’t just about not drinking or smoking but also about using bad language and a few others I’d blush to mention.

    Ultimately it’s about everyone’s own relationship with god and some argue that rules are there to be broken but still..... I welcome the debate and think it’s time for the army to look at things that create barriers.

  15. Hallelujah, at last Christian philosophy that can be for the whosoever. This is definitely ministry

  16. Interesting article.

    As a soldier, I agree that we should be including as many people as possible in the mission. Soldiership isn't mandatory to see the kingdom of God advance.

    But soldiership can be seen as equivalent to the Nazirites in the OT. It's not mandatory to be a Nazarite to be saved by God, but those few who choose to become one by making a vow (Numbers 6:2) are choosing to be set apart for God's purposes (much like Soldiership, there's a series of lifestyle choices they make). Some figures of the NT are believed to have taken the Nararine vow, for either their whole lives (such as John the Baptist), or just temporarily for one purpose or another.

    Even today, other denominations exist that advocate similar lifestyle choices as our Soldier's Covenant. The Church of the Nazarene was born out of the same Holiness tradition as us, a mere ~40 years later, but today has double the number of churches and, depending on how you count, a significantly larger number of congregants.

    My Soldiership shouldn't diminish in any way someone else's faith, or purpose, or calling. But it is a choice I have made before God. A covenant between me and Him - not TSA.

  17. Langley Smith
    Langley Smith

    Very interesting.

  18. Barry Gittins
    Barry Gittins

    Well said. Some pertinent observations and questions; here's to "an environment of equality without condemnation, simplifying soldiership to what Jesus originally intended" !

  19. I was curious to gain a different perspective on this topic so asked my young adult nephew for his thoughts. In his early twenties, intelligent and articulate but having have very minimal exposure to TSA during his life I was fascinated by his immediate response: “it really comes down to brand, what does TSA stand for and want to be known for? If people choose to belong to TSA they know that part of that is not smoking or drinking. If they don’t want that then go somewhere else.”
    Worth pondering!
    Two other reflections of my own to add:
    I once asked an editor of “Onfire” why they never published testimonies from Salvos who had made a commitment to Christ as a child, grown up through TSA into soldiership or officership and never strayed from that commitment and its lifestyle demands yet that is the desire we express for our young people. The response? Because it’s not engaging reading material.
    Finally, what damage does TSA do to its brand when it enrols (as soldiers in full uniform) young people with known unrelinquished alcohol or drug addictions ?

  20. As I read this it takes me back to the soldier's covenant that I made many years ago. I don't drink or smoke . I have tried to live a life that is pleasing to God. Yet in many ways I still fall short. God is the only one who can help me to live the life that He wants for me. I where the uniform proudly, and it opens doors that may have never opened if I wasn't displaying the Army's logo.
    Being a soldier is a personal choice. I wanted to be in ministry for God through the SA organisation. We are all called as Christians to live a Holy life.I believe that God does call people to ministry that is why he equips us with different gifts and abilities.
    Being a soldier in the Salvation Army is a choice made by the individual, which allows that person to wear a uniform identifying them as belonging to a well recognised and a mostly respected organisation. It doesn't mean that the person is better or more qualified than anyone else. Of cause all Christians are still sinners. All Christians if they allow God to use them can be used by Him.

  21. Maree Armstrong
    Maree Armstrong

    My thoughts are if we are to make a difference in people's lives we have to set a good example to them to follow. The requirements for Soldiership is based on God's word. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says "If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." Smoking and drinking are destroyers of God's temple and so I believe that it should be excluded as part of soldiership. But I would never dream of excluding those who do partake in our church. We all have something that we need to give up in becoming holier. By coming to church we are on the right path. Becoming an adherent is also something to be proud of for those who are not ready to take the next step.

  22. Jesus made the very exclusive statement, I am THE way, THE truth and THE life, NO ONE comes to the Father but by me.

    He is our inclusive Saviour that offers an exclusive Salvation, I get concerned that we over simplify His message.

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