Albert Orsborn on The Salvation Army and the World Council of Churches

orsborn via’ve been doing some reading today on The Salvation Army’s relationship to the World Council of Churches in the mid-20th century.  Salvationists didn’t really do a lot of reflection on the doctrine of the church prior to the late 20th century, but one of the ways in which Salvationists were pushed to reflect upon their ecclesial status was through their involvement in the WCC.   The Salvation Army was a founding member of the Council, and remained a full member until 1981 (the story on their withdrawal from full membership is interesting as well but needs a separate post).

In preparation for the first Assembly at Amsterdam in 1948, General Albert Orsborn engaged in consultation with Army leaders as to whether or not the SA should be involved in the life of the Council.  Though Orsborn declared that he did not want to impose his views on his advisors, he circulated a memorandum which concluded, “I do not wish my period of leadership to be associated with the gravitation of The Salvation Army nearer to church life in faith and order.” The advisory council to the General, however, responded in their report back to the General that “The advisory council has no hesitation in recommending that The Salvation Army continues its membership of the World Council of Churches.”  Orsborn went along with the consensus, though he continued to be resistant to the idea: “It occurs to me to wonder why we should participate in the Assembly…but the majority of our leaders think that we should be represented therefore I have told the chief to arrange it.” (Quotes taken from General Arnold Brown’s biography, The Gate and the Light: Recollections of Another Pilgrim, 232.)

Orsborn, like generations of Salvationists before him, insisted that the Army was not a church, and this conviction seems to have been part of the reason he was concerned about WCC involvement.  For starters, the WCC is a fellowship of churches, and therefore membership implied that the Army was a church, and signalled that other churches (at least some of them) were willing to acknolwedge the Army to be a sister church.

He had occasion to offer some further reflections on the relationship between the movement and the WCC in an article written for The Officer magazine in 1954, just prior to his retirement.  The article as a whole struck a defensive tone, beginning with am apologetic for William Booth’s decision to keep the Army autonomous. “How wise he was!  Nothing has occurred which would justify us in revising the Founder’s decision”(Albert Orsborn, “The Army and the World Council of Churches,” in The Salvation Army and the Churches, ed by. John D. Waldron, 88).

After noting that “…we are almost universally recognized as a religious denomination by governments,” he asserted,

That is as far as we wish to go in being known as a church.  We are, and wish to remain, a Movement for the revival or religion, a permanent mission to the unconverted, one of the world’s great missionary societies; but not an establishment, not a sect, not a church, except that we are a part of the body of Christ called “The Church Militant” and we shall be there, by His grace, with “The Church Triumphant” (Ibid., 88-89).

Orsborn was thus continuing in the line of argument established in the movement’s early years: The Salvation Army is an independent mission, and a part of the universal church, but is not, itself, a church in the sense of a denomination.

orsborn via fsaofAs for Salvationist involvement in the Council, he continued to posture the Army defensively against perceived threats of ecumenical involvement.  “We are there to listen, and perhaps to learn. But we are not prepared to change or to modify our own particular and characteristic principles and methods”(Ibid., 89).  They ought not to seek “closer identification with the churches” he urged, because it was the Army’s autonomy that had been its strength.  He closed his article with list of areas where the Army was not willing to compromise in its involvement with the Council.

We do not favour organic unity with the churches…

We can accept no discussion and no challenge to our position on the sacraments…

We cannot allow the effective ordination (commission) of our officers, including women, to be challenged…

We are not prepared to change our doctrine…

We must preserve absolutely our world-wide missionary freedom…

We cannot allow ourselves to become involved in those so-called “social” questions which in reality are political…

We cannot join anything which may tend to curb our spirit of aggression…

We must agree to nothing which might give our people the idea that it is all the same with us whether they are loyal to the Army or not…

We must not join any aims and purposes which might have the effect of gradually changing the nature and aims of our training colleges (Ibid., 92-94)

The extent to which Orsborn went in outlining the limits of Salvationist participation in the ecumenical movement suggest that he was not alone in his concerns regarding where it might lead The Salvation Army.  I think many of his concerns were unfounded, though some proved to be true over time.   It may be that full membership in the WCC did contribute in some way to the main shift he was concerned about – “the gravitation of The Salvation Army nearer to church life in faith and order.”  Although Orsborn wasn’t willing to budge from the early Salvationist line of thinking about the Army’s non-churchly status, within a couple of decades that would begin to change.

Recommended listening: Parry, Burgon

Lately I’ve been listening to a fair bit of C.H.H. Parry’s music (1848-1918).   I’d heard of Parry before, but my new-found interest in him was sparked after I heard the processional anthem “I was glad” at the Royal Wedding last year.   With the full orchestration and the Westminster Abbey choir, it is absolutely magnificent.

Of course, now I realize that Parry wrote two of my favourite English hymn tunes, the almost-national anthem “Jerusalem,” and “Repton,” used for “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”

Here’s another beautiful piece of his I’ve since discovered, a setting of Tennyson’s text, “Crossing the Bar,” sung by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir.

Finally, on more recommendation, in keeping with the theme of English choral music.  I stumbled on Geoffrey Burgon’s Nunc Dimittis this past summer.   Samantha and I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyand loved it, so I decided to take out the older mini-series from the library.  I was surprised that Burgon (who also composed the score for the series) chose to use this sacred choral selection for the credits.   It seems a bit out of place for a spy story.  Still, whatever his reasons, I’m glad he made that choice, because I’ve been listening to it a lot lately.

Charisms and the Methodist approach to Christian Ministry

Recent ecumenical dialogue has turned to the theology of charisms as a way of building a common approach to Christian ministry.  As the landmark text Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982) puts it:

the Holy Spirit bestows on the community diverse and complementary gifts. These are for the common good of the whole people and are manifested in acts of service within the community and to the world. They may be gifts of communicating the gospel in word and deed, gifts of healing, gifts of praying, gifts of teaching and learning, gifts of serving, gifts of guiding and following, gifts of inspiration and vision. All members are called to discover, with the help of the community, the gifts they have received and to use them for the building up of the Church and for the service of the world to which the Church is sent (§M5).

The benefit of this approach is that it both a) grounds Christian ministry in the activity of God (because the Spirit gives the gifts which enable the various ministries) and b) grounds the theology of ordained ministry in the broader context of the ministry of the whole people of God (since the gifts are given to all, and therefore all are given a vocation to ministry).

I would argue that this consensus that has emerged regarding the theology of ministry comports well with the approach to ministry that has been practised in the Methodist tradition throughout its history.  This approach involved candidates proceeding through various orders of ministry, beginning at the local level, depending on the evidence of their gifts as seen by the community of faith. The early Methodist tradition followed a “bottom-up” pattern of discerning gifts for ministry, in which “local preachers” were chosen to assist in preaching and teaching the gospel in one location, and local preachers who showed evidence of gifts chosen to serve as “helpers.” “Assistants” were chosen from among the helpers, to assist Wesley in the oversight of a given circuit of Methodist Societies (hence their title was changed to “Superintendent” after Wesley’s death).   That was the basic track to what would later become ordination.  Beyond that, there were other important roles, such as that of the class leader, who basically acted as a pastor and spiritual director to the members of their neighbourhood small group.

This bottom-up approach to ministry makes particular sense when considered from the perspective of oversight.  Charisms are not self-authenticating, and they need to be discerned in the context of Christian community.  Each charism is interdependent, and in a sense is limited by the other charisms, like the parts of the body are interdependent and limited by their relation with other parts of the body.  Among the gifts is the gift of oversight, and those who have this particular charism are called to help others in the community discern and faithfully exercise their own gifts.

All of this best takes place in the local Christian context, where people know each other and can see each one living out their gifts in the context of the body of Christ.  So, first and foremost, the discernment of a call to any kind of ministry, including the role of pastor or teacher, should begin at the grassroots level.

Now, the fact of the matter is that the Methodist approach to ministry did not develop on the basis of an extended theological reflection on the gifts of the Spirit.  It was not even the result of thoughtful planning.  Rather it emerged, as Henry Rack says, through “a series of accidents and improvisations” (Reasonable Enthusiast, 237).  Wesley improvised the order of his movement in response to the needs of the time, believing that matters of church order were subservient to the church’s mission:

“What is the end of all ecclesiastical order?  Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God?  And to build them up in his fear and love?  Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is nothing worth” (Letter to “John Smith,” June 25, 1746, in The Works of John Wesley, 26:206). 

In spite of Wesley’s “improvisational” approach, I would argue that the process that emerged is in fact quite consistent with a New Testament approach to gifts and ministries, and with the ecumenical consensus on these issues that has emerged in the past few decades.  Perhaps this was one of the ways in which divine providence was shaping the Methodist movement during its early years.

In praise of interlibrary loans

I am blessed to study at the University of Toronto, which has a world-class library system.   In fact, U of T’s libraries were recently ranked third among research libraries in North America, behind only Harvard and Yale.   The theological collections are strengthened by the fact that students have access to the libraries of the seven TST seminaries, as well as theological books held in Robarts Library, and special collections such as the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies library.   The U of T library system has just about everything you could need as a researcher.

However, when you get into a doctoral disssertation, you are often dealing with subjects that are so obscure that even U of T libraries can’t meet your needs.  That’s where interlibrary loans come in.

I think many students aren’t even aware of the amazing service that is available to them through interlibrary loans.    If my library does not have a particular book, but it can be found in another library (anywhere in the world), interlibrary loans will get it for me, free of charge.

I’ve received dozens of rare books through interlibrary loans in the past two years.  Most have come from North America, but the 1921 book Les Charismes De Saint-Esprit by Bernard Maréchaux was sent to me from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands!

Earlier this fall I was able to get a copy of the 1917 Paulist Constitutions, sent from the Catholic University of America.   Twice I have accessed a two-volume unpublished official history of the Paulists by James McVann, which came from the U.S. Library of Congress (I had to read that one on-site in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library).   Without interlibrary loans, I would have only been able to access those materials in Washington, either at the Library of Congress or the Paulist Archives.

Today I picked up an 1883 book attacking The Salvation Army, Read and Judge the (So-Called) Salvation Army, written by a Swiss Countess and translated from the French.  This one came from Duke Divinity School.

Every time I receive something on interlibrary loan, I say to myself, “I can’t believe this service exists.”  And I wonder how long it has been since anyone else has picked up this obscure book that I’m holding in my hands.  I guess I am a total geek, since I find interlibary loans so exciting, but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do the research I’ve done without the help of the interlibrary loans staff.