As an officer and ordained minister in The Salvation Army I have made a covenant with God to live the whole of my life in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Salvation Army Officer’s covenant, signed by all officers reads:
CALLED BY GOD
to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as an officer of The Salvation Army
I BIND MYSELF TO HIM IN THIS SOLEMN COVENANT
to love and serve him supremely all my days,
to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life,
to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends,
to maintain the doctrines of The Salvation Army, and, by God’s grace, to prove myself a worthy officer.
This is a broad and reaching covenant – it covers the whole of my life but without being rigidly specific. This is the what, not the how. The how, the application of this pledge is variable and adaptable. It has to be because as an officer of The Salvation Army I am moved (with some frequency) from city to city and from state to state, and because in my role as a Salvation Army officer I come into contact with people of all sorts – business women, city officials, homeless transients, migrant workers, students, immigrants, single fathers, and et cetera. How I work to love and serve God, how I preach the gospel changes in each new situation.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9: 19 – 23 NRSV)
The message does not change but the method does. To some I preach. To some I teach. To others I listen or counsel. To one I will offer correction, another I will affirm. To one I will give a ride to work, another a box of food– but the intent is always the same: to demonstrate in some way the love and grace of God as demonstrated to me through Jesus of Nazareth.
But there is a danger in this “becoming all things to all men” thing. There is pressure on us to be all things to everyone – to satisfy every and all of their expectations of us, and as the poet John Lydgate said, “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” [i] It’s just not possible.
When I attend a Salvation Army event, I put on my uniform and wear it proudly. When I preach, I make it a point to quote from the King James version occasionally for the gentleman in my congregation who thinks that the King James version of the Bible is only one worth reading. We sing both old hymns and new songs in our worship service. These are all adaptions to various groups. But if, in my effort to share the gospel and love of God to some who are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the uniform of the Salvation Army, I wear jeans and a t-shirt instead, I will displease those in my denomination who insist that “the uniform is appropriate for every occasion.” If, in my attempt to share the gospel with those who are disaffected by the Church or wary of traditional preaching, I try to reach them with movies about Jesus like The Last Temptation of Christ or Jesus of Montreal, I will offend my Divisional Commander[ii] because those movies are considered controversial.[iii] Even the Apostle Paul, who gave us this “all things to all men” model, found himself in conflict with some on all sides, from Jews who did not approve of his ministry to the Gentiles and from Gentiles who did not understand his Jewish background.
But Paul wasn’t trying to please everyone. And neither am I. It would be a foolish attempt anyway. The goal is to love and serve God by living a life devoted to the gospel. My covenant is not with The Salvation Army, not with the General[iv], not with my Divisional Commander-my covenant is with God. And I do what I do (and what I do varies from appointment to appointment and from person to person) in order to live a life devoted to sharing the gospel and helping those in need.
[i] Though the quote is often attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, he only adapted it from Lydgate.
[ii] Something like a Bishop in other denominations.
[iii] In the end, I respected my Divisional Commanders conscientious scruples and chose other movies, even though I thought he was mistaken.
[iv] Our international leader.