I was recently asked (again!) what I thought the "non-negotiables" of The Salvation Army were. I thought my reply might interest others and so I have included it below... I always find the discussion regarding "non-negotiables" somewhat amusing. It seems to be a perpetual one that has become more prevalent in the last ten years or so. I can remember the then Commissioner Shaw Clifton (now General) speaking at the Coutts Memorial Lecture when I was in college (2003) on this very topic. His talk from that occasion is now the first chapter of his book New Love. He shared his 8 "non-negotiables" on that occasion...
  1. Realism
  2. Idealism
  3. Acceptance (or Inclusiveness)
  4. Compassion
  5. Simplicity
  6. Internationalism
  7. Visibility
  8. Audibility

I've also been a part of a similar discussion at a conference in Melbourne in 2006. There it was about Salvation Army "DNA". All that's just to say that this discussion keeps revolving and never seems to come to a definitive conclusion.
This is all just symptomatic of The Salvation Army's "identity crisis" of the last 10 years. The ultimate question here is "Who are we?".
For me, using the General's list as a starting point, I struggle with the obvious lack of biblical language within that list of distinctives. You may be aware that the YMCA was a "Christian" organisation but certainly now has drifted away from that as it's core roots. It would certainly be possible for The Salvation Army to also drift away from it's Christian heritage and become just a social organisation if we held to this list of "non-negotiables" provided by the General. That's really dangerous for me. If those 8 things are the things we must hold on to (which I'm assuming is the way he's using "non-negotiable") then there's nothing there about the primacy of Scripture, our evangelical focus, our pneumatological priority (i.e. holiness of life), etc.
I personally think that we are a movement that epitomises "strength in weakness" (2 Cor 9). This should be evident in our message, our motivation, and our methodology. What I mean by this is that we preach a message about the Christ who, in the incarnation, became weak so that we may be strong. Our God is a God who loves us enough to subject himself to the humiliation of the cross and the suffering of a Roman execution. Our motivation becomes the belief that there is no "weakness" in this world that cannot be overcome with Christ's "strength". No addiction, no illness, no sinful life, no persecution, no government, no temptations, nothing can defeat the strength of Christ and all that he achieved in the incarnation, and all that that entails. And so our methodology reflects the message and motivation that we have. A willingness to adopt whatever means is appropriate to achieve the goal of the Salvation of the World. A willingness to humiliate ourselves regardless of the consequences if that communicates the message in some way (e.g. willing to place our reputation on the line or willing to give up government funding if necessary, dare I say it). Dropping the old if it no longer works, and adopting the new if it does, or alternatively re-adopting the old if it works again.
This is what I mean by "strength in weakness" - an absolute dependence upon Christ who strengthens us; and not relying upon our reputation, our past methods, our government funding, our heritage, or anything else that we like, that really aren't "non-negotiable". I would love to see and be a part of an Army that looks like that.
For me, when we talk about non-negotiables, or what we want to look like in 10 years etc, if we start making the list too long, and begin drifting away from "who we are (and are meant to be) in Christ" then we risk making "peripherals" central. The non-negotiables are the message, the motivation (which stems from the message), and the methodology (which ironically is completely adaptable).


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