Welcome to the New General
On Sunday 3 September, Salvationists from all around the world joined the live stream from Regent Hall in London, UK, to welcome the 22nd General of The Salvation Army. Together with the new World President of Women’s Ministries Commissioner Bronwyn Buckingham, General Lyndon Buckingham proclaimed, ‘You can be certain that we will serve with all we’ve got for the glory of God and for the extension of his kingdom.’
The first words the General spoke when he greeted his global audience were in te reo Māori. Representatives from New Zealand—Captain Hana Seddon, Major Campbell Roberts, Aux-Captain Nan Patea (Rūnunga Kaumātua) and Hohepa Patea—presented Lyndon and Bronwyn with traditional chiefly korowai (cloaks) and gifts of pounamu (greenstone) which were taonga (treasured items), commissioned especially for the occasion representing the mission of The Salvation Army. Campbell prayed a thoughtfully prepared blessing over the couple, and this was followed by a beautiful waiata (song) led by Hana based on Ephesians 4:3–6. During the General’s message, son and officer Captain Daniel Buckingham performed the ‘I’ll Fight’ haka, with Hana and Nan in support.
The welcome meeting also featured musical items and worship, as well as poignant comments from various officers and soldiers. The International Youth and Children’s Advisory Group reminded the General that ‘we are a global generation’ and urged him to ‘keep talking about the difficult subjects like gender equity, human trafficking, human sexuality and relationships, mental health and the environment.’
Commissioner Bronwyn responded with this bold declaration of support. ‘I believe we have a generation rising to take their place in this Army. I want to be among their loudest cheerleaders. I believe as followers of Jesus Christ, we must keep going deeper with him, growing as his disciples so that we may disciple others. I want to be part of an Army that holds being as high a priority as doing. I believe that as we commit to loving each other as Jesus told us to, then the differences that threaten to divide us will become stepping-stones to growing and learning together. I want to be part of that and this Army.’
The climax of the meeting was of course the General’s message which was powerful and inspiring. Firmly rooted in the story of the founding of The Salvation Army in New Zealand—which included reference to his own great-great-grandfather Sergeant Major Daniel Ranson Buckingham, who was repeatedly jailed for preaching the gospel during those early years of the Army’s expansion—Lyndon explored the motivation behind the passion and zeal of our founders and forebears. He concluded with three quite simple yet deeply profound strategies that motivated them—knowing God and making God known; caring for others; and bringing glory to God through the pursuit of holiness.
‘People keep asking me “what’s your vision for the movement?”,’ Lyndon said. ‘What has come is the Spirit guiding me to this truth about us. That some of our usefulness, and some of our success for the Master moving into the future is contained within a good understanding of our past and what really motivated our men and our women to do what they did. It wasn’t the army metaphor—it wasn’t. It wasn’t the tambourines and the uniforms; and I’m not saying anything bad about that stuff. That metaphor and this motif have served us and is serving us well. But that is not what drove them. What drove them was Jesus! What drove them was the transformation of their own lives, their own liberation! Their own birth into the kingdom of God. That’s what drove them! What drove them was they had been captured by the love of God! Not deserving it, and God still reached his arms around them and embraced them! They were captured by a desire that everyone on the planet had the right to know that God loved them, and that Jesus was the proof. That’s what drove them.’
The General challenged those listening to reflect, pointing to Paul’s admonition in Romans 12 to keep your zeal and spiritual fervor in serving the Lord. Lyndon asked, ‘Are we losing our passion and zeal as a movement?’ He then moved to the Letters to the Churches in the Book of Revelation and the appeal that the church in Ephesus would return to its first love.
‘Could it be that maybe in these days our strategy lies in our acknowledgment that the Spirit of God is calling us as a movement back to those first things? Doesn’t mean we can’t be creative, energetic, imaginative and that we can’t look for new strategies and new ways. But it does mean that we understand why we exist and what we are about as a community of God’s people. We want that people would understand and know personally what it is to be loved by God through faith in Jesus Christ and to have that life-transforming experience of being forgiven, released and adopted into the family of God. We want people to know that story,’ he said. ‘Revive us Lord. Come on! Help us to recapture that for which you raised us up!’
Not naïve or out of touch with the world, the General said, ‘We live increasingly in days of difficulty and challenge, days of jealousy, pride, hatred and greed. Where those who are already being tormented become tormented even more. Surely this is a time for the Body of Christ to rise up? Not to be fighting with each other but to be agreed that this is what we exist for, and let’s get on with it. For the glory of God and the salvation of the lost and for the establishment of his kingdom, to this I am absolutely 100 percent committed. How about you?’