It was a small yet significant addition to Salvation Army ceremony in the 1980’s when newly commissioned cadets were first announced as ‘ordained.’ For multiple decades beforehand such churchy language was studiously avoided so as not to infer elitism between officers and soldiers.
General John Larsson said he ‘felt a shudder go down my back’ when he first saw the phrase.
So, what’s going on here?
The word is rooted in the Old Testament where we read that the sons of Aaron are anointed and ordained ‘to serve as priests.’ (Exodus 28, NIV)
So, the concept is not without Biblical precedent.
Unease at its use strikes at the heart of Salvation Army self-understanding as ‘a permanent mission to the unconverted’ with called and vested soldiers and officers alike, rather than a church with empowered clergy and disconnected laity.
While any organization needs clearly accepted roles and functions for effectiveness, it is the subtle distinction between being ‘set apart’ and being ‘set above’ that causes the discomfort. The temptation is real – ‘clergy’ can think of themselves self-importantly, and ‘laity’ can let the full-timers do all the work.
With characteristic aplomb William Booth addressed the matter early on: ‘I ordain every man, woman and child here present that has received the new life. I ordain you now. […] I tell you what your true business in the world is, and in the name of the living God I authorise you to go and do it. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature! (1898)
Now that is some commission.