Should we still call ourselves Jesus Army?

Since the 70s we’ve been called Jesus Fellowship. On April 7th 1987 we took on Jesus Army as our second, parallel identity, a public brand under which we’d reach out to the UK for Jesus. This post is all about names.

Why do names matter? Names shape culture and values, they help form first impressions. Choosing a good name for a church is no quick fix to changing a culture, but what organisations choose to call themselves carries weight both in gathering members around a vision and communicating to outsiders.

So, what’s the prophetic idea behind the name ‘Jesus Army’?

double-decker-bus-nightWe’re in a war whether we like it or not

This world is ruled by evil, and we are at war. In Ephesians 6 Paul describes us as soldiers in God’s army standing against the devil’s schemes with our armour of truth, righteousness, faith and so on.

Satan offered Jesus all the glory of the kingdoms of this world because through sin they belong to him and will do until Jesus finally returns to crush death completely. Jesus has won the fight, but he’s called each of us to fight for those he came to save. Satan is our sworn enemy and we’d be fools if we thought he’d ever give us a week off.

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Every church is an outpost of heaven planted smack bang into an anti-heaven world. This world needs Jesus. People living in darkness are unknowingly crying out for hope, for Jesus. Jesus rose from death, sent us his Spirit and sent us out into the world to be the light of the world. Life himself is alive inside us, making us with Jesus into the forerunners of the new creation.

jackets

If anyone has reason for hope, it’s us. If anyone has reason to celebrate, it’s us. If there’s anyone blazing the confident, colourful colours of freedom and joy, it should be us. We need to start talking like we really believe the words of Jesus that we are the light of the world.

For these reasons I love how as a church we’ve chosen to adopt a positive, bold identity. We must never lose that. However, in trying to reach people who don’t know the love of Jesus, I wonder if publicly appropriating a metaphor associated with aggression, the imagery of armies, war and fighting, is still helpful for our witness today?

People despise militarism

The Salvation Army came into being in 1865, in what was a much more hierarchical society than ours, where service and duty were considered almost sacred British values. In a less internationally connected world enlisting in one’s army was considered a noble task, a way of serving and progressing society and a way out of disorder for millions in poverty. Naming a church after an army was a good way of expressing the good news of Jesus.

Now we live in very different times. We find ourselves in a world that’s increasingly globally connected. People are sick of militarism, especially of the religious kind. Since the turn of the 21st century events like 9/11, continued wars in the middle east and the rise of global jihad have shifted public perception. Closer to home the pseudo-religious hawkish language used by some rightwing christian politicians confuses and alienates curious unbelievers who love Jesus, the prince of peace.

Of course none of that is what we’re trying to express when we call ourselves an army, but that’s largely how people understand it. Our first Jesus Army strapline was “The Army with a heart to fight for you!”, then later simply “We fight for you”, and in the 90’s “Jesus people, loving people”. Perhaps the fact we needed these straplines to accentuate a negative view of militarism proves my point.

In the end, it feels unfortunate that in a movement that Jesus wants marked by service to others we would use language that people understand as a desire to overpower and subject others.

old-minibusAutumn needs salt, not soldiers

Sixty years ago in the Western world the Christian worldview was the default. It was taken for granted that the church would always be at the centre of society. Now society is becoming increasingly post-christian, slowly tearing apart the weird marriage between Church and state that started in Rome.

This creeping secularisation presents both a challenge and an opportunity: the challenge is that more than ever before we really do have to proactively demonstrate the love of God to a sceptical world, and the opportunity is that it enables us to live with much more of the salty “differentness” that marked the witness of the early church.

Christianity is heading into autumn (see Culture pt 2: Seasons and Saltiness). The early church lived in a winter of extreme marginalisation, and their martyr-spirit made them incredibly fruitful on the margins.

The more we head into autumn the closer we get to winter, so we need to increasingly adjust our posture and attitude to match that of the early church. They were salty but not bolshie. They engaged the world as bold, joyous martyrs, not soldiers. I couldn’t imagine any early church in Jerusalem calling themselves an army!

tshirtsConfusing dual identity

Are we Jesus Fellowship, or are we Jesus Army? Yes! Originally Jesus Army was intended to be the outreach wing of the Jesus Fellowship, but because it’s the name by which we’re publicly known it’s ended up as another name for the same church. Our official letterhead prints our name as Jesus Fellowship/Jesus Army and has three logos.

This can all get very complicated and confusing, especially to outsiders. You’d be surprised how many knots we’ve tied ourselves in in the church’s creative department trying to work out whether we should brand some leaflet or website we’re making as Jesus Fellowship or Jesus Army. When a name is changed it always takes a while for it to filter through, so if we simply replace Jesus Army with another name while keeping Jesus Fellowship, I can see people thinking of us with three names.

Fellowship is an old word. It doesn’t mean much to the average man on the street, except “The Fellowship of the Ring” or the idea of an exclusive, cosy club.

Things grow and change over time, and every so often it’s good to take stock of where things have got to and realign ourselves with God’s vision for us today. We need simplicity. I’d love for us to pick one new name.

So, who are we?

I believe every church and every movement of God has something unique to offer the global body of Christ. The baptists brought us believer’s baptism, the Methodists and Salvation Army brought us evangelistic zeal and Pentecostals led the way into the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to give just a few examples. I believe our core unique charisma is family, it’s brotherhood, it’s koinonia.

Our mission statement says we exist to “gather a people whose lives are being transformed by Jesus.” That’s an inward looking message about gathering, brotherhood and community, while the prophetic essence of ‘Jesus Army’ is an outward call to pursue God’s mission, to be a light to the world.

Our call contains both inward and outward elements. We’re called to both gather and send. This is the “come” and “go” of Matthew 4:19:

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out…”

We need a name that communicates this complementary and dynamic inward/outward message.

Jesus Jesus Jesus

The most important thing about any church is how much it puts Jesus at its centre. Demons don’t scream when they hear the words ‘Church of St Someone”, “Community of Hope” or whatever, they get itchy at the name of Jesus. There’s power in his name.

Jesus and his cross must be at the centre of everything we do, and at the centre of our identity as his people. We live in his name.

Jesus People

This isn’t an announcement about our new name, this is just an idea of mine.

To have one name that expresses the inward and outward call of brotherhood and mission, how about we have one name and two slogans?jesus-people-01 jesus-people-02

 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

Tree climber, pancake eater, initiator. Trying to keep up with Jesus. Webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Army.

  • Jayne Hart

    – I think we called ourselves ‘Jesus Army’ with the very best intentions, but the world doesn’t understand the concept of an army of good and we have to be sensitive. We have left ourselves open to misunderstanding and even abuse. It’s not a failure to move on and adapt and I honour all those who have fought under the Jesus Army flag, and what they have achieved over the years.

    • Arne Mevam

      Just people or transforming lives and society? I can understand that you looking out for a new name that is better accepted by the society. But believe me, names make an impact. To make things short: If it is necessary to adapt the name, why not “Jesus-Transformation”?

    • abraham

      the world is a generalizing term.i never had a problem with the name Jesus Army.i don’t think that I would have been cleaned up by prayer by crown of life and chosen pearl brothers had it not been for the Jesus Army church and name.only the abnormally thin skinned or demon controlled would have a problem with the name or jacket.

  • Gary Wallis.

    We need to stick to the name JESUS ARMY. We have had a number of times recently where people have asked us
    to help them out bcos they know we can be trusted, and have been very positive and openly expressive about us. Let us not be intimidated by the worlds concepts and opinions. We are, I quote ,UNTAMED JESUS ARMY? Why trash our past?

  • Jennifer108

    As someone who does not belong to your organisation I felt the name ‘Jesus Army’ somewhat culturally anachronistic and hinting at a birthing during the era of activism. I really do prefer the author’s suggestion ‘Jesus People’. I feel it is humble, softer, and potentially more inclusive. I wish you well as your organisation evolves.

  • Justin

    “Army” as such brings with it a sense of hierarchy, as well as sacrifice courage etc. It’s a bit weird to say an “army” of tender, loving people. “Army” brings with it the sense of conquering, power & fighting, Jesus conquers us by being poured out, by dying for us to live…He conquers by love & humility and truly penetrate our defences, breaks our chains and liberates us to do the same. “Dying to live we count it no loss….for the life we now live we live in His cross”

  • Andy Sheff

    Actually we’ve have had five names – Bugbrooke Baptist Chapel, Jesus Fellowship Church, New Creation Christian Community, Jesus People and Jesus Army. I think Jesus People expresses who we are best but I wonder if we should break away from all the previous names and take something new – Ecclesia or something

    • abraham

      you can’t use God Squad because that is already in use.also,although it sounds a good one,avoid the Children Of God,the family,and family international.

  • Joe Morriss (joeinspired)

    Gary, we need to be very cautious about associating ourselves with militant extremists. Certainly since I encountered the Jesus Army in the early 1990’s the name was outdated and negative even then.

    • abraham

      outdated and negative to who? I was prayed for by 2 members whom had their jesus army jackets on,in the early 1990’s,1991 to be precise.the power of God sorted me out.those jackets are anointed….further more,i don’t think God is worried about the jackets,nor the name Jesus Army.

  • Surely people who know we can be trusted know that because of what they’ve experienced and heard about us, not because we’re called Jesus Army. They respect us not because of our name but in spite of our name. The things that we do which garner people’s admiration won’t change.
    We can’t judge it solely on the people we know, either. We won’t know how many thousands have been put off even getting to know us because of our militaristic name.

    • Ken Ngwira

      I believe that the Christian way of doing things must be based on hearing God’s voice and in that way we won’t be swayed with world views-world will always have views of course with regards to our faith. Let’s be prophetic! Jesus Army Name has been used and surely was prophetically conceived and in the direction we heading now we shall be known because of what we believe and confess and do.

  • Francis

    In the prophetic I once dreamt of the name House of Fire. “HOUSE OF FIRE” could have been used for BATTLECENTRE, however, it was never discussed as many of us didn’t want a change of name.
    Fire keeps us salty: the fire of the Holy Spirit convicts us and speaks to the heart of nonbelievers.

  • Hamid

    Excellent post Aidan! This is a subject that I often think about. I do not like the name ‘Jesus Army’ and when I drive our vehicles and get looks from people, to be perfectly blunt it makes me a bit embarrassed. I get embarrassed not because of belonging to Jesus, or driving a car that has logos of Church. I get embarrassed because of the word ‘Army’. It is simply because I don’t want to be associated with the connotations of this word.

    I think a name change is definitely well overdue.

  • Simon Thorpe

    I was brought to the church / community through desperation as I’m sure so are many others and found love, peace, and made many good friends whom I don’t speak to enough now. Anyway when I would talk about the church to friends and family who weren’t familiar, the very mention of the name Jesus Army would raise eyebrows and distract from the good the church had done for me personally. First impressions are extremely important and I think a softer name like Jesus People would go a long way into changing peoples first impression of the church. Wish you all the best with this one and really hope it works out for the best

  • abraham

    jesus people started with Calvary Chapel at costa mesa,california in 1968.that saw immense ammounts of hippies believing and being baptized into new life in jesus.God used Chuck Smith to pastor that branch of Calvary Chapel.he passed away in October 2013.try and show Maranatha!71 from you tube.it covers that church in this 30 minute documentary,and covers prophetic happennings regarding the newer modern Israel.

  • abraham

    if people have a problem with the name,then they are in need of prayer from another church.if they are not searching and are without belief in God,then they should see a psychiatrist.

  • John Vagabond

    Strange. I was wondering the same thing. As a refugee from the early days in Bugbrooke, before the crosses and bright colors, I’ve seen the movement evolve. Militarism is culturally a bit counterintuitive these days, because of Islam and so on, so perhaps a fresh look might be on the table?

  • Tony Sanderson

    A lot of people still feel positively about the Jesus Army and on the
    phone people ask are you the Jesus Army as that’s what they know us by.

  • Mark Flowers

    I never had a problem with the Jesus Army as I saw it as a metaphor for people fighting in a war against injustice. A long time ago I was trying to encourage a New Age-y friend to visit you as he was really into community ideals, but was totally against the normal mainstream churches. However, he had a problem with the word “army” because of its military sounding connotations , since he was very into peace issues. Jesus People though, has already been used to describe a Christian movement from the 60s and 70s and could cause confusion, particularly regarding negative aspects of that movement.

  • Michael Bullock

    Interesting blog. If I remember correctly the official church name is Jesus Fellowship Church and the “street” name was Jesus Army, later softened to “modern Jesus army”. “Jesus People” pre-dated “Jesus Army” and it would be great to return to those roots.

    In South Africa, church name changes seem quite common in the independent evangelical/charismatic streams, and appear to be associated with leadership changes of the baton. Perhaps the next generation of Jesus Fellowship leaders will take up the challenge!

    “Yes we are Jesus People! Yes we are Jesus People! Yes we are Jesus People! Living together for Jesus!”

  • Kevin.R.Beckenham

    One thing that Jesus Army tought me true meaning of Galatians 2 verse 20 : I Have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live,but Christ lives in “ME”; & the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

  • Brian Ella

    Sorry to come to this late. – It may help to know that when Noel and I were considering the original change from Bugbrooke Baptist Church we first wanted to put JESUS at the front as His grace was responsible for all we were experiencing in those early days. Then FELLOWSHIP which recognised the amazing work of Holy Spirit amongst us and of our lives joined and shared together. Lastly CHURCH for its world wide acceptance and its many definitions. Hence ‘JESUS FELLOWSHIP CHURCH’.
    On a personal note, although I had left fellowship by the time JESUS ARMY was formed the name never did resonate too well. However I thank God for all you have done and continue to do in the Name of Jesus. God bless you all.