JAC Online

The Power of Symbols
by Major Wayne Ennis

We cannot escape symbols: McDonalds, Coca Cola, BP, Google, Vodaphone, KFC to name a few. These are powerful symbols which  convey to the consumer what they can expect when they purchase their particular goods or services and also convey or remind those within the organisation of the organisation's vision and mission. 


Symbols, whether word, phrase, image, object, action, event  or pattern, are powerful and we act or react in certain ways whenever we see them. The close association with the thing they represent gives them an inherent value derived from what they represent. In fact, so closely is a symbol associated with the thing it represents, that it is often synonymous with or equivalent to that thing.


It seems to me The Salvation Army in Australia lost its way, or is at least floundering in an age of unrest. Has it become adoptive and adaptive rather than transformative?  The answer is quite possibly found in the decline in the use and understanding of what are Salvation Army symbols. It seems many are unaware that these symbols have meaning and an important place in what it means to be a Salvationist.


ln the push to appear relevant to a secular culture we are witnessing a decline in the importance of  Salvation Army symbols particularly the Crest, Flag, Covenants, and uniform. In many of today’s Corps, social centres, and correspondence, the Crest, made up of six different symbols and a motto which represent the beliefs and mission of The Salvation Army,  has been replaced by a shield and is nearly lost amidst a plethora of inclusivity and diversity symbols. 


The Flag,  symbolising three important Christian beliefs, is often no longer central in many halls and buildings or is being placed amidst other flags, thereby diminishing its symbolic power. 


The Shield, although favoured, appears to have been stripped of its symbolic meaning, to tell “of a fight on a spiritual battlefield which must last as long as life itself, and that God in Christ is a Shield to protect and save us to the uttermost’ (excerpt from one of The Salvation Army’s magazines, All The World, June 1917).


In our worship too often the song book and its songs are no longer used which means we symbolically no longer sing what we believe as Salvationists, we sing somebody else’s beliefs and theology.


Without Salvation Army’s symbols there is a paucity of what it means to be The Salvation Army, and, without its symbols, the community is endangered. Maintaining a clear understanding of symbols is critical to teaching sound faith as well as what it means to belong to The Salvation Army.  Unfortunately, we are seeing the centre with its symbols and their symbolic meaning falling away and being replaced with only some form of their presence.  It is like a choice has been made to deconstruct  what it means to be Salvation Army and reconstruct a new faith identity and mission  authorised by a different theology.


Changing symbols or removing them from sight, not only changes who we are, it also changes the message those symbols embody.  We need to seriously debate the reasons for the decline in the centrality of Salvation Army symbols, not acquiesce  in substitution by stealth of those symbols by new symbols and a new theology which will betray the work and witness of a long line of faithful Officers and Soldiers.


Christian as well as The Salvation Army symbols have, believe it or not, stood the test of time, even through the darkest days of Christianity and the Army, which I would say makes them even more relevant than ever. 












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