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 Military Chaplains working with MCFs


 2009-08-12 오후 2:23:00  3274
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Military Chaplains working with MCFs– How should we seek to improve this relationship?

A paper for the AMCF Seoul Council 2009 written by Homfray Vines


A Synopsis – for the busy person!

This paper identifies the eternal importance of good working relationships with chaplains and discusses the significant value that they bring to the armed forces.  It looks at the deliberations of the Sunbury Council in 2002 and sees how those discussions were transferred into the AMCF Manual in 2004.  It notes that the Manual is very positive about the importance of chaplains and having good relationships with them, but the Manual is weak when it comes to dealing with conflict situations. 

The paper looks at work that has gone on outside the AMCF in the area of church to parachurch relationships and how this can help inform the discussion on relationships between chaplains and MCFs.  It looked particularly at the Lausanne Movement discussions in Thailand in 1980, which are reported in LOP24[1].  The Rev John Stott in the Theological Preamble to LOP24, proposed a humble, Christ centred approach to dealing with conflict.  LOP24 then goes on to identify dialogue as a vital ingredient in building good relationships between different organisations.

This paper recommends that there should be dialogue between the chaplains and the AMCF to understand each other’s roles and improve relationships.



The purpose of this discussion paper is to seek a way forward in improving the relationships between military chaplains and MCFs.  It seeks to start a process of dialogue between chaplains and the AMCF for the greater glory of God and the building up of his kingdom in the armed forces of the world.


Where there are chaplains appointed to the armed forces of a nation the relationship between those chaplains and the MCF is a very important one that affects the mission of God.  The chaplain is sent by his church and commissioned to lead on spiritual and moral issues within the armed forces.  The MCF is an informal voluntary membership organisation that may, or may not be recognised by the armed forces, but provides a focus for Christians within the armed forces of any denomination or tradition; as such it can be described as a para-church organisation.



As every nation is different so is the relationship between the chaplains and the MCF.  However there are principles that are common to this relationship and these are discussed in

 Annex O to the AMCF Reference Manual[2].  As the AMCF grows in size and maturity, it is important that these principles are kept under review and efforts made to improve this vital relationship with the chaplains.

Over the last 30 years the wider church has studied the church to para-church relationship, particularly in the area of mission.  Important lessons could be drawn from this work that will help the relationships with chaplains.  More recently both ACCTS USA and Accts MMI have become involved in working with chaplains and the US FCMM had the subject as its focus of discussions at their recent assembly in April 2009.  The Seoul Council 2009 will give the opportunity for the AMCF to review the situation and decide on whether further work should be done in this important area.

This paper will look at the value of the chaplain, identify the AMCF’s present position on this important relationship and then draw on some international study to see if it might help in the process of discussions with the chaplains.  Finally some discussion questions are proposed for use at the council.

The Value of the Military Chaplain

It is important that the MCF and its members understand the value of a military chaplain.  His role carries significant responsibilities and situates him between his church of which he is a minister, the government of which he is a servant and the armed forces to whom he is a pastor and friend.

In essence military commanders in most armed forces retain the responsibility for providing spiritual care and promoting spiritual values amongst their service personnel.   ‘Chaplaincy’ in the widest sense is every commander’s business, but military chaplains are a crucial resource with specialist training.  The chaplain offers the military commander and armed forces as a whole spiritual leadership, pastoral care and moral guidance (including character building using the 6 UK armed forces core values of selfless commitment, respect for others, loyalty, integrity, discipline and courage).  They provide a living sign of God’s presence in the military.

Chaplains remain first and foremost ministers of their own churches, without whose recognition and authority they would not be permitted to conduct services, administer Holy Communion, or conduct baptisms, marriage ceremonies or funerals. They have spiritual authority.   As a minister of his church the chaplain is also able to have a prophetic voice.  If the organisation believes that they own the chaplains, then they will struggle to be prophetic.  However within these contexts their role can be as wide and varied as they and their respective commander may choose. 

Chaplains are uniquely placed as a channel of communication at all levels and in all circumstances; they can act as ‘lightening conductors’ for soldiers feelings and as a ‘sounding board’ for commanders – a person they can all talk to outside the normal chain of command.  For example a commander, who was not a Christian, recently said that whilst out in Iraq, that a significant number of his decisions made on operations were discussed with his chaplain.  He saw the high value of a chaplain.

The effective chaplain is one who is the spiritual friend of the individual soldier and officer from the bottom to the top of the army.  It follows the chaplain’s priority is to be with the soldiers in their units and not tied up with church or military administration.

For the chaplaincy to be successful it needs the military, the government and the church to back it.  The fighting power of any military force is made up of three components – firstly physical, secondly conceptual, with moral and spiritual being the third.  The commander often does not have the time to concentrate on the third component - so it is forgotten. But as a three-legged stool, if one leg is not strong the stool falls over. The chaplains are needed to keep the third leg strong and in order.  They therefore make a valuable contribution to the fighting strength of any armed force.  As such their position should be valued, recognised and supported by fellow Christians who serve with them.  The backing of the MCF for the chaplains is as spiritually important as that of the command structure.

Deliberations at Sunbury Council 2002 and Seoul Council 2004

The relationship between chaplains and MCFs was discussed at the Sunbury Council 2002, but not the Seoul Council 2004.  Output from the Sunbury Council was used in the formation of Annex O of the AMCF Manual, which was agreed at the Seoul Council.

At Sunbury discussion was held in syndicate seeking God’s guidance on how MCFs might serve him better in their work with chaplains. This was to acknowledge that these relationships have not always been easy nor God honouring in every country although in some countries the relationship was better than others. There was general agreement that a close and Godly relationship should be sought and that MCF members should, without compromising Christ, recognize the authority vested in chaplains by governments. The council supported the view: “We are called to cooperate with Christian military chaplaincies as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:8).”

The AMCF Manual Model for Relationships with Chaplains

The AMCF Manual has been evolved to help new and young MCFs start and begin their ministry.  As such it is a very helpful document, but does not seek in any way to explain their value, authority and military role of the chaplain.  It does however make many positive value statements about the relationship with chaplains:

·         Para 1 - “The Armed Forces of many, but not all, nations are blessed by having chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of the members of those forces.”

·         Para2 - “Their general experience is that they are much more effective if they are supported by their chaplains.”

·         Para 3 - “It is easy to conclude, therefore, that if chaplains and MCFs work together it will be beneficial to both. MCFs can support chaplains by encouraging their members”

·         Para 5 - “Since the Association of Military Christian Fellowships (AMCF) is inter-denominational it is an excellent position to encourage cooperation between MCFs and chaplains for their mutual benefit.”

It is in the area of dealing with relational, doctrinal and theological differences that the Manual appears to be weak and not necessarily fully reflect the view expressed at the Sunbury Council.  Para 4 of the Manual says: “Where there are theological differences, many have found that a good motto to follow is “Cooperation without Compromise.  Where there are personality differences, experience has shown that the best response is to “Love one another.”“  This is repeated in para 5:

The AMCF encourages national MCFs to support the Christian chaplains fully and “Cooperate without Compromise” with all chaplains. That means to work together as much as possible without compromising one’s Christian beliefs.

The Sunbury Council proceedings have a very different feel to them, as they recognise the deity of Jesus and the authority vested in the Chaplain.  They said: “without compromising Christ, recognize the authority vested in chaplains by governments.”  The Manual does not make clear what is the scriptural basis or theological underpinning of the words: “Cooperate without Compromise” and how this motto could be interpreted in the many different cultures and situations the MCFs have to work in.  For instance how well does this motto work with Jesus’ prayer: “..that all them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you (John 17:21)” and with the well established AMCF motto: “For you are all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28).”

The whole area of working together as Christians has received significant study in recent years by the World Council of Churches and other bodies.  These studies may help to unravel the dilemmas posed by the 2 different mottos.

Studies in Church to Para-church Relations

This section will briefly look at the work that has been going on in the wider church and may be of value in future work that could be undertaken by the AMCF.  It draws specifically on the Lausanne Occasional Paper 24 (LOP24): “Cooperating in World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships[3].”  This was put together after a meeting of an international Commission that the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) had established on evangelical co-operation.  The Commission convened in Pattaya, Thailand in June 1980.  It consisted of ten people who met for two weeks. They came from five continents and had vastly differing backgrounds and cultures; but they were able to enter into open, honest dialogue.  Subsequent to that meeting there has been further study, but this will not be covered in this paper.

Theological Preamble

In the ‘Theological Preamble’ to LOP24, the Rev John Stott argues from a biblical point of view that unity not division is the norm for all Christian relationships.  He finishes by looking at the question of the theological validity of the para-church, where he sees that their legitimacy is still under debate.

Stott bases his biblical discussion on Philippians Chapters one and two with a particular focus on:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27).

He sees that as unity is God’s purpose it should be visible.  It is through the Christian community’s love and unity the world might come to believe.  He argues that:

So the church is an essential part of the Good News, and every church proclaiming it must embody it. The people of God must be seen to be what they claim to be. We have no liberty to duck the challenges to a visible fellowship of love.

 His views accord well with the sentiments expressed in the AMCF Manual and strongly support the AMCF motto “For you are all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28).” 

There is a significant difference between Stott’s approach to problems and the motto expressed in the AMCF Manual of “Cooperate without Compromise.”  His call to reconciliation is to engage with humility in the problems.  He notes that Paul reverts to his theme in the second chapter, begging his readers to complete his joy "by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Col 2:2).  Stott argues that:

 This "one" mind is a "humble" mind, the mind of Christ who first "emptied himself" of his glory and then "humbled himself" to serve (Col 2:5-8).  Unity and humility are twins.  Or better, unity is humility's child.  This being so, repentance and self-abasement are always the uncomfortable conditions of reconciliation.

His final discussion challenges the existence of para-church organisations such as the AMCF. He looks at Paul’s missionary journey and examines whether this was a church or para-church activity.  He notes that Paul was sent by the church, reported back to the church and when there were disputes these were taken back to the apostles. The argument in favour of para-church organisations, he sees is largely historical, namely that under God they have made a much greater contribution to world evangelization than has the church, which is indisputable.  Both RC and Protestant churches have para-church organisations that have evolved to meet the perceived needs of the world around them.

The contrary argument begins with Scripture rather than history.  This asserts that only the Church can claim to be a divine creation, and concludes that ideally the Church should itself undertake all necessary specialist tasks including evangelism. As these 2 positions are not easy to reconcile he proposes that specialist activities be graded thus: “independence of the church is bad, co-operation with the church is better, service as an arm of the church is best.”  This is a very helpful way of looking at developing chaplain to MCF relationships and facing up to the many problems that will occur.

The Need for Dialogue

LOP24 in its main section does not duck the issue of the validity of para-church organisations, but recognises they exist and play a vital role in the mission of God.  It therefore looks at the more pragmatic issue on how the 2 different organisations should work together.  Fundamental to this is the need for dialogue between church leaders and those spearheading mission organisations.  For example the South African Michael Cassidy of African Enterprise had written:

Time and again, in speaking to different church leaders on this subject, I have had the importance of communication and understanding underlined. Archbishop Bill Burnett of Cape Town put it this way: 'One of the essential features of co-operation is the development of confidence in one another. If those who are responsible for oversight in the church see that the work done by para-church organisations is effective and healthy, they, in turn will give their support ....'

Cassidy concluded by saying that: “The process of operating independently without love and mutual understanding is "both spiritually and practically hazardous." 

Dialogue is needed to address many of the problems that arise in working together in mission.  LOP24 illustrates these in a simulated dialogue that occurs between a church leader and a para-church leader.  MCF leaders may well recognise some of the issues raised in their discussions with chaplains.  The Commission classified these problem areas into 5 different categories for easy use by those involved on the ground:

(i) Dogmatism about non-essentials and differing scriptural interpretations (matters of theology, conviction, terminology, tolerance).

(ii) The threat of conflicting authorities (matters of validity, mandate, accountability, fear).

(iii) The harmfulness of strained relationships (matters of attitude, prejudice, personality, fellowship).

(iv) The rivalry between ministries (matters of goals, duplication, specialisation, umbrellas).

(v) The suspicion about finances (matters of fund-raising, publicity, overhead, overseas aid).

LOP24 aimed to give a straightforward, easy-to-grasp presentation of the problems, providing the average pastor or leader in a local situation with that which will better equip him to overcome hindrances that exist in the task of local, national, regional, or world evangelisation.  It provides the AMCF with a model of how another organisation had recognised the importance of working together and then gone ahead to propose a methodology based on dialogue.  It identified the many difficulties that can arise when 2 separate bodies try to work together.  It underlines the need to take seriously the way MCFs work with chaplains and that AMCF can continue to learn how to encourage best practice.


The AMCF Seoul Council 2009 will give the opportunity to review its relationship with chaplains.  This paper has noted that the AMCF Manual, whilst being positive in this area of chaplains does not explain their role and value.  The Manual is weak when it comes to addressing problems that may arise between the chaplain and the MCF.  This paper has challenged the motto “Cooperate without Compromise” and pointed out that it did not accord with the proceedings of the Sunbury Council 2002.

LOP24 provides the AMCF with a theological underpinning to its motto “For you are all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28).”  It also theologically and practically focuses on the need for dialogue between church and para-church organisations to improve relationships and overcome problems.

It is the view of this paper that the AMCF can gain much from studying this and similar documents to assist it in improving its relationship to chaplains.  It recommends that there should be dialogue between the chaplains and the AMCF to understand each other’s roles and improve relationships.

Questions for Discussion

1.      What is your experience of chaplains in the armed forces and their relationship to the MCF?  What is the value of good working relationships with the chaplains?

2.      LOP24 proposes that dialogue between church and para-church organizations as being of fundamental importance in developing good working relationships.  How should the AMCF engage in dialogue with chaplains?  Where should this be done – nationally, regionally or globally – or at all levels?

3.      How should Annex O of the AMCF Reference Manual (MCF to Chaplain Relationship) be revised to reflect the discussions of this Seoul Council?


[2] AMCF Reference Manual, August 2004, [http://www.amcf-int.org/resources/AMCF-reference-Manual/English/AMCF%20Manual%20English-w.pdf]

[3] Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Paper 24: Cooperating in World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships,March1983[webpage] (http://www.lausanne.org/pattaya-1980/lop-24.html)




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