Original Research

A free church perspective on military chaplains role in its historical context

Neil E. Allison
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 50, No 1 | a2163 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v50i1.2163 | © 2016 Neil E. Allison | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 June 2016 | Published: 01 December 2016

About the author(s)

Neil E. Allison, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa and Highland Theological College, University of the Highlands and Islands, United Kingdom


The waning influence of Christianity in the United Kingdom’s armed forces since 1960 and the growing ignorance of personnel who have ties to a particular denomination, gave rise to a new assessment of the military chaplain in a modern and postmodern context. This article gives an overview of the practice during the two world wars and after the 1960s. It also gives an overview of the debate on the current role of the military chaplain, especially the beliefs of Herspring, Zahn, Coleman and McCormack, and eventually set up a role model from a Free Church perspective. It is shown that an operating model that is only defined in pastoral terms does not satisfy. The pastoral and spiritual definition, in terms of a liminal serving as an alternative, is suggested because it frees the chaplain to act more independent and also describes the best practice that has always prevailed in the British army.


Military chaplains; Commissar; Role Conflict; Role Conflicts; External Voice; Internal Conscience; Liminal Ministry


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