(this first appeared in the Journal of Aggressive Christianity, August 2005 – September 2005 issue)
By Mary Parks
In The Salvation Army, we have an amazing heritage of faith and courage. We hold a heritage that is lived out in unorthodox methods, and of doing the unexpected. The list of spiritual heroes within The Salvation Army is long and rich. From William and Catherine Booth, Samuel Logan Brengle and Eliza Shirley to Lt. Col. Lyell Rader (R) (O.F), Brigadier Clifton Sipley, and those who God will raise up in the coming and future days, we have a long-standing tradition of humble authority and holiness before God.
Who else would dare to take a drunkard out of the slums of London’s
East End? Who else would take a brick to the head and, while recuperating, write some of the most powerful and effective holiness teachings, many of which we use to this day? Who else would have the wisdom to turn a back-lot trash-barrel fire into an opportunity for ministry?
Just as the Founders picked up the drunk and downtrodden from the streets in the slums and set them on the path to the glorious riches of Heaven, just as Brengle used his sickbed as an opportunity to write what God laid on his heart regarding holiness, and just as Eliza Shirley used a prank by disapproving neighbors to glorify God and bring about conversion in the neighborhood drunkard, God is calling us back to our heritage as risk takers for Him.
We have become complacent and, dare I say, image conscious. We have become more concerned with how much we have raised than how much we have lifted up God. We have begun to concentrate more on how many are at our meetings than on how many souls are being saved. We are more worried about how the uniform looks than the spiritual condition of the one wearing it.
That is not to say that the Army as a whole is in this state of disarray. Many are on the front lines of prayer, fasting and warfare, battling day after day for the souls of the lost. Hundreds, even thousands of soldiers and officers alike are “knee deep” in the battlefield, providing food (both physical and spiritual) to the hungry and water (both cooling and Living) to the thirsty.
But, all too often, we find ourselves conforming to society and its desires and whims. Why have we stopped our open-airs, door-knocking campaigns and the like? Safety? If the Salvationists of the early days could march to the beat of thrown bricks and hurled rocks, and rely on God for His protection, can we not take the Gospel into a dying world regardless of the cost?
When we live down to society’s standards and desires, we have become “church for the church’s sake,” and, in effect, died as a church. William Booth stated: “I do not want to see another ecclesiastical corps encumbering the earth. When The Salvation Army ceases to be a militant body of red-hot men and women whose business is the saving of souls, I hope it will vanish utterly.”
Have we allowed this to come true? Have we become an “ecclesiastical” Army, having church for the sake of Church, simply out of routine or perceived requirements? Even if we have, may I suggest that there is still hope? There is still a remnant within The Salvation Army that holds on to the passion and fire of the early days! Praise God, because He has preserved a generation within our movement (for that is what we truly are, a holiness movement) to raise the standard high both on the battlefield and off.
George Scott Railton, one of the early warriors in the Salvation War, wrote in his autobiography, ” I intend carefully to instruct my children that if at any time they see The Salvation Army a wealthy, respectable concern, the majority of whose “soldiers” simply go where they please to attend its’ “ministrations,” leaving the godless undisturbed to perish; and if they see another set of people, however they may be clothed or despised, who really give up all to go for the lost, then they must not for a moment hesitate to leave the concern their poor old dad helped to make, and go out amongst those who most faithfully carry out what the founder of the Army laid down in his writings and acts. May God preserve them from such a day by keeping the Army free from the love of money and ease.”
Praise God that, although I believe we have come to “such a day”, there are still soldiers willing to go to the front lines, wherever that may be, to fight in this Salvation War. There are still those who hold dearly to Catherine Booth’s words, “I believe religion is all or nothing. God is either first or He is nowhere with us, individually. The very essence and core of religion is ’God first,’ and allegiance and obedience to Him first.”
One who embodied this principle in the early days of The Salvation Army was Elijah Cadman, an early Salvation Army officer in
England. On one occasion, an incorrect report of his death was sent to his home. Upon hearing it, his daughter Harriet insisted, “Not father, he’s been killed too many times.” Not caring for his personal comfort, he went where God called him, not concerned with whether is was a good neighborhood, or how he would be received. He was even arrested (wrongly) because of his work on behalf of the “least.”
“[The people] are yours to win, to guard, to guide in the right path. Go where you are needed, not merely where you are wanted. Often, I’ve knocked at a door and known I wasn’t wanted. I have introduced myself and been told to go away. I didn’t mind rebuffs, and have had successes simply because I stuck to the thing I wanted to get. The Army is after souls. Be bold for souls. You will catch souls.”
Cadman mentions three key things, which I believe still hold true for us today. First, “The Army is after souls.” That, more than ever, must be our watchword and mission. We must not be about numbers or finances, but about advancing the Kingdom. In the gospel of Matthew, we are challenged to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Are we challenged to “Go into all the world and grow enormous churches at the expense of saving souls,” or “Go into all the world and grow a church that is financially stable?” Of course not! We are simply told to make disciples of all nations, which involves three key elements: conviction, repentance, and forgiveness. Nowhere in there, do we see any mention of statistics, budgets or the like.
The second thing Cadman tells us is “Be bold for souls.” Emerson said “God will not have His work made manifest by cowards,” echoing, in his own words, the statement in 2 Tim. “God has not given us a spirit of fear…” William Booth, on informing Salvationists of background of the name change of the organization from the Christian Mission to The Salvation Army in the 1880’s, said, “There is a Hell. A Hell as dark and terrible as is the description of it … And into that Hell, men are departing hour by hour.” It is not a Hell that can be defeated by meekness and gentleness alone (although those are important components of the process of bringing one to the Throne of Grace). It is a Hell that must be conquered, through God’s strength, with a holy boldness, unashamed of the Gospel and its promises. Catherine Booth, the Army Mother, said it best when she said “Show the world a real, living, soul-searching, hardworking, toiling, triumphing religion and the world will be influenced by it. But anything less they will turn around and spit upon.”
Lastly, Cadman says “You will catch souls.” It’s important to note here his use of the word catch. It is important to remember that, even though we may plant the seed of knowledge, and may even be given the opportunity to water it, it is God alone that gives the increase. He is the one who does the life-changing work in hearts and souls, not us. He alone grants the increase; we merely watch and guide it as it grows.
In conclusion, I pray with Sr. Major Allistair Smith: “May God baptize us afresh with the Holy Spirit and with fire… [I] pray that God will enable us to live up to the terrific challenge of these days and to lead the Army back to first things, back to the old-time power, and forward in a new, worldwide crusade for Christ and souls, before Jesus comes.” May God bring us away from the edge of the grave of complacency, and bring us back to an abundant, overflowing life in Him.