Salvation Army

Slow down!

If you ever wondered what it's like to be on the inside of a dynamic movement? Read this letter by William Booth to the movement he founded.

They say we go too fast! This accusation comes from all directions. Our enemies do not like our speed and our friends are afraid of it. What do they mean? If they had complained that we did not go fast enough, I could understand them. If our enemies had argued that after all we say about the evils of sin, the terrors of the Judgment Day, and the damnation of hell, we do not believe in these things ourselves, I could understand that, and would feel humbled under their indictment.

If our friends came together and said, "Why don't you increase the speed? Look at the dying millions at home and abroad. You have evidently got a wonderful way of reaching the masses. You can adapt yourselves to all peoples and countries and climates. Why don't you push on faster? Why don’t you train more evangelists - send out more workers - hunt up more criminals, drunkards and fallen women? Go faster; get up more steam!” Now, this seems to me would be the natural way of talking for both foes and friends. But no! The cry is not "Go faster” but "You go too fast!" What do they mean?

My comrades, the General issues the command to every country, and to every division, and to every corps, and to every soldier - to advance. The pace of the past is to be no standard for the future. We must go faster. Obstacles, difficulties, and enemies shall be swept before us, and the mouths of those who condemn us shall be forever stopped before the Lord.

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I'll fight!

Gen William Booth

While women weep as they do now,

I'll fight.

While little children go hungry as they do now,

I'll fight.

While men go to prison in and out in and out,

I'll fight.

While there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God,

I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end.

General William Booth Salvation Army Founder

My sport in high school was rowing. During the season we trained three nights a week and all day Saturday. There were other school sports that demanded far less but there was something worthwhile about rowing. The experience changed me. I had a cause to live for. I built relationships around a worthwhile common goal. I learnt I could push myself beyond my limits and become stronger as a result. I learnt what it meant to make a serious commitment to something. I look back on those years with pride and satisfaction even though in five years of competition we never won a major regatta.

If, during my rowing days, you had asked me to join a crew that would require much less of me, I would have turned you down. The sport would be easier but the rewards would have evaporated. I would have rather given up the sport altogether than row in such a crew. It’s not that I liked being hot and exhausted after training. But I knew there were spin-offs from commitment that would be lost if things were easier. The costs of participating in a demanding sport were higher but so were the rewards. I hand discovered the fulfillment of living for a cause beyond myself. The sense of being a part of a team, of pursuing a worthwhile outcome, of being tested and found true.

Lech Walensa

In 1980, a 37 year-old electrician climbed over the barbed wired fences of the Gdansk shipyards in Poland to join his comrades in their opposition to the Communist regime. Within ten years Lech Walensa had been elected President of Poland and the Berlin Wall had crumbled under the onslaught of demonstrators while East German guards watched. The Communist grip on the Soviet Union and its satellite states was broken. The Communist empire was not overrun by a foreign army. There was very little blood shed. The Communist powers could have obliterated their opponents with military and nuclear might. They were vastly superior to their opponents. Yet the Communist empire dissolved as quickly as it had once emerged. Proving the maxim, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come” (Victor Hugo). History is made by people who are committed to a cause for which they are willing to lay down their lives.

In his study of religious movements, Dean Kelley found what enables religious movements to take hold is not their rationality but the demand their systems of meaning make upon their adherents and the degree to which that demand is met with commitment. “The most reasonable, most credible, most logical ideas in the world - without such demand and commitment - can never generate enough movement in human society to get one handcart over the hills to the Promised Land.”

Dynamic movements are comprised of people who have made a critical decision: they decide to 'live divided no more.’ They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts the beliefs they hold deeply on the inside. Without such commitment, nothing would change.

What cause are you committed to?

Digging deeper “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion With a New Preface for the Rose Edition (Rose Series)” (Dean M. Kelley)

Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

Soldiers Of The Cross
Soldiers Of The Cross

It was January 22, 1882. The theatre in Worcester, England was so packed that even William Booth had trouble getting in. The overflow crowd, refused admission, broke down the door to gain entry. The music was lively and contemporary. After one song, Booth turned to his hosts and asked, “What tune was that?” That’s “Champagne Charlie is my name”. “That’s settled it,” William Booth decided as he turned to his son Bramwell. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?”

The adoption of such music was soon put to full use by the Salvation Army. Many of the people who came to faith through the Salvation Army knew none of the hymn tunes or gospel melodies used in the churches; the music hall had been their melody school. An early pamphlet made the Army’s position clear by saying that it “considers all music sacred when used with holy purpose”. In 1880 William Booth had already written: ‘“Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. . . . Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine and belongs to us. . . . So consecrate your voice and your instruments. Bring out your comets and harps and organs and flutes and violins and pianos and drums and everything else that can make melody. Offer them to God and use them to make all the hearts about you merry before the Lord.”

As it spread around the world the Salvation Army continued to demonstrate their commitment to using whatever means they could to communicate the gospel. On the evening of 13 September 1900, when 4,000 people packed themselves into Melbourne Town Hall for the premiere of Soldiers of the Cross—probably the world’s first full-length film presentation. Thirteen segments of film, accompanied by live music, were interspersed with magic lantern slides (an early form of slide projector) and an evangelistic message by Salvation Army Commandant, Herbert Booth. The film told the story of Christ and the early Christian martyrs in Rome. Martyrs were crucified, beheaded, burned at the stake and thrown to lions. The Age newspaper the following day praised the show’s ‘savage but soul-stirring realism’.

Herbert Booth, son of William Booth, the Australian leader of the Salvation Army had encouraged Joseph Perry to investigate the possibilities of using the new medium as an evangelistic tool. Perry’s enthusiasm led to the setting up of the Salvation Army’s Limelight Unit in 1892, probably the first regular film production unit in the world. At the birth of the Australian nation, the unit was commissioned by the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria to produce the official films of Australia’s Federation Inauguration Ceremonies in Sydney and the opening of the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne.

No doubt other more established denominations were better endowed with resources for such an undertaking. Why was it that an upstart movement in an out of the way, newly formed nation should be on the front line of adopting new technology for their purposes? The early Salvation Army demonstrated while movements are conservative when it comes to their theology and mission, they can be very pragmatic in the means that they use to achieve the audacious goals they set themselves.

Related:Lights in Darkest England

The power of spiritual power

For a number of years I have taught a church planting course for the Salvation Army in Sydney. I enjoy going back each year not only for the interaction with the students but also because of the location. The Collaroy conference centre is located on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the northern beaches of Sydney. Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia in which to buy real estate.

Every year one of the Corps officers will remind me over a cup of coffee that the Salvation Army once owned the land for as far as the eye could see. In 1900, Miss Elizabeth Jenkins bequeathed hundreds of acres of farming land to the Salvation Army in gratitude for the impact of their ministry on her life and faith. Today the land would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars as prime seaside real estate. The only problem is that over the years much of the land was sold off for housing or acquired by government for community use.

William and Catherin Booth

Every year I’m told, “Imagine what we could achieve if only we had that property today.” The trap is set. We go back into the next session and I remind them of the loss of the land and of the lost opportunity for ministry today. Then I tell them that at some point in their history the Salvation Army consisted of William and Catherine Booth sitting around their kitchen table with nothing but a conviction that God had called them. Church history is not made by well-financed, well-resourced individuals and institutions. History is made by men and women of faith who have encountered the living God. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

John Wesley’s genius was to combine spiritual power with effective organisation. One biographer describes him as a “reasonable enthusiast”. Wesley was open to the contemporary use of what he called “the extra-ordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost.” He believed the reason for their neglect was the love of almost all Christians, so called, had “waxed cold”. Many of those convicted by his unemotional preaching showed extraordinarily physical reactions. He wrote that some, “drop down as dead, having no strength nor appearance of life in them. Some burst out into strong cries and tears, some exceedingly tremble and quake.” On one occasion he describes spending hours together with others in prayer and singing and discussion. When, ‘About three in the morning,’ records Wesley, ‘as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his majesty we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’”

Wesley and the Booths understood the importance of effective organisation but they knew that only a white-hot faith and an experiential relationship with God could provide the power and life to change lives.

“Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army” (Diane Winston)

“Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism” (Henry D. Rack)