It seems pretty safe to say that there is probably more conversation going on now about the nature , shape and ‘feel’ of Salvationism that possibly ever before. The fragmentation away from ‘first love principles’ have left us with a Salvation Army which isn’t always encouraging, certainly in the context in which I am placed.
I have personally been convinced that The Salvation Army is something akin to a sleeping bear. When roused and fully awake, its potential is tremendous. I’ve also been one who has been deeply inspired and motivated by the Salvationism of our founders. I’ve long been convinced that there was something in our earliest days as a movement which are key to our regeneration as a missional movement, a permanent mission to the lost.
It was in reading ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch that I began to get a really clear sense of what it was about primitive Salvation Army that was so potent. Its actually something that is common to many movements, especially Jesus movements within the Christian Church over the whole course of its history. Alan Hirsch calls it Apostolic Genius…that is, certain elements that are deeply ingrained in the spiritual DNA of Jesus movements. He draws his conclusions specifically from studying the early church and the present day phenomenon of the under-ground church in China. As I read, I started to explore how his principles applied directly to the missional DNA of The Salvation Army.
My history lecturer at Bible College once said that ‘we cannot know who we are and where we are going, unless we understand where we have been.’ The thing is, when we look at issues regarding who we are as Salvationists, we often fail to go further back than Booth, recognising that what was in him and all that The Salvation Army came to be came from somewhere else. Its all in Jesus.
Let me share each of Hirsch’s elements of what he calls, Apostolic Genius, the stuff that fuels and shapes authentic missional movements.
1. Jesus is Lord
The thing that set Judaism apart from the rest of the religions of its day was the nature of God himself. This is the God who declared in the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4, that ‘The Lord is God, the Lord is One.’ The implication of this was that God was the God of every aspect of life. This explains the somewhat confusing nature of Leviticus! If God was God of everything, then he was God of everything! For Yahweh, there is no sacred/secular divide. The whole of our being is under his Lordship.
As we move into the New Testament, we have a full revelation of God in the form of his Son, Jesus. The concept of the Lordship of YHWH over everything becomes focussed. We are invited to understand God through the Lordship of Jesus. The central war cry of the early church was ‘Jesus is Lord!’ This wasn’t just a statement of theology, it was the heart of the Hebraic mindset that understood that spirituality and religion were not compartmentalised to certain sections of life. It is the ultimate distillation of our faith. The whole of life was to be ordered under the Lordship of Jesus. Everything was spiritual. It is the essence of faith, after which everything else is marginal.
The early Salvation Army no doubt had the Lordship of Jesus at its heart. Catherine Booth wrote: “And what is our work? To go and subjugate the world to Jesus; everybody we can reach; everybody we can influence, and bring them to the feet of Jesus. (Catherine Booth, AGGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY)
More spectacularly, she said at another point, “ The decree has gone forth that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and that He shall reign whose right it is, from the rivers to the ends of the earth. I believe that this Movement is to inaugurate the great final conquest of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Catherine Booth, in John Rhemick. A NEW PEOPLE OF GOD.)
Not only did Catherine believe in the centrality of Lordship of Jesus in faith, but she affirmed his was an organising principle, something which gave reason to our coming together in the first place.
We see this Lordship expressed is various ways with the primitive Salvation Army. Consider uniform wearing at work, the desire to take faith into the workplace. Look at our theology of sanctifying the ordinary and our theology of the sacramental life as opposed to the sacramental rituals. Revisit the construct of The Salvation Army flag with its reminiscent ‘Yahweh our Banner’ (Exodus 17:15) and the desire of William Booth to see it flying from every public building. One need look no further than our response to societal problems! This was a robust desire to see the Kingdom come in every sphere, and in every area of life, temporal and spiritual. Today we call it wholistic; a term we were doing before we knew the term.
Is Jesus the Lord of The Salvation Army today? Do we divide our work, service and ministry into sacred and secular? Are we passionate about bringing the world to the feet of Jesus to the extent that everything we do is organised around this principle? And what of our social work? Does Jesus claim of Lordship find itself at home at the heart of all we do in that sector? As a whole, does our ministry look like an expression of the whole ministry of Jesus as we find in the pages of the gospels?
Keep tuned for thoughts on the other elements.