Eight Myths of Primitive Salvationism

Eight Myths of Primitive Salvationism
 – Major Stephen Court (from armybarmy blog)

Though it is the oldest of Salvo traditions, the recent re-emergence of Primitive Salvationism and its relative grassroots press has given rise to some misconceptions of the movement. I thought I’d try to dispel eight of the myths of PS.

1. PS is all about bonnets and bass drums.

This isn’t exactly true. Yes, high collars are back in style, but it’s not about what’s on the outside. As far as bass drums are concerned, I HID the bass drum in my closet at my first appointment! It has so little to do with music, for example, that you could easily have turntable worship at one place and brass band at another.

PS is NOT about superficials.

2. PS is flaky charismata.

This isn’t exactly true. Yes, it sometimes gets flaky, and is often fairly charismatic (by definition, PS is charismatic-flavoured, mission-focused heroism). That said, we’re not nearly as charismatic as some salvos I know or have read- there has been no dead-raising in any meeting I’ve attended, yet; there has been no levitation, yet; there has been no transporting, yet, and so on.

Glory fits, yes, glory to God. 

3. PS is revisionist history.

This isn’t exactly true. Nearly every salvo ‘school’ tries to base itself in the founders and early days. We’re no different. But, I suspect that we’re on solid ground because we know the history as well as almost anyone. Booths, Railton, Booth-Tucker, Cadman, Pearson, Lee, Dowdle, Brengle, and the gang all fit our description of PS. There is good evidence of the charismatics in the early days. There is good evidence of mission focus back then. And there is ample evidence of heroism.

It is pretty difficult to dispute the basic tenets of PS.

4. PS is narrow-minded.

This isn’t exactly true. Sure, we’re unpopular because we believe certain things that might be untrendy these days. We believe in the doctrines of The Salvation Army- even 10, and, yes, 11 (i.e. we believe in holiness; we believe in hell). We believe that covenant is a powerful means of releasing the trust of God on the world. We believe that The Salvation Army is a revolutionary movement of covenanted warriors exercising hole passion to win the world for Jesus. And we believe Catherine’s prophecy;

“The decree has gone forth that the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and that He shall reign whose right it is from the River to the ends of the earth. We shall win. It is only a matter of time. I believe that this Movement shall inaugurate the great final conquest of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

5. PS is the latest Third Wave trend dressed up in uniform.

This isn’t exactly true. Yes, we’re into the prophetic, but not because of TW. We’re into it because PSers were. Catherine’s Salvo DNA prophecy (see #4) is the driving force behind the SA Movement. William Booth’s VISIONS, has been described by General Brown (PtG) as ‘Booth at his best’. Yes, we’re into apostolic, but not because of TW. William Booth wrote an article in 1859 called ‘Apostolic Ministry’ predating, by nearly seven score years, the TW apostolic movement. More importantly, he filled the Ephesians 4 office. Yes, we’re into cells, but not because of TW.

The original PSers started the Ward System (the latest O+R for WS was 1914, to my knowledge), which is what we call a cell system.

6. PS is theologically shallow.

This isn’t exactly true. Those who think this way suspect that we’re all about souls at the expense of justice and caring for poor people. Yet, it was the original PSers who went for souls AND went for the worst. And it is some of the current ones who are living as slum brothers, starting justice wings, experimenting with common purses, reaching out to the widow and orphan, and trade marking simplicity and humility. But, yes, we’re looking for people to repent and follow Jesus.

We’re looking for them to ‘get saved, keep saved, and get someone else saved’.

7. PS is one of many salvo options.

This isn’t exactly true. It is the only proven option for accomplishing our mission. Nothing else we’ve tried – from church growth to emergent/missional churches, from big bands to Sunday School buses, from drop-ins to rehabs, from adherency to musicals, from donuts to radio shows – separated from the PS philosophy, has worked.

So, yes, you can enjoy another version of Salvationism, but unless it is a part of PS (and most or all of the examples I’ve suggested can be, so please don’t take this as a criticism of any of them) it has proven that it hasn’t worked in winning the world.

8. PS is a fad that will not last.

This is not exactly true. I know some true believers, warriors who already drank the cool-aid. My guess is that either we see Catherine’s prophecy fulfilled or we’ll all die fighting. 

I hope this doesn’t come across as arrogant.

It is merely a dispelling of myths by a confident assertion of the truths of PS on its best days.

Much grace to you all,

Stephen Court


You may or may not have heard that the Army are planning a new Salvation Army songbook. I’m sick at the moment, so had time to respond to Stephen Courts request for suggested songs for deletion from the current songbook. I came up with around 250 songs that we probably wouldn’t miss from the current edition.

Just thought that since Stephen went ahead and published my whole list on his blog, that I’d give some clarification on them before I get stoned for heresy! LOL.

Most of them are ones which I’ve never sung in 14 years in the Army, so there is the popularity issue. Then there is the antiquated language, then there is the unsingablity of the tunes, then there is the issue of relevance.

Finally, most of them were from non-Salvo writers, so therefore can be found elsewhere so no great loss. In this digital day and age, there can be little real need for an SA songbook, unless of course its to promote salvo songs which don’t really have a wider platform like the other songs do. Most corps have easy access to alternative sources for songs from the wider church…no point re-inventing the wheel. I reckon you could EASILY find 250 good salvo songs to take their place, no problem. Thats my reasoning.

I could have gone further and suggested we take out the christmas carol section on the same premise as above, especially since we have another book for carols.

Bear in mind that this is the English speaking songbook we’re talking of, used in a whole lot of countries. Also, I re-iterate that there is absolutely no point in inserting the most popular current worship songs in our songbook…thats the way to go in making it irrelevant as soon as you’ve published it.


Articles of War

As soldiers we cut a pretty big covenant (read it here). Covenant is becoming pretty big these days in the wider church…there are neo-monastic missional orders springing up all over the place. For example, the Order of the Mustard Seed originally began by the great Moravian prayer warrior, Count Zinzendorff and more recently revived through the 24/7 prayer movement, of which The Salvation Army has been a big part. This is all great stuff…its a great emphasis on the fact that God calls us to sign up to live our lives missionally where God has placed us.

The difference between the Army and both the ancient and the new monastic orders, I guess, is that we go on to provide a place that people can continue call their spiritual home when they’ve got saved through the mission we carry out. In that sense, we become the place where people live out their Christian lives as part of the body, or where they journey with us to explore Christian life and faith. Thats fine.

The Articles of War are a rule of life, a covenant. This is not the document we say that one must be able to sign in order to become a Christian. The path for that is simple repentance and faith in Jesus…no document necessary! This is a document that all who sense the call to live as covenanted soldiers of The Salvation Army sign. Clear distinction.

As a Salvation Army in the UK, we’ve largely lost sense of the radical call of soldiership because we’ve confused it with being a part of the body of Christ. In trying to be inclusive, we’ve concluded that the standards of soldiership must be lowered, and thus we have a soldiers covenant which can mean everything and nothing at the same time.

When my son was too young to become a junior soldier, he asked me “well what can I be now, dad?” My reply was, “son, you can become a Christian, a follower of Jesus.” Friends, this is the place we begin, its where we always belong, we are always followers of Jesus. And hey, you can be a great follower of Jesus without being a soldier. Yes, its true. In many ways, we are doing our job when people come into the Kingdom and become followers of Jesus. Let me clarify, this is the priority.

However, we also want to call people to soldiership. Why? because at the core of our movement should be this covenanted, missional, out-reaching, extravagangly loving, sacrificial, and disciplined people who have heard the call of God to ‘sign up’ to the covenant we make and keep with God. Its a path of obedience, of duty, obedience, simplicity, and sacrifice. If every soldier lived out the covenants they sign, the world truly would be a different place…it really would.

Soldiership is a set of vows we take, like the monastic friar, brother or sister wherein we chose to live the radical expression of Jesus-following I mention above. Not everyone will be called to take these, but its a fairly good thing to suppose that it may just be that those God choses to win through us would be the ones he might call to become soldiers and become part of the covenanted community.

But hey, if they don’t, they already belong amongst us a) because they’re saved already or b)becuase they are journeying with us as they explore faith. I’d argue, on those grounds that Adherency is yet another red herring on the landscape of The Salvation Army. Its a form of membership that we don’t really need. Why? because we should be the kind of community where you belong anyway. Where your turning up instantly makes you ‘one of us.’ This is radical hospitality. From that position of belonging, you may hear the call to soldiership, to take on the covenant. Church membership is a legacy of Christendom which has increasing irrelvance. What is relevant, is maintaining the covenant community at the heart and mission of The Salvation Army in the form of its soldiers. Covenant is the glue of The Salvation Army as it gives us our common purpose.

I’m not naive. I know that many of our corps are far away from this model. I know that in many places, soldiership has been so operated that it has presented itself as an insiders club. Believe me, I’m as much apposed to this idea as I could possibly be.

How do we deal with this? We simply must find ways of encouraging each other and keeping each other accountable to living out our covenant individually and as a covenanted community. We need to cultivate a culture where people are open to being asked ‘in what ways have you fleshed out your covenant today?’ The easiest place we can do that is in the recruits class, but more than that, it needs to be build on trust with existing soldiers.

I really believe that grasping the distinct nature of our covenant will be the glue that will keep the Army from further fragmentation. Not because that by doing it we’ll ‘keep the numbers up’ or ‘halt the numbers decline’ but because we’ll solidify the Army at its heart…either that, or we become Samson without his hair…we will lose our inner strength and it will all come tumbling round about us!


This week I’ve been re-reading ‘The Provocative Church’ by Graham Tomlin. I read this some years ago, but on this second reading its really come alive to me particularly with reference to much of the thinking I’ve been doing about the Kingdom of God and how our understanding and grasp of the Kingdom affects our understanding of mission, evangelism, social action, social justice, the shape of church and all the rest.

I came across something of a definition that is really helpful, especially in the conversation about where our priorities lie in our task in these days. I was in discussion with a cadet on facebook, I think possibly from the US, who was advocating the importance of evangelism over social action. Now in the past, I have said that evangelism is a priority and that social action, whilst admirable and a response to the call of God, is different as it doesn’t quite have the same eternal consequences. To some extent, I still hold that position but I think that I, as well as the cadet, was perhaps coming at it from the wrong angle.

I think its wrong to polarise these issues. I also think its wrong to ‘de-spiritualise’ much of our social work and divorce it from our corps operations, but thats a differnet arguement….and its one that derives from this polarised position.

Now, if our starting point is neither evangelism or social work/action or social justice, but the Kingdom of God, we start to see things in their proper perspective.

Graham Tomlin gives something of a helpful definition. He says something like this:

mission is everything that demonstrates or recalls (read brings into the present) the Kingdom of God – this includes a whole raft of stuff…feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, standing up for those whose voice has been silenced, working for kingdom peace, kingdom economics, kingdom justice, everything that is an expression of making ‘the standards of the Kingdom of God the standard of our lives (Articles of War).

evangelism is the words that explain those things and invite people into the Kingdom of God.

You will know that St Francis of Assisi is often credited as saying something like ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel, using words if you have to.’ Now, it must be the most misused quote around. St Francis was, in essence, an open-air intinerant evangelist but also someone who cared passionately about the poor, and embraced poverty for their sakes.

So what is going on? St Francis got the idea that words weren’t enough. Evangelism is never enough, and it certainly shouldn’t be happening outside the context of the expression of the Kingdom. The apostle James picks this up in his epistle when he says that we should just say ‘God bless’ to the hungry man, but we should feed him.

As I’ve said so many times in this blog, proclamation and demonstration go hand in hand whether, in the case of the New Testament, those are ‘supernatural’ demonstrations (like healings or miracles etc) or practical demonstrations like making sure the widows are cared for. You see, its all a demonstration of the Kingdom.

Jesus central message, all the scholars are agreed, is simply this “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” We need that message in its fulness. We need the Kingdom of God to be tangible in peoples lives, for them to see what it means to live under the rule of God, the rule of King Jesus, inviting people to enter under that rule through repentance.

Lots of people have problems with evangelism today. But Evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than inviting people to change loyalities and nationality. Like any person who moves to a country not their own, it involves understanding the laws, language and culture, history and customs of that place…it also means recognising and confessing my failure in recognising that God has rightful rule in both my life and in the world…and it involves believing that Jesus provided the way to be set free from the consequences of that rebellion.

The early church held closely to ‘Jesus is Lord’ not just as a nice theological statement, but as a pure expression of living in the Kingdom, under Kingdom rule.

However, the one thing we must recognise and learn is that the church is NOT the Kingdom of God. This is a problematic area. The church is certainly supposed to be small expressions of Kingdom community, how life should really be. Now, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions as to how successful we are at doing that, and as to how successful it is on your front. Reality is that in the Christendom mode, we’ve often been very highly duped into believing that the Kingdom is the church and the church is the Kingdom. There are huge implications in getting this right or wrong. It has huge questions to ask of the church.

Let me just conclude with what I’m saying. If we are not showing the world ‘the Kingdoms of this world becoming the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ'(Rev 11:15) then our evangelistic invitation something akin to asking a person to walk into a dark room with you…they are simply going to be very very wary in doing that with you…and I don’t blame them!

Having said that, lets stop making ‘building authentic Kingdom communities’ an excuse for downplaying the call of the gospels to evangelise. The greek word used for evangelism can’t possibly be understood outside the context of the spoken invitation, the spoken exhortation. Lets not fall into the trap our culture is trying to tell us here.

Our message: “repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Good enough for Jesus, good enough for me.

I testify to His glory

I’m immensely grateful that God isn’t finished me yet. I’m immensely grateful that people who knew me 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago and maybe only a couple of months ago would hopefully see a work in progress, but making progress, all glory to God.

I can testify as to how he has led me spiritually into deeper wells of intimacy with him for his glory. I can testify how he has continually challenged my leadership, crafting me ever so consistently inspite of my inconsistency for his glory. I can testify to him leading me deeper into his word, seeking to get to grips with his call and testimony to us, in ever increasing measure for his glory. Friends, God is good and if he can do that with me, modern-day ‘chief of sinners’, he can do it with anyone. Trust him.

He has graciously brought me to this point in life, where I can not only take the opportunity to re-think, take stock and evaluate the past, but where he has lined up for me a whole raft of opportunities that I’ve never had. Such is his investment in me as a child of his. I’ve never known the love of a Father anything like that.

Yet, to whom much is given, much is expected and my prayer is that I will increase in effectiveness for his glory.

When you’ve heard the call of God on your life there is no turning back. I’ve come to realise this more and more through both the choices I have had to make and the choices I’ve failed to make correctly. The thought that consumes my day to day thinking is that I will not settle for anything less that God’s will, and that I’d find ways to stop living in anyway that is contrary to the values of His Kingdom.

Oh boy, when you have those thoughs, every day is a challenge, and adventure and has a sense of urgency and direction. Trying to live out even the smallest aspect of the hugeness of his Kingdom just blows my mind. I’ve enjoyed re-reading ‘Irresistable Revolution’ by Shane Claiborne and every glimpse of the Kingdom fleshed out is such a revelation in so many ways.

My Kingdom Ambition is that I’d help see the Kingdom come in a very tangible way here in Torry, in my family and in The Salvation Army. Enough to keep you busy!