This is a section of the art work that can be found inside the front cover of ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’ by General William Booth. In this work he unpacks the vision he has of multitudes dying in the Sea of Misery, shipwrecked by societal ills. The Salvationists are running the rescue mission from the shore, seeking to pull people out of the misery.
In another early Salvation Army work, part of the ‘Red Hot Library’, the life and ministry of St Francis of Assisi is expounded in most virtuous terms, and the author (maybe even Booth), likens the Salvationists as being in the line of Francis’ friars.
Friars, incase you didn’t know, were monastics who, rather than chose the solitary life in the monastery (monk comes from ‘monos’, meaning ‘one’/’alone), lived their life and mission on the streets preaching the gospel, caring for the poor, seeing to the needs of the sick and rescuing those who needed to be reached.
Very early in my Christian life I developed a strong urge to be on the streets as a Salvationist. I came to an agreement with our Corps Treasurer that instead of paying my regular giving commitment to the corps, I’d buy soup with it and use it as a means to share food on the streets with those who were begging or in need in some way. I felt this is where the Salvationist belonged and indeed, committed to living out my vow to ‘feed the hungry, clothe the naked and befriend those who had no friends’ as my Officer’s Covenant states.
The church belongs on the streets, really. We have the example of Jesus who walked miles and miles, preaching, displaying the power of the Kingdom, healing and tending to the poor and those who had need. There was no separation from the message of the gospel and the action of the gospel. We have the example of the early Christians in the 3rd century, who, in the midst of a plague marked themselves out as different because they stayed in the cities caring for the sick when everyone else had fled. We have the example of the early Celtic and Roman monasteries, before the corruption of wealth and the institutionalisation of the message , where succour and sanctuary could be found and where the monastery was missional and a hub for the whole community.
The Order of Saint Leonard has at its heart Matthew 25, the verses where Jesus identifies himself with the prisoner, the destitute, the naked, the disenfranchised and the one in need of a ‘cup of cold water’. For the church of Jesus, to welcome the poor and the stranger is to welcome Christ himself. To reject the poor and the stranger is to reject Christ himself. Jesus was fairly straight about this.
Are our churches in danger of falling into the same fate as the monasteries who bowed down to power, wealth and corruption, self-preservation and perpetrators of an exclusive gospel, which is no ‘good news’ at all? It is great news if your sin can be forgiven and that your practical needs can be met. It is bad new if you’re kept at the door hungry and thirsty, and lost into the bargain.
Jesus became a homeless itinerant preacher with no place to lay his head who spoke about the first being last and the last being first, about the poor inheriting the Kingdom, about becoming a servant, washing the feet of those ‘below him’ and standing silent before brutal shearers. He chose the most powerful way of resistance in this world…to stand with the underdog, identify with the sinner, of whom I am the chief, and to sanctify the ordinary so that even the filthy Gentile could enter the presence of God. I mean, for goodness sake, if Jesus was a modern day Briton he’d have been on benefits. The pharisees and the toffs would still sneer, but he would still proclaim to him that the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before them.
In Jesus we have our example. Dare we call ourselves followers of such a Jesus?