‘While we have been standing upon our dignity, whole generations have gone to hell.’
Catherine Booth (1880)
These words penned by Catherine Booth over a hundred and thirty years ago, echo through the halls of time and rock our sense of complacency and self-satisfaction.
The co-founder of The Salvation Army, a slight woman of 5.6” with fiery eyes and dark hair, might have appeared weak and inferior to the untrained eye, but within her beat a heart of passionate love for the lost that forged her life’s choices from childhood until her untimely death at the age of sixty-one.
Her children knew her as mother and warrior: one who darned socks at the fireplace while, at the same time, preparing a sermon that she was to preach later that week. Her husband William cherished her as both wife and teammate in the daily war waged for the souls of men and women. In a world where women were considered more ornament than orator, this Woman-Warrior stood firm on the spiritual battleground representing both the ‘fairer sex’ and the ‘fighting soldier’.
Perhaps some of her seminal writings can be found in Aggressive Christianity. This compilation of The Army Mother’s sermons became the missional pulse that propelled the early Salvation Army into the dark streets and dirty alleys of the East End of London and across the seas into countries around the world.
The writings of Catherine Booth should come with a warning to all would be readers: CAUTION: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
With the focused logic of a lawyer, Mrs. Booth laid out the foundations for Christian ‘warfare’.
Our warfare must be Aggressive
Booth describes a burning building. A family is asleep within the consuming flames and their death is imminent. How would we go about rescuing them? Would we quietly invite them to exit the burning building? Would we give them a choice and if they do not respond, say ‘Oh well, I’ve done my duty’? Or would we rush through the flames, forcibly wake them from slumber and pull them out of the fire? This, she asserts, is ‘aggressive warfare’.
Too often Christians have allowed themselves to become compromised. The world has convinced us that not all sin is sin; that being inclusive is more important than being holy. Others begin to set the standard of Christlikeness and very soon God’s standards are forgotten.
Similarly, she asserts, Christians allow themselves to become complacent. Our love for the lost gradually diminishes while our expectation of personal comfort increases. We begin to believe that the desire for salvation is the responsibility of the sinner and excuse ourselves of the responsibility to speak up.
Compromise and complacency are the silent killers of aggressive warfare.
‘Don’t let your relatives, and friends, and acquaintances die, and their blood be found on your skirts!!!!’
Our warfare must be Adaptive
‘There is no improving the future, without disturbing the present, and the difficulty is to get people to be willing to be disturbed.’
Here the analogy Booth uses is a cup, representing the methods we often engage to share the gospel. The water poured into the cup represents the pure gospel, the life-giving refreshment from God.
She contends that too often we are more concerned with the shape, colour and size of the cup than we are the purity of the water being poured. We can become rigidly committed to ‘form and ceremony’ while being oblivious to the fact that, in our determination to stay in the rut of ‘we have always done it this way’, we may be compromising the purity of the gospel.
Again Booth calls us out of our routines, our personal preferences, and comfort zones with these words: ‘Here is the principle laid down, that you are to adapt your measures to the necessity of the people to whom you minister; you are to take the Gospel to them in such modes and habitudes of thought and expression and circumstances, as will gain for it from them a hearing.’
Our warfare must be Anointed
The third analogy that the Army Mother employs is that of a witness in a courtroom. She reminds her readers that God needs witnesses who will stand up for Him – people who can honestly say: ‘Look at me: – the way I live and act – what I am – this is the religion of Jesus Christ.’
She goes on to state that there are four qualifications of a consistent witness for Jesus:
– The witness must be good – someone whose character matches their words.
– The witness must be faithful – someone who personally knows the truth and is willing to tell the whole truth; the convicting and healing truth of the gospel.
– The witness must be reliable – someone who is willing personally to go to those who need to hear the message; someone who accepts personal responsibility rather than merely sponsoring others to go.
– The witness must be courageous – like Daniel who was not ashamed or afraid of the consequences for his devotion to the Lord. A good witness must be willing to speak out for God whatever the cost.
Catherine sums up her thoughts with this rhetorical and yet profound question:
‘What is [the world] dying for? – downright, straightforward, honest, loving, earnest testimony about what God can do for souls. That is what it wants.’
The challenge issued by Catherine Booth to her generation is as relevant and challenging today as it was then. Such a challenge is seldom easy to swallow.
PURITY of heart is required as we seek to set aside complacency and root out compromise in our lives.
PASSION is needed to courageously disturb the present and improve the future.
Holy Spirit POWER must be sought after if believers are to be consistent and effective witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Is this PURITY, POWER and PASSION evident in your life?
To read Aggressive Christianity and another articles by Catherine Booth, please click here http://www.salvationfactory.org/catherine-booth-collection
All quotes in this post are from chapters in: Catherine Booth, Aggressive Christianity, 1986 The Salvation Army, ISBN: 0-86544-031-X