Lessons in Digging
When my wife and I first moved to South Africa we employed a gardener. This was a new thing for us. In the UK and the USA I was the one who struggled with the lawnmower. In South Africa you employed people to do that. We became aware that there was a kind of emotionally remote relationship to gardeners, cleaners and so on. It felt different than just employer/employee. The difference was more pronounced. And it was racial. I have never heard of a white cleaner, or gardener in this part of the world.
One day, between the digging and the weeding, I asked our gardener what his interests were, or if he had studied. He said he used to have a keen interest in history. My face lit up! This was a great connection!
‘Oh! I also enjoy history! I’m fascinated by different periods of the past.’
‘No, but I hate history,’ he replied, looking toward me, ‘I don’t enjoy history at all.’
‘But why? How can you hate ‘history’?’ said Mr Stupid.
‘It made me angry. Very, very angry. So I stopped. I had to stop reading it.’
CS Lewis on White Supremacy
CS Lewis, in the excellent collection Christian Reflections, writes tellingly when he seeks to apply some of the ‘cursings’ we find in the Psalms. WARNING! This never-quoted section in Lewis’s writings may shock you:
‘I am inclined to think that we had better look unflinchingly at the work we have done; like puppies, we must have ‘our noses rubbed in it’. A man, now penitent, who has once seduced and abandoned a girl and then lost sight of her, had better not avert his eyes from the crude realities of the life she may now be living. For the same reason we ought to read the psalms that curse the oppressor; read them with fear. Who knows what imprecations of the same sort have been uttered against ourselves? What prayers have Red men, and Black, and Brown and Yellow, sent up against us to their gods or sometimes to God Himself? All over the earth the White Man’s offence ‘smells to heaven’: massacres, broken treaties, theft, kidnappings, enslavement, deportation, floggings, beatings-up, rape, insult, mockery, and odious hypocrisy make up that smell.’ 
I understand that it is quite natural for me, as a white man, not to want ‘my nose rubbed in it’, yet I don’t see how I can assist, support, or generate change in my context without at least attempting to understand, and to feel, something of the struggle and pain of others.
Frederick Douglass, both in his autobiography and in speeches, hits out not only at white slave owners but at a complicit church. He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t write off true Christianity; he doubts whether the church, in his experience, was practising real Christianity. He writes:
‘I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. These were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman’s back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch … His maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master’s authority. Such was his theory, and such his practice.’ 
These things are surely not easy for anyone to process. Acknowledging the terrible crimes of history ought not push us away from the Christian faith, properly understood and applied. That’s not Douglass’s point. He appeals for genuine Christianity to rebuke the counterfeit.
And as we consider these things, we should ask questions of our own processes and practices today. Acknowledging our history or our bias should help Christian believers reapply the historic gospel, with all its liberating power through faith in Jesus Christ, to our own lives and churches. The gospel should convict us, humble us, and then renew our minds, liberating us from both shame and anger. Coming to the cross of Christ, acknowledging and repenting of our sin, will enable us to receive empowering grace, the grace to be changed personally, and the grace to persevere until we accomplish genuine change around us:
‘Let your Kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
 CS Lewis, Christian Reflections, The Psalms, (1981 Glasgow: Fount/Collins) p.153
 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.46(Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
CS Lewis and John Betjeman When I picked up A.N. Wilson’s highly readable C.S. Lewis – A Biography I thought Lewis might get a little rough treatment. That’s because I’d already seen how Wilson dealt with him in his biography of John Betjeman.
It’s true that Lewis and Betjeman couldn’t stand each other, but it wasn’t entirely Lewis’s fault. Lewis, a young man, had become a Tutor of English at Magdalen College, Oxford. Betjeman was one of his first difficult students. To Betjeman Lewis seemed overly serious, unimaginative and hard. To Lewis Betjeman appeared affected, unintelligent and lazy, regularly failing to hand in essays on time. In fact, on one occasion Lewis was pleasantly surprised by Betjeman submitting a decent essay and looked forward to the tutorial. He later wrote in his diary, ‘I soon discovered [the essay] to be a pure fake, for he knew nothing about the work when we began to talk. I wish I could get rid of the idle prig.’[i]
He did eventually, and possibly unnecessarily. Betjeman never forgave him and, in letters written years later, referred to Lewis as ‘my old enemy’.
His career Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast on November 29, 1898 and died on November 22, 1963. Although bright, he hated school and was moved from place to place until his father finally agreed to have him privately tutored. After gaining a triple first at Oxford he became Tutor of English Literature and Language at Magdalen, Oxford, a position he held for nearly 30 years. Shockingly, he was never made Professor until he was invited by Cambridge University to take the Chair of Medieval English Literature where he served until retirement.
His literary ambition was to be a poet, but he is best known for the Narnia Chronicles a series of children’s books. Through the influence of friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others he moved from atheism to theism and finally to Christianity. He wrote some of the most influential Christian books of the 20th Century and was the central member of an influential literary circle called ‘The Inklings’.
A.N. Wilson’s C.S. Lewis – the best bad biography I’ve read! It’s a speedy, engaging, infuriating read. Wilson is rightly peeved by attempts to ‘canonize’ Lewis. ‘There are those readers who are so uplifted by the sublimity of Lewis at his best as a writer that they assume that he was himself a sublime being, devoid of blemishes.’ Even though that is an exaggeration one can understand Wilson’s desire to describe the man more realistically. There’s a difference, however, between bringing a man back down to earth and burying him.
After reading Wilson I also read an earlier Lewis biography to get a little balance. Wilson refers to (and draws heavily from) Green and Hooper’s biography from the early 70s. Undeniably less well written, I didn’t, however, find it gushing with hero-worship. Surprised by Joy although frustrating for different reasons, is also essential reading.
Why is ANW’s biography of Lewis ‘bad’? Where to begin? First of all, it must be said that since writing about Lewis, A.N. Wilson has had a change of heart about Christianity itself, and has moved from atheism to the Christian Faith. This does, in some degree, temper our response to what appears to be one of his aims in the biography: to discredit Christianity itself. This constant sneering disrupted my enjoyment of the book, like an irritating fly.
From the cover endorsements to Wilson’s clunky misunderstanding of ‘A Grief Observed’ (Lewis’s most authentic, mature expression of belief was doubt, supposedly) the reader senses a quiet celebration that this is the book that humiliates Lewis and his faith. With a silent nod and smile, we can breathe a sigh of relief, congratulate Wilson and go back to our skepticism unscathed: Lewis has been put in his place.
My copy is the Harper Perennial 2005 edition (which I understand includes some revisions based on reader’s reactions to the first edition of 1990). Before this, I don’t recall ever seeing the cover of a biography which says more about the biographer than the subject:
‘Wilson’s biography is probably the best imaginable…he is a brilliant biographer.’ Anthony Burgess (front cover).
‘The more biography Wilson writes, the better he gets – this life of CS Lewis is his best yet. It’s a vivacious and compassionate book. Wilson’s range of interests makes him an ideal match for the subject.’ Andrew Motion
‘It seems fitting that AN Wilson should have written the definitive biography of Lewis, and it is a superb job.’ John Bayley
The fact that the cover endorsements are primarily about Wilson’s literary skill, rather than Lewis’s, should be a clue: this is a take-down!
But enough of covers. It’s an odd thing to be forced to ask yourself a series of distracting questions as you move through the book: Does the biographer respect the subject?
Did he understand the nature of religious conversion and its implications? Does he understand the role and limitations of Christian apologetics?
He exposes the jealousies and nastiness of CSL’s peers but is ANW himself entirely free from such nastiness given that he appears to support their criticisms?
Why the persistent schoolboy name-calling, likening CSL to a low-class ‘police court solicitor’ (a disrespectful mocking of CSL’s father’s occupation)? Yet, even schoolboys have an opportunity to respond. Lewis has no ability to respond.
While there may be some debate about the nature of CSL’s relationship to Mrs. Moore in the early days, are we to believe that CS Lewis cherished being both a domestic and sexual masochist? You needn’t be a Freudian scholar to have a few chuckles at some of Wilson’s psychoanalytical observations.
The bigger question is if Wilson is so repelled by Lewis’s Christianity and by Lewis as a personality, then why on earth write a biography of him? May we ask for a proper revision?
What we have here is a gossipy attempt to cut the puffed-up Lewis down. Positively tabloid my good man! It just makes Wilson appear pompous and mean-spirited.
In an attempt at balance, Wilson writes, ‘Insufferably annoying as he may have been in life, there was also something glorious about him.’[ii] Seriously? Glorious?
Lewis’s Reluctant Conversion It may have struck you as odd that Lewis is usually quoted as describing his conversion negatively. He says that in 1929 he ‘gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’[iii]
But actually, as both ANW and Green/Hooper helpfully point out, this was an intellectual assent to theism, not his decision to follow Jesus Christ which came about two years later. Wilson adds that Lewis, at the time, was emphasizing his unwillingness to accept any high sounding ‘divine call’ which might undermine him.
He still considered himself a ‘prodigal’ looking for any opportunity to escape the inevitable. Green/Hooper write of Lewis’s 1929 experience, ‘This conversion was, however, to theism pure and simple, and not to Christianity. He knew nothing about the incarnation at this stage.’[iv]
Lewis, Tolkien and Dyson Although in his autobiography Surprised by Joy Lewis only touches on the events surrounding his Christian conversion Green/Hooper describe it in some detail:
‘Lewis was still thinking about myth and resurrection when, on Saturday evening (19 September 1931), he invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to dine with him at Magdalen. Probably none of them had any idea what a momentous impact this night’s conversation would have to Lewis…In Lewis’s rooms they talked about Christianity till 3.00am when Tolkien left to go home. After seeing him through the little postern door that opens on to Magdalen Bridge, Lewis and Dyson continued the discussion for another hour, walking up and down the cloister of New Buildings…On Monday, 28 September, Lewis and Warren [his brother] took a picnic lunch to Whipsnade Zoo…But something happened to Lewis on the way to Whipsnade for, as he says in Surprised by Joy: ‘When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did…It was…like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.’
A few days later (1 October) Lewis wound up a long letter to Arthur Greeves with the news: ‘I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ…My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.’[v]
Lewis on ‘Low Church’ and ‘High Church’ Lewis was not a so-called ‘high church’ Anglican. In fact, he was forthright on this point. ‘I’m not…what you call high. To me the real distinction is not high and low, but between religion with a real supernaturalism and Salvationism on the one hand, and all watered down modernist versions on the other.’[vi]
Lewis on Adam as an Historical Figure On one evening, fellow academic Helen Gardner was dining with Lewis and a number of others at Lewis’s home. Wilson writes:
‘Conversation at the table turned on the interesting question of whom, after death, those present should most look forward to meeting. One person suggested he would like to meet Shakespeare; another said St. Paul.
‘But you, Jack,’ said the friends (or, as Helen Gardner felt, the disciples), ‘who would be your choice?’
‘Oh I have no difficulty in deciding,’ said Lewis. ‘I want to meet Adam.’ He went on to explain why, very much in the terms outlined in A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’, where he wrote: ‘Adam was, from the first, a man in knowledge as well as in stature. He alone of all men ‘had been in Eden, in the garden of God.’…He had ‘breathed the aether and was accustomed to converse with God ‘face to face’.
Be that as it may, Adam is not likely, if she has anything to do with it, to converse with Helen Gardner. She ventured to say so. Even, she told Lewis, if there really were, historically, someone whom we could name as ‘the first man’, he would be a Neanderthal ape-like figure, whose conversation she could not conceive of finding interesting.
A stony silence fell on the dinner table. Then Lewis said gruffly, ‘I see we have a Darwinian in our midst.’’[vii]
The inclusion of this incident may be intended to make Lewis appear either misogynistic, self-serving, rude, a fundamentalist or all of the above. The point, though, is that Lewis did consider Adam to be a real historical figure.
C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and J.R.R Tolkein There are numerous other small points of interest like this one. Lewis’s resistance to modern poetry alienated him from the emerging generation of poets. His own relative failure as a poet, especially as a narrative poet, even after publishing two books of poetry, was a source of sadness to him. And indeed, for those of us who have actually put in the hours to read every published poem by Lewis, we concur that he wasn’t a success (although there are a few brilliant pieces).
Some may, however, sympathise with him when considering the work of the modernists’ leading light T.S. Eliot. Lewis wrote:
‘For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening – any evening – would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.’[viii]
Wilson also describes such fascinating moments as when CSL and Tolkien decide they’ve had enough of the popular novels being published and made a commitment to each other that they will write ‘better’ books: ‘I’m afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves!’ What a result!
C.S. Lewis – never Professor of English at Oxford Is it not strange that Lewis never became a Professor at Oxford?
Wilson gives us the reason:
‘It could be said that Lewis was exiled, in some sense, for his refusal to toe the line. It was not his failure to be a good graduate supervisor which cost him the Oxford chair, it was Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.’[ix]
In 1954, however, Cambridge established a new ‘Chair’ of English and Lewis was invited, and accepted the position: Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. His lectures were sensationally popular.
Other Biographers Towards the end of Wilson’s book, apart from a somewhat rushed feel, there is an attempt to undermine other biographers and historians of Lewis. Hooper is dismissed as unreliable. Wheaton College is snubbed with characteristic upper-class English pomposity: It’s not a real University is it, after all? Once again, we hear the persistent drone undermining Lewis’s Christianity: it’s that pesky fly again.
There is much to enjoy in Wilson’s biography but so much that is disappointing. In a book so littered with uncharitable moments, perhaps Wilson’s final paragraph gives a typical example: ‘Those who knew Lewis in the days of his flesh might suppose that he would chiefly be remembered as a vigorously intelligent university teacher and critic who also wrote some children’s stories.’
So that’s it then! Lewis, phenomenally popular during his own lifetime and an inspiration to thousands of Christian intellectuals, is triumphantly minimised and dismissed: not a Professor, not a best-selling author, just a ‘university teacher who wrote children’s stories’.
It’s time for a better CS Lewis Biography To coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death in 2013, when he was honoured in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, Alister McGrath released a new biography of Lewis. For a review in Christianity Today check here. Readers of that biography may still feel we need something more like Wilson in style and more like Hooper in appreciation. But that’s another story.
And yet…history reveals to us that racism can be so ingrained that it needs particular, persistent attention – exposure and rejection – before it falls. It’s a bondage that needs particular deliverance, and then disciplined follow-up, before it is purged from the human heart. Even after conversion. How was it that so many church-goers could be either supportive of or complacent about apartheid in South Africa?
The problem isn’t with the gospel
The inadequacy isn’t with the gospel, which has the power to change us inwardly and unite us (Col 3.11). Perhaps our preachers and teachers continually pass over the implications of the gospel when it comes to racism; worse, perhaps many don’t even see it.
And this essentially brings me to why I have included a series on Frederick Douglass on a website focussed on Church History. Undoubtedly one of America’s greatest social reformers and a very powerful speaker (just read his July 4th address), Douglass wasn’t a churchman. His story is here not because he was a church leader, but because of his experience of church leadership. What shook me to the core was the following account of the conversion of one of his masters and the subsequent increase of cruelty by this man towards his slaves. Those of us inspired by reformers like Wilberforce, MLK and Luthuli, or preachers of such moral clarity as Wesley or Spurgeon, and who love stories of revival, must surely cover our faces in confusion when we read accounts like this:
‘In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways…Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty…
He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them…
While I lived with my master in St. Michael’s, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael’s.
I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture—“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”[i]
It is hard to believe that such a man was actually converted. What can we say to such things? Racism should die under the gospel…and yet…
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.32-34 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
While Frederick Douglass was probably in his early teens his owner died and the estate needed to be valued for redistribution among the owner’s children. This valuation included all the slaves the dead man had possessed.
Valued along with the cattle
‘I was immediately sent for, to be valued with the other property. Here again my feelings rose up in detestation of slavery. I had now a new conception of my degraded condition… We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine.
There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.
The trauma of being separated
After the valuation, then came the division. I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time. Our fate for life was now to be decided. We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked. A single word from the white men was enough—against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties—to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings.
The threat of cruelty
In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew. He was known to us all as being a most cruel wretch,—a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our inevitable condition,—a condition held by us all in the utmost horror and dread.
Frederick’s brother abused terribly
I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellow-slaves. I had known what it was to be kindly treated; they had known nothing of the kind. They had seen little or nothing of the world. They were in very deed men and women of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. Their backs had been made familiar with the bloody lash, so that they had become callous; mine was yet tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few slaves could boast of a kinder master and mistress than myself; and the thought of passing out of their hands into those of Master Andrew—a man who, but a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and ears—was well calculated to make me anxious as to my fate. After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days,—meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession.
Will not a righteous God visit for these things?’ (emphasis added)[i]
More next time…
For the first post in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p. 27-28, 29 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
Believe it or not, acts had been passed in the Southern States forbidding any person to teach a slave to read.[i] But at about the age of twelve Frederick Douglass moved to a new owner and the owner’s young wife, a Mrs Auld, was unaware of this. When her husband discovered what she had been doing, he forbade her to continue, forcefully arguing that by reading and learning the slave would become discontented and yearn for freedom. A door had been opened. ‘What he most dreaded, that I most desired,’ wrote Douglass. From that time on, secretly and cleverly, Douglass learnt how to read from the white children he met doing errands.
Learning to read – a curse
‘The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity.’[ii]
A good Irishman
‘The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away.’[iii] 25
To read the next post, how Frederick and his fellow-slaves were ‘valued’ along with cattle click here
For the first part in this series on Frederick Douglass click here
[i] See https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/education/docs1.html and http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/slaveprohibit.html
[ii]Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.24(Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
[iii] ibid p.25
One of the challenges American abolitionists faced was the assertion of pro-slavery advocates that the living and working conditions of slaves weren’t as bad as supposed. They claimed that, in many instances, where slaves were consulted, they said their masters were kind, and their situations pleasing. Case closed. Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, gives a typical instance of how this false impression was both obtained and maintained:
‘To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd would be almost equal to describing the riches of Job. He kept from ten to fifteen house-servants. He was said to own a thousand slaves, and I think this estimate quite within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned so many that he did not know them when he saw them; nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him. It is reported of him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored man, and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored people on the public highways of the south: “Well, boy, whom do you belong to?” “To Colonel Lloyd,” replied the slave. “Well, does the colonel treat you well?” “No, sir,” was the ready reply. “What, does he work you too hard?” “Yes, sir.” “Well, don’t he give you enough to eat?” “Yes, sir, he gives me enough, such as it is.”
The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged, rode on; the man also went on about his business, not dreaming that he had been conversing with his master. He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks afterwards. The poor man was then informed by his overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader. He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death. This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer to a series of plain questions.
It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to say of their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor, especially when speaking to an untried man.’[i]
I should give a warning to the reader about the graphic nature of what follows, although no warning was given to the child who witnessed it.
The abolitionists condemned the brutality of slave owners, in defiance of repeated attempts to portray the system as somehow beneficial. This account of a single incident from the childhood of Frederick Douglass brings home the reality.
This post is part of a series on Frederick Douglass (the first part here). Why is it here on the Church History Review? Because, as you track Douglass’ story you’ll see how it interacts with the church (in some instances a church experiencing revival) and presents lessons a challenge to how the church ought to respond to pressing social issues.
Douglass writes, ‘I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he [the Master, a ‘Captain Anthony’] used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.
I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.
This occurrence took place very soon after I went to live with my old master, and under the following circumstances. Aunt Hester went out one night,—where or for what I do not know,—and happened to be absent when my master desired her presence. He had ordered her not to go out evenings, and warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man who was paying attention to her belonging to Colonel Lloyd. The young man’s name was Ned Roberts, generally called Lloyd’s Ned. Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to conjecture. She was a woman of noble form, and of graceful proportions, having very few equals, and fewer superiors, in personal appearance, among the colored or white women of our neighborhood.
Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out, but had been found in company with Lloyd’s Ned; which circumstance, I found, from what he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect him of any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time a d—-d b—h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now, you d—-d b—h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!” and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over.’[i]
[i] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845, p.3-4 (Dover Thrift Edition, 1995)
One of the aims of the Church History Review is to enable the reader to enter history, to provide a door through which you can discover lessons from the past to help you today. We’re inspired by those who have, through faith and patience, overcome almost impossible obstacles.
When I was in the USA earlier this year I stayed in a southern state and wanted to read more of its history. I found a little second-hand bookstore and spent some pleasant hours searching through the shelves for poetry and biography from the area. Like many in the UK in the 1970s, my family had eagerly watched each episode of Alex Haley’s Roots TV series. I was also aware that some former American slaves had written their biographies and discovered this bookstore had two or three. Their stories, told in such close and honest detail, are deeply shocking. I have only been in one significant car accident. As I pulled out onto a main road a speeding driver who wasn’t concentrating smashed into the back of my car. He hit me so hard the back of my driver’s seat broke, and the car was written off. Reading these narratives, particularly the one I will focus on in the next few posts, was a similar kind of experience. You might not want to be exposed to such a jarring experience, but let me urge you to read on for at least the following reasons:
history – I want to know what was actually going on. understanding – autobiography (as with poetry) helps me connect with another person’s experience. It informs my humanity. It can change my perspective and behaviour. context – I felt, as I read Douglass’ story, that I gained a fuller understanding of the USA itself – missing puzzle pieces fell into place; and actually not only the US picture, but any postcolonial or mutli-cultural context. Christian instruction – as we’ll see, Douglass had a strong and justified critique of the failure of the church to apply the gospel to issues of racism
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland before the American Civil War. In 1838 when he was twenty he made a dangerous and daring escape and became an influential speaker in the growing abolitionist movement in the North. His first book was the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave published in 1845 and from which the following extracts are taken:
My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me.
My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age.Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master.
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care…’ [i]
Salvation Army scraps (part three) The modern (post-modern, post-post-modern) quest for purpose continues to generate a myriad of insightful seminars, ‘life-coaches’, book deals, promo guest appearances, wellness plans and disciplines. Many seem to benefit from these moments, and even Christians make their selections from the wisdom buffet and serve up motivational quotes on social media. All well and good. But for the Christian, is there not already in place, already embedded in the very nature of the thing, a driving, momentous cause propelling them forward?
A little decoration, a little flourish here and there, is no doubt good if you have the main structure in place, but if you’re trying to live on flourishes instead of building on a solid foundation you may one day be shattered by a storm. Or end up merely numb, desperately trying to find excitement surrounded by a seemingly inexhaustible collection of useless trinkets.
Leaders like William Booth stir us because they bring us back to the essential stuff. We need that. I really am trying to finish this series on Booth and the Salvation Army with this post of quotes, the first of which states Christian purpose powerfully.
Booth on Purpose in Life ‘What are you living for? What is the deep secret purpose that controls and fashions your existence? What do you eat and drink for? What is the end of your marrying and giving in marriage – your money-making and toilings and plannings? Is it the salvation of souls, the overthrow of the kingdom of evil and the setting up of the kingdom of God? I am not censorious. If I know my own heart, it is full of yearning for the happiness of all men…[but] I must push this question. Have you the assurance that the ruling passion of your life is the same as that which brought Christ to the manger, led Him to fight the foul fiend of Hell in the wilderness, bore Him onward on the back of suffering and tears and ignominy and shame, sustained Him in drinking the cup of anguish and enduring the baptism of blood, bore Him through Gethsemane, nailed Him to the Cross of Calvary and enabled Him in triumph to open the gate of the Kingdom? Is that what you are living for? If not, you may be religious – a very proper person amongst religionists – but I don’t see how you can be a Christian.’ [i]
Booth in 1911 (the year before his death): ‘The helping of the wretched, and the saving them out of the earthly, hellish conditions in which such multitudes live, and the saving of souls of the people in larger numbers, and the organizing them when they are saved for still further victories, is the dream of almost every hour of my life.’ [ii]
Booth on the need for courageous leadership ‘Heroism is, comparatively speaking, out of fashion here. In fact, there is no call for it. The milk-and-water type of man, who neither creates enthusiasm nor rouses opposition, is a model leader of modern religion. Nothing is to be done that is contrary to the taste or liking of anybody else.’ [iii]
The Salvation Army and women’s rights
Woman has won her place in The Army. She has won a very wonderful place in the world by means of The Army. It may be worth while to remark here that, though seldom acknowledged, there is little doubt that the women of The Army have played a part in the general emancipation of woman which we see to be going on in the Western nations. In the political struggle, The Army, of course, has taken no part, but in the higher realms of the fight, the hand of the Salvation woman, both Officer and Soldier, has helped to carry the banner to victory. The women who marched at the head of the little bands of despised Salvationists in years gone by were accustoming the public mind to the spectacle of woman in command, of woman taking an active unshrinking share in public duty, and overcoming by the grace of God her supposed inferiorities. Thus we may truly say that we were opening a door through which women might carry the Message of Love and Life to multitudes who would never receive it save from a woman’s lips. That door will never again be shut. (italics in the original) [iv]
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] The War Cry, Feb 21, 1885. Quoted in The Founder Speaks Again (London: Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, 1960), p.59-60
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2, p.306
[iii] The Founder Speaks Again (London: Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, 1960), p.176 [iv] Quoted in Bramwell Booth, Echoes and Memories (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1925), p.172
Salvation Army Scraps (part two. Part one here) It is not widely known that the early Salvation Army was, by any standards, pretty charismatic. It’s a bit awkward. Their meetings seem to be, frankly, a little out there. But, as with many other movements that in reality created powerful evangelistic and missional communities, their claim was that the effects were nothing but the work of the same Holy Spirit that empowered the early church.[i]
Humphrey Wallis: Not only were there prostrations, but numerous cases of physical healing. The saved railway guard and Salvation Army Officer, James Dowdle, with his wife, had almost embarrassing cures occur during their services. One, a lame girl, was healed, and her father, to whom the news was immediately taken by an alarmed spectator, said, ‘Walking and cured in The Salvation Army is she? I’ll cure her of that blasphemous nonsense,’ took his stick and came to thrash her. On seeing his daughter, who had limped in distortion and pain for years, straight and joyous, her crutches carried by a woman behind her, the stick fell from his hand, and he could do nothing but marvel. [ii]
Elijah Cadman on these phenomena: These “Fits” and the bodily cures were nothing to do with any of us. They were manifestations of the power of God. We could not say when, where, or how they would occur, and we certainly did not know how God worked – we only saw them as signs of His presence. [ii]
Healings and Levi-whaaat?!? Bramwell Booth: Instances of levitation also took place in our services, and well authenticated stories came before me from time to time. Of these, however, I do not write now, except to say that I cannot doubt that everything about them was open and true. Nor can I dwell at any length upon equally well authenticated instances of Divine healing. The Army has ever had in its ranks in various parts of the world a number of people unquestionably possessed of some kind of gift of healing. If extravagances have gathered round the subject in some quarters, they ought not to be permitted to obscure the central fact, which is that the healing of the sick by special immediate Divine interposition, in answer to prayer and faith, has undoubtedly occurred. Surely there is nothing surprising in this. On the contrary, it would have been surprising had it been otherwise. [iii]
Extreme and overpowering joy, ecstasy In the United States, in the earlier days, we had a record of somewhat similar experiences, except that there they generally took the form of extreme joy. One of the peculiarities of the prostrations and trances and the like in Europe has been the great solemnity which has nearly always marked their occurrence, no matter whether they concerned those who were outside or inside The Army. But in the United States it was rather the other way about. In these demonstrations of the Spirit, the reality of which no one would challenge who knew what had really happened, there was an accompaniment of overpowering joy, exhibited in singing, and sometimes in a disposition to dance, or to remain for a long period in a kind of ecstasy. The practical effects, however – and it is by their practical effects that all these things must be judged – were very much the same there as elsewhere. [iv]
To read the next post, and Booth’s amazing challenge to us to find purpose in life, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] See Acts 2; the Moravians, the Methodists.
[ii] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.109, 111
[iii] Bramwell Booth, Echoes and Memories (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1925), p56-57
[iv] ibid. p58
Salvation Army Scraps (part one)
I’m surrounded by odds and ends. Details too important to leave out. I’m not so keen on very short posts (as you, dear reader, already know), and don’t want to split all this into bits. So here are some riveting, powerful, juicy scraps fallen from the table of the Salvation Army’s early history. Enjoy!
Was William Booth’s multi-site church the largest church in Victorian London?
Richard Collier writes, ‘One week-night London survey of this era  tallied almost 17000 worshipping in Army barracks, as against 11000 in ordinary churches.’ It’s certainly true that no-one gathered a larger crowd than CH Spurgeon with his dynamic evangelistic and Calvinistic preaching. He was seeing 5000 in each Sunday meeting, and much larger crowds at special events. But the Salvation Army were organised much like the multi-site churches of today, with a distinct leadership over the whole, but individual leaders breaking through into new territory across the city. If we consider a multi-site church as being the largest church in a town or city we may, perhaps, have to review our opinion that Spurgeon had the world’s largest church of the day. [i]
Booth on the Russian Revolution
‘The news of the Russian Revolutionary Upheaval, with its scenes of bloodshed and disorder, has upset me terribly…To what will it lead and where will it end? O my God, my God, what an awful suffering state this world has come to, notwithstanding all that has been done for it during the 2,000 years that have passed since Jesus Christ shed His Blood on its behalf! How feeble and powerless all our efforts have been. I was awfully depressed yesterday – but there is no alternative but to push on. If we cannot remove the mountains of misery we can move some of the little hills.’ [ii]
William Booth to Churchill: ‘You’re not converted!’
On meeting with Winston Churchill (then, Home Secretary) in 1910 where Booth had outlined the Salvation Army’s strategy for helping those in British prisons: ‘We parted in the most genial manner – Mr Chruchill saying with a smile, “Am I converted?” We had talked much about conversion from our standpoint.
“No,” I said, “I am afraid you are not converted, but I think you are convicted.”
He added something about my seeing what was in him. To which I replied, “What I am most concerned about it not what is in you at the present, but what I can see of the possibilities of the future.” [iii]
To read the next post, and stories of miraculous healings taking place in the Salvation Army, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.90
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:213
[iii] ibid 2:299
As we bring our series of posts on the Salvation Army to a close (there may be one or two more), let’s hear from William Booth himself. This is a short clip where with great skill he brings the needs of those most disadvantaged to those most powerful in order to resource his mission. (3.02)
The following video includes footage of a Salvation Army ‘Open Air’ in 1904. (2.26)
The Salvation Army were committed to evangelism, but also developed ministries and even companies to help address social problems. Here’s s short clip about the Salvation Army’s Match Factory. (0.34)
Even towards the end of his life Booth continued personally evangelising and incorporating the most recent technologies to get the attention of those outside the churches. For many in Great Britain the first time they saw a car come through their town or village there was an old, bearded Moses-like figure standing in the back of it, preaching about Jesus Christ and how to get right with God. Here’s some footage. (2.26)
By the time Booth died the Salvation Army was one of the world’s most respected movements of social engagement. Below is a news reel showing how London came to a standstill for Booth’s funeral. (4.28)
Finally, a superb trailer for a new documentary about Booth. (1.10)
To read the next post, and how William Booth told Churchill, ‘You are not converted!’ click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
When Christianity begins to actually take hold – to decisively win the hearts of ordinary men and women – there is usually a violent backlash. Persecution is not something sensible Christians seek, but even the briefest glimpse of those times when the church has been very successful evangelistically will reveal the presence of a cultural kick-back.
The violent persecutions of the church by Diocletian in the early 4th Century, the martyrs before, during and after the Reformation period, the mobs that attacked Whitefield and Wesley, the persecution today of churches forced ‘underground’, are all examples of this phenomena. When the main body of a population begin to embrace Christianity in significant numbers there’s a reaction.
The same is true in the history of the Salvation Army. At first there were a few individuals throwing eggs and disrupting open air meetings, but soon there was an organised effort against the evangelists. The dreaded Skeleton Army, so called, violently attacked the Salvationists in order to stop them preaching the gospel. The assaults were persistent and extremely violent as the following accounts illustrate:
Arnold Begbie: ‘Perhaps the worst of the riots was that which occurred at Sheffield…when a Procession led by General and Mrs Booth was attacked by a numerous and savage multitude armed with sticks and stones. The procession arrived at its destination with bruised and bleeding faces, with ton and mud-bespattered garments, cheering the General who had passed unscathed through the rabble.
‘Now’s the time,’ he said, regarding his ragged, wounded and excited followers, ‘to get your photographs taken.’
Riots occurred at Bath, Guildford, Arbroath, Forfar, and many other places. In twelve months, it is recorded, 669 Salvationists, of whom 251 were women, were ‘knocked down, kicked, or brutally assaulted.’ Fifty-six buildings of The Army were stormed and partially wrecked. Eighty-six Salvationists, fifteen of them women, were thrown into prison. From one end of the kingdom to the other, this effort to break up The Army was carried on in a most shameless fashion under the very eyes of the law, the mob attacking the Salvationists, the police arresting the Salvationists, the magistrates sentencing the Salvationists.’[i]
Richard Collier: ‘But molestation wasn’t confined to the streets…At Plymouth, Devon, forty men armed with brimming chamber pots stormed the hall to drench James Dowdle, “The Saved Railway Guard,” with urine. Time and again meetings were closed down in wild confusion…Even 1,500 police doing extra duty every Sunday seemed powerless to protect Booth’s troops.
Neither age nor sex proved a barrier, for the mobs were out for blood. In Northampton, one blackguard tried to knife a passing lassie; Wolverhampton thugs flung lime in a Salvationist child’s eyes. At Hastings, Mrs. Susannah Beaty, one of Booth’s first converts on Mile End Waste, became The Army’s first martyr…Reeling under a fire of rocks and putrid fish, she was kicked deliberately in the womb and left for dead in a dark alley of the Old Town. [ii]
Humphrey Wallis: ‘No Salvationist defended himself or herself by physical force. Knocked down, kicked, struck, reviled, reported guilty of bestial behaviour, accused of blasphemy and unprintable acts in their Meetings, they took refuge in the reply, ‘God bless you,’ and in prayer for their assailants. Elijah [Cadman], who had been so ‘handy with the gloves,’ and experienced such rough handling that a few of his brother-Officers hinted he liked persecution, had never raised a finger for himself or Army protection. More than his share of mud, stones, dead rats, and cats found their billets on or around him. He led a march in the slums waving a stik with one hand, and carrying a dead rat by its tail in the other; he had caught the rat as it flew to its aim…A live cat was thrown at him. ‘The live one was worse than all the dead ones; for the live one, poor thing, hung on. People wondered why we carried those dead rats and cats with us. It did seem silly. But, don’t you see, if we had left ‘em where they fell the mob would have had ‘em again, and thrown ‘em at us again, and one swat in the eye per one dead rat is enough,’ said he.’ [iii]
Roy Hattersley: ‘Throughout England opposition to the Salvation Army was growing fast. The Skeleton Armies – founded in Exeter and Weston-super-Mare for the specific purpose of breaking up Salvation Army meetings – began to set up branches throughout the south of England. Although the Armies had no formal structure or high command, the groups that came together had four common features – the backing of the breweries, the sympathy of the magistrates, the conservative attitude of the local population and the relatively small size of the towns in which the ‘skeletons’ operated.
Without the breweries the Skeleton Armies would have been nothing. In one of his many angry memoranda to the Home Secretary, William Booth wrote:
In nearly every town where there has been any opposition we have been able to trace it more or less to the direct instigation and often the open leadership of either Brewers or Publicans or their EMPLOYEES. The plan adopted is by treating or otherwise inciting gangs of roughs.’ [iv]
To read the next post, and hear William Booth preach, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 2:2
[ii] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.94
[iii] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.90
[iv] Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire (London: Abacus, 2000), p.273
On the 22nd Nov 1891 Allister Smith and four Salvation Army volunteers arrived at the Amatikulu River in Natal. After several days of visiting peoples’ homes they organised a series of evangelistic meetings.
On the first night Smith preached the gospel and although they had decided not to make an appeal for responses after the first sermon, he couldn’t help himself, and asked, ‘Are there any here who will give themselves today to this God who gave His only Son to die for us?’
Immediately, a young Zulu warrior stood to his feet and declared, ‘I am willing!’ After he prayed with Smith and gave his life to the Lord he went back into the crowd and urged his best friend to do the same.
His name was Mbambo Matunjwa. In a relatively short time he became a respected young preacher of the gospel. Within a few years he was winning hundreds to Christ and was gradually promoted through the ranks of the Salvation Army until he became a Major.
Suffering in service and in war Matunjwa’s story is a deeply challenging one. His father was the chef to Prince Sitegu, and experienced both the favour and the dangers of serving in the royal court. After a sickness had swept through the royal family a sangoma was called in to determine if any foul play had taken place. The cause was determined to be malicious and four of Matunjwa’s family were slaughtered as a result of the sangoma’s finding. He wrote, ‘This is my earliest recollection – seeing my relatives lying on the ground, clubbed and pierced to death, their gaping wounds crying for vengeance.’ Later, his parents, both spared, became sangomas, and Mbambo became a skilled warrior, part of a resistance that almost wiped out the British 24th Regiment in 1879. During the civil war that followed, Matunjwa was wounded in battle, being speared through with an assegai. He said it felt like a fire passing through his body.
Matunjwa survived the wound, married, and at the first evangelistic gathering of the Salvation Army described above, he responded and gave his life to Christ.
A tragic blow He was so successful at planting churches that he was moved to a region further north. However, soon after the move he and his wife encountered the shocking loss of both their sons in quick succession. The younger boy died from natural causes and the elder son from what was strongly suspected to be food poisoning.
They were heartbroken. After their initial successes in evangelism this was an almost insurmountable blow. Nevertheless Matunjwa continued preaching and continued to see fellow Zulus responding to the gospel.
Forgiveness, pure, perfect, radical forgiveness On one occasion after he’d finished his message, he made an appeal for those who wanted to repent to do so by coming forward. A young man came forward and asked to speak with him privately. He confessed that he was a sinner and needed forgiveness and asked Christ into his life. Matunjwa urged upon him the truth that God does indeed forgive sin.
But then, to his horror, the young man confessed that he had been the one who had deliberately poisoned the preacher’s son. He begged to be forgiven. Matunjwa turned away in agony. With a heart aching with sorrow, yet knowing the reality of God’s grace, he turned to face the young man and offered to forgive him.
It didn’t end there. With a maturity that challenges all our impulses toward revenge, Matunjwa decided to begin a discipling relationship with the young man, teaching him the basics of living the Christian life.
Matunjwa’s wife, Nomalanga, also had to face the reality of both the discovery of her child’s murderer and the forgiveness her husband had offered him. And – astonishing though this may sound – this godly couple invited the young man to live with them in their home, effectively adopting him as their own son.
He went on to become an effective gospel preacher, and, like his adoptive parents, also served in the Salvation Army.
I have no more words.
To read the next post, about the violent organised opposition the Army face, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
‘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.[i] 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?
Co-Director of Salvation Factory
The Salvation Army, USA Eastern Territory
[i] All quotes in this post are from Catherine Booth, Aggressive Christianity, (1986 edition, USA: The Salvation Army, ISBN: 0-86544-031-X)
There were many outstanding features of the Salvation Army that challenge every church-planter and church-planting movement:
Firstly, they were unashamedly committed to preaching the gospel, as raw, as clear, as directly as possible. They preached for conversion. They preached repentance and faith in Christ in language that was easily understood.
Secondly, they were obsessively active in each of their locations. They wouldn’t accept a place as being ‘hard’ or ‘resistant’. They developed techniques that attracted people to the gospel message; whether musical or theatrical, even gimmicky. They were determined to get a hearing amongst those in their respective mission fields.
Thirdly, they were not afraid of reaching the poorest, and those who might be considered ‘forsaken’ by society at large. This evangelistic impulse led to an incredible number of social ministries for which the Salvation Army today is largely known.
Fourthly, they trained huge numbers of very young leaders and sent them into new areas to open Salvation Army ‘Corps’.
Fifthly, their prayer meetings, and even their Sunday meetings were marked by spiritual power. They were dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and didn’t shy away from what may appear to outsiders as overt displays of emotion.
Phenomenal Growth As a result of these (and other) factors, the Salvation Army grew at a phenomenal rate.
Norris Magnuson writes,
William Booth commanded fewer than 100 British Isles stations in 1878, but two decades later his world-wide organization numbered about 3500 posts, and by 1904 there were more than 7000. Though the founder died in 1912, rapid growth continued; 4600 new corps came into being during the thirteen years immediately following his death. This long-term expansion drew repeated praise from such leaders of American social Christianity as Josiah Strong and Charles Stetzle. The former, writing in the early 1890s, declared that the Army’s ‘amazing success,’ which would have been ‘phenomenal in any class of society,’ was in fact more amazing because it had occurred among those whom the churches had ‘conspicuously failed to reach.’
Throughout the era before World War I, neither William Booth nor his Army lost the fervor for evangelism that had driven the founder into the slums of East London. If anything, it increased across the years. ‘Souls! Souls! Souls!’ was the headline in one issue of the War Cry, and those words and spirit were everywhere in evidence. George Railton, in an article written during his brief foray in America, declared that ‘this willingness to sever ourselves, if needs be, from the whole world, in order to save somebody,’ to ‘plunge down to the very depths of human contempt,’ was ‘the essence of the life of Jesus Christ.’ [i]
As I read such reports from the Christianity of yesterday, I am convinced I should be, by the grace of God, doing more to serve others today.
How about you?
To read a guest post by a Salvation Army leader on Catherine Booth, click here
To read the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
The Secret History of the Salvation Army (part three)
It is well known that John Wesley and George Whitefield attended an all-night prayer meeting during which the Holy Spirit was poured out in such power that several men fell to the ground. They were overwhelmed by the power of God. They were filled with the Spirit. And then 1739 happened.
It’s not as well known that the early Salvation Army experienced very similar outpourings of the Spirit.
Sanctifying Power The Salvationists were taken with the theology of the Wesleyans, that a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit after conversion imparts a degree of spiritual holiness. Different views exist on that point. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is that they were indeed receiving power to witness, and that their witness for Christ spread rapidly throughout Great Britain, and before long, the world.
One all-night prayer meeting is described in The Happy Warrior, Humphrey Wallis’s biography of Elijah Cadman:
At one o’clock in the morning the Holy Sprit came upon us, and suddenly thirty fell down and cried out to God for the Blessing of a Clean Heart. Some lay as though they were dead for a time. Oh, may God give us more and more of His Sanctifying Power, the complete armour for the people of The Salvation Army.’[i]
Glory Fits Obviously during the Victorian period, as in all others, people had distressing seizures which were popularly referred to as ‘fits’. Medical professionals were called upon to diagnose and treat the patients. These were, of course, distressing. When the primarily working class Salvationists began to be overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit in their meetings, they, rather endearingly and humorously, referred to these spiritual experiences as ‘glory fits’.
A gathering characterised by such experiences was also sometimes referred to as a ‘Hallelujah Wind-up’ because the atmosphere became so intense until release came through shouting, loud praying, singing, or by people running or jumping up and down (If you’re not sure about the phrase ‘wind-up’, which is still in use today, it refers to the tension created by winding up a watch or clock until almost at breaking point. Nowadays, it tends to refer to something that is increasingly irritating).
This was the hour when the phenomena characterizing the…first years of The Salvation Army – phenomena that has never wholly vanished – reappeared in a more extensive manner.
The course of the regular Meetings bean to be interrupted by Salvationists falling into ‘Glory Fits.’ In one of Elijah’s Meetings at Bradford ‘about a hundred persons were in ‘Glory Fits.’ Soldiers came up to Officers to say, “I don’t believe in this,” and while speaking fell under the strange manifestation of the Divine Presence.’
The ‘Glory Fits’ were ecstasies during which the individuals affected were insensible, usually silent, and remained thus for one, or many hours. All ages and both sexes were included in the cases. The prostrations were commoner in Holiness services and nights of prayer. Medical and other means devised to control or restrict the symptoms were useless. The condition was not contagious or always recurrent. Those beside or near a Salvationist experiencing the ecstasy were not similarly moved or sympathetic, and those who had been once in the state were often immune from a repetition.
People fell suddenly where they stood or sat, many crying out, as with a last breath, ‘Glory to God!’ On returning to consciousness, no coherent account was given of what had taken place. A few described their withdrawal from material sense as ‘bliss’, ‘great happiness’, ‘like Paradise’, ‘walking into Heaven in a rainbow’, ‘joy the body was unable to bear’, and a ‘sense of the love and glory of Christ’.
Said Elijah: ‘I have seen them lying about all over the platform and Hall, but never once in an unseemly posture. Their bodies were, as a rule, quite stiff. We had our own people carry them out of the Meeting – that was the strict regulation – and take every precaution for them. Men carried men and women carried women. They were placed in different ante-rooms adjoining the Halls, and several elderly, trusted Soldiers of the same sex left in charge till they recovered. Frequently doctors attended them. None ever became indisposed, ill, or died. It was often the most peaceful and composed of our people who were affected. There were never, in my experience of the “Glory Fits” any warning signs. A Meeting might be ‘hard’, that is, very difficult to pray in and to get others to pray; a lot of sinners making trouble, perhaps, and then, in an instant, the Power of God would descend on us, sinners be hushed into awe, and be overcome by the sense of His Majesty and His Love, through His Son, to us all, and all the world.
Sometimes we leaders would beseech Him to withhold His gift, that the people might not be alarmed, and that those in ignorance of Him might be prevented from sinning by spreading false reports.
I have led Meetings where the Holy Spirit was manifest in such power that half the soldiers present were in “Glory Fits” and I had to cling, nearly helpless, to the platform rail, lifting my heart and crying inwardly all the time to God to shepherd my people. Conversions always took place in such Meetings.’[ii]
Knowing history can help us evaluate contemporary experience
I recently heard a pastor ridiculing similar experiences of the Holy Spirit because he observed it merely left believers feeling loved and not empowered for fruitful mission. Love is important, of course, but let’s not rubbish outpourings of the Spirit because some (and even some leaders) fail to emphasise the missional purpose of such outpourings. The evidence of the early Methodists and the early Salvationists suggests such outpourings were the dynamic cause of their missional work.
To read the next post, on how they then experienced nothing short of phenomenal growth, click here
For the first post in the Salvation Army Series click here To see part one of the ‘secret history’ click here
I’m currently busy writing a Good Friday service for a Christian congregation in Cape Town’s central business district. The service will include a string quartet playing five short but beautiful classical pieces (including Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais), and a selection of poetry by Eliot, Phillis Wheatley, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others.
As part of my preparation I’ve been reading Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba’s American Religious Poems (a title my wife struggled to believe was real. ‘Didn’t they want to sell any?’ etc).
Still very much in the early section of the anthology, where the quality isn’t consistently high, I came across a little gem that struck me as very clever and remarkably disciplined.
John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams? Now, was he a President or a leader in the Revolutionary War? I couldn’t quite recall (the American revolution never having been a substantive part of a British education). It was his dad, John Adams, the first vice-President (to Washington) and the second President of the US, who was the philosophical revolutionary. Both father and son were intellectuals, both Harvard graduates, and both men of prayer. In fact, when John Adams took up residence in the White House, writing to his wife, he says, ‘Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.’[i]
Son was to follow father to the White House several years later, but John Quincy did not enjoy his four-year term. He was something of an eccentric, known for bathing naked in the Potomac River[ii], highly disciplined, a bit grumpy, but he began every day by reading his Bible. And he wrote many poems and hymns.
This poem is his adaptation of Psalm 139.
O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes O Lord, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts, arise
Alike disclosed to thee:
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon, and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup,
Are open to Thy sight.
Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy heavy hand:
Such knowledge is for me too high,
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy Spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?
If I ascend to heaven on high,
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning’s wings, and fly
O’er ocean’s bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night—
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.
When Adams’ wife heard that their pastor was preparing a hymn-book for use in the congregation she showed him Adams’ adaptations of the psalms and, to his delight, some were included.
The former president couldn’t hide his joy and wrote, ‘Mr. Lunt preached this morning, Eccles. III, 1. For everything there is a season. He had given out as the first hymn to be sung [from] the Christian Psalter, his compilation and the hymn-book now used in our church. It was my version of the 65th Psalm; and no words can express the sensations with which I heard it sung. Were it possible to compress into one pulsation of the heart the pleasure which, in the whole period of my life, I have enjoyed in praise from the lips of mortal man, it would not weigh a straw to balance the ecstasy of delight which streamed from my eyes as the organ pealed and the choir of voices sung the praise of Almighty God from the soul of David, adapted to my native tongue by me.’[iii]
I’m not sure why I am surprised to discover that those who are, or who have been, in public office should spend quality time creating verse, but it is a practice worth commending.
An adventure in the world’s most beautiful city.[i] In November 1875 three Christian believers met for prayer in Long Street, Cape Town. They wanted to start a church.
After getting some advice they wrote to CH Spurgeon in London, who had begun a Pastor’s training college, and asked if he could send someone to lead the church-planting initiative. Spurgeon responded warmly and selected William Hamilton.
Hamilton was clearly a leader amongst his peers and committed to evangelism. It was said of him, a ‘harmony between Calvinistic theology, evangelical activism, and Christian piety was a characteristic feature of Mr Hamilton’s ministry.’
On the basis of this faith-filled request from just three Christians, Hamilton got organised and set sail from London.
The first Baptists had arrived in 1820 and had begun congregations in Grahamstown and other places. William Hamilton’s arrival represented a possible breakthrough in Cape Town itself.
Three months at sea After a three-month voyage, he arrived in Cape Town in November 1876 (a full year after Spurgeon received the letter of request). It’s difficult to imagine what a three-month journey by ship must have been like. Today, as we consider missionary travels in the 19th century, we probably ought to be a little more gracious at the occasional forty-minute delay before our 12 hour flights from Cape Town to Europe.
Hamilton held a meeting on the 12th November in the Temperance Hall, Long Street which gathered 60 curious people.
The church was constituted on the 19th November 1876 when just nine people agreed to become members by signing this covenant statement:
‘We do hold that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be our only rule of faith and guidance. The Scriptures teach the doctrines of the Trinity, man’s fall, redemption by the substitution of the Son of God, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit; the final judgement of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; the eternal reward of the righteous and eternal punishment of the wicked. While God, in His sovereign mercy, can call whom he will, the world is invited to embrace the Gospel. The Church of Christ, as set forth in the New Testament, is composed of those who trust alone to Christ for salvation, profess His name before the world, and obey the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We shall endeavour to the utmost of our ability to further the cause of God among us by fervent prayer, diligent attendance on the means of grace, pecuniary assistance in support of the Ministry, and by trying to get others to attend the house of God.’
Soon the church grew and Hamilton was formally appointed as Pastor.
Regular prayer meetings were held in a ‘portrait saloon’ in Caledon St, and Sunday services were started in the Oddfellows’ Hall in Plein Street.
Fruitfulness in evangelism
Hamilton’s evangelistic zeal bore much fruit in Cape Town. Twenty-six conversions were reported as having taken place at one evening meeting.
After a few years the church had grown to such an extent that they were able to build their first church facility. The site they chose was in Wale Street. The construction of the building took a while but was finally completed in 1882. I had discovered this building before relocating to Cape Town in my copy of Spurgeon’s The Sword and the Trowel.
Here is Spurgeon’s announcement of the completion of the Wale Street building:
The text, written by Spurgeon, reads: ‘Most of our readers must be familiar with the story of Mr. Hamilton’s work in Cape Town; for our pages have often contained notices of his self-denying and arduous labours. Leaving the Pastors’ College in 1876, he accepted an invitation from a small company of baptized believers, who desired to form a church upon what they considered the principles of the New Testament. For some years, in various halls and with varying success, the work was prosecuted with great vigour; and at last on March 9th, 1882, the pastor had the inexpressible delight of preaching in the new chapel, of which an engraving is given above.’
Spurgeon later said of Hamilton, ‘He has accomplished marvels, and has often made our heart to sing for joy.’ [ii]
It was also said of him, ‘He was quite something new in the religious world of the Cape. He was unconventional both in dress and manner, and of boundless zeal and energy. He got quickly to work, and found quite a number of people interested in his mission.’ [iii]
Hamilton not only preached in the city centre but also in the suburbs.
As I searched in the National Archives, at the National Library, and online not only did I discover Hamilton’s amazing story, but also that it was his preaching that led to formation of Wynberg Baptist Church. That was of particular interest because in 1983 a number of idealistic young people from Wynberg Baptist Church launched out and began what was to become Jubilee Community Church.
So, in a very real sense – in a manner where you can trace a direct connection – the roots of both Jubilee Community Church and Cape Town Baptist Church go back to the pioneer evangelist William Hamilton.
The congregation outgrew the Wale Street building and, in the middle of the last century, moved to a site that stretches between Kloof and Orange Street where they enjoyed decades of fruitful ministry until falling somewhat into decline. The pastor and congregation reached out to the leadership of Jubilee to see if we could join hands and enter a new season of revitalisation and growth. Amazingly, the collaboration has worked and has become a story of unity, peace and strength which we trust will benefit the city.
The continuity of our history, the strength of two churches coming, as it were, back together; of 140 years of faithful prayer and evangelism, should give us an awareness of the faithfulness of God, and a momentum that is from God. The strong encouragements we have received from former members of the two Baptist congregations that met on this site have been overwhelming. The present congregation feels as though we are being carried by generations of prayers, of faith, of giving, of longing.
We are not merely having a go at something in the city-centre. God is at work!
This is a new beginning. We are trusting God to enable us to renovate the larger auditorium space and grow beyond our current 180-200 or so up to a significant size that will be a blessing to the city and a testimony to God’s grace (by end 2018 the congregation had grown to 250-270).
Spurgeon wrote to Hamilton several times. As far as we know, no letter has been preserved (one letter from Spurgeon was stolen from the church minutes). But I discovered a line from one of Spurgeon’s letters to Hamilton which simply said, ‘My heart is thoroughly with your work.’
God Gives Growth
This is not a story about dead heroes. Paul reminds us that one plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3). And it’s God who has preserved this city-centre space for the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, on the 19th November 2016 – the 140th anniversary – we gave thanks, because we’re not only part of a current expression of the church in Cape Town, we’re also joining with one hundred and forty years of history in our city, and we’re joyfully aligning ourselves with the faithfulness of a gracious God.
I’m about to move my office out of a suburb of Cape Town into the city centre. It’s an exciting time. We’re launching a congregation of Jubilee Community Church in the heart of Cape Town and we’re ready to go!
There has been, in recent years, a much-needed focus on cities. Christians have been moving steadily away from the city centres and into the suburbs, often leaving the city without a strong witness.
Yet, we’re told, that the creative culture-making heartbeat (the heart that sends its influence to the rest of our culture) is right back in the place the believers left. If we reach the cities (so the argument goes) there will be a ‘trickle down’ effect that will effect the rest of society.
Small Town Jesus by Donnie Griggs is a robust response. Griggs, who pastors a large church in Morehead City, North Carolina (a town of about nine thousand) raises a banner for the myriad of small towns that may, therefore, seem less significant.
While not denying the importance of cities, he makes a plea for the importance of mission to smaller towns. He speaks from his own experience of being known and getting to know the folk in Morehead, while seeking to build a church that cares for its community and is engaged in a wider mission.
Now, why would I spend time reading a book devoted to mission in small towns when I am about to relocate my work space into the heart of the world’s most beautiful city (I could easily support that assertion with sources, but it’s just a fact).
And – I’ll go further – why am I recommending this book to you, whatever size town you’re in, but especially if you live in a city?
Being a Good Local Simply for this reason: that I have realised, both as I’ve been traveling into the city regularly over the last year, and as I’ve read Donnie’s book, that, in my section of the city centre, I need to become a local.
That’s not something we tend to think of in our cities. We have the dubious luxury of being anonymous much of the time. We expect speed. We expect quality. If something’s not good we complain. And we complain properly. We’ll put a bad review online. We’re helping raise standards by complaining. Griggs has a technical term for this that’s worth remembering. It is called ‘being a jerk’. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to change.
Here are a few pointers Griggs gives for being a good local in a small town. I want to encourage you to take these on board in your locality especially if you’re in the city centre. And feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below. Let’s learn from each other.
Your reputation matters in a small town Things are really close in a village or town. Yet, in the city, you can also develop a different kind of reputation by deliberately seeking to serve those around your work space. Be different from those who rush by. Do good in the city. Be honest. Build a good reputation by being consistently compassionate.
Learn to Enjoy Small Talk In the city, people are often in a rush. But people are also incredibly lonely. Slow down and look around. You’ll see lots of people who are alone and who would benefit from your friendship. Cape Town is not a European city. It is an African city with a lot of Europe in it. People are very open to making connections. There’s a warmth that you sometimes don’t feel in a European city. Griggs writes, that ‘always acting like you have somewhere better to be will eventually lead to unnecessarily offending’ people. That’s good for your city too, even if the rush is tolerated.
Shop Local as much as possible He writes, ‘I would encourage you to see shopping local as an opportunity to become a good local.’ Whether it’s caterers, lunchtime appointments in the city, printing, or just where you regularly purchase coffee or church refreshments, I want the businesses in my section of Cape Town to know we’re part of the neighbourhood. We’re buying local and eating local because we are local. Griggs talks a lot about loving local food and then there’s a whole section about soft-shell crabs. Normally you’d expect an editor’s intervention but these guys in Morehead City love their soft-shell crabs.
Don’t be a Jerk (It’s worth mentioning again) He prefaces this section helpfully by noting, ‘I’m not saying that everyone who lives in a big city is a jerk.’ Followed by the word, ‘But…’ and then so helpfully corrects how, even we as Christians, can act in an unnecessarily discourteous way when dealing with folks in a city.
But, ‘in a small town, you should take every opportunity to be kind and courteous.’
There’s a danger in city life because we probably won’t see a person again, and can therefore treat them with less respect than they deserve, especially if they’re serving us poorly. In a small town our bad responses will get known very quickly. But that behaviour is no less acceptable in the city. And will also be known. You reap what you sow. As in the town and suburb, so in the city, a Christian’s rudeness can have a deadening effect on mission.
Be a Blessing I am taking this on board for our city site: ‘When considering how you can engage the culture of your small town with the gospel, please don’t just settle for contextualized church programs and church facilities. Love where you live and serve where you live. Let everyone know that you really care about them, whether they come to your church or not.’
Donnie has written a highly readable book with a great and simple message: be a blessing to your town. Be deliberate and consistent.
I want to add that, if you’re in the city, see your section of the city, whether you work there each day, or whether you live there, as your own locality, your own small town within the city, and act accordingly.
The Salvation Army were a passionate, experience-focussed, transformative force in the Victorian world.
Ever wondered why the motto was ‘Blood and Fire’? Was that just because those are battle-sounding words and would suggest a military style resolve?
That was partly true. But actually they were carefully chosen for theological reasons.
The blood referred to the centrality of the death of Christ on the cross. This was to be preached always and everywhere. The blood of Jesus was able to cleanse the worst sinner from their sin. Most modern-day Christians would probably guess that connection without knowing the history.
But what’s the fire? And why is it side by side with the blood?
The fire referred to the Holy Spirit appearing ‘as tongues of fire’ upon the early believers on the day of Pentecost. This fire was a current reality, to be received and experienced then and there by Salvationists or anyone who was seeking God in their meetings.
Understandably, among the Victorian church leaders, it was the fire that caused more problems. Mainstream leaders could just about tolerate working class people preaching about the cross and even hell, but the prospect of people attending meetings where they might act (or possibly be encouraged to act) in an undignified way was unacceptable.
What was going on? There’s no soft approach into the descriptions of these meetings. Harold Begbie, in his two-volume biography of William Booth, interviewed Bramwell (Booth’s son and successor) about this business of ‘the fire’.
From an early date, some Salvation Army meetings were characterised by people having dramatic spiritual experiences. It is worth noting that neither William nor Bramwell tried to shut these meetings down, or restrict the possibility of these things happening. In fact, they became part of the movement across Britain.
The Booths didn’t encourage a free-for-all, but within the highly structured context of their organisation they believed people were truly meeting with God.
[Bramwell] describes how men and women would suddenly fall flat upon the ground, and remain in a swoon or trance for many hours, rising at last so transformed by joy that they could do nothing but shout and sing in an ecstasy of bliss…
He saw bad men and women stricken suddenly with an overmastering despair, flinging up their arms, uttering the most terrible cries, and falling backward, as if dead–supernaturally convinced of their sinful condition.
The floor would sometimes be crowded with men and women smitten down by a sense of overwhelming spiritual reality, and the workers of the Mission would lift their fallen bodies and carry them to other rooms, so that the Meetings might continue without distraction. Doctors were often present at these gatherings.
Conversions took place in great numbers; the evangelists of the Mission derived strength and inspiration for their difficult work; and the opposition of the world only deepened the feeling of the more enthusiastic that God was powerfully working in their midst.[i]
And there’s more. But let’s ease into these startling phenomena one step at a time…
To read more about the amazing power of the Spirit at this time, click here
For the first instalment of the Salvation Army Story click here
I fell in love with the Salvation Army nearly thirty years ago.
My affection arose from two main causes. First, the whole body of that church movement were consistently committed to evangelism. Everyone was involved. Everyone was on mission. They believed they had found the key to transformation – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because every person needs what Jesus Christ offers they were unrelentingly merciful.
Secondly, their commitment to alleviating the plight of the poor and their commitment to issues of social justice; whether clothing someone or launching a rival match making factory which didn’t poison the workers.
The unashamed combination of those two impulses was utterly inspiring (the match factory produced boxes of matches called ‘Lights in Darkest England’).
But beyond my admiration for the range of their engagements and their tenacity, a number of questions inevitably arose.
How did this Christian movement so effectively reach those that ‘normal’ churches were largely failing to reach?
How did they manage to draw the commitment of a myriad of volunteers and produce sustainable NGOs to meet such a variety of needs?
How were they able to go into cities, towns and even villages and preach with unswerving boldness, a raw, compassionate, come-to-Christ-now message, and see thousands converted?
And, in the face of bitter, violent opposition, what was the secret of their battlefield bravery?
Hallelujah wind-ups and glory fits As I continued to read extensively, and particularly the early material, I found a few clues.
Have you ever heard of a ‘Hallelujah Wind-Up’? That was the name given to a moment in a meeting so charged with spiritual vitality that the spring almost breaks and catapults workers out into the harvest? No? Neither had I.
Shhh…let’s not speak too loudly of what Salvationists would affectionately refer to as ‘Glory fits.’
Hilarious and intriguing. Hallelujah wind-ups; glory fits. This quintessentially Victorian working-class movement developed wonderfully non-religious sounding names for their experiences in prayer.
In these next few posts, we’ll dust off the old books and visit the early days that were so full of power. And we’ll find a source of power that Bramwell Booth considered to be the very same dynamic manifest on the day of Pentecost.[i]
Warning! In reviving these stories, I’m not suggesting we imitate styles or phrases, nor are we looking for a formula. Terms and Conditions apply. However, if you are a Christian, you may experience a thirst for a new season of refreshing and empowering. May it carry us to the place of persistent prayer.
‘Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.’ Psalm 68:28
To read the next post, on the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit, click here
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here
In 1880 William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, was invited to speak at the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in the UK.
This was a generous invitation since it was well known that he had left Methodism to begin a more rigorous evangelistic ministry. Although he had been operating independently for several years, his organisation had only formally adopted the name The Salvation Army three years earlier.
During his message to the conference he explained the impulse that created his evangelism and church-planting movement and gave four keys to their continued success.
A Gospel emphasis that drew non-believers and leaders to the work ‘I was told that ninety-five in every hundred of the population of our larger towns and cities never crossed the threshold of any place of worship, and I thought, ‘Cannot something be done to reach these people with the Gospel?’
Fifteen years ago I thus fell in love with the great crowds of people who seemed to be out of the pale of all Christian Churches. It seemed to me that if we could get them to think about Hell they would be certain to want to turn from it. If we could get them to think about Heaven they would want to go there. If we could get them to think about Christ they would want to rush to His open arms.
I resolved to try, and ‘The Salvation Army’ is the outcome of that resolution. In August, 1877, we had 26 Stations. We have now, in 1880, 162. In 1877, we had 35 Evangelists. We have now 285 Evangelists, or, as we now call them, Officers, and in many instances they have the largest audiences in the towns where they are at work.
We have got all those Officers without any promise or guarantee of salary, and without any assurance that when they reach the railway station to which they book they will find anybody in the town to sympathise with them. The bulk would cheerfully and gladly go anywhere.’
Key #1 The Gospel to the needy ‘If asked to explain our methods, I would say: Firstly, we do not fish in other people’s waters, or try to set up a rival sect. Out of the gutters we pick up our converts, and if there be one man worse than another our Officers rejoice the most over the case of that man.
When a man gets saved, no matter how low he is, he rises immediately. His wife gets his coat from the pawn-shop, and if she cannot get him a shirt she buys him a paper front, and he gets his head up, and is soon unable to see the hole of the pit from which he has been digged, and would like to convert our rough [meeting place] into a chapel, and make things respectable. That is not our plan. We are moral scavengers, netting the very sewers. We want all we can get, but we want the lowest of the low.’
Key #2 Contextualisation and flexibility ‘Secondly. We get at these people by adapting our measures.
There is a most bitter prejudice, amongst the lower classes, against churches and chapels. I am sorry for this; I did not create it, but it is the fact. They will not go into a church or chapel; but they will go into a theatre or warehouse, and therefore we use these places.
In one of our villages we use the pawnshop, and they gave it the name of ‘The Salvation Pawnshop,’ and many souls were saved there.
Let me say that I am not the inventor of all the strange terms that are used in The Army. I did not invent the term ‘Hallelujah Lassies.’ When I first heard of it I was somewhat shocked; but telegram after telegram brought me word that no buildings would contain the people who came to hear the Hallelujah Lassies. Rough, uncouth fellows liked the term. One had a lassie at home, another went to hear them because he used to call his wife ‘Lassie’ before he was married. My end was gained, and I was satisfied.’
Key #3 Getting new believers involved immediately in evangelism ‘Thirdly. We set the converts to work.
As soon as a man gets saved we put him up to say so, and in this testimony lies much of the power of our work.
One of our lassies was holding a meeting in a large town the other day when a conceited fellow came up to her saying, ‘What does an ignorant girl like you know about religion? I know more than you do. I can say the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.’ ‘Oh, but,’ she replied, ‘I can say more than that. I can say the Lord has saved my soul in English.”
[This comment caused loud laughter and cheering in the meeting]
Key #4 Hard work ‘Lastly, we succeed by dint of hard work. I tell my people that hard work and holiness will succeed anywhere.’[i]
Booth as a multi-site church leader If Booth’s Salvation Army ‘stations’ in London alone were considered congregations of a multi-site church we would be celebrating him as the pastor of the largest protestant church in the 19th century.
That, of course, wasn’t his goal. He was determined to see more stations planted and more of those outside the orbit of the church’s influence coming into a relationship with God and a transformed life.
Getting the gospel to those who need it; being flexible in our strategies; including new converts in evangelism; working hard to keep moving forward into the mission.
Of course, more than these four principles were necessary to form a church-planting movement. And more than these are necessary for growing a healthy church. But how are you applying these four in your setting?
The Salvation Army in Canada Before long, the Salvationists were spreading. If they were determined enough to try the zaniest ideas on British audiences, they were willing to travel long distances to take their message elsewhere.
I read this short account of the work of Abbie Thompson in 1883. She was a 19yr old Salvation Army Captain who sought to bring the gospel to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I’ll let the statement stand on its own, except to give a brief introduction by quoting from two contemporary sources, both of which are hilarious.
The Salvation Army had already ‘opened fire’ in Canada, and were not altogether well received. Their youthful working-class roots were difficult to conceal and some didn’t like it. After all, the two founding officers were still teenagers.
On November 8th 1882, the Toronto Globe recorded,
Rev Mr.Bray of Montreal, is opposed to The Salvation Army and its methods. The Reverend gentleman particularly objects to the hymnology of the Army, portions of which contain, in his opinion, very little of religious fervour. Certainly it is hardly possible to escape the conclusion that there is something irreverent in the hymn, "Elijah was a jolly old man, and was carried off to heaven in a fiery van." Yet its intent is good. It is designed to convey to the untutored mind a biblical truth in language suited to the capacities of the persons on whose behalf The Salvation Army labours.
Abbie Thompson made her first appearance in 1883. The Toronto Mail actually made reference to her arrival:
(Kingston) This morning a trunk arrived from the Cape upon which were written the words ”Captain Abbie Thompson” “Hallelujah” “Fire”. The Customs officer eyed it suspiciously, and thought of dynamite, infernal machines, and fenians. He refused to search it, and ordered its removal to the warehouse to await its owner.[i]
12,000 attending each night! Richard Collier puts this early work in Canada in a condensed but baffling paragraph:
And Canada, where two like-minded pioneers had begun on their own initiative, needed organisers too. From May, 1882, when Jack Addie, an eighteen-year-old dry goods salesman and Joe Ludgate, a clothes presser, paraded the streets of London, Ontario, in blue tunics and helmets like British bobbies, The Army’s cause spread like fire under a leaning wind. At Bowmanville, where every leading citizen became a local officer, new ordinances soon forbade men swearing in the streets. At Guelph, one-ninth of the entire population were Salvationists. When Captain “Hallelujah Abbie” Thompson, a vivacious nineteen-year-old brunette, began drawing crowds of 12,000 a night, a sharp-witted Kingston, Ontario, cosmetics manufacturer was quick to cash in. Swiftly he launched a new line in toiletries – “Hallelujah Abbie Soap.”[ii]
Booth seemed entirely confident in his young, energetic, working-class leaders. And their ability to attract large crowds is almost baffling. Perhaps we are too keen to polish up our new leaders or wait a little too long. Perhaps we could learn a little from history and release more of that youthful energy into ministry (just wait ‘til we get to Spurgeon).
To read the next post, on William Booth’s four keys to church growth, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
How will they hear without a preacher?
Paul’s stirring exhortation to evangelism in Romans 10[i] was deeply woven into every aspect of the early Salvation Army.
William Booth and Elijah Cadman aimed to build an evangelistically vigorous organisation. Their approach wasn’t based on the ‘openness’ of the non-believers they felt called to serve. And Booth wasn’t sympathetic to his leaders’ complaints about this or that town being a ‘hard place’. Rather, they should use every possible means to reach people with the gospel.
Why should the devil have all the good tunes? The development of decent musical bands was a key to their success. Rather than just ‘giving out a hymn’ a cappella as the older Methodists would do, the Salvationists developed bands that could quickly draw a crowd.
The music was modern, and the musicians often shamelessly (and humorously) replaced the words of popular music-hall and pub songs with Christian lyrics.
A famous example was ‘Storm the Forts of Darkness, Bring them Down’ which had replaced the well-known, ‘Here’s to Good Old Whisky, Knock it Down!’ (See below if you’re interested in the songs) [ii]
Today there’d be questions about copyright infringement, but when Booth discovered what his musicians were doing, he asked, ‘Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’
By the early 1880s there were 400 Salvation Army bands seeking to gain attention for the evangelistic preaching that would follow.
Getting the attention of the uninterested masses But the evangelists didn’t rely on music – they would try just about anything to get a hearing.
Richard Collier in his classic biography of Booth, The General Next to God, lists just some Salvation Army strategies.[iii] In considering these we mustn’t miss the underlying determination of this missional movement to reach those who would never come to church.
Having said that, a ‘Do not try this at home’ notice is probably advisable. Sometimes ‘Dodgy’ was the order of the day.
First up, something that shocked Booth: the announcement to come and watch ‘The Hallelujah Lasses’. Collier writes, ‘No building on Tyneside could contain the crowds flocking to hear “The Hallelujah Lasses.” Miners and dock-workers, used to calling their own wives “lassie” were moved to hear more about this strange new religion.’
Lieutenant Theodore Kitching rode into Scarborough on a crimson-draped donkey while ringing the school bell to get a crowd. Sometimes he attended the open-air meetings disguised, and in full make-up, as a drunk to create a scene.
Jumping off the Pier! Captain John Lawley dived – mid-sermon – into the sea from a pier, in order to illustrate the ‘boundless ocean of God’s love’. He carried on preaching from the sea.
James Dowdle, the six-foot ‘Saved Railway Guard’, slammed his violin case down on a busy sidewalk and shouted, ‘Stand back! It might go off!’ Then as people gathered he opened it slowly, took out the violin and played. [NOT recommended today in almost any context anywhere in the world!]
One Salvationist toured the streets dressed as John the Baptist; bearded, robed, bare-footed and all. Today we’d just think he was a hipster going to get his morning Latte.
One former violent criminal, dressed again in his prison clothes and preached in the street.
The Lingerie Lasses! Not to be outdone, the Hallelujah Lasses ‘drew record crowds parading the streets wearing their nightgowns over their uniforms’. Collier says Booth suggested it.[iv] That’s an odd one.
In Leicester, Captain William Corbridge handed out realistic-looking railway tickets which read, ‘Hallelujah Railway – Leicester to Heaven’.
One led a live calf through the street, some beat frying pans with rolling-pins. One nutcase spent a week of winter evening lying silently in the snow, and, at the end of the week, when a large crowd had gathered around him jumped up to and preached the gospel.
Raising the Dead! Some carried a coffin through the town. Once they had gained a sympathetic crowd they then scared the life out of them by having the man inside the coffin suddenly throw open the lid, sit up and preach the resurrection to them.
This sounds crazy, but one genuinely huge Victorian celebrity was a Salvation Army leader called Eliza, a ‘factory girl’ from Nottingham, who would ride through the streets with streamers trailing from her hair and clothes and proclaiming ‘I am Happy Eliza!’ There were even sweets named after her. But maybe more about her later.
These determined evangelists rented huge billboards to advertise their meetings, and also spoke one-on-one to thousands.
We may not imitate their methods but surely, Pastors, in a day when apathy is the norm, we ought to imitate their faith?[v]
To read the next post, on thousands gathering to the gospel in Canada, click here
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here