The Call to Witness and the Call to Preach

The young William Booth
The young William Booth

This passionate exhortation by William Booth has often been misquoted. At least certain punchy phrases have been lifted out of context.

In one sense he hasn’t helped himself by referring to all gospel-sharing as ‘preaching’. But it’s clear that he is differentiating between the general call on every Christian to witness to those who don’t know Christ and the specific call which some experience and which tends to lead them into and confirm them as public preachers and teachers of the Bible.

He is exasperated by the silence of ordinary, good Christians when it comes to evangelism.

While some phrases are certainly clumsy, let’s not miss the passion:

– We need to become aware of those who don’t yet realise that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

– We need to have an appropriate understanding of eternal realities and the eternal consequences of someone’s rejection of Christ.

– We need to become ‘unselfish’ and start serving people evangelistically.

– If the gospel is true, love should compel us to initiate contact, communication, relationships.

– While there is a special call to vocational ‘ministry’ for some, we are all called to ‘preach’ the gospel. For some, even if they haven’t been specially ‘called to ministry’ they can still seek God for it (Booth was always looking for more leaders).

You may not be a Salvationist. You may not like aspects of Booth’s theology. But every Christian should feel stirred and sharpened by Booth’s words:

How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call?
‘How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call, when there are such multitudes around them who never hear a word about God, and never intend to; who can never hear, indeed, without the sort of preacher who will force himself upon them?

Are you spiritually healthy if you have no compassion?
‘Can a man keep right in his own soul, who can see all that, and yet stand waiting for a ‘call’ to preach? Would they wait so for a ‘call’ to help anyone escape from a burning building, or to snatch a sinking child from a watery grave?

Does not growth in grace, or even ordinary growth of intelligence, necessarily bring with it that deepened sense of eternal truths which must intensify the conviction of duty to the perishing world?

Does not an unselfish love, the love that goes out towards the unloving, demand of a truly loving soul immediate action for the salvation of the unloved?

And are there not persons who know that they possess special gifts, such as robust health, natural eloquence or power of voice, which specially make them responsible for doing something for souls?

If you’ve been called by God obey Him!
‘And yet I do not at all forget, that above and beyond all these things, there does come to some a special and direct call which it is particularly fatal to disregard, and peculiarly strengthening to enjoy and act upon.

I believe that there have been many eminently holy and useful men who never had such a call; but that does not at all prevent anyone from asking God for it, or blessing Him for His special kindness when He gives it.’[i]

More next time…

For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here

 

© 2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

 

 

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:84

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