The Secret History of the Salvation Army (part one)

Salvation Army matches (cover)
Salvation Army matches (cover)

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.

An ad for the phosphorous-free Salvation Army matches
An ad for the phosphorus-free Salvation Army matches

The unashamed combination of those two impulses was utterly inspiring (the match factory produced boxes of matches called ‘Lights in Darkest England’).

Salvation Army matches
Salvation Army matches

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

More next time…
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here

©2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:343

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