Catherine Booth – Mother of the Salvation Army

Catherine Booth

by guest writer, Sharon Bussey

‘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?

Sharon Bussey
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)

To read Aggressive Christianity and another articles by Catherine Booth, please click here http://www.salvationfactory.org/catherine-booth-collection/

To read the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here

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Darling, I’ve found my Destiny!

William Booth preaching in a marquee
William Booth preaching in a marquee

1865 is a landmark year for historians, friends and members of the Salvation Army.

It was in July, 1865, that William and Catherine Booth finally moved to the capital city of England and of the British Empire. Catherine had already ministered effectively at an outreach to prostitutes. William was eager to preach the Christian message among those who seemed most resistant to it: the working classes.

The decision was made but the strategy wasn’t yet clear.

Darling, I’ve found my destiny!
Richard Collier, in his superb biography of Booth, The General Next to God, paints Booth’s turning point skilfully:

He came up the Mile End Road, East London … Outside the drab red-brick façade of The Blind Beggar tavern he halted. From beneath his arm he drew a book and … gave out the verse of a hymn.

In an instant faces were glued to the pub’s glass windows; a ragged unwashed throng pressed curiously about the stranger …

‘There is a heaven in East London for everyone,’ they heard him cry, ‘for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Saviour.’

From the pub there came only a spattering volley of jeers and oaths … Then from the rear a rotten egg came whizzing to find its mark and the subtle spell was broken. With the yolk trickling slowly down his pallid cheek the stranger paused, and prayed. Then, pulling his hat over his eyes, he walked rapidly westwards …

Towards midnight, as Catherine later recalled, a key grated abruptly in the lock and Booth, his eyes shining, strode into the living-room.

‘Darling,’ were the first words that burst from his lips, ‘I’ve found my destiny!’[i]

Booth was deeply concerned for the unchurched. Evangelical churches in the city seemed to be doing well, but there was a vast multitude of those who were utterly apathetic about God, faith, or Christian ethics.

More than two-thirds of the working classes never come to church
Booth could see the poverty and the bitterness that went along with it:

The moral degradation and spiritual destitution of the teeming population of the East of London are subjects with which the Christians of the metropolis are perfectly conversant. More than two-thirds of the working-classes never cross the threshold of church or chapel, but loiter away the Sabbath in idleness, spending it in pleasure-seeking or some kind of money-making traffic. Consequently, tens of thousands are totally ignorant of the Gospel; and, as they will not attend the means ordinarily used for making known the love of God towards them, it is evident that if they are to be reached extraordinary methods must be employed.[ii]

Both William and Catherine were extraordinarily hard-working. They rarely seemed to rest. And so, with no regular form of income, William set about organising campaigns, tent missions, evangelistic outreaches ­– irrespective of the likelihood of a positive response.

A passionate determination for mission
His passion and urgency to communicate the love of God to ‘dying men’ became the driving force of the remainder of his life, and of the organisation that would soon come to birth: The Salvation Army.

He later wrote,

When I saw those masses of poor people, so many of them evidently without God or hope in the world, and found that they so readily and eagerly listened to me, following from Open-Air Meeting to tent, and accepting, in many instances, my invitation to kneel at the Saviour’s feet there and then, my whole heart went out to them. I walked back to our West-End home and said to my wife:

‘O Kate, I have found my destiny! These are the people for whose Salvation I have been longing all these years. As I passed by the doors of the flaming gin-palaces to-night (sic) I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, “Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?”

And there and then in my soul I offered myself and you and the children up to this great work. Those people shall be our people, and they shall have our God for their God.’[iii]

Is there such a passion for those who are so indifferent to the Christian message today?

Is there such a longing, such a willingness to sacrifice, to work, to pray, to preach, in order to see lives turn to Christ in our day?

As churches organise for mission in the great cities of the world, may we not take early discouragements to heart. May the great churches in our cities not only focus on those who are already open to our message; may they find a resolve to reach those who have already written Christianity off.

A rotten egg smacked Booth on the side of his face. As he walked home at midnight a conviction was born in his heart – the Gospel must be preached – ‘That night,’ he later declared, ‘The Salvation Army was born.’[iv]

More next time…
To read the whole William Booth story begin here

©2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) 15,19
[ii] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:302
[iii] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 56
[iv] ibid