I lead The Message Trust in Manchester and as we’ve grown over the last couple of decades lots of people have said that we are a bit like a modern day Salvation Army. They see that we share their passion for prayer, creative mission and special focus on blessing the poor and the marginalised.
Perhaps it’s because they have heard that my great grandfather, Captain Robert Hawthorne, was one of the Salvation Army’s first missionaries to India – whatever the reason, I always say: “We long to be. But honestly we are not.”
We can’t hold a candle to those radical revival days of the Army at the end of the 19th century when hundreds of thousands of street people were swept into the kingdom, even resulting in crime stopping for a period in some of our great cities.
The big question of course is could it happen again? My answer is unquestionably yes. Obviously a movement like this only happens if God chooses to make it happen. But if we gave ourselves to the things William Booth and his friends gave themselves to, especially in terms of their incredible passion for souls, then I believe it would happen in our time.
“First and foremost we are a salvation movement,” was Booth’s mantra.
In the midst of rolling out hospitals, orphanages, schools and businesses to bless the poor, he knew his main objective was salvation. He called it: “the surest and shortest cut to civilisation.”
How amazing if more leaders in our day could become similarly obsessed. It’s easy to look credible and successful when, if we are not careful, we are just doing the government’s work for them on the cheap and with any mention of Jesus carefully removed in order not to cause offence.
Booth knew there is a gospel imperative to materially help the poor, but he also knew that the only hope of real transformation of society was through transformed hearts, transformed by Christ.
His meetings always included the invitation to the ‘mercy seat’ as they called it; this meant inviting people to surrender their lives to Christ publicly. Fascinatingly, around 150 years later the churches that are still growing fastest in our nation are not the ones with the best social programmes or smartest facilities, but those that relentlessly and relevantly preach the gospel with clarity and have the faith to put out the invitation week in, week out to respond to that gospel message publicly.
Recently, at The Message, we have launched what we are calling The Higher Tour through which over the next few years our teams, in partnership, will visit many hundreds of secondary schools and some of our nations’ biggest venues in order to spread the good news.
One of our team had a fascinating conversation with a senior Christian leader in the build up to the Manchester leg, where this leader pretty much turned down the opportunity to partner and asked us: “Isn’t this going after souls all a bit Victorian?”
When I heard this all I could think was I certainly hope so, especially if the remarkable transformation that Booth saw in Victorian times could be seen in our day!
Of course, we must be relevant and contemporary, and some may question why the Salvation Army are still using their brass bands today. But we must beware of going to the opposite extreme, however.
We must not become so politically correct or seemingly relevant that we stop unleashing the most powerful force in the universe. That force is the preached gospel. And it’s still strong enough to change the hardest heart and transform the most broken community.