I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment. I seem to go through phases when I can read two or three books in a month and then stop for months on end.
At the moment I’m reading Nigel Bovey’s “The Mercy Seat Revisited” – a revised edition of his earlier book “The Mercy Seat”. It’s fascinating seeing how the Mercy Seat (or Penitent Form) was adopted in The Salvation Army, and how it’s use has evolved over the years. One thing that has struck me whilst reading this has not been particularly specific to the Mercy Seat itself. These statistics speak volumes:
250,000 people knelt at Army Penitent Forms in the period 1881 – 1885… By contrast, first time seekers (those recorded as seeking salvation) in the British Territory 1981 – 1985 totalled 10,668. In 2001, the number of first time seekers in th UK Territory was 695. In 2008, the figure was 261.
The visible, physical response remains hugely important to both those taking their first steps in faith, and those who have been journeying through faith for some time. These stats show a significant decline in the response within TSA. Perhaps it is indicative of another huge aspect facing TSA, certainly in the UK, that of a lack of focus on Salvationism, and perhaps, even Holiness.
The editorial of the 3 January 1959 issue of the Australian War Cry firmly states this (and I totally agree):
The primary aim of Salvationists again this year must be the bringing of sinners to the mercy seat. Every meeting held, every programme presented, every contact made must be a means to is end – the salvation of souls.
Has The Salvation Army just become “The Army”? Have we lost our passion for seeing people saved? How long has it been since we saw Seekers coming to Christ and giving their lives to Him? All that we do should point to Salvationism – to getting people saved.
Yes we need to be a people of Holiness. We need to be discipled; strive to be like Christ. But in being like Christ we need to obey. Jesus’ parting words to His disciples as recorded in the Great Commission in Matthew 28 (NLT) say this:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
When does it become OK to stop striving for bringing people to Christ? When does it become OK to let the Officer’s do the evangelism and not take ownership of this call for all believers? When are we, as an Army, going to behave like an Army in the fight for bringing people into the Kingdon of God. Response to the word of God should be the rule, not the exception.
In our services we should challenge and convict. It’s not about pleasing people (as we can see from Jesus’ own ministry). Sometimes the truth of the Word is hard to take. Let’s stop avoiding that in our meetings, house groups and bible studies. Let’s be true to the Word and allow it to challenge and convict.
A word to those who preach and teach – What’s the point of “keeping it simple” as people like that? If we as an Army are sticking to the easy to explain, and, more importantly, easy to apply to life, then we are failing the people of the Church. More importantly, we are preventing them from having a fuller relationship with Christ. How many of these people will stand before the Throne of judgement and be subjected to Christ’s “I never knew you”. I challenge you to tackle the difficult subjects in life. When did you last hear someone preach about sexual sin, the reality of hell, the call to total obedience? None of these topics will be popular with your congregation, but allowing the Word of God to convict will open up the grace of God in a huge way.
So often I switch over the TV to Joel Osteen preaching a material prosperity message. Well, guess what – that sucks. Nowhere in the word of God does it promise material prosperity. We are promised that our needs will be met, but our human desires remain to be challenged. Guess what – he’s popular. His Church is huge and growing. Shame his message on so much is fundamentally wrong!
Going back to my original point, perhaps that’s why we are failing to see the response to the Gospel in such a way as TSA was 100 years ago. Are we uncompromising with the gospel? Do we pick and choose to avoid Challenging those who are “happy” with the simple stories. Are we complacent?
Would be great to hear your thoughts and experiences.