Can’t we all just get along?

That’s the question Rodney King asked in May of 1992 during the riots that ensued following the acquittal of the police officers who had beaten him the previous year. That question has a renewed application at a time when we are arguing with one another over everything from public health to public safety.

I have engaged in robust conversations with Facebook friends as we seek to discern a Christian perspective on these various matters of contention. These are emotionally laden issues and Christian brothers and sisters do not always agree.

What follows is part of a sermon on Colossians 3:15-24 that I think has something to say about Rodney King’s question, when directed to the Church.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. before the largest crowd that had ever assembled in one place in the USA.  He delivered a speech that inspired those who heard it and still inspires me today every time I watch it on videotape or hear a recording of it.  He said, “…in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’…  I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.”

Nineteen hundred years earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote to a new church in a town in Asia Minor named Colosse.  What Paul says is that God has a “dream.” God says to us, as His church, His special creation, “I have a dream that you will live up to the expectations of brotherhood that I had in mind when I first created you.  I have a dream that the barriers that you —not I —created will be brought down as you let my grace overwhelm your prejudices.”

The Word says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)  We need to be wary of the danger of seeing others from our own human perspective, rather than through the eyes of God: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (II Corinthians 5:16)

There is wonderful diversity in the Church. Yet as we celebrate our diversity, we need to take care to rejoice in the richness of God’s creation, embracing differences as if they were different color threads that when woven together form a beautiful tapestry. We ought not turn our attentions to the ways in which we are different without celebrating the many more ways in which we are the same.

In fact, the point of what Paul wrote to the Colossians is that in Christ the differences disappear.  In Christ we are one —one body, with different members, but all working together for God’s Kingdom.

It is as if Paul were quoting God as saying, “I have a dream that in my Kingdom all of the differences that occupy man’s attention will become totally invisible. I have a dream that the barriers that men use to divide themselves from one another will become meaningless as they embrace their oneness in Christ.  I have a dream that, as people leave the old self of sin behind, the new self of righteousness that they put on will demolish the labels that separate them from one another.”

Look at the barriers that are eliminated in Christ:

I. Race and nation—“neither Greek nor Jew…barbarian, Scythian…”“Different nations, who either despised or hated each other, were all drawn into the one family of the Christian Church.  Nations which would have leaped at each other’s throats in battle sat in peace beside each other at the Table of the Lord.” (Wm. Barclay)

II. Ceremony and ritual—“neither…circumcision nor uncircumcision” We must not allow differences of practice to separate us from others who bow the knee before Jesus.

III. Culture and class—“barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free man.” “The Scythian was the ignorant barbarian of the ancient world; the Greek was the aristocrat of learning.  The uncultured and the cultured came together in the Christian Church.  The greatest scholar in the world and the simplest son of toil in the world can sit in perfect fellowship in the Church of Christ… (Wm. Barclay)

So let’s show the world what God’s special people are like and make God’s dream become a reality:

  •  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  • Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • And … put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I am praying that my brothers and sisters who serve on the front lines of ministry are experiencing this kind of unity as you serve in the strength of the Lord.

            

DO something!

You’ve heard the story: Bramwell Booth went to his father with the alarming realization that homeless men were living under London Bridge. And in response to this description of the sad lot of these forlorn souls, the Founder told Bramwell:

“Prepare a proposal for Mission Alignment Council.  You need to complete a program opening form, complete with Advisory Board and Corps Council Minutes.  You’ll need a Program Study that details the demographic makeup of the target population.  And be sure to include needs assessment surveys conducted by the local social services council.  You’ll need a pro forma operating budget, including letters of support from potential funders.  Don’t forget to have any grant applications pre-approved by Legal, as well as any Memoranda of Understanding you want with other service providers.  We’ll do our best to process everything expeditiously.”

Of course, that’s not what the Founder told Bramwell.  He said, “Do something!”  And that compulsion remains part of our Salvationist DNA, even though the Army has become a large organization working in an increasing complex society.  Lawsuits, insurance premiums, government regulations, etc., etc., etc. have added a level of complexity that sometimes seems daunting.  And it has become the task of DHQ and THQ to attend to these necessary processes of doing business in the modern age while still encouraging the initiative to “do something” to address the needs of our communities.

Truth be told, there are lots of things that any Corps can do — in fact, should do — that don’t require prior HQ approval.  And when approval is needed — for a new community service program, e.g. — DHQ is usually eager to make the process as painless as possible.  Never hesitate to ask your leaders and their staff for assistance; they are there to encourage “doing the most good” where you serve.

In these uncertain times, The Army’s value on active ministry should encourage us to DO whatever we can to fulfill our mission.

And remember, there are lots of us praying for you and encouraging your efforts.

Was William Booth a Socialist?

Remember the WWJD fad? Lots of folks were wearing bracelets and apparel with those four letters: WWJD. “What would Jesus Do?” was a question posed by Charles Sheldon in his short novel “In His Steps.” 

During that time, I seem to recall someone writing a piece asking, “What would William Booth do?” We sometimes love to opine about whether our esteemed founder would be “rolling over in his grave” over things happening in our Army today, or instead celebrating the great accomplishments of an international movement he started in the East End of London.We have Booth’s writings, his actions, and some records of his sermons on which to base our opinion. We are fond of citing quotes like “Go for souls and go for the worst!” or “Do something!” or “My ambition is the souls of men.” But perhaps his most famous quote is one that some historians claim he did not actually use in his Farewell Address at Royal Albert Hall in 1912:

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight!

While little children go hungry, as they do now,  I’ll fight!

While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight!

While there is a drunkard left, While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight!

I’ll fight to the very end!” 

This is a call to social action! Consider the actions he took: he mobilized public support with newspaper publisher W.T. Stead to get Parliament to outlaw child prostitution by raising the age of consent. He opened a match factory to contest the occupational hazard of “phossy jaw.” He wrote the book “In Darkest England and the Way Out” setting forth a blueprint for social reclamation that influences Salvation Army ethos to this day.

 But, other than petitioning Parliament to change the law on child prostitution, Booth’s activism was directed toward taking direct action to address problems, rather than lobbying the government to do so. Times have changed, though. Government now provides the services – from education to health care, from feeding to sheltering – that Booth and his fellow activists provided in the 19thcentury.

So what would William do? Would he engage in “hashtag” advocacy? Would he march with Black Lives Matter protesters? Would he create a Facebook page? I’ll leave that for you to discuss among yourselves! What I DO know is that he was an activist – and that each of the conditions he lamented still exists. He would fight!

Booth was not a socialist, but he was definitely a social activist. He was an evangelist who recognized that salvation involved more than just getting someone to say the “sinner’s prayer.” All of his endeavors were focused on saving the lost, spiritually and socially. That’s why we are The Salvation Army.

We know well the Great Commission, the Greatest Commandments, but Booth would not want us to forget Jesus’ Great Compulsion, which should be ours as well:

The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19 NIV

Once again, a hearty “thank-you” to all who serve on the front lines of “the salvation war” as you diligently seek the salvation of the lost, including salvation from the social sins that afflict them.

Holiness redux

Every now and then, one of my retired officer colleagues will engage me in a dialogue about the state of holiness preaching in the Army today.  I am not one of those who decry the loss of holiness preaching and teaching in the Army because I do not believe we have abandoned it.  Rather, I think we have expanded our vocabulary — we teach or preach the concepts of holiness whether we use the word or not. To say it another way, it seems to me that relentless faithfulness to the Word will of necessity issue in teaching holiness because it is intrinsic to a Biblical understanding of who we are in Christ.

For example, while reading Henri Nouwen on spiritual formation in my devotions, I was reminded of what the Handbook of Doctrine says about holiness. Nouwen suggests that we view holiness (admittedly, he didn’t use the word) as a journey rather than a series of steps or plateaus.  Because of the emphasis in our culture on personal achievement and human development, we can be tempted, says Nouwen, to try to measure our spiritual development in quantifiable terms rather than as walking in step with the Spirit.  The Handbook of Doctrine agrees, stating holiness is “a journey which should be characterized by growth and development.”  (p. 191)

“Salvation Story” puts it this way in the chapter on holiness:  “Our conversion inaugurates a journey during which we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness.  Thus salvation …is the beginning of a pilgrimage with Christ. …Our Christian pilgrimage is a faith-journey inviting us to a life of discipleship. “(p. 86)

Similarly, fill in the blank of this quote:  “_______________ takes place by the direct work of the Holy Spirit, regenerating and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ as the Spirit indwells, fills, guides, gifts and empowers people for life in the community of faith and in the world.”  (The Kingdom Life, Alan Andrews, p.23)  The author used the words “spiritual formation” but it means the same if “holiness” is the word.

During my tenure as Corps Officer of the Old Orchard Beach Corps, I was preaching a four-part series on the book of Jonah on Sunday mornings. While waiting for other bandsmen to join us for open-air on Sunday evening, Commissioner Bramwell Tripp made reference to my sermons. I commented, “Well, I know that they are not holiness sermons, per se …” Commissioner’s response stunned me: “Oh, but they are, Captain. They are!”

Whether you call it discipleship, spiritual formation, holiness, or sanctification, I think there is more good teaching going on than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. To paraphrase St. Francis’ words to his acolyte, “Preach holiness every week. When necessary, use the word.”

Thank you to all who preach each week for your relentless faithfulness to the Word. We rely upon that faithfulness for our own growth in holiness.