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Discussion Forum : Revivals And Church History : [revival] MOST RADICAL MOVEMENT

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Joined: 2002/12/11
Posts: 37222
"Pilgrim and Sojourner." - 1 Peter 2:11


-by Andrew Strom.

The year 1878 saw the birth of one of the most outrageously radical,
zealous and anointed Revival movements in the history of the church. I
am speaking, of course, of the early Salvation Army, which for it's
first thirty years was one of the most extreme, unusual and effective
Christian movements that the world has ever known. Made up mostly of
young zealots and led by a spiritual dynamo named William Booth, this
was God's answer when extreme measures were called for to combat the
apathy and spiritual torpor of the times. And there can be little doubt
that we live in such times again today.

Originally named simply the 'Christian Mission', Booth's organisation
always had a 'Revival' feel about it. But it wasn't until they went
military in 1878, with flags, battle songs, war uniforms, etc, that the
whole thing exploded worldwide. Booth himself became the Army's first
General. This was no longer simply home-missionary work. It was holy
guerrilla warfare against darkness and the devil. Booth's motto was:-
"Go for souls and go for the worst". It was nothing less than all-out

Within five years of becoming a military-style 'Army', Booth's fifty
mission stations had become 634 corps (106 of them overseas). And his
soldiers were some of the most innovative, daring and war-like disciples
of Jesus that had ever walked the earth. There was much opposition. In
the year 1882 alone in England, 669 Salvationists were physically
assaulted, 56 Army buildings were wholly or partially wrecked, "skeleton
armies" of local toughs were formed to attack the Salvationists, and 86
Salvation Army soldiers were thrown into prison for causing a
disturbance on the streets. There were literally street-riots almost
everywhere they went. And they were front-page news around the world. In
the several years that followed, things only got wilder. In the year
1884 alone, no less than 600 Salvationists were arrested and imprisoned
in England by the authorities.

The Army always maintained that it was a restriction of religious
freedom to deny them the right to hold their marches and open-air
meetings. And they would gladly go to jail in defense of the right to
proclaim the gospel on the streets. In fact, they would usually refuse
to pay even the smallest fines on principle, and so jail was inevitable.
But they always held a huge, raucous march to and from the prison on
behalf of the arrested soldiers. And, as a New Zealand Salvationist
declared after one such occasion, "The whole town was stirred up. The
Army got properly advertised, souls were saved, money rolled in, and
God's name was glorified." An exasperated Court Judge once advised
another contingent of arrested soldiers "to read and meditate on their
Bibles a little more, to talk less, and to trust less to the hideous
clamour of drums and brass instruments. Drums and trumpets were fit
accompaniment for a circus, but out of place on Sunday in a quiet town
like Milton." It has to be said that such advice had little noticeable

As I have said, the Salvationists were well-known for their rather
raucous brass band music (which was the loudest street-music around at
the time) and their anointed, fairly blunt and down-to-earth preaching
on the streets. It was quite common for them to form brass bands out of
instruments held together by bits of string, and with musicians who
could hardly even play. One eyewitness described the noise emanating
from one outfit as sounding "like a brass band that has gone out of it's
mind". They often used the popular drinking songs and pub songs of the
day, changing the words to make them into battle hymns or worship songs.
As William Booth said, "Why should the devil have all the best music?"
(- A saying also credited to Martin Luther and John Wesley before him).
The early Salvation Army were truly outrageous by the Victorian
standards of the day - in fact by any standards. But while respectable
church people were often scandalised, thousands upon thousands of
sinners were converted, often from the lowest socio-economic sectors of
society - the very people Jesus had ministered to.

Then as today, the Salvationists waged a war on poverty and hunger
wherever they were found. Like the apostles, it was not just evangelism
they were interested in,- it was transformation of the whole person -
spirit, soul and body. The Salvation Army became known around the world
for it's practical help of the poor and needy, just like the early

With their yellow, red and blue "BLOOD AND FIRE" flags, and their
uniforms similar to the war uniforms of the day, these were God's
spiritual assault commandos - fearless and radical evangelists for
Jesus. It was not uncommon for them to pray all night (- they called
prayer "knee drill") and then preach all day.

In 1883, the Salvation Army arrived in my home country of New Zealand.
The "invading force" consisted of Lieutenant Edward Wright aged 19
years and Captain George Pollard aged 20 years. That was it. General
Booth's resources were stretched thin by the enormous demand for
Salvationist officers across the globe. Despite this, in a very short
time the Army was headline news across New Zealand, and their street
meetings were thronged with people. Within nine months it is reported
that the fledgling Army in this country had 5000 converts. This
scenario was repeated around the world.

In many respects, the Salvation Army was a young person's crusade. Many
of the officers were very young, yet extremely zealous. In many ways
this youth proved to be a great advantage rather than any kind of

In New Zealand, like England, Salvationists were arrested in significant
numbers in the early days. In fact, as the court cases went on, these
arrests ultimately caused such a public outcry that the New Zealand
Parliament passed special legislation preventing the local City Councils
from prosecuting the Salvation Army. Thus the imprisonments eventually
died out.

However, the Salvationists also had enormous trouble in the early days
from the "Skeleton Armies" and also the violent mobs that sometimes
formed to break up their meetings. There were literally riots on the
streets in England and around the world when the Salvation Army held
their street-meetings and marches. At least one female officer in
England was kicked to death by an angry mob, and many others were
seriously injured. And amazingly it was not uncommon for the local
Clergy to be involved in inciting these mobs. As often happens in
Revivals, a large number of the church leaders of that time were
bitterly opposed to this new move of God and it's innovative and radical
features. There was, perhaps, a certain amount of jealousy involved
also. Certainly, many of them were motivated by a snobbish desire to
keep the faith high and "pure", and not allow it to descend to the
gutters of the street, where the Salvationists seemed to dwell. Raucous
music and loud preaching on the streets, indeed! It apparently mattered
little to them that many sinners were finding Jesus and that God was
being glorified.

In 1912, the old warrior General William Booth passed on to glory. It
was truly the end of an era - an era that had seen some of the most
radical, anointed and effective Christianity in the history of the
church. But like many movements after the original founders die, the
Salvation Army then slowly began to settle down - to become respectable.
And it gradually lost the innovation and the radical, fighting edge that
had made it what it was. Actually, this is not unusual with Revival
movements, though it is always sad to see it occur. The movements of
Luther and Wesley, and even the early church all gradually went the same
way after the founding fathers died. Today, we find a Salvation Army
that is known more as a kindly and harmless social-welfare institution
than a band of fearless warrior evangelists. The old uniforms are still
there but the guerilla warfare is largely a thing of the remote past.
The shell remains, but the 'heart' has slowly ebbed away.

But the vision, the passion and the zeal of the early Salvationists will
never die completely. For the early histories are still just as much an
inspiration today as they were when they were written. And it is my
belief that we are about to see a similar kind of street-movement arise
in our day (because the times are just as desperate, if not more so,
than they were then).

SI Moderator - Greg Gordon

 2006/6/9 13:53Profile

Joined: 2004/2/12
Posts: 4636
Independence, Missouri


For the early histories are still just as much an
inspiration today as they were when they were written. And it is my
belief that we are about to see a similar kind of street-movement arise in our day (because the times are just as desperate, if not more so, than they were then).

Amen. These are desperate times indeed. This is a wonderful piece on the early Salvation Army.

Robert Wurtz II

 2006/6/9 15:52Profile

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