WILLIAM BOOTH said: ‘I do not want another ecclesiastical corps cumbering the earth. When The Salvation Army ceases to be a militant body of red-hot men and women whose business is the saving of souls, I hope it will vanish utterly.’
What a statement! In the light of Booth’s word, what should we make of Christ’s message to the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:2-5)? I believe it contains a word of commendation and rebuke and is a powerful message to The Salvation Army in this country today. It fits like a glove, it is worthy of much contemplation, and we ignore it at our peril: ‘I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men… You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place’ (all quotations from New International Version).
Could it be that our movement’s erosion over the last decades has been God gradually removing our lampstand from where he once placed it? Certainly we work hard and are doing much that Christ would commend, but we are not doing what once we did. We may well have acknowledged the height from which we have fallen, yet, tragically, so much of our response to that knowledge has been about saving ourselves from extinction, restoring our numbers, climbing back.
Over 20 years, church growth principles, conferences and councils, seminars and studies have done little to stop our decline. None of these things will save us. None of these things will end the drought, the all-consuming locust or the plague that threatens to destroy us. God alone can save us, but we have yet to reach the point of utter helplessness and humility where we acknowledge that God and God alone can save us.
‘When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7: 13, 14).
We have yet to be troubled enough, anxious enough, burdened enough to pray as we ought. Our prayers have yet to reach an intensity, a passion, a fervency, where
- we ache for God and what he desires
- we see the lost as he sees them
- we ache for the lost with the longing he has
- we get rid of everything that gets in the way of our hunger after him and our longing after them.
How God would have us pray like the prophet of old: ‘Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!’ (Isaiah 64:1, 2).
Fire came down supernaturally upon offerings from Moses (Leviticus 9:24), David (1 Chronicles 21:26), Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) and Elijah (1 Kings 18:38). It was fire coming down supernaturally from Heaven in the self-same way that ‘lit up’ those early-day apostles (Acts 2: 3, 4), and has revived God’s people and refocused their attention and energies on the eternal issues, and drawn countless masses to Christ and his cross through the ages since.
We readily sing: ‘Tis fire we want, for fire we plead, Send the fire!’ (SASB 203) – but is it true? How much do we want the Holy Spirit’s power? We have yet to reach the desperation and despair of men like John Knox who wept before the Lord: ‘Give me Scotland or I die.’ Where, today, are there people anxious for the lost, weeping for the lost, pleading for the lost? Who truly cares? What we need from God is his burden for them. Listen to Paul writing to the church at Rome: ‘I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race’ (Romans 9: 2, 3).
It isn’t about being an evangelist, but rather having a burden that causes us to plead and pray relentlessly to God to do something until he does, with the attitude Charles Spurgeon spoke of: ‘If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed-for.’