SEVERAL months ago, a pastor from another church asked to see me because of his interest in our teaching on holiness. In his opening sentences, he pointed to the flag in my office and mentioned seeing one in an Army meeting he attended. He was interested in the inscription, ‘Blood and Fire’. He commented that he believed the Army was faithful to proclaiming the blood but had lost the fire of the Spirit.
I wonder if there is any truth in what he said.
Have we been too afraid of excesses when it comes to being ‘Spirit-filled’? Yet our roots are in the Book of Acts. In fact, in our early history, a Mr Brunlow wrote in The Independent Methodist Magazine: ‘There are three things in which I cannot see much difference, a column in The War Cry, a page of Wesley’s Journals and a chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.’
What a challenging statement! There have been many years of church tradition since the day of Pentecost. And the Army is now in the 21st century, not the 19th. Yet, in the Vision I have been writing and speaking about, it is a Spirit-filled Army I visualise. My understanding of it has definitely been shaped by what I see in the Book of Acts.
The Spirit filled the first Christians with a passion to tell about Jesus. They spoke about him with clarity and boldness. They had been eyewitnesses to his ministry and his passion. After the resurrection, they had several encounters with Jesus, the risen Lord. No wonder there was an authenticity about their witness! Yet it did not rest only on their experience. They connected the Old Testament writings and the apostles’ teaching to show that this was God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning. Jesus truly was the ‘yes’ to every promise.
I never tire of hearing Salvationists give a Christ-centred authentic testimony. There’s a ring of truth about it. While they didn’t walk the Galilean hills or visually encounter the living Christ, you have that sense that they journey with him. When these testimonies are grounded in the Word, when experience is joined with revelation, the Word of God comes alive.
We must be an Army with a passion to tell the story of Jesus.
The Spirit also filled the first Christians with a conviction that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. The disciples surely knew that the recounting of facts or even the communication of Scripture were not the persuasive techniques that made the difference. They dared to call for a response because they believed that the Holy Spirit was at work. They were convinced that this gospel message had a divine communicator. No arm-twisting was needed. Convicting and convincing was the ministry of the Spirit.
Many of us have stood in amazement when our simple message was used by the Spirit. After many years as a backslider, my father went to an evening meeting at the Army. He responded to the mercy seat appeal and was wonderfully saved. The preacher that night was a nice man, but he was no Billy Graham. Yet there was a power at work that night.
A Spirit-filled Army tells the gospel story faithfully and trustingly, believing that there is power in the name of Jesus, power in this life-giving message, the power that the Holy Spirit exerts to bring about transformation.
The Spirit filled the first Christians with a love which forged a community of worship, fellowship and mission. Even the earliest chapters of Acts are proof positive of this. There was something different taking place. This was not just a group of friends or a band of disciples or a team of evangelists. This was a community of faith and fervour. Worship was vibrant and focused. The Holy Spirit released the Lord’s disciples from self-centredness, ambition, doubt and fear. Fellowship was marked by sharing; meeting each other’s needs and moving out into the world with the gospel. Mission was not defined by geography but by opportunity.
When it comes to the Army, this kind of community is not just a pipe dream. I have seen it. This article is being written the day after the meeting of the General’s Consultative Council. Thirty-four of our leaders from around the Army world met for the first of our three annual meetings. It truly was a community of worship, fellowship and mission. Though most have served three or four decades as officers, the fire has not died out. Not at all!
And finally, the Spirit equipped the first Christians for a life of prayer and sacrifice. Even a cursory reading of Acts lets you in on the secret of this dynamic fellowship. Prayer was specific, powerful and real. When they needed guidance or intervention, nothing was too small or too big to ask. They expected answers.
The Army today is at prayer. The worldwide Thursday morning prayer meeting has taken hold. Salvationists are signing up. There is evidence that this is no programme initiative but a mark of a Spirit-filled Army. We are not opting for a cloistered community. Just the opposite! Salvationists at prayer are also Salvationists engaged in the thick of the battle.
And it is not without cost. Nor can it be. An Army was not raised up for the parade square but for the battlefront. A Salvation Army remembers that salvation did not come easily or cheaply. It came at great cost, the sacrifice of all sacrifices. To be filled with his Spirit calls for nothing less than our living sacrifice.
Can we ever move on from the Book of Acts? Would we ever want to? I would love someone to look at the Army anywhere in the world and think it looks strangely familiar.
First published in The Officer, March 2012