Posted by: Andrea Mullins | 30 June, 2009

William Booth—a Great Commandment Christian

kids-boothpreachingJuly 2 is the Salvation Army Founder’s Day, the anniversary of the first tent meeting at which William Booth preached on the Quaker Burial Ground in Whitechapel, London. We hear daily of those who have spent their lives taking rather than giving—Bernie Madoff, Andrew Fastow, Michael Milken, Dennis Kozlowski, Jeff Skilling, Charles Keating, Jr., Bernard Ebbers—to name a few, so it’s good to have a day to remind us of those with Great Commandment lives. This is the radical nature of the gospel, that we give ourselves away and in return we gain everything God has to give. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, is an example of the Christian pioneers mentioned in Hebrews 12, and his life reminds us of our accountability to live out the radical nature of the gospel, bringing Christ to the world.

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

—Hebrews 12:1–2, The Message

William Booth was born in Nottingham in 1829. While working as an apprentice in a pawnbroker’s shop he became aware of the humiliation experienced by the poor. During his teenage years he became a Christian and spent much of his spare time trying to persuade other people to become Christians too.

After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855 he spent several years as a Methodist minister, traveling all around the country, preaching, and sharing God’s word to all who would listen. Yet he felt that God wanted more from him, that he should be doing more to reach ordinary people. He returned to London with his family, having resigned his position as a Methodist minister.

One day in 1865 he found himself in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside the Blind Beggar pub some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his powerful preaching that they asked him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent. The date for the first meeting was set for July 2, 1865. To the poor and wretched of London’s East End, Booth brought the good news of Jesus Christ and his love for all men. Booth soon realized he had found his destiny. He formed his own movement, which he called “The Christian Mission.”

The work was hard and Booth would ‘stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck’, wrote his wife. Evening meetings were held in an old warehouse where urchins threw stones and fireworks through the window. It was not until 1878 when The Christian Mission changed its name to The Salvation Army that things began to happen. The impetus changed. The idea of an Army fighting sin caught the imagination of the people and the Army began to grow rapidly. Booth’s fiery sermons and sharp imagery drove the message home and more and more people found themselves willing to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in The Salvation Army. By the time of Booth’s death in 1912 the Army was at work in 58 countries.

When I took a mission team to Australia some years ago, I found that the most respected Christian group was the Salvation Army.  They had gone to the hardest places to bring help and hope to those who were forgotten, oppressed, and lost. Thousands of Salvation Army witnesses were living the words of William Booth from long ago.

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!

Every believer can choose Great Commandment living. I recommend two great books that will encourage you to be the pioneers for the next generation of Christ followers: Trolls and Truth: 14 Realities About Today’s Church that We Don’t Want to See by Jimmy Dorrell and Beyond Me: Living a You- First Life in a Me-First World by Kathi Macias.


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