Sacramental Moments – Sacramental Lives – Bramwell Booth On the Sacraments
Excerpt from Staff Review, Volume 2, Pages 51-60 General Bramwell Booth –
“One question of great difficulty for the Army in the early days was our attitude to what are called the Sacraments, especially the Supper. I do not think that any of us were much troubled about the baptismal question, although for some years we followed the usual practice of many churches and baptized infants. I have in some cases myself ‘sprinkled’ as many as 30 in one service! And, by the way, such services were made both interesting and useful. We had a simple and yet very definite formula whereby the parents engaged to give the children over to be the servants of God and to train them for Him. This practice, however, died down gradually, chiefly because it had no very strong conviction behind it; and in place of it the Army introduced a service of Dedication which has become very much valued among our people.
“The case with regard to the Supper was on a different footing altogether. Here, as in some other matters, the Founder’s early training in the Church of England and his later work among the Methodists influenced him. He was in some measure predisposed to attach importance to ceremonies of this nature, and while he never allowed that in itself it possessed any spiritual efficacy, or that it was in the least degree necessary to the salvation of any man, yet he used it, though with increasing misgiving.
“When I came on the scene as a responsible official of the Mission in 1874, the Lord’s Supper was administered monthly at all our stations to all members of the Mission, and to such other Christian friends as were known to be in good standing and who desired to join with us at the table. These services were in many cases very impressive. There was a simplicity and naturalness about them which made them very welcome, and whether the number partaking was a dozen, or whether–as on special occasions–it ran up to six or seven hundred, the gatherings were in many respects remarkable. There was a total absence of display, but wonderful freedom. The faith of many was strengthened, former promises and vows were recalled and renewed, and often the unsaved who had been allowed to come into the buildings as spectators were there and then brought to Christ.
“A sense of misgiving, however, arose, and made itself more evident with the growing work. I think that this misgiving was experienced first of all by the Army Mother She had a deep horror of anything which might tend to substitute in the minds of the people some outward act or compliance for the fruits of practical holiness. Her knowledge of the low tone of spiritual life in many of the churches, gained as a result of her friendship with many religious people and their leaders, made her look with dread upon the possibility that our people, most of whom were very ignorant and simple, might come in time to lean upon some outward ceremonial instead of upon the work of God as witnessed in a change of heart and life.
“The Founder approached the matter differently. He was essentially utilitarian, at all events so far as questions not necessary to Salvation were concerned. His first inquiry with regard to the adoption or abandonment of any measure was, “Will it help to our great end? If it will not help, will it hinder? And, little by little, he came to believe that there was a danger in the continuance of this practice amongst us. Its chief danger, however, in his eyes, was in its divisiveness.
“Railton from the beginning was in favor of abandoning all ceremonials which were prominently associated with the rest of the religious life of the world. He argued with great cogency that if, as we all admitted, participation in, e.g. the Supper, was not necessary to Salvation, it became merely a question of its value, as one method of helping the people, and he claimed that the freedom which was purchased by Jesus Christ was a freedom from all that belonged to the old dispensation, including the whole ceremonial principle. My mother, although not feeling so strongly as Railton on the subject, at once grasped the seriousness of anything which might mislead or divide our simple people.
“For myself, I confess that I had so often received spiritual help–no doubt the result of my own faith–in the administration of the Supper that it was with considerable hesitation, not to say reluctance, that I came round to the view which the General finally adopted. I believe that I was the last officer of the Salvation Army to administer the Lord’s Supper to any of its people, and, indeed, the Founder gave me, young as I was, a freedom in this matter which, so far as I am aware, he gave to no one else, and which he gave to me on no other subject of importance on which our views were for the time out of accord. But gradually I, too, realized how prone the human mind is to lean upon the outward.
“No doubt we have lost friends by our attitude. Some would have joined us had they not been deterred by the line we adopted. And yet I believe the line was wise. Of course, the whole situation is changed the moment the claim is made that the sacraments, especially the Supper, are in any way necessary to the salvation of the soul. In that case I can see consistency in the Roman and High Church position which insists on their observance; but I have never been able to reconcile the view that there is nothing in them which is essential to saving faith, and that Salvation is by faith, with the emphasis which is laid upon them both in the Lutheran and Anglican Churches.”