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What might have been

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by Terry Camsey, Major –

At the start of a New Year it is not unusual to reflect on the past and start looking again to the future. Some time ago retired General John Larsson must have done this, to which the following words of his attest:

As I look back, how I wish we as an Army had been more positive in our response to the Holy Spirit renewal. Had we had prophets who taught us to welcome this movement of the Spirit whilst rejecting the wrong teaching that accompanied it, the story could have been so different.

But, instead of hoisting our sails and setting them to catch the full force of this gale of the Spirit, we as a movement lowered them. Instead of fanning the fire of the Spirit we sometimes quenched it. And all because the explanation of an experience that was so right was so wrong.

It is, of course, easy to have 20/20 vision with hindsight and none of this was clear at the time. It also has to be said that despite our hesitations as a Movement, the Holy Spirit renewal succeeded in bringing about climate change in the Army – in a positive sense. The temperature in our worship has risen markedly since those days, and we are still rejoicing in the new warmth…”

As I read those words recently, they brought to mind an incident that occurred a few years ago at the end of a divisional music camp. It was one of the first such camps opened to those who didn’t qualify for the music camp and it embraced what is now known as “Gospel Arts.”

Unique to that camp was the production of a youth musical involving all campers. Groups of non-musicians, coached by empathic and enthusiastic leaders, accepted the challenge of interpreting the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. Carefully studying Scripture, they worked out script, all the acting and (for want of a better word) choreography. They also had the task of rooting around the camp and getting together their own costumes, and props. The music students provided songs to illustrate each segment, and the whole production was called “FAITH, FANGS AND FIRE.”

At the end of the presentation, on the last day and last event of camp, the participants swarmed spontaneously on to the floor of the hall and started dancing for pure joy to the music.

When I reported to the office, I was called in because one of the outside attendees had phoned THQ to complain about the dancing—which was “definitely not allowed.” In response, I produced a picture from a very old Army periodical (the War Cry, I believe) where Salvationists were depicted at a tent meeting dancing (in full uniform) in the Spirit in the aisles.

Some years later, while visiting another territory, I became aware of sharp differences between younger officers who were into faith healing—and other visible evidences of the Holy Spirit at work—and an older generation of Salvationists, very disturbed by this and labeling it “not real Army.”

The old Army periodical I mentioned seems to contradict that claim.

I did some research on the subject of signs and wonders with the help of the International Heritage Center. In particular, I clearly remember a quote by General William Booth in which—talking about the supernatural gifts of the Spirit—he said he could not doubt that they were at work among the early Army.

Another influential and highly placed early day commissioner indicated that his “delight” was the holiness and healing meetings.

It is quite evident that signs and wonders, healing meetings and other such workings of the Spirit were not unusual in Booth’s young Army—a quite different perspective on what real Army is.

It has been my experience that, in using the phrase, “It’s not real Army,” many people are talking about the Army in the era in which they were brought up. An Army that had become “respectable!”

Was Booth’s early Army the “real Army?” Of course! Is today’s Army the “real Army?” Of course! Are they the same?

To some extent, maybe, but in other respects not. The big question is, “Are we allowing the Holy Spirit the freedom to do as he wills?”

General Larsson finishes the thoughts I have quoted above by saying:

“…But it is what might have been that will always tantalize.”


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