William Booth’s vision for the future
From the desk of …
Newly ordained and commissioned, the Visionaries Session moves forward to their first appointments as officers of The Salvation Army. Their vision—to save the world for God—was the vision of Christ and the motivation of Army founder, William Booth. Examining William Booth’s vision is Dr. Roger J. Green author of The Life and Ministry of William Booth.
William Booth was a man of great vision. We who stand in this moment in Salvation Army history have the privilege of looking back to his vision as a means of positioning ourselves for the future. Indeed, we are inextricably linked to the vision of William Booth and we serve God through The Salvation Army largely as a result of the inspired thinking of William Booth.
His vision for the Army can be seen in two distinct categories—his vision for the future of each individual believer, and his vision for the future of The Salvation Army. His vision for the believer is summarized simply by the word holiness. William Booth was thoroughly biblical and Wesleyan in his understanding that by the grace of God the man or woman before God is not only saved from the guilt of sin at the moment of justification by faith, but saved also from the power of sin through sanctification by faith. This, he believed, was the fullness of the good news of the Scripture. He clearly stated the centrality of the doctrine of holiness in an address to The Christian Mission when he said that “Holiness to the Lord is to us a fundamental truth; it stands to the forefront of our doctrines.”
He enlarged his vision of holiness to include not only the sanctification of the believer, but also the sanctification of the Army. This doctrine, expressed for example in Booth’s song entitled “Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,” calls for the holiness of the Army because he was convinced that only a holy people could do a holy work. Booth’s vision of holiness is still being accomplished in that the centrality of the doctrine of holiness is once again finding expression in the theology of the Army around the world. We still proclaim the biblical message of the sanctification of every believer and we continue to pray for the sanctification of our movement by the grace of God.
This two-fold vision of holiness was inextricably bound to a further vision—that of winning the whole world for God.
William Booth was convinced, as were many others in the 19th century, that he would bring the world to the feet of Jesus and usher in the glorious millennium. Booth believed that his Army was uniquely equipped to do so.
This part of Booth’s vision was not accomplished. The 20th century has witnessed, not the Christianization of the world, but the near destruction of the world through wars, conflicts, and a philosophical foundation that places the self at the centre of the human story, to the neglect of the community or the advancement of biblical principles.
However, Booth’s vision of history was well rooted in the biblical understanding of the Kingdom of God, and that reign of God, while apparently thwarted at the end of the 20th century, is nevertheless supported by the strong Word of God as an ultimately victorious Kingdom. All human kingdoms and dominions will some day be brought under the authority of God.
We Salvationists live in the meantime. We believe that the winning of the world is up to God. However, we have to act as though the winning of the world is up to us. Therefore, we not only watch and pray for God’s Kingdom, but also actively engage in warfare on behalf of that Kingdom by two indispensable signs—the preaching of the gospel and acts of mercy. By being faithful to those signs we are faithful to the biblical vision so critical to William Booth.
ROGER GREEN, PhD, is chair of the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College in Massachusetts. He has taught at Salvation Army seminars and conferences in many different countries and is author of a book about the Army mother entitled Catherine Booth as well as The Life and Ministry of William Booth.