JAC Online

Fruit of the Reformation: The Centrality of Sally Preaching
by Captain Marion Platt


In a recent article, General Shaw Clifton (R) reminded readers that we "owe much to Luther's emphasis on the authority and authenticity of the scriptures".  Indeed, the Army's doctrine and heritage of preaching is deeply tied to the reformer’s emphasis on both the sufficiency of Scripture and primacy of preaching.  On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it’s worth our time to reflect on Martin Luther's apparent belief that:


Preaching should be primary.  There were many reasons for preaching’s decline in the medieval church, most notably its capitulation to earthly authority (namely, the office of the pope) and its emphases on mass and sacramental observance as the primary means of grace.  Luther’s theses state that "the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel"; he later asserted that what makes the “church beautiful and holy… is the Word of God and sound preaching". 


Catherine Booth would later add the warfare of her own words: “I have to preach the truth - the beautiful, whole, round, diamond, luminous with Divine light [truth], and not a base, muddy, paste imitation”.  When properties, pennies, programs, or anything-else-at-all becomes primary for the Army, the pulpit fades from its saliency and soldiers lose proficiency in wielding their principal weapon: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17b)


Preaching should be pragmatic.  Pre-Reformation sermons were often delivered "in Latin, which most people could not even understand.”  A superior theologian, Luther granted that his preaching was tailored "to the circumstances of the common people,” and he trained Wittenberg theology students to "preach for the sake of plain people". 

Booth challenged Army officers similarly: "Explain the truth you present in the simplest language you can find”.  Early church fathers described the gospel as both shallow enough that a child could splash, and deep enough that a theologian could drown.  Pragmatic preaching reaches both the simple splasher and the strong swimmer.


Preaching should be prophetic.  Luther believed that “preaching is not the work of men,” and that if God isn’t speaking through the preacher, “it is time for him to be quiet.”  Ever a proponent of the preacher as forth-teller, Luther emphasized that sermons should always address “the issues which deal specifically with your time – [else] you are not preaching the gospel at all.” 


The Salvation Army’s foundation is in the prophetic tradition, in fact Booth considered Isaiah 58:6-12 to be the “Salvation Army Charter.”  The Spiritual Life Commission's Call to Our Life in the World references the Army's prophetic witness.  Consistent with God’s purpose for raising up the Army, our preaching and practice is best when we, in the words of Booth, “encircle the world with our arms.”


The Salvation Army’s emphasis on preaching, then, has its roots in the Reformation, its shoots in a Quaker graveyard, and its fruits in our prophetic orthopraxy which, when we’re at our best, "Seeks justice [and] encourages the oppressed" (Isaiah 1:17, NIV).









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