In this post we consider the decision itself, as it was found in the War Cry of 17th January, 1883. It was, just prior to this date, William Booth's New Year's address, perhaps suggesting that this was the mark of a new phase in the Army's life; a kind of New Year's resolution, if you will. The original article has been reprinted and made available again in Robert Street's Called to be God's People (Pg 135).
There are two things that I find particularly striking about this. Firstly, William Booth here is not saying "No, never again" but "is it not wise for us to postpone any settlement of the question, to leave it over to some future day, when we shall have more light, and see more clearly our way before us?" As such, it's really a deferring of a decision, rather than a decision itself. What's most striking about this is who is saying this. We might expect this kind of ambiguity from a more consultative leader, but William Booth? General of The Salvation Army? It just doesn't match the image of William Booth that I have in my mind. Perhaps I've been misdirected.
The other thing that stands out is the fact that infant baptism is immediately replaced on this occasion with the Army's own dedication ceremony. More will be said on this in later posts, but it's worth noting the immediate replacement now.
In future posts, more will be said about this decision, but I provide it here for your benefit because I think it's worth knowing exactly what was said by Booth himself.
TALKING about churches leads me to another question, which I know is of some interest to all of you, and to many others – viz, the Sacraments.Continue on to Part 3 here
Here we will make a statement which will help to dismiss any serious anxiety from your minds very considerably, I have no doubt, as it has done with us, and this is one in which I think you will all agree.
The Sacraments must not, nay, they cannot, rightly be regarded as conditions of salvation. If you make them essentials, if you say that men cannot get to Heaven without being baptised with water, or without ‘breaking bread’, as it is called, where there is the opportunity of doing so, then you shut out from that holy place a multitude of men and women who have been and are today sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who honestly believe his words and earnestly strive to keep them. This would be a very great calamity, and I cannot accept it for a moment.
I think you will perceive that any order from me for the general administration of the Sacraments would be likely to produce grave dissensions. There is a very great and widespread difference of opinion with regard to the modes of administration – one half of the religious world denying in toto the efficacy of the Sacraments as administered by the other half. Our Baptist friends, for instance, contend that baptism as administered to infants by the Church of England, Methodists, and others, is no baptism at all, and when we gave consent for some of our people to take part in the Church of England sacrament, the clergyman who invited them seized the opportunity for showing them that they were only in part qualified to receive the ordinance, seeing that part had been confirmed, and a part not. Another gentleman of very high position recommended that that part of our people who had not been confirmed should go to the dissenters for the ordinance, while the portion who had been confirmed should go to the church. This you will see would have divided us at the very door of the church. Here would have been a very great difficulty at once.
Now if the Sacraments are not conditions of salvation, if there is a general division of opinion as to the proper mode of administering them, and if the introduction of them would create division of opinion and heart-burning, and if we are not professing to be a church, nor aiming at being one, but simply a force for aggressive salvation purposes, is it not wise for us to postpone any settlement of the question, to leave it over to some future day, when we shall have more light, and see more clearly our way before us?
Meanwhile, we do not prohibit our own people in any shape or form from taking the Sacraments. We say, ‘If this is a matter of your conscience, by all means break bread.’ The churches and chapels all round about will welcome you for this, but in our own ranks let us be united, and go on our way, and mind our own business. Let us remember him who died for us continually. Let us remember his love every hour of our lives, and continually feed on him – not on Sundays only, and then forget him all the week, but let us by faith eat his flesh and drink his blood continually; and ‘whatsoever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God’.
And further, there is one baptism on which we are all agreed – the one baptism of the Bible – that is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, of which baptism John spoke as vastly superior and more important than the baptism of water, when he said, ‘I indeed baptise you with water, but One cometh after me whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’
Be sure you insist upon that baptism. Be sure you enjoy that baptism yourselves, and be sure you insist upon it for your people, not only for the adults but for the children. We are bringing out a formal service for the dedication of children. It will be put into your hands in a few days. By this soldiers can introduce their children to the Army. Before this dedicatory service is gone through, you must explain it to the parents, and show them that unless they are willing to bring up their children as soldiers and officers in the Army, they cannot have any part in it.
Let us keep off mere forms and do nothing in which, as far as possible, the hearts of our soldiers do not go with us.