Believe in Who?

“Over time so many once-great Christian institutions are now just institutions. Some of them still give at least nominal recognition to their Christian past, but they often seem to be doing their best to play it down or ignore it altogether.”

We all know of groups, organisations, parachurch groups, and even churches that started out explicitly and unashamedly Christian. But over many decades or centuries, they have pretty much lost most if not all of their Christian foundation and belief system, and just became more or less secular organisations.

I have written often about such groups – many of them originally set up to help others AND to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some obvious candidates come to mind. How many still know what the YMCA stands for – or stood for? It is the Young Men’s CHRISTIAN Association, but today it is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense.

But consider its origin, as per a Wiki article:

The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was founded by George Williams and 11 friends. Williams was a London draper who was typical of the young men drawn to the cities by the Industrial Revolution. They were concerned about the lack of healthy activities for young men in major cities; the options available were usually taverns and brothels. Williams’ idea grew out of meetings he held for prayer and Bible-reading among his fellow workers in a business in the city of London, and on 6 June 1844, he held the first meeting that led to the founding of YMCA with the purpose of “the improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades.”Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury served as YMCA’s first president from 1851 until his death in 1885.

One can also mention the Red Cross. At least one word in that title should give it away! It was founded in 1863 by a devout Swiss Calvinist and businessman, Jean-Henri Dunant. Or consider so many of the great American universities that were once established to train Christian pastors and missionaries, but are now as secular as they come: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

Over time so many once-great Christian institutions are now just institutions. Some of them still give at least nominal recognition to their Christian past, but they often seem to be doing their best to play it down or ignore it altogether. I have discussed groups like this before as well.

One group can be mentioned here, although many of those involved are still full-on Christians and certainly see themselves as part of a Christian organisation. So it is not by any means one of these groups that has disowned its past altogether, but it does seem it may be heading that way.

I speak of the Salvation Army which has done such a great job in so many areas over the years. But increasingly it seems content to be just another provider of help to others, with or without a clear gospel presentation. And simply getting on board and promoting decidedly anti-Christian programs and activities is enough of a worry.

Pushing the diabolical safe schools program is but one example. I have discussed this before.

Thankfully after a very big pushback by concerned Christians, they decided to drop their support

But as is so often the case, when there is government funding involved, many of these groups will happily compromise their values and beliefs in order to keep the money flowing in. As a case in point, again involving the Salvos, some thirty years ago I and a few others helped to form the Family Council of Victoria.

We at first had some thirty different organisations readily join in. But not all went the distance. When Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria at the time was pushing the radical homosexual agenda, the FCV of course took a strong stand against this. But because the Salvos and some other groups were getting state funding, they thought it better to keep the money and stop resisting this radical anti-family activism. So they pulled out of the FCV.

Hmm, here was one of many places where they had a clear choice to make. They could stand strong on biblical principles, or they could abandon them in order to stay on the government teat. That sort of compromise never ends well.

A much more recent example can briefly be discussed. Some of you might have seen a recent advertisement by them on television. It is about helping others – which is fine. But instead of proudly proclaiming that they are helping others in the name of God and for his glory (as the founders most certainly intended), they happily just kept God out of the picture altogether. The 30-second ad called “Believe in Good” can be seen here:

Again, there is nothing wrong with trying to be good and helping others. But I think we can say with full assurance that William and Catherine Booth would be rolling in their graves right now by the addition of that one extra “o”. The Salvation Army used to be all about “Believe in God” and they were never under any illusions that vital and lasting social work could be done apart from God, the Bible, and the transforming work of Christ.

It is easy enough to make this case, and I can simply point you to some of my earlier articles on the couple. In one piece I looked at the aggressive faith of the Booths. In it I spoke of

one tremendous warrior for Christ who could never be accused of being a wilted pansy: Catherine Booth. She – along with her husband William – was about as hard-core as you can get. They not only founded the Salvation Army, but they rocked their world with aggressive Christianity – and offended plenty of Christians along the way.

Even their motto “Blood and Fire” would get plenty of these church mice upset – then and now. But this would not deter the Booths. Indeed, she even has an important book with that very title: Aggressive Christianity. It is a collection of her fiery and impassioned sermons.

I offered some quotes from that volume, including this one:

Oh! People say you must be very cautious. You must not push religion down people’s throats. What! Should I wait until an unconverted, godless man wants to be saved before I try to save him? Am I to let my unconverted friends and acquaintances go quietly down to damnation, and never tell them about their souls until they ask, “If you please, I want you to preach to me!” Is this anything like the spirit of early Christianity? No! Therefore we must make them look, and if they run away from you in one place, meet them in another, and let them have no peace until they submit to God. This is what Christianity ought to be doing in this land, and there are plenty of Christians around to do it. Why, we might give the world such a time of it, that they would get saved in self-defense – if we were only aggressive enough and determined that they should have no peace in their sins.

That one quote alone should show what a massive difference we find with so many of today’s Salvos and the original pair. They were 100 per cent committed to preaching the gospel of sin, repentance and faith in Christ, and to that they performed tremendous works of good in deepest, darkest London and beyond.

But today it seems we can’t ever get them to tell us as gently as they can that “Believe in God” is the way to go. Nope, now it is just a meaningless, useless and wimpy “Believe in Good.” Yeah, well there are plenty of secular organisations out there trying to do good, as in feeding the poor, helping the homeless, and so on.

At the end of the day, however, without the life-changing gospel of Christ, so much of this will just be window dressing and a temporary fix. Yes, we ARE to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and so on, but never apart from dealing with the condition of people’s souls and their eternal destiny. And William Booth likewise made this point crystal clear:

While women weep, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!
If I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I’d learn how!

We should pray for today’s Salvos. As I say, many working there are still indeed committed Christians who love the Lord. And they are doing a lot of good indeed. But is the organisation – at least here in Australia – still fully and passionately committed to sharing the greatest news ever told about Christ and his transformative gospel to save lost sinners?

Or are they now just about the gospel of good – whatever exactly that means? If you simply do a Google search for the group, this is one of the first hits that appears:

The Salvation Army Australia – Believe in Good

The Salvation Army Australia

The Salvos are made up of people who believe. Many of us believe in God. At the Salvation Army, we believe in doing good that brings hope and transforms …

Right away questions arise. Would the Booths have been happy to have non-Christians fully be a part of their team of workers? Believing in God is also not the same thing as having a personal faith commitment to Jesus Christ, knowing your sins have been forgiven by his work on the cross.

Indeed, James tells us that even the demons believe in God – and tremble (James 2:19). It just seems that we might be seeing more and more erosion of the original ministry and a continual softening and weakening of its decidedly Christian roots and foundation.

If the leaders want to head in this direction that is up to them. But at some point then one has to ask just how much it is still a clear and unambiguous reflection of the vision and resolve of the Booths. As I say, we need to keep them in prayer, along with other such groups.

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