The Power of a Carefully Considered Metaphor
When William Booth died - or as his regiment of Christian soldiers would have said, was 'promoted to Glory' - 100 years ago on 20 August, there was an enormous outpouring of public grief. 150,000 people filed past his coffin as he 'lay in state', 40,000 attended his memorial service, and the streets of London were thronged as his funeral procession made its way to Abney Park Cemetery.
We may well ask why this man, a former pawnbroker's assistant with little formal education, made such an impact - not only on his followers or the wider church, but on people who would have made little or no profession of faith. For the answer to that question we need to go back to a morning in 1878 when a proof copy of the annual report of The Christian Mission, established by Booth some thirteen years earlier, arrived from the printer. William, with his son Bramwell, and his lieutenant, George Scott Railton, read the opening lines:
'THE CHRISTIAN MISSION under the superintendence of the REV WILLIAM BOOTH is a VOLUNTEER ARMY.'
The metaphor of a volunteer army was an obvious one for an age in which Britain controlled a great empire, and in which militaristic jingoism formed the currency of much popular discourse. Indeed, the Volunteer Army was a recently formed part-time regiment, somewhat like today's Territorial Army. But William knew instinctively that it is not enough for a metaphor to be relevant to the times; it also needs to resonate with the word of God and be rooted in the call of the gospel. Historians are divided as to whether it was William or Bramwell who protested, 'I'm not a volunteer. I'm a regular or nothing!' But it was William who took his pen, scored through the word Volunteer and wrote in its place the word Salvation.
That's why his death more than thirty years later had such an impact. In Booth's metaphor and in Booth's army - a motley crew, as he himself would often say - the good news of the gospel had engaged dynamically with the culture, the word of God had impacted a world in need of grace, the soldiers of salvation had witnessed and served and sought to rescue the lowest.
May God grant us the insight to uncover and embody the metaphors, anchored in Scripture and accessible to our culture, that will carry the gospel message for this day.
Church-Life Consultant, The Imagine Project
There are currently no comments for this article.