General John Larsson is the international leader of The Salvation Army
From the Top: Christianity with its Sleeves Rolled Up
by General John Larsson
I can't claim any originality in describing The Salvation Army as ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’ but it remains one of the best definitions yet of the Army’s special gift for combining the spiritual with the practical.
We roll up our sleeves to seek to express the love of God because Jesus did. He was supremely practical in his faith. He cared for the whole person – not just the spiritual part. He cared for society as a whole. He wanted the world to be a better place. It was not rhetoric when he said that he had come ‘to preach good news to the poor’ and that he had been sent ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed’ (Luke 4:18, New International Version). It was reality.
The Salvation Army’s Founder, William Booth, had his sleeves well rolled up when he wrote: ‘Thank God The Salvation Army never sees an evil without asking the question “Can anything be done to remove it?”’ And he went to the heart of the matter when he added: ‘One of the Army’s strong principles is that the straight way to destroy the branches is to go to the root; to deal efficiently with the cause is to do away with the effect.’
The dream of rooting out evil in all its forms and building a better world goes to the very heart of Christ’s message of God’s Kingdom on earth. That is why the Army seeks to do its part in making a better world through the global and many-sided undertakings described by the generic term of development.
Julius Nyerere defines the term in this way: ‘Development is the process which enables human beings to realise their full potential, build self-confidence and lead lives of dignity and fulfilment. It is a process which frees people from the fear of want and exploitation or social oppression.’
Or take the carefully-crafted sentence from Resolution 41/128 of the General Assembly of the United Nations, dated 4 December 1986: ‘The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realised.’
All of this is very much part of the Christian dream. We Salvationists join forces with all who are striving towards the fulfilment of that dream. There is much to be done before that vision is turned into reality. And that is why we have our sleeves rolled up.