Dear Salvationists, The Mercy Seat

The hope of the Army is in the penitent form.  As soon as that goes out of use, we go out” (General Albert Orsborn)

We call it the Mercy Seat, others call it the Penitent Form, still others call it the Altar.
Why is it there?
What is it’s purpose?
Is it still valid and needed today?

Perhaps these are just a few questions that you’ve wondered about as you have participated in a Salvation Army service or meeting.   Some have, perhaps, been soldiers for years and never quite understood why we do what we do when it comes time for the “altar call” or “time of response”.

Is this practice outdated or is it still useful?
What is the biblical understanding of the “mercy seat”?

I believe Major ViJay Boda puts it rather succinctly; ”

“The International Spiritual Life Commission affirmed to the whole Army world that the mercy seat in Salvation Army meetings symbolises God’s unremitting call to his people to meet with him. It is not only a place for repentance and forgiveness, but also a place for communion and commitment. The report emphasises, ‘Here we may experience a deep awareness of God’s abundant grace and claim his boundless salvation.’

Encouraging the use of the mercy seat, the commission says, ‘The mercy seat may be used by any one, at any time, and particularly in Army meetings when, in response to the proclaimed word, all are invited to share loving and humble communion with the Lord.”

altar.jpgThis is a good explanation, and perhaps some of us are good at explaining this to new comers or new soldiers…but sometimes I think we need a refresher course.  We need to break old patterns and old molds in order to better understand what we are doing at the Mercy Seat or why we have these moments of commitment at all.

Biblically speaking, the Mercy Seat is first mentioned in connection with the Ark of the Covenant.  It is the “kapporet“, or the “atonement piece”.  Later it was the ornate golden cover to the ark with two cherub corners.  Imagine that, the “atonement piece” covers the opening to the very presence of God.

altar2Symbolically speaking, Jesus became our once for all- atonement piece – our mercy seat.  His blood makes us clean, and his provenient grace cancels our debts/sin.  When we kneel at this place of repentance that we call the Altar, or Penitent Form, or Mercy Seat, we are essentially placing our sins on Christ.  We lay them down, and in so doing, we are invited to pick up new clothes, a new life, this unmerited grace and forgiveness that Christ has prepared for us in His death and resurrection.

This Mercy Seat can be a sacred place.
We can kneel upon it in our corps buildings during Holiness meetings, we can find it at special events where seats have been turned around waiting for those willing to repent or seek reconciliation.  These sacred spaces are not necessarily holy in and of themselves.  They are just structures, constructed with human hands, but purposed for Divine encounters.

altar1BUT WAIT… 
The Mercy Seat is so much more than a specific place.
We, being the very essence and the body of Christ, now have access to this mercy seat anywhere at anytime and anyplace.  No, it’s not some new application found on our cellular devices or on our computers.  This Mercy Seat is never far from us, even when we find ourselves at home or bedridden with illness – it is there!   This Mercy Seat is found in our hearts.  When we receive Christ at a place of forgiveness and new life, such as the Altar, we also receive the blessing of His Holy Presence.  The Holy Spirit takes up residence within us.  Not in some sort of alien “body snatchers” way, but rather in a Creator meets and communes with Creation sort of way.  With His presence comes the mercy seat of our hearts, where we can come at any time before Him to confess, commune and grow in Christ’s image.

Samuel Logan Brengle once said, “I have carried a penitent form (mercy seat) around in my heart half a century or more. And if there is ever any need, I constantly fly to thee.
1 Mercy Seat – Many Uses (Not Just A Place For Sinners!!!)
Before I close this topic  today, (honestly, this is a primer for further discussion), I would be remiss not to mentioned  that the Mercy Seat is SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST A PLACE FOR SINNERS.  It takes real courage sometimes to come before the ecclesia (body of believers – A.K.A. The Church) and kneel at the Altar.   Sometimes many worry about what others might think or say (Shame on anyone who would say anything towards a brother or sister penitent before the Lord).  Sometimes this erroneous thought that keeps on circulating spoken or unspoken – is that once one has gone to the Altar they shouldn’t have to go back anymore.  Nothing could be further from the truth!!

If one of our more esteemed first theologians (Brengle) went to his Mercy Seat frequently, how much more do we still need it in our lives?

The Mercy Seat still beckons us to:
-Come and Reconnect with our Savior.
-Come and bring petitions and prayers as intercessors.
-Come and cast our  prayers of thanksgivings to Him.
-Come and seek forgiveness again.
-Come and find reconciliation and re-ignition.
-Come and pour out those deeply secret spaces of our hearts before the Holy Spirit who has been prodding us to let Him in.
-Come to surrender, or surrender again.
-Come and bring your brother or sister who needs encouragement and assurance.
-Come and bring your brother or sister who needs a friend.
-Come and bring your brother or sister who desires new life and is sick of sin.

So is the Mercy Seat pointless in our modern, sophisticated age?
Yes, it’s as pointless as the Son of God stepping down out of heaven and taking our sins upon himself…if that is truly pointless – then so are our lives.

No, in fact the Mercy Seat is so much more than just a kneeling place for sinners or saints…it is the exhalation of sin and in the very same moment, the inhalation of salvation, new life and holiness.  It ought to be perpetuated, preached on, and emphasized over and over again – with clarity, sincerity and truth.

For more reading on this topic check out another post: Is Your Mercy Seat Broken?

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army, Healing A Broken Mercy Seat…

If your Mercy Seat is broken, how can it be fixed?
If your the spirit of your corps is tattered and wounded, how can it be                      healed?

mercy seat 3

Eyes wander and rove the Mercy Seat.
A weary soul is kneeling down before that altar of submission and some within the chapel are wondering what they are kneeling for?  What sins could they be confessing?  What will happen next?  Who will go up and pray with them?  Someone might be smiling to themselves and thinking “it’s about time they confess their sins!”

Do you see what is broken with this Mercy Seat?
I don’t wish to imply this is happening everywhere, but sometimes I don’t think I’m too far off the mark.

To the wandering eyes and the gossip laden hearts, here’s a hint – it’s none of your business.
Shame on anyone who questions the motives of another’s heart in a pure attempt of seeking Christ at these sacred spaces.  I fear that the cause of these broken Mercy Seats is the hardened hearts and calloused souls of those gathered in other seats around the chapel.  This isn’t an indictment, this is just a cautious observation.

Hope & Sensitive Spirits:
I had numerous people write me yesterday describing how beautiful these places of consecration were in their home corps.  How marvelous to hear of lives being transformed as we maintain this element of holiness in our services.  This gives us all hope to hear.  This provides an insight into repairing that which is broken in other places – sensitive spirits and hearts open to the wondrous workings of the Holy Spirit.

Healing The Mercy Seat Means Softening Our Hearts:
I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.“—Ezekiel 36:26hearts

Frequently, we can become desensitized to the workings of the Holy Spirit.  We can also become desensitized to the formats of our Holiness meetings and/or the use of the Mercy Seat.  Perhaps we have grown up in the corps we attend.  Perhaps there are times where we are simply just going through the motions.  Perhaps there are times when we have grown tired with our meetings and hearing the same people uttering the same prayers and the same testimonies.  Perhaps we even wonder sometimes if we are just practicing worship but we are never really engaged in worship.

hearts1Is there a hardness in your heart today dear Soldier?
Is there a place within you that frightens  you because you feel numb to it all?
Are you harboring a grudge or bitterness for someone else in your corps?

If our hearts are hardened our Mercy Seats could become broken.
If our hearts are not sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading anymore, then the Mercy Seat will simply gather dust and become an idle piece of furniture.

Oh, dear Soldier may our hearts be softened by the Divine!
May our spirits ever thirst for His fellowship!
May we stop looking at others as we used to when we belonged to our old patterns of living; but may we, instead, look upon others with softened hearts through the living, thriving love of Christ.

The Mercy Seat: saves
Is not just furniture.
Is not just a ritual or a surrogate for sacramental practice.
Is not just frequented by sinner, but also by saints.
Is not a place of weakness, but a place of great strength.

The Mercy Seat is the practice of softened hearts.
The Mercy Seat is consecration, reconciliation, salvation and holiness.
The Mercy Seat is about living holiness as a corporate body of Christ.
The Mercy Seat, dear Soldier is more than furniture, it is a matter of our hearts.

May we ever be sensitive to His holy moving.
May our hearts ever be softened first to the Lord and then towards others regardless of friend or foe.
Thus begins the healing of our Mercy Seats.

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God Be the Glory!

(Cover Image: Felix UK, New Mercy Seat circa 1923)

Dear Salvation Army, Is Your Mercy Seat Broken?

Recently in our corps something happened.
No, it wasn’t another rousing chorus of “O Boundless Salvation”.  It wasn’t another meal around the table, although those are rather nice.
Instead, there in the sanctuary of our corps, in the place where lives are changed and hearts transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, in that very room…something was damaged – The Mercy Seat.

It happened because some corps kids were playing through out the building…scratch that.  It happened because not “some” kids, but MY kids happened to be playing in the corps building (Why is it always the Officer’s Kids?  Really??).   They ended up in the sanctuary.  Perhaps the lure of the microphones and musical instruments were too much.  Regardless of how they ended up there, they were there.  In the process of scaling the mercy seat, my eldest’s foot got caught on the lip of the seat and tripped.  As he tripped, the mercy seat came with him.  He tipped it over completely, and with it the top was pried off.

Upon inspection of the mercy seat, I quickly realized that it was not going to go back together without a little help from a hammer and some new nails.  Currently, repairs are underway.

It’s a Metaphor…mercy seat2
It dawned on me last night while laying in bed, and it all began with a broken mercy seat.  Perhaps in our corps we have lost what the mercy seat used to represent.  Perhaps, it is broken today and in need of repairs.

Question: Is your mercy seat broken?
I don’t mean physically, but emotionally, tangibly, spiritually, is it still intact?
Does your corps still call people to penitence, repentance and reconciliation?
Or have we gotten away from holding each other accountable for fear of offending others?  I don’t mean “accountability” in the sense of judgmental attitudes and condescending “I’m better than you” behavior, I mean is that standard and call to the mercy seat still available to all who would seek it?  Is there an invitation to it?
mercy seat
My Fear:
I fear that we as an Army have gotten away from it in some places.  If your corps still introduces people to Christ through the mercy seat, I applaud you.  The mercy seat in and of itself isn’t magical.  It isn’t really even about how nice it looks or how old it might be in your building.  What matters is the emphasis of repentance, reconciliation, and holiness.  The mercy seat could represent more than just that piece of furniture in our chapels…but do we emphasize it anymore?  There are times when I wonder if, in the next ten years, will it still be a part of our Army’s identity?  Will we have discarded it as some ancient Army relic of times gone by?

Is your Mercy Seat Broken? Mom 1
Perhaps it has gathered dust from lack of use.
Perhaps it needs some revitalization and fixing today.
Perhaps, in order to revive this Army, we ought to seek it out…but more importantly we ought to seek out the power behind our faith.

I believe the Holy Spirit isn’t finished with us yet.
I believe that He longs for us to linger upon that mercy seat as we reconcile ourselves to Him once more.
I believe that in order for us to possibly regain our passion and fire for the world, we have to go back to it and start once more upon our knees.

I fear that if we do not repair these broken mercy seats, our Army will soon follow that same fate as well.

-Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be The Glory!

(Cover image: Mercy Seat at Exeter Temple, UK)

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