Beyond the *mercy seat
*A designated place of prayer in the front of a chapel, often a plain bench with a cushion for kneeling, also known as ‘the penitent form’ or ‘the altar.’
Great things can happen at a mercy seat. For instance, in Schenectady, N.Y., my heart was flooded with God’s love as I knelt at one. I remember exactly where I was and exactly what text the preacher used (1 Corinthians 13). It was an unforgettable day when the Holy Spirit transformed my heart and my life. Since then, I’ve never been the same. Subsequently, I’ve made numerous trips to the mercy seat to “seal” one “deal” or another with God.
At times, my commitment has come with a cost. For example, following a trip to the mercy seat where I pledged not to do business on Sunday, I was soon fired from a job that required my service on that day. How’s that for life–changing?
The Army’s International Spiritual Life Commission concluded that the mercy seat is where “we may experience a deep awareness of God’s abundant grace and claim His boundless salvation.” I will forever visit the mercy seat. I have gone there on behalf of my children, my friends, my family, and to seek God for concerns both large and small.
Aside from having a personal connection, the mercy seat also has a colorful and intriguing history within The Salvation Army and the American Evangelical tradition. But, what is its role in the formation of a Christian?
“The hope of the Army is in the penitent form. As soon as that goes out of use, we go out.” —General Albert Orsborn (Australian War Cry; Aug. 8, 1936)
The essential virtues of the Christian faith are well known; love, peace, kindness, generosity, and more (Matthew 5:43–48; Luke 10:25–28; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:22–23). Such virtues can only be properly expressed and proven within community. God’s goodness is always expressed toward others and among others, and to share in God’s nature (2 Peter 1:3–9) requires being good to people.
When kneeling in prayer, a moment of conviction and surrender can be powerful, but we need to carry it through into our everyday lives. Such deeper discipleship goes beyond the mercy seat and includes the community.
Living a fully Christian life means translating a moment between me and Jesus into a lifetime with others. For instance, without the challenge and support of a small group of Christian friends who are known to each other, our effort to live a God–honoring life falters.
John Wesley famously said, “Christianity is essentially a social religion; and that to turn it into a solitary religion, is indeed to destroy it” (Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse Four, Sermon 24). To continue growing, we must seek God in the most intimate and personal way.
Most Salvationists likely remember profound moments of surrender and devotion at the mercy seat. Nevertheless, the full experience of Christian formation (deeper discipleship) includes life outside the sanctuary. This is where our relationships both test and fund our commitments. How are we seeking and ensuring those relationships in our lives?
What can I do?
Use the mercy seat. It’s a place to seek an active relationship with God.
by Isaiah Allen