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Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?

The origins of the Salvation Army

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore students’ sense of the relevance of their own beliefs (SEAL theme: Social skills).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and one reader. Note that the script provided is for a male reader, but it can be easily adapted for a female reader.
  • Have available the song ‘Why should the devil have all the good music’ by Larry Norman and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


Leader: Imagine that you wanted to find out what it means to believe in the Christian faith. How would you go about doing that?

The obvious answer would be to go to a church.

Reader: Hold on a minute! I’ve been to church and I didn’t find it a helpful experience at all. It was very quiet, like going into a museum. Everyone else seemed to know what to do – where to sit, when to stand up, which words to say out loud. I felt very awkward and I’d spent ages before setting out, trying to decide what would be the appropriate way to dress, whether I should put on a tie and smart trousers. That’s what I’ve had to do for a wedding or a christening. In the end I was so self-conscious that I barely listened to what was being said.

Leader: There are probably many of you who’ve experienced that same sense of awkwardness. It’s not the fault of the church you went to. Those who attend regularly have created a community that feels right for them. The problem is that it may not feel like home to you.

Reader: The main problem was the music. At worst it sounded like a classical concert with an organ blaring out. They tried some songs, but even those sounded like Radio 2, middle of the road music. It’s as if what I listen to didn’t exist.

Leader: What’s interesting is that your experience isn’t new. Some 150 years ago there were people who wanted to hear the Christian message, but felt unwelcome in many of the churches that existed then. Jesus spent much of his time talking to the poor, the hungry, the lonely, what he called ‘lost sheep’, but, in Victorian England, these people weren’t openly welcomed in churches because they were scruffy, dirty and socially unacceptable. They weren’t able to feel at home there.

William Booth was a church minister at that time. He believed that Jesus’ message was for everyone, especially those who were emotionally, physically and financially in need. He felt frustrated as he saw how the church door became a barrier to those for whom the message was most relevant.

So, he decided to take the message out through the door and to the people where they lived and worked. In the summer of 1865, he founded what we know today as the Salvation Army in a tent in the East End of London. The tent was a neutral venue, without the traditional trappings of a church. Anyone was welcome. Everyone felt comfortable.

Most strikingly, Booth created a new kind of church music. He took the tunes from popular songs of the day and wrote Christian words to them. His slogan was, ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’ He took the instruments from brass bands and created a new church sound that was bold and uplifting. He made the message of Jesus relevant and accessible.

Time for reflection

What do you believe?


I’m fairly certain that most of you will have reacted to my question by thinking that you don’t believe in anything. I’m not sure that’s true.

Some of you will believe in an orthodox religious faith, either because you’ve been brought up in that faith or have made your own decision to follow it. Others of you will have rejected parts of that faith but still hold on to certain elements. That’s still a belief. It helps you to organize your life and make decisions.

Others will also say you don’t believe in anything, that you’re atheists. That’s still a belief system.

Finally, there will be those of you who are uncertain, maybe confused about all the possible options.

In one way or another, then, we all believe or feel that we want to believe.

I’d like to suggest that it’s important to bring our beliefs out into the open rather than hold them close and not share them. It’s important because it may help others to understand their beliefs more clearly, to see that what they think is relevant and life-affirming. It’s also important because it helps us to be clear about what we believe and why we believe it. We’re not trying to change one another’s beliefs, we’re helping one another affirm what is important to us.

William Booth felt that he needed to take the message of Jesus out of churches to people in general. He felt that he needed to put that message into the words, music and culture of those who felt uncomfortable in traditional churches. In a similar way, you know what your words, music and culture are, so you’re the best people to take what you believe and make it relevant in your world.


Dear Lord,
Thank you for the possibility of believing, of having a foundation on which to build our lives.
May we be prepared to share what we believe in case it helps others.
May we be prepared to test what we believe so our faith may become stronger.


‘Why should the devil have all the good music’ by Larry Norman

Publication date: July 2015   (Vol.17 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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