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Salvation Army


SALVATION ARMY . The Salvation Army is described in its official mission statement as an "international movement" and "an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church." Its "message is based on the Bible," its "ministry is motivated by the love of God," and its "mission is to preach the Gospel" and to "meet human needs" without discrimination. In 2001 the organization operated in 108 countries and had 17,341 active clergy (officers) and 1,028,691 active members (soldiers). Members of any rank are called Salvationists.

Salvationists are officially required to subscribe to eleven doctrines, which are fundamentalist, evangelical, and Protestant. The army's theological position is based on that of John Wesley (17031791), the founder of Methodism, and is a restatement of the orthodox belief that love is the single motive for all true Christian endeavor: as God loved his children and sent his Son to die for them, so his children desire to love God and to show love to each other and to all people, especially the unsaved. Salvationists show this love through aggressive evangelism and a broad range of social welfare activities. Except for the omission of sacramental observances, the doctrinal beliefs of the Salvation Army have excited little controversy.

History and Aims

The doctrinal positions, objectives, and military structure of the Salvation Army have not changed since its beginning in 1878, and in many aspects even its methods of operation have changed surprisingly little. The movement was the brainchild of William Booth (18291912), an English evangelist, and his wife Catherine Booth (18291890). Members of their immediate family held important positions of leadership until the Booths' daughter Evangeline Booth (18651950) retired in 1939. The founders' influence over the modern army has remained strong.

The forerunner of the Salvation Army was the Christian Mission, which the Booths established in the East End of London in 1865 to evangelize the urban poor. Booth and his associates believed that this segment of the population had been ignored by the organized religious bodies of their day. While this was not true, Booth's efforts developed into the first systematic and large-scale program to reach London's poor with the gospel. A degree of social conscience was characteristic of the Christian Mission almost from the beginning. Efforts to relieve the destitution of those who attended their religious services were a natural outgrowth of the missionaries' evangelical zeal: kindness and generosity were commanded by Christ, and, on the practical level, hunger and cold kept many potential converts from paying proper attention to the gospel message. By 1867, four small-scale charitable activities, including a soup kitchen, were listed in the mission's annual report.

The military structure, by which the Christian Mission was transformed into an army, seemed to be the inspiration of a moment, although Booth and his closest associates had been dissatisfied with the conference system of governing the mission for some time. While preparing the mission's annual report for 1878, Booth deleted the term volunteer army in describing the work and substituted Salvation Army. The effect was electric. Booth became the "General"; full-time mission workers became "officers" and adopted a variety of military titles; converts and members became "soldiers." Brass bands, long popular with the English working class and especially well suited to the army's open-air evangelism, were added in 1879, along with a weekly devotional and news publication suitably called the War Cry. In 1880 the first regulation uniform was issued to George S. Railton (18491913) as he departed for the United States to establish the army's first official overseas mission. Comrades who died were "promoted to Glory," and children born into army families were hailed as "reinforcements." Since 1890, soldiers have been required to subscribe to the "Articles of War," a statement of doctrine, allegiance, and zeal for the "salvation war."

The new Salvation Army grew rapidly. Booth and his officers were driven by an overpowering sense of urgencynot to change the social structure but to save souls by any means. The great work was not revolution but rescue, while time yet remained. The army's most frequent self-portrayal, which appeared in posters, on the War Cry covers, and in songs, was as a lifeboat or a lighthouse, with eager Salvationists shown snatching the lost from the waves of drunkenness, crime, and vice. The thrill of losing oneself in a triumphant crusade, the military pomp, and a constantly expanding scheme of social relief proved irresistible to large numbers of the poor and to many working- and middle-class persons as well. Despite legal obstructionism from municipal authorities and ridicule from the movement's opponents, by 1887 there were a thousand corps (local units) in Great Britain, and by the end of the decade work had been started in twenty-four other countries and British colonies.

Doctrines and Practices

The Salvation Army held its converts at least partly on the clarity and simplicity of its doctrines, which were formally established by an act of Parliament in 1878. The army's doctrinal statement proclaims, on the one hand, both the atonement of Christ and the necessity of radical conversion and, on the other hand, the "privilege of holiness." In Salvation Army terms, holiness means that the sincere believer can live for love, in adoration of Christ, in joyful fellowship within the ranks of the army, and in kindly service to a dying world. Pioneer Salvationists saw religious questions in stark and simple terms; anything that was not deemed absolutely essential to salvation or helpful to evangelism, or that was regarded as inherently confusing to unlettered converts was simply jettisoned. It was partly for these reasons that the Booths abandoned sacramental observances; in addition, they had committed their movement almost from the start to the temperance (abstinence) crusade, which would not allow the use of sacramental wine.

As appealing as the doctrines of the Salvation Army may be, however, they are neither original nor unique, and they only partly explain its strength as a religious movement. The rest of the explanation has been the use to which the army puts its members, its system of discipline, and its social relief program. Converts are put promptly to work giving testimony about their own conversions, distributing the War Cry, praying, singing, playing a band instrument at indoor and outdoor religious meetings, or visiting the elderly, sick, and needy. Soldiers expect a lifetime of such service, and occasional natural disasters add to the ordinary demands on local army personnel. In addition, a number of entertaining and useful programs have been developed to utilize the energy of young people. Parades, military regalia, and an effective use of music augment, where they do not actually create, joy and pride in being part of the "Army of God." The Salvation Army has always made its appeal as broad as possible and is intentionally multicultural.

Salvationists are comfortable within the army's autocratic structure, which emphasizes obedience, loyalty, and efficiency. The system has changed more in practice than in spirit since 1878. The most important alteration in the absolute autocracy established by William Booth came in 1929, when the general's privileges of serving for life and naming his own successor were abolished. The generalship became an elective office at the disposal of a council of all territorial commanders, and the leader so chosen serves only until a certain age. Once a general is installed, however, his or her powers differ little in theory from those of the founder. Every subordinate officer is expected to obey without question the orders of a superior, and much the same is required of the soldiers. In practice, the principle of unquestioning obedience is tempered by many considerations. There is a growing commitment to a more consultative management style.

The army offers a "balanced ministry," which consists of its evangelistic program and a vast system of social welfare activities. There were important beginnings in the 1880s in England, the United States, and elsewhere, but the turning point in the development of the army's social welfare program came in 1890 with the publication of General Booth's manifesto titled In Darkest England and the Way Out. The book and the scheme it offered for relieving the sufferings of the "submerged tenth" of Victorian society attracted considerable publicity and support. An immense and varied program, marked by a quick delivery of services at the point of need, has developed. The army has sponsored food and shelter depots, industrial rehabilitation centers, rescue homes for converted prostitutes, hospitals for unwed mothers, orphanages, day-care centers, halfway houses for released convicts, programs for alcoholics and drug addicts, camping trips for poor city children, a variety of family relief and counseling services, and abuse shelters.

The Salvation Army's greatest strength is in English-speaking countries. Just over 50 percent of all active officers and 85 percent of all lay employees are in five countries: the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Although the international headquarters remains in London, the American branch is by far the largest in terms of social programs, whereas the largest numbers of active members are found in Africa, India, and Pakistan.

The army in the United States is divided into four territorial commands, each with its own headquarters and training school. The territorial leaders report to the national commander, whose headquarters is in Alexandria, Virginia. In 2003, two-thirds of the 3,647 Salvation Army officers in the United States were serving as ministers to the 1,369 local congregations (called corps), while also directing the numerous social services that flow from these local units. Other officers serve in staff and educational appointments or as administrators of the army's many social institutions. The Adult Rehabilitation Command, which offers residential alcoholic rehabilitation to both men and women, is particularly well developed.

See Also

Booth, William.


The amount of written material produced by the Salvation Army since its beginning is enormous; it is of uneven quality, but an acquaintance with at least some of it is indispensable to an understanding of the movement. Early issues of the War Cry (London, 1879; New York, 1881) portray the zeal and colorful activities of the pioneers. The serious student should begin with Chosen to Be a Soldier: Orders and Regulations for Soldiers of the Salvation Army (London, 1977 [earlier editions were written by the founder]) and Salvation Army: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine (London, 1998). A useful and informative Salvation Army Yearbook (London, 1903) is published annually. The best full-scale history of the army is a long-range project by senior officers, Robert Sandall, Arch R. Wiggins, and Frederick Coutts, and Henry Gariepy, The History of the Salvation Army, 8 vols. (London and New York, 19471994). The most comprehensive history of the army in the United States is still Edward H. McKinley, Marching to Glory: The History of the Salvation Army in the United States of America, 18801992, 2d rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1995), but the serious student should consult the growing body of new scholarly works on the army. Notably useful is Diane H. Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army (Cambridge, Mass., 1999). The army's international, U.S., and territorial headquarters maintain copious websites that are continually updated.

Edward H. McKinley (1987 and 2005)

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