Do You Know the Salvation Army?
“YES,” will reply millions of persons in the eighty-six countries where the Salvation Army is found. Their answer usually means they know that the Salvation Army does social and relief work and they are acquainted with its fund-raising activities, particularly around Christmastime. It perhaps means they have seen the lineup of skid row derelicts in front of a Salvation Army soup kitchen Or they have observed its members in their eye-catching uniforms preaching on street corners or playing their brassy musical instruments in parades. But aside from such outward appearances, what does the average person know about the Salvation Army? Where did it originate? Why is it organized along military lines? Is it a religious organization having its own set of doctrines and teachings, as do other churches?
Few know such things about the Salvation Army. Many view it as just another welfare agency that helps the needy and poor, and is often on hand to render aid at scenes of disaster. Some are familiar with the assistance and encouragement it gave the Allied soldiers during World War I, following them right into battle and serving coffee and doughnuts on the front lines. More are acquainted with its work during the second world war, when the Salvation Army had one thousand mobile canteens placed strategically throughout the world—two of which were evacuated at Dunkirk. It is with such welfare work and war-assistance programs in mind that thousands of persons respond to the Army’s solicitation for funds to carry on their activity. But really, what type of organization do these contributions support?
BIRTH AND GROWTH OF AN ARMY
Less than a hundred years ago a handful of evangelists “opened fire” on sin and corruption in the slums of East London. The fight soon became characterized as a war against Satan to bring the message of Christ to the poor, the downtrodden and the unchurched. Saloons and dives were entered, homes were visited, and the sick and poor were given care and attention. In a remarkably short time this movement grew into a prominent worldwide organization—the Salvation Army.
Its founder, William Booth, once said, “I want my religion like my tea—hot.” It was this zealous desire to carry his religion to the people, no matter who or where they might be, that caused Booth to part company with the lethargic orthodox churches. That was in 1861 when he was forced to leave the Methodist church because of his crusading activities. But Booth continued to preach everywhere—in tents, stables, theaters, saloons—wherever he could find people that would listen to his message. “It was not his plan to found a church,” an official Salvation Army publication reports. “But when he attempted to send converts to the churches, they did not feel at home because of their poor appearance. So Booth established Christian Mission centers for these converts” in the East London slums. That was in 1865. These centers grew rapidly and in May, 1878, those attending became known as the Salvation Army.
The organization quickly spread to Scotland and Wales; it invaded the United States in 1880, Australia and France in 1881; in 1883 it was established in South Africa and it moved to Japan in 1895. Giving evidence of the Salvation Army’s rapid growth was the international assembly held in June, 1914, to celebrate the beginning of its fiftieth year. At that time some 40,000 Salvationists from over fifty countries and colonies flocked to London, making it their largest international gathering even to this day. In the United States alone the Salvation Army currently has some 250,000 members.
Although during his lifetime its founder denied that the Salvation Army was a religious denomination, it eventually became recognized as such. In September, 1917, the Judge Advocate General of the United States War Department declared, in part: “The Salvation Army is a worldwide religious organization . . . It has distinct legal existence; a recognized creed and form of worship; a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government; a formal code of doctrine and discipline; a distinct religious history; a membership not associated with any other church or denomination . . . In common with other churches, it has literature of its own; established places of religious worship; regular congregations; regular religious services; a Sunday-school for the religious instruction of the young, and schools for the preparation of its ministers. The functions of its ministers seem to be similar to those of the clergy of any other church.”
SPLITS AND DIVISIONS
In the course of the Salvation Army’s development internal strife resulted in the birth of new religious denominations that are patterned along the same military lines as the parent organization. The first major split came in the United States in 1884, some four years after the Army’s arrival there. By that time an increase to some five thousand members and about three hundred officers had been realized, in the face of ridicule and fiery persecution. But then difficulty arose when General Booth ordered Major Thomas E. Moore, who was in charge of the American forces, to give up his command and take charge of the work in South Africa. Moore’s response was to form a separate Salvation Army. He incorporated his new organization in 1884 and assumed the title of General. The following year an amended charter was granted under the name The Salvation Army of America.
After Moore’s dismissal Major Frank Smith was put in charge of what was called the “World-Wide” or English Salvation Army to distinguish it from The Salvation Army of America. A competitive struggle followed that eventually saw the decline of the incorporated Army of Moore and the growth and prosperity of the international Salvation Army. In October, 1889, Colonel Richard E. Holz led the branch of the American Salvation Army under his command to a reconciliation with the international organization. Some posts, however, refused to return, and these eventually united and reorganized, and in 1913 changed their name to The American Rescue Workers.
The American Rescue Workers has continued operation till today, although it has remained a small organization with only thirty-five churches and 2,350 members. Most of its activity is confined to the eastern United States, where its headquarters are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The doctrines of the Rescue Workers are practically identical with those of the Salvation Army, and its purpose and organization are essentially the same.
A split of even greater significance came in 1896 as a result of a rift in the Booth family. William Booth had eight children, and all except the one that died at an early age took an active part in the growth and expansion of the Salvation Army. In fact, two of them, Bramwell his eldest son and Evangeline, eventually succeeded their father as commander-in-chief of the entire organization. The General’s second son, Ballington, was also a capable leader, and when he was put in charge of the American forces to succeed Major Smith in 1887, a period of unchecked progress followed. But eventually Ballington lost favor with his father, and when he was ordered to give up his command in America he quit the Salvation Army.
Ballington Booth was loved and respected by the Salvationists, and it is claimed that had he made the effort to reconstruct the Salvation Army in the United States as an independent, incorporated organization he would have succeeded. This, however, he did not choose to do. In fact, it was only on the encouragement of friends that he decided to start a new movement, and when he did, he and his wife publicly announced: “We have not sought to call to our side any of the associates still standing and believing in the International Organization.”
Despite this announcement many Salvationists joined forces with the new organization, which by April, 1896, was officially named The Volunteers of America. As a result, in less than a year the Volunteers had 140 posts with 400 commanding officers and fifty staff officers. The organization was patterned along the same military lines as the Salvation Army. Ballington became the General and served in that capacity until his death in 1940. He was succeeded by his wife, who died in 1948, and then, in turn, by his son, Charles Brandon Booth.
Today the Volunteers’ headquarters in New York city oversees the activity of its 204 churches and 28,230 members. According to an official publication, the organization “is dedicated to the service of the American people as a national religious social welfare organisation which gives material and spiritual aid to those in need without regard to race, creed or color.”
Perhaps one of the most striking features of the Salvation Army is its outward resemblance to today’s military organizations. The Faith of the Salvationist, a Salvation Army booklet, comments on its adoption of a military-like organization: “Logic laid her sober hand on the formative experimentalism of the Army’s birth. If a ‘Salvation Army,’ then a war against evil rather than the operation of a mission; if a war, then a War Cry [the official publication of the Salvation Army]; if an Army with a war on its hands, then a General rather than a General Superintendent; if a General, then officers rather than preachers or stewards; if officers, then soldiers rather than members; if soldiers, then uniforms. So the story unfolded with the quick unfetteredness of something new amongst men.” An official Salvation Army publication explains that “a military form of government is used because of its efficiency and the discipline required of personnel.”
Today a military expression is used to describe almost every act or activity of the Salvation Army. Instead of speaking of the local congregation or parish, it is the “corps.” A prayer meeting is referred to as a “kneedrill.” To become a “soldier” a new “recruit” must sign a declaration called “The Articles of War,” and when he dies he is “promoted to glory.” When operations are begun in a new territory it is spoken of as “opening fire,” and when one is ordered to leave for another assignment he is told to “farewell.”
There are two categories of membership in the Salvation Army: soldiers and commissioned officers. To become a soldier one is required to sign the Articles of War, which is a statement containing the eleven fundamental doctrines of the Salvation Army as set out in its Foundation Deed of 1878. He must also pledge active support to the Army’s principles and work, and abstain from and oppose the use of alcoholic liquor. The soldier buys his own uniform and is expected to wear it as a declaration of faith and an offer of service.
On the other hand, Salvation Army officers are full-time workers, all of whom are ordained ministers. They must wear their uniforms all the time, and they receive a weekly salary to sustain them in the ministry. To qualify as an officer a soldier must have a high school education and must spend at least six months in active service in some Salvation Army corps. Then one can apply for officership, and, if accepted, he is eligible to attend one of the Army’s training schools where a two-year in-residence course prepares him for the full-time ministry. An officer is graduated from school as a lieutenant and may advance from there to higher ranks, such as captain, major, colonel, and so forth. There are now more than 26,000 Salvation Army officers throughout the world.
An unusual feature of the organization is the prominence accorded women. According to Army teaching, “the position of women is equal to that of men.” As a result, women have had much to do with the direction and policy of the Salvation Army, often taking the oversight of men. In fact, for thirty years Evangeline Booth served as the head of the Salvation Army in the United States, and for five years directed the entire world-wide organization. In the United States today there are more women that are officers than men.
Some may laud equality with men as a noble ideal, but it runs directly counter to the Bible principle: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man.” The apostle Paul showed that it was not the woman’s position to take the lead in teaching men within the Christian congregation, when he told Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.” In granting women equal ministerial privileges the Salvation Army does not follow Bible precedent. And neither is wearing distinctive military garments following the example set by Jesus or his apostles. It is rather an imitation of the military organizations of this world.—1 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:12.
DOCTRINES AND BELIEFS
The goal of the Salvationist is to win converts. “The belief in sudden conversion is ‘in his blood’—anywhere, any time, any person,” a Salvation booklet explains. Even social and relief work is part of a program that keeps the Salvation Army religion before the minds of the public. But what are their doctrines and beliefs? Are they based upon the Bible?
The teachings of the Salvation Army are almost identical with those of most fundamental Protestant churches. The third of the eleven cardinal affirmations that every convert must sign to become a Salvationist, says: “We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and coequal in power and glory.” And the eleventh affirms: “We believe in the immortality of the soul . . . and in the endless punishment of the wicked.” The Faith of the Salvationist explains: “The Salvationist believes in Hell. His vocabulary contains the phrase ‘eternally lost’ though he may refrain from the vivid and imaginative language of his forbears when speaking on this subject.”
But does the Bible teach the trinitarian belief that God, Christ and the holy spirit are coequal and that they are three persons in one essence? Neither Jesus nor his apostles taught such a doctrine. In fact, Jesus confessed: “The Father is greater than I am.” Never did Jesus seek to usurp his Father’s superior position in order to be equal to him, as the trinity doctrine falsely teaches that he is. Professor E. Washburn Hopkins observed in his book Origin and Evolution of Religion: “To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; at any rate, they say nothing about it.” Arthur Weigall notes in The Paganism in Our Christianity that “nowhere in the New Testament does the word ‘Trinity’ appear.” He adds that “the origin of the conception is entirely pagan.”—John 14:28; Phil. 2:6.
Similarly, the belief in the immortality of the human soul and its eternal torment have been an integral part of pagan religions for thousands of years, but you will find no support for such teachings in the Bible. Greek scholar Benjamin Wilson noted in the appendix of his Bible translation, The Emphatic Diaglott, that in the more than 800 occurrences of the original Hebrew and Greek words for soul, “not once is the word immortal, or immortality, or deathless, or never-dying, found in connection, as qualifying the terms.” However, the Bible reader will find many expressions similar to Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” And instead of teaching eternal torment for those who have died, the Bible says, “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”—Eccl. 9:5, 10; Isa. 53:12; Ps. 22:29.
The Salvation Army also holds that “baptism and the Lord’s supper are not essential to the soul’s salvation, and it does not observe them.” However, Jesus’ explicit farewell command to his followers was: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them.” The record of the apostles’ ministry in the Bible book of Acts shows that they obeyed this command. Jesus also instructed his followers respecting the “Lord’s supper,” the final meal he ate with his disciples to memorialize his death: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” These two things, baptism and the “Lord’s supper,” have a wealth of symbolic meaning for Christians, and Jesus put true Christians under obligation to observe them.—Matt. 28:19; Luke 22:19.
Although many who have supported it in various ways may have viewed the Salvation Army as merely a social-welfare organization, a closer look reveals that it is primarily a religious movement having its own set of doctrines and teachings. And even though many of its officers and soldiers may display exemplary zeal, the message they carry to the people concerning Christ and man’s hope for the future is not based on an accurate knowledge of God’s Word.