An Analysis of the “Salvation Army”

By Wayne Jackson

Street corner bands, trucks collecting repairable items, red kettles, ringing bells at Christmas time, and soup lines are well-known marks of the internationally publicized Salvation Army. This is an organization that is hailed as a paragon of virtue by most religious people.

The Salvation Army is widely acclaimed for its charitable thrust. It operates hostels for homeless men and women, employment bureaus, general hospitals, dispensaries and clinics, leprosaria, homes for unwed mothers, children’s homes, boarding schools, and hotels. It publishes periodicals in many languages and serves meals to the hungry. Many would conclude, therefore, that such an institution is worthy of the highest praise. And we would be unfair if we failed to point out that there is much to admire in the humane disposition that characterizes those of the Salvation Army.

However, it is a fact that is undeniable to any informed student of the New Testament that the Salvation Army is a human organization unauthorized by the Bible. Many of its doctrines are totally contradictory to New Testament teaching, and therefore cannot be ignored. The welfare of eternal souls is at stake.

The Origin of the Salvation Army

The founder of the Salvation Army was William Booth. Booth was born in Nottingham, England, in 1829. As a young man he joined the Methodist Church and shortly thereafter, about 1844, he allegedly had some sort of “conversion experience” which led to his becoming a revivalist preacher a couple of years later. In 1862, he left the Methodists to “evangelize” among the poor. Booth started the East London Christian Mission in 1865; the name was changed to “The Salvation Army” in 1878.

According to its charter issued in New York State in 1899, the Salvation Army is an organization “designed to operate as a religious and charitable corporation” whose paramount purpose “is to lead men and women into a proper relationship with God”(What Is the Salvation Army?, pp.8-9).

The Organization of the Salvation Army

The organizational structure of the Salvation Army bears not the slightest resemblance to that of the church revealed in the New Testament. Rather, it is more akin to the hierarchical system of Roman Catholicism. The international headquarters is in London and is under the authority of the international “General.” The General operates through a “Chief of Staff” into various overseas departments where limited administrative decisions are made.

“In the United States, the Army is divided into four Territories, with headquarters in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. Each has its own commander with rank of Commissioner or Lieutenant-Commissioner. There is also a National Commander with headquarters in New York. . .” (What is the Salvation Army?, p. 10).

The Doctrine of the Salvation Army

The official creed book of the Salvation Army is The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, published by the International Headquarters in London. The “General Order” which prefaces the book states:

“This volume contains an exposition of the principle Doctrines of the Salvation Army as set forth in its Deed Poll of 1878.”

“These Doctrines are to be taught in connection with all Salvation Army Officer’s training operations, both preparatory and institutional. It is required of officers of all ranks that their teaching, in public and private, shall conform to these eleven Articles of Faith.”

Their claim that the Scriptures constitute the only “divine rule of Christian faith and practice” is therefore, misleading (Article 1). The doctrines and practice of the Salvation Army give evidence that they do not have a correct view of the authority of the Scriptures, which leads one to ask this question: What is the virtue in filling a man’s belly with bread and beans, if, at the same time, you are poisoning his soul with false doctrine? The good deeds of the Salvation Army are not to the glory of God, for Jehovah is to be glorified through the church for which Christ died (Eph. 3:21). Indeed, their publicized charitable works only compound their potential for doing eternal harm to innocent souls.

Some Doctrinal Errors

  1. Hereditary Total Depravity — The Salvation Army teaches that in consequence of our first parents’ sin, we are born sinners, totally depraved, having inherited a disposition to self-pleasing (Handbook, pp. 85 — 86).

    The Bible teaches the opposite. Sin is not inherited (Ezek. 18:20), and “little ones” know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39). God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), hence, when they come from Him (Ecc. 12:7), they are as pure as the Source. Man begins to practice evil in his youth (Gen. 8:21). Jesus had a human mother. Was He half depraved?
  2. Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit — The Salvation Army actually denies the biblical affirmation that the gospel is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). This organization teaches that man has neither the will nor the power to be saved. Although he may have heard “the gospel message many times, by this inner illuminating (of the Holy Spirit) he now knows it to be true, and true for him personally” (Handbook, pp. 89, 133; yet cf. Rev. 22:17; Eph. 1:13).
  3. Denial of the Necessity of Baptism — The Salvation Army administers no baptism. They assert that it is not necessary “in order to receive salvation.” They reason that there are climates and circumstances which would make immersion impractical, so only repentance and faith are required (Handbook, pp. 185-186).

    But Christ commands, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15-16). Peter also connects baptism with repentance in Acts 2:38. Clearly, “circumstances” do not negate divinely commanded requirements involving salvation!
  4. The Lord’s Supper Excluded — The Salvation Army makes no provision for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus plainly said of the memorial supper, “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). The Salvation Army excludes it so that they might testify to themselves and others “against the danger of trusting to any external rite as though it has a virtue in itself” (Handbook, p. 188). Such is the “testimony” of arrogance and unbelief.
  5. Instrumental Music in Worship — The use of instrumental music in Christian worship is not authorized by the Scriptures. It is an addition to the specific command to sing (Eph. 5:19). It is well known that it was a human introduction in about the seventh century A.D. But “music plays an important part in Salvation Army religious work …. It is symbolic of the cheerful quality of Salvation Army religion” (What Is the Salvation Army?, p. 25). This is a further indication of the Salvation Army’s disregard of divine truth.
  6. Women Preachers Accepted — Catherine Booth (the founder’s wife) was a woman preacher who addressed great audiences. She wrote a vigorous defense of the “female ministry.” The Bible teaches that women may not function in a teaching, authority role over men (1 Tim. 2:12ff). The role of a public teacher over man is not the place of woman.
  7. Unscriptural Financing — The work of the New Testament church was supported by free-will contributions of its members (Acts 11:29; 1 Cor. 16:2). The Salvation Army is involved in various money-raising enterprises and must “look to the public for some of the financial support” (What Is the Salvation Army?, p. 26).

Surely no Christian would support the propagation of such misguided teaching. There is more to being right with God that benevolent works.

Recent Developments

A couple of years back, the Salvation Army caved in to societal pressures when its “Western Corporation” decided to extend benefits to “Domestic Partners.” Translated, that means the Army decided it would accommodate the homosexual community and those who were living together in intimacy without the marriage arrangement.

The city of San Francisco had offered a 3.5 million dollar contract to various groups to provide drug treatment, meals, shelter, etc. to the homeless (who have denigrated the “city by the bay” in a perfectly horrible fashion). But there is a San Francisco ordinance that requires that organizations doing business with the city must not exclude health-care benefits from homosexuals or non-married partners in live-in arrangements. For a while the Army resisted; eventually, though, by its own admission, the organization yielded to the money enticement.

Many mainline denominations have followed the same trail of shame over the past several years. Truly, modern “Christendom” has done as profane Esau once did — they have bargained away their souls for a “mess of meat.”

“They that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.