Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What is the Salvation Army? Is the Salvation Army a Church?

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army

The mission of the Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet needs in His name without discrimination. This mission statement helps us to understand that the Salvation Army is in fact a protestant evangelical church movement. For those interested in learning more about this fact, I highly recommend Who are these Salvationists? by Ret. Gen. Shaw Clifton. Shaw Clifton’s work Who are these Salvationists? (1997) emphasizes and underlines the importance of the Salvation Army as a part of protestant evangelicalism.

The Salvation Army’s ministry is based on the Bible and it’s ministry is motivated by the love of God. The Salvation Army is most certainly a church organization, based on a conservative biblical interpretation of the scriptures, which means the Salvation Army is firmly entrenched in the protestant evangelical movements in the world that emphasize grace through faith alone, glory to God alone, Christ alone for salvation, and the Bible alone as the authority of divine teaching (Shaw, 1997).

The Salvation Army as Church
If one were to ask General William Booth if the Salvation Army were a church, he would probably reply, “The Salvation Army is an army!” (Shaw, 1997, p. 9). It’s most probable that Catherine Booth would’ve also recognized TSA as a distinct movement, not fitting any particular or current mold (Shaw, 1997, p. 9).  Later in the history of the army, General Arnold Brown commissioned Frederick Coutts to produce a document on the Salvation Army and if it ought to be called a church (Shaw, 1997, p. 9).  The document Coutts produced simply indicated what was already quite true, the Salvation Army as a group of Christian believers is a part of the body of Christ (Shaw, 1997, p. 9).  The church is simply another way of saying the body of Christ, which is the body of those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 12:5 New International Version). Sadly in some parts of the world people are quite surprised to learn that the Salvation Army is a church, which Shaw (1997) attributes to a too inward looking attitude and a failure to understand the positive need for a clear articulation of what the army is (Shaw, 1997, p. 10). Never the less, though the international mission statement may be somewhat ambiguous regarding the fact of the Salvation Army being a church, TSA meets all the standards of a legitimate church movement and ought to be considered as such (Shaw, 1997, p. 12-13).

The Salvation Army as Protestant
Protestantism is a collection of movements branching off of the theology of greats like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jacob Arminius. These movements are extremely diverse and therefore one might more accurately refer to these movements as protestantisms (Shaw, 1997, p. 21).  Protestantism is based deeply on the foundational value of the Bible alone as the authoritative and inerrant word of God (Shaw, 1997, p. 22).  Perhaps just as importantly Protestantism is based on the concept of an individual responsibility to accept or decline the offer of salvation found in Jesus Christ.  Though this should not be confused to mean that protestants have an individualist view of church activities (Shaw, 1997, p. 22).  Grace is prime to Protestantism (Shaw, 1997, p. 23).  In fact according to Shaw (1997) “There is no more important word in the Protestant vocabulary than grace” (p. 23). The Salvation Army certainly affirms this primacy of grace.  In addition, the Salvation Army’s first doctrine unabashedly affirms the authority and value of the holy scriptures (Shaw, 1997, p. 23).  The Salvation Army affirms all the key tenants of Protestantism including the priesthood of all believers, the importance of holiness, and the worship of God (Shaw, 1997, ch. 2).

The Salvation Army as Evangelical
The Salvation Army is historically firmly rooted in the movements described as evangelicalism (Shaw, 1997, p. 35).  Evangelicalism originally came about in the eighteenth century revivals in England (Shaw, 1997, p. 35).  Many countries were affected by the revivals, including the United States. (Shaw, 1997, p. 35). William Booth was originally part of the Methodist denomination, which came out of the revivals of the likes of Charles Wesley and Jonathan Edwards (Shaw, 1997, p. 36).  One could say that William Booth’s Christian Mission and later the Salvation Army are ideological descendants of evangelicalism and therefore part of modern evangelicalism (Shaw, 1997, p. 36). 
Some of the greats of modern and recent evangelicalism include John R.W. Stott, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and of course Billy Graham (Shaw, 1997, p. 36, 40). In fact is one is looking for a ringing endorsement of a prominent evangelical leader, Billy Graham spoke direct praise for the Salvation Army during his years of ministry calling it "Christianity in action!" (Gariepy, 2009).  
General Shaw (1997) indicates four great principles that are hallmarks of evangelicalism: they include insistence on biblical authority, personal emphasis in regard to conversion, recognition of the need for social service and social action, and a firm focus of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (p. 45). 
Salvationism is deeply influenced by the works of Dr. Francis Schaeffer, in that the Salvation Army rejects a liberal, or low view of scripture (Shaw, 1997, p. 25).  Instead, the Salvation Army affirms the highest view of scripture as the inerrant word of God.  Indeed, the Salvation Army also rejects the relativism of the modern age, which has made for moral chaos and the loss of truth as a concept (Shaw, 1997, p. 44).  The Salvation Army affirms objective moral values, the fact that Christianity is a comprehensive worldview, and the fact of the necessity for modern believers to be vocal on important social and political issues of the day (Shaw, 1997).

The Salvation Army as a Christian movement focused on a dual mission of preaching the gospel and meeting needs, is in fact a protestant evangelical church movement.  The Salvation Army is a church, given the very nature of the army as a body of officers and soldiers who regularly worship God.  The Salvation Army is protestant in that the basic precepts of protestant theology and worship are met in the activities of the army.  And the Salvation Army is evangelical in that the army holds the highest view of scripture, propagates the need for a personal relationship with Jesus, and firmly emphasizes social service work and social action.  Or as Shaw (1997) said in his book, quoting cardinal archbishop Law of Boston, “The Salvation Army is an authentic expression of classical Christianity” (p. 5).


Clifton, Shaw. Who Are These Salvationists?. 1st ed. Alexandria, VA: Crest Books, 1999. Print.
Gariepy, H. (2009). Christianity in Action (1st ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
NIV Bible. 1st ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2007.             Print.