Is the Salvation Army a religion?

Friday, January 27, 2017 - Updated: 6:00 am

QUESTION: In speaking with a new neighbor, we got to talking about religion and in the process she said that her religion was Salvation Army. I was surprised that she considered it a religion since I thought it was simply an organization that helped people in trouble. Is there really a religion involved with this good work?

ANSWER: Any discussion of the Salvation Army must begin with its founder, William Booth. He was born in 1829 and ordained as a minister in the Methodist Church in England. Booth had a burning desire to work among the poor of London and soon left the comfort of his pulpit to preach among the poor and unchurched.

Booth soon found others who wanted to follow his ministry and dedicate themselves to his work. Although he was personally satisfied with the existing church structures, he soon discovered that the poor to whom he was preaching seemed unwelcome in the established, socially aware churches. He felt that if he was ever to be successful in his mission he needed a church into which he could welcome his converts.

Thus, he founded a new church to address this need. Originally called the Christian Mission, in 1878 the name was changed to the Salvation Army. With the name change came patterns of how the organization would develop.

The statement of faith for the community was called the Articles of War and the local mission stations became the corps, members were called soldiers and the leaders were called officers. Although receiving some criticism for patterning a religious organization after the British Army, Booth responded that it was the goal that mattered.

The work of the Salvation Army soon won its members the admiration of the people of England. The Army had established rehabilitation centers for alcoholics, maternity homes, employment centers and stores where used articles could be purchased at affordable prices. The Salvation Army spread quickly beyond England and the first group was established in the United States in 1880.

The beliefs of the Salvation Army follow many of the general beliefs of Methodism. While not emphasizing theological issues, the Army professes that the Bible is the "only rule of Christian faith and practice." Individual conversion consists in an interior experience that leads to trust in a God who is Father, Son and Spirit.

The Salvation Army emphasizes the importance of the Gospel being freely preached to all and that the life of the Gospel leads to Christian service for one’s neighbor.

The Salvation Army does not construct church buildings but relies rather on halls where worship consists of free prayer, hymn singing, witness talks, preaching and the reading of Scripture. There are no sacraments within the Salvation Army, and baptism is replaced by a dedication ceremony and marriages are performed but not considered sacramental.

The international headquarters of the Salvation Army is in London. Organizationally, the Army is divided into territories, divisions and corps (smallest units). The officers are recruited from both male and female members and undergo a training program of at least 12 months.

The Salvation Army is a Christian religion that professes beliefs that ground its service to neighbors.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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