Writing about a religious organization involves risks, but the excellence of this organization makes it worthwhile. I am trying to accurately relate what I read in the best histories but not function as a reporter. The reader is directed to the sources I provide.

Writing about a religious organization involves risks, but the excellence of this organization makes it worthwhile. I am trying to accurately relate what I read in the best histories but not function as a reporter. The reader is directed to the sources I provide.

Model of Ministry

The first thing the Booths had to do in beginning the Salvation Army [SA] was to develop a strategy of ministry the first step of which was finding volunteers [“soldiers” or ‘salvationists’] . Unlike existing denominations, the Army could recruit any new Christian who was willing and able to enter into their ministry. Older British denominations sent only ministers who were both educated and ordained which provided them too few to evangelize America. Consequently, the U.S. was evangelized by Protestants who allowed lay preachers. Though the Army did pay their full-time ministers a meagre salary, they were primarily motivated not by pay for work but the rewards from their work helping the helpless.

The Army’s military polity allows them a freedom of action not available to church groups having a congregational [democratic] structure inhibiting their leaders from acting or speaking prophetically on controversial matters. When workers in a British match factory got sick using hazardous materials, the Army started a match factory using safe materials which eventually pressured competitors to cease their unsafe practices. In 1908 parliament passed legislation restricting the use of unsafe phosphorous. General Booth’s philosophy was it was “better to build a fence at the top of the precipice than to attempt to rescue a man once he had fallen off.” With authority centralized in a single executive, the Army could access government support in addressing the needs of the urban poor while retaining the independence to speak prophetically to power on public policy issues affecting them.


Initially, the SA was too busy ministering to develop its doctrine of ministry. Their earliest effort in 1866 produced 7 doctrines which had expanded to only 11 by 1875. They emphasized ‘holiness’ which did not refer to ‘speaking in tongues’ as it is often understood here but to sanctification or bringing one’s whole life into conformity with that of Christ. “In summary, Salvationists believe that God the Father purposes our salvation, God the Son provides our salvation, and God the Holy Spirit perfects our salvation….continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.” [1] As someone said, there were no nominal members in their army.

They believed strongly in a literal devil and hell awaiting all who were not in a saving relationship with Jesus. Avoiding this fate required an adult decision to repent and follow Jesus. The reward would be rescue from hell and the consequences of sin in one’s life. For most it also improved the circumstances of their lives.

It was not until 1998 in its “Handbook of Doctrine” that the SA used the word “church” describing itself though it has since its inception functioned as one. “Every officer is ordained and its soldiers are ecclesiastical members engaged in regular worship and evangelism. Its mission statement declares the Army as an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.”[1] As “born-again believers” salvationists were highly motivated to witness, and church services routinely included testimonies. They decided against the orthodox understanding of ‘sacraments’ and did not baptize new members. They did observe the Lord’s Supper but without wine to not tempt former alcoholics.


The SA’s strategy was to adapt the French system of triage they pioneered in their field front line field hospitals in WWI. Overwhelmed by more casualties than they could treat, French medical personnel treated casualties in order of their assessed severity and treatability [ability to save them]. The Army found a pressing need was unmarried pregnant women rejected by their families and flooding into cities having no facilities or programs to help them. In the U.S. the Army established rescue homes in major cities starting in 1886. In NYC they opened a ‘creche’ providing care for infants whose mothers were forced to work, were in jail for short terms, or who had simply neglected them. Soap boxes served as cribs.

“The great charm in these enterprises lay in the fact that they were absolutely practical and provided a service made infinitely more welcome by the absence of practical alternatives. The same was true of much of the Army’s welfare ministry in this period .The “Slum Sisters” were sent in pairs into the streets of NYC in 1890. “These girls simply did whatever came to hand; their sole ministry was to be helpful and speak of Christ when asked their motive. They bathed and fed helpless stroke victims, washed and cuddled the extra baby or two in a crowded flat, cooked meals, made beds, patched clothing, scrubbed floors, bundled returned drunks into bed, washed and dressed the dead for undertakers [who simply delivered a coffin, took payment, and departed]. They slum sisters wore no army uniform but passed unobtrusively among their beneficiaries dressed in faded nondescript clothes. The slum officers encountered the worst poverty imaginable. “No food, no fire, no comfort—filth, vermin, cold and despair were all we found that day,” wrote one in 1895. Observers referred their ministry as “angelic.” [2]

[1] Gariepy, Henry, Christianity in Action, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub., 59-75; 258-9.

[2] McKinley, E.H., Marching to Glory, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co.,1995, p69-70.