Salvation Army

Founded by William Booth* as the “Christian Mission” in East London in 1865, the Salvation Army first took that name in 1878. It was an essentially evangelical movement, biblically orientated, theologically conservative. Its basis of belief includes the divine inspiration of the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity, the salvation of believers “by faith through grace,” the “immortality of the soul,” the resurrection of the body, the final judgment. The doctrinal distinctives of the Army include an Arminian emphasis on free will and a “holiness” experience which can be subsequent to conversion-this is traceable to William Booth's Methodist origins-and the nonobservance of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

By 1879 William Booth “commanded” eighty-one stations, manned by 127 full-time evangelists, with another 1,000 voluntary speakers holding 75,000 services a year. Fifty-one new stations were opened in 1878; in that same year the first brass band featured in an Army event, and soon Salvationist words were being set to secular song tunes and bands were springing up everywhere. In 1880 standard uniforms were adopted, preceded in 1878 by the first volume of Orders and Regulations for the Salvation Army. Also in 1880 came the first overseas advance, into the USA; in 1882, Canada was “invaded,” followed by India. By 1884 the Army had more than 900 corps, over 260 of them outside Britain, and headquarters in the city of London. This in spite of fierce opposition, at times leading to serious rioting.

The Army was inevitably led to operate on a broader front, faced with the appalling social needs of Victorian London and other great cities. A sensational case in which William Booth's son Bramwell was involved in exposing the white slave traffic forced the Army into prominence. Within five years, thirteen homes for girls in need of care and protection had been set up in the United Kingdom, and a further seventeen overseas. The first Prison Gate home for discharged prisoners was opened in Melbourne in 1883. In 1887 Booth, seeing homeless men sleeping rough on London Bridge, decided to do something practical. After intense research he set out the facts in a best-selling book, In Darkest England-and the Way Out, appealing for a fighting fund of £100,000. Cheap food depots, an unofficial employment exchange, a missing persons bureau, night shelters, a farm colony, soup kitchens, leper colonies, woodyards in the USA, home industries in India, hospitals, schools, and even a lifeboat for the fishermen of Norway-these marked successive stages in the Army's massive program of social action. Permeating it all was the basic concern for personal salvation which had been the motivation of its beginnings.

World War I gave many opportunities for service which broke down further barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding, and helped the Army to its present general acceptance both as an agency of goodwill and compassion, and as a member of the world family of Christian churches. Today the Army is at work in 74 countries, and numbers altogether some 2 million members. There are 25,039 full-time officers. Typical statistics for a recent year (1970) include: 20 million low-cost meals served, 10 million hostel beds provided, 7,035 missing persons traced, 19,722 unmarried mothers cared for. The Salvation Army has 40 general and specialist hospitals, with some 148,000 in-patients in a recent year.

See R. Sandall, The History of the Salvation Army (3 vols., 1947-55).