Many may recognize The Salvation Army (or “SA”) by its red kettles and bell ringing during the holiday season. Yet, few may know how it grew to become an internationally recognized movement.
Soup, Soap, and Salvation: The Beginnings of The Salvation Army
In 1865, William and Catherine Booth founded the East London Christian Mission in London as a movement to bring Christianity to the poorest and most marginalized in London through “the three ‘S’s’”: first, soup; second, soap; third, salvation.
In 1878, the Booths changed the name of the movement to “The Salvation Army”. The theme of soldiers in God’s army shaped the way the members organized together. William Booth became known as “General,” other ministers were given the rank of “officer,” and other members became “soldiers.”
Catherine Booth is the “Mother of The Salvation Army”. She spent much of her time speaking with the wealthy in society. She hoped to gain financial support for the work of the movement. Catherine and other women in SA often served in ministerial functions. This was possible due to the movement’s conviction that women and men both had the right to preach.
As the movement spread to other countries, including the United States, many who were considered the “down and outs” of society became the main converts – alcoholics, addicts, and prostitutes. The Salvation Army grew in recognition following its disaster relief efforts in the early 1900s.
Preach and Meet: Beliefs of SA
The Booths founded The Salvation Army to be an international, evangelical movement. Their mission is to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
In its “The Doctrines of The Salvation Army,” it is clear that the movement affirms many mainstream evangelical Christian beliefs, including the Trinity, the inspiration of the Bible, original sin, and the atonement of Jesus Christ. Although it derives many of its beliefs from Methodism, SA does not celebrate Baptism and Communion in its worship services. Rather, in a local church of The Salvation Army, the Mercy Seat exists. It is a place where anyone can kneel to pray as a sign of commitment and communion with God. To become a member, they must sign the official creed of The Salvation Army called the “Soldier’s Covenant.”
Additionally, The Salvation Army’s International Moral and Social Issues Council regularly recommends statements on various moral and social issues. For instance, the movement has historically encouraged an alcohol-free lifestyle in society as a whole. Therefore, it requires its members to abstain entirely from alcohol.
Soldiers, Bells, and Kettles: Noticeable Features of SA
Members often wear uniforms as a sign of being a part of the movement. While the uniform may take various forms around the world based on culture, they are characterized by an “S” insignia. Various ranks in The Salvation Army have different distinguishing features. The highest-ranking official, the General, leads an operation that encompasses 128 countries around the world with over 1.2 million soldiers alone.
In many countries around the world, SA is recognized for its red kettles and bell ringing. This usually occurs outside of businesses during the Christmas season. Their associated brass bands, choirs, or other music playing make them recognizable to all.
Above all, The Salvation Army and its disaster relief are its greatest efforts. But also, family tracing services, and youth groups around the world. Most recently, the movement served more than 1.7 million people in every state devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With the leadership of its General, Brian Peddle, The Salvation Army continues to meet others’ needs. They work hard to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, destitute, and hungry around the world.
Timothy Cho wrote this article.