The Salvation Army

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The Salvation Army
Classification Protestant
Orientation Holiness movement
Founder General William Booth
Origin July 2, 1865[1]
London, England, U.K.
Separated from Methodism
Geographical Area Worldwide
Congregations 13,826[2]
Members 1,240,239[2]

The Salvation Army is a Christian church and international charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion. The organization reports a worldwide membership, known as Salvationists, of over 1 million consisting of soldiers, officers, and adherent members. Its founders Catherine and William Booth sought to bring salvation to the poor, destitute, and hungry by meeting both their physical and spiritual needs.

The theology of the Salvation Army is derived from that of Methodism although it is distinctive in institution and practice. The Army's doctrine is typical of evangelical Protestant denominations. The Salvation Army is modeled after the military, with its own flag (or colors) and its own hymns, often with words set to popular and folkloric tunes.

Today, the Salvation Army is present in over 120 countries, running charity shops, operating shelters for the homeless, and providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid to developing countries.


The Salvation Army founders, Catherine and William Booth

The Salvation Army was founded in London's East End in 1865 by one-time Methodist Reform Church minister William Booth and his wife Catherine. Originally, Booth named the organization the East London Christian Mission. The name The Salvation Army developed from an incident in which William Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton and said, "We are a volunteer army." Bramwell Booth heard his father and said, "Volunteer! I'm no volunteer, I'm a regular!" Railton was instructed to cross out the word "volunteer" and substitute the word "salvation."[3]

In 1878 Booth reorganized the mission, introducing the military structure which has been retained to the present day.[4] He became the "General" and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as "officers". Other members became "soldiers".[5] Booth and the other soldiers in "God's Army" wore the Army's own uniform, for meetings and ministry work.

When William Booth became known as the General, Catherine became known as the "Mother of The Salvation Army." William preached to the poor, and Catherine spoke to the wealthy, gaining financial support for their work. She also acted as a religious minister, which was unusual at the time; the Foundation Deed of the Christian Mission states that women had the same rights to preach as men. William Booth described the organization's approach: "The three ‘S's’ best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the 'down and outs': first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation."[6]

In 1880, the Salvation Army started its work in three other countries: Australia, Ireland, and the United States. It was not always an official officer who started the Salvation Army in a new country; sometimes Salvationists emigrated to countries and started operating as "the Salvation Army" on their own authority. When the first official officers arrived in Australia and the United States, they found groups of Salvationists already waiting for them and started working together with them.

Women's dormitories operated by The Salvation Army, Washington, D.C. c. 1920

The Salvation Army's main converts at first were alcoholics, morphine addicts, prostitutes, and other "undesirables" unwelcome in polite Christian society, which helped prompt the Booths to start their own church.[7] The Booths did not include the use of sacraments (mainly baptism and Holy Communion) in the Army's form of worship, believing that many Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of spiritual grace rather than on grace itself.[8] Other beliefs were that its members should completely refrain from drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, taking illegal drugs, and gambling.[5]

As the Salvation Army grew rapidly in the late nineteenth century, it generated opposition in England. Opponents, grouped under the name of the Skeleton Army, disrupted Salvation Army meetings and gatherings, with tactics such as throwing rocks, bones, rats, and tar, as well as physical assaults on Salvationists.[9] Much of this was led by pub owners who were losing business because of the Army's opposition to alcohol and targeting of the frequenters of saloons and public houses.

The Salvation Army's reputation in the United States improved as a result of its disaster relief efforts following the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Salvation Army today is one of the world's largest providers of social aid. In addition to community centers and disaster relief, the organization does work in refugee camps, especially among displaced people in Africa. The church remains a highly visible and sometimes controversial presence in many parts of the world.

Structure and organization

The worldwide expansion of Salvation army

The Salvation Army has a worldwide presence in over 120 countries. In 2016, Madagascar became the 128th country in which the Salvation Army has a recognized legal presence.[10]

For administrative purposes, the Salvation Army divides itself geographically into territories, which are then sub-divided into divisions. In larger areas, regional and area commands are also introduced as sub-divisions of divisions. Each territory has an administrative hub known as territorial headquarters (THQ). Likewise, each division has a divisional headquarters (DHQ). Each of these territories is led by a territorial commander who receives orders from the Salvation Army's International Headquarters in London. A territory is normally led by an officer holding the rank of colonel (for small territories) or commissioner for larger territories. In some countries, the work of The Salvation Army may be called a command, led by a command commander. A larger command is typically led by an officer holding the rank of colonel. Officers are given Marching Orders to ministries within The Salvation Army. Usually, officers are given new Marching Orders every two to five years and reassigned to different posts, sometimes moving great distances.

The Salvation Army Headquarters in London

Its stated membership includes 26,675 officers, 1,056,722 soldiers, 378,811 Junior Soldiers, 108,786 other employees, and more than 4.5 million volunteers. The Salvation Army also includes 156,842 "adherents," people who do not make the commitment to be a soldier but who formally recognize The Salvation Army as their church.[11]

The International Congress of The Salvation Army is normally held every 10 years as a conference for all Salvationists from around the world to meet. The first such conference took place in London, UK, from May 28 to June 4, 1886. The seventh International Congress in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, from June 28 to July 2, 2000, was the first held outside of the UK. The latest International Congress was held in London, England on July 1–5, 2015, in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of The Salvation Army's founding.[12]


A Salvation Army citadel (Corps) with a charity shop attached, in Worthing, West Sussex.

The Army's purposes are "the advancement of the Christian religion ...of education, the relief of poverty, and other charitable objects beneficial to society or the community of mankind as a whole."[5]

The beliefs of the Salvation Army rest upon these eleven doctrines:[13]

  1. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that only they constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
  2. We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.
  3. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.
  4. We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the divine and human natures are united, so that he is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.
  5. We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocence, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.
  6. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has, by his suffering and death, made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever believeth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah will may be saved.
  7. We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.
  8. We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.
  9. We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.
  10. We believe that it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified, and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  11. We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.
The William Booth Memorial Training College, Denmark Hill, London: The College for Officer Training of The Salvation Army in the UK

The denomination does not celebrate the Christian sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; although its officers conduct marriages, it holds a traditional Protestant belief that marriage was not instituted by Christ and therefore is not a sacrament.

The Salvation Army opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, although it believes strongly that all people deserve compassion and care in their suffering and dying.[14]

It is also against the death penalty because Salvationists believe in the sanctity of all human life and the hope of redemption through Christ for each human being, however wretched. Nevertheless, the administration acknowledges that the opinions of Salvationists are divided on the moral acceptability of capital punishment and its effectiveness as a deterrent.[15]

The Salvation Army is opposed to abortion:

The Salvation Army believes all people are created in the image of God and therefore have unique and intrinsic value. Human life is sacred and all people should be treated with dignity and respect. The Salvation Army accepts the moment of fertilisation as the start of human life. We believe that society has a responsibility to care for others, and especially to protect and promote the welfare of vulnerable people, including unborn children.[16]

The Salvation Army does make exceptions in cases such as rape and incest:

In addition, rape and incest are brutal acts of dominance violating women physically and emotionally. This situation represents a special case for the consideration of termination as the violation may be compounded by the continuation of the pregnancy.[16]

The Salvation Army published a statement on "Inclusion," following controversy over their position on homosexuality:

We oppose any discrimination, marginalisation or persecution of any person. We find no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for any reason.[17]

The statement noted that the Salvation Army condemns homophobia, while accepting that "a diverse range of views on homosexuality may exist within The Salvation Army as among the wider Christian (and non-Christian) community."[17]

The ordination of women is permitted in the Salvation Army, in keeping with the founder's insistence on gender equality:

"I insist on the equality of women with men,” said our founder William Booth in 1908. “Every officer and soldier should insist upon the truth that woman is as important, as valuable, as capable and as necessary to the progress and happiness of the world as man.”[17]


Red Shield

The Salvation Army red shield logo, displayed on the side of a night shelter in Geneva, Switzerland.

The red shield is the Salvation Army’s highly recognizable logo, used across the world: "The shield represents the ‘fight’ of life on a ‘spiritual battlefield’ and that God is a shield to protect and save us."[18]

The Red Shield has its origins in Salvation Army work during wartime. At the end of the nineteenth century, Staff-Captain Mary Murray was sent by William Booth to support British troops serving in the Boer War in South Africa. Then, in 1901, this same officer was given the task of establishing the Naval and Military League, the forerunner of the Red Shield Services.

Salvation Army officers serving in the Red Shield Services in wartime performed many functions. The Doughnut Girls of World War I are an early example, serving refreshments to troops in the trenches. They also provided first aid stations, ambulances, chaplaincy, social clubs, Christian worship and other front-line services. Today Salvation Army Red Shield Clubs continue to offer members of the Armed Forces a variety of services, ranging from attractive recreational facilities to family counseling.[19]

The Red Shield is widely used today as a simple, readily identifiable symbol in many Salvation Army settings.


Crest of The Salvation Army (Anglophone version)

The oldest official emblem of The Salvation Army is the crest.

In 1878 Captain W.H. Ebdon suggested a logo, and in 1879 it was to be found on the letterhead of the Salvation Army Headquarters. The captain's suggested design was changed only slightly and a crown was added.

The meaning of the crest:[20]

  • The sun represents the light and fire of the Holy Spirit
  • The cross of Jesus stands at the center of the crest and the faith of church members
  • The ‘S’ stands for salvation from sin
  • The swords represent the fight against sin
  • The shots (seven white dots) stand for the truths of the gospel
  • The crown speaks of God’s reward for His faithful people
  • “Blood and Fire” is the motto of The Salvation Army that describes the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to save all people and the fire of the Holy Spirit which purifies believers


Standard of The Salvation Army (Anglophone Version)

The Salvation Army flag is a symbol of the Army's war against sin and social evils. The red on the flag symbolizes the blood shed by Jesus Christ, the yellow for the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the blue for the purity of God the Father.

In 1880, George Scott-Railton wrote: "The use of flags has done more than anyone could have imagined to bind all our soldiers together and to encourage and develop the spirit of enterprise and resolution."[18]


Salvation Army officers and soldiers often wear uniforms. The idea that they should do so originated with Elijah Cadman who, at The Salvation Army's 'War Congress' in August 1878 said "I would like to wear a suit of clothes that would let everyone know I meant war to the teeth and salvation for the world."[21]

The Salvation Army Dress Tartan

A navy blue serge uniform was introduced for both men and women. The men's high neck tunic had a stiff collar worn over a scarlet jersey; a cap with a red band was worn on the head. The women's version had long navy skirts and high neck tunics with white lace-edge collars; Catherine Booth introduced their bonnets. The uniform is still worn, although it has changed in style over the years.[18]


Since 1983 there has been an official Salvation Army tartan. It was designed by Captain Harry Cooper, for the Perth Citadel Corps centenary commemoration. It is based upon the colours of the Salvation Army flag, with which it shares the same symbolism. However, it is rarely seen outside Scotland.[22]


Music playing

A Salvation Army band parade in Oxford, United Kingdom

As the popularity of the organization grew and Salvationists worked their way through the streets of London attempting to convert individuals, they were sometimes confronted with unruly crowds. A family of musicians (the Frys, from Alderbury, Wiltshire) began working with the Army as their "bodyguards" and played music to distract the crowds.[23]

The tradition of having musicians available continued and eventually grew into standard brass bands. These are still seen in public at Army campaigns, as well as at other festivals, parades and at Christmas. Across the world the brass band became an integral part of the Army’s ministry and an immediately recognizable symbol to Salvationists and non-Salvationists alike. The Salvation Army also has choirs; these are known as Songster Brigades, normally comprising the traditional soprano, alto, tenor, and bass singers. The premier Songster Brigade in the Salvation Army is the International Staff Songsters (ISS).[24]

The Salvation Army also fielded large concertina bands. From the beginning of the twentieth century to the Second World War between a third and a half of all Salvation Army officers in Britain played concertina. For an evangelist the concertina's portability, its ability to play both melody and chords, and most especially the fact that the player can sing or speak while playing, were all distinct advantages over brass instruments.[25]

Another significant musical feature of the Salvation Army is its use of tambourines. With colored ribbons representing the colors of the Salvation Army flag, timbrels play an integral facet of music in the Salvation army. They are mainly played by women.

The Army tradition in music is to use the popular idiom of the day to reach people for Jesus. Local corps usually sing contemporary worship music songs in Sunday worship services, as well as traditional hymns and music accompanied by the brass band.

Disaster relief

The Salvation Army, along with many other non-governmental relief agency disaster relief organizations, are members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).[26] The Salvation Army is officially recognized by federal, state, and local governments across the United States as a sanctioned disaster relief organization. Within the National Response Framework, it provides relief services to communities impacted by both natural and man-made disasters.

The Salvation Army's primary goals in disaster relief are to offer:

  • Material comfort
  • Physical comfort
  • Spiritual and Emotional comfort[27]

The Salvation Army's first major forays in the United States into disaster relief resulted from the devastation wrought by the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. National Commander Frederick Booth-Tucker mobilized Army officers from across the country into the Galveston area to help clean, feed, and shelter the thousands of survivors, while also providing much needed spiritual and emotional support. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake marked the first time The Salvation Army coordinated a major, nationwide fundraising effort in response to a disaster.[28] The Salvation Army was the first relief agency to reach Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site following the September 11 attacks in 2001, and in 2005 was active in responding to immediate needs of survivors following Hurricane Katrina.

The Salvation Army continues to work closely with local authorities to assist in responding to natural and man-made disasters wherever they occur throughout the world. For example, a full time presence in the region since the 1890s enabled The Salvation Army to be on the ground providing immediate disaster relief to affected individuals within hours of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Thrift Stores and Charity Shops

Salvation Army Thrift Store, Santa Monica, CA

The Salvation Army is well known for its network of thrift stores or charity shops which raise money for its rehabilitation programs by selling donated used items such as clothing, housewares, and toys. Clothing collected by Salvation Army stores that are not sold on location are often sold wholesale on the global second hand clothing market.

Red Kettles

Red kettle at supermarket entrance, Ypsilanti, Michigan

In many countries, The Salvation Army is most recognized during the Christmas season with its volunteers and employees who stand outside of businesses and play/sing Christmas carols, or ring bells to inspire passers-by to place donations inside red kettles. In the U.S. alone, over 25,000 volunteers with red kettles are stationed near retail stores during the weeks preceding Christmas for fundraising.[7]

This tradition began in California in 1891, when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee placed a large, iron kettle at the Oakland Ferry Landing to collect donations to fund free Christmas dinners for the poor. The campaign was so successful that today the Salvation Army kettle donations feed several million people during the holiday season.[29]


  • "New Frontier Chronicle" - news and networking for The Salvation Army.[30]
  • "Caring Magazine" - curating conversation around issues of social concern.[31]
Edition of The War Cry, 6 August 1887
  • The War Cry newspaper, first published in 1879 in the United Kingdom.[32]
  • Faith & Friends magazine[33]
  • Salvationist magazine[34]
  • 'Young Salvationist magazine[35]
  • Pipeline, The Salvation Army's news, features and opinion magazine[36]


  1. The Salvation Army International – Founders' Day Celebrated as The Salvation Army Enters its 150th Year The Salvation Army, July 2, 2014. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Statistics The Salvation Army, January 1, 2015. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  3. William Bramwell Booth 1829–1912 His Life and Ministry – A Very Short Biography The Gospel Truth. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  4. Report on the records of the Salvation Army Historical Manuscripts Commission, November 2000. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Salvation Army BBC, July 30, 2009. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  6. History of The Salvation Army – Social Services of Greater New York The Salvation Army, 2006. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sarah J. Cruz, An Enduring Mission Victorian Homes, 27(6) (December 2008): 68. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  8. Thomas F. Best (ed.), Baptism Today: Understanding, Practice, Ecumenical Implications (Liturgical Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0814662212).
  9. Glenn K. Horridge, The Salvation Army Origins and Early Days 1865–1900 (Ammonite Books, 1993, ISBN 978-1869866075).
  10. The Salvation Army in Madagascar is Inaugurated in Joyful Ceremony The Salvation Army, October 28, 2016. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  11. Statistics The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  12. Boundless - The Salvation Army International Congress The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  13. The Doctrines of the Salvation Army, As set out in Schedule 1 of The Salvation Army Act 1980. The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  14. Positional Statement: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  15. Shaw Clifton, Strong Doctrine, Strong Mercy: A Salvationist Looks at Some Major Moral Questions of the late 20th Century (International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, 1985, ISBN 978-0854124718).
  16. 16.0 16.1 International Positional Statement: Abortion International Social Justice Commission, The Salvation Army, November 2010. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Inclusion The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Symbols The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  19. Doughnut! The Official Story Doughboy Center. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  20. Crest symbolism The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  21. Our symbols The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  22. Tartan Details - Salvation Army Dress The Scottish Register of Tartans. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  23. Ashley Seager, When was the first Salvation Army band created? The Salvation Army, May 14, 2014. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  24. About the ISS The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  25. Salvation Army Concertina Bands Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  26. National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  27. The Salvation Army's Role in Emergency Disaster Services The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  28. The Salvation Army Disaster Response History The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016,
  29. Red Kettle History The Salvation Army. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  30. New Frontier Chronicle – The official news source of The Salvation Army Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  31. Caring Magazine Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  32. the War Cry Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  33. Faith & Friends Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  34. Salvationist Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  35. Young Salvationist Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  36. Pipeline Magazine Retrieved November 9, 2016.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Best, Thomas F. (ed.). Baptism Today: Understanding, Practice, Ecumenical Implications. Liturgical Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0814662212
  • Clifton, Shaw. Strong Doctrine, Strong Mercy: A Salvationist Looks at Some Major Moral Questions of the late 20th Century. International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, 1985. ISBN 978-0854124718
  • Eason, Andrew M., and Roger J. Green (eds.). Boundless Salvation: The Shorter Writings of William Booth. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. ISBN 978-1433127441
  • Eason, Andrew M. Women in God's Army: Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0889204188
  • Gariepy, Henry. Christianity in Action: The History of the International Salvation Army. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009. ISBN 978-0802848413
  • Horridge, Glenn K. The Salvation Army Origins and Early Days 1865–1900. Ammonite Books, 1993. ISBN 978-1869866075
  • Walker, Pamela J. Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain. University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0520225916
  • Winston, Diane. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army. Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0674003965

External links

All links retrieved April 30, 2023.


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