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The Salvation Army: Charity or Cult?
Every Christmas season, Americans and people in other countries have become accustomed to seeing the bells and pots of the charitable group, The Salvation Army. But do we Christians ever stop to think about the background and beliefs of the Salvation Army? I mean, many Christians hunger so much for the manifestation of moral principles that we have been willing to support Mormons for president of the USA (see Mitt Romney). Is the Salvation Army a, "Christian" organization?
The history of the Salvation Army starts in England during the late 1800s. William Booth, a Methodist preacher started the Salvation Army, originally under the name, The Christian Mission. Perhaps the best way to understand the principles of the Salvation Army is by reading the book by Booth, called "In The Darkest England and the Way Out". (1890)
A significant quote:
"When in the streets of London a Cab Horse, weary or careless or stupid, trips and falls and lies stretched out in the midst of the traffic there is no question of debating how he came to stumble before we try to get him on his legs again. The Cab Horse is a very real illustration of poor broken-down humanity; he usually falls down because of overwork and underfeeding. If you put him on his feet without altering his conditions, it would only be to give him another dose of agony; but first of all you'll have to pick him up again. It may have been through overwork or underfeeding, or it may have been all his own fault that he has broken his knees and smashed the shafts, but that does not matter. If not for his own sake, then merely in order to prevent an obstruction of the traffic, all attention is concentrated upon the question of how we are to get him on his legs again. Tin load is taken off, the harness is unbuckled, or, if need be, cut, and everything is done to help him up. Then he is put in the shafts again and once more restored to his regular round of work. That is the first point. The second is that every Cab Horse in London has three things; a shelter for the night, food for its stomach, and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn. These are the two points of the Cab Horse's Charter. When he is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work. That, although a humble standard, is at present absolutely unattainable by millions—literally by millions—of our fellow-men and women in this country. Can the Cab Horse Charter be gained for human beings? I answer, yes."
The analogy to the motivation of the Salvation Army is that all attention is given to get the Cab Horse back on his feet, yet we rarely put that much attention toward the re-grounding of fallen humanity. But is Booth advocating an utopian dream, to reach the poor everywhere? After all, even Jesus understood it is not possible nor necessarily the goal to erradicate all poverty (ref), especially since some poverty is indeed self inflicted and desired by the person. So, while Booth's "Scheme" as he calls it in the book is a decidely "socialistic" scheme, I do not find his over all "doctrine" to be anti-Christian.
We can deduce the "doctrines" of the Salvation Army from its eleven stated doctrines (ref).
Number 6 has clearly, Arminian/Semi-Pelagian/Synergistic overtones, as would be expected from Booth's Methodist background, but even that remains within acceptable Christianity. Number 9 implies that salvation can be lost. Number 11 clearly shows that the Salvation Army does advocate the realm of hell -- so many "Christian" movements or organizations that lean liberal, often jettison the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment.
While the Salvation Army may have socialistic tendencies and almost a utopian outlook it is still within the frame of historic Christianity. As far as I know, Booth never even implied to be the recipient of special revelation nor did he claim to figure out some long, lost doctrine.
So, even though the Salvation Army does not administer "sacraments/ordinances" such as baptism or the Lord's Supper/communioni, it remains within the pale of Christian orthodoxy since the Salvation Army is not really a "denomination" as much as it is a Christian charity -- it is not the Salvation Army's place to baptize and offer the Lord's Supper anyway.
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