Three Quotes from William Booth on the Sacraments

People who have done research on The Salvation Army and the sacraments will probably be familiar with these quotes, but I find that a lot of people are surprised by some of the things that William Booth said about the Army’s non-observance of the sacraments.  So I’m just putting these three quotes out there, as a follow up to my last post.

First, from Booth’s official announcement that the SA would stop observing the sacraments (“The General’s New Year Address to Officers,” The War Cry, Janary 17, 1883):

Now if the sacraments are not conditions of salvation, and if the introduction of them would create division of opinion and heart burning, and if we are not professing to be a church, not aiming at being one, but simply a force for aggressive salvation purposes, is it not wise for us to postpone any settlement of the question, to leave it over for some future day, when we shall have more light?”

Moreover we do not prohibit our own people… from taking the sacraments. We say, ‘If this is a matter of your conscience, by all means break bread. The churches and chapels around you will welcome you for this.

Second, from a book Booth wrote in 1885 called Doctrines and Disciplines of The Salvation Army, Section 26, question 6 (I’m taking the quote from Roger Green, The Life and Ministry of William Booth (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 148):

Q: What is the teaching of Army on the subject of the Lord’s Supper? A: When such an ordinance is helpful to the faith of our Soldiers, we recommend its adoption.

Finally, a quote from an interview Booth gave in 1895 (again from Green, 148):

…I should like to emphasize the fact that this with us is not a settled question.  We never disclaim against the Sacraments; we never even state our own position.  We are anxious not to destroy the confidence of Christian people in institutions which are helpful to them.

Obviously, I’m putting these up to flag the provisionality of Booth’s position (and the total lack of mention of a divine calling NOT to observe the sacraments), and also his desire to avoid any theological controversy relating to the sacraments.  He may have been naive to think that not having sacraments would steer him clear of controversy!, but also note that he viewed this position as conditional in part on the Army’s claim that it was not a church. Most Salvationists today claim that the Army IS a church.

7 thoughts on “Three Quotes from William Booth on the Sacraments

  1. James, do you have a copy of that War Cry you can scan or photocopy and send me?

    Too funny reading this with the revisionist history happening in the new edition of the HOD.

  2. Very interesting… I hadn’t seen the second one before.

    Mark, the full version of the War Cry article is actually reprinted in “Called to be God’s People” (Robert Street) as an appendix. If you’re interested in an actual copy of the original (well a print-off from a Microphish) I have one (somewhere!) and I could scan it for you…


  3. Interesting, though I have a few thoughts about Booth and the SA today. Booth was an incredible man who had a vision to start an evangelistic movement that worked outside the “established” church of his day because for the most part the established church wasn’t fulfilling the mandate to reach the lost. This is not to say ALL churches. However incredible a man as he was, he started a movement that had followers. As time past and the movement grew, those followers attended church less and developed services of their own and as a result started to become an alternative to the established church of its day and thus… became an established church.

    This still leaves the question of what should we as followers of Jesus do with what the church terms “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper”? I think the church had a nice idea, but for the most part missed the mark. I don’t think Jesus idea of what we now call a Sacrament had anything to do with enshrining it as the epilogue to a Sunday service. Jesus celebrated the Passover. This is done at the table in our homes with our family and children and friends guests and sometimes even strangers. I’m not saying that it is wrong to have this at church, but we often misunderstand the simplest things when we divorce it from its context.

    Jesus said… “as often as you eat THIS bread, and drink THIS cup, remember me.” The church would be further to teach what Jesus meant not just have ritual by wrote that becomes as dry as the little disk wafers or as puffed up as wonder bread filled with yeast.

    Jesus did something wonderful and amazing at passover. He took the third of four cups that we drink at passover called redemption. Then instead of the normal prayer at this time, he introduces the covenantal prayer of the groom to the bride at a wedding feast inviting us to BE his bride and He our Husband… The blood of THE new covenant. He is offering himself and if we take it, we agree with the blood promise, that of the virgin bride. Then he takes the bread after the meal which represented the last thing we eat at the first passover… the Lamb. Again he changes the prayer to that of the weeding feast “this is my body” the lamb and the groom… broken for you. It is both personal and communal.

    Why wouldn’t we want to drink THIS cup and eat THIS bread. For the Hebrews in Egypt at that time, if any did not drink or eat they were cast out from Israel and had no part in her. That is still what the command of God in Leviticus and Deuteronomy says. If we will not eat, we have no part. This is a more apt presentation of salvation then the four steps.

    These are just the the ramblings of a Jew. If you find them helpful along the way, I’m glad. If not, well… you could always try some chicken soup… it couldn’t hurt.

  4. Hi Marty

    Thanks for stopping by, and offering your thoughts. You’re definitely right about the SA’s transition from “evangelistic movement” to “established church.” I think this is an important thing to keep in mind when discussing sacraments and the SA.

    Thanks also for offering some perspective on the passover meal and how Jesus’ actions fit into it. That’s really interesting, and actually fits with what a lot of Christian thinkers have said about the Lord’s Supper – eating together as part of being incorporated into the body. That’s what I think the SA is missing out on here – the significance of communion for being joined together with other Christians. I think Salvationists could continue to maintain their theological perspective (that is, that the sacraments are not “necessary to salvation”) while also partaking of the Lord’s Supper, if for no other reason, then for the sake of unity.

  5. I would advocate a Catholic position (being a catholic of course), I would also suggest that even the Reformed would say that the sacraments are efficacious for salvation (See the Westminster Confession of Faith, shorter catechism, Q. 91) So when 2 opposing sides can agree that the sacraments have effective power to bring salvation (of course I am painting with a broad brush), and a 3rd option presents itself which is outside of the norm for Christians through the church, I would say it is downright dangerous for people to say they are not necessary. Respectfully, Mr. Booth, I dissent!

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