A brief follow-up on the early Salvation Army as “a church”

Just a quick follow-up to my last post, “When did The Salvation Army become a church?”   I was arguing that the SA started to “function” as a church from a very early date – once its members stopped finding their spiritual home and nurture elsewhere.

Thanks to the kind staff at the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, I’ve been reading through a scanned-image copy of the 1870 Doctrines and Rules of The Christian Mission.  

This document was endorsed by the first “General Conference” of The Christian Misison, which met in November 1870, and marked the transition of the movement into a Methodist-style polity.  This lasted until 1878 when the switch was made to a military-style government, although by then the role of Conference had already been minimized by Booth.  

To get back to the 1870 Doctrines and Rules: I find it interesting that under “Membership,” rule V.17 states:

Persons belonging to other churches seeking membership with us shall be admitted on presentation of their note of transfer, if such can be obtained.

The reference to transfer from “other churches” implies that the members of The Christian Mission, at that time, saw themselves as a “church,” or at least the equivalent of a church on the issue of church membership.

Although this document was later replaced by the 1875 and 1878 Deed Polls, it is an interesting window on a mission that was already dealing with movement / church tensions.

6 thoughts on “A brief follow-up on the early Salvation Army as “a church”

  1. This is an interesting subject and I appreciate the research you are doing to bring the details to light. Here’s an observation I’ve had in the past few years and I noticed greater evidence of it during my brief stint in London, Ontario (Southern Ontario in general) this past year. There is a divide between the corps and the social. I notice that people involved in the social ministry of the SA refer to us more as a movement and those in corps seem mostly unaware of the work of the social ministry that is going on, nor the demands of professionalism on social ministry officers. Most small town corps that run family services have a little more connection, but there is still a divide. Having served 17 years in BC and now being back here, I notice there is a greater blend between the corps and social among the people. I think that’s because most corps in BC run extended social ministries as an outreach of the corps. I felt a different attitude from corps in Southern Ontario about what their involvement should be in social – and it was limited. They are more concerned with church activities and being a church, as opposed to thinking of themselves as a movement to change the world.

    Why do I bring this up? Well, it seems that the greater emphasis a corps has on social, the more it sees itself as part of a movement. Less social ministry and the corps identifies itself as a church.

    I know in the past 10 years or so there has been a greater emphasis on the business of what we do in social ministry. I know this because governments are becoming more demanding that our practices in finance, HR, reporting, etc., come up to standards. It’s not just with the SA, all non-profits are having to do the same work – it’s about accountability with public funds, etc. However, with this greater emphasis on becoming more and more professional, and a greater emphasis from DHQ on our social ministry, some corps officers perceptions are that DHQ doesn’t care about corps/church life. I thought this was rather amusing since as a corps officer who has done both corps/social, the last thing I really want is too much involvement from DHQ in my corps. Not because I don’t want them involved, but because a corps/church is healthier when it takes ownership of and responsibility for its own ministry.

    Anyway, understanding the history around the topic is helpful. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

    grace… kathie

    • Thanks for sharing from your experience, Kathie. I agree that there is a corps/social divide in Ontario in my experience (and my own significant Army experience was in Ontario). I always thought of it as more of an urban / rural division, since in the larger Ontario centres the social service operations are separated and Thrift Stores are NROs. And I’m sure the government pressures are a part of this. However, I think you are right in saying that even in smaller towns there is still a significant disconnect between the two. Obviously there are exceptions. And I think you are probably right that corps with more social outreach would see themselves as more of a “movement.” My parents corps, Rideau Heights in Kingston, is a great example. They do a lot of work in their neighbourhood, and there is a strong connection between church / social.

      I find it interesting that things are different in BC. I think that’s great. I doubt that the Army will ever escape these tensions, so it’s probably best to try to live them out in a healthy way.

      I wonder if it would be possible to have a strong connection between corps and social if the administrative link is lost? Could a corps simply make the effort to connect with a local social ministry, even if it isn’t “theirs”?

    • I realise that I’m coming rather late to this party but couldn’t help but add some comment. I’ve recently started a PhD and will be exploring the relationship between The Salvation Army’s identity as a church and our role as a major provider of social services in Australia. A couple of ideas resonate already: firstly, I do think that the more the Army has seen itself as a church, the less connected it has become with its own social ministries. Secondly, I’m intrigued by the consequences of our dual identity – the Army that outsiders see (a large social service agency) and the Army that insiders know (a church – with a Christian commitment to world transformation). Lots more work to do but it’s good for me to see some similar conversations and crossover points in other places as well. Thanks for all you share, James – it’s rich, valuable stuff.

      • Great to hear from you Jason, and great to hear about your doctoral project. Sounds like a great topic. In my dissertation I ended up having to cut a section on the dual mission (“social” / “spiritual”), and just focus on the drift into “churchly” identity; there’s lots to be done there but I ran out of time and space. So I’m glad to know you’re heading in that direction. All the best, and hope we can keep in touch.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s