So What Exactly is The Salvation Army and Where Did it Come From?

What is The Salvation Army and Where Did it Come From?

The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, was a Christian minister in London, England in 1852. Like any minister, his quest was to bring lost souls to believe in Christ and to receive the Grace of Salvation. He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to the homeless, poor, hungry and destitute and he took his ministry straight to them. He did not confine himself to a church building and stay behind a pulpit, but reached out to the poorest of society where they were. This caused a great disruption in the church leadership across London, who preferred that ministers displayed a more lofty appearance and traditional method. This is interesting because Jesus went straight to the people and focused on the poorest of society. Nevertheless, they put enormous pressure on him to change his methods and to stop what he was doing. Because of this, he quit the church and continued traveling and preaching. His wife believed in his cause and was a major force in his ministry, later serving an instrumental role in the Salvation Army movement.

In 1865, Mr. Booth was invited to set up a tent and host several evangelistic gatherings in the east end of London. These gatherings were a huge success and provided a stable location for him to preach. As his reputation grew, so did his discipleship. His congregation became a growing force for spreading the Word of Jesus Christ.

One article states that “Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers and drunkards were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity”. Most of them were desperately poor and responded to his sermons about hope and salvation. He poised himself as a steppingstone and intended to introduce converts to a church for further spiritual guidance. However, even though these new converts were sincere, churches refused to accept them because of their prior transgressions. So, in an effort to save their positive direction, Booth put them to work and instructed them to go and find people like themselves. He taught them to preach and sing hymns as living testimony in the streets, giving all the glory to God. In just two years his discipleship numbered 10. The next year it exploded into 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists serving as a group, “The Christian Mission.” Booth assumed the title of a General Superintendent and his followers simply called him “General.” Also, the group became known as the “Hallelujah Army,” and word spread rapidly to other areas and cities.

One day, he was reading an article about them, in which they referenced the group as a volunteer army. And with his pen he crossed out the word “Volunteer”, replaced it with the word “Salvation”, and the Salvation Army was born.

Keeping with that theme, he called new converts soldiers of Christ and they launched an offensive throughout Great Brittain. These advances were not just metaphorical because they actually engaged in battles with gangs who mocked them and attacked them physically.  During the first 20 years of his organization, some 250,000 soldiers of Christ were converted, enduring violence and persecution from those who sought to destroy them. By 1879, the Army had spread to the United States after Lieutenant Eliza Shirley migrated from England and began holding meetings in Philadelphia. Her words were welcomed enthusiastically and she requested more help from England.

On March 10, 1880, Commissioner George Scott Railton and seven women officers knelt on the dockside at Battery Park in New York City to give thanks for their safe arrival. This was to be their first official street meeting held in the United States. Unfortunately, they also experienced violence in America. They were ridiculed, arrested, attacked, and several lost their lives. Remarkably, they managed to expand into California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Grover Cleveland received a delegation of Salvation Army officers in 1886 and gave the organization a warm personal endorsement. This was the official recognition they needed and was followed by many similar receptions from future presidents of the United States.

From the U.S., The Salvation Army expanded rapidly. They went to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, India, South Africa, and Switzerland. Currently, The Salvation Army has over 1.7 million members and is active in 131 countries.

The Salvation Army operates:

  • Churches
  • Thrift stores
  • Adult rehabilitation centers
  • Adult day care centers
  • Homeless hostels
  • Residential addiction dependency programs
  • Children’s homes and camps
  • Homes for the elderly
  • Homes for babies and mothers
  • Men’s and women’s refuge centers
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Maternity hospitals
  • and an enormous farm colony in Essex with orchards and brickfields to put people to work.

And you probably thought they were just a charity standing in front of stores with a bell and a red kettle.

Oh, about the red kettle… This tradition began in 1982 as a fundraising effort in the United States, near Chicago.