Each December, department stores are packed with holiday shoppers, bedecked with Christmas decorations, and at nearly every entrance will be a red kettle next to a person ringing a bell. The Salvation Army seems to be as much a part of the Christmas season as Santa Claus. This raises the question: “Should a Christian give to the Salvation Army?” This is a good question that should be carefully considered by every member of the Lord’s church as they decide how to use the money with which God has blessed them.
William Booth (1829-1912), a New Connection Methodist minister, organized the Salvation Army in the late nineteenth century. Brother Owen D. Olbricht, in his 1972 class booklet, Studies in Denominational Doctrine Book Two, says that one of the original purposes of the Salvation Army was to “help those in poverty”, and that they “provided boarding-houses, orphanages, maternity hospitals, and settlements in the poor quarters of the city” (p. 25). However, the Salvation Army is more than just a benevolent society. It is a religion with a well-defined body of doctrine, including much error.
While this denominational group holds to some of the more common errors, including total hereditary depravity and the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, there are some other religious errors that may come as a surprise to those who have never researched the group.
Not only does the Salvation Army believe baptism is unnecessary to salvation, they refuse to practice it. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. “As it is the Salvation Army’s firm conviction that these ceremonies are not necessary to salvation nor essential to spiritual progress, we do not observe them” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p. 160). These words are a far cry from the teachings of the New Testament (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 20:7). They assert, “Water baptism was evidently not intended to be perpetually observed” (p. 163) and that the reference to the Lord’s Supper by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 “should be interpreted spiritually” (p. 165).
The Salvation Army has corrupted the worship revealed in the New Testament as well. Christians are commanded to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), but the Salvation Army adds instrumental music to the worship service. Women preachers are accepted within the Salvation Army, dating back to the founder’s wife, Catherine Booth. The Scriptures clearly state that women are “not…to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Additionally, the Salvation Army finances its work in ways not authorized by the Scriptures, including those red kettles you find outside department stores during this time of year. In the New Testament, the church financed its work through the contributions of its members (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Returning to the question, “Should a Christian give to the Salvation Army?” I would counter with the question, “Should a Christian support an organization that teaches religious error?” What saith the Scriptures? Ephesians 5:11, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
A Christian has no more business giving to the “Salvation Army” than he does to any other humanly-originated false religion or denomination.
[Editor’s note: This article was originally written many years ago and has appeared in several church bulletins over the years. The topic was mentioned in our Wednesday night Bible study last night, so I thought it was a good time to bring it back to the forefront.]