Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Greatest Dilemma in The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has great challenges ahead. In a recent post I mentioned that we were on the cusp; of a new era of Spirit-filled, dynamic Salvationism that will change the world like never before. I believe that. Though with every significant shift in organisational life there is always a difficult transition period.

I want to suggest what I believe is one, if not the greatest dilemma in The Salvation Army today. 

Now, I've written about challenges facing The Salvation Army before. Some of these include:

  • Financing the work of The Salvation Army from a global perspective. Much of the first-world funds the third-world. How do we ensure longevity of Salvation Army ministry in places where finances are hard to come by?
  • The ability of The Salvation Army to adapt its methods in an ever-changing society to fulfil its God-given mission, while retaining the unique personality of The Salvation Army and the fundamentals of its belief system.
  • Pressure to conform The Salvation Army's theology to more inclusive, relaxed theologies, that potentially 'water-down' or compromise its core beliefs.

In an article entitled 9 Reasons Why I'm a Salvationist, I highlight one fascinating aspect of Salvation Army life. Let me recap for you, if you haven't read it (or if you fell asleep before you got to number 3).

This is what I said:

Why I’m a Salvationist: Reason 3 – We integrate the work of evangelism and social justice. We don’t separate the two and place them in two different buildings with two different line managers and never the twain shall meet. No. As William Booth said, they are like Siamese twins. As I wrote in a recent blog post, ‘When the gospel is only about the salvation of souls we deprive Salvationism of the fullness of the work of Christ. When the service of God through The Salvation Army is only about cups of cold water to those in need we can let people go spiritually thirsty. Captain Andy Miller III in his new book Holistic Hospitality says, 'The way in which people understood [the] balance between what is social and what is spiritual was an issue in the beginning of the Army and is still an issue today.' He mentions that in some points of The Salvation Army's history we had 'dynamic holistic missiology'.’ 

Now, here's the premise of this short article: We haven't always got the balance right between evangelism and social work.

This is one of the greatest dilemmas facing The Salvation Army. What does it mean to have social work and evangelism integrated? What does it mean to be balanced in this way? 

When our social work separates itself from evangelical foundations, we end up with work that devoids itself of eternal matters. When our evangelical fervour fails to care for the whole person we can treat people like numbers and statistics.   

But we have convinced ourselves that it's alright to do social work without evangelism. We have found nice arguments to suggest that this is ok. Maybe it is. Though maybe we end up stifling effective Salvation Army ministry because we don't offer the whole gospel. 

Let me be provocative for a moment. I don't think at this point in our history, (generally speaking) that we are struggling with an over emphasis on evangelism at the expense of social work. I think part of the imbalance has been a lack of soul-winning, and the fact that even that language grates against some is testament to the fact that what I'm saying holds true. We have lost one of the arts of Salvationism, and that's leading people to Christ and more so, making disciples of those people. We have continued great social work, and we have done it well, and do it well, but in the process evangelism has taken such a back seat, that we're frightened to bring it back out to the front seat alongside our great social ministries. 

We must be partnering with God in the work of the whole mission of God. To allow fundamental aspects of who we are as a Salvation Army to fall by the wayside causes us to be less of who God calls us to be.

It is a dilemma in The Salvation Army. 

God help us.


  1. The early Salvationists were so focused on evangelism that William Booth felt the need to remind them in a telegram to also care for the physical well being of "Others."
    --If Booth sent us a one word telegram today, I think it would read "Evangelize."

  2. The three-fold Mission of The Salvation Army must always be; Saving souls, growing saints and serving suffering humanity.

    Bruce Stevens

  3. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to proclaim the radical love of God to those both near and far. The best way we can do this, however, is simply by living our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. The love of God, made manifest in the fruits of the spirit, overflow from our lives and spill upon those we encounter. Henri Nouwen makes the important distinction between making others believe in the Spirit and simply allowing the Spirit to grow within us.
    ~Father Art


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