Salvation Army Sacramental Theology - Part 3

This post is a continuation from Parts One and Two in a series covering The Salvation Army's position regarding the sacraments. In this post we summarise the explanations commonly given for both the original decision, and for the Army's choice to maintain it's non-observing stance. This is based on research I did for my Honours dissertation, where I listed these reasons under seven headings. I've subsequently added an eighth, for reasons I think will become clear. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Exegetical - a particular interpretation of key passages, such as Luke 22:19b-20. The Lukan account of the Last Supper is unusual in that it goes "cup, bread, cup". In the Westcott and Hort version of the Greek NT this particular passage was marked as a "Western Interpolation". Some Salvationists have picked up on this and suggested that the words "Do this in remembrance of me" (found in this passage) is therefore questionable. 
  2. Testimonial - following the example of the Society of Friends (Quakers), whose nonobservant spirituality predates our own, some say effectively "If they can do it, so can we". After close to 130 years of our own position this relates to our own testimony to the rest of the church of a valid spiritual life free from "sacramental ritual".
  3. Ecumenical - A desire to avoid divisive discussions over sacramental theology and correct administration of the sacraments. 
  4. Pragmatic - The (alleged) scarcity of unfermented wine and the issue of serving alcoholic wine to recently converted alcoholics. This is an interesting one, that started with Bramwell Booth (Echoes and Memories) but in reality has been shown to be NEVER a problem. I include it here because it's curiously often the first explanation given. There are records of Salvationists freely using water in place of wine, and unfermented wine was available at the time anyway. Certainly it is readily available today and used in many other denominations.
  5. Ecclesiological - Booth's ecclesiology was not framed in "church" terms or by "church" practices, so he didn't feel it necessary to observe the church's sacraments. This relates to the next explanation very closely. Given, however, the recent Ecclesiological Statement the foundations of this explanation needs reconsideration.
  6. Theological - The theological priorities of the Army were soteriological and pneumatological rather than ecclesiological and sacramental. This is best summarised by Booth's famous quote; "this is our specialty, getting saved, and keeping saved, and then getting someone else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more."
  7. Teleophobia - Technically this is the fear of religious ceremony, but here I've used it to summarise a corporate fear of ritualism leading to (and sustaining) the abandonment of the rituals themselves. In simple terms, the fear relates to the suggestion that repeated use of a religious rite (such as the sacraments) necessarily leads to ritualism - the mindless repetition without the faith. Consider Catherine Booth's description of the sacraments as a "mock salvation" in this light. 
  8. Militarism - This is the explanation I've added, but I'm yet to find in other author's word. Here is where the history outlined in Part One of this series becomes most significant. From 1878 up until 1883 when this decision was finally made public (and beyond of course) the identity of The Salvation Army was being overwhelmingly formed within a militaristic metaphor. The "Army" was on the march within the movement as well as without. Flags, uniforms, headquarters, saluting, marching, the language of battles and fighting for souls, and so on, are all part of this unique self-understanding. How do "bread and wine" and "baptismal water" fit into such a self-understanding? Well, practically they don't and so I would suggest here that this Militarism became such a powerful metaphor that these two long-held rituals began to drift into the background and become less and less important, to the point of being put aside altogether.
These are the most common explanations given as an apologetic for the Army's position. The next step, which is an important and often missed one, is to consider not just what we don't do, but what we do do. This will be the subject of the next post. 


Continue to the next post here.

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