Life in the Army Today

ALTHOUGH in the United States The Salvation Army is most commonly associated with its network of social services, its original and enduring mission is evangelical—leading people to God and salvation.

Major Philip D. Needham, principal of the School for Officers’ Training in Atlanta, believes the Army’s basic mission is essentially the same today as it was in the early days. “I think the Army’s mission is to reach people with the Gospel of Christ expressed in word and in action.” The Salvation Army attempts to reach those people who are “most cut off from the ministry of the church,” he explains, adding that the Army has always had a special calling to the poor and still does.

Officers, Soldiers, Adherents

Numbering approximately three million worldwide, The Salvation Army carries out its ministry in about 90 countries under its own denominational government. Salvation Army officers are ordained as ministers by their territorial commander after completing a two-year officers’ training program. There are four training schools in the United States, located in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The committed laity, called soldiers, sign the Articles of War, promising to abide by the Army’s doctrines and disciplines. They may take on volunteer responsibilities within the social service outreach or the congregation [called a corps] such as directing youth groups or participating in musical activities.

Other members of the congregation are adherents who participate in the church but have not signed the Articles of War. Adherents may take on some lay responsibilities, such as teaching Sunday school classes.

Corps Services

Today’s Salvation Army offers many of the ministries that other Protestant congregations provide. Some corps enjoy a large center equipped with a gymnasium and facilities for many community programs. These may be recreational activities, including organized team sports and competitions, and/or senior citizen programs including education, meals, and trips.

Social welfare services, provided regardless of race, class, or creed, vary from one corps to the next. Almost every corps offers emergency food, clothing, and furniture. In a number of communities, the Army works with state or local governments, which release certain prisoners to the Army’s care, according to Needham. There are also drug treatment programs, and in some large communities, adult rehabilitation centers for homeless, alcoholic, or drug-dependent individuals.

Because the congregations are generally not wealthy, The Salvation Army pursues various sources of funding. In locations where the United Way is established, the Army is a participating agency and receives some funding for specific services.

When corps officers are not organizing social services or raising money, they play an important role as pastors in their communities. A typical corps has Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, a Sunday evening salvation service, which is normally an evangelical service for the unchurched, and weeknight prayer meetings.

Music, an important element in Salvationist services since the early days, is still prevalent. “We have a choir—we call it songsters,” says Needham, “and in corps where we have the musical resources, we’ll have a band.”

By Nancy Kressler Murphy

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #26 in 1990]

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