Why is the Salvation Army called the Salvation Army?

The original proof. The Christian Mission is a volunteer army.
The original proof. The Christian Mission is a volunteer army.

Names
In 1865 Booth and his team set up headquarters in Whitechapel, London. But they had difficulty deciding on a suitable name.

Here are the early variations they used:
‘The East London Christian Revival Society’ (it’s quite an accomplishment to create a name from which even the most diligent can’t force some kind of acronym).
This soon became ‘The East London Christian Mission’. This was definitely better but, as George Railton tells us[i], they had to drop ‘East London’ because the work was so successful they opened mission sites outside London. ‘East London’ was now only one sphere of their activity.
Finally, ‘The Christian Mission’ remained.
And they kept it for a while but there was an obvious problem with this name. Theirs was one among many good and definitely ‘Christian’ missions operating in England and, by defining their mission as the Christian one, the name seemed to imply haughtiness on their part and a snub towards the others.

So for six years[ii] they were in a kind of awkward limbo. A dynamic work with a not very helpful name. Another interesting intermediary link in the evolution of the Salvation Army’s name was that Booth was then called the General Superintendent. When they became The Salvation Army the shift to General was easy.

Not a Church but an Army!
William Booth recalls,
After a while the work began to spread and show wonderful promise, and then, when everything was looking like progress a new trouble arose…Some of the evangelists whom I had engaged to assist me rose up and wanted to convert our Mission into a regular Church…They wanted to settle down in quietness. I wanted to go forward at all costs…so I called them together and said, ‘My comrades, the formation of another Church is not my aim. There are plenty of churches. I want to make an Army.’

He then offered to help those who wanted to leave to find work amongst the churches, but all decided to stay.
By 1878 (13 years from the formation of the London Mission) they had grown to 80 mission sites, which they didn’t name as churches but Stations, and then later – in keeping with army-sounding designations – ‘corps’.

The growth was phenomenal. By 1880, they had 162 Stations. They weren’t just fussing over names – there was such growth behind them that the name had to encapsulate the spirit of what was quickly being recognised as a missionary movement. Remember, their appeal was not to Christians who were restless and unhappy in their churches – their first aim, and the primary pool from which they gained members, was to reach the unbelieving working classes who had no interest in church-going.

A Volunteer Army?
Richard Collier writes,
Early one morning in May 1878…Bramwell and Railton were summoned to Booth’s bedroom for the day’s instructions. As Booth, who was recovering from flu, paced the floor in a long yellow dressing gown and felt slippers, Railton scanned the proofs of the pink eight-page folder which was the Mission’s annual report.

It’s preliminary was bold and succinct:

THE CHRISTIAN MISSION
Under the superintendence
of the Rev. William Booth
is
A VOLUNTEER ARMY
Recruited from amongst the multitudes who are without God and without hope in the world…

At this time the Volunteers, a part-time citizens’ Army … were a favourite butt of cartoonists. Bramwell, aged twenty-two, was stung by the imputation.
‘Volunteer!’ he exclaimed … ‘Here, I’m not a volunteer. I’m a regular or nothing!’
Booth stopped dead in his tracks … Abruptly, he crossed to where Railton sat, taking the pen out of his hand. He struck decisively through the word ‘volunteer’ and substituted the word ‘Salvation.’ Simultaneously, they scarecely knew why, Bramwell and Railton leapt from their chairs, crying, ‘Thank God for that!’[iii]

The corrected proof. The Christian Mission is a Salvation Army!
The corrected proof. The Christian Mission is a Salvation Army!

The Salvation Army it is then…

More next time
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here


© 2016 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) p.68
[ii] ibid p72
[iii] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.56

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