The Salvation Army was founded in 1878 by William Booth, a former Methodist minister who began to work among the “unchurched” in London. Many of those who followed his message felt uncomfortable with the standard churches to which they were sent, so Booth began to create “mission centers” for them. These mission centers eventually consolidated into one organization, named the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is known for its benevolent “missionary” focus along with its military-style hierarchy.
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The Church and Military Organization
The Salvation Army is structured like a military organization: there are regular “Salvationists,” or members, and then “officers,” who represent the hierarchy of the church1. This officer system begins with youth at age 7, who are deemed “junior officers” and at that point begin their attempt to live as Christians; they later become “senior soldiers” at 15 or above, affirming that they will follow Jesus and that they have signed the “Articles of War,” or a listing of the belief system of the Salvation Army. From this level there is the “officer” class, individuals ordained by the Salvation Army to guide the church; these individuals follow a general military system of ranking. Officers are to marry other officers, and death is deemed “promotion to glory.” Do we see this style of organization in the New Testament?
It is true that there are many military type statements and symbols used in the New Testament, such as 2 Timothy 4:7-8 and Ephesians 6:11-17:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing.
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
These statements, however, are not designed to demonstrate that the church is a military organization with a system of officers and soldiers; this battle is spiritual, and the New Testament betrays no such form of “military” hierarchy of leaders.
In the New Testament, we see a twofold system of leadership, seen in Ephesians 5:23-24 and Philippians 1:1:
For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
The purpose of these bishops (or overseers, elders, etc.) is seen in Acts 20:28:
Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.
Therefore, it is evident from the New Testament that the church is to be organized with Christ as its head, elders watching over each individual congregation, and deacons serving within those congregations. There is no evidence in the New Testament of any form of a military hierarchy within the church; it is entirely a nineteenth-century creation.
1: This information, along with what follows, is from http://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/faqs/ceremonies.html.