Why we do not baptise or hold communion
Why does The Salvation Army not baptise or hold communion?
A major difference between The Salvation Army and other religious denominations is that it does not include the use of sacraments (mainly holy communion, sometimes called the Lord's Supper, and baptism) in its form of worship.
Salvationists see the sacraments as an outward sign of an inward experience, and it is the inward experience that is the most important thing.
It should be noted that The Salvation Army did not cease to use the sacraments because of any prejudices it had against them or from any desire to be 'different'. The decision to discontinue their use was a gradual process in the minds of the Army's founders.
The reasons for The Salvation Army's cessation of the sacraments may be summarised as follows:
1. The Army's Founders felt that many Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of spiritual grace rather than on grace itself. William and Catherine Booth believed, with the Apostle Paul, that salvation came solely from the grace of God personally received by faith. They felt that much of what passed for Christianity in their day was primarily an observance of outward ritual.
2. Some Bible scholars had pointed out that there was no scriptural basis for regarding the sacraments as essential to salvation or Christian living. Many Christians assumed that Jesus commanded the use of baptism and holy communion. But there very few New Testament references to these practices and it was argued that none of them showed any intention by Jesus that they (or any other practice) should have become fixed ceremonies.
3. The sacraments had been a divisive influence in the Church throughout Christian history and at times the cause of bitter controversy and abuse.
4. Some churches would not allow women to administer the sacraments. The Army, however, believed that women may take an equal part in its ministry, and did not want to compromise this stance.
5. The Society of Friends (the Quakers) had managed to live holy lives without the use of sacraments.
6. Many early-day converts to the Army had previously been alcoholics. It was considered unwise to tempt them with the wine used in holy communion.
Why doesn't The Salvation Army hold any communion services?
The answer must be a two-part one.
First, it is felt that there are some very real dangers in forms of religion which place heavy dependence on ceremonies and rituals. Meaningful symbols can become meaningless rituals, and have often done so. The Salvation Army places the emphasis on personal faith and on a spiritual relationship with God which is not dependent on anything external.
Further, Church history shows that disputes about the detailed practice and meaning of such ceremonies have often been a divisive factor between Christians.
They interpret certain texts in the light of hindsight: that is, they read back into history their present background of belief and practice and assume that Jesus or the Early Church leaders were requiring observance of the ceremony - though it may be possible to interpret their words in other senses.
The binding nature of this statement is further brought into question when one studies the background of the sentence. It does not appear in Matthew or Mark, nor does it appear in some of the oldest manuscripts in Luke (and therefore is left out of some modern translations of that gospel). It has been suggested that it comes from elsewhere, eg 1 Corinthians 11:24 (to which we shall return). If we look at John's gospel we find that the symbolic act there (John 13:3-17) is feet-washing. Why do sacramental Christians not observe this as a binding command, when they do so with the rather less certain one about bread and wine?
There is no doubt that Christians in the Early Church did share common meals, but initially they were meals, not ceremonies (Acts 2:42-46; 4:32; 20:7, 11, 27:33-38). 1 Corinthians shows, however, that in that one church at least they soon ceased to be occasions of real sharing (1 Corinthians 11:17-22) .
It should be noted, however that 15 of the 21 New Testament letters make no mention at all of the ceremony which so many Christians now regard as essential to Christian living.
For a time both kinds of meal continued (Sunday morning - communion; evening - common meal). Then gradually the ceremonial became dominant and more and more ritualistic.
The Army does not hold its position as an article of faith or doctrine, but simply as one of practice. So it does not debar anyone who wishes to partake in such a ceremony or prevent anyone who wishes to enter a communion service as a sign of fellowship with other Christians.
It also recognises that many sincere Christians find the communion ceremony to be a deeply meaningful aid to worship and devotion, and a help towards drawing a Christian community closer together.
The Army Founders' attitude to baptism was similar to that of Communion. They saw dangers that the rite could replace the reality of entering into a living relationship with Jesus, and so they decided that the Army would not practise adult baptism.
To become a Salvation Army soldier a person must first and foremost acknowledge that they have asked God for forgiveness for their wrongdoing and that Jesus Christ is their saviour from sin.
Recruits - as those who wish to become Salvation Army soldiers are known - study the Army's doctrines and the principles and practice of a Salvationist lifestyle before a swearing-in ceremony takes place, usually in a Sunday meeting. During this, recruits stand under the Army flag and publicly acknowledge their salvation from sin, state their belief in the Army's doctrines and promise to live by the standards laid out in the 'articles of war'. They then sign a copy of these articles of war and a prayer is said asking for God's help in keeping those promises.
While this ceremony is a serious occasion, it is also a very joyful one with the new soldier being warmly greeted by the congregation and by individual fellow-Salvationists.
As with the ceremony of Communion, Salvationists are not forbidden to be baptised in another church if they feel this is right for them as individuals, and the Army has from time to time reconsidered its stance on the sacraments, and continues to keep it under review.