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While reading a book on Reformed theology (The Shorter Westminster Catechism, by G. I. Williamson), I came across a brief criticism of the Salvation Army's views on the sacraments:

A very different view is held by such groups as the Salvation Army. They do not administer the sacraments at all. They hold regular worship service, but do not observe baptism or the Lord's Supper. (284)

I had previously thought of the Salvation Army as simply a parachurch organization, but to me such groups would not "hold regular worship service." And Williamson's view seems to be confirmed by Wikipedia, which refers to the organization as a "Christian church" and a "denomination."

Strangely, the tradition that the SA grew out of, Methodism, does administer these sacraments. So my question is: why does the Salvation Army not administer baptism and the Lord's Supper? I have a couple guesses:

  • The SA sees itself as a church but does not accept the typical biblical arguments (e.g., Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 11:23–26) for the ongoing nature of these sacraments
  • The SA sees itself as a parachurch organization and recommends that its members also join a church that administers the sacraments

Are either of these accurate? Or a combination, or something else entirely? Whatever the answer, I'd especially like to see evidence from official documents or the published views of its leaders through its history.

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It appears that the simple answer is that because the Salvation Army does not view baptism or communion as requirements of salvation, they are not practiced at all. This stance, however does not constitute disapproval of sacraments:

The Salvation Army has never said it is wrong to use sacraments, nor does it deny that other Christians receive grace from God through using them. Rather, the Army believes that it is possible to live a holy life and receive the grace of God without the use of physical sacraments and that they should not be regarded as an essential part of becoming a Christian.

This was not a doctrinal position as much as it was a gradual change in operation based on the following points:

  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 are 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.

As such, the Salvation Army does not appear to be opposed to sacraments, but avoids them for practical reasons, based on their view of them as not requisite to salvation.

it should be stressed that Salvationists have never been in opposition to the sacraments. Indeed, when they take part in gatherings with Christians from other churches, Salvationists will often share in using the symbols of the Lord's Supper as a sign of fellowship. Furthermore, Salvationists are not prevented from being baptised in other churches should they so desire.

Source: http://www.waterbeachsalvationarmy.org.uk/what-to-know-more/why-does-the-salvation-army-not-baptise-or-hold-communion/

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