A Salvationist Perspective on the Sacraments

Seven Sacraments Altarpiece
Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden (c.1445-1450). You can see around the edges the seven sacraments. From left to right, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation (at rear of centre panel), Holy Orders, Marriage, Last Rites. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone knows that the Salvation Army doesn’t celebrate (perform) the sacraments, right? The fact of the matter is that while yes, the Salvation Army does not celebrate Holy Communion (or whatever term you prefer to use in its place – Mass, Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper), and we don’t perform “water” baptisms, the Salvation Army is indeed a very sacramental church, and celebrates its sacraments on a daily basis. I hope to show to you today that the Salvation Army does indeed embrace the sacraments, and that they are in fact a wonderful thing.

What is a sacrament?

On a very basic level, a sacrament is a means of grace. By that, I mean that a sacrament is an outward sign of the grace of God that resides within us. The best way that I heard that related into everyday language was relating it to the love that I have for my wife. There are various ways that I could show my love for my wife. I could get her flowers, or jewellery, or give her a kiss, or a hug, or even tell her that I love her. None of these things are what love actually consists of, they are just outward signs that show that love. However, if I don’t do at least some of these, my wife would get rather upset – she may not know that I still love her. The sacraments are the same. They aren’t what the grace of God actually consists of. They are just outward signs that we reside in God’s grace. Through doing the sacraments, they are an outward sign that we reside in the grace of God. If we don’t do them, even though we still remain in the grace of God – how would anyone know?

So, What are the Sacraments?

The Roman Catholic church has seven Sacraments. Many of these are observed in many churches, so let’s list them here now.

  1. Baptism
  2. Eucharist
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Marriage
  5. Confirmation
  6. Holy Orders
  7. Anointing of the sick. (Formerly, the Last Rites).

Source: The Seven Catholic Sacraments.

These seven sacraments are what are generally considered as sacraments, however there are three that are (almost) universal amongst all denominations – Baptism, Eucharist and Marriage. These three are regarded as universal, because they are mentioned in the bible. I’ll discuss these three later.

Modern confessional in the Church of the Holy ...
Modern confessional in the Church of the Holy Name, Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those that aren’t aware of the others, I’ll do a quick summary here. Reconciliation is the process of forgiveness. In the Roman Catholic church, this often takes place in the form of the confessional, where you confess your sins, the priest gives you some prayers to say, and you are absolved of your sins. In the Anglican church, this is done through a group confession within the liturgy, and the priest gives the absolution. It can be done in different ways in different churches. In the Salvation Army – while no formal setting may be seen, the confessional side may well happen at the Mercy Seat during a service (however, we should note that this is not the only use of the mercy seat.)

A stained glass representation of confirmation...
A stained glass representation of confirmation in the Lutheran Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Confirmation is where you confirm God’s presence in your life. For those who are baptised at birth, confirmation is the opportunity to affirm the vows that were made for you by your parents. In Adult baptisms, confirmation is often done at the same time. In the Salvation Army, you may think of confirmation as someone becoming a Soldier after being dedicated as a child.

A Presbyterian licentiate making his vows of o...
A Presbyterian licentiate making his vows of ordination. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holy Orders is one that causes some conjecture as to whether it really is a sacrament or not. With all of the other sacraments, they are open to all – anyone can partake in them. However, with Holy Orders – that is, to become a priest, minister, or Officer – there really should (or must) be a calling of God to this vocation. That being said, if we consider sacraments to be a means of God’s grace, then the sacrament of Holy Orders is indeed a sacrament, as it is through the process of formation for ministry, and the public ordination service that a public declaration of God’s grace within our lives is made.

Healing Service
Healing Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, the sacrament of Healing the Sick, or the Last Rites. In the Catholic church, the last rites were given to someone to ensure that their soul was right with God before they passed from this mortal world. This has progressed into the sacrament of anointing the sick, a practice which is also partaken in the Anglican church. Many other churches also have “healing” ministries (I put healing in quotation marks, as there is a wide range of healing ministries, from the simple anointing with oil, and a blessing, through to “slain by the spirit”-style healing acts.)

The universal sacraments

The three that are regarded as universal are regarded this way because they are mentioned in the bible. Marriage is mentioned multiple times in the Bible. We know that Jesus was baptised, and John the Baptist performed many baptisms. And finally, we know that Jesus celebrated the Passover meal, and instructed his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; Last Supper also found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and mentioned in John 13).

Marriage

Photo from our wedding, during the hymn “How Great is our God”

My Wedding was a wonderful occasion, coming mostly from the Salvation Army Book of Ceremonies, with a bit of my Anglican heritage thrown in there with my Dad blessing the rings. This was very much a sacramental moment, where we were able to publicly declare the love we had for each other, and the love we had for God. However, note that the sacrament is not “Wedding” but “Marriage”. The wedding is a part of that, it kicks it all off, and is a very public statement of the grace of God. However, marriage comes as a sacrament every day. Every day, as we go out into the world, when people look at us, and see our marriage, it is a public declaration of the grace that God has for us. Marriage is the one with the least controversy surrounding it as to whether it is a sacrament or not – as all churches (to my knowledge – happy to be corrected on this) practice it.

Baptism

An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersio...
An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersion in a river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many, there is a belief that the Salvation Army does not practice baptism. While it is true that the Salvation Army does not practice “water” baptism, we do have our own ceremonies that have the same symbolism and the same public display of God’s grace. I guess the first question to ask is what role does baptism play?

At a very basic level, baptism is the process where someone becomes a member of that church. Some may say that you only become a Christian by being baptised – I don’t feel that is true. We read in John 1:12 that “those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Anyone who believes in the name of Jesus has the right to become a child of God – a Christian. Likewise, in Acts 4 we read “many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.” There’s no mention of baptism there, yet the number of men who believed grew. Nowhere in the Gospels do we read of the disciples being baptised – only that Jesus was baptised.

At a deeper level, baptism is also symbolic. There are connections to the healing pools used in Jewish custom, where you are cleansed of your ailment when you dip in the pool. For Christians, baptism is symbolic of us washing away our old life, washing away our sin, and rising again to a new life. The symbolic action in a water baptism is clear in this sense. But not all churches practice a full immersion baptism. For many – including the Catholic and Anglican churches, a small amount of water is poured over the head. It is still symbolic, and still has the same effect.

Someone once said to me this joke. Churches who practice full immersion baptisms – Baptists, some Church of Christ, etc – they’re like washing machines, they use a lot of water. Some churches – like the Catholics and Anglicans – they’re like hand washing, they use a lot less water. Now the Salvos, yes the Salvation Army, they’re a bit different. They’re Dry Cleaners.

Becoming a Soldier in the Salvation Army is very much like baptism. No, it doesn’t use water. But in putting on the uniform, we leave our old life behind, and start a new life with Christ. For me, the uniform has taken on even more meaning since becoming a cadet. We have to wear the uniform every day for class – and for some, being forced to do that might lead them towards lessening the importance of the uniform. But for me, it is a daily reminder that I am God’s child, and each day that I put it on, it is a little grace moment, where I can publicly display my love for Christ. Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with baptism.

Eucharist

Baptist communion elements
Baptist communion elements (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, this is the tricky one. Eucharist goes by many names – Mass, Communion, The Lord’s Supper. And yes, the Salvation Army do not “practice” Communion as a regular ritual. I make a distinction between “practice” and “celebrate” here. While the Salvation Army does not engage in regularly practicing the ritual, the Salvation Army does state that “When Salvationists attend other Christian gatherings in which a form of Holy Communion is included, they may partake if they choose to do so and if the host Church allows.” (Source)

The Salvation Army also states that “Salvationists are encouraged to use the love feast [fellowship meal] and develop creative means of hallowing meals in home and corps with remembrances of the Lord’s sacrificial love.” It must also be noted that “In accordance with normal Salvation Army practice, such remembrances and celebrations, where observed, will not become established rituals, nor will frequency be prescribed.” Basically, Corps can celebrate a “love feast” (personally, I dislike this terminology, and would prefer fellowship meal) which may include elements similar to a celebration of Communion. However, it cannot become an established ritual, and the Salvation Army will not prescribe the frequency in which it must take place. So a Salvation Army corps may celebrate a “love feast”, however it is at the discretion of the corps and the officers, and is not prescribed from higher up.

The big statement that the Salvation Army makes on communion is this one: “Christ is the one true Sacrament, and sacramental living – Christ living in us and through us – is at the heart of Christian holiness and discipleship.” Sacramental living is the big thing. That through every moment of our lives is an opportunity to show the grace of God.

General Albert Orsborn (Image Credit: SAwiki.net)

This comes most strongly through the words of General Albert Orsborn.

My life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign.
That other souls, refreshed and fed,
May share his life through mine.

My all is in the Master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love’s demands
To give, for his dear sake.

Lord, let me share that grace of thine
Wherewith thou didst sustain
The burden of the fruitful vine,
The gift of buried grain.
Who dies with thee, O Word divine,
Shall rise and live again.

The Salvation Army is indeed a sacramental church, where soldiers are encouraged to live a sacramental life. May you find a sacramental moment in your life today, where you can publicly display the grace of God.

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

7 thoughts on “A Salvationist Perspective on the Sacraments”

  1. Thanks for posting this Ben. It has explained a few questions I had about Salvation Army practices. Personally, I enjoy regular Communion (call it what you will) as for me it is a re-dedication of my faith in Jesus and a time to again thank God for his gracious gift of Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.

  2. Thanks for your article Ben. I was formerly a Salvation Army Officer for 16 years, and believed and practised all the fundamental teachings of The Salvation Army; however there came a time when The Holy Spirit dealt with me about “believer’s baptism” and at that time I was not influenced by anyone or any evangelical church, just God’s Word. The real clincher came when I read about Jesus as He presented Himself for baptism and John the baptist expressed unwillingness to baptize Jesus. Jesus said (Matt 3:15) “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” For me, it was a revelation that if Jesus submitted to baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness, then I needed to do the same, in obedience to the Word of God. Immediately after I was baptized, I felt such an indescribable sense of blessing and joy, and peace, which has never left me. I personally know many Salvationists who have had the same experience, and are still serving God in The Salvation Army. Sadly my Divisional Commander required me to resign from Officership if I would not recant on my conviction, and God has taken my wife and I on an exciting journey over the last 40 odd years, which is another story.
    We still pop in to The Salvation Army Perth Fortress at times, and enjoy the blessing of the fellowship we have there with many friends.

    1. Hi Pastor Fred, and thanks for your comment. Firstly, I think it’s an awful shame that your DC required you to resign from something that is part of God’s word. I have been baptised – when I was 10, in the Church of Christ – and I regularly took part in communion as an Anglican. I would not renounce any of those actions, nor would I stop. As mentioned in my post, when I am at a church that allows me to partake in communion, I am allowed to and I will do so.
      You make a good point in that Jesus was baptised – however, there’s no mention of Jesus baptising his disciples. His disciples might have actually been baptised by John the Baptist (Acts 1:21 says that the apostle to replace Judas must have been with them from the time of the baptism by John – it’s not clear whether this is Jesus’ baptism by John, or whether this is a baptism of the disciples by John). It’s interesting also to note that being baptised by someone would make you their disciple. So while we see John baptising Jesus in Mark and Matthew, Luke arranges his narrative to have John locked up before Jesus is baptised – removing the possibility of Jesus being seen as John’s disciple. This line in Matthew also deals with this. In Mark, Jesus is baptised by John without contest, but in Matthew, John protests, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) Jesus then replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15 NIV). Matthew deals with John’s baptism to say it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. As such, Jesus is baptised in the Jordan – a water baptism by John.
      Looking at Acts 19, Paul finds some disciples in Ephesus who were baptised by John – presumably in the Jordan river. We read that they did not have the Holy Spirit, for they had not even heard about it (Acts 19:2). Paul then baptised them in the name of Jesus, and they received the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of a river here.
      I’m not arguing against Water baptisms – 1 Peter 3:21 says “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” A Water Baptism is symbolic of this cleansing – however, spiritual baptisms as mentioned in Acts 19:2 are just as valid. I know that for me, my water baptism was a wonderful moment, a very spiritual moment for me. But when I was enrolled as a Soldier of the Salvation Army, this was again just as spiritual for me – and it was in effect, a spiritual baptism.
      I’m glad that for you, your baptism gave you that “sense of blessing and joy, and peace” and I praise God that it has never left you. I pray that God will continue to bless you in your ministries, and maybe one day down the track, we might be able to catch up in person and chat further about our experiences together.

  3. Becoming a Soldier in the Salvation Army is very much like baptism. No, it doesn’t use water. But in putting on the uniform, we leave our old life behind, and start a new life with Christ. For me, the uniform has taken on even more meaning since becoming a cadet. We have to wear the uniform every day for class – and for some, being forced to do that might lead them towards lessening the importance of the uniform. But for me, it is a daily reminder that I am God’s child, and each day that I put it on, it is a little grace moment, where I can publicly display my love for Christ. Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with baptism.

    I wonder if the above,can produce scripture supporting his or her claim.I quote,” Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with water baptism”.

    Like · · Share

    Steve Hooper I wonder if the above can support with the KJV of the Bible,were it says and i quote,”Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with Water Baptism”.

    1. I just saw this and I find it most interesting, strictly from a logical point of view. TSA does not practice biblical symbols because it considers the use of symbols for Christian living unnecessary. That’s a good position to hold. It warns of the danger of replacing true spirituality with symbols. Now, if you want to call soldiership or the uniform a sacrament, then you seem to be falling into the same temptation/danger, and further, by taking this extra-biblical leap, you seem to be practicing sacrilege.

  4. Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with baptism.Could you please support with scripture.I have read the word of God,i have never read this statement,” Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with baptism”.This statement cannot be suppored with the word of God.Becoming a Soldier or putting on a salvation army is the same as,beening buried with Jesus in the waters of baptism,i don’t think so!Maybe you or some other can comment.

  5. Hi Guys, thanks for your comments on this. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
    I’m appreciating the comments in relation to the statement at the end of my section on Baptism – “Soldiership is very much a sacrament on par with baptism.” I hope that I actually covered this mostly in the section, but I’ll summarise my reasoning for that statement.
    When seen as part of membership of the church (that is, some churches require baptism prior to being considered a member of the church), then Soldiership is seen as our understanding of membership. But Baptism is much more than that as well. Just like any sacrament, it is an outward sign of an inward reality. Baptism is a public statement of the inward reality of accepting Christ as saviour. And part of becoming a Soldier is stating publicly that you accept Christ as saviour.
    When you see Soldiership as a sacrament – that is, an outward sign of an inward reality – you see it as a sacrament on par with baptism. Not the same as Baptism, but similar and holding many of the same roles and qualities.

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