The Salvation Army of today often describes itself as distinctive, and proclaims that this is something to be encouraged and of which to be proud. Various aspects of the Army’s work and its characteristics are described as distinctive. It is even seen as a means of Church growth. Recently on the WWW a Google search for “distinctive” and “Salvation Army” produced 955 thousand hits.
When you compare this search with similar searches for other churches what you find is that on a per capita basis the Salvation Army is over 65 times more concerned than Catholics about distinctiveness, 112 times more concerned than Anglicans, and 23 times more concerned than Baptists.
This concern for distinctiveness raises many questions. Is it a good thing? Should we be this concerned about our own distinctiveness? Are we distinctive in some of the areas we say we are? Why do we want to be distinctive? Is it important or should our distinctive characteristics be the result of something else? What would William Booth think about it and what does the bible say about it? Another question that comes to mind is whether this is a recent phenomenon.
The answer to that last question is “No” because in 1928 when General Edward Higgins was Chief of the Staff he wrote: “Salvationism is a clear and well-defined quality that represents distinctive features of doctrine and service which distinguish it from all other organizations and makes of it an entity entirely apart, incapable of being blended with any other people. Any attempt to harmonize it with methods employed by other religious bodies destroys its effectiveness and renders it incapable of achieving its purpose or continuing to develop its special characteristics.”
In 1 Cor 12:12-13 Paul says: “12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (NIV) How can a part of the body of Christ be so distinctive, that it is an entity entirely apart?
The article was originally written whilst working for the Salvos at a men's hostel (for homeless etc) and attending Frankston Corps