People

Christianity and social change

How did the Salvation Army begin?

P&P-SALVATION ARMY

By the middle of the 19th century, England had become a largely industrial nation. Many more people had moved from the countryside to live in the growing cities and towns.

The way the population was spread through the country had changed. But the Church of England parishes had not changed, and could only alter slowly. Most of the new town dwellers grew up outside the care of the Church of England. Methodists, with their simple preaching places and local preachers, did have greater success in reaching them. Other nonconformist churches also expanded into the new urban areas, but many people in the industrial areas remained untouched by Christianity.

Part of the problem was the linking of social classes to particular Christian denominations. William Booth was a man who cared very much about this situation. He spoke of ‘darkest England’, because of its ignorance of the Christian faith. He had worked as a Christian preacher in a number of churches, and was an ordained minister of a Methodist Church. But he tended to fit badly into any system, as he liked to “do his own thing”. He was too concerned about the need for people to hear about Jesus Christ to be content to stay in one place.

In 1865, William and Catherine Booth opened the “Whitechapel Mission”. It was at first just a tent, but it was right in the heart of a very poor area – one of the places Booth saw as most in need of hearing the message about Jesus Christ.

The Booths’ first concern was to tell people about Jesus. They believed that people’s great need was for a change of heart and life, but Booth also saw the need to change the social conditions of the poor in England too. He wrote ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’, with the help of a minister concerned with social problems. The book’s theme was that the poorest in England were living in a kind of slavery.  The Salvation Army, the organisation that Booth established, came to stand for both Christian preaching and social action. At times each side of its work brought it opposition, but like any Army it has carried on the fight.

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