Dear Salvation Army, Why Not Alcohol?

It might seem like an open and shut question to you, but it is certainly more complicated than that.

Scripture does not condemn the consumption of alcohol, many times it calls for the drinking of wine in celebration and as medicine (for Timothy – 1 Timothy 5:23).  Of course, there is the warning of drinking too much wine –  ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…”(Ephesians 5:18).  Even the disciples and Jesus drank wine.   Some will contest that the wine of Jesus’ day was not very potent when it came to its alcohol content…but it still contained alcohol.

Some might contest that the position statement of The Salvation Army on alcohol is not necessarily based on Scripture, but rather societal experience:

The Salvation Army encourages an alcohol free lifestyle as a way of enhancing the well being and health of all people. As a witness to this, Salvation Army soldiers choose to live an alcohol free life. The Salvation Army recognises the harm alcohol causes in individuals, families and communities. It advocates for reducing the consumption of alcohol, and it offers its services to support and restore people negatively impacted by alcohol use.” (The Salvation Army International Position Statement:  “Alcohol in Society”)

It should also be noted that many other denominations have a similar view on alcohol and their church members.  bottle

Some might then ask the question “Why not alcohol?”
What harm could it do?
Perhaps it opens the door…
Perhaps it makes one vulnerable…

Sometimes I wonder why we don’t talk much about the use of Alcohol?

The Booths, upon founding the Christian Mission, and subsequently The Salvation Army, witnessed the effects of alcohol on society, especially the poor.  Children were literally stumbling out of bars drunk.  It was a blight on the east end of London.
How could one stand by and witness a whole generation of people ruining their lives by drink?  Thus, one of the pillars of soup, soap, salvation was teetotaling discipline.

The Present:
I serve in a corps that is surrounded by drunks.  liquor2
Just across the street is a closed liquor store, and in front of it an even bigger now OPEN liquor store.  There is nothing innately wrong with that liquor store.  That store owner works hard to support his family.  BUT what is wrong is that this store is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in our community – right across from The Salvation Army.  On the other side of our corps, kitty-corner to us, is a Bar…

drunkWe witness the habitual effects of alcoholism in our very parking lot, when we have to pick up a drunkard (almost daily) and escort him/her to a detox location.  It is disheartening to see the utter waste of human life devoured by the bottle.  It is very sad to see families ripped apart because of abuse brought on by intoxication and poverty due to the supporting of a habit.

There is nothing wrong with alcohol, but there IS something broken with people, and there is a genetic disposition to addictions…

Drinking is not a sin, although we as The Salvation Army certainly treat it that way…mainly because we receive many who have lost it all because of the affects of alcoholism.  That liquor establishment across the street near my corps, is not illegal or wrong, but the affects it has had upon the poor in our neighborhood certainly does not make it right either.  Our city will benefit from those tax revenues, but we unfortunately must meet human need in the streets that are bent and broken by it.

My family, a few generations ago, struggled with alcoholism…
My wife’s family has history of alcoholism in it…


  • 100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes: drinking and driving crashes, other accidents, falls, fires, alcohol-related homicides and suicides. (NCAAD)
  • Of the 3.9 million Americans who received treatment for a substance abuse problem in 2005, 2.5 million of them were treated for alcohol use. (Drug Free World)

why not alcohol?
You tell me.
Tell us what YOU think as we explore this topic today.

Something more to ponder today.

Additional Links to check out:
Tom Canfield Story


17 thoughts on “Dear Salvation Army, Why Not Alcohol?

Add yours

  1. A point of contention for the Army, for sure; particularly as in other denominations glasses of wine find a place upon Thanksgiving tables of its members. The historical perspective here is helpful for Salvationists who feel conflicted on the issue. I’m glad the article clears up for some of us that it is not a sin. For that matter, I look upon damaging effects of cheeseburgers with as much gravity (no pun intended.) It is good that the Army includes “Adherent” membership for those who wish to align with our mission, but who do not hold the same conviction about alcohol use. Moreover, you cannot overstate the scourge of ruin alcohol brings to lives of those who become dependent and on this one, the Army’s Position should not change. Just my opinion

  2. If th topic gains any traction, count on it to follow the pattern:
    1) Wine mentioned throughout the Bible.
    2) The harm is from drunkenness.
    3) Someone will mention that they have no personal convictions against alcohol use.
    4) No requirement in Scripture for prohibitation on alcohol use.
    5). Therefore, the position statement and requirement for Soldiers to abstain from alcohol should be optional and an individual choice.


    I don’t personally agree with these perspectives, but some will.

    And we will continue to erode standards in this area, just as in others.

  3. If by abstaining from alcohol I can help me brother, than for my brothers sake, I will abstain. While drinking alcohol is not a sin, breaking an oath certainly is.

  4. I feel that nothing good comes from the use of alcohol. It changes the way people think. That’s enough reason to stay away from it.

  5. Yes the Salvation Army abstains from Alcohol, but if you look at the bigger picture it was/is a key part of the Holiness movement that we are a part of..

  6. When I only knew Salvationists well, I never thought about this much. As I grew to have friends in denominations which allowed drinking, I was forced to confront these questions and develop my own positions. These are not the official Salvation Army positions, but I believe they don’t contradict each other. Basically, it comes down to this: other denominations have the luxury of working with a crowd that mostly does not have a problem with drinking. Yes, there is almost always that ‘one’ drunk everyone at the church knows, but they’re rarer for them than they are for us. They can allow their members to drink in general because they need to worry far less about the problems of addiction- or at least in some cases think they do. Because of who we minister to, as our mission, we are more likely to come across those who either already have an addiction problem or are more likely to develop one. Because we pull our own ranks from these very people, our own soldiers and even officers are more likely to have had this in their past. Therefore, even those Salvationists for whom addiction is not a problem – and not even likely – still need to abstain so as not to become a stumbling block or temptation for their brothers and sisters in the Army. You will likely always be interacting with guests, adherents, soldiers, and officers for whom you do not know their personal history, and so it is better to not even take the chance that you may cause them to stumble. That’s my personal belief anyway, it’s why I choose not to drink (aside from signing the Articles), but it’s also why I don’t get upset when I am with non-Salvationists who are comfortable having a single beer, so long as I can see they are not heading down the road to addication themselves.

    1. I should also mention (as I notice some of the comments above), I still believe that in a modern age, with clean water and hundreds of other beverage choices, I still believe alcohol is pointless – and nasty tasting – and I think we’d be better off without it as a beverage option. But we tried that already, and learned that when the great majority of society does not see drinking as an ill, trying to ban it will cause far worse problems. The above is just how I have chosen to accept both denominations and people that allow drinking and why I believe it’s still important that we as an Army do not. Also, make no mistake, I believe that once you’ve signed the Articles of War (I still miss that name, Soldier’s Covenant just doesn’t have the same ring, but that’s a different argument.) to willfully and consciously choose to break it is a sin, even if drinking itself is not. You sign, unless you renounce and start attending church elsewhere, you shouldn’t be drinking.

  7. Generally we don’t drink alcohol as such. We drink wine, beer, and other things that contain certain amounts of alcohol, which are better called ‘alcoholic beverages’.
    I do agree that when people drink simply to experience the effects of the alcoholic content they have a problem, whether it is an addiction, or simply a need to suppress the effect of life’s other problems. What the scriptures condemn is not the consumption of wine. It is the lack of self control. So I feel you are in one way wrong, if you put the emphasis on the ‘demon drink’.
    But those with a drink problem need help, and not criticism; and very often that help is – at least initially – help to avoid alcoholic drinks. And if there is an addiction, that avoidance needs to be permanent. So I understand why you avoid these substances yourselves; but not why you should consider them ‘bad’. You dont want to ’cause these little ones to stumble’. But remember as well that the Christ saw no harm in wine, his first miracle was turning water into wine for a wedding feast.

  8. As one who was raised in the Salvation Army and received a solid faith foundation,I am thankful.
    However my experience with the Army was not smooth sailing. There seemed to be an emphasis on external behviours rather than a transformed,loving community. Someone here used the the term “Oaths” in relation to drinking not being a sin but oaths are.
    My position is that we don’t need oaths … we require an encounter with God ..that is enough to wrought change in ths soul brought about by the Spirit not by church ordinances and other extra expectations as we climb the Churches external behavioral ladders ..
    It took me some time to stop judging My self or others.
    One can hide in a uniform but we don’t need to hide from a loving Saviour.

  9. Thanks for posting this Captain. I am a life-long Salvationist and have never had a drink of alcohol. Personally, I appreciate this heritage and have a commitment to abstaining from alcohol both as a Salvationist and personally (my own beliefs and desires).

    However, at what point should The Salvation Army start to reassess its traditions and beliefs? What I mean is, we started by working mostly with alcoholics and so it made sense not to partake in alcohol. These days, a majority of corps do not have their primary ministry to alcoholics, so should this commitment to abstinence be rediscussed and readdressed? One issue that I have is that we often do not reassess our traditions but let our traditions inform our lifestyle. Another example of this is Baptism and Communion. The early Army was growing too fast and it was easier to not have Baptism or Communion, but now that we are a denomination should that tradition of non-Sacramentalism be readdressed and rediscussed? Final example, uniform. Does it even work anymore? Should these things be readdressed and rediscussed? If so, how does that happen?

    My fear is tradition for tradition’s sake. (I know you can’t answer all of these questions, but these are the kinds of things that Young Salvationists are actually talking about).

    keep up the great blog.

  10. You may like to consider another possibility – one that will enable Salvationist non-drinkers to get close to their social-drinking friends just as Jesus did, eating and presumably drinking wine with “publicans”. No doubt there will be a few members who will read this and say “Can’t stand the smell or taste of alcohol” … and of course they rule themselves out of this opportunity for evangelising among drinkers. But for the rest, how do we feel about giving ourselves the best chance of getting closer to our circle of friends who DO drink socially without harm ? Try any of the wide selection of Alcohol-free beers, lagers, wines, available these days in most pubs and restaurants. It removes the risk of friends wondering if we are silently judging or even condemning them for holding an alcoholic drink while WE smugly sip from a see-through glass of lemonade. By avoiding the appearance of ‘outsiders’, we can be more easily accepted into the circle of friends … and surely that is what we want ? To be able to share the Word of God with friends more easily … and effectively … and still be teetotal if that is our choice. OR is the Army implicitly thinking … “We’ll leave the evangelism among those friends … to our adherents who are allowed alcohol” … ?

  11. Ohhh … do I hear you say … “We don’t socialise with such people “. That would be a shameful waste of opportunity to share and witness just where the Gospel is needed. I know many Salvationists whose only friends are Salvationists !! How, I wonder, do they expect to lead someone to the Lord … if they never spend time with the unsaved ?

    1. If I would say something like that,
      It would be facetious. No, our calling is to the whosoever and through many means of evangelism. If we merely
      Socialized with other Christians, we would cease to be an army of salvation and become a social club.

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