Thursday, October 16, 2014

If you can't say something nice, blog about it anyway.

So, I apologize for the delay in getting this blog out. I have two blogs I am pumping out one right after another. The one after this will be about my visit to the Thai Buddhist Temple. This one, however, is about my time at The Salvation Army.

Spoiler, I didn't enjoy my time at The Salvation Army. The reason I've taken so long to write this is that I was having trouble not being completely negative about the whole experience. However, I've never sugar coated on this blog, and I've been completely honest and fair in my assessments so far. So, I'm just going to put it out there. But first, a little background on The Salvation Army.

Origins and Beliefs of The Salvation Army:

The Salvation Army was founded in the mid-nineteenth century by William Booth. The Salvation Army is a Christian denomination with origins in Methodism (though it's not classified as a Methodist church) and patterned to be quasi-military in style, though they are not an actual military nor do they carry weapons or engage in fighting. They call themselves a military because they are a volunteer army fighting for the salvation and aid of mankind. The clergy are called officers, complete with military ranks, and the members are called soldiers.

The group's primary focus is charity work. In fact, they are so involved in charity work, that people often don't know they're a church, but simply think they're a charity and/or thrift shop. This is the primary reason I haven't wanted to say anything negative about The Salvation Army, I don't like tearing down groups that do so much good for their communities. But, for as much good as they do, their beliefs were hard to swallow, the experience bad, and they also have been involved in a few controversies, including anti-gay scandals. Discussion of those is a bit out of the scope of this blog, so feel free to research those on your own.

Here are some basic beliefs of the church:

  1. Belief in the Trinity and divinity of Christ.
  2. Belief the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and the only guide for the salvation of mankind.
  3. Belief that the fall of mankind left man spiritually wounded and totally depraved with no goodness within them.
  4. That the atonement of Christ offers mankind salvation through regeneration by the Spirit.
  5. Salvation is a free gift from God given by grace through faith alone.
  6. Belief in the end of times, resurrection of the dead, return of Christ.
  7. The Salvation Army doesn't practice any sacraments, such as baptism or communion, as they feel they distract from God's grace by focusing on the act rather than what the act symbolizes.
So, let's get the ball rolling.


The Salvation Army chapel is located in downtown Ogden. The exterior of the building is very simple and done in a contemporary style. My friend and I sat in the car in the parking lot listening to the song Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes because the name is derived from the name Salvation Army.

The interior of the chapel was fairly typical of a Protestant chapel: chairs lined up in pews, a sanctuary with a section for a band to play live music and a pulpit as the central piece, flower arrangements, etc.

Sadly, it was hard to focus on anything in this chapel as there was an overwhelming stench of cat urine that assaulted your nose when you walked in and was impossible to ignore throughout the whole service.

The atmosphere, overall, was simple, but the smell was overwhelming and really diminished the entire atmosphere giving it a very cheap and low rent feeling.

The People:

The people were eclectic as far as age and race, Some were elderly, some teenagers, some Latino, some white, some wearing hippie clothing, some wearing Hawaiian shirts and sandals. It felt like most of them were people who had once been down on their luck and had learned about The Salvation Army through their charity outreach. This assumption was confirmed when a man got up and bore his testimony saying that he was no longer homeless and was now clean and sober thanks to the Lord. 

A number of the members were dressed in uniforms. This was something I was told to expect. Many members purchase Salvation Army uniforms and wear them as a sign of being soldiers for God.

The woman who ran the worship service was an older woman who seemed kind of grouchy, especially when she yelled at the children for misbehaving, and kind of upset me with how she acted with people, yet covered it up with a smile and facade of caring.

Overall, it was an interesting group of people. I'm very glad that a number of them seem to have turned their lives around thanks to The Salvation Army.

The Service:

The service was fairly typical of a low church Protestant service. It began with a few announcements and welcome. Everybody went around shaking each other's hands, then the real service began. It started with a song. There was no accompanying music, only the acapella voices of the congregation. I've encountered congregations that don't sing well, but nobody here sang well at all. Because of that, the music wasn't enjoyable, just painful to listen to. I didn't want the singing to continue.

After there was a prayer and then they took up offerings. After that, they had the children's sermon before sending them off to Sunday school.

The kid's sermon was actually nice. It was on how words can hurt people and how we can't take back what we say. I am all for teaching kids this and encourage it.

After that was the main sermon. Then there was another song and a benediction.

Overall, the service was fairly simple, the music grating, and the overall tone extremely casual.

The Message:

The sermon was delivered by a guest speaker. The sermon was supposedly about God's contract with mankind, but really it bounced around a lot. He said that his wife just knows Jesus is the Messiah and that's all she needs. He said that he was a facts person and that he needed more than that. He said that the facts that convince him that Jesus was the Messiah are that nobody but God could do the things that Jesus does in the Gospels, therefore it's all true, Jesus is the Messiah. This is a very flawed argument that I will go into in a special blog on the Bible I've been planning.

He then talked about a conversation he had with his friends once in which he was talking to and how he and his friends tried listing off the Ten Commandments, but couldn't and ended up with a list of about fourteen and still didn't have all of them. I was absolutely amazed he admitted this. A lot of Christians cannot name the Ten Commandments, yet still tout them as the central piece of their faith and (mistakenly) say they're the basis for our laws here in the US. But I was very surprised to hear him admit that he didn't know what they were, and it only solidified what I knew.

After that, he talked about how we need to read the whole Bible cover to cover and read it as literature because all of the questions you'll ever have are answered in there and that there are no gaps in it. Essentially saying that the Bible is free from error. Clearly he hasn't taken up his own challenge as nobody who reads the Bible entirely can say that there are no gaps in it unless they aren't paying attention to anything they're reading. The Bible is filled with gaps and errors, often within the same chapter. More on that in my Bible blog I will do.

He also said that once a person repents, God doesn't remember their sins and that all sin is equal to God. A big sin is just as bad as a little sin, and a big good just as good as a little good. I hate this way of thinking. Murder isn't not on par with fibbing about your age. Rescuing a child from drowning isn't the same as telling your mom the truth about whether you stole the cookie. Things are complicated, not all actions are equal. Conversely, I know people who follow this mentality who think, well, I watched some porn, I already committed a sin, might as well go out and do all the things I want to since I'm damned.

After this he encouraged people that it might be fun to have the kids and adults dress up as Bible characters for Halloween, then when people asked who they were, they could share the Gospel with them. He then ended by saying that only God saves, we're just the ones delivering the message, but we never save anyone.

I found the message to be extremely juvenile in its understanding of Christianity and filled with a lot of problems and flawed logic. It was hard to sit through this sermon with a straight face knowing what I do about religion.

Overall Experience:

I hated my time at The Salvation Army. The whole time I was there, I just felt dirty and like I needed to leave. It's hard to explain why I felt that way, and no words could really capture the feeling. But really I didn't like my time there and have never felt more uncomfortable in a church. I couldn't wait to leave the service, and I will never go back to it.

Additional Notes:

I'll be posting my review on the Thai Buddhist Temple tomorrow. I also am working on a piece about the Bible, and I am visiting the United Methodist Church this Sunday.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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