The Salvation Army: A Primer

The Salvation Army is loved by many, but few know much about it.

It is almost universally admired and widely acclaimed, but the general public knows little about the motivation and commitment of the men and women who comprise its ranks.

It is an integral part of Americana (although it is an international organization), known principally for its red kettles at Christmastime and the white trucks used to collect used furniture and clothing for resale in its thrift stores.


Volumes have been written about its caring service and its spiritual ministry—a story that is ever changing and constantly growing. But for the multitude of friends who would like to know us better, this description may serve as a starting point—a primer, if you will.


Basically, The Salvation Army is a church—a denomination with a strong emphasis on social service, but a church nevertheless. In more than 1,200 individual churches (corps) in the United States, and nearly 14,000 world-wide, congregations meet each Sunday for worship and edification. Some are very small, others have congregations in excess of 2,000 people. Visitors always are welcome, regardless of life-style choices, faith (or lack thereof), financial circumstances or any other factors.

These churches are headed by commissioned officers, who also are ordained clergy, trained in one of the 40+ colleges/schools for officer training throughout the world. In addition to being the pastor of a congregation, the corps officer typically (especially in smaller churches) is also a social worker, community activist, accountant, counselor and, sometimes, janitor.

Church members fall into two categories: soldiers, who accept the strict discipline of the Army and who are eligible both to wear the uniform and to hold local officer (lay leadership) positions; and adherents, who choose the Army as their church home but who opt out of the more stringent requirements of soldiership. But all members, soldiers and adherents alike, testify to having accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and their Guide for life.


So what do Salvationists do?

The answer is almost as varied as the more than 100,000 officers and soldiers in the United States and the one-and-a-third million across the globe. Officers are in full-time service, either as corps leaders or in some other branch of activity in the Army such as administering a social service center. A small number of the non-officer members are employed by The Salvation Army, but the huge majority are engaged in normal business and labor occupations or are homemakers.

Most importantly, Salvationists are members of an international worshipping community.

When they gather for worship on a Sunday, they are not unlike their spiritual brothers and sisters in other non-liturgical, evangelical, Protestant churches. Typically, Sunday school is conducted prior to the morning worship service which includes congregational singing, corporate prayer, the reading of the Word, a sermon, an invitation for non-believers to accept salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and for believers to make new and deeper commitments to the Lord.

The service (formerly called “meeting,” ala Quakerism) might also include participation by a worship ensemble, a soloist, a choir (songsters) and/or a brass band.

But for Salvationists, Sunday worship is only the beginning. During the week many will be involved in visits to nursing homes or shut-ins, leadership of character-building activities for disadvantaged youth, ministry to jail or prison inmates, musical instruction to young people, small prayer groups, making meals available to the homeless, serving responders to natural or manmade disasters or any number of other outreach ministries.

In addition to (or, perhaps more accurately, as part of) its core religious activity, The Salvation Army ministers extensively in the local community. In fulfillment of its commitment to meet human need without discrimination, it provides a plethora of services including rehabilitation programs for alcohol and drug addicts, family counseling, employment assistance, soup kitchens, temporary shelter, disaster relief, correctional services, senior citizen housing, premarital counseling, etc. Obviously, all of these services are not available in every locality.


Why the Army does what it does is rooted in its history. The organization was founded in 1865 in London, England, by a Methodist clergyman named William Booth. Booth’s passion (not dissimilar to the passion of Evangelist Billy Graham a century later) was to lead men and women from sin to salvation, from spiritual darkness to light. Booth’s ministry began in the East End of London, home to the poorest of the poor. Early in his ministry he discovered that a man with an empty stomach was far less likely to respond positively to the gospel message than a man who had been fed.

Consequently, Booth and his followers began attending to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of those to whom they ministered. Although contemporary congregations include people from all economic strata, Salvationists continue to have a strong urge to seek out and minister to those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale, often referring to them as “our people.” The doctrines of the Army are based in Wesleyan Methodism, but the strong emphasis on meeting the total needs of humankind is a tradition that continues in The Salvation Army of today.


The commitment of The Salvation Army to meet human need without discrimination has motivated its leaders for more than 150 years. Its forerunner, The East London Christian Mission, within five years of its founding in 1865, became The Christian Mission, recognizing that the work had spread outside of the capital to other locations in England and Wales.

By 1878 The Salvation Army name had been adopted. A year later the United States was “invaded” by eighteen-year-old female Lieutenant Eliza Shirley, who immigrated with her parents to Philadelphia. She and her parents began holding evangelistic meetings in an abandoned factory building, and the work prospered.

In 1881 the Army began work in France, followed by Canada, India, Switzerland and Sweden by 1882. As the work flourished in England, it rapidly spread to other parts of the world. Today the Army flag flies in 128 countries and on every Continent save Antarctica.

“Meeting Need at the Point of Need” has been a Salvation Army slogan and a Salvation Army operating principle for a long time. As it entered country after country, it sought to address local conditions. Consequently, in addition to its strong spiritual work it opened schools in Africa, medical clinics and hospitals in India, childrens’ homes in South America and a
haven for the blind in Jamaica.

Today the ministries of the Army are diverse, but all held together by a firm commitment to serve mankind in the name and spirit of Jesus.


Because the sun never sets on the yellow-red-and-blue flag of the Army, ministry continues around the clock. Even as the sun sets in South Africa, where during the last century the Army was in the forefront of overthrowing apartheid, it rises in San Francisco, where the first Army Christmas kettle was placed in 1895.

At noon, when the homeless gather in Cincinnati for a meal and much-needed fellowship with others human beings, the nightly patrol in Melbourne, Australia, is setting out to visit and feed the indigents who sleep under bridges.

At midnight in London, when Salvation Army lassies offer hope and release to sex workers in the British capital, Salvationists in Moscow are offering soup and bread to school children who lack nourishment.

And all around the world, at every hour, prayer is ascending that God will continue to bless the work of The Salvation Army and the multitudes to whom it ministers.

Commissioner Robert E. Thomson, a frequent contributor to the War Cry, lives in in Clearwater, FL.

A General for the World

General André Cox shares with Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee the change and transformation represented by the Army’s outreach and progress internationally.

War Cry: What is the state of The Salvation Army internationally?

The General: What we have seen as we travel around is greatly encouraging and engenders optimism. The Salvation Army in many places around the world is still as relevant as it was in 1865 when William and Catherine Booth commenced the work. The Army is at its best when it is actively involved in communities, not just in the business of providing social programs and support to people but working with them to give a hand up rather than a handout.

We have been greatly energized by what we have seen, especially when people in our corps and institutions understand and embody the mission of The Salvation Army, which is both to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination. Corps that are active in their communities are thriving. I have been energized by the success stories of change and transformation in people’s lives.

The Army continues to grow internationally, although we struggle in some areas and have been for a number of decades. There is much to celebrate, but there are also many challenges. There is no question in terms of the need for and relevance of the Army. When we do it right, there are positive results.

War Cry: How is the Army progressing with what has been termed the “Accountability Movement?”

The General: It is a culture change on a scale we have not seen before. I am convinced of the urgency of the things we have been addressing. The demands placed upon The Salvation Army and the expectations of the public, donors and regulatory authorities increase almost on a daily basis. It is important that we have in place sound administrative and accounting structures. The Accountability Movement is not just about administration and finance, it also ensures engagement in the reality of people’s lives, investing ourselves in the communities where we are present for maximum impact and transformation.

We now begin to roll out the new international finance and accounting standards (IFAS). One of the exciting things has been the involvement of so many people around the world, bringing together the great depth and wealth of expertise we have within our own organization in terms of human resources. Once implemented, The Salvation Army will be compliant with the highest guidelines of the international standard of accounting. In terms of the governance review, a fast-growing number of territories have now understood their vulnerabilities and the need to get the governance piece right. There has been a great focus on failings with governance in both businesses and charitable organizations. It was time for us to ensure that our systems are fit for the 21st Century. We have three territories now moving into this new reality and that number will continue to increase. In places like Africa, the Army grows no matter what we do, but the Accountability Movement and focus on being a mobilized Army has energized many of our African territories who readily admit the temptation to be complacent. The physical and spiritual battles we are engaged in are far from won, but there is always the temptation to settle down and become complacent. The Accountability Movement will not be over when I step down on August 2; it has gained enough momentum now and is on the right track. There are sufficient people with the correct expertise who share the passion and commitment to get it right.

War Cry: What progress is being made toward self-support in developing countries?

The General: We have been shifting away from the continued drain from the International Self-Denial fund. We are looking to supporting territories to help with development in more strategic ways. We have been able to free up over $3 million in the past couple of years as territories move toward greater responsibility to sustain themselves. We are also exploring many opportunities that are available, but that have not been exploited in the past. In the past, the ability to fund and sustain new openings was problematic, but that is much more possible today because of the positive steps territories are taking. We have many places that have existed for more than 130 years that are still highly dependent on the International Self-Denial fund. That is beginning to change. The progress we have made puts the Army in a better position to consider new openings in the immediate and mid-term future.

War Cry: As General, what has given you the most gratification?

The General: I can explain that by an illustration. In the India South Eastern Territory. We attended a meeting of self-help groups. These are groups of women who join together in cooperatives and are involved in microcredit schemes and community development projects. During the meeting one woman stood before a congregation of 600-700 and testified “The people didn’t look at me as a Hindu or see me as an HIV positive person. They came in and met me at my point of need and the situation in which I now live is so much better.” It’s these stories of change and transformation brought about through Army ministry that are much more meaningful than numbers. Gratification comes from seeing the impact of our ministry when we get the mission right.

War Cry: What gives you the most concern?

The General: There are both internal and external factors that give cause for concern. Our world is far from being a settled and peaceful place. There continues to be rising divisions and conflicts in a number of places throughout the world. Unless something changes and we opt for a different way, such concerns, divisions and conflicts will escalate. The focus some countries place on military spending, rearming and ensuring they have the largest arsenal of weapons needs to be seen in the light of increasing poverty and marginalization. The reality is a growing need for the work and ministry of The Salvation Army, which poses a challenge in terms of our resources and ability to respond. The future may well hold difficult decisions about the sustainability of our services. Given such external factors, the work of The Salvation Army is nowhere near completion.

I continue to encounter Salvationists who are satisfied with the comfortable life they have. Such satisfaction contains an inherent danger of becoming disconnected from our mission and our constituency. We need to recapture and maintain that vision William Booth had in his book In Darkest England and the Way Out. People are still lost in the raging seas and we need to get out, man the lifeboats and “rescue the perishing” with the transforming power of the Gospel. There is work for us to do! We need to get our sleeves rolled up and get on with it!

War Cry: What have you learned or experienced that you could not have had you not been the General?

The General: It is not possible to have a broader perspective than that of a General. What a wonderfully international Army we have! There are numerous languages and cultures throughout our 128 countries, yet we belong to one family. Many people say it is increasingly difficult to maintain such unity in a fractured and divided world, which is a tension we cannot ignore. Having said that, I have experienced a deep unity and closeness of relationship due to being brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing a covenant lifestyle. Wherever a Salvationist is in the world, you feel at home because we are members of the one family. Our internationalism and unity of covenant are some of God’s greatest gifts to us.

War Cry: What do you wish people understood about the Army?

The General: I don’t mind people having difficulty defining who we are. I want people to recognize that what drives us is our faith and calling from God to be salt and light in the world. I hear many people speak in glowing terms of The Salvation Army. We must not become disconnected from our spiritual calling lived out in practical ways. You cannot separate who we are, what we are and what we do.

War Cry: What would the Founder say about the Army in the 21st Century?

The General: In some ways he would give us a kick where we need it, telling us to get out and be red hot in our faith and desire to reach a lost world for Christ. I’ve seen many things that would make him extremely proud. One hundred and fifty-three years into our history there are still people who embody the mission of The Salvation Army.

I’ve just been reflecting on the life of Jared Plesic from Cleveland, who was brutally murdered while he was going about his mission. In reading about his life, influence and the impact this 21-year-old had, I’m absolutely certain that William Booth would stand and salute. There are countless others— corps, institutions and individuals—to whom William and Catherine would say, “Well done, you’ve got it. You’re still faithful to what God has placed on our hearts in starting this Salvation Army.” Where people are complacent and settled I could imagine he would have some strong words. “Get out there and do something!”

War Cry: Anything else?

The General: These five years have been an immense privilege. In my personal journey, it has not always been easy, but God has been incredibly faithful. I am thankful for this opportunity and for what the Army is doing today. I am thankful to the countless officers, soldiers, adherents and volunteers who do incredible things every day. They are the ones who make the reputation of the Army, not a General.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary

The Salvation Army

WHAT a strong name! What does it mean? Just what it says—a number of people joined together after the fashion of an army, and therefore it is an army, and an army for the purpose of carrying salvation through the land. It is neither more nor less than that. If it be wise and lawful and desirable for men to be banded together and organized after the best method possible to liberate an enslaved nation, establish it in liberty and overcome its foes, then surely it must be wise and lawful and desirable for the people of God to join themselves together after the fashion most effective and forcible to liberate a captive world, and to overcome the enemies of God and man.

When Jehovah finished the work of creation, He turned from the new earth to the new Adam, and gave him the commission to multiply, increase, subdue and govern it, so that it should “become a happy home for him and his posterity, and bring honor and glory to its Creator.” Adam failed in his mission, and instead of Adam subduing the earth, the earth subdued Adam, and he and all his family went off into diabolical rebellion. But God still claimed His own, and a second time appeared, this time to redeem by sacrifice the world He had before created; and when He had finished the work, He turned to His disciples and gave a commission to go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

It is overcome, conquer, subdue, not merely teach but persuade, compel all nations, all people to become disciples of the Son of God.

So at least it is understood by The Salvation Army. This idea originated, developed and fashioned it in the past, and dominates and propels it today. This very world which never ceases boasting of its freedom is sold under sin, held in slavery by Satan, who has usurped the place and power and revenues of Jehovah. We are to deliver it and fulfill the Master’s command. An army of deliverance, redemption, emancipation is wanted. In the name of the great Three in One the standard has been raised.

Recruits are flowing in. Drilling, skirmishing, fighting, advancing. Some territory has been won, some captives have been liberated, some shouts of victory have been raised, together with plenty of misfortunes, losses, disasters and mistakes—all which might naturally be expected in such a war; but with it all there has been growth and increase continually. Every day it is becoming more fierce, determined, courageous and confident, and every day more and more a Salvation Army.

Does all this sound strange— not sacred, not ecclesiastical and after the pattern of existing things and institutions? Is it something new? It may be so, and yet it may be nonetheless true and scriptural, nonetheless of divine origin, made after some heavenly pattern.

What is this work we have in hand? To subdue a rebellious world to God. And what is the question to which many anxiously desire an answer? How is it most likely to be accomplished?

  • That if ever the world is subdued, it will be by the instrumentality of people.
  • By holy people—saved, spiritual, divine people.
  • By people using substantially the same means as were used by the first Apostles—preaching, praying and believing.
  • That all that is affected will be by the power of the Holy Ghost, given through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now on these lines how could a number of the Lord’s disciples conduct themselves in order to most effectually succeed in discipling all nations, subduing the world to God?

Supposing 5,000 godly men and women of varying ages and conditions presented themselves at St. Paul’s Cathedral tomorrow, saying, “We are so deeply impressed with the awful spiritual condition and peril of the world that we cannot rest; the Word of the Lord is as a fire in our bones, the love of souls is such a constraining power in our hearts that it will not let us remain idle. We want to join in a holy battle for the redemption of humankind. Take us and all we have and use us in the way most likely to accomplish this end.” How could these 5,000 burning hearts be used with the greatest force and likelihood of success? Something like the following answer must be given:

I. The 5,000 Must Work in Complete and Perfect Combination. To separate and scatter them, leaving them to work out varying plans would be unwise. Two working in combination will accomplish more than two in separation. Let them be the same force though acting in various divisions and scattered to the ends of the earth. Mold, weld and keep them together. Let them be one army and make them feel that they are working one plan. Brethren, sisters, comrades, division is weakness. Unity is strength. Why?

A. Combination gives the strength which flows from Sympathy. The knowledge that if one is sore pressed, wounded, a thousand hearts feel with him, that if he falls they will shout victory o’er his grave, follow him in imagination to “the river,” and anticipate meeting him again before the throne, will be stimulus unutterable, will make him willing to face enemies, loss, death and devils.

B. Combination Gives ConfidenceThere is wonderful power in knowing that a multitude are shouldering the same weapons, engaged in the same conflict, marching to the same music, under the same standard, for the destruction of the common foe. Confidence makes men into heroes. Hold together, close together, and there will be giants again even in our own days.

C. Combination gives the strength which comes from Mutual Help. With a system of combination which is a reality, the strong will bear the infirmities of the weak. In a real war, no matter how carefully the forces are distributed, there will be weak places that will need strengthening when the conflict rages along the line. There will be positions against which the enemy will hurl his most powerful battalions, which positions must be reinforced or all will be lost. How glorious for fresh troops pouring in.

We must hold the 5,000 together. We know not how the battle will go, no wing or detachment must be without its supports, and all must be so arranged that the power and force of the whole can be directed to strengthen and sustain the weakest part.

D. Combination gives the power which comes from ExampleMan imitates. The deeds of daring, self-denial and sacrifice done here, will be talked about and imitated there. In every company there will be spirits more courageous and daring than others. These will lead and the rest will follow.

II. But Such Combination or Oneness of Action Will Only Be Possible with Oneness of Direction. If all are to act together all must act on one plan, and act under one head. Twenty different heads will produce twenty different plans with twenty different methods, clashing and hindering each other. Then what next? Disagreement, confusion, separation, destruction.

Bring in your earthly usages. How do people ordinarily act? Do you want to tunnel a mountain, bridge a river, manage a railway or conquer a nation? Is it not an axiom everywhere accepted in time of war that one bad general is preferable to two good ones? If you will keep the unity of your 5,000, one mind must direct and lead them. Is of one mind all that is needed? By no means. Subordinate leadership there must be in all manner of directions; all the talent in this direction possessed by the 5,000 must be called into play. But one controlling, directing will must be acknowledged, accepted, and followed, if you are to keep the unity of the 5,000 and make the most of it for God and man.

III. Then Of Course You Will Train The 5,000. An army without training would be a loose, helpless mob, a source of weakness and danger impossible to hold together. And this 5,000 will be little better, though everyone of them may now have hearts full of zeal for God and love; so we must train them to the uttermost. We must teach them how to fight together in the best way. Train them in the industrious, practical and self-sacrificing discharge of their duties. Develop what gifts they possess and help them to acquire others. They will improve. They are only babes now, they will grow up to be adults when trained, taught and developed, accustomed to hardship and war. Let everyone have a chance. God is no respecter of person nor sex. Neither must you be. Every gift you need is here, and only wants calling forth and cultivating, and you will be fully provided for the war.

But mind, you must train and teach and develop—and establish your army in actual service. No pipe-clay soldiers will be of any service here. In earthly armies, something may be done in making soldiers with marching, inspections and drilling far away from the din and smoke of actual war. But not so here. They must learn as they fight and fight while they learn. They will train most rapidly only in the field. With the flag of victory waving over them they can be made into veterans, inspired with conviction that they are soldiers of the Most High, and invincible, unconquerable and all conquering.

IV. When You Have Trained Your 5,000 You Will Sort Them. When you have trained, tried and developed your force, found out what they are, what they can do, then you will put the right one in the right place. For every place you will have someone. Gifts differ. You will want the head, the eye, the ear, the hand, the feet, and you will have heads, eyes, ears and hands in abundance. You want infantry, and cavalry, engineers, transports and every other arm needed to make up a mighty force and you must assign the place for which they are adapted and needed.

V. Then Of Course There Must Be Obedience. If the 5,000 are to act together, to act on one plan, it can only be affected by obedience. If the officers of this Salvation force can only express their wishes for those to act in some particular manner which can be received or rejected as they may appear pleasant, then anything like action is impossible. But if it is assured that the 5,000 will act as directed, then the most important measures can be devised and executed with exact certainty. If a course of action is only taken on its recommending itself to the judgment, leadings, impulses, feelings of each, then you can be sure of nothing except confusion, defeat and destruction.

Try the latter plan on any human undertaking and where will you be? Will not any commercial enterprise speed to bankruptcy? Or war. Try it in the presence of the enemy. Let everyone fight as he is led, every regiment charge up the hill or do any other deeds as they are resolved upon after discussion, votes and majorities, and where will you be? What sort of news will you send home to an expectant country? What sort of a welcome back will those left receive? No! Obedience is the word. Somebody who knows what they are doing, to direct, and then
simple obedience. Obedience for earthly business and earthly war, and obedience for God’s business and God’s army.

VI. And Lastly, Having An Organized, Developed and Disciplined Army, It Must Be Used, Employed to the Uttermost. Nothing demoralizes Salvation soldiers more than inactivity. Idleness is stark ruin, and the devil’s opportunity. Push forward. Never heed the number of your foes, or the impossibility of overcoming them. Your Salvation Army has been made to accomplish the impossible and conquer that which to human calculations cannot be overcome. FORWARD! If you will only go forward, you will fulfill the commission of your Divine Captain, the discipling of all nations, the subjugation and conquest of the world.

From Salvation Soldiery, Series of Addresses by William Booth, the Founder of The Salvation Army, ©2016, Revival Press. Available at

Their Daughter Was A General

In 1920, Anna Mae McCabe was born to Majors Daniel & Mattie McCabe in Buffalo, NY. Little could anyone know then what this middle child of Salvation Army Officers would someday achieve. But in keeping with our reverence for Memorial Day this month, her story is our Salvation Irony.

Anna Mae dreamed of becoming a nurse when she grew up. In 1939 she enrolled at the Allentown (Pennsylvania) General Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1941 with a diploma in nursing. With the onset of World War Two, she joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, and was sent to India to serve with the 20th Field Hospital.

The hospital was situated at the entrance to Ledo Road, which cut through the jungles into Burma. The buildings were made of bamboo. Dysentery, leeches, and snakes were common, especially during monsoon seasons.

While she worked in the malaria-infested China-Burma-India Theater, she commonly treated gangrenous patients who were building the roadway to enable the Allies in its war against the Japanese.

At one stretch she came down with malaria and while in hospital herself, she noticed a cobra under her bed. She calmly ordered a guard to shoot it and afterward said, “When one lives in the jungle, one can expect that sort of thing.”

When the war ended, she worked at hospitals in Fort Dix, New Jersey; Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; and For Myer, Virginia. But her nursing during peacetime here in the States was short-lived when the Korean conflict erupted.

Anna Mae was deployed in 1950 to the 4th Field Hospital in Inchon, which she later described conditions at the hospital there as “worse than those in India, because of cold temperatures in the operating room and a severe shortage of supplies.”

In the 14 months of her service in Korea, Anna Mae and six other nurses mended some 25,000 wounded and sick soldiers and sailors. On her days off, she assisted chaplains by playing a field pump organ for church services, often held near or at the front lines.

A few years after that war’s unofficial end, Anna Mae met and married William A. Hays (Mr. Hays died in 1962). Major Hays was transferred to Tokyo Army Hospital, and later came Stateside to continue her U.S. Army nursing career at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC—during which she was selected as one of three private nurses for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

By the time the Vietnam War was at its bloodiest, Anna Mae Hays held the rank of Colonel. In Vietnam, she supervised 4,500 nurses whose robust use of antibiotics, whole-blood transfusions, and speedy helicopter evacuations helped improve chances of survival.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History,

No doubt Anna Mae’s parents would have been extremely proud of a daughter that spent her life nursing our Nation’s finest through three bitter wars. But we can also be sure that at least one more fact of her life would have given the McCabes a measure of pride—that after 1970, Salvationists everywhere can point to “one of our own” as the U.S. military’s first female general.

Soon after attaining such a high rank, General Anna Mae Hays ran into Kitsy Westmoreland, the wife of General William Westmoreland (Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army from 1968-1972).

“I wish you’d get married again,” Kitsy said to her friend.

When General Hays asked why, Kitsy snidely replied, “I just want some man to know what it’s like to be married to a general!”

General Anna Mae Hays paved the way for equal treatment of women in the military, countering occupational sexism, and made a number of landmark recommendations that were eventually accepted into military policy.

So during this month of May, while we pause to remember millions of sacrifices made by U.S. Veterans over the past 250 years of our nation’s existence, be sure to include this remarkable Salvation Irony.

—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications

Part Eight — The Way and the Life

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus celebrated His last Passover meal with the disciples in what is known as the Upper Room. Earlier in the day, He sent Peter and John to find and prepare the room. He instructed them to look for a man carrying a jar of water. He would be easy to find. Women customarily transported jars of water on their shoulder. A man carrying water would be conspicuous. They were to follow him to a house and say to the owner, “‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there” (Luke 22:11-12).

Pilgrims from all over the world thronged Jerusalem for Passover—the Feast of Redemption. The crowd swelled the city’s population, transforming its streets into a collage of ethnic sights, sounds and smells. The celebrants were oblivious to the event taking place in which an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth shared a final Passover—a last supper—with His followers.

Toward the end of the meal, Jesus delivered a farewell to His disciples. His discourse commences in the Upper Room (John 13:31-14:31), continues after the Passover meal (15:1-16:33) and concludes before His crossing to the Garden of Gethsemane (17:1-26). Jesus’ colloquy contains some of the most tender words in all Scripture.

Before leaving the Upper Room, Jesus confirmed that His earthly life was ending. He had previously predicted His death on only two occasions (John 7:33-34, Matthew 16:21). At the close of the meal, Jesus revealed the certainty of His departure. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer,” Jesus explained. “You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33). Knowing the disciples’ shock and sadness, Jesus comforted them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus assured them. “Trust in God; trust also in Me … If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going”  (John 14:1-4). 


Thomas spoke on behalf of the others. ‘”Lord,’ he confessed, ‘we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him”‘ (14:5-7).

Jesus’ words reminded the disciples of fundamental truths of their Hebrew faith: the way to God, the truth of God and the life from God.

I Am the Way

The Hebrew scriptures addressed the way to God and the way people should live. Isaiah declared: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it”‘ (Isaiah 30:21). Later, the prophet named and defined the way to God. “‘And a highway will be there,’ the prophet  proclaimed. ‘It  will  be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it’” (Isaiah 35:8). The Psalmist expressed the prayer of God’s people: “Teach me Your way, 0 Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors” (Psalm 27:11).

Jewish sages looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. He alone would show the way to God and the way to live. Jesus more than fulfills the prophecy, for He not only points the way, He is the way.

I Am the Truth

For the Hebrew people (and most Eastern cultures), truth was more than a series of correct statements. They connected truth with a person. Statements were true because the people who expressed them were true. The Psalmist reflected on personal authenticity when he prayed: “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11). Knowing God’s way and God’s truth results from an undivided relationship with Him.

Many people have told the truth; only Jesus embodies it. Parents, educators, pastors and others can say, “I have taught you the truth.” Only Jesus can declare, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John  8:32). The truth is a Person-Jesus Christ.

I Am the Life

The writer of Proverbs reflected on mankind’s endless quest for a meaningful life. “These commands,” he noted, “are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23). The Psalmist also affirmed, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Yet, even God’s words were not enough to give His creation eternal life. In God’s perfect plan, He sent His Son—the living Word (John 1:1-4)—so that all who believe in Him might experience a life bursting with joy. As Jesus declared, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10).

The concluding sentence of the divine promise is all important. “No one,” Jesus affirmed, “comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6). He alone is the way to God. He alone embodies the truth. Through Him alone issues fullness of life.

Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.