Was alcohol why the Salvation Army quit both sacraments? Not exactly.

Not exactly. It is hardly clear that General Booth supposed even unfermented grape juice would endanger former alcoholics. (But if perchance unfermented wine were not available at times, coloured water would suffice.) Nevertheless, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were both discontinued, not really due to grape juice being considered dangerous, nor due to alcohol which clearly does endanger them.

But the danger of former alcoholics relapsing would be one of multiple reasons for various church denominations to stipulate the observance the Lord’s Supper with only unfermented wine. The Salvation Army itself had always had clearly made a distinction in which particular type of wine it would use for the Lord’s Supper: “Unfermented wine only to be used” (c. 1870)

Rules of the Christian Mission, History of the Salvation Army: 1865-1878.

The reasons why the Salvation Army discontinued the sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Various denominations had similar requirements of unfermented wine (and never discontinued observance of the Lord’s Supper in that way). But around 1881, General William Booth announced why the Salvation Army itself would no longer practice the sacraments at all. He provided several reasons, such as:

  • “There must never be a sacramental service at the end of a meeting so as to prevent the possibility of inviting sinners to the mercy-seat.”
  • “Men and women are constantly in danger of putting their trust in ordinances, and thinking that baptized communicants must be in a secure position, no matter how inconsistently they are living.”
  • “We came into this position originally by determining not to be a Church. We did not wish to undertake the administration of the Sacraments, and thereby bring ourselves into collision with existing Churches.”
  • The Army was already avoiding disputes about the mode of baptism, which was “Not to be imposed upon any having conscientious scruples against it.” (Rules of the Christian Mission) Yet, if soldiers wanted baptism by immersion, it would be “administered elsewhere” (by another denomination).

Harold Begbie, 1920, The Life of General William Booth, ch. 28, The Question of Holy Communion.

Caution with the vague term “wine” in communion service

A minister today needs caution when using unfermented grape juice and simply calling it “wine” during a communion service. Participants may become confused, unless it is specifically stated that it is not the fermented type. They may know the term “wine” is variously understood by different Christians (more so than other terms). Whatever the meanings of “wine” – the Holy Bible itself does not use this particular term in reference to the Lord’s Supper. It only says “the fruit of the vine” and “the cup”.

Teetotal Soldiers

‘the thing is an evil in itself’ ‘Make your children understand that it is not safe for them or anybody else to take strong drink in what is called moderation’

—General William Booth, Salvation Army

Alcoholics helped & prevented by Salvation Army requiring total abstinence.

Salvation Army vs. Skeleton Army History of Teetotalism vs. Alcohol

Salvation Army ranks include former alcoholics. But indeed, all soldiers of the Salvation Army must promise to be teetotallers and non-smokers (Articles of War). General William and Catherine Booth firmly believed prevention is better than cure. They were already involved with the teetotal movement even before going to East London and founding the Christian Mission (Salvation Army).


See also: Positional Statements and Guidelines, The Sacraments, 1998

See also: Bible says be sober again and again.

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