Historical Drift

History calls it an inevitable affliction, but the Alliance can prove otherwise.

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(C&MA General Council, 1981)

When history repeats itself, it often shouts. Many errors and follies of one generation expand enormously when repeated by those who follow.

This being true, The Christian and Missionary Alliance is more needed than ever. Conditions that spurred the formation of the Alliance in the 1880s have grown more complex and critical over the past 100 years. These same aggravated problems will confront us as we move into our second century of ministry.

First Causes

What were some of the problems that prompted Dr. A. B. Simpson and his associates to launch a new missionary and deeper-life movement in 1887? Great denominational endeavors, which earlier had supported such outstanding missionaries as John Geddie and Adoniram and Anne Judson, had become largely moribund. There were at most a few hundred North Americans serving abroad by 1880.

Moreover, spiritual vitality in the large, historical denominations had generally been replaced by concern for wealth and status. A. J. Gordon spoke of “unconscious confessions of weakness” by Protestant churches as they concentrated on “new organs and frescoings and furnishings ... and strawberry festivals.”

C. T. Studd, the famous faith mission leader in England, described the religion of the times with light scorn: “It was just like having a toothache.” Diminishing authority of God’s Word presented another problem for Dr. Simpson and his associates. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had begun to shake people’s confidence in the first chapters of Genesis. Theologians and pastors who had studied higher criticism in Germany went even further: they questioned whether the Bible could be trusted at all.

Issues such as these in the last century convinced Dr. Simpson and his colleagues that a new spiritual movement was needed. And the same problems loom today in unprecedented proportions.

The non-Christian population of the world is presently more numerous than at any time in the past. The bright and promising new missionary movement under Dr. Simpson's leadership assumed responsibility for evangelizing several million people in 16 countries and territories by 1917. The Alliance today acknowledges a spiritual debt to 140 million non-Christians in 52 nations.

Meanwhile, spiritual bankruptcy in many denominational circles becomes painfully more apparent. Instead of proclaiming the gospel, some churches seem intent on broadcasting only their doubts. Instead of promoting spiritual values, some pastors champion civil disobedience and conduct marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Much of the confusion and contradictions found in mainline denominations can be traced to disregard for God’s Word-even to the point of wanting to delete from the Bible all references to God as “He” and “Father” because such terms are considered sexist.

Our priority of homeland evangelism and foreign missions, our message of deeper-life truths and our commitment to the Bible as God's wholly inspired Word will move into the 21st century as contemporary and critical as are mankind's deep-rooted problems.

Though we still confront some of the basic issues inside and outside the church that Dr. Simpson faced, we have an additional problem unknown to him: the disastrous potential for historical drift.

This process takes place when a greatly gifted leader is raised up of God to call people to a new or renewed emphasis of truth and service. Others of similar heart and mind join with him to launch the new movement.

As the movement ages and times change, however, it is alleged that the process of historical drift becomes inevitable. A new generation of leaders takes charge. Possessing different motives, methods and goals, the leaders eventually alter the movement's character and direction.

What was once a God-inspired movement eventually becomes another ecclesiastical monument.

Evangelical Trends

Some evangelical leaders in recent times seem to ignore the danger of historical drift and its consequences. They advocate the same disastrous policies that gradually blighted church growth and missionary involvement in mainline denominations.

I refer to a heightened interest-even abnormal absorption-in restructuring missions to include almost everything the church does. In similar fashion, attempts to contextualize the gospel eventually result in tolerating what God condemns. Appeals are made to equate social concerns with evangelism; churches are urged to become involved in changing social, political, educational and economic structures.

Joining these destructive diversions is an increasing emphasis on financial resources and methodology. One almost has the impression that if given enough money, personnel and proper methods, we could win the world for God., we could win the world for God.

All the benefits of modern scholarship and all the expertise of proven techniques should be employed in extending God's Kingdom. But these must never replace the spiritual assets that have been the Church's ageless source of strength: faith and prayer, sacrifice and love.

Along with the tools of technology and methodology must go recognition that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual. Anything less risks the dry rot of historical drift at the very roots of evangelical Christianity.

Denominational Danger

As a member of the evangelical community, The Christian and Missionary Alliance must take seriously the possibility of historical drift. No religious body is immune, no matter how fervent in spirit and sound in doctrine.

Legitimate concerns have reshaped our organizational structure from a movement to a denomination, But therein lies a potential problem, because denominationalism has never been a friend of missions.

Most Protestant denominations in Europe do not even conduct foreign missions work within the framework of their central administration. Missions are structurally and officially absent.

Independent associations of people within the European churches do sustain overseas witness of the gospel through missionary societies. But their support is neither raised nor controlled by denominational administrative machinery.

North American denominations have foreign missions within their organizational structure, But these came into being only after mission societies had already been established by and among their own people.

With the passage of time, however, these denominations accumulated so many institutional and self-serving interests that missionary work eventually sank to the level of charity and ceased to evoke even that sentimenl among its former supporters.

Virtue of Vigilance

As The Christian and Missionary Alliance enters its second century of ministry, we can thank God the problem of historical drift has not happened to us thus far. The Alliance began as a missionary movement and continues as a missionary church.

We are not a mission divorced from the normal activity of a church, but a church which has within it the life and function of a mission.

That missions is intrinsic to the structure of the Alliance has been dramatically demonstrated in the recent surge of missionary recruitment. Over the past two years we have sent out 241 missionaries-an all-time record. Never in our 100 years of ministry have so many workers been sent abroad in so short a time.

Just as vigilance is the price of freedom, unceasing commitment to founding truths safeguards against historical drift. We must swim against the current of history and probabilities.

As a denomination, we face the very real possibility of an imperceptible and gradual adding to ourselves all the selfserving practices and programs that the Alliance was purposely created to avoid.

These changes could begin with the appearance of new programs such as subsidizing pastors' salaries from the Great Commission Fund on the assumption that this will better serve progress.

The Alliance will continue to be God's specially blessed agency only so long as both leadership and laity recognize the necessity of remaining true to its founding principles.

Commitment to evangelism at home and overseas and conformity to the will and way of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the safeguards against historical drift.

Reward of Greater Goals

Let us therefore memorialize every year by some new and greater venture of faith aimed at sharing the gospel with yet unreached peoples. We do well in the second century of ministry to set as our ultimate goal to send at least one missionary overseas from every Alliance church in the United States.

Working toward this goal would keep us from historical drift. If for no other reason, we would be catching up with the original vision of our founder.

“By some greater sacrifice, by some victory of faith, by some added toil that will cover all these lingering years with glory,” wrote Dr. Simpson, “[let us] each and all do something more, and get our neighbors and our brothers to do something more, to send out new laborers, to reach some new region beyond, to tell some new tribe that never heard of the wondrous love of God.”

“Nay, is it too much to ask,” challenged our founder, “that there shall be a band of God-touched men and women in every town and hamlet of the land, working for the evangelization of the world in our day and [that] every band shall have its representative on some foreign shore?”

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