It is the 19th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on this, the 19th of August in 1846 that a group of over 1000 Christians across at least 50 denominations met in London to form the Evangelical Alliance. This would be the precursor to the World Evangelical Fellowship which is now called the World Evangelical Alliance. It’s all a veritable word salad of catchphrases, but that’s one of the specialties of modern Protestantism.
(How many alliances, fellowships, coalitions, and conventions do we need? Add to that our Presbyteries, Synods, etc… and we see how very good we are at dividing while simultaneously calling for unity)
The keywords for the Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Fellowship were the words “world” and “evangelical”. Let’s look at those two words in the context of 19th century Christianity.
A few years ago Scott W Sunquist published a book entitled “The Unexpected Christian Century: The Reversal and Transformation of Global Christianity, 1900-2000”. In the book, he traces the politics of globalization, migration patterns, colonization, and decolonization and how through all of this the center of world Christianity shifted slightly off its western-centric axis.
Along with the coming World Evangelical Alliance, we see the birth of the World Missionary Conference, the Worlds Parliament of Religions, the World Student Christian Federation, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (!), etc….
With the industrial revolution, the world became simultaneously bigger and smaller. New modes of transportation and communication encouraged foreign missions but also caused cognitive dissonance amongst Christians with divergent practices and beliefs.
It is popular in some corners to chalk up the troubles of the late 19th and early 20th century with Marx and Darwin. It’s a bit reductive but the notion of creeping materialism and anti-supernaturalism can be spotted in those two- but it usually turns into scapegoating.
The fear amongst many Christians in the west was what we see them calling “neologies” or “new words”. These could be from the American Transcendentalists of the French Positivists or German Higher Critics. X The degree to which church bodies integrated these “new words” into their statements of faith would determine which side of the growing protestant divide a church might end up on.
The old denominations would split down the middle. Presbyterians vs. Presbyterians! Lutheran on Lutheran crimes! Here in the 19th century, we see the beginning of what will become the fundamentalist/modernist divide.
[Today we have the World Council of Churches which is descended from the modernist/mainline tradition and the World Evangelical Alliance on the evangelical/fundamentalist side.]
Evangelical church bodies sought each other out to form a broad coalition of church bodies that would recognize their unity in Christ and send out missionaries to evangelize.
The meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in London which began on this day in 1846 brings us to the nexus of evangelical theology and evangelism.
-Evangelical theology would come to represent those broad agreements amongst church bodies who stood against the “neologies” that they perceived to be attacking the authority of Scripture. Evangelicals today tend not to unite over shared beliefs regarding the sacraments or church governance but rather their doctrine of Scripture.
-Evangelism amongst these evangelicals would come to emphasize the global and foreign. Where do many evangelical mission trips go? Yup, always a foreign country.
It’s all part of a patchwork of faith and practice and politics that informs so much of the modern Western Protestant and Evangelical church today. Today we remember a major impetus for this- the famed first meeting of the Evangelical Alliance which met on this, the 18th of August in 1846.
The last word for today comes from John 17 as Jesus prays in the garden:
20 “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. 21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the president of the World Alliance of Global Evangelical Christopher Gillespies. He is Christoper Gillespie .
The show is written and read by World Wide Federation Alliance Intercontinental Champion, I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.