By this point in the course I'm sure you are very familiar with the idea of living tradition. This lecture is to be something of a wrap up, loosely held together by our quest to understand the Alliance as a living tradition. After reasserting the importance of living tradition we will look at some of the historical development and attempt to understand it, then look for the heart of Alliance thinking. This will represent my stock-taking after working through all the material we have covered together. You will have the opportunity during the week to take stock for yourselves in preparing your position paper. I am hoping that you have found something here which can provide life and focus to your ministry.
I have suggested that one of the advantages of looking carefully at our tradition is we begin to make ourselves aware of those things which shape who we are and how we think. Tradition is important in telling us who we are and shaping our collective sense of purpose. If there is an Alliance tradition,which helps us define what it means to be Alliance. we need to pay some attention to how it affects us, both positively and negatively. We want a tradition which will provide life, vitality, direction one which will provide continuity with our past so that the essential ideas, insights, and motivations which have served the Alliance over the years will continue. In looking for these we also need to confront those aspects of the tradition which get in the way of vitality.
What I want to do now is look at the Alliance as a tradition, identify some of its historic strengths recognizing that along with these strengths come some tensions which threaten to sidetrack the strength. In my years of working on Alliance history I have identified what I think are three historic strengths of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Along with these three historic strengths have come a set of attendant tensions which have the potential of undermining the strength. Here are the strengths again along with the tensions which accompany them.
1. Alliance - Fraternal union of believers
2. Innovation - To the destitute and unoccupied fields...
3. Christocentric - Christ our ...
With this overview in mind, we now look at each of these strengths and the pull of tensions.
Let's look back to the ideals of the 1887 Constitution. What was the Alliance to be? The Alliance was originally defined as follows: "The Christian Alliance is designed to be a simple and fraternal union of all who hold in common the fullness of Jesus in His present grace and His coming glory." It's simple. It is bringing together everybody who holds to a few core principles. The Alliance was not to be a new denomination. "It shall not be an ecclesiastical body but a fraternal union of believers in cordial harmony with evangelical Christians of every name." Throughout our history, we have tried hard not to be a denomination and somehow we became one anyway.
The criteria for membership in the 1887 Constitution are clearly consistent with the intention to not become an ecclesiastical body. In this clause we have what I call the three and a half-fold Gospel. "If anyone cannot fully accept the doctrine of Christ's premillennial coming, it is agreed that such persons may be received into full membership provided they receive the first three points of testimony and are willing to give this subject their candid and prayerful consideration." The Alliance was indeed to be "a fraternal union of all who hold in common the fullness of Jesus in His present grace and coming glory."
This historic strength has characterized the Alliance and continues to do so. If we look at most of our Alliance churches, we'll find just about every imaginable religious affiliation. We have been open and welcoming. The tension is, in our welcoming openness, who are we? Do we need more conformity to really ensure our identity? The tension is between openness and conformity. Openness can get us into trouble. If we are too open, we end up standing for nothing. There are some illustrations in Canada of denominations who have tried to define themselves in terms of inclusivity. They have done it to death so that in the end there isn't much distinctively Christian content left. That's a problem.
The other side of this tension is conformity and from time to time we have moved in that direction. We have said we need to batten down the hatches. We need to define who we are and we need to be sure that everyone around knows who we are. What has often happened is that some within the Alliance feel very comfortable with this open attitude, accepting, bringing everybody in. Others have felt ill at ease with this as a defining idea. There has been and continues to be tension, even at our General Assemblies and General Councils, between those who want to hold on to openness as a core value and others who want an increasing level of uniformity in teaching and practice.
A few specific developments will help to illustrate how this has functioned in our history. By 1906 the Alliance had been around for close to two decades. There are many Alliance branches all over the United States, and some in Canada, with many teachers, evangelists, branch leaders, and pastors representing Alliance teaching. And guess what? They didn't all have the same message. There was a feeling that some conformity was needed to get this together. If the Alliance was going to mean anything, Alliance people needed to agree upon some central core of what the Alliance believed. Consequently, there was a Conference for Prayer and Counsel on Alliance distinctives in 1906 before General Council. Out of that conference came a document which began to define Alliance teaching more precisely; however, the document made clear there were significant areas of Christian belief and practice in which the Alliance accorded its members freedom of conviction. This conference generated the first systematic attempt at expressing the Alliance view of sanctification in George Pardington's book The Crisis of the Deeper Life.
In 1906 the issue of what it meant to be "Alliance" was challenged by the Pentecostal revivals which began from the little mission church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. The Pentecostal theological emphasis, particularly with regard to sanctification, was so close to the Alliance teaching that many Alliance people were attracted to this new movement. The Pentecostals taught that speaking in tongues was the clear sign of the filling of the Holy Spirit. This met a clear concern of many people who had accepted the teaching of the "deeper life" and yet were wondering if they were really sanctified or not. The Pentecostal's response was very convincing in an empirical age. They taught that you can know for sure you were filled with the Holy Spirit if you spoke in tongues and were quite adept at teaching people how. This was very compelling to a lot of people in Alliance churches.
The result of this, as we have seen before, was that many members, including some prominent ones, left the Alliance to join the Pentecostal movement. This might not have been such a bad thing except at that point there were three hundred Alliance missionaries out on the field and it was essential that a sufficient giving base be maintained to ensure that the good we were doing for the kingdom of God did not get lost. The combination of misunderstanding and disagreement over the tongues sign, linked with shrinking missions giving, moved the Alliance away from openness and made conformity the clear emphasis in the years following 1906.
The largest step toward conformity during Simpson's lifetime came with the
1912 Constitution. The new constitution drawn
up in 1912 was characterized by the tension between the ideal of openness
to all evangelical believers and the concern for conformity to preserve our
ability to do what God had called us to. We have looked at this material
before but we will review some of it here. The first two objectives of the
new constitution clearly expressed the openness characteristic of 1887.
What is different in 1912 is that some very clear conditions are placed on openness.
As a condition of sharing this fellowship, it is understood that all individual members, local groups, undenominational churches, city, highway and foreign missions uniting in this association shall accept the supervision provided for in the accompanying Constitution, and that the independent churches formed out of Branches of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the city and highway missions, shall agree to such legal relations in respect of property as shall secure the perpetual use of permanent investments for the full gospel work under the charge of the Alliance.
The "conditions" represent a new level and requirement for conformity. There are two criteria in this paragraph which fundamentally change the nature of the Alliance. The first is the requirement that all individuals and organizations in association with the Alliance come under the authority of the constitution, that is "accept the supervision provided for in the accompanying Constitution." As a consequence of this, organizations connected with the Alliance have to deed their property to the Alliance. If an Alliance church or mission joining under this constitution decided to join the Pentecostals or some other group, there was a substantial financial liability. Perhaps this would cause them to think twice about leaving and if they still decided to go, the Alliance could sell their property for the support of missions.
The constitution next tries to argue that nothing really has changed and that the Alliance still has no intention of assuming "ecclesiastical uniformity."
This condition does not interfere with the interdenominational character of the Alliance. Its attitude toward such independent churches and companies is simply the same as toward individuals, namely, one of cordial recognition and helpfulness. It is to be clearly understood that such full relations between the Alliance and these churches or companies are always effected on the initiative of the churches or companies themselves, and not through the solicitations of the Alliance. The latter merely accepts the trusteeship for the properties of such churches or companies, and the responsibility of supplying or approving their ministers or leaders, with a view to assuring their permanent adherence to the full gospel truths for which the Alliance stands.
Can you feel the tension here? The constitution is saying, "The Alliance is not a denomination." Yet on the other side the constitution is saying, "You must abide by our rules, you must give us your property and we get to appoint your ministers." But these are the things that a denomination does so, clearly, by 1912, the Alliance was a denomination. We were acting like denominations act but we continued to deny that we were a denomination. The powerful urge to openness was still there but there was a recognition that to be able to do what God had called us to do, there needed to be some conformity. It wasn't until 1974 that this reality was made official and the reasons for this admission were more for fiscal management than for ecclesiastical purposes. It could be said that the Alliance came kicking and screaming into the ecclesiastical fellowship.
So the issue is how do we think of ourselves these days? Do we think of ourselves as a fraternal union dedicated to openness or as a unified denomination requiring conformity? What does it mean to be Alliance? Both conformity and openness are important, but how do we bring them into balance?
The innovative quality of the early Alliance is perhaps best seen in their approach to mission. The sense of need was great and there was conviction that the traditional methods of the denominational missions were too slow and cumbersome to address the urgency of the situation. The Constitution of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (1887) indicates some of the innovations that characterized the early Alliance. The Alliance was to work especially where there was no gospel witness.
Aim and Object.--The object of the Alliance shall be to carry the Gospel "to all nations," with special reference to the needs of the destitute and unoccupied fields of the heathen world.
There was a concern that the denominational missions were not only neglecting certain areas of the world, but that the standards required for missionaries were so stringent that it was impossible to get enough missionaries out fast enough. The focus of the Alliance was to get people out to where they were needed quickly.
Missionaries.--The workers the Alliance contemplates sending forth shall include consecrated persons of both sexes--lay as well as clerical--without regard to their denominational preferences; the qualification specially kept in view shall be entire consecration and practical adaptation to the various forms of missionary work.
The Alliance was going to send out men and women, clergy and laity who were consecrated to God and dedicated to the missionary task. It was expected no other preparation was necessary for those called by God, and filled with the Spirit.
Is it not fitting that the great multitude whom the Holy Ghost has called in these days to a closer union with Jesus and a deeper revelation of His fullness, should unite in some work for the evangelization of others which would be a worthy expression of their gratitude and love and in turn a bond of delightful union and a means of yet higher blessing to their own soul?
Those who have experienced the Spirit would naturally wish to be involved in missions. This is the Alliance connection between deeper life and mission. Because of this motivation, it was important that we do all we can to get the message out. This zeal and enthusiasm is admirable, in Simpson's day it was infectious. However the results were not always as commendable as the intent.
In 1884, Simpson and the Gospel Tabernacle sent out their first batch of missionaries. This predated the Alliance. Five missionaries were sent to the Congo with minimal training--an eight month lay training course at the Missionary Training Institute in New York. They really didn't have a clear idea of what they were going to do when they arrived. There was no structure in place to support this ministry and the whole enterprise ended in disaster. The leader of the group died on board ship before they even landed. As soon as they landed, three of the missionaries took a look around, decided they were in way over their heads, sold their outfit, went back to the States and disappeared and no one ever heard from them again. The fifth member of the team joined another mission and actually did stay in the Congo and had a missionary career but with a mission which provided the structure to allow something to happen.
This story represents the tension between pragmatism, let's get out there and do it, and the structure which would actually allow something to really happen. The development of the Alliance missions program in the early years seems to constantly go back and forth between getting the job done quickly and preparing people to be effective in their ministries. The Missionary Training Institute went from a one year program to a three year program recognizing the need for the training of missionaries. In the 1890s however, there was a major push on missions which resulted in a large number of missionary candidates wanting to go. The same focus on missions in the Alliance had resulted in extraordinary offerings. People were ready to go and the funds were available to send them. In this circumstance the three year program was reassessed and the one year program was reinstated. This got a lot of missionaries in place but the results were mixed. Too many people were sent too quickly without the structure in place to allow them to do what they were called to do.
The balance required is between the pragmatic attitude which gets things done and the more structured approach which ensures things get done properly. There is currently a concern about the length of the process required to become an Alliance missionary. This is the opposite problem to the stories above. Have we over-structured? How much structure do we really need to make things happen? How do we put the backup resources in place that missionaries need to fulfil their tasks? These kinds of questions are tensions that we face. We want to be innovative. We want to be doing what most needs to be done but where is the balance between pragmatism and structure?
Let me again refer you to the 1887 Constitution. The objects of the Christian Alliance as constituted in 1887 were:
To bear united testimony to these four great and essential truths of the Gospel of Christ--salvation through Christ for all who believe; complete sanctification through Christ for all who fully yield themselves to Him; divine healing through the name of Jesus for all who believe and obey; and Christ's personal and premillenial coming.
This, for those who missed it, is the Fourfold Gospel: Christ our Saviour; Christ our Sanctifier; Christ our Healer; Christ our Coming King. The focus on Christ is rather evident. You can't beat people over the head with Jesus more than Simpson does in his writings, and in his hymns: "Himself," and "Jesus only."
Even Christocentricity has its tensions. The tension here is between seeking after spiritual vitality and ensuring doctrinal correctness. Both have been evident in the readings as we have moved through this course. The spiritual vitality side my be characterized by an attitude that says, "Ditch all the doctrinal stuff. Let's experience Jesus." David Schroeder expresses this in a very sophisticated way in his article the "Centrality of Jesus Christ in the Fourfold Gospel." On the other side the approach is, "The emphasis on experience is likely to lead to chaos. Who knows what's going on out there. We want order and control but everything will be ok if we have the right theological definitions." Much of the work of Keith Bailey has exemplified this approach.
One of the problems we have had in understanding the Fourfold Gospel is expressing it as Christ our Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. The emphasis tends to move toward the end of the sentence rather than the beginning of the sentence and we lose the Christocentricity. We focus on having the correct Alliance theological definition for salvation, sanctification, healing, and eschatology. In the process the original emphasis on Jesus somehow gets lost. As you see in the constitution, every clause emphasized the benefit which comes through Christ. In the hymn Himself, the emphasis throughout is not the benefit but rather the relationship with Christ. The relationship needs to be central. Maybe at this point, doctrinal correctness and precision is too central.
If we go off seeking Jesus, and seeking an experience of Jesus without any doctrinal formulations, without any doctrinal concepts to give us guidance, we can get into some pretty deep trouble too. We don't have to go too far afield to find examples of the over-emphasis on experience. So that's the tension between wanting and longing to experience Jesus in a new and vital way and finding the right doctrinal expression.
So, how do we pull it together? Alliance tradition has been characterized
by three essential ideals that form the core of who we are. These are
important strengths that we do well to reaffirm as we work toward a living
But each of these strengths comes with a tension. How can we be open and still stand for something distinct? How can we be innovative and yet maintain continuity and support for the ministries that we know God calls us to? How can we focus our identity totally on our experience of Jesus as our indwelling Lord without becoming seekers after experience or peddlers of spiritual or theological snake oil claiming, "This theological formula is guaranteed to provide spiritual vitality (or your money refunded)?"
What we need to do to keep things on track in each of these areas is to focus on the strength and hold the tension in balance. If we focus on the tension, we are going to get ourselves into trouble. Instead keep the focus on the strength or the core value. Focus on the Alliance concept. Focus on the idea that we want to do things the best way to fulfill our calling. Focus on Christ as the source of everything. With our focus clearly on the strength we then recognize that the way we do things needs to change because of the tension that is behind the strength. The way that we bring life to the tradition and the way that we renew these core concepts is by recognizing the tensions are there, identifying them, being sensitive to the way they are pushing us this way and pulling us that way. We work toward the strength, holding the tension in balance.
This is not an easy thing and not something we can nail down today and then stop worrying about. It is something that requires constant vigilance. Every decision we make, every new direction we set, every mission statement that we create, needs to move us toward our core values holding these tensions in proper balance. We are not trying to move toward conformity or move toward openness. What we are trying to do is be an Alliance of God's people working for the Kingdom. We are not wanting to be defenders of pragmatism or structure. What we are trying to do is be faithful to the calling God has placed on us to take the Gospel to all nations. We are not seeking experience or attempting the definitive theological expression of the spiritual life. We are calling ourselves and those to whom we minister, to be rooted and established in love, having power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Simpson believed that the Fourfold Gospel was God's message for his time. I believe that it is still the message that the Alliance needs to proclaim. There are pastoral, theological and spiritual resources here that we've only begun to mine and put to use for today. However, we can't continue to use the same language, the same illustrations, the same ways of speaking that Simpson used. If this is going to have life, we need to take the Fourfold Gospel, as Simpson understood it, and reformulate it in a way which connects with our experience of God's grace and our understanding of who God is in our lives. It will then speak powerfully to those people we come in contact with.
We need to do the work that Simpson did in his generation. We need to be involved in that difficult pastoral work of taking God's truth and living it out and teaching it from the depth of our own experience of grace. We need to live out this truth as an invitation to join us in the love and grace of Jesus. This is what it means to be involved in a living tradition. We need to live it. It needs to become who we are and as it becomes who we are, we invite others to join us in it.
I want to suggest that there are some things in our day which our tradition and the Fourfold Gospel as present truth can speak to. There are desires that people have, needs that people have, ways in which people are searching that we need to recognize. This is God's preparation of our generation for the work he longs to be doing.
Everybody is talking about spirituality. There are all sorts of spiritualities out there and if you are looking for spirituality, the last place to look is the church. People are going everywhere but the church. Why is that? Well, for a couple of reasons. One reason is that people want a made-to-order, do-it-yourself spirituality. They want a spirituality which doesn't challenge, which tells them they are okay. They can carry on with whatever life is convenient and some God will love them anyway. The other reason, and the one we need to take more to heart, is that people don't view the church as a place where spirituality is happening. The church is seen as a repository of outdated doctrine and prejudice, which is entirely irrelevant to a search for spirituality, for transcendence and for connection.
We have got an image problem and if we don't address this image problem, we will lose our ability to address the current quest for spiritual connection. How are we going to do it? I think we need to address both of the issues raised above. We don't want to compromise and provide a made-to-measure spirituality. We want to continue to challenge people. I firmly believe that it is in the challenge and not in catering to felt needs that people really come to terms with who they are and who God is. If we water down the message, the message is lost.
What do we do about this idea that spirituality doesn't happen in churches because they are too connected with the past and are outdated? We need to go back to our Christo-centric spirituality. We recognize the importance of experience and the importance of doctrine. We hold these two things in tension but our focus is on Christ and our experience of the fullness of God's grace.
Simpson's understanding of the indwelling Christ, of having a relationship with the living God, of intimacy that Simpson describes, is a powerful message. To some extent we have lost that heritage because we have borrowed other metaphors and other ways of describing the Christian life which come from other traditions. These may be good and valuable but the Alliance tradition speaks of Jesus in me, of momentary day by day abiding in Christ, of God manifest in the flesh again in us. This is a powerful understanding of how the living God, maker of heaven and earth is in direct contact with us, his creation. If this is happening in our lives, if this is happening in our churches, we will be open to God's grace and to receive the abundance of life that God has for us. This is the spirituality the world is longing for because this is the spirituality it was created for.
If you believe the current literature on GenX or the Buster, there is a whole generation of people who have no hope. Actually, there are probably several generations who have no hope. There are people who have worked all of their lives and are between forty-five and fifty-five. Suddenly they find out that they are economically redundant and what they dedicated their lives to isn't needed anymore. They have to start over at a time when they thought they would be secure and beginning to live on the benefits of what they had built. They have lost hope because the message in our society has been, "if you behave yourself, if you work hard, you can have the Freedom 55 dream. You will be running on the beaches and windsurfing." But for the vast majority it is not happening.
There are people whose children are growing up and whose life was dedicated to making their children's lives better, they were going to save the world. Their children are now in their twenties and they are coming to a realization that their children's lives are not going to be better than their lives and that what they worked for and dedicated themselves to and hoped in isn't going to come about. Then there are their kids who are trying to enter this world which talks about heroic individual achievement and yet they can find no way in. They are hopeless, purposeless. It is not that they have no ability or motivation but they are skeptical about the dreams that failed their parents. They have this sense that there is nothing in the wide world which is worth dedicating their lives to. The message of the Alliance is that there is something worth doing. At the same time we need to reconize that the dream of eternal prosperity, of each generation being richer and better off and more comfortable than the last generation was a false hope. Our society is losing hope because its hope was an illusion in the first place. GenX is right, it is not worth investing our lives in an illusion.
So what is worth investing our lives in? The work of the Kingdom of God. This is God's future. What you invest your lives in, what you pour your talents and energies into in Kingdom work will not fail. We need to be clear on this message. People are longing for a sense of purpose, for something they feel is worth their energies and their talents. We need to be messengers of the true hope in the coming King in a world which is losing its ability to hope.
Everyone is talking about community. It's the most in vogue word going in the late 1990s. It's right up there with spirituality and purposelessness. If we are going to sustain the kind of spirituality that we need to attract the world, to be salt and light, we need to recognize that spirituality is not an individual experience. The work of the Holy Spirit happens in community. We need to come together. The cell church movement and the meta-church idea both are beginning to recognize the fact that we need to reconstitute ourselves as communities of faith. However we do it, that is what we need to do. We need to support one another in our spiritual growth.
We need to share our spiritual experiences with one another so that we can be encouraged, so that we can feel God's grace in other peoples lives and find it in our own. Some of the reason we are feeling spiritually dead is because we are not sharing our lives with others. As a result we are not seeing what God is doing in our lives. Often when discouraged we wonder "Where is God?" But God is there and someone else may be looking at you and saying, "God is so active in their life. Look at how they've changed. Look at how God's transforming grace is making them into the image of Christ." You may miss seeing this because you are focused on your spiritual weakness but somebody else is seeing it. If we are not talking about how God is working in our communities of faith, we are not seeing clearly the reality of God's transforming grace.
Purpose will be found in community as well. Work for God's Kingdom doesn't reap the obvious tangible material benefits that working for toys does. Our culture says that you are successful when you have more toys. You can measure that--new car, big house, whatever. That's tangible. You know that's happening. In working for the Kingdom, the results are far less tangible. The only way we can sustain ourselves in the Kingdom work is if we work together, if we encourage one another, if we see in one another that the Kingdom is coming among us. Community is the only way we can sustain our purpose, the only way we can sustain our life in the spirit.
We have a tradition that we can live. It's not a program or a strategy or a concept that will give us life. It is a commitment to be accountable to God and to be accountable to our generation for what we do with the grace that we have in Jesus Christ. We cannot live in the past. We cannot try and get back to the Garden or to the early church or to the early Alliance or to our youth. We need to move forward into God's future. We need to make God's future our future. The Fourfold Gospel's focus on experiencing a full salvation and getting the message of a full salvation to the whole world involves us in what God is doing in the world. As God's people, we are God's future in advance of the coming of the King. That message is a message which can give us life, which can give us identity, which can set our direction. If we can hold on to that, if we can focus on our historic strengths while still keeping the tensions outlined above in balance, if we can recognize that it is the church of Christ and not a denomination that we are building, the Fourfold Gospel and the Christian and Missionary Alliance will be a source of salt and light, a living tradition in the 21st century.
Kenneth L. Draper, 1998.