This lecture is based on the chronology of Simpson's life printed for you in your "Readings" as Reading 1.3. Here we fill out some of the important events and provide some background information which will inform our later discussion on Simpson and the early Alliance. Along the way we will hear Simpson from various collections of his reminiscences.
The focus of this lecture and the discussion to follow will be to come to an understanding of Simpson. This chronological lecture will provide an overview. Then we will look intensively at his spiritual experience as a source for Alliance History and Thought. Before this module is over we will have an opportunity to ask some questions about the legitimacy of the obvious connections between Simpson's spiritual experience and Alliance thought.
Simpson was born in 1843 on Prince Edward Island, in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. This was before Canada came into being as a nation and PEI was a British Colony. Simpson was born of a fairly well-to-do family. He was baptized by John Gettie, the first Canadian Presbyterian foreign missionary. At the time Simpson was born foreign missions were just becoming an emphasis in North America. Up until the 1840s, what we now know as Canada had been seen as primarily a mission field rather than a source of missionaries. Beginning in the 1840s and 50s there began to be an interest in foreign missions and the recruiting of foreign missionaries. By the 1880s and 90s, missions were a major factor on the religious landscape in North America.
In 1847, the Simpson family moved to Ontario near Chatham. Simpson decribes the move.
The first recollection of my childhood is the picture of my mother as I often heard her in the dark and lonely night weeping and wailing in her room, in her loneliness and sorrow, and I still remember how I used to get up and kneel beside my little bed, even before I knew God for myself, and pray to Him to comfort her. The cause of her grief I afterwards better understood. She was a sensitive and high-spirited woman who had come from a good family on the little island where I was born and where her father was one of the public men of the island and an honored member of the legislature and she had had a great number of friends. In their early married life, my father had been engaged in the ship-building business saving but a few hundred dollars out of it and had determined to seek his fortune in what was the far west, that is the most western portion of the Province of Ontario, Canada. With little knowledge of the country, he had purchased a farm in one of the dreariest regions that could be imagined and had taken his sensitive wife and his little family of four into this wilderness. Before reaching our home, the youngest child had been torn from its mothers arms by sickness and death, largely the result of the trying journey of that day when there were no railroads or steamboats and our journey of fifteen hundred miles had been slowly and painfully made on canal boats and stages. Burying her precious little one in a town some distance from our home destination, my brokenhearted mother at length reached the dreary log cabin which was to be our future home.
The 1840s were a time of significant economic change in Canada. The British empire was moving away from an Empire based on mercantilism and colonial preference. Mercantilism was an economic system that valued sources of raw materials and secure markets to ensure economic stability. During this phase of the empire, the British were looking for colonies that could provide the resources they couldn't provide for themselves. British North America (what is now Canada) provided primarily lumber and grain. Mercantilism and colonial preference were the basis of the British North American economies in the 18th century.
Into the 19th century, particularly as the Americans began producing goods much cheaper than the British could, many in Britain came to re-evaluate the idea of colonial preference and after some rigorous political debates British legislators began to move the empire toward free trade. This meant that the colonies no longer had special access into the British market for their goods. Everybody had to buy and sell at a market price. In British North America and particularly in the Maritimes where so much business was centered in shipping, and buying and selling in the British market, merchants had their business undermined. With the move to free trade, many people went bankrupt including Simpson's father, James.
Both Simpson's parents were from established, wealthy merchant families in Prince Edward Island. But now they were off to Upper Canada (what is now Ontario) to become simple frontier farmers. They moved to Kent County near Chatham. One of the really nice things about Chatham in those days was all the trees that grew there. However, to the frontier farmer, trees were a problem. Economic historians have estimated that in southern Ontario that it would take up to three years of constant work to clear enough land for a family to eke out a living.1 Some source of capital was required to allow the family to live long enough to actually start producing something on the farm. The life of pioneer farmers in those early days in southern Ontario was very harsh. This gives us some idea as to why Simpson writes the way he does about Chatham. The family was living in a log cabin while ex-merchant James Simpson chopped down trees, pulled out trunks, burned the trunks, leaving them to rot for a couple of seasons before it was possible to actually begin to work the land. It is clear the family was not particularly well off and just getting by was a real struggle. Yet given their background, the Simpsons had fairly high cultural and educational aspirations. This caused some tensions, as we shall see.
According to his sister, A.B. Simpson very early read John Williams' missionary biography (so again this theme of missions emerges in his life) and then dedicated himself to God for missions. Although Simpson is converted at age 15 in 1858, he characterizes his early religious training as fairly harsh and intellectual, quite a contrast from the emotionally warm message he was to become famous for.
The truth is the influences around my childhood were not as favourable to early conversions as they are today in many Christian homes. My father was a good Presbyterian of the old school and believed in the shorter catechism and the doctrine of fore-ordination and all the conventional rules of a well-ordered puritan household. He was himself a devout Christian and most respected for his intelligent mind, his consistent life, his strong practical sense. I can still remember him rising long before daylight and with his lighted candle sitting down in the cheerless sitting room to read his Bible and tarry long at his morning devotions. The picture filled my soul with a kind of sacred awe. On the Sabbath days we were brought according to the strictest puritan formula. When we did not go in the family wagon to church, which was in a town miles distant, we were all assembled in the family circle and sat for hours while father, mother or one of the children read in turn from some good old book that was beyond our understanding. It gives me a chill to this day to see the cover of these old books such as Boston's Fourfold State; Baxter's, Saints Rest; and Dodderidge's', Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. For it was with these that my youthful soul was disciplined. The only seasons of relief came when it happened to be our turn to read. Then we felt immense and prided the young order as to forget the weariness of the volume. Then in the afternoon we had all to stand in a row and answer the questions of the shorter catechism. There were about 150 in all and our rule was to take half each Sunday and finish the next Sunday and then start over again and so on year after year. As the younger children grew up and joined the circle.
Looking back on these early influences, I cannot say that I regret the somewhat harsh mode in which my early life was shaped. It taught me a spirit of reverence and discipline for which I have had cause to thank God since. It threw over my youthful spirit a natural horror for evil things which often afterwards safeguarded me when thrown amid the temptations of the world and the religious knowledge which was crammed into my mind even without understanding it, furnished me with forms of doctrine and statements of truth which afterwards became illuminated by the Holy Spirit and proved to be precious vessels for holding the treasures of divine knowledge.
In 1859, Simpson had just graduated from high school. This was a time when elementary school education was newly compulsory in Upper Canada and they needed to hire teachers for the new system. High school graduates at this time were eligible to teach in the elementary schools. Albert Simpson was 16 years old. He finished high school and took a job as a school teacher hoping to raise some money to enable him to study for the ministry.
In 1861, Simpson entered Knox College which was the Presbyterian seminary associated with the University of Toronto and there began studying for the ministry. Here is the story of Simpson asking permission of his parents to pursue what he had come to believe was God's calling on his life.
One day my father in his quiet, grave way with my mother sitting by, called my older brother and myself into his presence and began to explain how my elder brother had long been designated to the ministry and the time had now come that he should begin his studies. My father added that he had a little money rescued from the wrecked business of many years before which was now slowly coming in and would be sufficient to give an education to one of his boys but not to both and therefore he quietly concluded that it would be my duty to give place to my brother. While I would stay at home and help on the farm, he would go to college. I can still feel the lump that rose in my throat as I stammered out my consent to my brother's being educated at the family expense for I could early see that he had been foreordained to be a minister at least by my mother if not by the Lord. But I ventured to plead that they would consent to my getting my own education if I could. I asked no money or help but only my father's blessing and consent and I still remember the quiet, trembling tones with which he at last yielded and said, "God bless you, my boy, even if I cannot help you."
The family had enough money to send the older son off to study but they clearly did not have the resources to send both. Furthermore they were probably expecting Albert to work on the farm due to the labour intensive nature of frontier agriculture. The family was making the significant sacrifice in allowing Albert to go, if he could find his own way. Teaching school was one of the ways in which Simpson earned some money on his own to allow himself to move to Toronto and take his seminary training.
Simpson liked to point out that he won the prizewinning essays on infant baptism and the second coming of Christ although the conclusions in his essays conflicted with his later convictions. He wrote an essay defending infant baptism and a number of years later, in the 1880s, he would change his mind and reject that opinion [see Reading 2.5]. In his prizewinning essay on the second coming of Christ, he defended a postmillennial stance. Then, in the 1880s, he became convinced of the premillennial stance. He also received a prize for proficiency in classics. These essay competitions and prizes were also a significant source of financial aid. Pulpit supply in area churches was another way in which he helped to fund his education. Most weekends would find young Albert in a church pulpit somewhere. He honed his preaching skills this way as well.
Albert graduated from Knox College in 1864 and in September of 1865 Simpson was called to Knox Church in Hamilton, Ontario. The norm at this time was that Presbyterian ministers would hold their tenure in a local church for life. Consequently, it was important both for the pastor and the church to chose the right person from the beginning. If you hired the wrong person, you could have them for a very long time. Coming out of seminary, Simpson was seen as one of the rising stars in the Presbyterian Church, especially gifted as a preacher. The Trustees of Knox Church, which was a large church for a young man to take responsibility for, pegged Simpson as a good long term prospect. He was called to this fairly prestigious church in Hamilton, Canada West (soon to be Ontario), giving his inaugural sermon on September 10. Two days later were his ordination exams. Ordination was a community event at this time and many congregants as well as members of the local press would come out and hear the person, who was being examined for ordination, preach and do an exposition of scripture. This happened on Tuesday and then on Wednesday Albert Simpson married Margaret Henry and they went on their honeymoon. They took a boat trip up through the Thousand Islands and the following Sunday Simpson was back in the pulpit at Knox Church, Hamilton.
Simpson's family began to grow with the birth of Albert Henry, then Melville Jennings and James Gordon all in the late 60s into the 70s. In 1871, Simpson had the first of a number of breakdowns during the years of his public ministry. From all reports he was a very successful pastor, much appreciated by his people. He started a number of new programs like a midweek service which was dedicated to prayer and Bible study. Under his ministry the mortgage on the church was paid off. The number of people attending services increased and it is clear he was working very hard. A physical breakdown for an up and coming professional or business man wasn't at all uncommon in those days. In the late Victorian period, it seemed you were pretty well expected to have periodic breakdowns. If you weren't having a breakdown, you obviously weren't working hard enough. The people of his church were very happy with his ministry and concerned that he regain his strength. In the summer of 1871 they sent him to Europe hoping that he would recover. The idea was rest and relaxation.
In 1871 after Simpson returned from Europe, their second son, Melville Jennings, died at the young age of 3 which, again, wasn't an uncommon thing to happen at the time. Young children often died before the age of five. This was a tragedy Simpson shared with many parents in his congregation and it caused him to reflect on how this personal suffering helped his pastoral ministry. He writes,
When I was a young pastor, I had no acquaintance with sorrow. I was superficial and shallow like all young men and used to go to sorrowing mothers and friends with words of sympathy, which were honestly meant, and yet which I felt did not touch one responsive chord. I tried to do my duty, but oh how empty and useless it was. But when sorrow came into my own life, how it changed everything. I could then go with a full heart and did not speak many words but a silent grasp of the hand expressed my heartfelt sympathy and I knew there was comfort in it. I shall never forget the first time death entered my family's circle. I had held the little one in my arms for two nights. His mother having fled in agony and collapse from the room choking with croup. I was that little life panting in the arms of death and I felt myself helpless to hold him back or to help him. He was our first bereavement.
In 1873 a fairly important event occurred. Simpson traveled from Hamilton to New York to attend an Evangelical Alliance convention. The Evangelical Alliance was an important interdenominational organization gaining prominence in Britain, the United States and Canada in the late 19th century. Evangelicals were present in the major denominations and the Evangelical Alliance was formed to bring evangelicals from across denominations to meet together, to encourage one another, to share ideas. Simpson, as part of the Evangelical Presbyterian movement in Canada, went representing his area. It is interesting that Simpson's own movement, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had many of the characteristics of the Evangelical Alliance. It was known as an Alliance, had regular conventions, and local branches organized into regional and national groups. This model of an interdenominational evangelical alliance was clearly something which impressed Simpson.
While in New York, Simpson preached in 13th Street Presbyterian Church, a church he would later pastor. In the congregation that morning were some delegates who had come from Louisville, Kentucky. They went back to Louisville telling of this great preacher from Canada. Chestnut Street Presbyterian needed a pastor, and they suggested calling Simpson to see if he would consider a move. In December of 1873, Simpson decided to accept the call from Kentucky and resigned his Hamilton pastorate. The reasons that he gave had to do with his health. He was hoping that in a milder climate, like that found in Kentucky, his stamina and general health would improve.
In January of 1874 Simpson began his ministry at the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Sometime during the early months of 1874, Simpson has what he later calls his crisis of sanctification. More of this experience in our Group Discussion.
During 1874 Simpson was involved with other evangelical ministers in the city organizing an evangelistic crusade for Louisville with Major Whittle and Philip Bliss. Bliss was a popular hymn writer and song leader. Major Whittle was the preacher. This was an important campaign in the life of the city. Simpson was hoping, as were the other evangelical ministers, that some reconciliation between north and south after the Civil War would come out of this.
Simpson also saw a different way of doing ministry modeled. He was committed to what he called the "regular work of the ministry" which involved visiting people, preaching on Sunday and being involved in other parish related activities. Involvement in this evangelistic crusade opened his eyes to a more aggressive outreach into the community. The rest of his time in Louisville was characterized by almost continual evangelistic services. He would not only care for the people in his own flock but he would also lead them in evangelistic outreach which were focused on reaching Louisville for Christ.
Part of this endeavor, in 1875, was moving out of the Chestnut Street church and constructing the Broadway Tabernacle. There was a need for a big meeting place. It had to be a place that was cheap to build and a place that could hold a lot of people. In the 19th century, churches typically were supported by pew rents. This meant that, in order to get a seat in church, you had to pay an annual rent and typically the good seats everybody wanted were in the front. You could almost see the wealth and social status of the congregation by looking at where people sat. Churches built balconies or galleries up top and often those were free for people who were poor and couldn't afford to rent a pew on the main floor. These people were put up in the balcony where they were out of sight and out of mind and probably equally important where they couldn't be smelled. There was an obvious social class system within the churches. One of the things that the tabernacle movement wanted to address was the social exclusivism of the churches. In the tabernacles services were free to everyone who wanted to come and attention was paid to not mirroring the social structure of the community in the church. Big, cheap buildings welcomed everyone who was seeking after God.
The concern to reach out beyond the walls of the church gave Simpson a new vitality in his ministry. Here's a story which reveals something of Simpson as a pastor. There is nothing to indicate where or when this occurred but it gives an indication to the sensitivity Simpson had as he reached out to those untouched by the "regular work of the ministry." He writes,
I am reminded of a woman I once met in the course of a pastoral visit and to whom I tried to tell of the love of God to poor sinners. She met me with a blank amazing statement that she did not comprehend what love meant. She had never seen nor felt any such thing. Her life had been a fight for existence. Her hand against everyone, everyone else against her. She was perfectly sincere and responsive but utterly helpless to understand the Gospel. I ceased preaching to her and invited one or two of the tactful women of the church to institute a school of love for her benefit by showing such delicate attentions as won her heart and awakened the lost sense of love. One day she said to me with considerable feeling, "I think I understand now what love means and I will be glad to have you tell me something of the love of God." She became a humble and devoted Christian but she had to receive first the new faculty of love. The reason that many do not enter into the blessed ministry of the cross and the atonement is because our hearts and lives are too selfish to comprehend that sacrifice. If we would live out more fully the spirit of the atonement, we would have fewer doubts about the doctrine.
I think this gives an interesting insight into the pastoral sense which Simpson had. This woman really was interested in the Gospel but she quite truthfully couldn't understand it. The reason she didn't understand was that she couldn't believe anybody could love her. Once she understood that it was possible for someone to love her, then she was able to understand that God could love her, too. Simpson's message was not simply, "This is the gospel. Believe it or not." He recognized that things which get in the way of people accepting the gospel are real. The challenge he concludes with is a profound one. If we live out our doctrine and don't think we are finished when we have explained it clearly the message has real credibility. If we were to live out the truth of the atonement in giving ourselves to serve, the truth of the message is reinforced by the lives of God's people.
In 1876, Simpson had a "Macedonian call" dream in which he felt a call to go to China. Now, interestingly enough, God didn't call Mrs. Simpson to China and so the next day when Simpson woke and said, "You know I had this dream last night. God is calling me to China," they had to negotiate a little bit. As a result, they stayed where they were, but Simpson reinterpreted his missionary call to be a promoter of missions in North America. He has been described as a missionary statesman, someone who made it possible for many other people to go overseas to do the missionary work. So, Simpson fulfilled his call, although perhaps not in the way he originally thought.
The Simpson family kept growing. In 1878, Margaret May was born.
In November 1879, Simpson resigned his Louisville charge and decided to move to New York. Margaret, his wife, did not think this was a very good idea. There was some family tension and some real problems for about six months. Mrs. Simpson was quite sure that New York was no place to take her family and she may well have been right because the older boys did get themselves into some trouble in New York.
On December 9, 1879, Simpson was installed as the pastor of 13th Street Presbyterian Church. However, there were a number of things which attracted him to New York which went beyond his pastoral charge. He was hoping to begin a missionary magazine and, as New York was a publishing centre and the centre of the growing North American missions movement, it seemed the logical place. As well, Simpson continued his commitment to meet the spiritual needs of those the Churches were neglecting. New York provided rich opportunity for ministry here as well. One such group were new Americans who arrived at Ellis Island in the New York harbour and for whom New York was the gateway to the promised land. Simpson believed that the churches were failing in their responsibility to new immigrant peoples. At the same time the industrial and commercial success of New York made it a magnet for young men and women seeking economic and social opportunity. These young people, now separated from their communities and families were being lost to the Church, Simpson believed. His commitment to active engagement in the missions movement and to aggressive evangelism of the unchurched drew Simpson to New York, even against the wise advice of Margaret.
The missionary magazine Simpson was planning came into being shortly after he arrived. This was a time in which print media was being reinvented. Newspapers and magazines in the 1850s-60s were columns and columns of narrow print dealing with business matters and politics and didn't have wide circulation. Then there was a communications revolution. With compulsory elementary education starting in the 1850s, by the 1870s, there was a new generation of people who could read and who were looking for and had the resources to buy good reading material. Newspapers and magazines picked up on this. Print started getting larger and columns wider, and content began to become more popular with the addition of sports and human interest stories. Illustrations added a new visual element and these changes opened a whole new kind of popular publication. Simpson thought that this would be an excellent way of promoting missions. He published the first illustrated missionary monthly magazine in North American history. In 1880, the magazine was called the Gospel in all Lands. The next year Simpson was forced to sell it to Methodist publisher Eugene R. Smith who turned it into an effective vehicle for promoting missions among Methodists.
Simpson had another breakdown early in 1881. This was, once again, brought on by overwork. He was publishing the magazine. He was involved in visiting each family in his new congregation and looking to meet their needs. He was involved in ongoing evangelistic services and was particularly committed to outreach among the Italian immigrant population. In all of this his health broke and he was told that unless something dramatic changed he had only six months to live.
In July of 1881 while resting and hoping to recover his strength, Simpson was with his family at the conference ground at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. It was here that Simpson brought together previous experiences of healing with a new look at the Scriptures and became convinced he could call upon the physical resources of Jesus as his Lord for his own weakness.
It is interesting that we often view sanctification as the significant point of turning in Simpson's spiritual biography. Certainly there is truth to that but as we look at the events which follow his experience of healing in 1881 it becomes apparent that this is when things really began to change. After his crisis of sanctification Simpson became more involved in evangelism but continued in fairly secure positions to pursue new ministries. After he trusted God for his physical as well as spiritual well being, he began to move into uncharted territory in his life and ministry.
In October of 1881 Simpson was convinced that he needed to be baptized by immersion. He went to an evangelist acquaintance holding services in a schoolhouse in "the poorest district" of New York City and was baptized. This put him at odds with his church because the Presbyterians are paedobaptists. He felt he could no longer baptize infants in good conscience. He informs his Presbytery and agrees to resign his New York charge. His salary as pastor of 13th Street Presbyterian Church in New York had been $5,000.00/year which was a lot of money. He and his family were accustomed now to living at a very high standard. In leaving the Church and Presbytery Simpson was taking a major financial as well as spiritual risk.
Simpson began his new ministry in late November of 1881 with seven committed people and the mission they set for themselves was to win New York for Jesus Christ. This actually developed into the Gospel Tabernacle. Simpson began supporting himself by writing, the majority of the family income in these years coming from Simpson's pen. A new publication entitled The Word, the Work and the World began to appear in 1881. Soon books, pamphlets and serialized sermons began appear extending Simpson's influence far beyond New York City.
In 1882, the Gospel Tabernacle was officially organized as a church. It was not Simpson's intention to start a new church when he resigned from 13th Street. However, if the converts who were being reached for Christ under his ministry were to have the nurture they needed to develop fully as disciples of Christ, he needed a church he could bring them into as members. The Gospel Tabernacle was soon to develop a host of related ministries.
One of the social problems in New York City was prostitution. Many women came from rural areas to make their way in the city and wound up working as prostitutes. The home for "fallen women" was an attempt to give them an alternative to life on the street. This became the first of many institutions which found their origin in the commitment of Simpson and members of the Gospel Tabernacle as they reached out in love to their community.
As the activities which Simpson was associated with began to grow, there was a call for proper training of workers. In response to this, informal missionary training classes began in the Gospel Tabernacle to prepare workers for home ministries and for missionary service. The next year, October 1, 1883, the Missionary Training Institute was officially launched. This was the beginning of what developed into Nyack College, an Alliance Christian liberal arts institution. It is to these small beginnings that the North American Bible College movement looks as its beginning as well.2
In 1883, Simpson and the Gospel Tabernacle began an organization called the Missionary Union for the Evangelization of the World. This wasn't particularly successful. It was an attempt to develop a missions organization out of a local church and due to a lack of understanding as to what was really involved, it ended in disaster. In November 1884, five missionaries sailed for Africa under the auspices of the Missionary Union for the Evangelization of the World. They were sent off with very little training and no idea what to expect when they arrived. There was no infrastructure in place to help them out once in Africa. Enthusiastic people raised some money, bought them some stuff, put them on the boat and said evangelize Africa for us. On the way there, the leader of the team of five died. When they landed, three of the team sold all their supplies and went back to the States and no one ever heard of them again. One team member actually stayed in Africa, joined another mission and actually had a career as a missionary. This was Simpson's first attempt at founding a missions organization and it seems some pretty hard lessons were learned.
Berachah Homes, a rest home dedicated to divine healing, opened in Simpson's home in 1883. Before long a separate location was found for this ministry and long time Simpson associate Sarah Lindenberger, ordained as a Deaconess, was placed in charged. When he was in town Simpson taught on divine healing at the home on Fridays. While the message of healing was an important part of Simpson's message, he conducted it quietly, refusing to allow what he considered a solemn grace to become a public spectacle.
Another important aspect of the early Alliance were conventions with the first convention being held in September of 1884 at the Gospel Tabernacle. Next to Simpson's writing, conventions, which were soon held all over North America, were the most important means through which his teaching and influence became widely known.
The social aspect of Simpson's ministry continued to grow as several rescue missions were opened in 1885. In 1886, an orphanage was opened. It, like the healing home, was named Berachah meaning "blessing." During 1891, a Door of Hope mission for girls was organized.
In June of 1885, Simpson went to the Bethsan Conference in London and joined with others in the discussion of the deeper life and healing. He delivered his sermon Himself the message of which was encapsulated in the hymn Himself. It was clear by this time that Simpson's distinctive understanding of sanctification as an experience of the indwelling Christ was already a part of his preaching.
In 1886, there was, what turned out to be, an important convention in Old Orchard, Maine. The final day of the convention was given over to an emphasis on missions. It was suggested by one of the speakers that a new organization which would promote the deeper life and missions was required to more adequately fulfill the responsibility of North American Christians. An agreement was made to meet in the same place a year later to consider founding such an organization. During the early months of 1887, Simpson distributed draft constitutions for two organizations rather than one.
There was another convention at Old Orchard, which convened on July 31, 1887, and the Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance came into being. This is considered to be the date the Christian and Missionary Alliance was founded although it was still another ten years before the organization called the Christian and Missionary Alliance came into being. The Christian Alliance was to be "a simple and fraternal union of all who hold in common the fullness of Jesus" promoting the deeper life emphasis of the Fourfold Gospel [see Readings 4.2]. The Evangelical Missionary Alliance was "to carry the Gospel 'to all nations,' with special reference to the needs of the destitute and unoccupied fields of the world" [see Readings 4.3].
The first missionary sent out under the Evangelical Missionary Alliance was William Cassidy from Toronto, going as a medical missionary to China. Cassidy set out before his family and on his way he decided to take steerage passage rather than taking a cabin. This was both to save money and to afford an opportunity to share his faith. Most likely as a result of this, he contracted a serious disease, died on board ship and was buried in Japan.
By 1891, there were fifteen missionaries out on the field. This might not seem like too bad a record for an organization only four years old but Simpson believed that more could be done. He called for a hundred new missionaries immediately to advance the cause. This was the beginning of a major thrust to quickly put missionaries on the field. To do this required adequate finances so this was also the year that saw the first use of the missions' pledge. This has been a feature of Alliance missions' conferences ever since. In the 1890s huge offerings were received in support of missions. Also to promote missions, the Young Men's Crusade and the Junior Missionary Alliance were organized. The purpose of the Young Men's Crusade was to recruit young men as missionaries. The Junior Missionary Alliance introduced children and younger people to missions.
In 1893, Simpson toured the mission fields where there were Alliance missionaries and used this tour as another promotion to prompt both volunteers for the task and financial supporters. By 1895, in response to Simpson's call in 1891, there were approximately 300 Alliance missionaries overseas. In a period of just four years, the Alliance missionary force grew from 15 to 300. This rapid growth required changes to the organization and structure of the Alliance. Increasingly, the focus of the whole Alliance was on maintaining this large missionary force overseas. One outcome of this growth was the merger of the Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance to form the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1897. The original vision of an Alliance dedicated to deeper life and calling the Church to renewal and a separate missions agency required too much duplication. The newly formed Christian and Missionary Alliance was to move increasingly toward a missions organization and some have argued the original emphasis on deeper life was slowly lost.3
Also in 1897 a large piece of land on the banks of the Hudson River outside of New York was purchased. The Berachah Healing Home and the Missionary Training Institute moved out of New York to Nyack.
The first issue of Living Truths came out in 1902. Simpson had produced a number of periodicals beginning with The Word, the Work and the World and then changing the title to reflect changes in the organization. These eventually became Alliance Life, the current official publication of the denomination. Living Truths broke the pattern of newsy, devotional weeklies or biweeklies. It was a monthly and published longer more sustained articles dealing with significant issues bearing on faith and practice. These years were an important time in the life of the Alliance because real questions were being asked about what the Alliance was, what made it different, and what really defined the heart of what it meant to be Alliance. Alliance leaders contributed to and read this periodical and although it was only published from 1902 to 1907 it provided the best access into the minds and hearts of the first generation of Alliance leadership.
As the Alliance matured as a movement it became more important to define what it was the Alliance believed and taught, and as important what they did not. With a view to clarifying this a Conference on Prayer and Counsel was held just prior to General Council in 1906 [see Readings 15.2]. The purpose of this conference was to clarify what was distinctive about Alliance teaching. A document emerged from the meeting which reaffirmed the Alliance as a non-ecclesiastical body but which taught sanctification as a crisis and progressive experience, affirmed the doctrine of healing in the atonement and the premillennial return of Christ. On other points the conference advised freedom.
1906 was also the year of the Azusa Street revivals which are considered by some as the beginning of modern Pentecostalism. The close personal and theological affinities between the Alliance and Pentecostalism made this a difficult period for the Alliance. Estimates are that as many as one-third of the Alliance constituency, including many important churches and prominent leaders, joined the Pentecostal movement in the decade following 1906.4
In response to incursions made by Pentecostalism as well as the growth of the movement in general, greater organizational structure were put in place through the General Constitution and Principles, 1912 [see Readings 6.1]. Many of the changes to the Constitution reflect a larger more self conscious organization giving constitutional basis to new structures already in place. However, there is a tension between recognizing the need for more central control and the continued commitment to being a movement, "without reference to ecclesiastical uniformity, but in cordial sympathy with all evangelical Christians..." The most obvious move to centralized control was the provision in Section VII on "Titles to Property." This new clause required all branches, missions and independent churches associated with the Alliance to agree that should they cease to exist or cease to be part of the Alliance the property would revert to Christian and Missionary Alliance. The purpose of this provision was clear to ensure a stable funding base given the defection, particularly in 1906-07, to Pentecostalism.
October 29, 1919, A.B. Simpson died. Age and illness required Simpson to relinquish his many responsibilities and business affairs in May of 1918. The last eighteen months of his life were spent in well deserved retirement at Nyack. Although not involved in day to day affairs, Simpson remained an important "presence" in the Alliance until his death.
1 Kenneth Norrie and Douglas Owram, A History of the Canadian Economy, (Toronto: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1991) p. 168.
2 see Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges, Manual: Criteria and Policies, Constitution and Bylaws, 1995-96, (Fayetteville, [AR]: AABC, 1995), p. 3; and Larry J. McKinney, Equipping for Service: A Historical Account of the Bible College Movement in North America, (Fayetteville, [AR]: AABC, 1997), p. 14.
3 The most prolific advocate of this position is Lindsay Reynolds. See in particular his Footprint, (Toronto: Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 1982) and the first chapter of Rebirth (Toronto: Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 1992).
4 For more details of this aspect of the Alliance story see Charles Nienkirchen, A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement, (Peabody [Mass]: Hendrickson, 1992).
© Kenneth L. Draper, 1997.