REFLECTIONS ON MY YEARS IN THE CHRISTIAN AND MISSIONARY ALLIANCE
For younger generations, I am not sure what value you place on a "talking head" from a previous time… especially one as gray and balding as mine. I recall my attitudes toward older leaders early in ministry. I esteemed them for their years served and recall some as great sources of wisdom and door openers for me, while others seemed to be "door closers!" It took me some years to appreciate their role. At age 20 I joined my first Alliance church in Owen Sound ON. Just three years before, they had experienced a powerful revival. Why this denomination? I had recently gone to a Youth Conference with their young people where I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now I wanted a church that would teach me more about the Holy Spirit. They discipled me. It was there that I received my call to ministry and missions.
Transfer In--What Drew Me?
There seems to be two kinds of Alliance people around. Those like my wife who was born into the denomination and those like me who transferred in. That Owen Sound Alliance family has tracked with us over our 50 years of ministry in five countries. They profoundly impacted me for life in fours areas: Their strong commitment to corporate prayer. A persistent emphasis on the Spirit filled life. They modelled dynamic evangelism and they also gave themselves passionately to every aspect of missions.
Signing Up--Part of a Close Family:
My first Alliance pastor, Rev. Elmer Fitch, remains my model pastor. Once called to ministry, my next step was training. The options for training for the Owen Sound folks were "one"--Western Canadian Bible Institute in Regina, SK. There we received the tools to make us students for life and graduated as a couple. In our last year our College/District family assigned us to plant the Fort Qu'Appelle Valley Alliance 50 years ago this summer. These same leaders arranged our "home service," a prerequisite for Alliance missionary work. We were interviewed by the "Alliance Sanhedrin" (the C&MA leaders) to see if we "had the stuff" to become "missionary appointees" to South America. One member, a heavy weight pastor from Vancouver, whom I thought had fallen asleep in the interview, suddenly came to life and asked: "Arnold, if the Alliance chooses not to appoint you, and you cannot find any ministry in Canada, can you return to a secular job?" Not recognizing it as a trick question, I quickly answered: "Gentlemen I have never considered that option because I know God has called me into ministry."
Revisiting Our History--Highs and Lows:
I have reviewed our C&MA history helped by Pardington's "Twenty-five Wonderful Years" (1889-1914) as he recounts our humble origins and the early decisions that merged the two Alliances into The Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1887. It should give us pause as to why gifted leaders from other fellowships would be drawn to Simpson's little group. It certainly was not their financial system which had a tenuous faith basis. Nor was it their successful missionary outreach. Their first missionary died in Japan en route to China. The first group sent disbanded and disbursed into other groups. Many sent, in the first 25 years, lived only a few months or years before dying of tropical diseases. In 1906 came the Azusa Street phenomenon birthing the Pentecostal Movement. Simpson's view on the Holy Spirit differed from the Pentecostal emphasis on the "baptism of the Spirit" causing confusion. In 1910, 50 Alliance branches (churches) left and joined the Pentecostals. But gifted leaders continued to join Simpson drawn by the simple message of the four-fold Gospel. Engineer turned historian, Lindsay Reynolds, has captured well our early struggles, in Central Canada, in his books Footprints and Rebirth, (which need to be reprinted in an abridged version for the 21st century Alliance). Slowly Alliance churches were started, grew initially and a number died. A Toronto Bible School was opened but closed after a few years. The Toronto press was always confusing the C&MA emphasis on divine healing with the Christian Science cult. It happened again when Mayor John Howland, our lay leader, died suddenly.
Only after 1941 with the establishing of the Western Canadian Bible Institute in Regina, did the Canadian C&MA experience rapid and solid growth especially West of Winnipeg. After Simpson's death in 1919 the transition to new leadership was rocky. Paul Radar, his successor, was unable to balance pastoring his large Chicago church with his role as president. World War II seriously disrupted the missionary work in Europe and Asia. Many missionaries lived on half or less of their allowances (salaries). The 1900 Boxer uprising in China took a high toll on our missionaries. But the C&MA in both Canada and the U.S. continued to grow. Canadian autonomy became a financial necessity in 1980.
Pastoral Care--Loving Enough to Protect:
As part of the Alliance family we quickly learned the term: "constitutional authority." (There must be a new term coined for this concept in the 21st century, perhaps "accountability"). As missionaries to Colombia the C&MA cared for us like family. They commissioned us; provided us two years of language training and each year our field committee assigned us to a ministry. But like many younger workers we frequently bumped our heads on this protective ceiling of "constitutional authority." But looking back we thank God for a family who loved us enough to protect us. Here are but three examples:
1) Decision regarding our children's education: We resisted the Mission policy requiring us to send our boys to the Quito Academy in Ecuador. We wanted to keep them with us in the Colombian system. But we complied and sent them where they did well. In retrospect we are thankful for older and wiser voices that protected us from locking our children into schooling systems that may have seriously limited their future options. (We tend to forget that our children were not called like we were).
2) Decision to take further studies: After retooling at CTS in Regina we were ready to return to South America. But the president of CTS gave me this challenge: "Cook you need to go to Fuller Seminary and complete your studies for a Doctorate, before your third term." My first response: "No way do we want to take our teenagers to Southern California!" But my superior pressed me with this prophetic word: "Cook if you'll do this it will change the next 25 years of your ministry!" Upon reflection we went. Everyone had a super year--and it did make a difference in my ministry over the next 25 years.
3) Decision to go to Peru: For our third term we were assigned for the first six months to teach at our Buenos Aires College then transfer to Lima, Peru for the final two and one half years. During our time in Buenos Aires we felt we would prefer to complete our three years there. I proposed this change to my supervisor in N.Y. He quickly replied: "No, the Peruvian church is expecting your arrival. Continue with original plan and proceed to Peru." We complied. Wow! What a close call!! God was moving mightily in revival/awakening in Lima in the 1970s. We saw and experienced ministry in Peru like we had never experienced before or since!" We would have missed "that icing on the cake" in ministry, if left to ourselves! I note with concern new mission groups promoting themselves as cutting edge, where all decisions are made by the workers themselves.
High Privilege to Serve in 20th Century: "The Greatest Missionary Century:"
To have served in the latter half of that century--1960-2000, was very special. Here are few headlines:
• "Rise and fall of Communism" (1949-1990). "Greatest growth period of the Christian Church."
• "Birth of new Mission focus: The Unreached Peoples 1974." "World-Wide Urbanization Shift."
• "The new resource for missionary sending churches: the younger Majority World churches."
How Does the Future Look for the C&MA Canada?
Change is never optional but as the "gate-keepers" of Christ's Church we must handle it carefully. I continue to believe that the Church, "big C"--the body of Christ will be all that God has promised: "A radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:27: cp. Matt. 16:18). But we are concerned with the struggling churches "little c"; local parishes, denominations and para-church structures. These tend to lose their core values and drift from Truth over time.
I have watched with concern how emerging movements push our unique little missionary denomination around: e.g. the mega church focus of the 1970s overdosing on the numbers game; "another battle for the Bible" resulting in a subtle shift from the inerrancy of Scripture to the authority of Scripture in the 1970s and 80s. The flood of new para-church movements during that same period, many with a humanitarian focus promoting a new holistic approach to Mission, will compete with the our great commission mandate. Since the turn of the century, the many faceted "emerging church philosophy" featuring Brian McLaren, Rob Bell et al has the potential to leave Evangelicalism in splinters. These late 20th and the 21st centuries movements have reshaped the C&MA, particularly as it relates to our historical DNA of the "four-fold Gospel." I have been greatly helped in my review of "The Four Fold Gospel" by the recent scholarly book written by our Alliance theologian Dr. Bernie A. Van De Walle, at Ambrose. The book is titled "The Heart of the Gospel: A.B. Simpson, the Fourfold Gospel, and Late 19th Century Evangelical Theology" (2009). In our progressive world it will seem strange to revisit the late 19th century to refocus our vision for the 21st century. "Everything has changed!" I would question that premise. I would argue that there are at least three basic truths that have never changed: Our God "Who changes not." "Our Bible does not change." And human nature despite cultural advances is still depraved. The tenants of the Four Fold Gospel are all anchored in and related to these eternal truths.
Christ our Saviour: Many assume that this aspect of our message is safe. But a quick shoulder check reveals that most churches around us have dropped the "new birth" or any "point of conversion." Any form of "evangelize" is rarely found in Christian periodicals. Church attendance is pushed, multiple options to serve in "missional projects" are promoted. It is a subtle shift. Christian relief agencies employ secular personnel. In my current role with a small foundation, I am appalled how well known Missions assume that evangelism will happen "if we just help non-Christian people." Yes there are those "creative access countries." There evangelism must take on an indirect approach. This challenge for our international workers in those areas, including our own son and his family, is to remember Christ's priority: the "spiritual condition of people must take priority over all other needs" (Matt. 18:8-9). Acquiring English can greatly improve the quality of life for lost and resistant people. Over time the emphasis on "holistic ministries" can be easily misconstrued as tantamount to personal evangelism. Evangelism gives way to social agendas at home and abroad through missional activities driven more and more driven by the dynamics of fund raising (easier to raise money for the physical than for the spiritual needs). "Christ our Saviour" is a endangered species in our political correct society.
Christ our Sanctifier:
Christ our Sanctifier is all about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sent Him to build the Church for which Jesus laid the foundation. Jesus reminded His disciples of this plan just before His ascension with this promise: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Sanctification (the process of becoming holy) is the Holy Spirit's agenda for us following regeneration. Simpson believed this truth was the very heart of the C&MA. Much of the teaching around Simpson and us today, simply equate sanctification as "steady growth in our Christian life." Early Alliance did not. Simpson taught a post conversion experience of "being filled with the Holy Spirit" followed by "walking in the Spirit." The Alliance I entered in 1952 referred to this encounter as a "crisis experience." Some today choose to call it "a defining moment." But I fear most churches just assume Christians will grow. Simpson taught that this sanctifying process embraces our entire Christian experience--from conversion to heaven--in which the Holy Spirit "sanctifies us completely" so that our spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless for heaven (I Thess. 5:23). In a Book Much More there is this helpful reminder: "Many believers stopped with the experience, the step, the act (of conversion) and have never gone on to maturity. They
have lived a life of spiritual poverty and defeat, always under the suspicion--that there was "MORE."
Christ our Healer:
I was profoundly moved by the first Alliance missionaries I heard. Their riveting stories of the "supernatural" in the healing of the sick and the deliverances from demons in Borneo captivated me. Reading our early history, this truth of "Christ our Healer" often drew gifted leaders to identify with Simpson's little group. Many, like Canadian leader John Salmon came for personal healing and stayed. Are we loosing this part of our message? Yes we have seen a century of amazing advance in medical science. We do well continuing our commitment to medical missions. But none of this changes the timeless promises of Scripture and the on going healing ministry of Christ. In our modernity we are daily faced with the reality that there is still no cure for many forms of cancer and other diseases. Yes many formal healing services continue. But whom do we know "who has been healed" recently?
Christ our Coming King:
Prophetic preaching has all but vanished as some pastors look for "a more positive eschatology" than what Simpson taught. The most mentioned prophetic event in Scripture is the "millennium." As Alliance people we come from a tradition where the missionary task is linked with the imminent premillenial return of Christ. e.g. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ta ethna--people groups), and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14). Simpson actually believed we could hasten Christ's return by finishing the one clear task He left us, i.e. evangelization of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). What has changed? His coming is 124 years closer than when the C&MA began (1887). The unfinished task has been more quantified and identified. I am encouraged by our continued focus on the "least reached peoples." But have we lost this powerful motif--of bringing back the Coming King as the New Testament promises? But I believe we can be renewed and empowered to impact our world as a small denomination which has chosen to make "Christ's last command our first concern" for 124 years. But our response to these Biblical foundational truths must not change: 1) "I the Lord change not" (Mal. 3:6). 2) He has spoken to every generation through His infallible unchanging Word. 3) The need of human nature is still the same. Many of us have been innovators, changing our methods but not the message. This takes both spiritual discernment and a tenacious commitment to Scripture. Too often new media or strategies subtly change the message.
I could not agree more with President Pyles' exhortation to us in a recent Table Talk (April 2011):
"Dear Reader: Whether you be a pastor, an elder, a parent, hear this. The youth in your church are waiting to see in your lives something more than dedication to consumption. They are waiting to hear you say that lives can be changed, that people can be healed, that holiness can be lived, that being filled with the Holy Spirit can happen to them and you are evidence of it."
Yes still have the language--the terminology. God has not changed. The Bible remains the same But I fear the "twilight zone" where we mouth the same terms, officially adhere to the same doctrines but the power has departed. Could it be we are like those people in the "last days" that Paul describes as "having a form of godliness but denying its power" (II Tim. 3:5)? When Jesus did an audit on the seven churches in Revelation, He found five of them in this ambivalent zone: thinking they were fine "in need of nothing" but told by the Head that they were "lukewarm, poor and blind" and needed to repent (Rev. 3: 14-22). I am encouraged by the recent history, of radical revivals and awakenings that have restored nominal organizations into dynamic movements. Other visitations of God's Spirit birthed reformed structures that have recovered core values. God is not finished with "The Christian and Missionary Alliance."1956 may have been one of our greatest years. They sent out 102 missionaries that year funded by many fewer churches than we have today. We have been blessed as a corporate Faith Mission.
--Arnold Cook, May 31, 2011