David E. Fessenden
It is safe to say that most denominations had their origin in controversy. From the medieval split between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, to the rise of the various Reformation groups, to the sectarian splintering that continues to this day, it seems that every major polemic in the Church (and quite a few minor ones) has produced one or more new organizations, dedicated to promoting doctrines and/or practices that flew in the face of the prevailing religious establishment.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance is a notable exception. As one of the earliest examples of an interdenominational parachurch organization, its structure, objectives and foundational principles broke new ground. Born out of an evangelical movement that transcended denominational creeds, the society founded by A.B. Simpson sought to remain loyal to the teachings of Scripture while working within the existing churches of the time. This required that the Alliance be careful to avoid a sectarian bias or an extra-biblical slant. Simpson’s goal was to produce an organization that had wide acceptance among evangelicals of all denominations and one that would tolerate differences of opinion in nonessentials. George Pardington, cited as the most influential developer of Alliance doctrine apart from Simpson,1 put it this way:
Simpson went out of his way to stress his ties to the historic beliefs of the Church:
On the other hand, Simpson realized that in order for the movement to survive it had to be inaugurated with a distinctive vision, purpose and identitya reason for being. Rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator in evangelicalism, he needed a set of principles and purposes that would serve as a rallying cry to the evangelical community. Simpson solved this dilemma through a distinctive expression of beliefs that were otherwise common to many evangelical believers at the time. What we call “Alliance distinctives” merely embody certain truths that have historical roots in many denominations. These were beliefs and practices that Simpson saw as neglected in the past but which, he was convinced, needed to be revived in this era. Pardington referred to this as the “special calling and distinctive testimony” of the young organization.
Simpson never intended to start a denomination. Instead he envisioned “A Christian Alliance of all those in all the world who hold in unison the faith of God and the Gospel of full salvation.”5 He included, with core beliefs common to all Bible-believing Christians of his time, certain doctrines and practices that Simpson called “Present Truth.” These were theological distinctives that he believed had been neglected and that God wanted to set before the Church in this age.6
In this paper I will endeavor to describe these “present truths” as understood and popularized by Simpson and encapsulated in the Fourfold Gospel and the missionary imperative. Following these six sections,7 I will highlight a few other emphases8 that have contributed to the distinctive place of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in the contemporary Church.
The Fourfold Gospel
Throughout church history, theologians have synthesized biblical truth into simple creedal formulas and memorable catechistic statements that are accessible to the common man. Such a practice is good and proper, for it prevents theology from degenerating into an esoteric exercise among an academic elite. From the early Church’s doctrine of the Trinity, to the ancient creeds, to Aquinas’ Five Ways, to the Reformation watchwords of sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, to the various catechisms, and even to the contemporary witnessing tool “The Four Spiritual Laws,” the drive has been to formulate theology into “sound bites”long before modern politicians created the term!
It is therefore in keeping with historical precedent that A.B. Simpson developed the Fourfold Gospel9 as the cornerstone of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. What made it distinctive, however, was his expression of a Christology that tied itself inextricably to the gospel, the central message of the Church. In this way Simpson sought to follow Paul’s example to preach Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5). His Christocentric formulation of the gospel reflected Paul’s understanding of what was of “first importance” in Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
While the Reformers had their own Christological “sound bite” of Prophet, Priest and King, it emphasized Christ’s manifold ministry (the fulfillment of all human service to be given to God), not the Church’s responsibility to proclaim that ministry, nor the individual believer’s part in that ministry.10 Simpson’s formula placed the emphasis on Christ, but also stressed the benefits to the individual believer from a relationship with Him (Christ Our Savior, Our Sanctifier, Our Healer and Our Coming King). Moreover, the use of the term “gospel” implies the necessity to proclaim it as the Church’s primary message, while the four “folds” of the phrase outline the content of the message.
The Fourfold Gospel was a healthy antidote to the many threats of a “Christless” Christianity at the end of the nineteenth century. This Christocentric gospel repelled the traditionalism and institutionalism that were beginning to affect the Reformation churches. It also deflected the subjectivism and self-absorption inherent in portions of the medieval mystic tradition. Further, it countered the experience-based extremism of many early Pentecostals, the neo-scholastic tendencies of the Princeton theologians and the rigid doctrinal construct of the fundamentalist movement. Simpson’s formula kept the focus on Christ, not on tradition, scholarship or experience, while at the same time it avoided becoming polemical. The Alliance could therefore draw from all these wells without drowning in the excesses of any of them.
The need for the Fourfold Gospel can be seen in the religious milieu of the time. All four aspects were popular, but also under attack.11 On the one hand, Simpson’s formula firmly witnessed for truth in the midst of the many voices speaking against these doctrines: modernism was rejecting Christ as a Savior from sin; B.B. Warfield and other ultra-Calvinists were casting doubt upon Christ as a Sanctifier subsequent to conversion and as a supernatural Healer for today; postmillennialists and amillennialists were denying the imminent coming of Christ to rule and reign. But on the other hand, the Fourfold Gospel served as a tempering influence to supporters of these doctrines: its Christ-centeredness was a voice of depth to the sometimes shallow “sawdust-trail” soteriology of fundamentalism; it was a voice of reason to the experience orientation of Pentecostalism; it was a voice of integrity to the opportunistic “faith healers” like John Alexander Dowie; it was a voice of balance to the extremism of some adventists.
The need to proclaim the Fourfold Gospel is evident in our day as well. While the formula and much of its accompanying terminology (such as “full gospel” and “whole gospel”) has been adopted in various permutations by several other groups,12 not all of them have been as Christ-centered as Simpson. An example of the contemporary danger of a less-than-Christocentric gospel is seen in an article in a recent “visitor’s edition” of the national magazine for the Assemblies of God. In describing the distinctive doctrines of the Assemblies, this statement is included:
Such a description is certainly incomplete in that it places the onus solely on the believer to become holy!14 But Simpson taught that Christ is the Sanctifier. While this does not mean that the believer plays no part in sanctification, neither is it a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” theology.
To be entirely fair, many (if not most) Assemblies of God members would reject the idea that sanctification is anything other than a work of God’s grace in the life of the believer. But from my limited experience in the Assemblies of God, I have to say that a practical and functional understanding of the active and present ministry of Christ as Sanctifier is decidedly lacking.
This tendency to disregard sanctification has not gone unnoticed, even by those within the movement. Pentecostal theologian Donald Gee called the situation “most deplorable.” He traced it back to early Pentecostals who substituted the Baptism of the Holy Spirit for sanctification in their own version of the Fourfold Gospel. Gee even proposed that sanctification be included in a “fivefold gospel.”15 Indeed, the term “Fivefold Gospel” is commonly used by Pentecostal theologians today.16
Christ Our Savior
The first “fold” is the message of Christ as our Savior from sin. “The primary message of the Alliance is the primary message of the Gospel, and that is to the sinner,” Pardington wrote. “We believe that man is a sinner, that the sinner is lost, and that there is no other name given under heaven and among men whereby a lost sinner can be saved but the Name of Jesus.”17
As a corollary, the overriding purpose of the church is evangelism. “Every Alliance Branch [an early term for an Alliance congregation], like every evangelical church, should be first and foremost a life-saving station for the salvation of souls.”18
Surely such a doctrinal stance, with its roots in the Reformation and in the revivalism of the early nineteenth century, would be greeted with overwhelming approval by the evangelical church of Simpson’s day. But, as David Rambo points out,
Bushnell and others espoused a theology that tied Christianity to Western culture and watered it down to a kind of religious socialization. One of his books, for example, “took a backhanded slap at revivalism by arguing for long-range education as the surest foundation for Christian experience.”20 The result was a kind of militant nominalism, as African theologian Tite Tienou defines the term:
Labeling Bushnell a nominalist may seem harsh, but apparently it is shared by Mark Noll. He considers Bushnell to be a predecessor of the modernism of the early twentieth century.
Such a “new religious orientation” fit hand-in-glove with the “social gospel” of Walter Rauschenbusch, a contemporary of Simpson and a fellow New Yorker.23 Though both Rauschenbusch and Bushnell testified to having a seemingly traditional conversion experience,24 they later de-emphasized the new birth and equated salvation with socialization into the Christian community.
Simpson’s traditional Protestant heritage had not left him naive about the dangers of a laissez-faire attitude toward a true salvation experience.
Simpson’s distinctive teaching of Christ as Savior was a defense to these challenges and a continuation of the evangelistic movement that Pardington traced back to Finney.26
Oddly enough, Simpson found little support from some who might have been expected to applaud his stand for salvation through Christ. The budding modernism movement, though it drew the wrong conclusions, may have had some valid criticisms of revivalism. Even among those who refused the “moderation” of the gospel by Bushnell and the reinterpretation of the gospel by Rauschenbusch, there was a nominalism of sorts. John Sawin notes that in Simpson’s time “too many Christians, churches, and Christian denominations had narrowed God’s salvation to only an escape from hell.”27
The Alliance stood against such a cheapening of the miracle of new birth. It emphasized the comprehensive change that regeneration brings into a life.
Simpson said of the experience of salvation:
The most controversial part of Simpson’s soteriology (in practice, at least) was his belief that the proclamation of the gospel was “to all peoples,” in obedience to the Lord’s final command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It was the source of the first real friction between this visionary and his upper-class New York church when the presbytery refused to accept into membership 100 converts from the Italian quarter.30 It was the reason for his non-segregationist policy during evangelistic meetings and his close association with black evangelist Dr. Charles S. Morris.31 And it was a driving force behind his missionary vision.
Simpson’s doctrine of salvation assumed the utter impossibility of salvation without Christ, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, the sufficiency of salvation through Christ and the complete availability of salvation to all who come to Christ. These truths were under attack in Simpson’s day as well as our own, and he was “a voice crying in the wilderness” to his generation.
The need for this distinctive teaching today is evident in the increasing promotion of an extra-Christological salvation (or “implicit faith”) as expressed by Clark Pinnock and others.32 The Alliance position is firm that explicit faith in Christ is the only way of salvation.
The Alliance’s Christocentric position is also needed today because of its emphasis on the completeness and comprehensiveness of salvation through Christ. Though he believed that God had much more in store for believers beyond salvation, Simpson was quick to add that the Bible speaks of the Christian as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation for Simpson was the portal into an entirely new realm of existence, the seed from which all the blessings of the Fourfold Gospel grew, and a transformation that was revolutionary, fundamental and indescribable.
Simpson, of course, held to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement: “Our sins were on Him and in Him have been put away, judicially dealt with, visited with the penalty we should have borne, the shame and suffering which we deserved.”34 His concept of the atonement, however, went beyond mere substitution to union with Christ: “Entering into union with Him by trusting Him and taking Him for our Savior saves us from the judgment we deserve.”35 Salvation is not just an escape from hell, but the entrance into a new relationship where all God’s riches are available to us “in Christ.” We share His righteous standing before God, His acceptance by the Father, His relationship with the Father and all other benefits as sons of God: “We inherit all things in Christ.”36
Perhaps if more Christians experienced this “uttermost” salvation, there would be less need for counseling after salvation. Perhaps a key to a true revival in our day is a return to the all-sufficiency of Christ!
Christ Our Sanctifier
It is no contradiction that Simpson extolled the glories of salvation, yet believed in something more. “To be saved eternally is cause for eternal joy; but the soul must also enter into sanctification.”38 He compared salvation and sanctification to the difference between building a beautiful house and having the owner come and dwell in it.39 This is probably the most succinct description of the Alliance doctrine of Christ as Sanctifier in Simpson’s writings.
Sanctification is received, Simpson added, in a moment as distinct as salvation.
It was Pardington, however, who coined the trademark phrase of the Alliance position: “the crisis of the deeper life.” Still, Pardington notes that in addition to the crisis point, there is a progressive process.
The deeper life “is not a finished, crystallized condition which requires no further development or nourishment,” Simpson contended, “but is simply a new beginning on a higher plane that needs to be maintained by continuous dependence upon the grace of Christ.”42
By identifying both a crisis and a progressive phase in sanctification, the Alliance placed itself right in the center of a theological battle zone. On the one side were the “eradicationists,” who maintained that the sinful nature could be “expurgated” from the believer “by a second definite work of grace.”43 This position usually resulted in a belief in some form of “sinless perfection.” On the other side were the “suppressionists,” who “held that the carnal nature was not eradicated but . . . needed to be suppressed by walking after the Spirit.”44 This position became associated with dispensationalism and usually negated a second work of grace.
Simpson’s belief in both the crisis and process aspects of sanctification struck a balance between these theological positions. But he was not seeking some vague middle ground for the sake of peace, nor was he trying to synthesize opposite views in a Hegelian dialectic. He was simply remaining faithful to the full counsel of Scripture, which identifies a twofold sanctification process throughout its pages.
Among the “crisis” examples in Scripture, Simpson pointed to Jacob at Peniel in Genesis 32: “In that night of agony and prayer, which has become the type of many a spiritual crisis since, [Jacob] at length dies to his own sufficiency, sinks under the touch of God’s withering hand, and rises into the victory of self-renunciation and triumphant faith. . . .”45 And yet, Simpson added, the crisis at Peniel “was only the beginning of his consecrated life, for in the following chapter we find him still holding back from the fullness of God’s will.”46
By the time of the 1885 International Conference for Holiness and Healing, the two factions had become so polarized that suppressionist leaders were calling the higher Christian life an “ancient heresy.”47 Their differences seemed irreconcilable.
Simpson attended this conference, where “a number of divergent views of sanctification were expressed.”48 After listening attentively to the other speakers, “Simpson . . . asked for a special privilege and preached an impromptu sermon which has come to be known by the title ‘Himself.’ He emphasized that the Christian’s need was not blessing, healing or sanctification but Christ Himself.”49
This message reflected the consistently Christocentric flavor of Simpson’s theology. For him, sanctification was an outworking of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) and “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). The concept of the indwelling Christ provided the divine means of the Alliance understanding of holiness. The pride and self-delusion of eradicationism, as well as the legalism and self-dependence of suppressionism, are swept away in a dynamic relationship with the living Lord.
The Christocentric and Christ-indwelling theology of Simpson led to a strong emphasis on dying to self: “Self dishonors God and sets up a rival on His throne.”51 If Christ is to dwell in our hearts, the ancient usurper to the throneselfmust be dethroned and put to death, so that the true King can take His rightful place. “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), Simpson said, “is the offering of Isaac, the deliverance from self and even the substitution of Christ Himself for the new self.”
A Christocentric slant has made it easier for the Alliance to discern between the good and the bad in new spiritual movements within the Church. For example, while other groups were caught off guard by the issue of tongues around the turn of the century (and consequently responded to it negatively, even unbiblically), the Alliance was able to be cautiously positive, stressing only that the gift must not be exalted above the Giver (a stance which eventually crystallized into the phrase “seek not, forbid not”52). Occurrances such as the Pentecostal movement, the charismatic renewal and, most recently, the “holy laughter” phenomena need not be rejected out of hand, accepted uncritically or interminably scrutinized for error. They can simply be measured against the ultimate standard: Christ Himself. In his teaching on trying the spirits, A.W. Tozer warned that one “giveaway” of a false experience is that “Christ is not central: He is not all and in all.”53
Christ Our Healer
The third “fold” in the Fourfold Gospel is the doctrine of Christ Our Healer, the belief that Christ has provided for the needs of our bodies as well as our souls. Not only did Simpson believe that God was willing to heal specific illnesses, he also contended that Christ was able to “quicken [our] mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11, KJV), infusing them with the life of Christ, so that the believer can perform ministry with a physical strength beyond his own. Simpson referred to this concept as divine health.54
The doctrine of Christ Our Healer is not often mentioned in the writings of Simpson and other Alliance authors without a definite qualifier, such as the following from Pardington: “[W]hile the truth of Divine Healing is made of great importance, it is held in strict subordination to the pre-eminent truths of salvation and holiness.”55 The tone of such statements borders on defensiveness, but in the light of the era’s theological milieu, it is quite understandable.
This doctrine, probably the most controversial of Simpson’s declarations, cost him the support of a great many leaders and groups that might otherwise have cheerfully applauded the work of the Alliance. These critics were rightly concerned about a rash of “faith healers” in their day who exalted themselves, their ministry and the doctrine to the eclipsing of all other Christian truth. It is difficult, however, to account for the opposition to the Alliance doctrine of healing, considering that Simpson never exploited testimonies of healing for publicity purposes (a common accusation of the movement’s opponents) or placed too much importance on the doctrine. It was, if anything, the least-emphasized portion of the Fourfold Gospel.
Simpson “never allowed this teaching to supersede the miracle of the new birth or the necessity of yielding to the Holy Spirit,” the authors of All for Jesus noted. Still, “he was vilified and ridiculed as another quack miracle worker.”57 The attacks he endured were ironic in that he was far from the only teacher of divine healing in his day, and certainly not the first, as Keith Bailey points out.
In fact, Bailey has noted that, although there was a great decline in divine healing after the apostolic period, there is evidence of its practice during the Reformation and even before.59
The Scriptures that Simpson used to defend his belief in divine healing are legion (one of his books, The Lord for the Body, has 275 citations from thirty different books of the Bible60 ), but one of his favorites was James 5:14-15:
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle James, placed this simple and symbolic practice into the hands of local church leaders. According to Simpson, this ensured that healing would be preserved from “fanaticism and presumption,” would be perpetuated through the end of time and would be within easy reach of all believers.61 Simpson also made two other important observations about this passage:
1. It is in the form of a command. “Divine healing ceases to be a mere privilege. It is the divine prescription for disease, and no obedient Christian can safely ignore it.”62
2. The passage also deals with the issue of sin. Although Simpson clearly does not believe that all sickness is a chastisement for one’s own sin, he notes that James considers it to be one possible explanation. “There is here the suggestion that the trial has been a divine chastening and requires self-judgment, penitence and pardon. There is the blessed assurance that both pardon and healing may be claimed together in His name.”63
Simpson considered the passage in James 5 crucially important because of its clarity of procedure and promise. The procedure is a simple one and accommodates the local church organizational structure. In addition, its call for anointing with oilsymbolic of the Holy Spiritties it to the Old Testament. Its promise is simple as well, giving the dual assurance of physical and spiritual healing. The entire method is an exercise in faith by both the sufferer and the Church (represented by the elders).
The church elders are to be called because they serve as representatives of the local congregation. In addition, private spiritual counsel may be necessary during a healing session; the local church, with its close personal relationships, is the proper venue for this ministry.
This was probably one of the main reasons Simpson refused, unlike his flamboyant contemporary, John Alexander Dowie, to “go on the road” with his healing ministry.64 Simpson and Dowie knew each other, and Dowie had great respect for the Alliance founder. A.W. Tozer relates in Wingspread how Dowie invited Simpson to join him in a series of healing campaigns across North Americato which Simpson replied, “Dear Brother Dowie, I have four wheels on my chariot [referring, of course, to the Fourfold Gospel]. I cannot agree to neglect the other three while I devote my time to one.”65
It is just as well that Simpson turned down such a partnership. Dowie lacked the spiritual maturity and balance of Simpson; eventually he went on to develop a “ministry” that appeared to exalt himself more than Christ.
Such blatant pretentiousness and self-promotion was anathema to Simpson, especially as it related to the ministry of healing. In one of his books he listed several counterfeits to true divine healing;67 under the heading of “Extravagance” is a description that could have been written specifically for Dowie:
Simpson has sometimes been accused of a “radical” belief in healing; he has been cited as a forerunner of the modern faith movement. But Simpson has been misunderstood by many of today’s readers, according to Paul King. The Alliance founder’s position on healing was actually quite moderate and in keeping with the beliefs of other well-respected Bible teachers, such as Andrew Murray. For the true predecessor of men like Kenneth Hagin, Fred Price and Kenneth Copeland, King suggests we look to Dowie.69
The fearless and faithful proclamation of the Alliance doctrine of healing has never been more needed than today, when the subject has become so polarized. The unbiblical position of the modern “faith teachers” is being challenged by the equally unbiblical position of the cessationists,70 who deny classic faith teaching and all contemporary occurrences of the miraculousincluding divine healing. King’s research shows that Simpson and the Alliance remain firmly on a biblical middle ground.
What is the “serious error” inherent in the modern faith movement, and how does Alliance theology differ? The simplest and most comprehensive answer to this question is that while Simpson and other Alliance theologians were Christocentric in their doctrine of healing, the modern faith movement is anthropocentric. This difference breeds a distinct contrast between Simpson and men like Price, Hagin and Copeland. King cites a number of areas where the contrast is most visible.
For example, says King, Price has declared that it is not God who heals, but our faitha decidedly human-centered attitude. Simpson held just the opposite view, and even said, “Faith is hindered by what we call ‘our faith.’ ”72 Modern faith teachers hold that the believer is responsible to develop the “faith of God”; Simpson taught that the faith to believe Christ for healing is imparted by God.73 What if one is not healed? Modern faith healers would say that it is the believer’s faulthe or she did not have enough faith; Simpson recognized that “while it is generally God’s will to heal all who believe, God in His sovereignty may not always grant healing,” writes King.74
The Alliance doctrine of Christ our Healer is a welcome answer to the extremes of today. It avoids the errors of the modern faith teachers on the one hand and the cessationists on the other, who expect no miracles today.
Christ Our Coming King
“The crowning message of the Alliance is the crowning message of the Gospel,” Pardington said, “and that is the return to earth of the Lord Jesus Christ.”75 He goes on to specify three pillars of the Alliance belief in Christ’s return: it will be personal, premillennial and imminent. The current Alliance Statement of Faith is worded similarly: “The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal, visible, and premillennial.”76
Beyond that, there was and is no official Alliance position on the details of that belief. Issues such as timetables, order of events and symbolic interpretations of end-time prophecies, while discussed, are among those areas where the Alliance follows Wesley’s practice of “liberty in non-essentials.”77 Simpson himself was a model of tolerance. While he was clearly pretribulational and A.J. Gordon was posttribulational,78 he had no qualms about inviting Gordon and others to speak at his conventions “regardless of whether they agree with me in everything or not.”79
This tolerance in itself gave the Alliance message of Christ our coming King a distinctiveness among adventist groups. It may be hard to imagine how the return of Christ can lose its Christocentric focus, but as David Schroeder points out, by arguing over details we can “turn the blessed hope into belligerent hype.”80 Though Simpson produced four books on prophecy,81 “for him the return of Jesus was not the subject of curious speculation, but the motive for dynamic missionary activity.”82
At first glance, “Christ our coming King” would seem to depart from the other three “folds” in the Fourfold Gospel because its direct relationship to the daily walk of the individual believer is not as obvious. And yet Simpson presented the personal return of Christ as the zenith of the believer’s pilgrimage and the complete fulfillment of the Fourfold Gospel. All the blessings of salvation, sanctification and divine health are merely the shadow of what is to come when Christ returns for His bride.
Christ’s return should inspire a hope in believers that affects our daily walk. It should put in perspective those things that discourage us and tempt us to despair, and those that tend to be magnified beyond their ultimate value. It is the final blessing of the Fourfold Gospel, though we may see it “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV).
Simpson’s premillennial stance was a strong challenge to the postmillennial position held by many modernists of his day. Just as they had redefined salvation to mean a vaguely Christian form of socialization, the modernists also redefined the millennium:
Though not habitually a polemic writer, Simpson forcefully identified this modernist idea for what it wasnonsense! Franklin Arthur Pyles notes that Simpson considered it ridiculous that a kingdom should be inaugurated without a King: “To him it is a truism that a kingdom can only be established by, and ruled over by, an actual King.”85 Just as ridiculous to Simpson was the eschatological timetable that such a belief implies.
The postmillennial position was a favorite of the “social gospellers” and others who had utopian ideals, because it portrayed their social and political action as advancing the kingdom.87 But “[s]o long as our theology puts it far distant . . . we can scarcely expect to live to see that consummation” and, as Pyles notes, Simpson saw that “it destroys whatever impact that return might have on the daily Christian walk.”88 It is the imminent return of Christ that is an incentive to the believer to live a godly life and to work in the Lord’s harvest field “as long as it is day” (John 9:4).
According to Joel Van Hoogen, Simpson was also taking a stand against an amillennial position which holds to “a spiritualized millennium. The 1,000 years are understood to be figurative of the completed present period from the resurrection of Christ to His second coming. Christ’s reign in this millennium is spiritual in the lives of those newborn.”89 Van Hoogen defines amillennialism as a theological position in which a spiritualized millennium (Christ’s reign in men’s hearts) is followed by His literal return. It is clear from Simpson’s own statements, however, that amillennialists of the early twentieth century believed in a spiritual return:
In another book, Simpson attributed to Roman Catholic writers the teaching that the millennial reign of Christ began at the end of the tenth century “through his vice-regent, the Pope.”91 This may have been a form of amillennialism which retained a belief in a literal return of Christ, as Van Hoogen describes, or it may simply have been another form of postmillennialism.
Though he seems to be mistaken about the form in which amillennialism appeared in Simpson’s day,92 Van Hoogen is certainly correct about Simpson’s reaction to it: “The rejection of a material, terrestrial millennium for a higher spiritual one of heart or heaven (such as amillennialism may design) was to Dr. Simpson compatible with spiritualizing the creation account or the liberalizing of Jesus into an idea with no historical reality.”93 In other words, Simpson saw it as an attempt to destroy the very foundations of Christianity.
As we approach the new millennium, apocalyptic expectations run highjust as they did at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is imperative that we preach a balanced, Christ-centered pre- millennialism to guide us through the uncharted waters ahead. Simpson’s teaching on the Second Coming is a driving force in the believer’s daily walkan incentive to repentance, holiness, vigilance and patience.95 But it also has a corporate dimension: missions.
Based on Matthew 24:14“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”Simpson said that missions is “the Lord’s own appointed way of hastening His speedy coming.”96 This is therefore the final major Alliance distinctive to be considered.
“A.B. Simpson is credited as the person to link world evangelization and the coming of Christ,” former Alliance President David Rambo noted. “Missions is not an activity; it is not a thing that we do; it isn’t even central to the church life. It is the hinge of history.”97
Simpson perceived that this “full gospel” had the power to transcend culture and language, to overwhelm the resistance of competing religions and philosophies, to defeat the seducing influence of universalism. It is no wonder that such a message would be expressed in world evangelism, especially when coupled with the motivation to “bring back the King.”
Simpson’s missionary vision was so strong that, at first, his eagerness overpowered his wisdom. His first missionaries, recent graduates of the Missionary Training College, were sent out by the Gospel Tabernacle in 1884, prior to the formation of the Alliance. Lacking adequate preparation, the five men met unexpected obstacles such as hostile Portuguese traders and virulent disease; one died and three others returned home in defeat. The fifth missionary served in the Congo until 1888, then returned home and died within a year.98
This and other tragedies and failures caused by inadequate preparation of workers led Simpson to adopt stricter training requirements and more thorough research into the fields being targeted. Field research became a hallmark of the society. “Once the Alliance had selected a target area,” write T.V. Thomas and Ken Draper, “it studied the condition, customs and needs of the people in the target area to determine a plan of evangelistic attack.”99 Much of this research centered on identifying unevangelized fields, based on Simpson’s interpretation of Matthew 24:14. Long before anyone used the term “unreached people groups,” Simpson was keeping detailed statistics on unevangelized peoples around the globe.100
Simpson realized early on that reproducing a Western-style church overseas, usually amid rigid sectarianism and elaborate organization, was a major cause of failure. He recommended that his workers practice Paul’s principle of becoming “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22) and work within the culture. “If [we] can better reach China by wearing Chinese dress and living in Chinese houses, [we] give up the customs and comforts of civilization that [we] may gain some.”101
Franklin Pyles has argued that Simpson’s eschatology was in conflict with the formation of indigenous churches on the mission field because he interpreted the phrase from Matthew 24:14, “a testimony to all nations,” to mean a mere presence of the gospel; full evangelization was to be done by converted Jews during the millennium.102 This is nothing short of a caricature of Simpson’s theology; Simpson himself appears to deny the idea of Jewish millennial evangelism when he speaks negatively of those
Furthermore, the facts of history do not bear out Pyles’ claim. Indigenous churches were already beginning to be formed within Simpson’s lifetimeand he wholeheartedly approved and promoted the trend.
According to Thomas and Draper, Simpson considered the job of the missionary to be a temporary step in the process of developing a permanent indigenous church: “As the church matured, the missionaries were to train local people to take their place. This released missionaries to penetrate as yet unreached communities.”105 The success of this policy is seen in the fact that national workers, an outgrowth of indigenization, grew from 1,105 in 1929 to 1,854 in 1939and this was during the decade that followed a decision to withdraw subsidies for national workers.106
Simpson’s missionary policy was carried to its logical conclusion by the General Council of 1927, which endorsed “self-support, self-government and self-propagation for national churches issuing from missionary work.”107 Apparently, however, this approach was too radical for many missionaries to follow. By the 1950s, a stifling paternalism had set in. The new foreign secretary, L.L. King, had to implement a wholesale reeducation of missionaries and national leaders in indigenous church principles.108
Though it met with some resistance, the wisdom of King’s indigenization policy was evident when, in 1967, the government of Guinea ordered all missionaries out of the country for the “africanization” of the churches. Because the Alliance churches in Guinea were already africanized and enjoyed full autonomy, the regime allowed most of the missionaries to stay.109
Faithful support of the churches in North America made possible the worldwide efforts of the Alliance, Simpson realized. “The home guard is as necessary as the advance guard,” he contended, and the work of praying and financing the missionary enterprise is only possible when those at home are “baptized” with a vision for world evangelization.110 In order to help the laity catch this worldwide vision, “Simpson evidently invented that unique blend of Bible conference, camp meeting, evangelistic crusade and missionary promotion meeting that came to be known as the missionary convention.”111 By conducting conventions on the national, regional and local levels, the Alliance was able to solicit regular prayer and financial support, so that missionaries on furlough could report to congregations on their work without “wasting time and resources . . . raising their own support.”112
Today the Alliance is considered a cutting-edge missions organization for policies such as the “faith promise” method of fund-raising113 and full missionary status for women (including equal training requirements and equal salaries). Ironically, these practices have been a part of the organization since its earliest days.
Simpson’s commitment to world evangelization continues to this day in the Alliance, with one missionary for every 250 inclusive members and one of the largest missionary forces in the worldover 1,100 strong. Its continuing emphasis on contextualization, indigenization and unreached peoples reflects its founder’s vision to “bring back the King.”
While not entirely unique, a number of other emphases in the Alliance set it apart from many other groups. Among these are the following interrelated issues:
Innovation and “Evangelical Ecumenicity”: A positive attitude toward creativity in ministryboth at home and on the mission fieldis a direct outgrowth of the personality of its founder. It also is one of the probable reasons for Simpson’s insistence that the Alliance avoid falling into a sectarian mold. Simpson often referred to the Alliance as “undenominational,” though he obviously had no qualms about working with people affiliated with a particular denomination. Simpson was a churchman, but he realized that, at least in his day, denominations were entrenched, indecisive and resistant to innovation. He modeled and advocated a cooperative spirit which one writer referred to as “evangelical ecumenicity.”114
Balance and Tolerance: The Alliance stance on tongues (“seek not, forbid not”) is an excellent example of doctrinal balance. The Alliance has been scrupulous in avoiding the divisiveness and polarization that is endemic to the evangelical movement. This may explain Paul Rader and his conflicts with the rest of the Alliance leadership over the “tabernacle movement.” Where Rader sought a rejection of institutionalized churches in favor of loosely organized urban tabernacles, the rest of the Alliance leadership wanted the small, mostly rural, churches to work side-by-side with the tabernacles.
The Alliance today continues to reflect doctrinal balance and tolerance in many areas, contributing to its unique flavor among evangelical denominations. (I participated in a local church membership class, for example, where newcomers to the Alliance expressed surpriseeven shock!that the statement of faith takes no position on the Calvinist/Arminean debate.) This cooperative spirit could be the way out of current controversies over worship styles and evangelism methods. Rather than either-or, why not both-and?
Simplicity in Organization, Adaptability in Structure: The Alliance began as a parachurch organization with a simple organizational structure. Because simplicity in organization allowed for flexibility and innovation, but also because he wanted to avoid any hint of sectarianism, Simpson had a decided ambivalence toward church-like structure. “He sought to provide a fellowship only,” A.W. Tozer observed, “and looked with suspicion upon anything like rigid organization.”115 But as the years went by, the Alliance realized its role “would become more and more restricted unless it took on regular ministries of a church,” Stoesz notes.116 Eventually this interdenominational “fraternal society” became a denomination in 1974.
Ironically, it could be argued that the Alliance’s structural adaptability has created a problematic lack of precedent. With its relatively short history and its lack of roots in any one tradition (due to its nondenominational beginnings), the Alliance finds itself struggling repetitively with issues involving church polity, such as the scope of elder authority and the ordination of women. Had the organization determined to become a denomination earlier in its history, perhaps these questions would not even be under discussion. On the contrary, they have been recurring topics at Annual Council for at least forty years!
However, what the Alliance might have gained in solidifying its structure and establishing precedent in church polity, it may have lost in innovation and responsiveness. It is imperative that the Alliance retain a structure capable of reacting quickly and creatively to cultural, political and societal changes, both at home and abroad.
Education and Lay Involvement: The Alliance has long been able to strike a balance between placing a high value on education and yet not limiting ministry to professional clergy. Simpson was an early pioneer in the Bible college movement, which was a reaction to an over-emphasis on secular, classical subjects in seminary training, at the expense of practical and biblical content. However, Simpson soon discovered the necessity of offering a more academically challenging curriculum to better prepare his students for ministry in the modern world.117
Today the Alliance boasts five colleges and two seminaries in North America and over fifty schools overseas for the training of pastors and lay persons. In addition, the denomination is an international leader in Theological Education by Extension (TEE).
As this great movement, which has only recently accepted a denominational identity, faces the known and unknown challenges of a new millennium, it is natural and logical that we return to our roots for perspective, inspiration and wisdom. The historical distinctives we have reviewed in this paper have served the Alliance well in the past. They will continue to do so, as we apply and adapt them with discernment in anticipation of His soon return.
1 Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin and Samuel J. Stoesz, All for Jesus (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1986), 270.
2 George P. Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 1889-1914: A Popular Sketch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Company, 1914), 47.
3 A.B. Simpson, article in The Word, the Work and the World, July 1887, 2.
4 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 49.
5 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 64.
6 Ibid., 74-75. Some have equated Simpson’s belief in “Present Truth” with the Pentecostal doctrine of “progressive recovery” of biblical truth. Simpson, however, defines “Present Truth” in this way: “While all inspired truth is necessary and important yet there are certain truths which God emphasizes at certain times” (Present Truths, 9), for the purpose of meeting the needs of the times and countering the errors of the times.
7 In addition to a section on the Fourfold Gospel, each “fold” (Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King) is presented in a separate section, followed by a section on missions, for a total of six. It should not be seen as redundant that the Fourfold Gospel is presented separately from each of its “folds.” The Fourfold Gospel, as a comprehensive concept, was one of Simpson’s unique innovations.
8 In this paper, the term “distinctive” is used for those major doctrinal and practical articles that are to some degree unique to The Christian and Missionary Alliance (at least in expression). The term “emphasis” is used for articles not unique to the Alliance but which nevertheless contribute to its individual denominational culture.
9 The term itself has a rather mysterious origin, though his contemporaries generally attributed it to Simpson. The Alliance founder’s first use of the phrase has never been discovered. In 1882 Simpson described the content without the term when writing about Luther and the Reformation; in 1883 he published an article on salvation and healing which he entitled “The Twofold Gospel”; by 1887 he was using the term in his magazine as if it were commonly understood (see articles by Simpson in The Word, the Work and the World, May 1882, p. 148; April 1883, p. 61; and March 1887, p. 192, respectively). All this would seem to indicate that the term evolved over a period of time. On the other hand, on page 36 of Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1992), author Samuel J. Stoesz attributes the origin of the first three “folds” of the Fourfold Gospel to W.E. Boardman.
10 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 2, ch. 15, sec. 1. Though later sections speak of the benefits believers derive from these offices, the “sound bite” itself speaks only of Christ’s offices.
11 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 74-75.
12 Samuel J. Stoesz, Understanding My Church: A Profile of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1968, 1983), 135.
13 “What We Believe,” Pentecostal Evangel, Feb. 15, 1998, 10.
14 Ironically, the statement cites First Thessalonians 5:23, which attributes the work of sanctification to God alone.
15 Donald Gee, Now that You’ve Been Baptized in the Spirit (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1972), 55.
16 For example, “The Fivefold Gospel” was the theme of the 1997 annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS Newsletter, Vol. XXVII, No. 1 [May 1997]).
17 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 50.
18 Ibid., 53.
19 David Rambo, Our Hope for the Future (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1996), 4.
20 Mark A. Noll in Who’s Who in Christian History, ed. J.D. Douglas, Philip W. Comfort and Donald Mitchell (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 120.
21 Tite Tienou, as quoted by Arnold Cook in Why Be Missionary? (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1996), 10.
22 Noll, Who’s Who in Christian History, 120.
23 Daniel J. Evearitt in Alliance Academic Review 1997, ed. Elio Cuccaro (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1997), 1.
24 Ibid., 2; Noll, Who’s Who in Christian History, 120.
25 Keith Bailey, Bringing Back the King (Colorado Springs, CO: The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1985, 1992), 93.
26 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 14.
27 John Sawin in Birth of a Vision (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1986), 7.
28 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 51-52. The source of the quoted material in this passage is not identified.
29 A.B. Simpson, The Fourfold Gospel (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1984), 11.
30 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 36.
31 Ibid., 169-170.
32 See K. Neill Foster, “Implicit Christians: An Evangelical Appraisal,” in Alliance Academic Review 1998, ed. Elio Cuccaro (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1998), 123-146.
33 A.B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 118.
34 A.B. Simpson, Christ in You (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1997), 24.
36 Ibid., 24-27.
37 A.B. Simpson, “Himself” (poem), in Wholly Sanctified (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1991), 120.
38 Simpson, Fourfold Gospel, 24-25.
39 Ibid., 25.
40 A.B. Simpson, Christ Our Sanctifier (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1996), 15.
41 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 54.
42 Simpson, Christ Our Sanctifier, 13.
43 Samuel J. Stoesz in The Birth of a Vision, 114.
44 Ibid., 115.
45 A.B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1992), 83.
46 Ibid., 84.
47 Samuel J. Stoesz, Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1992), 47.
48 Stoesz in Birth of a Vision, 114.
49 Ibid., 116.
50 Simpson, Christ Our Sanctifier, 12.
51 A.B. Simpson, A Larger Christian Life (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1988), 77.
52 The Gift of Tongues (Colorado Springs, CO: U.S. National Office of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, n.d.).
53 A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1966), 124.
54 A.B. Simpson, The Lord for the Body (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1996), 9.
55 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 57.
56 A.B. Simpson, The Gospel of Healing (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 6.
57 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 42.
58 Keith Bailey, Divine Healing: The Children’s Bread (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1977), 227.
59 Ibid., 211 ff.
60 Simpson, The Lord for the Body, 143-147.
61 Simpson, Gospel of Healing, 17.
62 Ibid., 19.
64 N.V. Hope in Who’s Who in Christian History, 242.
65 A.W. Tozer, Wingspread (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1943), 135.
67 A.B. Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospels (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1966), 60-66. The counterfeits listed include Roman Catholic miracles, spiritism, extravagance, Christian Science and Emmanuelism.
68 Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospels, 61.
69 Paul King in Alliance Academic Review 1996, ed. Elio Cuccaro (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1996), 11.
70 “Cessationist refers to someone who thinks that certain miraculous gifts ceased long ago, when the apostles died and Scripture was complete.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1031.
71 Paul King in Alliance Academic Review 1996, 13.
72 Ibid., 7-8.
73 Ibid., 8-9.
74 Ibid., 10
75 Pardington, Twenty-Five Wonderful Years, 61.
76 Bailey, Bringing Back the King, 83.
77 A March 1906 announcement of a conference on Alliance testimony and teaching (held in May 1906) included this statement on the Lord’s return: “Liberty is accorded to our teachers in connection with the various opinions about Anti-Christ, the Tribulation, the Last Week of Daniel, Rapture, etc., but with the understanding that any spirit of antagonism and strife toward those who may hold different opinions is discountenanced.” Though the minutes of the conference are lost, that statement was apparently ratified and remains in effect. See Sawin in Birth of a Vision, 23-24.
78 Franklin Arthur Pyles in The Birth of a Vision, 30-31. It should be noted, however, that Bringing Back the King, a book published by the Office of Alternative Education to teach Alliance history and thought, is overtly pretribulational.
79 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 82. Gordon did speak at the Gospel Tabernacle during an October, 1891, convention (All for Jesus, 93).
80 David E. Schroeder, The Centrality of Jesus Christ in the Fourfold Gospel (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 8.
81 Pyles in The Birth of a Vision, 42.
82 Schroeder, Centrality, 8.
83 Simpson, The Fourfold Gospel, 53-54.
84 Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospels, 77.
85 Pyles in The Birth of a Vision, 36.
86 Ibid., 37, quoting Simpson in the June 8, 1898, issue of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, 533.
87 Daniel J. Evearitt, Body and Soul (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 45.
88 Pyles in The Birth of a Vision, 37.
89 Joel Van Hoogen in Alliance Academic Review 1998, 43.
90 A.B. Simpson, The Coming One (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing, 1912), 10-11.
91 Simpson, The Old Faith and the New Gospels, 76.
92 In Van Hoogen’s defense, it is quite likely that he is not mistaken but is merely giving a general definition of amillennialism, while Simpson is speaking against a specific form. In summarizing the three basic millennial positions, Van Hoogen prefaces his definitions with the following statement: “It is not possible without some significant generalizing to discuss the various eschatological positions on the millennium. There is a wide range of interpretive variance in each of the three positions outlined” (Alliance Academic Review 1998, 43).
93 Ibid., 45.
94 Simpson, The Coming One, 15-16.
95 Ibid., 201-211.
96 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 73.
97 Rambo, Our Hope for the Future, 19 (author’s italics).
98 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 59-60.
99 T.V. Thomas with Ken Draper in Birth of a Vision, 208.
101 Ibid., 209, quoting A.B. Simpson, The Challenge of Missions (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1926), 67-68.
102 Pyles in Birth of a Vision, 41.
103 A.B. Simpson, Called to Serve at Home (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1998), 7.
104 Thomas and Draper in Birth of a Vision, 211.
106 Niklaus, Sawin and Stoesz, All for Jesus, 190, 177.
107 Ibid., 213.
108 Ibid., 213-215.
109 Ibid., 223-224.
110 Simpson, Called to Serve at Home, 2ff.
111 Thomas and Draper in Birth of a Vision, 208.
112 Gerald E. McGraw in Alliance Academic Review 1995, ed. Elio Cuccaro (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1995), 112.
113 The “faith promise” is a method in which the amount an individual gives to missions is a commitment to God and not to the church or organization. This method allows the organization to plan for a certain level of giving without the commitment becoming human-centered.
114 Samuel Stoesz, Understanding My Church (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1968, 1983), 122.
115 Tozer, Wingspread, 103.
116 Stoesz, Understanding My Church, 136.
117 Jacob P. Klassen, “A.B. Simpson and the Tension in the Preparation of Missionaries,” in Birth of a Vision, 241-259.
Listening to God for Life and Ministry, David John Smith
Being Filled with the Holy Spirit, Eldon Woodcock
Contextualization: The Continuing Search for Relevance, Richard Pease
Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor
©2006 by K. Neill Foster