Evangelical Alliance

Formed in 1846 after Christian leaders had felt the need to present a more united front in the face of political upheaval in Europe. It was stressed at the inaugural conference in London that those present had met “not to create Christian union, but to confess the unity which the Church of Christ possessed as His body.” Those who formed the Alliance declared they were “deeply convinced of the desirableness of forming a Confederation on the basis of great evangelical principles held in common by them, which may afford opportunity to members of the Church of Christ of cultivating brotherly love, enjoying Christian intercourse and promoting such other objectives as they may hereafter agree to prosecute together; and they hereby proceed to form such a Confederation under the name of the Evangelical Alliance.” They drew up a basis of faith expressing their convictions as evangelical Christians.

One of the first difficulties encountered was a difference of opinion within the ranks regarding the rights and wrongs of slavery. The progress of the Evangelical Alliance during the nineteenth century was significant. Great and inspiring conferences were held in most of the capital cities of Europe and in America, and the Alliance quickly established itself as a body worthy of respect in the religious world. In the course of the first century of its existence the Alliance concentrated its attention on a number of different projects, including the relief of persecuted Protestant minorities, the promotion of a united week of prayer throughout the world during the first full week of January, the defense of biblical Christianity, and the promotion of missionary work.

Between the wars the Alliance went through a somewhat quiescent period, but blossomed into new life after World War II. The first notable postwar project it sponsored was the United Evangelistic Exhibition in the Central Hall, Westminster, in 1951, which coincided with the Festival of Britain and which enjoyed the support of 180 different societies. In 1952 the Alliance opened its first hostel for overseas students in central London; another was opened in 1963. It sponsored also the crusades led by Dr. Billy Graham in 1954-55 and again in 1966-67. Thereafter the Alliance embarked on the work of film evangelism, which brought the Gospel message to, among others, numerous prisoners and to members of the armed forces. Another outcome of the crusades was the Alliance's organizing of ministers' conferences in which ministers of different denominations have been encouraged in the work of evangelism in their own locality. Yet another Alliance project was the launching of the religious monthly Crusade. This has proved widely acceptable to the Christian public, particularly to young people.

Other notable developments during the postwar years include the formation of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (1958) which links together almost all the evangelical missionary societies, whether denominational or interdenominational, and the holding of two united Communion services in London's Royal Albert Hall. There have also been several National Assemblies of Evangelicals, when delegates from churches and societies affiliated with the Alliance have met together to discuss matters of vital concern. Reports on such subjects as evangelism, the missionary task of the church, and church extension in new housing areas have been produced for consideration at these assemblies. Probably one of the most publicized of the Alliance's recent activities has been the launching of the Relief Fund (TEAR), which provides a channel whereby evangelical Christians are able to send gifts for relief work in particularly needy areas of the world.

Though the Alliance appears to have embarked on numerous projects, its real raison d'être has remained unaltered-fellowship in the Gospel. The Alliance has always stressed that evangelical Christians should enjoy such fellowship regardless of any denominational allegiances which they may have. When the Alliance was founded, membership was on an individual basis and it remained so for many years. Until 1912, prospective members were required to assent to the full doctrinal basis of the Alliance as agreed upon at its inception. In that year, however, the council opted for a simplified form as follows: “All are welcomed as members of the Evangelical Alliance (British Organization) who acknowledging the divine inspiration, authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, believe in One God-the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ our God and Saviour who died for our sins and rose again; and the Holy Spirit by whom they desire to have fellowship with all who form the One Body of Christ.” In 1970 the doctrinal basis was revised and expressed in terminology more appropriate to the times without in any sense departing from its traditionally conservative evangelical position. Membership of the Alliance is now open to local evangelical fellowships, societies, denominations, and individual churches in agreement with the basis of faith and with the aims and objects of the Alliance. Those who attend national assemblies do so as delegates from different societies and churches.

The Evangelical Alliance was one of the founder members of the World Evangelical Fellowship* formed in 1951. Through this means it enjoys fellowship with similar bodies across the world such as the National Association of Evangelicals* in the United States, the Evangelical Fellowship of India,* and the various Alliances in Europe. The revitalization of the Alliance after World War II coincided with the rise of the ecumenical movement and the formation in 1948 of the World Council of Churches. From the outset, evangelical Christians have not spoken with one voice about their attitudes toward the WCC, and this fact has been reflected in tensions within the Alliance at various times over this issue. The Alliance has consistently adopted the policy of seeking to unite all evangelical Christians regardless of their denominational affiliations. This policy has not proved acceptable to some, with the result that the British Evangelical Council has tended to attract those who wish to have no connections, directly or indirectly, with the WCC or with denominations affiliated with it, while the Alliance covers a somewhat wider spectrum.

J.W. Ewing, Goodly Fellowship (1946); J.E. Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain (1949); J.B.A. Kessler, A Study of the Evangelical Alliance in Great Britain (1968).