Association of Protestants belonging to various denominations who promote unity in certain points of belief
Evangelical Alliance, the, an association of Protestants belonging to various denominations, founded in 1846, whose object, as declared in a resolution passed at the first meeting, is “to enable Christians to realize in themselves and to exhibit to others that a living and everlasting union binds all true believers together in the fellowship of the Church” (Report of the Proceedings of the First General Conference). The points of belief, which the members accept as being the substance of the Gospel, are contained in a document adopted at the first conference and known as the Basis. They are nine in number: (I) The Divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures; (2) the right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; (3) the unity of the Godhead and the Trinity of Persons therein; (4) the utter depravity of human nature in consequence of the fall; (5) the Incarnation of the Son of God, His work of atonement for sinners, and his mediatorial intercession and reign; (6) the justification of the sinner by faith alone; (7) the work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner; (8) the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the judgment of the world by Jesus Christ, with the eternal blessedness of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked; (9) the Divine institution of the Christian ministry, and the obligation and perpetuity of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”.—It being, however, distinctly declared that this brief summary is not to be regarded, in any formal or ecclesiastical sense, as a creed or confession, nor the adoption of it as involving an assumption of the right authoritatively to define the limits of Christian brotherhood, but simply as an indication of the class of persons whom it is desirable to embrace within the Alliance. In this Alliance, it is aiso distinctly stated that no compromise of the views of any member, or sanction of those of others, on the points wherein they differ, is either required or expected; but that all are held free as before to maintain and advocate their religious convictions, with due forbearance and brotherly love. It is not contemplated that the Alliance should assume or aim at the character of a new ecclesiastical organization, claiming and exercising the functions of a Christian Church. Its simple and comprehensive object, it is strongly felt, may be successfully promoted without interfering with, or disturbing the order of, any branch of the Christian Church to which its members may respectively belong.”
The Alliance thus lays claim to no doctrinal or legislative authority. In a pamphlet issued by the society itself this feature is thus explained: “Then it is an Alliance—not a union of Church organizations, much less an attempt to secure an outward uniformity—but the members of the Alliance are allies: they belong to different ecclesiastical bodies—yet all of the One Church. They are of different nations as well as of many denominations—yet all holding the Head, Christ Jesus. Unum corpus sumus in Christo. We are one body in Christ—banded together for common purposes, and to manifest the real unity which underlies our great variety. We are all free to hold our own views in regard to subsidiary matters, but all adhere to the cardinal principles of the Alliance as set forth in its Basis.”
The Alliance arose at a time when the idea of unity was much before men’s minds. During the years that witnessed the beginning of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, there progressed a movement in favor of union among men whose sympathies were diametrically opposed to those of the Tractarians, but who in their own way longed for a healing of the divisions and differences among Christians. In 1842 the Presbyterian Church of Scotland tried, though without success, to establish relations with other Protestant bodies. In England the progress of the Tractarian Movement led many distinguished Evangelical Non-conformists to desire “a great confederation of men of all Churches who were loyal in their attachment to Evangelical Protestantism in order to defend the faith of the Reformation” (Dale, History of Eng. Congregationalism, 637). At the annual assembly of the Congregational Union held in London, May, 1842, John Angell James (1785-1859), minister of Craven Chapel, Bayswater, London, proposed the scheme that ultimately developed into the Evangelical Alliance. He asked: “Is it not in the power of this Union to bring about by God‘s blessing, a Protestant Evangelical Union of the whole body of Christ’s faithful followers who have at any rate adopted the voluntary principle? Let us only carry out the principle of a great Protestant Union and we may yet have representatives from all bodies of Protestant Christians to be found within the circle of our own United Empire” (Congregational Magazine, 1842, 435-6). The first definite step towards this was taken by Mr. Patton, an American minister, who proposed a general conference of delegates from various bodies, with the result that a preliminary meeting was held at Liverpool in October, 1845, at which the basis of such a conference was arranged. On August 19, 1846, at a meeting of eight hundred delegates, representing fifty denominations, held in the Freemasons’ Hall, London, the Evangelical Alliance was founded. All who would accept the Basis were eligible as members, and the representatives of the various nations were recommended to form national organizations or branches, of which the British Organization, formed in 1846, was the first. These organizations were independent of one another and were at liberty to carry on their work in such a manner as should be most in accordance with the peculiar circumstances of each district. They have been formed in the United States, Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, Australia, India, and several missionary countries. The French national branch abandoned the Basis in 1854 and substituted for it a wider form of a Unitarian character. The Alliance meets and acts as a whole only in the international and general conferences, which are held from time to time. The first of these was held in London, 1851, and has been succeeded by others as follows: Paris, 1855; Berlin, 1857; Geneva, 1861; Amsterdam, 1867; New York, 1873; Basle, 1879; Copenhagen, 1884; Florence, 1891; London, 1896 (Celebration of the Jubilee); London, 1907, on which occasion the Diamond Jubilee of the Alliance was celebrated.
These international conventions are regarded as of special value in the promotion of the aims of the Alliance. Another matter to which much importance is attached is the annual “Universal Week of Prayer“, observed the first complete week in January of each year since 1846. At this time the Alliance invites all Christians to join in prayer, the program being prepared by representatives of all denominations and printed in many different languages. The relief of persecuted Christians is another department of work in which the Alliance claims to have accomplished much good. Finally, in 1905, the Alliance Bible School was founded with headquarters at Berlin, under the direction of Pastor Köhler and Herr Warns, “to place before the students the history and doctrine of the Bible in accordance with its own teaching”. The reports of the conferences claim considerable success for these various works, a claim which cannot here be investigated. From its principles the Evangelical Alliance is necessarily opposed to the doctrine and authority of the Catholic Church; and Catholics, while sympathizing with the desire for union among Christians, realize that the unity by which we are made one in Christ is not to be won by such methods. The motto of the Alliance is Unum corpus sumus in Christo.