Feature

Catch the Vision!

Renewing the Call to a Deeper Life

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Although I grew up in The Christian and Missionary Alliance, I have recently embraced with fresh understanding the vision of Dr. A. B. Simpson as I have immersed myself in his life and writings and the history of The Alliance.

A key Scripture that characterized the ministry of Simpson and the early Alliance was:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. . . . To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Cor. 9:20, 22).

Simpson envisioned bringing together a team of workers to gather a harvest of souls. It was to be an “alliance” of people from all denominations united around the common desire to share the Fourfold Gospel of Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. According to A. W. Tozer, Simpson “wanted the Alliance to be a spiritual association of believers who hungered to know the fullness of blessing of the Gospel of Christ, working concertedly for the speedy evangelization of the world” (_Wingspread,_ p. 103). Simpson recognized that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). His vision can be summed up as establishing a team (an alliance) of workers for the harvest to reach the unreached and unchurched by every possible means with the Fourfold Gospel.

AN INTERDENOMINATIONAL DENOMINATION

The Alliance was to be an association to promote healing, sanctification and the Second Coming of Christ. Recognizing the power of corporate prayer, Simpson envisioned a “prayer alliance.” While we have developed organizationally into a denomination, we endeavor to be a living movement and to retain our original spirit by being open to people from all denominations, as well as those with no denominational background. I like to tell people we are an “inter-denominational denomination.”

Simpson’s Alliance comprised Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Holiness church members and others. We continue to welcome people from all backgrounds. We have a sense that all are integral parts of a team, each fulfilling a role in the Body of Christ for the sake of furthering the Kingdom of God.

We are an “inclusive” movement that does not impose many doctrines, just the basic tenets of evangelical faith and our own emphases on healing, missions, the Second Coming and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. For example, the C&MA does not take an official doctrinal position on Calvinist/Arminian issues such as eternal security. We believe in the imminent, premillennial Second Coming of Christ but do not specify one’s belief on the rapture. We accept both charismatic and noncharismatic styles.

REACHING THE UNCHURCHED AND UNREACHED

It was never Simpson’s intent merely to maintain an Alliance church, but to reach the lost, the unreached and the unchurched with the Fourfold Gospel. Simpson was burdened to connect with those who “felt themselves alienated from the formal church, but not from the Lord” (_All for Jesus,_ p. 11). Today, an Alliance church should be a place where people who have been burned by past church experiences can feel welcome and be ministered to.

Simpson intended that Alliance churches be open to all types of people. He declared, “I left my church to form a church for the people of all classes based on absolute freedom” (_All for Jesus,_ p. 51). Rather than try to bring people to church, Simpson sought ways to bring the church to the people. His tabernacle concept, rooted not in tradi-tional church programs but rather in Scripture, emphasized mobility—moving with God, not remaining static or stationary, but being adaptable, flexible and adjustable to changing times and needs of people. I believe that if Simpson were here today, he would be on the forefront of finding seeker-sensitive ways to welcome the unchurched.

BY EVERY POSSIBLE MEANS

Simpson’s ministry demonstrates a living example of the apostle Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all men so that I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Simpson wrote that he felt “hindered by conventional religious methods.” Called a “dynamic innovator,” he was totally orthodox and evangelical in his theology but often nontraditional and unconventional in his methods.

Simpson welcomed African-Americans in his meetings less than a decade after the Civil War and launched a Christian restaurant ministry (forerunner of the 1960s coffeehouse ministry). He held services in theatres and dance halls and was criticized by some for using the lively rhythms and tunes of the day’s popular music. He engaged in street preaching and ministry to prostitutes and started Sunday evening evangelistic services (forerunner of 1990s Saturday night seeker services). Simpson was shunned, on one hand, for permitting the Pentecostal movement in Alliance churches and, on the other hand, by some Pentecostals for not requiring tongues as the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Not all of Simpson’s innovations were successful or accepted, but he was open to change and kept searching for ways to minister to the unchurched and unreached. Believing that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Simpson declared, “The present generation must reach the present generation.” Just as Simpson and The Alliance became contemporary and relevant to the culture, so can we. We need to be mobile, flexible, willing to change, experiment, reach out beyond ourselves and broaden our horizon. As Simpson challenged, “We need a larger vision.”

FOREVER THE SAME

We need to find out what will reach various groups of people and plan ministry accordingly. This means that we may use contemporary worship styles that will appeal to the unchurched without abandoning the timeless and best of our rich tradition. We can create interest and desire in seekers’ hearts through friendliness and warmth. We must build relationships by providing nonthreatening opportunities for social interaction, through fellowship with other Christians in a casual, comfortable atmosphere and by showing that we care for and accept hurting people. We can seek to be a center of restoration, healing, spiritual growth and deeper Christian life.

At the same time we can remain rooted in historic Christian faith and Alliance distinctives. We have an eternal message in the Fourfold Gospel that is just as relevant and needed today as it was 100 years ago. The centrality of knowing Jesus Christ as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King is vital. We still need to experience the salvation of abiding in Christ. People need the touch of Jesus as Healer of their broken bodies, souls, minds and hearts. The message of the sanctifying power of the Christ-life through the Holy Spirit to live a victorious life over sin, Satan and temptation is needed more than ever in our self-centered cul-ture. We need a fresh vision of Jesus as our Coming King to stir us on to reach the world for Christ.

Tozer recorded the objective of the C&MA as proclaimed by Simpson: “It is to hold up Jesus in His fullness, ‘the same yesterday, and today, and forever!’ It is to lead God’s hungry children to know their full inheritance of blessing for spirit, soul, and body. It is to encourage and incite the people of God to do the neglected work of our age and time among the unchurched classes at home and the perishing heathen abroad” (_Wingspread,_ p. 103). Let us catch and run with Simpson’s vision afresh as an Alliance of intercessors and workers for the harvest, reaching the unreached and unchurched with the Fourfold Gospel!

Reaching the Present Generation

Today we can maintain Simpson’s vision by seeking new, creative ways of communicating the gospel. We must begin reaching out to the unchurched. There are four major unreached peoples in the current American culture:

  • Disinterested unbelievers—people who don’t know they need Jesus and don’t care.
  • Seeking unbelievers—those who know they need something spiri-tual but may not know what.
  • Disenfranchised, but seeking, believers—Christians who have been wounded and are church hopping or have dropped out of church.
  • Nominal Christians—those who claim to be Christian but have no personal relationship with Jesus. Pray about how you might reach them for Christ.

Past Alliance Life Issues

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