As the YMCA moves into its second century, friends of this originally remarkable movement are hopeful that it will re-examine its mission and message for the safeguarding of a high and historic calling. They have been fearful over the past generation that the Young Men’s Christian Association has deleted from its program Christianity as a Gospel of salvation for lost sinners; and that in place of genuine spirituality, it has developed interests apart from, and even competitive to, the purpose for which it began.

It was in 1844, in the heart of London’s mercantile district, that twelve men, leaders from the Anglican Church’s evangelical wing, and from the Wesleyan and other free churches, launched the Y into operation. It was a time of social unrest. The evangelical conscience was now aggressively directed toward prison reform, education, temperance, decency in literature and art, and other vexing social problems. Yet, underlying all the energy put forward had been the presupposition of a personal faith in the redeeming work of Christ and an enthusiasm for soul-winning. John Wesley had emphasized his belief that “The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness”; yet he had also left no doubt in mind that he was “saving sinning men, with no aim to transform them into crusaders against social sin.” It was the evangelical forces to which England came to owe its greatest debt in the struggle for social justice; the social vision remained the by-product of a desire to fulfill the objective of the Great Commission—personal soul-winning and evangelism.

Nine of the twelve founders of the mid-nineteenth century London Association had been members of free churches, the remainder being from the Church ...

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