ARTHUR F. GLASSERArthur F. Glasser is home director for the United States and Canada of the China Inland Mission—Overseas Missionary Fellowship (founded in 1865 by J. Hudson Taylor). He has the C.E. degree from Cornell, B.D. from Faith Theological Seminary, and honorary D.D. from Covenant College and Seminary. Dr. Glasser is co-author with Eric S. Fife of “Missions in Crisis.”

Approximately one-fifth of all Protestant North American overseas missionaries are related to agencies within the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association. The IFMA, organized in 1917 as a “fellowship of missions without denominational affiliation,” presently comprises forty-six missions (popularly termed “faith missions”) united in theological commitment and missionary outlook. Its doctrinal platform is almost identical with that of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, although implicit in the IFMA’s “common adherence to the historic Christian faith” is a deep suspicion of Arminianism and, on the part of some, a fear of the Pentecostal “tongues” movement.

One of the friends of IFMA missions has written: “The star of faith missions has shone brightly for a quarter-century of unprecedented advance with nothing to suggest that it will not continue to do so and with every indication that while there may be a slowing down of its growth, it will continue to move forward impressively in the decades ahead” (Harold Lindsell, “Faith Missions Since 1938,” in Frontiers of the Christian World Mission, New York: Harper & Row, 1962, p. 230). “Move forward impressively.” This optimistic prediction is not universally shared within the IFMA. In fact, there are those deeply concerned over the future. Winds of change are blowing with gale force. Unless strong measures are taken today, there may be shipwrecks tomorrow.

The IFMA’s current problem is deeper and more fundamental than a matter of personnel. And it is not a matter of theology. There is little danger that the now prevalent spirit of theological relativism will penetrate IFMA ranks. All within IFMA are deeply persuaded of the truth and essentiality of Jesus Christ and the basic tenets of historic biblical Christianity. There is clarity in their understanding of revealed truth as well as awe over the mystery of God manifest in the flesh. Many IFMA missions are fifty to seventy years old; some are in their second century. They emerged and prospered in a time characterized by worldwide theological compromise; yet they preserve their theological integrity. They glory in their unshaken adherence to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And there is every expectation that, with God’s grace and help, this tenacious loyalty will continue.

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The Multiplying Ministries

Do some fear that IFMA missions will not be able to cope with the varied challenges and heavy demands of the future? Again, the problem is more than one of dedication and strategy. Through the years IFMA missionaries have shown that they know how to spend and be spent, to suffer and be killed, and to face difficult tasks creatively and with vision. IFMA missions either initiated or greatly developed such significant ministries as aviation, Bible correspondence courses, recruiting the laity for mission, evangelism-in-depth, pioneering among primitive tribes, language reduction and Bible translation, radio and television outreach, magazine evangelism and other types of literature work. In tribute to Gospel Recordings for sending more than 2½ million records into 150 countries in more than 2,000 languages, Dr. Lindsell commented: “Once again faith missions have indicated their genius for the use of new methods and their willingness to venture upon untried pathways because of their urgent desire to get the message of the Gospel to those who have never heard it” (ibid., p. 216). In a recent letter an IFMA missionary working in one of Indonesia’s great cities said of Paul Loeffler’s study document, Laymen in World Mission (International Review of Missions, July, 1964, pp. 297 f.): “This article describes very well our ‘cell group’ program … only there, it is yet theory, whereas here we are already well underway.” There is little doubt that the contribution of IFMA missionaries to the evangelization of this generation is significant.

Again, do some fear that IFMA missionaries use a methodology largely irrelevant to the world situation and that they are impervious to the advice of missionary statesmen? True, some missiologists feel that the IFMA does not get excited enough about social revolution, Communist infiltration, resurgence of ethnic religions, the virtually absolute claims nationalistic states have on the allegiance of Christians, and the racial issue. Critics sometimes fall prey to the temptation to caricature IFMA missionaries as obscurantists, pietists, and out-of-this-world pilgrims because of their obstinate refusal to be diverted from their most strategic service, the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Actually, however, current IFMA leadership is surprisingly well informed about all aspects of current missionary debate. Even a recent issue of the WCC’s prestigious International Review of Missions spontaneously confirms this: “The cleavage between liberals and conservatives today has little to do with their broad historical orientation to the revolutionary world.… Liberals have no monopoly of ecumenical concern.… The area of agreement in basic missionary principles between conservative evangelicals and ecumenically minded groups appears to be significantly greater now than in the past …” (October, 1964, pp. 484, 485). One has but to recall the December, 1964, Inter-Varsity missionary convention at Urbana, Illinois, to realize the wide representation of IFMA leaders in plenary sessions and workshops. These leaders ranged widely in their references to the most technical missionary literature. Their societies appear to be accepting the best insights of the day on how to perform the missionary task most effectively.

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And yet, there is a deep concern about the future. This concern touches the whole tangle of relations between IFMA member missions and their constituencies—the individuals or groups in North America that support them by prayer and gifts and from whose ranks new recruits are enlisted. These supporters come from three main sources: independent churches, Bible schools and colleges, and independent-minded evangelical churches within old-line denominations. In our day all three of these sources are caught up in the profound changes taking place in the American religious scene. A few decades ago all was quiet and orderly. The IFMA missionary in his missionary trench overseas drew comfort from the sure loyalty of his friends at home. He also could predict with reasonable certainty the activities of those who were not his friends.

Today all is different. Demonic forces are at work producing a casual disregard for the past. And God has been working his strange work of renewal and withdrawal in response to faith or the lack of it—all this in most unexpected places. The resulting situation is both complex and fluid. It has produced a tension between the old tried pattern of the past, and new creative approaches to the challenge of the present. Some evangelicals on the home front are reacting so strongly that they are in danger of losing all biblical perspective. Others feel threatened by anything new and are “relegating an increasing number of ideas and viewpoints to a growing category of unthinkable thoughts,” to use Senator Fulbright’s phrase. They are transforming their concern into criticism of the missions and missionaries they formerly endorsed, whenever these appear to have changed in the smallest detail. All this touches the IFMA. Its missions and missionaries are struggling to define a strategy of response to this disintegration of their constituencies.

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Decline Of Independency?

Consider the independent church movement. It is in the process of reorganization. In a hunger for identity with all those whom God has chosen, pastors and congregations that were formerly independent are swelling the ranks of such evangelical denominations as the Conservative Baptist Association. Some of the most able leaders of independency today fear that their movement is in decline, despite a few bright spots such as Southern California. Never have key independent churches encountered greater difficulty in securing topflight men to fill their pulpits. All this poses the crucial question whether IFMA missions should regard this movement as central to their constituency or seek a wider constituency. Both positions are strongly held within the IFMA. Inevitably this tension influences overseas effectiveness. Those particularly sensitive to the opinion of convinced independents appear less free to make changes in their work abroad. Pressures bend them to an attitude uncritical of nineteenth-century paternalism and white supremacy and keep them clear of all involvement in such things as social revolution or cooperative evangelism.

Another source of tension within IFMA ranks arises from the Bible school movement. Here also one meets transition, as these institutions seek to discover their role in an age rapidly moving toward college education for all qualified students. Should they become Christian liberal arts colleges? Those that move into liberal arts seem unable to maintain a vital sense of missionary concern. There are notable exceptions (for example, Philadelphia College of Bible and its creative approach to training young people for working in the inner city, at home or overseas). But the general drift means fewer recruits for IFMA missions. In reaction some faith missions are already taking a fresh look at the possibility of recruiting missionaries from theological seminaries. But they are discovering that today’s theological students, in their ecclesiastical sophistication, are less than impressed with the missionary society that does not follow a truly interdenominational pattern overseas.

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All this poses the critical question of where IFMA missions are to go for their recruits. Where can the best men be found? At the Bible schools that have moved the least? Or at the seminaries? All agree that the future of the work overseas depends on the quality of personnel recruited today. Tensions result from the school or seminary loyalties of candidate secretaries and their assessment of the type of workers needed. One wonders whether the magnitude of this problem is fully grasped by the leadership of evangelical training schools in America today.

The third tension arises from the situation in denominational churches. Today there is a decline in the spirit of independency that used to characterize evangelical churches within old-line denominations. All faith missions have received valuable financial support from these churches in the past, and they naturally desire to maintain these contacts. And yet how can they honestly do this—especially when some of the faith missions are hardening in their policy of hostility toward cooperative evangelism overseas? The paradox has even been observed of missions receiving support from denominational churches at home while refusing to cooperate with their evangelical denominational missionaries overseas.

This leads to the charge of doublemindedness. How can professed antipathy to the ecumenical movement be justified by those who accept gifts from churches and people within its framework? Even the most determined anti-WCC crusaders gladly receive money from all and sundry without inquiring into their doctrinal or ecclesiastical persuasions. But this does not prevent them from engaging in the most strident attacks against the IFMA mission that encourages its missionaries to minister the Word of God in the denominational church. All this is immeasurably tragic. And it cannot but increase tensions within IFMA ranks.

What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Frankly I believe that the pressures of these days are calling the large family of IFMA missionaries to a greater determination than ever before to look to God to guard their reputations, strengthen their ministries, and enable them with singleness of heart to pursue their missionary calling. With the Apostle Paul they need to learn to say to their critics: “With us it is a very small thing that we should be judged of you.… He that judgeth us is the Lord.”

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