Mucking in regardless
Posted: 29 Dec 2009 @ 00:00
High Anglicans helped make ecumenical history in 1910, says William Jacob
The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910
Church Times Bookshop £27
THE Church Times warned against the Church of England’s participation in the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, fearing it would undermine the Church’s Catholicity. Anglo-Catholic fears of contamination by undenominational Protestantism nearly prevented the C of E’s involvement in a seminal event in the history of mission and ecumenism, which directly contributed to the re-Catholicising of numbers of Protestant Churches.
Brian Stanley, director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World in Edinburgh University, lucidly and expertly tells the story of this key moment in Christian missionary history, and the ecumenical movement, which eventually trans-formed relations between the Churches.
The 1910 World Missionary Conference was the product of a world startlingly different from ours, at the apex of Western Protestant missionary activity and Western imperialism. The 1215 delegates included only 18 Asians and one African, and very few women. Attitudes shown to non-white races were, at the least, patronising.
From the 1850s, representatives of Continental, American, and British Protestant and Evangelical missionary societies occasionally met to discuss matters of common interest. During the 1880s, the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), of which the British Student Christian Movement (SCM) was part, developed an interdenominational — as opposed to an undenominational — principle, encouraging practical co-operation between Christians of different denominations while respecting each other’s church order and theological convictions.
Some high-church Anglicans, including Charles Gore, E. S. Talbot, and W. H. Kelly (founder of the Society of the Sacred Mission) were influenced by SCM, and open to meeting members of other denominations to discuss the “science of mission”, provided no theological resolutions were passed.
Stanley tells the fascinating story of how Archbishop Randall Davidson, Gore, Talbot, Kelly, and W. H. Frere of the Community of the Resurrection were persuaded by the leaders of WSCF and SCM to take part in the Conference, drawing in the high-church missionary societies, to contribute their understanding of Catholic order to understanding mission, which in due course resulted in unions of Churches, pioneered by the Church of South India.
In many ways, the conference provided the model for subsequent great ecumenical conferences. Stanley describes the detailed diplomacy and planning, including the eight preparatory “commissions”, the style of debate, the involvement of students, and the complex negotiations, in which the Anglo-Catholic Frere was closely involved, for a continuation committee beyond the conference. These led to the International Missionary Council, and the great ecumenical conferences of the 1920s and ’30s, and, in due course, the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948.
The Ven. William Jacob is the Archdeacon of Charing Cross.
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