The Evangelical Alliance is 170 years old and has been through world wars, major historical events and significant changes in culture and society.
The Alliance has a rich history of uniting and representing evangelical Christians across in the UK.
In 1843 an entirely speculative conference was planned by a keen group of Christians who wanted to know if fellow Christians were receiving the same promptings to work for unity that they were. They booked a large hall in London in faith, placed an advert in the newspaper and invited their friends; they received 11,000 requests for tickets. This incredible response gave the organisers the encouragement they needed, and plans began to establish a formal Evangelical Alliance.
This new call to unity had inherited and developed the pan-evangelical spirit of the Wesley/Whitefield revival of the 1730s, and there were many other influences on this early group, including opposition to Tractarianism in the Church of England, and the Scottish Disruption.
In 1845,a preparatory conference to the Evangelical Alliance was held in Liverpool. The keynote theme was announced as ‘love’, with the speakers being keen to promote the radical idea of unifying evangelicals from the established Church and non-conformists. They then organised themselves into regional committees that met regularly to make plans for the “proposed Evangelical Alliance”.
1846 – the Evangelical Alliance is founded
The inaugural conference of the Alliance was held in London from 19 August to 1 September 1846. Some 84 per cent of delegates were from Britain, eight per cent from the USA, and seven per cent from Europe and the rest of the world. The motto of the Evangelical Alliance when it was founded in 1846 was: “We are one body in Christ”, and unity was the key principle. A comprehensive international structure was envisaged for the new body, but was abandoned after a dispute on slave holding between the British and American delegations – with the British delegates insisting that anyone owning slaves wouldn’t be admitted into membership of the Alliance. Instead, a loose network of autonomous national and regional Alliances was put in place. There were 3,000 founder members, and 6,000 people were in membership by 1859.
Once the Alliance was established, its leaders had to decide what the organisation would actually do. They had already agreed their purpose was ‘common action’, but what did that mean?
Mostly this meant working on issues relating to religious liberties, and this was done by working with politicians, particularly those in the Foreign Office, to petition governments around the world on freedom of worship and witness. Throughout the 1850s, 60s and 70s, the Alliance participated successfully in a number of high profile campaigns in Turkey, Russia, Italy and Spain. One example from 1863 involved Earl Russell, the foreign secretary, instructing the British ambassador to Persia to appeal on behalf of Nestorian Christians who were being persecuted by local Muslims. As a result, the Shah of Persia donated money to have destroyed churches rebuilt and the local Muslim leader was sacked.
Alliance representatives also worked by embarking on personal visits to heads of state and experienced many exciting journeys across Europe. One example from 1879 involved a deputation travelling from London to Vienna to present an appeal, on behalf of persecuted Christians in Bohemia, to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. They arrived in Vienna only to find that he was at his Hungarian palace. So they got back into their horse-drawn carriages and travelled on for a few more days to Budapest. They eventually managed to secure agreement that meeting for worship and Bible study in Bohemia would be permitted. Other journeys included meeting the King of Prussia in Cologne in 1855 and the Queen of Spain in Madrid in 1863.
Today the Alliance has a Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), which unites with three key Christian organisations working in the field of the persecuted Church. Together we speak with one voice, call the UK Church to prayer, and continue the international religious liberty work of the Alliance’s founders.
The Alliance magazine, Evangelical Christendom, was launched in 1847. It was a monthly publication and for 100 years painted a unique picture of life for evangelical Christians through its ‘intelligence’ reports from contacts around the world. It ran until 1954, when it was succeeded by a much smaller newsletter for members, the Evangelical Broadsheet. This in turn gave way to the current Alliance magazine, idea, and gradually Christian issues once again started to be covered in more depth as the publication grew from a typed newsletter into a colourful 40-page magazine.
Evangelism was also a key priority for the Alliance from its beginnings. In the 1850s, interdenominational evangelistic meetings sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance were held on Sunday evenings in central London. Many outreach events in support of the 1859 Ulster revival were also organised. When D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist, visited the UK in 1873-5 along with gospel singer Ira Sankey, the Alliance were active vocal supporters of their meetings.
Alliance representatives gave help to leaders of the Welsh revival of 1904-5, and mounted a major mission campaign in conjunction with the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. It was however in the 1940s, under the leadership of Roy Cattell, that the Alliance made evangelism its main priority. Hugely successful meetings led by the evangelist Tom Rees at the Royal Albert Hall in 1945 were backed by the Alliance.
It was the crusades by Billy Graham however that were the Alliance’s biggest evangelistic effort; the 1954 Haringay meetings were sponsored by the Alliance and many thousands made commitments to follow Christ for the first time. The Alliance also supported further visits from Billy Graham in the 1960s and 1980s, but the emphasis among the Evangelical Alliance leadership was changing, moving away from mass events to supporting local churches in their outreach efforts. To this end the Alliance supported the Nationwide Initiative on Evangelism in the 1970s and then recruited Clive Calver, the dynamic leader of Youth for Christ, in 1983, who led the Alliance through a period of amazing and rapid growth.
Aware of the importance of prayer, it was agreed at the 1846 conference that the Alliance should organise a Week of Prayer each year to take place in the first week of January. This idea grew in support and by 1860 the Universal Week of Prayer was established, with themed prayer booklets being sent out to contacts around the world. This continued for over 100 years, until the newly formed European Evangelical Alliance took over organising it.
From its earliest days, the Alliance had good relations with Christians and church leaders across Europe and featured monthly reports in Evangelical Christendom from their European friends. Later, however, relations were seriously damaged by differences over the Boer War and First World War.
During the First World War, the Alliance established itself as key national prayer leader and organised many large prayer meetings including a conference for church leaders, entitled The Nation and War: a day of confession, intercession and prayer, held in November 1914. This inspired leaders including the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to call for a national day of ‘Humble Prayer and Intercession’ to take place on the first Sunday of 1915. The King gave his support to the day.
The Russian revolution was seen as a great threat by European Alliances, who joined forces to support Orthodox and other Christians in the Soviet Union. Having become general secretary of the British Organisation at the age of 30 in 1904, H. Martyn Gooch took on an ‘ambassadorial role’ in the 1920s and 1930s in support of European evangelicals, travelling extensively. During the Second World War the Alliance was once again at the forefront of national prayer, organising a number of large rallies.
A thanksgiving service took place at the Royal Albert Hall in 1946 to celebrate the first 100 years of the Evangelical Alliance and a book Goodly Fellowship by J. W. Ewing was published as a record of the work of the Alliance since 1946.
TEARFUND is born
In 1960, some 40 million people worldwide were made refugees by war or disasters. Coverage of the suffering sparked a spontaneous outpouring of compassion among UK Christians, who sent money to the Evangelical Alliance. A fund, known at first as EAR, the Evangelical Alliance Relief fund was created to distribute the funds to evangelical agencies caring for the needs of refugees around the world, and money kept coming in to this fund throughout the decade.
In 1967 former curate George Hoffman was hired by the Alliance to develop the fund’s work. On 29 May 1968, George and members of the Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund Committee met for the first time, determined to marry Christian compassion with practical action. Together they quickly established a vision for the new organisation, to be called Tearfund (The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund).
Powerful images, striking design and provocative messaging characterised publicity materials and propelled Tearfund onto the Christian stage, urging a new, radical understanding of what it means to bring good news to the poor, caring for their physical as well as spiritual needs.
Tearfund’s fresh outlook proved attractive to one of the UK’s most high profile Christians, popstar Cliff Richard, who in 1969 performed two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, raising money for Tearfund and going on to become a long term supporter.
In 1973 Tearfund became an independent registered charity, with 80 per cent of its aid allocated to long term development projects, demonstrating Jesus’ love for the poor in tangible, sustainable and life-changing ways.
Challenges in the 1960s
The rise of the charismatic movement in the mid-late 1960s brought challenges for the Alliance, as some members struggled to understand the movement and were antagonistic towards it. General Secretary Gilbert Kirby worked hard to build understanding and good relations with the Pentecostal denominations, and some Pentecostal leaders became active on the Alliance’s Council.
Challenges also came from a disagreement over whether evangelicals should stay within mixed denominations or whether they should withdraw. A public disagreement between John Stott and Martin Lloyd-Jones at a conference organised by the Alliance in 1966 resulted in the Alliance losing some members and for a number of years the organisation was less active than it had been in the 1940s and 50s.
An advisory group to help the Alliance reflect on issues from a theological point of view was established in 1993. They embarked on a publishing programme, producing books on topics such as hell, homosexuality and the Orthodox Church, as well as a paper, What is an Evangelical? Although the name and constitution has changed, the Alliance still has a Theology Advisory Group (TAG) today.
The ethnic diversity of the UK Church
In April 1984, the West Indian Evangelical Alliance formed. Later known as African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance (ACEA), this was an independent charity that worked under a partnership agreement with the Evangelical Alliance to represent black majority churches in the UK, closing in 2009 after 25 years.
Following extensive consultation and relationship-building with key leaders, three years later the Alliance established the One People Commission (OPC). This is a body within the Alliance made up of key national church leaders committed to celebrating ethnicity, while promoting unity within the UK evangelical Church. Directed by Rev Yemi Adedeji, part of the role of the OPC is to ensure the Alliance is representative of the diversity of the UK Church.
One of the members of OPC is the South Asian Forum (SAF). SAF was formed in 2010 by the Evangelical Alliance to unite and support the 75,000 South Asian Christians, originally from the eight South Asian countries, who are now living in Britain. They produced the Discovering Jesus through Asian eyes course to equip UK churches to reach South Asians in their area.
Over the last 30 years, since the Alliance first started a home affairs department, staff have been very active in explaining evangelical views in the parliaments and assemblies of the UK nations, building good relationships, responding to consultations, and encouraging and helping Christians to get involved and influence politics for the good of all.
In 2006 the Alliance was active in helping defeat the government’s proposed legislation to criminalise incitement to religious hatred, as it would have stifled free speech. Later that same year the Alliance published the influential Faith and Nation report, which explored the role of faith and the evangelical contribution to national life. Between 2001 and 2008 the Alliance led negotiations with the government and Charity Commission to ensure that as a result of the Charities Act, and the subsequent Charity Commission official guidance, religious charities were not unfairly restricted by requirements to demonstrate they delivered public benefit.
To encourage Christians to be informed and then speak up, the Alliance has produced a wide range of resources, both printed and online, organised hustings for key elections and referendums and helped churches organise their own local hustings in the run up to elections.
Our advocacy team are experts on policy and they engage with politicians, civil servants and government agencies to ensure that an evangelical perspective is clearly presented on a range of issues.
21st Century Evangelicals research
In January 2011 the Alliance launched the first in a series of ground-breaking reports on the beliefs and habits of evangelicals in the UK. The aim of the research was to provide churches and Christian organisations with data that would help them better understand and work with the communities they serve. Throughout 2010 around 17,000 people completed questionnaires at Christian festivals for the initial survey, including questions on the environment, volunteering, miracles, prayer, giving, women in leadership and evolution. Since the publication of that report, 21st Century Evangelicals, in January 2011, multiple other surveys have been carried out on specific topics such as belief and society, communication, money, church life, the family, discipleship, evangelism, politics and poverty.
Evangelical Alliance and Bible Society research showed that Christians – including church leaders – were increasingly struggling to understand lesser-known Bible passages or read the Bible regularly. This kick-started the Biblefresh initiative, with 2011 becoming a year of celebrating the Bible. Starting work in early 2010, the Biblefresh campaign involved a large movement of 120 churches, agencies, colleges and festivals. Inspired by the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, hundreds of special events, services, publications, courses, articles and a website were produced to make the year a very busy one.
Home for Good
In 2011, the desperate shortage of foster carers and adoptive parents in the UK made headline news. Realising the potential of the Church to meet this need to find families that could care for vulnerable children, several Christian leaders who were also foster carers or adoptive parents committed to working together to raise the profile of fostering and adoption within the UK Church. At this stage, Home for Good was a campaign run in partnership between Care for the Family, CCPAS (Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service) and the Evangelical Alliance.
In March 2013 the initiative was Home for Goodlaunched with the aim of making fostering and adoption a significant part of the life and ministry of the Church in the UK. At the forefront of the initiative was the Home for Good book, written by Krish Kandiah, then director of mission and England at the Evangelical Alliance, along with his wife Miriam.
in September 2014, Home for Good became a charity in its own right with a vision to further inspire, encourage and equip the Church.
The Alliance across the UK
In 1987 the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland office opened in Belfast, followed in 1989 by the Evangelical Alliance Wales, established by Arfon Jones as an intentionally bilingual organisation with the aim of encouraging unity amongst evangelicals in Wales. Finally in 1992 Evangelical Alliance Scotland launched, aiming to provide “a framework for evangelicals throughout the country to unite in prayer, mission and active concern for our country.”
Today our teams across the nations are busy working on a wide range of unity and advocacy initiatives, and have public policy officers working in each of the national assemblies/parliaments.
In Wales, Gweini was established in October 1999 by the Alliance, Care and Cornerstone Church Swansea. This coalition, run under the umbrella of Evangelical Alliance Wales, comprises a range of Christian organisations who come together to represent the Christian voluntary sector to the Welsh government. They also resource and inform churches and individuals reaching out to their communities in social action projects. There are now a number of local Gweinis in many local authorities across Wales.
Ahead of the Scottish referendum in 2014, the Evangelical Alliance in Scotland produced a document What Kind of Nation? to provoke Christians in the nation to think and discuss what kind of nation we should be working for. Around 90 politicians and faith leaders from across Scotland gathered for the launch event at Holyrood, in which the Alliance also announced it would be hosting hustings in seven cities around Scotland, bringing together high-profile MSPs for debates ahead of the referendum in September. The response was overwhelming, with the team invited by both churches and politicians to discuss the future of the nation.
The team were then challenged to write a similar document, now focusing on what kind of Church we need. It was felt by some that while it is great to work and pray for a just and merciful nation, the question that should have come first was whether the Church in Britain is fit for purpose. So the What Kind of Church? report was released, with the team also launching a series of eight videos encouraging the Church to make a difference for today – to carry the culture of the kingdom of God for this generation. They then toured Scotland with events in May 2016 in Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In Northern Ireland the team are regularly in the media speaking on issues relating to religious liberty and abortion. In 2016 they partnered with Summer Madness and 24/7 Prayer Ireland to produce a special magazine as a response to the centenaries of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. The magazine 100: Our Story of Healing, Honour and Hope is a collection of interviews and articles reflecting on one hundred years since the events of 1916, and looking forward to a hope-filled story for the next one hundred years.