“In This Generation”: The Student Volunteer Movement

Image Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was the leading evangelist of his day and it through his influence that grew one of the largest missionary efforts of the era, the Student Volunteer Movement founded in 1886. Under the leadership of John R. Mott (1865-1955), It sought to recruit college and university students in the United States for missionary service. There were similar movements in other nations bringing college graduates into the missionary ranks in numbers never before. Thousands signed the pledge  to become a missionary “if God permit,” which one did only in a minority of cases. It can be presumed that most of those who did not go helped to strengthen the support base. By 1920, some 8,140 college graduates had joined the movement set sail to bring the gospel to foreign nations. More than 2,500 had gone to China, while 1,500 went to India and 900 went to Africa. By 1945, it had recruited 20,500 missionaries.

The Student Volunteer Movement’s motto was “the evangelization of the world in this generation.”  The nineteenth century was indeed the age of heroic missions which produced some great heroes of the faith. Yet churches were only sending a small number of missionaries. But in July 1886, all that changed. Dwight Moody held a small student conference at Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts. 251 college students arrived from all over the country. Moody presided over the conference and students heard pastors and seminary professors preach and teach. Yet early in the four-week conference, something that was unexpected happened. The students began to express interest in missions. One of those students, Robert Wilder, called a meeting of all those who had expressed interest in the topic, and 21 of them showed up.

They invited the well-known missions expert Arthur Pierson to come speak. Two weeks later, Pierson gave a speech called “Christ Means That All Shall Go Up and Shall Go to All.” The students then chose ten students to speak at a missions meeting on behalf of ten nations. Seven of those students were foreign and three were American. Each of them concluded their brief speech with a Macedonian call and the words “God is love” in their native languages. The result was nothing less than electrifying. Wilder recalled that he had never seen anything like it before. By the end of the conference, 100 students had pledged themselves to become foreign missionaries.

Being sponsored by the YMCA, Wilder then spent the next year touring college campuses telling the story of the “Mt. Hermon 100” and urged students to pledge themselves to become missionaries. Two thousand took the pledge. In 1888, the leaders of the YMCA formed the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (known as the SVM). SVM clubs formed on college, university, and seminary campuses across the country. It soon became one of the most successful missionary-recruiting organizations of all time. Prior to the SVM, U.S. Protestants supported less than a thousand global missionaries. Between 1886 and 1920, the SVM recruited 8,742 missionaries in America. Around twice that number were actually sent out. Many of them influenced by the SVM though never members. They also formed college groups around the world in countries where missionaries had established missions colleges. They thought in military terms. They saw missionaries as soldiers in the army of the Lord. The SVM therefore sought to recruit, support and place these missionaries strategically around the globe. If done correctly, they were confident they’d conquer the world for Christ.

The culmination of this was the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. 1,200 missionaries and church leaders gathered to come up with an unified strategy for global evangelization. The SVM helped create this optimism and cooperation that characterized this conference. They played a key role in preparing the conference and John Mott chaired its plenary meetings. It was agreed that greater cooperation across denominational lines was required for the future advance of the gospel. Preparations were then made to bring about the evangelization of the world within a generation.

The peak of the movement was reached at the Des Moines convention in 1920, with 6900 delegates from 950 colleges. The following year 637 set sail. But the thrust of the movement was changing.

So what happened to the SVM? Following World War I, it found itself in a whole new world. Its characteristic optimism was no longer in vogue. The 1920s saw the rise of cynicism and secularism. Protestantism was being torn apart by the divisions between liberals and conservatives who fought for control of the churches. Plus those in leadership in the movement, who now had a few decades of experience under their belts, felt that the original goal of “the evangelization of the world within this generation” was not a realistic goal. And social issues were attracting more attention than evangelism. By 1934, only 38 SVMers sailed and fewer than 500 delegates attended the 1940 convention. The SVM did lack a sophisticated missiology and was too overly dependent on the optimism and idealism of a now passing era.

But it was a tremendously amazing movement of the Holy Spirit that invigorated the American church for global missions in ways never seen before. And the missionary church among college students was now being passed to a new generation of para-church organizations including YWAM, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Youth for Christ. And the thousands of missionaries around the globe today are the heirs of the Mount Hermon One Hundred all those decades ago.



Birth of Christendom: Coronation of Charlemagne (800)

By the dawn of the ninth century, the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25 was a well-established practice. And so was the odd mixture of Christian content and pagan festivity that so characterizes Christmas celebrations. But something also happened on Christmas day in the year 800 that greatly changed the face of Europe and the course of history in the West.  The turning point happened in Rome at St. Peter’s church. At the end of the day’s main service, Charles, king of the Franks (modern France and much of Germany) rose from praying before the tomb of the apostle. As he did, Pope Leo III walked forward, and in the words of an eyewitness, “the venerable holy pontiff with his own hands crowned Charles with a most precious crown.” Then all the people apparently arose as one and having been told what to say, shouted three times: “Carolo Augusto a Deo coronato, magno et pacifico imperatori, vita et victoria” or in English: “To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, great and peace-giving emperor of the Romans, life and victory.”

Now what happened was not on the same level as the Nicene Council or the founding of the monasteries. If these events had not occurred, the same results would have most likely marked the progress of Christianity during the Middle Ages. But what happened was a dramatic symbol of relationships undergoing permanent change. It also anticipated the future and outlined the shape of Christianity for the next seven or eight centuries.

There was the rise of papal power. Now the coronation of Charlemagne did not represent the height of papal power. But rather a strategic alliance between the papacy’s expanding influence and a political house that was also expanding in influence.

There was also the rise of Northern Europe which had the expansion of Islam to thank for its rise in power and influence. Due to the expansion of Islam in the East, there was a geographic refocusing and a papal willingness to give up the ideals of a Mediterranean Roman Empire for one centered in the North. When the crowds addressed Charles as Augustus, they were evoking the past majesty of Rome. The papacy realized that the connection between Rome and Constantinople was now bankrupt. You therefore had the transition of Western Christianity from a Mediterranean eastern-oriented faith to an strictly European northward-looking faith.

Charlemagne’s grandfather was the famous Charles Martel who led the Franks to victory at Poitiers in 732 and halted the western expansion of Islam. It is no exaggeration to state that Charles Martel and his successors came to be seen as the saviors of Europe. Charles Martel initiated friendly relations with the papacy and his son and grandson succeeded to this alliance between them and Rome. When Pope Leo III crowned Charles emperor, he was only solidifying a connection that had been developing for more than fifty years. The papacy had turned to the north where a new imperial household was emerging. The link with Rome was now secure. For the next eight centuries and more, the politics, learning, social organization, art, law and economics of Europe would be “Christian,” not in the sense of fully incorporating the gospel, but because the fate of the church in the West was so decisively linked with the imperial household across the Alps.

Charlemagne and those who succeeded him bequeathed Christendom to Europe and Christendom would endure as the shape of Christianity in the West. It affected the practice of the Christian faith in every way. Today we regard the sacred and secular spheres separate. But Christendom harmonized those two spheres of life. This ideal was symbolized by the integrated view of life in which everything from politics to religious life was based on the Christian life as communicated by the Church and protected by the actions of secular rulers.

But Christendom did not function with the harmony and efficiency that the ideal suggested. But for all of its failures, Christendom remained a powerful ideal. At the heart of it was the all-encompassing presence of divine grace in every aspect of life. And in practice of this ideal was the cooperation between church and state.

After many centuries, Christendom would be fatally wounded by the Renaissance, Protestantism, the modern nation-state, atheism, and the spread of of the Christian faith beyond Europe. But as a symbol for the inauguration of a new, long-lasting and far-reaching era of Christianity, it is tough to beat the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800.


The Reformed Pastor: Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

NPG D681,Richard Baxter,by; after Jonathan Spilsbury; John Riley

Richard Baxter represents Puritanism at its very best. He was born at Rowton, Shropshire on November 12, 1615, he lived through one of the stormiest and most creative periods in English history. Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian and controversialist.   He made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster and at that same time started a long and prolific career as theological writer. Baxter served as a chaplain in the Parliamentary Army during the English Civil War. He was very distrustful of King Charles I but had little love for Oliver Cromwell (who avoided him). Baxter lived through the Commonwealth and played a leading part in the recall of Charles II.

After the Restoration, of which he took a major role, he returned to his parish at Kidderminster. He actually declined an invitation to become bishop of Hereford, due to the fact that he could not in good conscience accept the requirement that episcopal ordination was essential for the Christian ministry. Nor could he state that the Book of Common Prayer was perfect and beyond criticism and that he would not seek its revision. So, along with 1,800 others, he with much sadness became a nonconformist, and suffered much persecution, distraint and imprisonment. But he became one of the most influential of the nonconformist camp.

Baxter was a learned man with a wide-ranging curiosity and an eager interest in all that was happening around him-politics, science and literature. Yet above all he was a zealous pastor and preacher. His zealousness stemmed from his belief that his precarious health presaged an early death. His parish ministry at Kidderminster was one of the most noteworthy in church history. The most bitter fruit of his nonconformity was that he was forbidden to preach. Baxter believed in a moderate episcopacy and an ordered liturgy and he tried to take the middle path between the two camps. This resulted in him taking fire from both sides. His eagerness would often overcome his tact and even when he made attempts to promote reconciliation his olive branches were apt to be fired from a catapult, as a contemporary of his commented. Baxter played a great part in the political, theological, and religious life of England, and the influence of his writings was powerful for generations after his death in 1691.

Richard Baxter wrote 168 separate works including his Autobiography. The most famous and influential was The Reformed Pastor written in 1655, at the age of 41. By the term ‘reformed’ he did not mean Protestant. Rather he meant recalled to faithful service. “If God would but reform the ministry, ‘ he wrote, ‘and set them on their duties zealously and faithfully, the people would certainly be reformed. All churches either rose or fall as the ministry doth rise or fall (not in riches or worldly grandeur) but in knowledge, zeal, and ability for their work.” This is indeed the theme of this work. And that the ministry was in sad need of reform during the seventeenth century is borne out by much evidence.

It has been said that Baxter was not just an upholder of lofty ideals but also offered helpful practical advice from an experienced minister in the conduct of congregational life. This little book has searched the hearts of Christian pastors and rekindled the flame of service for over three hundred and fifty years. One editor has written, “Behind his criticism and advice lies the experience and authority of his remarkable ministry at Kidderminster. He reproaches some of his brother ministers with being dull and drowsy preachers. At least there is no drowsiness here. The book blazes with white hot zeal, evangelistic passion, and eagerness to convince his readers. And he still has much to say to us.” Here are some quotes from the work:

To the lay reader: “Entertain not any unworthy thoughts of your pastors, because we here confess our own sins. You know it is men and not angels that are put by God in the office of church guides; and you know that we are imperfect men.”

“Though we teach our people, as officers over them in the Lord, yet we may teach one another, as brethren in office, as well as in faith…We have the same sins to kill and the same graces to be quickened and corroborated, as our people have.”

“See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach…Take heed to yourselves lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing.”

All the flock, even each individual member of our charge, must be taken heed of and watched over by us in our ministry. To which end it is necessary that we should know every person that belongs to our charge. For how can we take heed to them if we do not know them?”

“Maintain your innocency, and walk without offense. Let your lives condemn sin, and persuade men to duty. Would you have your people be more careful of their souls, then you will be of yours?”

On September 24, 1662, he married Margaret Charlton, a like-minded woman. She died in 1681. Baxter wrote the the words for the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright in that same year.

Richard Baxter died on December 8, 1691 in London at the age of 76. His funeral was attended by churchmen as well as Dissenters. He is commemorated on December 8.