International Missionary Council

   The International Missionary Council was a pioneer ecumenical Christian body, which fostered cooperation in missionary work between denominations for half of the 20th century.
   As the Protestant missionary enterprise expanded globally in the 19th century, the division into many different denominations caused many problems. Early missionaries tried to avoid competition on the mission field by agreeing to stay out of one another's territory, but as the work expanded, such agreements became woefully inadequate. Attempts were made to find a more comprehensive organizational and theological solution that would affirm the church as the one Body of Christ, and respond faithfully to the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.
   The groundwork was laid by leaders trained in the YMCA, YWCA, World Student Christian Federation, and Inter-Varsity Fellowship, organizations that focused on evangelism with an international perspective. Several small conferences prepared the way for the memorable international gathering at Edinburgh in 1910. The conference had 1,200 participants, and is usually cited as the beginning of the modern international Ecumenical movement. Methodist and YMCA executive John R. Mott chaired the meeting.
   The conference established a continuation committee, which inaugurated the quarterly journal, the International Review of Mission. The experiences of World War i convinced the committee that a more permanent structure was needed to facilitate dialogue and cooperative action, and in 1921 the international Missionary Council (iMC) was created.
   The new IMC agreed not to speak on matters of doctrine or polity, and to focus instead on uniting Christians in a search for justice in international and interracial relationships. This later goal spoke directly to European and North American domination of the missionary enterprise, and to missionary compromises with colonial powers and racist attitudes, which had brought discredit to the church. one early study commissioned by the IMC and written by J. H. Oldham (1874-1969) was published in 1924 as Christianity and the Race Problem.
   The first IMC conference was held in 1928 in Jerusalem; it focused on the relation of Christianity to competing worldviews, both religious and secular. It was followed 10 years later with a conference in Madras that affirmed the close relationship between world peace and world evangelism. World War II devastated the missionary enterprise, but it also made Christian leaders aware of the inherent strength of the Asian and African churches. At its next gathering (Dec. 1957-Jan. 1958), the IMC voted to merge into the World Council of Churches. The IMC continued as the Division on World Mission and Evangelism (DWME) of the WCC.
   The IMC/WCC merger highlighted a profound transformation in missionary activity. Protestant churches around the world now thought of themselves as partners in one mission.
   The DWME has held discussions with Eastern orthodox churches and Roman Catholic observers about past Protestant evangelizing in both communities, as if they were not Christians, and about religious freedom.
   Further reading:
   ■ W R. Hogg, Ecumenical Foundations: A History of the International Missionary Council (New York: Harper, 1952)
   ■ Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1989)
   ■ Ruth Rouse and Stephen Neill, eds. A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517-1948 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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