parachurch organizations

   Protestantism has been carried forward through its primary structure, the denomination, whether established by the state or independently, which provides the context for the life of worship and service of the average Christian.
   in the 18th century, secondary religious organizations began to emerge to provide new services that extended the work of the denominations. At first, these parachurches called attention to new areas of concern that were not being met by the churches. Among the first such organizations, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), educated Christians in England about the needs of the British American colonies in North America and, as the empire grew, in other parts of the world. The Naval and Military Bible Society was the first organization devoted to publishing and distributing copies of the Bible as a means of evangelism.
   in the 19th century, the number of such organizations expanded rapidly. Leading the way were the missionary societies. For the loosely organized Baptists in England, the Baptist Missionary Society championed the cause of world missions in the face of a majority that opposed such ministry. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, though at heart a Congregationalist body, provided the means for other denominations to contribute to the missionary cause until their own churches could organize mission boards. The parachurch idea was especially attractive to congregationally organized denominations that wanted to avoid the trappings of more centrally controlled groups led by bishops or elders.
   Many parachurch organizations of the early 19th century were used to organize support across denominational lines for various moral crusades - the destruction of slavery, Sabbath observance, SUNday schools, temperance, women's rights, peace, and so forth. Some of these organizations were exclusively Christian, such as the New England Tract Society and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, while others such as the Society for the Promotion of Temperance and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society included many nonChristians in their membership.
   By the end of the 19th century, the largest number of parachurch organizations were providing services for churches within the congregationally organized denominations - the Plymouth Brethren, the Churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, various Baptist denominations, and the independent Holiness churches. They were soon joined by a host of organizations serving Pentecostalism and the Fundamentalist movement. Parachurch organizations included publishing concerns, healing homes, schools, orphanages, and a variety of evangelistic and missionary agencies. organizations such as the Standard Publishing Company, the Oriental Missionary Society, Asbury College, and Gideons International became large, permanent parts of the Protestant community.
   The most visible parachruch organizations were the nondenominational missionary groups that added so much to the spectacular growth of Protestantism from the mid-19th century to World War ii. often inaccurately referred to as faith missions, because of the faith policies articulated by the China Inland Mission, these groups were able to mobilize Christians from denominations that lacked their own missionary programs, and target geographical areas that denominational programs had not yet reached.
   The number of parachurch organizations has continued to grow in the West. in some cases, they have developed new types of ministry, such as Youth for Christ, the institute for Church Growth, and the International Society for Frontier Missiology.
   increasingly, parachurch organizations have also been founded to spur reforms in the denominations themselves. Within almost all the larger denominations there now exist a spectrum of organizations designed to push the denomination in one direction or another. Conservative organizations such as the Good News Movement in United Methodism or the Biblical Witness Fellowship in the United Church of Christ attempt to call their churches back to traditional standards from which they are seen to have drifted. At the same time, a variety of organizations promoting gay rights and abortion rights have attempted to move denominations to adopt what they see as prophetic positions. There are also interdenominational parachurch organizations such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Traditional Values Coalition that aim to pressure more than one denomination to adopt their perspectives.
   Professional and scholarly associations have constituted another major parachurch sector since the late 19th century. The former provide fellowship, support, and opportunities for action for Christians in almost every imaginable occupation, including physicians, lawyers, athletes, and others. The scholarly associations have provided Christian scholars with similar resources, especially in the face of the secularization of the American Academy of Religion, which has moved away from theology and biblical studies to religious studies as its major focus. The American scientific Affiliation and the Evangelical Theological Society are the most well known of the Christian scholarly parachurch organizations.
   Parachurch organizations have sometimes been criticized for competing with denominational ministries for sparse church funds, for spending too large a percentage of their finances on overhead, for masking theological divergences from the giving public, and occasionally for providing a haven for fraud.
   Further reading:
   ■ H. Wayne House, Christian Ministries and the Law: What Church and Parachurch Leaders Should Know (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1992)
   ■ K. Wilmer Wesley and J. David Schmidt, with Martyn Smith, The Prosperous Para-church: Enlarging the Boundaries of God's Kingdom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998)
   ■ Jerry W. White, The Church & the Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1983).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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