The unsurprising death of a missionary movement

Istock 000004177355XsmallI continue to be fascinated by the story of the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

I've just finished reading another account of its spectacular history – from its rise in the late 1800s as a student movement for world evangelization, to it’s demise as an instrument of Marxist ideology in the 1970s.

SCM is a case study in the dynamics of a missionary movement gone wrong.

In the early years members were committed to the “Morning Watch”. They rose early each day to meet with Christ in prayer and Bible study. They were also committed to “world evangelization in this generation”.

Thousands volunteered for world missions — more than the churches and missionary societies could cope with. SCM became known as “the church ahead of the church”.

The death of SCM was sudden, but the cancer that killed it took half a century to do its work. Here are some of the shifts that began as early as 1910:

  1. From Biblical authority, to critical biblical scholarship.
  2. From personal salvation, to salvation as social and political justice defined from an increasingly secular and left wing perspective.
  3. From a membership made up of committed Christians, to a membership of “seekers” questioning the Christian faith.
  4. From Christ alone as Savior, to Christ as the fulfillment of all religions.
  5. From mission clearly defined as world-wide evangelism, to mission defined broadly as the kingdom God in the secular world.
  6. From dependence financially on students, graduates and the churches, to dependence on earnings from past investments.
  7. From biblical and theological studies, to oppressive political ideology.
  8. From the support of cross-cultural missionaries, to the support of revolutionary movements.
  9. From financial viability, to financial disaster.
  10. From the struggle for holiness, to the struggle for gay and lesbian rights.

Now the context has changed over the last century. You're probably wondering about the relevance of this sad chapter in the history of world missions.

The point is, the context may have changed but the drift in various forms goes on in every dynamic missionary movement.