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World Evangelical Alliance Records

 Collection
Identifier: CN 338

Brief Description

Correspondence, reports, minutes, budgets, audio tapes, photographs. Topics documented included the formation of the WEF; the gradual growth of influence by non-Western associations; the activities of Evangelical Protestants in many different parts of the world; the leadership of J. Elwin Wright, Clyde Taylor, Waldron Scott, and David Howard, among others. Many of the twenty-eight audiotapes are of addresses presented at the Eighth General Assembly in Singapore in 1986.

Dates

  • Created: 1926-1992, undated
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1948-1986

Conditions Governing Access

Folders with documents that are 10 years or younger are closed to use, of which none are currently affected by this restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Organizational History

Protestant Evangelical organization; created in 1951; intended to foster fellowship, cooperation and communication between Evangelical national associations around the world; held international conferences of Evangelical leaders; sponsored cooperation in such areas as theological education, theology, communications, church renewal, missions, development, and women's issues; published books and periodicals.

The World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) had roots in the Evangelical Alliance formed in 1846, but its immediate beginnings were in the late 1940s when United States evangelical leaders, who had just formed the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA), began to discuss with church leaders in other countries the possibilities of some kind of international federation of national associations. J. Elwin Wright, who had played a major role in forming the NAE, also took the lead in this, first as executive director of the NAE, then as head of the Association's Commission on International Relations. He met with representatives of the Evangelical Alliance in 1948 and worked with Sir Arthur Smith of the Alliance to bring together delegates from twelve countries at Hildenborough Hall in Kent, England in March 1950 and at a similar meeting at Gordon Divinity School in Boston in September of the same year.

Following these meetings, Wright and Clyde Taylor, another evangelical leader very active in missions and international projects, traveled to visit evangelical leaders in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe to sound them out about the creation of an international organization. They found a generally favorable response and a call for an organizing convention was issued. The meeting (called the International Convention of Evangelicals) was to be held at Woudschoten hostel near the town of Zeist in the Netherlands from August 5-11, 1951. Forty-six people attended as delegates from eighteen countries. Including visitors and observers, there were 104 people from twenty-one countries at the convention. Geographically, almost all of the delegates were from Western Europe or North America. The meeting adopted for the new organization a constitution, a statement of faith, and a name: the World Evangelical Fellowship. The purposes of the Fellowship were defined as: "The furtherance of the Gospel, the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, and fellowship in the Gospel." More specifically, commissions were set up to promote evangelism, coordinate activities as far as possible between mission agencies, coordinate the activities of Christian literature producers, and speak up in defense of Christian liberties and persecuted minorities. Delegates also emphasized that the Fellowship should be positive for Christian truth, rather than negative in seeking out error. Membership consisted of national fellowships. The first president was Sir Arthur Smith, and F. Roy Cattell and J. Elwin Wright were elected co-secretaries. Cattell, based in England, was to do most of the administrative work while Wright would visit national associations. All early officers of the Fellowship were unpaid volunteers. Because delegates from several European countries would not accept the word "infallible" in the statement of faith, they refused to join the WEF but instead formed the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA). The two organizations worked together on various projects and, in 1968, the EEA did formally affiliate itself with the Fellowship.

The character of the Fellowship developed and changed over time. The most visible signs of the WEF's activities were its publications, scholarships for theological students, and meetings of evangelical leaders. One of its major functions was to serve as a conduit for the exchange of information and opinions between church leaders in different countries. The staff was usually very small and most of the work of the Fellowship fell to its chief executive officer, whose title often changed but was usually called a secretary or a director. Until 1974, it was a part time position. In fact, Wright was an important financial supporter of the Fellowship. The main executive officers were: J. Elwin Wright (1951-1959), F. Roy Cattell (1951-1953), Arthur Jack Dain (1956-1959), Fred Ferris, (1959-1962), Gilbert Kirby (1962-1966), Dennis Clark (1966-1970), Gordon Landreth (1970-1971), Clyde Taylor (1970-1975), Waldron Scott (1974-1980), Wade Coggins (1981-1982), David Howard (1982-1992), and Agustin Vencer (1992- ). The office of the organization was usually the office of the secretary or director and so moved frequently, often to some location within the United States. In late 1986, an international headquarters was opened in Singapore. From that point on, this office was the main base for the Fellowship. The location of the office in Singapore symbolized the gradual increase of the importance of non-Western church leaders in the Fellowship and the effort to make its programs and deliberations truly representative of global Christianity.

There were also regional offices, which often were centered around one of the more prominent or active WEF members in that part of the world. The North American office was particularly important. Throughout its history, the Fellowship was dependent for financial support on persons and organizations in the United States. This is part of the reason for the predominant influence of Americans during the early history of the Fellowship. At various times the staff tried fund raising projects, such as SHARE or Global Deacons, to create a more secure financial base for the organization, but these were largely unsuccessful. The pinch caused by lack of funds was a constant theme in WEF documents. Much of the fund-raising, as mentioned, was done in the United States. For this purpose, the Commission on International Relations of the American NAE was incorporated in 1955 as the USA board of the WEF. The corporation functioned informally and later formally as the North American regional office of WEF.

One of the major activities of WEF was the holding of its General Assemblies, at which representatives from the affiliated national associations would gather together to exchange reports about activities, discuss common problems, and plan for the future. A complete list of these Assemblies can be found on page 15 of this guide. The 1974 General Assembly was held in Switzerland from July 26 to 29, partly to be near the International Congress on World Evangelization being held in Lausanne from July 16 to 25. This meeting, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, brought together evangelical church leaders, many of them participants to some degree in WEF, to talk about ways and means of evangelizing the world. After the meeting, a continuation committee carried on this work. There were continual talks between the two organizations about how they could cooperate, since their purposes and members seemed to overlap to a large extent. The Executive Council of WEF even proposed at one point that the Lausanne group become the Fellowship's commission on evangelism, but nothing ever came of this.

In between assemblies, the highest official governing body of the Fellowship was the Executive Council (called the Executive Committee until 1969; the name was later changed to the International Council), which was elected at Assemblies, along with the President and other officers who were de facto members of the group. During the early days of the Fellowship, day-to-day or for that matter month-to-month decisions fell to the executive secretary because the Council was scattered all over the world. A secretary might go for years before he was able to make a report to a fully or almost fully assembled Executive Council.

Throughout its history, the Fellowship formed commissions to prepare publications and plan meetings or other projects in certain topical areas, such as youth work, or Christian education. Starting in 1974, these commissions began to play a much more important part in the life of the organization. Of particular importance was the Theological Commission headed by Bruce Nicholls. He began the Fellowship's Theological Assistance Programme (TAP) informally in 1968 (it was officially organized in 1969), which was initially most active in Asia but eventually expanded to other parts of the world. TAP published journals, such as the Evangelical Review of Theology, as well as books and pamphlets, held meetings on theological topics, established accreditation standards for seminaries and gave money to schools to build up their biblical libraries. In 1974, TAP became the WEF's Theological Commission. The International Council of Accrediting Agencies (ICAA), which was organized in 1980 as an autonomous organization under the sponsorship of the Commission, served as a means of improving theological education in many parts of the world and coordinating accreditation efforts.

Other commissions were more or less active, depending on their membership. They include Communications, Missions, Women's Concerns (initially called the International Forum of Evangelical Women), Church Renewal, Religious Liberty and Youth. The International Relief and Development Agency functioned much like a commission, helped to coordinate relief efforts made by existing evangelical relief agencies. Like the Theological Commission, two of their major activities were publication of newsletters and the holding of conferences and consultations on relevant topics.

The mission of the Fellowship in 1994, as described in the WEF's newsletter, read: "The World Evangelical Fellowship and its member organizations enable local churches to fulfill their spiritual mandate to disciple the nations by providing them with a global identity and presence, a structure for fellowship and cooperation, an international forum and a representative voice, and a network of information resources for holistic ministries. This is accomplished primarily through the strategy of establishing and strengthening regional and national evangelical fellowships and alliances."

Until 2001, the organization continued with the name World Evangelical Fellowship. In 2001, the name was changed to World Evangelical Alliance.

Extent

51.5 Linear Feet (103 Boxes (103 document cases); Audio Tapes, Negatives, Oversize Materials, Photographs)

Language of Materials

English

Provenance

Records were created or gathered by the officers and staff of the Fellowship.  Materials were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by individual officers and by the North American branch office of the Fellowship, 1983-1993.

Accessions: 83-24, 84-34, 85-91, 91-2, 91-85, 92-32, 92-90, 92-135, 93-93

  • March 4, 1994
  • Robert Shuster
  • S. Gertz
  • Title
    Collection 338 Records of the World Evangelical Fellowship
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    Undetermined
    Script of description
    Code for undetermined script
    Language of description note
    English

    Repository Details

    Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

    Contact:
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    630-752-5910