June 11: World Presbyterian Missions

Background to Current Missions Work

The Mission to the World collection shows how a modern mission sending agency grew from a movement within the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) to become an independent board, a committee within a new denomination and finally a mature, experienced denominational agency. This is a continuing story, and the collection is a dynamic set of active records and correspondence managed by the PCA Historical Center.

The collection begins late in the 1960s as a small group of pastors and laymen within the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF) organized to express dissatisfaction with the teaching and social activism of some missionaries and the “equalization policy” of the PCUS denomination. Under equalization an individual or church did not have the freedom to specifically support missionaries with whom they agreed theologically.
Conservatives’ money was being used to fund a quite-liberal world agenda.

A revival movemnt of the 1950s and 1960s in the PCUS, spread by PEF evangelists, created a new concern for world evangelism. In 1971 this movement culminated in formation of the Executive Committee for Overseas Evangelism (ECOE). Initially ECOE tried to be a liason between conservatives and the Board of World Missions, PCUS. Instead, the Board saw ECOE as a dangerous competitor, and it became a rallying point in the controversies leading to the withdrawal of churches into the National Presbyterian Church [the name initially chosen by the PCA]. In 1973 ECOE became Mission to the World, the sponsoring agency for six missionaries who left the Board of World Missions at the formation of the PCA.

It was through the Joining-and-Receiving of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) that a new component was added. The Committee on Mission to the World was merged with World Presbyterian Missions. WPM was born on June 11, 1957 as the sending agency of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Its origins were in the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which was itself the central point of contention in the heresy trials and subsequent division of the Presbyterian Church in the USA during the 1930s. In WPM’s 25th anniversary year, 1982, it was absorbed by MTW. This now larger organization immediately had to cope with a conflict of management styles. The RPCES had used an agency approach, while the PCA utilizes a committee structure. There also were differences in philosophy and strategy. MTW had more joint agreements with non-Reformed groups and an urban church-planting approach.

From an historical perspective, the MTW collection is of immense value since it provides a detailed account of the problems and thinking unique to late-20th century missions as a new organization was founded and then incorporated into a new denomination. Particularly noteworthy is the determination of such leaders as Jimmy Lyons, Ben Wilkinson, and William E. Hill. There is an immense body of correspondence from these men which candidly presents their philosophy and goals. Interaction between these men and the Board of World Missions also shows the lack of common ground available in the PCUS for conservatives and moderate/liberals.

The assembled materials also document how the organization grew as a business and the problems and potential which data processing advances brought in the 1970s. There also are significant indiations of the lfie and ministry of the MTW missionary in the field and policies and criteria for fielding missionaries.

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