International Missionary Council

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The Council, established in 1921, was the cooperative missionary organization of Protestant churches through which the missionary movement found ecumenical expression. In 1961, it merged with the world coun cil of churches (WCC), becoming the Division of World Mission and Evangelism (DWME) of the WCC. In 1971, the DWME became known as the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). This entry describes the historical development, influence, and main emphases of the International Missionary Council from 19211961.

The International Missionary Council (IMC) early became a focus of the emerging ecumenical move ment. From 1939 its association with the WCC, while that council was in process of formation, continued to be close until 1961, when the IMC became the DWME. The World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910), at which delegates from the churches studied the central place of missions in the life of the church, laid the foundation of missionary cooperation on which the IMC was formed. The process continued as the membership of the council increased with the formation of new national and regional councils in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These in turn were recognized as the bodies representing the churches of their areas. Two main principles governed the council's work: (1) the only bodies entitled to determine policy were the churches themselves and their mission boards; (2) the successful working of the IMC was dependent on God's gift of fellowship and the desire to cooperate.

Through study, consultation, and programs of mutual assistance, the council served its member bodies. Questions were considered as they arose. Missionary freedom, general and theological education, opium addiction, labor, slavery, racial discrimination, the church in rural and industrial society, home and family life, and literature were the main emphases. IMC officers, staff, and committees consulted, stimulated, and advised an increasing number of local and regional church bodies. German missions, "orphaned" by World War II, were enabled to continue their work through extensive inter-church aid. At the meeting in Ghana (1958) a theological education fund was established, providing substantial aid for buildings, faculties, and libraries of institutions in which churches were united in training for the ministry.

While the council adhered to the principle that no decision would be taken on ecclesiastical or doctrinal questions in which the member bodies differed among themselves, it concentrated attention on the Christian message for evangelism. The meeting at Jerusalem (1928) made the message its first consideration, especially in relation to modern secularism. At the Madras meeting (1938) the study of the message in a non-Christian world influenced missionary thinking and evoked intensive discussion for years after the meeting. Evangelism was ever a central concern as the council focused attention on the Christian witness in the world. At Whitby, Ontario (1947), the IMC set itself to discover the relevance of the Gospel to the world recovering from war and to call the faith again to its central task of evangelism. Church union movements among the younger churches were inspired by concern for evangelism as the churches sought for a united Christian witness. At the IMC meeting in Willingen, Germany (1952), delegates of younger churches stated their belief in church unity as an essential condition of effective witness and advance. Parallel with the decision of the IMC and the WCC to integrate, the two councils assisted in the formation of regional councils in Asia and Africa.

Bibliography: international missionary council, The Jerusalem Meeting of the International Missionary Council, 8 v. (New York 1928); The Madras Series, 7 v. (New York 1939). w.r. hogg, Ecumenical Foundations (New York 1952). The Inter National Review of Missions (Edinburgh 1912).

[r. w. scott/eds.]

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International Missionary Council

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International Missionary Council