by Ralph D. Winter
If it be true that second century Christians sometimes formed themselves into burial clubs in order to achieve a type of organization legal under Roman law, then that fact could give the Czechs, the Basques, and other oppressed minorities today some good ideas on how to run an underground church in an unconventional form.
If it be true that second century Christians sometimes formed themselves into burial clubs in order to achieve a type of organization legal under Roman law, then that fact could give the Czechs, the Basques, and other oppressed minorities today some good ideas on how to run an underground church in an unconventional form. The whole matter of unconventional forms of the church reminds one of the incident when Charlie Brown asked Lucy what church she belonged to, and she replied that she didn’t belong to a church but to a coffee house.
The amazing thing looking back over the centuries is that the essential ingredients of Christian worship and fellowship have taken on or taken over so many different kinds of structures. The Jesuits and the Salvation Army operate a structure drawn in part from a military pattern. Some indigenous Pentecostal churches overseas have grown up so isolated from historic ecclesiastical structures that they have adapted for their needs what is apparently a business structure, and it works with startling efficiency. On the other hand, it isn’t any secret that the Roman Church as a whole has prospered, struggled, and in an age of democracy more recently staggered under a governmental pattern borrowed in countless aspects from the civil structure of the Roman Empire. The early Quakers, the Plymouth Brethren, the restorationist Churches of Christ, and others, have been determined to go back to the structure of the "New Testament Church," which itself was obviously borrowed mainly from the synagogue. In his case, Calvin talked about the New Testament Church, but no doubt unconsciously drew a good deal of his church order from the civil government of the Swiss canton. This was probably the source of the now-rare "collegiate ministry" in the Reformed tradition, where there is no one senior pastor, but a group of equal pastors.
But elastic as the word church is, it is rarely stretched to fit a whole group of now-common structures such as the above mentioned coffee house, the Inter-Varsity Bible study group, the International Christian Leadership "prayer breakfast," the shipboard Navigator prayer cell, and so on. The fact that Christ is among those two or three that gather together in His Name doesn’t apparently decide the issue: most ecclesiastics will generously acknowledge all these structures as part of Christendom, but not as specifically "church" structures. Thus, out go the second century burial clubs; out go the small groups. And where, pray tell, can you fit in that most curious and influential Spanish movement called Opus Dei?
Indeed, it is to some extent today the very variety and vitality of all these "non-churchly" structures that leads some of the younger turks among theologians to wonder out loud whether the traditional institution of the church is really necessary. Harvey Cox, in referring to the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in The Secular City, speaks of "the strength and tenacity of this remarkable organization." He goes out of his way to object to IVCF’s "indefensible theology," but he is impressed by its unique structural ability that allows it to live within the university world. In fact, some of these theologians even wonder if we can’t get along entirely without that moss-covered, club structure that conducts mild-mannered and mainly meaningless formal religious rites at the sacred hours on Sunday morning. Where that kind of a description is accurate, the conclusion is hard to avoid. This is why to such people, immersed as they are in a veritable sea of nominality, the phrase church renewal is the mission today.
No, not quite. These same young turks would assure us that the ultimate mission is to remake society itself. In any case, note that the mission is definitely not to extend the church. These men are so fed up with nominality that more of the same is worse, not better. They would rather slim the church down before, or instead of, extending it. Thus McGavran’s church growth analysis is for them precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time. And, for them and their churches it may well be, unless they discover (1) that McGavran does not merely mean numerical growth by his famous phrase, and (2) he certainly is not talking about multiplying dead churches.
But if neither the nature nor the mission of the church is wonderfully clear these days, what about the various explicitly "mission structures"? If we are not clear about the results desired, how can we be clear about the kinds of instruments needed? Ruben Lores has a stimulating article entitled "The Mission of Missions" in the spring, 1968, issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly. He stresses very well the need for truly international and supranational mission structures, but does not actually spell out the precise mission of missions. Replying in the summer issue, C. Peter Wagner points out the need to distinguish between "church-reiated" missions and "service-related" missions, suggesting that the latter are more readily internationalized than the former. Does the structure of a mission affect its purpose and vice-versa?
It is in fact the very purpose of this article to emphasize that further conversation about the mission of missions must be based upon a clear idea of what the fundamental structures of mission are. As an attempt to stir up more thinking on this subject, I would like to propose as a tentative vocabulary of discussion the use of two terms: vertical structures and horizontal structures. The two words vertical and horizontal come from current discussion of the labor movement. The strife between the AFL and the CIO was in great part due to the fact that the AFL consisted primarily of craft unions which, for example, took in all the carpenters across the United States, no matter what company employed them, whereas the CIO felt it was better to organize all the workers of a single industry, whatever their craft. The craft unions running horizontally across the whole country, specializing in a single purpose, were thus horizontal unions. The industry-wide unions, like the United Auto Workers, which took in all the workers in a given automobile company, running vertically from the man who swept the floors clear up to the shop foreman, were in turn called vertical unions. With such very different approaches to organization, it is easy to see why the AFL and CIO broke apart and stayed apart for so long. The carpenter working for an automobile company was being wooed by both the carpenters union of the AFL and the auto workers union of the CIO. Both unions are after the same dues.
One immediately can see the parallels here between the AFL-CIO on the one hand and the IFMA-EFMA on the other hand. The mission agencies of the IFMA (the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association) run horizontally across the whole country, and even to other countries, expressing the concerns of a mission-minded minority within many different Christian denominations. The EFMA (Evangelical Foreign Missions Association) on the other hand, mainly contains mission agencies that express the mission interest of whole denominations (though of course EFMA includes some horizontal agencies as well, as we shall see below.) One would not be surprised if some of the impediments to greater collaboration between EFMA and IFMA derive at least in part from the structural differences between the horizontal and vertical agencies. Indeed, the marvel is that so much good will and collaboration already exits. Not only is the horizontal a very different kind of an organization, but ultimately is competing for the same dollar of the person within a denomination that often has its own denominational mission. This is a recipe for tension.
Let us go on to make the further distinction between the internal, home-support structure of a mission agency and the structure of the results it is trying to accomplish on the field. For example, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Christian Reformed Church is the major agency expressing the foreign mission interest of that particular Christian "family." This agency, according to our definition, is a vertical structure at home. It goes overseas to Nigeria and among other things sets up a similar vertical communion-e.g., a church denomination. In this sense it is a vertical-vertical mission because its internal home support structure is vertical, and its field results are vertical. This is represented symbolically in Diagram A.
On the other hand, the Andes Evangelical Mission is horizontal-vertical. In its support structure it reaches horizontally across a number of denominations and countries, but then in its Andean mission field in Bolivia (and now Peru) the primary focus of its attention is that of a single denomination, though it does have a limited interdenominational outreach. It is working in each of these two countries with what are presently the largest Protestant denominations-namely vertical structures. Along with other internally horizontal missions, it has helped create these national churches. It is thus horizontal in internal or home-support structure, but almost entirely vertical in its field results. (See Diagram B.) On the other hand, the Latin America Mission, which has a horizontal support structure, just as does the Andes Evangelical Mission, is almost entirely horizontal in its work, and only as a minor phase of its work in Costa Rica and Colombia does it focus its work on a single vertical result. Thus compare Diagram C with B.
Of course, in regard to field results, what we here call horizontal missions are what many people have all along called "service missions" or "functional missions." Many of such missions are horizontal also in their support structure. Take the American Bible Society or the Missionary Aviation Fellowship, for example. They are horizontal-horizontal missions. Their money and people come from many denominations, and their activities on the field are services to many denominations.
(See Diagram D.) It is really very logical that if the results of a mission are a specific technical service of interest to many different churches, that it be supported by many different denominations in the first place. What is not so likely is the case where a mission would operate horizontally on the field, doing a specific service for many different churches, and yet have a vertical support structure back home.
An example of a mission that is at least in part verticalhorizontal would thus be the one that operates the Spanish language school in Costa Rica, through which three-fourths of all the missionaries in Latin America have come. This school is the agency of a single U.S. denomination (the United Presbyterian), though it is a valuable service to over fifty other missions. The same church also sponsors other horizontal services, such as schools of all kinds (ranging from missionary children’s schools to technical vocational institutes) which in most cases are clearly intended to be of service to more than Presbyterians. The same is true of some other denominational missions. However, despite the fact that the United Presbyterians operate in a vertical-horizontal way in all these specific programs, the bulk of their work is at least mostly verticalvertical. (See Diagram E.) Why? Because their internal, home support structure is a single North American denomination (a vertical structure), and their external, field results are mainly national churches, which in our terminology are similarly vertical. Even those missions mentioned in Diagram A will have, no doubt, at least some activity that serves other denominations (e.g., the Southern Baptists have their excellent publication house, Casa Bautista) so the difference between Diagrams A and E is of course a matter of degree, not kind.
The structural profile may become slightly more complex when you diagram a whole association of missions. Whereas the IFMA as a whole (See Diagram F) looks very much like something halfway between Diagrams B and C, the EFMA membership includes both missions with horizontal home structures and missions with vertical home structures, as in Diagram G. Some people would thus characterize the EFMA as more "churchly" than the IFMA, since many of its member missions are related officially to denominations as such.
The support structures behind missionaries under five different groupings can be compared in the same way. As yet no effective study has been made of how many missionaries are in vertical or horizontal work on the field. But if we limit ourselves to indicating solely the number involved in the two different kinds of support structures back home, it is not too difficult to categorize them by whole agencies as either denominational or interdenominational, that is, vertical or horizontal. In Diagram H, then, you note that the number of missionaries sent out by denominational missions in the Division of Overseas Ministries (of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A.) is 97 percent of the DOM total, since the DOM membership and affiliated boards include denominational sending agencies.’ At the other extreme is the IFMA, where 100 percent of the missionaries are sent out by horizontal agencies. Note that the width of the bars in Diagram H indicates the total number of missionaries.
It is obvious that the major polarization here is between the DOM and the IFMA, and that the major structural combination is the EFMA. (The unaffiliated missions are about half and half, but are not an association.) The present collaboration between the EFMA and the IFMA is thus very significant. There is, in this sense, no doubt that the joint IFMA and EFMA Committee on Cooperation and Comity has the most significant task of any group its size in modem missions today.
The reason to attach such significance to the potential relationship between the horizontal and vertical structures is greatly emphasized by a bit of reflection on the way the present situation came into being. One cannot fail to notice in any review of the history of Christian missions that the Roman Catholic tradition has for the most part harmoniously combined both vertical and horizontal structures in a dynamic balance. As we have mentioned, its overall structure is vertical since it functions as the spiritual government of a community that runs from the cradle to the grave. This structure includes the whole series of different levels, moving up from the parish priest to the diocesan bishop and then in a gigantic jump to the pope himself. It is a fact that the diocese of the Roman Church was originally identical in boundaries to a civil district of the same name in the Roman Empire. Similarly, the College of Cardinals corresponds to the old Roman Senate. This is only one of many indications that the overall structure of the Roman Church is an adaptation of civil or municipal government to the orderly structuring of the Christian community.
However, very early in Christian history there emerged a quite different structure of overarching importance to the history of missions: the Catholic orders. Unlike the diocesan structure, which was patterned after and complimented by the existing civil structure, the Catholic orders were a complete reconstitution of human society. They were a totally separate way of life. The famous Benedictine rule (or regula, from which comes regular priest) was in effect the new constitution of a new society which was at once separate from, and yet at least tenuously subject to, the diocesan structure. It is said that five hundred other orders have drawn on the Benedictine rule in forming their own. When Luther joined the Augustinians, he passed from the secular world into a separate "religious" world. He became thus a "religious" or "regular" priest, rather than a "secular" priest. We still speak of the Army "regulars" who have a long-term vow.
We cannot take time to describe even some of the clashes between these two types of structures, such as the conflict between the Franciscans and the bishops in the Philippines, which was fairly recent, speaking historically. For Protestants the matter of awesome significance is that Luther not only rejected the Roman church but specifically the Augustinian order, and with it the very concept of an order. That is, he not only rejected Roman control over the German diocesan structure, but he entirely abolished the horizontal structures themselves (e.g., the celibate orders) of the Roman tradition. Reflecting as he did the distinctive attitudes of the Teutonic cultural substratum, he spurned determinedly the vows of celibacy, but perhaps unthinkingly eliminated their structural vehicle, which at first glance must have seemed to him inoperable apart from celibacy. Perhaps he threw the baby out with the bath.
This in turn sheds light on something with which Protestant scholars have wrestled anxiously: the near-total absence of Christian missions in the Protestant tradition throughout the first three hundred years following the Reformation. Scholars have devised many explanations, quoting the reasons or the lack of reasoning of the reformers themselves. But surely one monumental factor is simply the total absence of the structural vehicle of missions.
Confirming this hypothesis is the fact that when Protestant missions did finally appear, they appeared without exception as horizontal structures and not as the enterprises of official church or denominational boards. Dozens of horizontal mission societies burst into existence before any denomination as such set up its own official mission board. Furthermore, when such denominational boards did appear, the structure of the situation was not really what we have today. In Europe, according to one analysis, there were state churches and sects, while in the United States there was no state church and (therefore) there were no sects. These early denominations were something new under the sun.
Indeed American church historians point out that many U.S. denominations in their early existence were very much like orders, and thus quite capable of focusing officially on specific mission exploits. The present Presbyterian synod of Pittsburgh derives in part from what in 1802 had a complete synod structure, but refused to call itself a church, going rather by the name The Western Mission Society. When that frontier mission society constituted itself into a second coterminous organization called the Western Foreign, Mission Society, the situation was not so much that of a "church" expressing itself in mission as it was the case of an elite Protestant order" expressing itself in mission. The comparable Methodist work on the frontier involved circuit riders who, according to Latourette, effectively operated under the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which we commonly associate with the Catholic orders. Such Protestant "orders" in those days, though they were indeed emergent denominations, were by no means the nominal, internally diversified, conglomerate, "respectable" churches of today in which over half of secular society has membership. They were, in fact, an embattled, even fanatical minority, a network of highly committed individuals who dragged their first-generation families with them. The major difference between these emergent denominations and the Catholic orders was that they allowed marriage: this is probably the chief factor in the inevitable transition from eliteness to nominality. Whereas the Roman orders ostensibly recruit only members of mature choice, the Protestant denominations have absorbed the children of their members with the inevitable tendency to give those children the benefit of the doubt. (Jonathan Edwards was removed from his pulpit as the result of his attempt to stave off this irresistible process.)
This curious, "community-wide nepotism" within the church is not readily avoided. Apparently no group of committed families has ever been able to guarantee the purity and early passion of their movement by depending in any great part upon biological continuity. Indeed, where there is a falloff of constant fresh accessions of new members converted as adults, the rate of dilution of a movement’s original commitment may tend to speed up. Of course, not just "dilution" takes place over the generations, but a healthy broadening. Latitude and benefit-of-doubt to new members is not entirely bad. But the whole matter of an elite horizontal structure eventually "tipping to vertical" is too involved to discuss further here, aside from noting that this process may account for part of the common suspicion of vertical structures by the proponents of horizontal structures.
There is a corresponding suspicion of horizontal structures on the part of vertical leadership. The voluntary societies have often run off with the glory. They are where the action is. Their vivid, dramatic fund-raising threatens vertical support. In part due to their late appearance, they have been labeled human organizations as opposed to the divine organism of the (vertical) church. What historians call the "resurgence of the churchly tradition" occurred during the first half of the last century in the United States and ceaselessly contrasted the voluntary societies with the true, permanent "ecclesiastical" governments which they defined as the church.
Then, too, voluntary societies that are interdenominational (as contrasted to intradenominational societies)’ will always elicit the suspicions ‘of those who place high value on denominational distinctives. The widely-lamented fissiparous tendency in Protestantism is in part a logical development from the fundamental Lutheran proposition that you did not need to be Roman to be Christian, for it has allowed a wide variety of nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples and subcultures and cultural strata to have their own churches. It has in effect sanctioned the diversity of vertical structures. But in so doing, it has put horizontal structures in the bad light of down-playing those precious distinctives in their attempt to combine people from different home denominations in the same overseas mission.
However, we are driven back to the reformers’ rejection of the horizontal structures. Even the Catholic tradition has had its problems with them, dissolving the Jesuits as it did at one crucial point. Perhaps Protestantism has been chary of the order-structure precisely because Protestantism has lacked the central authority to hold it in harness. Perhaps we need greater powers of review and evaluation on the part of the vertical structures. If the horizontal structures would more widely submit to the review of the vertical, perhaps greater confidence and collaboration could be built up. In secular society, private enterprise must submit to the review of the civil government. The Food and Drug Administration watchdogs follow carefully the food processors and the pharmaceutical houses, but they do not otherwise control them. The socialist would let the vertical civil structure control everything. The opposite extreme would be the chaos of unmonitored private firms.
In any case, structurally speaking, perhaps the most significant Protestant schism was not the disconnection of the German and Scandinavian churches from Rome, but rather was that most drastic and seemingly permanent rift between the horizontal and vertical structures. The reaffiliation of merely the Protestant vertical structures, in either the NAE, the NCC, or the wcc is apparently a relatively simple accomplishment by comparison, however marvelous it may seem after embarrassing centuries of division between the geographical and culturally distinct Christian communions within the Protestant tradition. But it may be a more profound and unnoticed problem that the emergence of horizontal structures in Protestantism has not yet by any means resulted in the desired unity or harmony between the separate worlds of these two disparate structures.
The solution for this kind of Protestant schism can only come about through a better understanding of the unique function, the advantages and disadvantages of each of these two kinds of structures. Hardly anyone will dispute the fact that it is better for a single horizontal agency, separate from, but dependent upon, all the denominations, to concentrate upon the specific task and the accompanying technical problems attendant upon the translation and distribution of the Bible. Thus the American Bible Society is one of the oldest and most durable of the horizontal structures and makes a notable contribution to foreign missions. It may be equally logical and impelling that a single horizontal agency like MAF should provide air service for all missions operating in many roadless areas of the world. Yet this newer organization, which has a much more technical and perhaps less "essential" ministry, is not as likely to receive an allocation of funds directly from denominational mission budgets as is the case with the American Bible Society. Would it be better if these agencies were operated under the jurisdiction of the NAE, the NCC, or the wcc? (This is in some ways like asking the question whether the post office or the telephone system should be run as part of the private or the public sphere; and if public, then should it be under U.S. federal or U.N. control?) But the technical factors of political science and sociology in such questions are not entirely understood in the secular world much less in the ecclesiastical world.
Many questions arise. Should the founding of a new church in a given country ideally be the job of a foreign church or a horizontal-vertical mission like the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, which is both international and interecclesiastical?
Another question is whether the final result of missions is merely a healthy national church without any infrastructure of horizontal organizations in that "mission land." That is, should we consider the mission task done when we have set up a viable denomination? Or, in the interest of the effective proclamation of the Gospel, do we need to make sure that not only in the U.S. but also in the mission lands there are nationally-run, semi-autonomous, horizontal mission structures that will act as the shock troops of both home and foreign missions based in that country? Precisely this is found in the Solomon Islands, where for example, the Anglican Church is greatly aided by the effective home-mission outreach of the Melanesian Brotherhood, which is an intradenominational horizontal structure working with it in harmonious semi-autonomy.3
Further discussion and mature reflection upon these structural factors may give us greater insight into the situation into which God has led us. Is it desirable that vertical structures tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and that other structures involve an additional voluntary step into a more active involvement in mission? Even granting that we acknowledge a need for both the cradle-to-grave structure and also the elite structure, it may well be true that because these two types of organization are so different, they will always have to make a special effort to understand each other.
The vertical structure has greater internal diversity and may thus tend to have greater objectivity and overall perspective, but less mobility. It may tend to bureaucracy due to the "distance" between the donor and the final function. It may tend to be a caretaker structure that, again due to great internal diversity, finds it difficult to gain broad support for anything, especially enterprises beyond its immediate internal needs. The church as church finds it difficult to become excited about the spiritual fate of the urban masses in Calcutta.
The horizontal structure tends to have a more specific objective and the direct support of those behind it. It has greater potential mobility and efficiency. But it typically sees only its own goals and therefore needs overall perspective. Citizens of the Kingdom may even need protection against its capacity to oversell its cause. Yet it offers a healthy escape valve for the differing visions of the diverse elements of a heterogeneous church.
Both kinds of structures have the capacity to help or harm each other. Horizontal agencies like the Student Volunteer Movement, Christian Endeavor, Inter-Varsity, and so on, have contributed mightily to the vertical structures, and vice-versa.. On the other hand, Henry Van Dusen has accused denominational leaders of moving in on college campuses and dismantling the SVM. Others have watched helplessly while denominational leaders deliberately fought and severely damaged Christian Endeavor. Despite the Protestant bias against the horizontal, John Mackay has had the audacity to honor the Latin America Mission by calling it a "Protestant order." Perhaps he is especially happy about the LAM’s Evangelism-in-Depth program, which is history’s first "master service mission," since the year-long "treatment" offered a country by EID boldly coordinates not only all vertical but all horizontal structures in a harmonious matrix of a fabulous potential, which precisely surmounts the Protestant schism.
In this brief presentation many details have had to be left out, and many others remain unresolved. One thing seems clear: the fact that in Protestant missions many of the most significant forward steps in both the strategy of support, and the strategy of overseas operations, depend upon a far better understanding than we now have of the "anatomy of the Christian mission."
1. It would be equally possible to make a similar chart based on the number of agencies or the amount of money (instead of missionaries). However, it would seem that the number of missionaries is the most illuminating single measure. The general proportions are all we desire at this point. The data themselves come from the 1965 IFMA report. It is to be noted that there is an overlap of some 600 missionaries who are under missions which belong to both the EFMA and the IFMA.
2. When the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society worked exclusively within the American Baptist Convention it was then an intradenominational society; now of course it is interdenominational, even though it is mainly still intra-since its support for the most part comes from the churches in the Conservative Baptist Association. In any case, the intradenominational society must be distinguished from the denominational mission board-the latter is characteristically dependent upon denominational control and budgetary support.
3. Describing the contribution of this structure to a significant change of pace in church growth in the Solomon Islands, Dr. Alan Tippett says, "The most important innovation in this second half-century was probably the establishment of the Melanesian Brotherhood, which made the evangelistic thrust a thoroughly indigenous mechanism, and something quite unique in Pacific Missions" (Solomon Islands Christianity, A Study in Growth and Obstruction, Friendship Press, 1967).
Copyright 1969 Evangelism and Missions Information Service. Not to be reproduced or copied in any way without written permission from EMIS.