175 years ago today, some 800 evangelical leaders from eleven countries representing fifty-two Christian denominations resolved to establish the WEA. They described it as “a new thing in Church history – a definite organization for the expression of unity amongst Christian individuals belonging to different churches.” Building on the momentum of the Great Awakenings and with a desire to respond to some of the grave social issues in society, they came together from all backgrounds of evangelicalism at that time.
“The WEA continues to be a testimony for the fact that amid the incredible diversity, evangelicals be united together as one. In 1846, the churches came from the whole spectrum of the Protestant faith: from Reformation times, such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed and Anabaptists; from the following centuries, such as Baptists, Methodists and later the Salvation Army; and today it also includes many newer churches formed in the 20th century, such as Pentecostals, Charismatics and Independents,” said Bishop Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, Secretary General of the WEA, and added: “Also considering the fact that each national Evangelical Alliance and each regional Alliance has its own unique history, and that evangelicals come from hundreds of ethnic groups and speak around 1,000 languages, the WEA is as colorful as never before. And this is something we would like to recognize through this Jubilee.”
From the beginning, the WEA was established to foster unity with a purpose and mission. It has promoted the annual week of prayer for unity that is still observed in several countries to this day; it has encouraged the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; it has advocated for religious freedom for people of all faith – which made the WEA the first global faith body to do so; and it has responded to social issues, such as slavery and child labor.
Since then, the WEA has grown to a truly global organization with national Evangelical Alliances established in 143 countries on all continents. The WEA has now become the second largest world Church body that speaks as a representative voice on behalf of evangelicals at the United Nations, to governments and media, contributing an evangelical perspective on issues that are relevant to the Church globally. And it remains engaged in many of the same areas, including prayer, mission and a range of human rights and social justice issues, all based on the foundation in Scripture.
“As a global network that has its roots in the local churches in the neighborhoods, we continue to hold on to the central role of Jesus Christ as our personal savior, the Bible as our supreme constitution and the goal to transform the world by preaching and practicing the ‘evangel’, the gospel,” Schirrmacher noted.
The year-long anniversary commemoration will start off in the coming week with daily social media postings featuring prayer topics from each region on the theme of unity.
“Prayer has always been foundational to the WEA, so we want to begin the Jubilee by recognizing the diversity of the global body of Christ and the unique opportunities and challenges they face,” Schirrmacher said. “We are very conscious that amid the ongoing pandemic and various other natural or man-made disasters, there is a great need for prayer today. So we invite you to join us as we commemorate 175 years and as we continue to put every effort into fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that all of us may be one, so that the world may believe.” (John 17:21-23)