Founded by Rev. Albert Benjamin Simpson, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, in 1887, the C&MA did not start off as a denomination, but rather began as two distinct parachurch organizations: the Christian Alliance, which focused on the pursuit and promotion of the Higher Christian life, and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, which focused on mobilizing "consecrated" Christians in the work of foreign missionary efforts. These two groups amalgamated in 1897 to form the C&MA. It was only much later, in 1974, that an official denomination was formed.
In 2006 there were 2,010 C&MA churches and approximately 417,000 members in the United States. Approximately 600 of those churches were described as intercultural. In Canada there were 440 churches, 59 of which multicultural, and approximately 120,000 members. In the C&MA 2004 annual report estimated that outside North America C&MA membership exceeded 3 million. The C&MA center used to be in Nyack, New York, which continues to be the home of Nyack College (formerly Missionary Training Institute) and Alliance Theological Seminary. C&MA headquarters are located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The C&MA's Statement of Faith defines it as an evangelical Protestant denomination. The following is a summary of the Statement of Faith for the U.S. Church:
A.B. Simpson articulated the Alliance's core theology as the Christological "Fourfold Gospel": Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Soon Coming King. Sanctification is sometimes described as "the deeper Christian life". This teaching is similar to that of the Higher Life movement and the Keswick Convention. It is perhaps best exemplified by the writings of A. W. Tozer. The Christian & Missionary Alliance, being a part of the holiness movement, is heavily influenced by Wesleyan-Arminian theology. The C&MA also emphasizes missionary work, and believes that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is the reason it exists.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance was not founded as a denomination. Rev. A. B. Simpson was a Presbyterian clergyman motivated by the spiritual needs of the metropolitan multitudes in North America, as well as by those of the unevangelized peoples in other lands. He was compelled by a sense of urgency to take this message to all nations because of Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (KJV translation).
In the 1890s the first missionaries arrived in Jerusalem from the CMA. They are known in the CMA letters by their surnames, Miss Brown and Miss Dunn. The CMA work in Jerusalem would eventually result in the founding of the Church on Prophets Street and the Alliance Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.
During the start of the 20th century, Simpson became closely involved with the growing Pentecostal movement, an offshoot of the Holiness movement. It became common for Pentecostal pastors and missionaries to receive their training at the Missionary Training Institute that Simpson founded. Consequently, Simpson and the C&MA had a great influence on Pentecostalism, in particular the Assemblies of God and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. This influence included evangelical emphasis, C&MA doctrine, Simpson's hymns and books, and the use of the term 'Gospel Tabernacle,' which led to many Pentecostal churches being known as 'Full Gospel Tabernacles.'
Eventually, there developed severe division within the C&MA over issues surrounding Pentecostalism (such as speaking in tongues and charismatic worship styles). By 1912, this crisis was a catalyst for the emergence of the C&MA as an organized denomination, shifting more authority to the council and becoming more ecclesiastical. To ensure the survival of the C&MA in the face of division, Simpson put all property in the name of the C&MA. In the event of separation, all property would revert to C&MA.
After Simpson's death in 1919, the C&MA distanced itself from Pentecostalism, rejecting the premise that speaking in tongues is a necessary indicator of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and instead focused on the deeper Christian life. By 1930, most local branches of the C&MA functioned as churches, but still did not view themselves as such.
By 1965, the churches adopted a denominational function and established a formal statement of faith. This new mission society soon became a major evangelical movement. Today it is a growing missionary denomination committed to evangelism around the world through church planting.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance has experienced steady and significant growth since its inception. In 1925, there were just 25,000 members in 392 churches. Membership reached 50,000 members in 1950 and by 1976 had reached 150,000. In 2006, there were 417,008 members in 2,010 congregations. While membership is concentrated in the American Midwest and Northwest, the denomination is well represented throughout the United States. Pennsylvania has the largest number of both members and congregations. As of December 2017 there were more than 2000 churches and 500,000 members in the US.
The biennial General Council is the highest governing body of the C&MA. It elects officers, transacts business, enacts policies, and evaluates the progress of denominational ministries. Delegates include licensed workers (i.e., clergy), members of the board of directors, three representatives from each C&MA postsecondary educational institution, two lay delegates from each accredited church (with additional delegates for every 100 church members), national officers of Men and Women’s ministries, lay members of district executive committees, and retired and disabled missionaries and official workers.
A 28-member board of directors elected by General Council provides general oversight and management of the denomination and acts as the executive committee of the General Council when the council is not in session. National officers (president, vice president, secretary, treasurer) are ex officio members.
Churches are organized into either geographical or cultural districts. A district is led by a conference, a legislative body meeting once a year. The conference elects the district executive committee and a superintendent, the chief officer of the district. The ordination and licensing for clergy is the responsibility of districts.
Associated with the denomination is CAMA Services. “CAMA” stands for “Compassion and Mercy Associates”. Services include a variety of relief and development efforts providing food, clothing, medical care, and job training to people in crisis situations around the globe in the name of Jesus.
Begun in 1974 by Andy Bishop an outreach to refugees fleeing the Indochina conflict, CAMA now works in refugee camps in Thailand, and has worked with refugees in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Jordan, and Guinea, and famine victims in Burkina Faso and Mali. CAMA Services worked together with local C&MA churches in 2005 to provide Hurricane Katrina relief in the United States.
Envision is the Short-Term Mission Office (STMO) of the Christian and Missionary Alliance whose purpose is to facilitate short-term mission trips to mission fields served by the C&MA.
Envision, originally called AYMission, was started in 2003 by Matt Peace as a way of facilitating youth short-term mission trips. Today Envision sends out over 1000 people every year to 40 different countries. However, their main focus of work is currently in 11 locations, including:
Ensenada, Mexico- Short-Term teams are in the process of helping plant churches in Ensenada and do community outreach through VBS, building relationships and building projects.
San Salvador, El Salvador- With the help of Pastor Mario Gonzalez, the work of Envision in El Salvador has helped hundreds of people. Several people in their twenties live in El Salvador for up to one year with this program.
United States- Inner-city ministries in Philadelphia and Chicago help at risk children, youth and the community through soup kitchens, food banks, coffeehouses, and many other types of ministries. Other domestic sites in the U.S. include Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, and Providence.
As of 1998, there are two C&MA graduate schools, four C&MA colleges, and one C&MA seminary accredited by The Association of Theological Schools. Seminaries in other countries may be accredited by other organizations. For C&MA educational institutions in the Philippines, see Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines.
In the 1980s alumni of Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea, West Africa, began to write letters to C&MA headquarters informing leadership of systemic child abuse that occurred at the school. Phone calls and letter writing of this nature to the C&MA continued for ten years.
The alumni reported that the C&MA response was evasive, deceptive, and employed “stonewalling” tactics. Alumni were reportedly told that they should forgive, and that they would "hurt the name of Jesus" by coming forward. One alumnus said that "the only way that we could get the Alliance to do anything was through the media. It was only through shaming them by putting the truth out there". Robert Fetherlin, vice president for International Ministries for the C&MA, said "We heard as far back as the 1980s that there were some questionable events that took place at Mamou. That there may have been mistreatment of children, however, we were slower than we should have been in responding to that."
In 1995, 30 alumni from Mamou approached the C&MA for an investigation and restitution. They reported systemic abuse including psychological abuse, excessive beating, sadistic dental practices performed without novocaine, sexual molestation, and rape. The following year an independent commission of inquiry (ICI) was formed and 80 testimonies were heard. In April 1998 the ICI released a report which found the denomination negligent in monitoring Mamou and in training teachers. The report identified nine offenders, of whom four were retired, three deceased and two no longer with the C&MA.
The US C&MA Board of Directors issued an open letter to the victims of abuse asking for "forgiveness for the pain and trauma that you suffered while under the care of C&MA dorm parents, teachers and missionaries."
Since these abuses occurred, the Alliance changed its policies and practices. Fetherlin said that the Alliance tried "to keep families together as much as possible, as opposed to asking parents to commit to sending their elementary children off to 'missionary kid' boarding schools", and supported homeschooling, which they had previously opposed.
The Alliance also established a Sensitive Issues Consultative Group made up of professional counselors and caregivers as part of its response to the commission's recommendations. A publication on child safety and protection entitled Safe Place was produced, a child safety and protection policy for its international work introduced, and a revised Uniform Discipline, Restoration and Appeal policy implemented that mandates denomination-wide zero-tolerance when there is a finding of sexual abuse of a child or vulnerable adult. A child protection training program which every overseas Alliance worker is required to attend was set up. Child Protection and Safety policies were published on the Alliance Web site.
The Holiness emphasis gave rise to several new church movements, including the Salvation Army, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church and the Church of God. Two leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance who had a key role in shaping the Holiness movement were its founder, A.B. Simpson, and the well-known Bible teacher A.W. Tozer.
Some denominations that emerged out of the Holiness movement are the Church of God, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Church of the Nazarene.
The Christian & Missionary Alliance makes its theological home in the Wesleyan tradition, which began in the mid 18th century as a result of the influence of the Anglican clergyman John Wesley. The Second Great Awakening, toward the beginning of the 19th century, which came about partly from the influence of Wesley's theological perspective, also played an important role in the development of the Holiness movement, of which the C&MA is a part (Schmidt 1988, 813-829).
John Wesley's influence is felt in the United Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, among others.