Student Volunteer Movement - InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

The Student Volunteer Movement's decline, begun after World War I, reached its nadir in 1940. It was clear that if the Movement wanted to continue its existence it could not continue in its old role as a consensus movement acceptable to both conservatives and liberals. There was a parting of the ways, and the Movement had to choose to head in either a conservative or a liberal direction. As evidenced by the Movement's eventual entrance into the National Student Christian Federation, decisions made during this period had the effect of orienting the Movement in a more liberal direction. This orientation was not a foregone conclusion, however, for significant portions of the SVM's constituency and leadership were not in sympathy with the less evangelistic, more humanitarian drift of the "Y" and major denominational student movements during this period.

The SVM's path away from a more conservative basis can be traced in its relations with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a student Christian movement established in the United States in 1940. The Volunteer Movement was initially very sympathetic to the aims of the Fellowship. In February 1944 SVM General Secretary Winburn Thomas wrote to a Yale Divinity School student: "I feel very keenly that we of the SVM have much to learn from the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and I would therefore like to see represented on our Board of Directors the intensity of feeling and dynamic purpose which characterizes many of you in that movement."(SVM Archives, Series V, with Board of Directors records, February 1944) When the IVCF was discussed at a Movement meeting in October 1944 it was noted that the IVCF tended to attract "doctrinaire and controversial fundamentalists but "it was not yet clear that the Fellowship would be dominated by these types."

In 1948 it was reported to the SVM Board of Directors that many formerly strong student volunteer movements overseas had faded in importance, and missionary education tasks were often carried by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups in these countries. The report of the Special Commission on Future Policy at this time recommended that the new campus missionary fellowships being promoted by the SVM should strive to be on good relations with fundamentalist campus groups.

Although the Volunteer Movement continued to seek rapprochement with the IVCF, appointing fraternal delegates to its conferences and encouraging reciprocal action, the Fellowship's vigorous missionary program became a direct rival to the program of the SVM. It was the leadership of the IVCF, rather than its constituency, which was most inclined to discourage IVCF-SVM cooperation. In 1949 a SVM traveling secretary reported: "In one state school I found that the Inter-Varsity group themselves were not at all aware of the fact that the Fellowship officers on the national level do not wish to cooperate with the SVM. All the students were interested and would have been willing to sign SVM declaration cards, but they had their affiliations with Inter-Varsity and it did not seem wise to interfere...."

In the analysis of Vern Rossman, the Movement's fraternal delegate to the IVCF missions conference of 1951, there were four barriers to cooperation between the IVCF and the SVM: l)historical: the IVCF's reaction against the general student movements" humanitarian drift of the 1930s and its desire for institutional preservation; 2) psychological: the IVCF's taboos on smoking, dancing, and cosmetics, its particular forms of religious jargon, its inclination toward political and economic conservatism; 3) theological differences; and 4) the IVCF's lack of ecumenical spirit, "IVCF sees itself as exclusive in function . . . doctrinally pure, true to the Bible . . . emphasizing holiness almost to the exclusion of catholicity." Rossman reported that the IVCF conference program stressed Bible study and worship and although a few unofficial representatives of mainline denomination missions boards attended, the platform speakers generally represented conservative or faith missions boards.

Despite the barriers cited by Rossman, the SVM continued to make overtures to the IVCF. In September 1953 the SVM Board of Directors sent a letter to the Associate General Secretary of the IVCF asking for greater cooperation, "realizing that we are essentially one in purpose . . . ." It was proposed that the Inter-Varsity Missionary Fellowship be represented on the SVM Quadrennial Planning Committee and on the Board of Directors. The Student Volunteer Movement became increasingly involved in the ecumenical student movement, effectively eliminating the possibility of IVCF cooperation, but it continued to admire the spirit of Fellowship in IVCF groups. At a Policy Committee meeting in 1956, the Committee members still hoped that "development of SVM Fellowship groups envisaged on campuses might bring SVM closer to IVCF in understanding."

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