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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Young Mens Christian Associations
This is the current designation of certain organization of modern times for religious work outside of the regular ecclesiastical limits.
I. History. — There were associations of young men for religious improvement in Great Britain and Ireland at a very early period. The meetings of college students participated in and largely controlled by John and Charles Wesley were of this character. Such organizations found their way into Germany and Switzerland about the same time. In 1710 there were similar societies in New England, which were addressed by Cotton Mather under the title "Young Men Associated." There were similar associations in some of the German cities during the period from 1834 to 1842. Up to that time, however, the organizations were sporadic, and left no permanent results in the form of our present associations. A larger movement occurred in Germany in 1849, which resulted in the organization of the German associations of the present time.
The Young Men's Christian Associations of England and America originated in a meeting of a dozen clerks in the upper story of a London commercial house, for the purpose of spending an hour in religious exercises, in 1844. It was organized by George Williams, one of the clerks, and afterwards became enlarged in its scope and plan so as to meet the wants of the Christian young men of that vicinity. A convention of those who had become interested in the movement was held, and a society was formed on June 6, 1844, for "Improving the Spiritual Condition of Young Men in the Drapery and other Trades." The plan was imitated in other British cities, and found its way across the Channel. Various cities on the Continent attempted similar organizations, and among them Paris. In the French metropolis, however, the consent of the police was required in order to hold any kind of public meeting. This was at length given, and a start was made in the good work. A providential circumstance favored the popularization of the new movement. Just at this time Rernan's Life of Jesus had appeared, and was producing great excitement among the Parisians. The work was read by thousands. To counteract the infidel influence of this brilliant writer, Protestant lectures were given in reply to him. The lectures were crowded. Thousands became eager listeners, who had hitherto been out of the reach of the churches and other religious movements. This gained for the association the esteem of all the better classes, and gave it a standing which it has ever since maintained.
The movement of London also found its way across the Atlantic in two directions at about the same time. The association of Montreal, Canada, was organized according to the model of the London society, Dec. 9,1851. Twenty days later, by direct suggestion from London, and without knowledge of the organization at Montreal, the association of Boston, Mass., was organized. On June 30, 1852, the association of New York was organized, and during the same year ten associations, including those of Baltimore and Washington, came into existence. Cincinnati, however, claims a permanent organization since 1848, which is earlier than that of any other American association. Such. organizations have greatly multiplied in North America since the time above mentioned, and at an early period of their history united in conventions for aggressive and concerted action. At the First Annual Convention of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and British Provinces, which met at Buffalo, N. Y., June 7 and 8, 1854, a number of the societies, about half of those in existence, formed a Confederation. There were at that time in the countries mentioned 35 societies with about 8000 members. Associations not formally connected with the Confederation were welcomed to seats in the annual meetings, but could have no part in the proceedings except by courtesy of the convention. A second convention was held at Cincinnati in September, 1855, when there were 60 associations with 9000 members. A third convention was held at Montreal in June, 1856, when the reports showed the existence of 67 societies with 10,000 members. This convention accepted and ratified, the Paris basis, adopted by the first World's Conference of the associations, held in that city in 1855. It is as follows:
"The Young Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their doctrine and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his kingdom among young men."
As a rule, the American associations regulated their membership on this basis. It was deemed advisable to keep their membership within the membership of the evangelical churches. While those outside who are seriously disposed are permitted to enjoy all the general advantages of the association, they are not allowed to vote or to hold office. In the English associations, as a general rule, any person is eligible to membership who gives evidence of his conversion to God. But still it is expected that when such a state exists, the young man will unite with some Church. In Holland there is no restriction as to membership; it is presumed that when a young man presents himself to the association, he is earnestly seeking the kingdom of God, and is worthy of all encouragement. From the period of its organization to the breaking-out of the civil war in 1861, the new movement had made steady and rapid progress, the membership of all the associations having reached 25,000 in April of the preceding year. The work done is in part indicated by an extract from the report of the annual convention held at New Orleans, April 11, 1860:
"Sixty-nine associations have sent in reports. Of these 64 have sustained prayer-meetings; 15 have Bible-classes; 34 conduct mission Sabbath schools; 30 have had courses of sermons, and 35 courses of lectures; 45 own libraries, and 38 keep open reading- rooms."
But with the fall of Fort Sumter came a terrible shock to the associations. Many of them disbanded; the annual convention could not be called that spring; and the Confederation speedily fell to pieces. The work of the preceding ten years seemed to have been destroyed in a day. But a new field of activity came on with the war. Within a month after the opening of the war the association of New York appointed an Army Committee, who began work among the soldiers gathered in the numerous camps in the neighborhood of that city, and exposed to the demoralizing influences of camp and army life. Devotional meetings were held among the soldiers; a pocket edition of a Soldier's Hymnbook was published and circulated; the Christian men of every regiment were organized, as far as possible, for effective work, and public sentiment was aroused in behalf of the momentous interests involved.
The need of co-operation under this new phase of the movement, as under the earlier development, was soon felt, and, by the suggestion of the Army Committee of the New York association, the Central Committee was induced to call a convention to meet in New York. Only forty-two delegates were present, and these represented but fifteen associations; but in their sessions, which lasted a day and a half, a grand beginning was effected. In order to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of the soldiers and sailors of the army and navy, the United States Christian Commission was appointed. This commission consisted of twelve Christian gentlemen from eight leading cities, and was to be the organ and executive agent of the Young Men's Christian Associations and of the Christian public. This proved to be a great boon to the soldiers in camps, on battle- fields, and in hospitals. It co-operated with the Sanitary Commission, which was a purely secular agency; but it went further than that commission could go. The Christian public heartily supported its efforts, and made it the medium by which Christian homes, churches and communities sent spiritual and material comfort the soldiers in the field and the hospital. This work belonged distinctively to the Young Men's Christian Associations only at its origin. After it was fairly organized it belonged to the whole Christian public. During the four years of the war, the commission sent out 4859 delegates to do hospital and Gospel work; expended in cash $2,513,741.63; received and distributed stores worth $2,839,445.20; received and distributed Bibles and- reading-matter valued at $299,576.26,; distributed 1,466,748 Bibles and parts of the Bible, 296,816 bound books, 1,370,953 hymnbooks, 19,621,103 papers and magazines, 8,308,052 knapsack-books in flexible covers, 39,104,243 pages of tracts — its delegates preached 58,308 sermons, and held 77,444 prayer-meetings.
Similar work was done by some of the associations in the South among the soldiers of the Confederate army, but there was no general organization for that purpose.
The distinctive work of the associations throughout the country during the war was continued on a limited scale. Two general conventions were held during this period; the first met at Chicago, June 4-7,1863, with 30 associations represented; the second met at Boston, June 1-5,1864, with 28 associations represented by 136 delegates. Although these meetings were full of enthusiasm, it appeared that the principal activity of the societies was absorbed in army and commission work.
After the close of the war the associations entered upon a new period of progress in their work among young men, which has continued at an increasing rate until the present, and has every appearance of a still greater development of power for good in the years to come. Among the items in which this improvement has been manifested, a few deserve mention. A number of general secretaries have been appointed, who make this work for young men the business of their lives. These secretaries hold an annual meeting for the interchange of views on their common work, and carefully prepared papers are read on topics of vital interest to those present. The greatest advantage accruing from the labors of these officers is the rapid increase of societies, as well as of workers in those already organized. There has been a rapid increase in the amount of property and the number of buildings owned by these associations. A test of membership has been adopted by the International Convention, which has secured a more substantial Christian character to the associations. In 1866, at Albany, N.Y., they reaffirmed the Paris basis adopted in 1856; in 1868, at Detroit, Mich., they adopted the "evangelical Church test" and in 1869, at Portland, Me., defined the term evangelical. The test, as now applied, is as follows:
"Resolved, That, as these organizations bear the name of Christian, and profess to be engaged directly in the Savior's service, so it is clearly their duty to maintain the control and management of all their affairs in the hands of those who profess to love and publicly avow their faith in Jesus, the Redeemer, as Divine, and who testify their faith by becoming and remaining members of churches held to be evangelical. And we hold those churches to be evangelical, which, maintaining the Holy Scriptures to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice, do believe in' the Lord Jesus Christ (the only begotten of the Father, King of kings and Lord of lords, in whom dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and who was made sin for us, though knowing no sin, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree), as the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved from everlasting punishment."
At the time this resolution was passed about one half of the associations had the same test. It was decided that all associations organized after that date must, in order to be entitled to representation in the International Convention, limit their active voting membership to members of evangelical churches. The associations have thus secured the hearty co- operation of the churches and Christian people of the land. Another important work, not to be overlooked, is the origination by these societies of stringent legislation in the United States for the suppression of obscene literature, and the continuation of those efforts by special organizations for the enforcement of such legislation.
The building of the Pacific Railroad brought together many men of vicious habits, who, in turn, contaminated those who came in contact with them. Here was a new population continually on the move, yet sadly needing the assistance of such an organization as the Young Men's Christian Association. Each new terminus of the road became, for the time being, a town, generally of tents and board shanties; but what was a town today might be a wilderness to-morrow, and another spot in the wilderness be chosen for the town. Churches ‘ could not keep pace with this onward march of humanity. and in July, 1868, the Young Men's Christian Association of Omaha organized a movement to meet the demands of this new field.. They sent out a company of Christian young men whose duty it was to keep pace with the march of the employs and the attendant means of drawing men into temptation. They held religious meetings wherever they could get a hearing, and organized societies for the perpetuation of these beginnings. After the movement had been fairly started by the Omaha association, and its practicability had been demonstrated, the International Convention of the Young Men's Christian Association took it up, and extended it' to other railroads as rapidly as circumstances would permit. Efforts were made to open rooms for railroad workmen at Erie, Altoona, Baltimore, Jersey City, and other important centers, but for various reasons they met with only partial success. In time leading railroad men became interested in these philanthropic labors in behalf of their employees. Such men as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas A. Scott, John W. Garrett, Robert Harris, J. H. Devereux, and others gave encouragement to the movement in various ways. Some of them contributed to the support of secretaries named by the associations, and offered rooms for the holding of meetings. In Indianapolis twelve railway companies unite in supporting the association; and in Chicago the principal railroad officials are members of association committees.
II. Present Operations. — There are two prominent characteristics of these associations, which deserve notice they are associations of young men; they embody the youthful. enthusiasm and energies of the Church. What constitutes a young man, is a problem that has had various solutions. In America a man is considered to have passed his youth when he has reached the age of forty years. After that he ceases to be an active, and becomes a counseling, member. In France marriage serves as the dividing line between the young men and those who have passed young manhood. Young women, as a rule, are not admitted. In one or two organizations women have been admitted to equal or nearly equal privileges with men. This is the case in Brooklyn, where the wisdom of the plan is apparent in the activity and efficiency of the society. In some other cities women have all the privileges of the library and reading-room, and other similar advantages. In Boston they have organized a Young Women's Christian Association. A like association was founded in New York in 1870, and incorporated in 1873. It has for its object the same ends as those to which Young Men's Christian Associations are directed. Generally, however, young women are not admitted to these organizations of young men, except as spectators to certain of the more public meetings.
The second characteristic of these associations is their undenominational character. They profess to be simply Christian associations. But it was found necessary to limit the voting membership to Christian young men and in time it was deemed important to find a. common basis of Christian belief. This was found in the evangelical test already mentioned. There is a broad distinction to be noted in the methods and opinions of the evangelical churches and the so-called liberal Christians. The incitements to sinners to lead a new life, the degree of zeal in exhortation, and the methods of instructing inquiring penitents are so widely different in the two systems of belief that it was considered vital to the success of the enterprise to keep them separate in this field of labor. No new creed was desired, and none was needed; a simple declaration of what was already in the symbols of all evangelical churches was sufficient to unite the Christian young men of America into one brotherhood for aggressive Christian work. There is no clashing of theological opinions, for all have united under the one banner of the Divine Christ, to reach out and save fallen humanity from impending ruin. The work of the associations consists of prayer-meetings, Bible classes, social meetings, educational classes, meetings in jails, hospitals and almshouses, open-air services, services of song, neighborhood and cottage prayer-meetings, and the sustaining of reading- rooms, lectures, gymnasiums for physical exercise, and employment bureaus. The extent of this work is indicated in the statistics given at the close of this article.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Young Mens Christian Associations'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/y/young-mens-christian-associations.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.