By The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections Staff
Primary Creator: National Christian Association (1860-1983)
Extent: 76.0 boxes. More info below.
Arrangement: The collection is arranged by series with folder level control.
Date Acquired: 00/00/1984
Subjects: Fraternal organizations, Freemasonry -- Religious aspects -- Christianity, Freemasons., Grand Army of the Republic., Independent Order of Odd Fellows., Knights of Pythias., Knights Templar (Masonic order), National Christian Association -- Archives, National Grange., Secret societies -- Religious aspects -- Christianity, Secret societies -- United States
The National Christian Association was founded in 1868 with the purpose of organizing Christian opposition to secret societies, i.e., oath-bound orders such as the Freemasons, Knights Templar, Oddfellows, and Knights of Pythias. Researchers inquiring into the areas of Christian reform, fraternalism, and anti-secretism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries will find ample material in this collection. In addition, The Christian Cynosure (1868-1983), the official organ of the Chicago-based NCA and Lodge Lamp (1894-1897), provided coverage of religious and anti-secret activity.
The archive of the National Christian Association cover the years from the organization's founding in 1868 to its disbanding in 1983. Several prominent members of the NCA were Wheaton College personnel, and in 1984, the Board of Directors agreed to place its archive in the Buswell Memorial Library Special Collections. The material was received early the next year through Rev. Fred Van Houghton, former NCA Board member. Included among the records are: (1) Printed Material: books, pamphlets, leaflets, and periodicals (2) Corporate records: minutes, financial records, legal items, correspondence, etc. (3) The Christian Cynosure (1868-1937, 1957-1983), the official organ of the NCA (4) Memorabilia: Masonic regalia, embossers, and awards.
The order of most of the collection has been archivist-arranged, since original order appeared to have been lost. The order of the subject files and index cards, which arrived in a filing cabinet, was maintained.
A significant gap exists in the run of The Christian Cynosure; the issues from the years 1937 to 1957 are lacking, except for a few single issues. Board minutes prior to 1873 are lacking as are those for the years 1927-1940. Little correspondence has survived, save for three letter books covering the years 1908-1913 and several letters from the 1970s. Correspondence on certain topics may be found among the subject files.
The corporate records are uneven in their coverage. Tax return information, for instance, is quite complete, while correspondence is scarce. Documents concerning legal matters involving the NCA, mainly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are present. Many of these are bequests, but litigation against the organization and legal assistance rendered to NCA sympathizers are also treated. Other topics include the Carpenter Building (850 W. Madison, Chicago, the Association's headquarters), dealings with the City of Chicago, miscellaneous Cynosure matters, financial reports, and banking records.
In addition to the NCA documents, minutes of meetings of the Illinois State Christian Association and the Sabbath Association are also included in the collection.
A master pamphlet list is included later in this guide. It includes all printed items in the collection of four pages or more. Many of these items are housed in the subject files, but others are scattered throughout the other series. This information is maintained on a computer data base and searching can be performed. Ask a staff member for details. An index to the early issues of the Cynosure is also available.
Oath-bound secret orders, although today relatively insignificant, have existed for centuries, usually in the margins of civil life. Clandestine orders such as Freemasonry and Yale University’s infamous “Skull & Bones” have touched prominent posts in U.S. politics since the nation’s earliest years. The mystique of the secret society is perennially alluring.
Aside from its fraternal appeal and exclusive membership, an order ostensibly advocates morals and patriotism, certainly praiseworthy. For decades many Christians believe that secret societies operate from an essentially pagan heart and confuses or blatantly contradicts non-negotiable fundamentals of the Christian faith, such as the Bible representing the unique revelation of God, or Christ’s atonement as the only means of salvation.
Anti-masonic sentiment achieved its shrillest pitch in 1826 when Capt. William Morgan published an expose of Freemasonry. According to the popular account, he was abducted by incensed Lodge members and drowned in the Niagara River in New York. In the ensuing hysteria, thousands of frightened men quit the Lodge, and Masons were barred from churches. A glut of anti-Masonic literature appeared, unblushingly explaining its ceremonies, oaths and rituals. Presently the Anti-Masonic Party formed. However, in spite of the suspicion leveled against it, the Lodge continued and even increased in the decades following.
In response, The National Christian Association (NCA) appeared in the 1860s, inspired by the suggestion of two Free Methodist ministers, N.D. Fanning and C.H. Underwood. The NCA determined to oppose the insidious influence of societies and, through tracts, lectures and sermons, introduce those embroiled with orders, both Christian and non, to the freedom promised by Jesus Christ, who performed His ministry not secretly but openly (John 8:12).
The publishing arm of the NCA, The Christian Cynosure, was established in 1868, purposing to warn Christians about “secretism.” The paper was born of a suggestion by Philo Carpenter, a wealthy Chicago merchant who heavily funded The Cynosure, and donated a building for its headquarters. The NCA, although not affiliated with a church or denomination, always welcomed financial support from those institutions.
Its driving force and first president, Jonathan Blanchard, also first president of Wheaton College, vehemently opposed the Lodge in all its variations. Next to slavery, he considered it the most diabolical institution flourishing on American soil practiced by civilized men. His son, Charles, served as the NCA’s first lecturer.
Working in sympathy with the Blanchards was Charles G. Finney of Oberlin College. Finney, Mason Third Degree, converted to Christ, then attended his Lodge as usual; but there he experienced an unaccountably depressed spirit. Examining himself and the Lodge, he quit, realizing that his “…new life instinctively and irresistibly recoiled from any fellowship with what I now regarded as ‘the unfruitful works of darkness.’” Later Finney assisted in preparing The Cynosure for publication and traveled widely, addressing audiences concerning the evils of fraternal orders.
One of the NCA’s ambitions was challenging the Lodge’s dubious claim that its tenets were based firmly upon scriptural principles. For instance, this statement from the Masonic Creed: “There is one God, the Father of all men.” Although the NCA advocated the monism of God, it flatly denied His universal fatherhood.
In addition to Freemasonry, the NCA stood foursquare against the Oddfellows, Elks and the Ku Klux Klan, among scores of other lesser-known orders. As The Cynosure’s circulation broadened, it also addressed Mormonism, Christian Science, Liberalism and Communism, featuring articles from prominent pastors, politicians and ex-cultists.
The NCA also promoted the Sunday School, “one of our most indispensable institutions,” noting that “98 per cent of all Sunday School trained boys and girls never get into any serious trouble or crime.”
In the 1930s, The Cynosure’s management passed from interdenominational circles to Christian Reformed Church (CRC) hands, although its anti-order emphasis remained. During the 1950s, the NCA’s advisory council included pulpit luminaries such as V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College; Evan Welsh, Chaplain, Wheaton College; and A.W. Tozer, pastor and author.
Eventually the Lodge’s influence diminished and an array of post-1950s ills emerged; consequently The Cynosure’s circulation waned. Bidding its readers a grateful farewell, the paper folded in 1983.
Freemasonry -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
Grand Army of the Republic.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Knights of Pythias.
Knights Templar (Masonic order)
National Christian Association -- Archives
Secret societies -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
Secret societies -- United States
Access Restrictions: There are no specific restrictions on this collection.
Use Restrictions: Duplication may be restricted if copying could cause damage to items.
Acquisition Source: In 1984 the Board of Directors of the National Christian Association agreed to place its archive at Wheaton College. The material was received in 1985 from Board member Rev. Fred Van Houghton.
Acquisition Method: Gift
Preferred Citation: National Christian Association Records (SC-29), Wheaton College Special Collections, Wheaton, Illinois.
The National Christian Association was founded in 1868 with the purpose of organizing Christian opposition to oath-bound secret societies. Holding these orders to be opposed to good morals and the Christian religion, the NCA held conventions, published anti-secret literature, and arranged addresses against the lodges.
The archive of the National Christian Association contains a wealth of material concerning secretism, and anti-secrecy of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection contains the corporate papers of the organization, a run of The Christian Cynosure (the official organ of the NCA), and many books, periodicals, and pamphlets from both fraternal and anti-fraternal sources.
The NCA collection is supplemented by other collections held in the Archives and Special Collections. The papers of Jonathan Blanchard provide personal insight into one of the founders of the organization, while the papers and sermons of Charles Blanchard preserve the words and activities of one of its lecturers. The Blanchard libraries and the Rare Book Collection include works of interest to those researching secret societies.
Other URL: http://library.wheaton.edu