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National Christian Association (1860-1983) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: National Christian Association (1860-1983)


Historical Note:

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.

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff






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