The American Council of Christian Churches Still Exists

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When post-fundamentalists like Billy Graham, Carl. F.H. Henry, and Harold John Ockenga began to forge a kinder and gentler brand of conservative Protestantism known as “neo-evangelicalism,” there were many veterans of the fundamentalist-modernist battles of the 1920s who continued to cling to the “fundamentalist” label. The primary difference between these groups of former fundamentalists focused on how to engage the larger religious world.  Neo-evangelicals favored cultural engagement and an irenic spirit toward liberal Protestantism.  Fundamentalists championed separation from the world and a more militant attitude toward liberal Protestantism. As historian George Marsden once quipped, a fundamentalist is “an evangelical Christian who is angry about something.”  The fundamentalists believed that the neo-evangelicals were compromising true biblical faith by participating in religious events with modernists.  The neo-evangelicals founded the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942.  A year earlier, the fundamentalists founded the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC).  I wrote about the distinctions between these two groups here.

The American Council of Christian Churches was founded by Presbyterian minister Carl McIntire.  His fundamentalist credentials were strong.  McIntire was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. for violating his ordination vows in 1936 and quickly joined J. Gresham Machen’s Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  A year later he broke away from the OPC and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church.  I wrote about these splits here.

McIntire had grandiose dreams of a national council of fundamentalist churches similar to the ecumenical Federal Council of Christian Churches (FCC).  By early 1940, he was calling for a national organizations from the pages of his weekly newspaper, the Christian Beacon.  McIntire used the Christian Beacon to unleash scathing attacks against modernists and those fundamentalists who refused to separate from mainline Protestant denominations.  He would devote entire issues of the paper to the publication of charts and graphs designed to document the growth of liberal theology in the FCC and expose its modernist leaders.  In one editorial on the FCC and modernism, Mcintire wrote:

There is a need for an organization representing the true Protestant position which can receive its proportionate share of time from the radio broadcasts…The reason that the Protestants are not represented is that they have no spoken up.  We believe God is able and that He is going to raise up a voice.

As this quote reveals, McIntire imagined an organization that championed fundamentalist voices on the radio.  He also wanted an organization of churches that would advocate for fundamentalist military chaplains during World War II.

The American Council of Churches was born on September 17, 1941 at McIntire’s National Bible Institute (later Shelton College) on 55th Street in New York City.  The original sponsors included Will Houghton of Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones Sr. of Bob Jones University, and Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship.   The original ACCC was made-up of two fundamentalist denominations: McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church, a group of separatist Methodists who withdrew from the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 in protest to the merger between the Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church South.

The ACCC grew modestly.  In the next several years the Bible Presbyterian Church and Bible Protestant Church were joined by the American Bible Fellowship, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Old Evangelical Catholic Church, the Union of Regular Baptist Churches of Ontario and Quebec, the Tioga River Christian Conference, the Conference of Fundamentalist Churches, the United Christian Church, the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches, the Ohio Independent Baptist Church.  The two largest denominations were the General Association of Regular Baptists, which under the leadership of Robert T. Ketcham had split from the Northern Baptist Convention, and the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, who were a untied group of independent churches under the leadership of William McCarrell.

The leaders of the ACCC, despite the organization’s small constituency (1.2 million members), understood it as the ecclesiastical opponent of the massive FCC, which contained over 30 million members.  The zealous voices of the ACCC made it appear as if they had a much large piece of the American religious landscape.  They energetically, and successfully, lobbied for radio time and military chaplains.   The organization launched McIntire into the national spotlight.

I lost track of the activities of the American Council of Christian Churches after I turned my scholarly attention to early American history.  But last week I learned that the organization still exists.  In fact, its national meeting will take place this weekend right in my own backyard.

The 2019 meeting of the ACCC is scheduled for October 22-24 at Faith Chapel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  You can read all about it here.

It appears that the present-day ACCC is made up of nine denominations and continues to uphold its historic commitment to separation.

The 2019 conference theme is “Biblical Fundamentalism: Pursuing Purity.”  Here is what attendees can expect:

The emergence of Biblical Fundamentalism late in the 19th century was not the creation of something new in Christendom.  It was the call to return to the Apostolic roots of Christianity and to resist the efforts of modern liberalism to redefine the message of the Bible.  The Bible conferences that took place at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, beginning in 1876, recognized the theological drift that afflicted churches across the United States and Canada.  Long before the appearance of the New Evangelicalism with its cultivation of dialogue with enemies of the faith and compromise of the faith’s core principles, the early Fundamentalists confronted the emissaries of German rationalism and their campaign against the cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  They faced those enemies of the truth with resolve and summoned believers in Christ to take their stand for the separated witness of the Gospel. 

Nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Biblical Fundamentalism tends to be an expression of scorn and contempt among so-called conservative evangelicals who appear to desire the revival of the New Evangelicalism.  The American Council of Christian Churches declines all association with such a desire.  It takes its stand without apology for the faith once delivered to the saints.  It bears the historic name of Biblical Fundamentalism as a badge of honor and an assertion that it will stand with Christ outside the camp of worldliness and compromise.  For its 78th annual convention, to take place October 22-24 at Faith Chapel, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the American Council of Christian Churches calls the people of God to a revival of their old resolve to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  The history of Biblical Fundamentalism is replete with courageous contenders for the truth whose example 21st century believers do well to emulate.  The answers to the challenge of this time lie in the Holy Scriptures and in their revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.  To both the written and Incarnate Word, the faithful people of God owe all their allegiance and the devotion of their lives.

The titles of the plenary addresses tell us a lot about the organization.  They include:

“The Battle Royal: Biblical Fundamentalism”

“God Would Raise Up New Generations of Fundamentalists”

“Knowing Our History: Biblical Fundamentalism’s Past”

“Has the Battle Ended? Biblical Fundamentalism’s Present and Future”

The conference also includes breakout sessions devoted to the legacies of McIntire, Bob Jones Jr. Gresham Machem, Robert T. Ketcham, Bob Jones Sr, Ian Paisley, and William Bell Riley.

Yes, it appears the American Council of Churches is alive and well.  There are still groups out their who gladly embrace the label “fundamentalist.”

Why the Recent *Politico” Piece Will Not Hurt Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Standing Among Many Conservative Evangelicals

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Yesterday I posted about Brandon Ambrosino’s Politico piece exposing Jerry Falwell’s lies, shady business deals, sex life, and the tyrannical power he holds over his employees at Liberty University.  One of Falwell’s employees called the president a dictator who propagates a culture of fear at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Two things are worth noting about this story.

First, anyone who has studied the history of American fundamentalism will be familiar with the kind of power Falwell Jr. wields.  Falwell Jr. inherited Liberty from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of the school.  Falwell Sr. was the product of the separatist fundamentalist movement, an approach to conservative Protestantism that continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism” long after other mid-twentieth-century conservative Protestants had abandoned it in favor of the term “evangelical.”  Liberty University (originally Lynchburg Baptist College) was born out of this movement.

Falwell Sr.’s brand of fundamentalism not only opposed secular humanism and liberal Protestantism, but it also refused to fellowship or cooperate with conservative Christians willing to participate in religious services and events with liberal Protestants.  This was known as “second-degree separation” and, as I argued in several essays in the 1990s, it was a defining characteristic of the fundamentalist movement in the years following the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s.

When so-called “neo-evangelicals” such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and others sought to forge a more irenic brand of conservative Protestantism after World War II known as “neo-evangelicalism,” other alumni of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies such as John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr. continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism.” (Falwell Sr. was a disciple of Rice, a Wheaton, Illinois and later Murfreesboro, Tennessee -based evangelist who parted ways with Graham over the latter’s willingness to allow liberal clergy to pray at his crusades).

These separatist fundamentalists were known for empire building.  Rice built his empire around his newspaper The Sword of the Lord, a weekly publication that had over 100,000 subscribers in the 1950s.  McIntire’s built an empire around his popular radio broadcast, his Collingswood, New Jersey-based weekly newspaper The Christian Beacon, his conference-center properties in Cape May, New Jersey, and Shelton College (first in Ringwood, NJ and later Cape May) and Faith Theological Seminary (Elkins Park, PA).  Ketcham was a leader of the General Association of Regular Baptists, a denomination formed in the wake of the modernist takeover of the Northern Baptist Church.  Bob Jones Jr. presided over Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.  All of these men were autocratic leaders who wielded immense power among their followers.  They spent much of their time railing against their many enemies–modernism, mainline Protestantism, communism, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the counter-culture.  And they became experts at sniffing-out those in their ranks who they believed to be compromising their faith by working with Graham or other neo-evangelicals.

When Jerry Falwell Sr. formed the Moral Majority in 1979, many self-identified fundamentalists rejected him.  Falwell Sr.’s willingness to work with like-minded Catholics and Mormons  on moral issues was just too much for separatists such as Bob Jones Jr.   Yet Falwell Sr. never really joined the neo-evangelical fold.  Since the 1980s, Falwell Sr and the empire he created in Lynchburg has remained in a kind of no-man’s land–situated somewhere between the culturally-engaged evangelicals and the old separatists.

Though Falwell Sr. eventually parted ways with his separatist fundamentalist roots, he never abandoned the empire-building mentality of the religious culture in which he came of age as a minister.  Falwell Sr. ran Liberty University like a dictator.  So does his son.  In this sense, there is more continuity between father and son than Ambrosino allows.

Second, I am afraid that Ambrosino’s Politico article will do little to damage Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation among his followers.  Falwell Jr. will just claim that Ambrosino is a disgruntled former student and Politico is part of the mainstream media out to get him because of his support of Donald Trump.  Yes, there may be some evangelical parents and high school students who will take Liberty University off their short list because of this article and others like it, but I imagine that many students and alumni at Liberty will see Falwell Jr. and Liberty as victims of the liberal media and other forces trying to undermine evangelical Christianity, religious freedom, and Christian nationalism in America.  Liberty will remain a safe place for these parents and students.

Falwell Jr. is no dummy.  He knows that his administrative staff and faculty are expendable. In his mind, they are interchangeable parts.  He once said that he has “tamed” them.  Someone, after all, has to teach the classes.  In the end, Falwell Jr. is betting that as long as he takes his cultural war vision for Liberty University directly to the people through social media, conservative political outlets like Fox News (where Liberty advertises), and court evangelical appearances with Trump, and as long he suppressed dissent among his staff and the student body, he will continue to fill seats in the Liberty University classrooms and online venues. Many evangelicals will overlook his indiscretions in the same way they have overlooked Trump’s indiscretions.

Pence’s Space Theology

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Buzz Aldrin’s notes from Apollo 11

Marina Koren has a really interesting piece at The Atlantic on Mike Pence’s use of religious language in describing space exploration.  Here is a taste:

 

And when Pence speaks of space exploration, he speaks not only of the frontier, but of faith. His speeches sometimes sound more like sermons.

Here Pence was at the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council, in October of last year:

As President Trump has said, in his words, “It is America’s destiny to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.” And today we begin the latest chapter of that adventure. But as we embark, let us have faith. Faith that, as the Old Book teaches us that if we rise to the heavens, He will be there.

And then, in April of this year, at a gathering of space-industry professionals:

And as we renew our commitment to lead, let’s go with confidence and let’s go with faith—the faith that we do not go alone. For as millions of Americans have believed throughout the long and storied history of this nation of pioneers, I believe, as well, there is nowhere we can go from His spirit; that if we rise on the wings of the dawn, settle on the far side of the sea, even if we go up to the heavens, even there His hand will guide us, and His right hand will hold us fast.

And earlier this month, at a press conference about Trump’s proposed Space Force:

Just as generations of Americans have carried those who have taken to the skies in the defense of freedom borne upon their prayers, I want to assure all of you, who will be called to this enterprise, that you can be confident. You can be confident that you will go with the prayers of millions of Americans who will claim on your behalf, as generations have claimed before, those ancient words, that if you “rise on the wings of the dawn, if [you] settle on the far side of the sea,” even if you go up to the heavens, “even there His hand will guide [you], His right hand will hold [you] fast.” And He will hold fast this great nation in the great beyond.

Read the entire piece here.  I am always struck by the way Pence incorporates evangelical language into virtually every policy announcement he makes or social issue on which he comments.  Yesterday I was talking to a reporter who is writing a biography  of Pence. We discussed how the Vice President’s faith became central to his political career after he embraced the narrative of the Christian Right sometime in the 1980s.  (As a college student, Pence had an evangelical conversion experience at a Christian rock festival in 1978).

Koren starts-off her piece by comparing the way JFK, LBJ, Bush 1, and Bush 2 talked about space exploration with Pence’s language on the subject.  JFK talked about space exploration in terms of the liberal progress.  LBJ compared space exploration to the settlement of the American colonies.  George H.W. Bush compared astronauts to Columbus and the travelers on the Oregon Trial.

The language of Manifest Destiny–whether applied to the American West, the globe, or space– has always been saturated with Christian, religious, spiritual and providential themes.  As Koren shows, when Pence talks about “rising to the heavens” he is tapping into the language of evangelical astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, Jeffrey Williams, and Jim Irwin.

And speaking of space exploration and evangelicals, there were also fundamentalists who were fascinated with UFOs.

McIntire UFOS

On Misspelling George Whitefield’s Name

ebb68-georgewhitefieldTwenty-five years ago I was writing an M.A. thesis on separatist fundamentalism in twentieth-century America.  One of the key figures in my research was a mid-century fundamentalist named Carl McIntire.  (I actually published an article about him in 1994).

As I read secondary sources that mentioned McIntire I was struck by how so many scholars–very good scholars–misspelled his name “McIntyre.”  But I digress.

I thought about the McIntire-McIntyre issue when I saw the title of Thomas Kidd‘s recent post at The Gospel Coalition: “The History of Misspelling George Whitefield’s Name.”  Kidd, of course, is the author of George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father.

Here is a taste:

Whenever the topic of George Whitefield comes up in my classes, I always have to tell the students, “I know it looks like you’d pronounce his last name White-field, but it is pronounced Whit-field.” Therein lies the reason why Whitefield, the greatest evangelist of the 18th century, also has one of the most misspelled names in history. In one of the odd accidents of English pronunciation, Whitefield’s name was not pronounced the way it is spelled. Thus from the beginning of his public career, people have been misspelling Whitefield’s name as “Whitfield….”

…One of the first misspellings of Whitefield’s name came in one of his first published sermons. In 1737 in London, a publisher produced an edition of what would become one of his signature sermons, The Nature and Necessity of the New Birth, but misspelled his last name. After that, most publishers were clued in to the correct spelling as he became arguably the most famous man in Britain and America during the mid-1700s.

But misspellings continued to pop up occasionally. Sometimes the name would be spelled correctly on the title page but wrongly within a publication. A 1771 Boston edition of John Wesley’s memorial sermon for Whitefield misspelled the name on the title page. (Ironically, Whitefield died in the Boston area in 1770. When word arrived in London, Wesley gave a memorial sermon at Whitefield’s Tottenham Court Road chapel, and the text of it made its way back across the Atlantic, where it was published in Boston, with Whitefield’s name misspelled.)

Read the rest here

The Papers of David Hedegard

In another manifestation of my scholarly life I did a lot of work on American fundamentalism.  My master’s thesis, which I spun into a couple of articles, focused on the separatist fundamentalism of mid-20th century figures such as Carl McIntire, John R. Rice, and Bob Jones Jr.  Somewhere along the way I became an early American historian, but I still have aspirations to write a biography of McIntire, one of the most interesting and entertaining Protestant fundamentalists to ever live.  We will see if it ever happens.  (About one-third of the research is done.  It is sitting in a couple of boxes in my basement).

With this in mind, I was very intrigued by Marrku Ruotsila’s recent post at the blog of the American Society of Church History.  Ruotsila, who teaches church history at the University of Helsinki, has found a small treasure trove of material in Sweden’s Lund Archives on David Hedegard (1891-1971), a Swedish fundamentalist who corresponded with McIntire, Francis Schaeffer, and other fundamentalist leaders.  Here is a taste of her post:

Among the first things you notice when starting to go through the more than six archival meters of boxes that constitute the Hedegård collection is a treasure trove of late 1940s and early 1950s correspondence by Francis Schaeffer. The authors of recent biographies of this luminary of the American evangelical movement were apparently unaware of this collection. Consequently they missed on aspects of Schaeffer’s activities and aspirations in the early years of his career when he worked for the ICCC’s separatist fundamentalists.

From these materials it becomes abundantly clear that from almost the moment that he landed in Europe in 1946 Schaeffer identified with European evangelicals and acted as their interpreter to his superiors in the United States. He also schemed – a lot and right from the beginning of his European sojourn. He tried feverishly to recruit supporters for a bid to take over the ICCC through his secretive “European Friends of the ICCC” opposition group.

I think there is much potential in Ruotsila’s work on global fundamentalism.  As the field of American history becomes more oriented toward the global, it  makes sense that American religious historians, and historians of American fundamentalism, take up the task of thinking more broadly about this movement.  McIntire’s International Council of Christian Churches is certainly one window into this global movement.