It is the 7th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1942.
So, there was this pastor named J. Elwin Wright. He led a Pentecostal church in New Hampshire, the same church his father was pastor. But not the same building. The original church had been destroyed by angry townspeople who did not appreciate the elder Wright’s exclusionary preaching. They were evangelical, and he was Pentecostal and, in those days, these groups did not consider themselves theological allies.
But the younger Wright had met Harold J. Ockenga… a name familiar to many as one of the founders of modern Evangelicalism. The two hit it off and decided to bring their two traditions together: Evangelical and Pentecostal.
Real quick: these groups are pretty similar, but the distinction would be made between them on questions surrounding the role of the Holy Spirit. Questions involved the necessity of speaking in tongues and a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” separate from water baptism for some. These are necessary components of true conversion.
During the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy, the conservative churches tended to fragment, leaving the mainline churches in possession of important infrastructure, from publishing arms to the National Council of Churches.
This new alliance of conservatives sought to replicate the coalitions they left behind, and a meeting was called to address possible solutions. And it was on this, the 7th of April in 1942, that Wright, Ockenga, and 140 other conservative church leaders met to form the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA).
The NEA would form the National Religious Broadcasters and the World Evangelical Fellowship; as the group formed during World War II, they also developed a chaplaincy program for evangelical chaplains. The NAE would partner with Youth for Christ and other conversion-oriented Protestants such as Billy Graham.
By 1960 this group of united evangelicals and Pentecostals counted over 1 million members across 35 denominations. In the 1970s, the NAE sponsored creating a new translation of the Bible for evangelical readers. They believed the Revised Standard Version was tainted by liberal scholarship and produced the New International Version or NIV. According to the late 20th century, this was the best-selling translation of the Bible for a time in the Christian Booksellers Association.
The NAE has courted controversy for its role in the rise of the Religious Right. In 1983 the organization filed an amicus brief in Bob Jones University vs. The United States. This case involved the tax status of Bob Jones University. Under pressure, Bob Jones University had recently started admitting African Americans. However, interracial dating was grounds for expulsion. You may do with this what you will.
In the 2000s, the NAE received a good deal of media attention with the bizarre case of Ted Haggard. Ted Haggard was a famous evangelical preacher who became president of the Organization in 2003. Now, I like to think of this as a family podcast, and so I’m going to let you, dear listener, check out the Haggard story on your own. I will recommend HBO documentaries that follow this scandal and its aftermath…
It would be hard to underestimate the significance of the evangelical movement in the second half of the century. And it was the National Association of Evangelicals that would harness the power of the nascent union of evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals. And today, we remember the founding of this National Association of Evangelicals on this, the 7th of April in 1942.
Counting down the last month of the second season with my favorite readings from the past two seasons, we hear from Henry Vaughn today. This is his “Peace.”
My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher “Glossolalia” Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who has never once spoken in tongues. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.