By Rod Huron
Would you like to be simply a Christian? A Christ follower. No more. No less.
You’re not alone.
It wasn’t always like that. Jesus may be the Prince of Peace, but his adherents have been known to murder each other over who was the wrong kind of follower and who was the right kind. Thankfully, those attitudes fade as we confront a world bent on self-destruction.
Simply a Christian. Are there such people anywhere?
Indeed there are. During the past 20 centuries many have sought a return to the beauty and simplicity of the early Christian movement: Savonarola, Jan Hus, Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jerome, and others.
Another reformer was an “Old Light, anti-Burgher, Seceder,” Presbyterian who disliked wearing labels designed to keep him separated from other believers. He proposed a gathering to examine the basics of the faith, a meeting in the spring before planting and in the fall after harvest. The year was 1809—two centuries ago.
Thomas Campbell’s “Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania” soon spawned a congregation of likeminded believers, then another, and for the next century this ideal spread like prairie fire across the developing nation. They called themselves “Disciples,” or “Christians,” or a sprinkling of other names.
One hundred years later they held a Centennial Convention in Pittsburgh. More than 50 speakers, in as many as five simultaneous sessions in churches and other venues, addressed the thousands who filled every hotel and rooming house and countless private homes October 11-19, 1909.
The climax was a Communion service in Forbes Field on Sunday afternoon with 20,000 in the stands and thousands more on the bleachers and playing field. Without benefit of public address system or image magnification, the crowd ate the bread and drank from the cup in solemn, prayerful, impressive stillness.
Tragically, such unity was already unraveling.
A sizeable minority, who preferred to worship without musical instruments, had petitioned the U. S. Census Bureau for a separate listing in 1906. Theological liberalism, attempts by agencies to impose their will upon the churches, indifference toward the biblical mode of baptism, and other issues clouded the horizon over the next two decades.
In 1926 a “Committee on Future Action” was formed and called for a convention the following year “for the purpose of defending, reviving, and furthering our plea for the restoration and extension of New Testament Christianity” (Christian Standard, October 22, 1927).
From that beginning, this “North American Christian Convention,” or NACC, has become one of the largest annual religious conventions in the country.
What Kind of Convention?
Described as a preaching convention—but never designed only for preachers—the intent of its leaders was to emphasize the great themes of New Testament Christianity: the deity and authority of Jesus, the inspiration and integrity of Scripture, the New Testament plan for the church, and the divinely given way of salvation.
Leaders intended that messages be positive, persuasive, and helpful. This was to be a teaching convention as well, offering sessions on Bible school work, elders’ responsibilities, women’s ministries, youth work, church finance, and more, always centered upon Christ and his church.
Colleges, benevolent homes, missions, and other institutions would be given opportunity to promote their cause in an exhibit area, but the platform would be reserved for preaching rather than for advocating particular agencies.
Seventy-plus conventions later—meetings were not held annually until after World War II—these principles continue.
History of Growth
The first NACC, held in Indianapolis October 12-16, 1927, drew an estimated 2,000. A “Convention In Concert” with the National Missionary Convention brought 45,000 to Indianapolis July 6-10, 1986.
That early Committee on Future Action morphed into a non-official Continuation Committee whose only responsibility was to plan next year’s convention—quite a contrast to the delegated officialdom of most denominations. The NACC intentionally maintains as little organization as possible.
One of the reasons for growth was the employment of Leonard G. Wymore as Convention Director. Wymore was known for his expertise in church leadership and Christian education.
As a young preacher I was uneasy over this departure from precedent. For years a handful of leading preachers had done the planning. I was so alarmed that I wrote a letter sharing my concern at “turning our convention over to one man’s control.”
Little did I know that 26 years later when Wymore retired, I would be asked to take his job. Fortunately, Wymore kept himself in the background and left the limelight to others, an example I tried to emulate.
Wymore rented an office, hired a small staff, and brought efficiency to the enterprise. He redesigned the planning committee to enlist ministers of congregations large and small to bring examples of best practice to workshop sessions, thus supplementing the main sessions which continued to focus upon preaching.
Wymore streamlined registration, improved promotion, made provision for families, and worked tirelessly. When he began, attendance averaged 2,000. By the time he retired, the average approached 10 times that.
During the early years a perennial problem was finding convention centers large enough to hold the event, a situation alleviated by the boom in construction in nearly every major city.
Attendance and registration do not always coincide. Registration is an act of support rather than a requirement to attend. Registration for 1946, the first NACC since World War II, totaled only 1,302. By 1983 the total had grown to 43,000, with more than 200 babies, 350 preschoolers, 800 aged 6 to 12, 2,000 teens, and 9,000 adults in worship sessions.
Yes, the NACC is indeed a family event, as planners have expanded the program to include excursions to local attractions—theme parks, riverboat tours, and the like—for children and families.
During the 1960s two students at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College adapted General Electric’s successful “College Bowl” to Bible quizzing, and held invitational meets in their areas with great success.
Leonard Wymore heard about this and introduced the Bible Bowl at the 1965 NACC in Tulsa. Thirty-one teams competed, using the New Testament book of Mark and chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians as text.
The usual format involved 16 games played simultaneously every 45 minutes, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., for four consecutive days. Two of the largest tournaments were held in St. Louis in 1979 and 1983 with 275 and 243 teams participating, respectively.
Four teenagers made up the typical team, and brought not only thousands of young people to the NACC but also mom and dad, and often grandma, grandpa, and other members of the contestants’ families—plus all that excitement and energy.
This unique event often drew the attention of the media; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured Bible Bowl on its front page in 1993—in color!
A “Refreshing” Event
Rick Rusaw, senior minister of LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado, and president of last year’s NACC, chose the theme Refreshed for the 2012 convention.
“One of the benefits of the NACC is the ripple effect,” he notes. “When people return home encouraged and blessed, they reach others. They share ideas and resources; people’s lives are touched even though they may never have attended.”
Attendance at the Orlando NACC exceeded 8,000, but more than 15,000 viewed sessions online; and more than 30,000 have gone online since it ended.
One anonymous attendee wrote, “Came this year needing encouragement—ready to quit—was absolutely refreshed, restored, energized.”
Only eternity will reveal the total impact.
A Convention of Christians
The NACC? It’s that preaching, teaching, singing, fellowship celebration of Christian life and joy sponsored by Christian churches and churches of Christ. This year’s will be in Louisville, July 9-12. Thousands are already planning to attend.
Though thousands may come, it’s doubtful that one of them agrees with everything there. In workshops and hallways and study groups they’ll voice their differences and be stronger because of it. They will try to focus upon what unites rather than what could separate.
They’ll come because they want to, and when it’s over they’ll go home ready to serve Christ a bit better in their churches and homes and private lives.
If you’d like to come, the doors are wide open.
You’ll love it.
Rod Huron served as director of the North American Christian Convention from 1987-1997 and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Church History and the Restoration Movement
Together Again: Restoring Unity in Christ after a Century of Separation
by Rick Atchley and Bob Russell
(Standard Publishing, 2006)
In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Restoration Movement
by Henry E. Webb
(ACU Press, 2003)
Restoring the First-century Church in the Twenty-first Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement
by Warren Lewis and Hans Rollmann
(Wipf & Stock, 2005)
Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement
Edited by William R. Baker
(InterVarsity Press, 2002)
Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement, Volume 2
Edited by William R. Baker
(ACU Press, 2006)