The National Reform Association

A movement that began among 19th century American Reformed Presbyterians, and included support from many other various Protestant denominations, was known as National Reform. This movement sought to promote the national recognition of the crown rights of King Jesus within the U.S. Constitution by the amendment process, and hence, it also came to be known as the Christian Amendment movement.

Meeting were held by interested parties in Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1863, but the National Reform Association was officially founded on January 27, 1864, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, although its origin is traced to an 1861 resolution adopted by the Lakes Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) calling for the U.S. Constitution to be amended “to acknowledge God, submit to the authority of his Son, embrace Christianity, and secure universal liberty.” The organization’s original name was the National Association for the Amendment of the Constitution, but it was changed to the National Reform Association in 1875.

It is reported that members of the NRA actually met with President Abraham Lincoln before his death in an effort to advance their goals with his support. “A large and influential Committee was appointed to wait upon President Lincoln for an official endorsement of the work proposed by the Association. He responding said that in as far as he had opportunity to understand the purpose of the Association, he heartily favored it. Some time previous to this a number of Christian men had waited upon Mr. Lincoln and had requested of him the accomplishment of two measures. First, the abolition of American slavery, and second, the adoption of a suitable recognition of the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Constitution of the United States. To a few of the men who were on the Committee of the National Reform Association he privately said, ‘Gentlemen, in your former visit you requested of me two things. During the first term of my administration I was able to secure your first request. It is my hope that during my second term I will be able to secure your second request.’” (David McAllister, Christian Civil Government (1927), p. 24)

The list of early Presidents, officers and members include notable names such as William Strong (U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Presbyterian ruling elder); Archibald Alexander Hodge (Presbyterian minister); Charles Hodge (Presbyterian minister); Joshua Hall McIlvaine (Princeton Seminary professor); James Renwick Wilson Sloane (Reformed Presbyterian minister and Reformed Presbyterian Theological School professor); Thomas Patton Stevenson (Reformed Presbyterian minister); and Sylvester Fithian Scovel (Presbyterian minister and president of Wooster University); among other representatives and members from the Protestant Episcopal Church and other backgrounds, including Methodist and Baptist bodies.

The official publication of the NRA, The Christian Statesman, was founded by T.P. Stevenson and David McAllister in 1867. Proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution received significant popular support in the latter half of the nineteenth century, resulting in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, which tabled the proposal in 1874, and in hearings before Congress in the 1890s and 1910s.

Over time, a number of issues have been the focus of the NRA’s labors, beyond its primary goal of advancing a Christian amendment to the US Constitution acknowledging national submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, including Sabbath laws, religion in public schools, pro-life concerns, and other matters of interest to those who hold to Christ’s mediatorial kingship over both church and state.

It is this fundamental doctrine of Christ’s mediatorial kingship over all things, publicly avowed by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and affirmed by many Reformed and Presbyterian ministers and churches in America over the years (Francis Robert Beattie, Alexander Craighead, Robert Lewis DabneySamuel Davies, Robert James Dodds, Robert James George, David McAllister, James Calvin McFeeters, Alexander McLeod, Gilbert McMaster, Alfred Nevin, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, William Swan Plumer, William Sommerville, David Steele, Thomas Patton Stevenson, James Henley Thornwell, Geerhardus Vos, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, James McLeod Willson, James Renwick Willson, Richard Cameron Wylie, and Samuel Brown Wylie, are among such men represented at Log College Press), that undergirds the mission of the National Reform Association.

Who can forget the profound words of A.A. Hodge, in particular, on behalf of the "crown rights of Jesus"? 

"And if Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings, if he is really the Ruler among the nations, then all nations are in a higher sense one nation, under one King, one law, having one interest and one end. There cannot be two laws for Christians—one to govern the relations of individuals, and the other the relations of nations. We must love our neighbor-man as ourselves, so the Master says; therefore we must love our neighbor-man as our own. The rivalries, jealousies, antagonisms and cruel wars between nations are all hideous fratricidal contests and satanic rebellions against Christ our common King. How miserably small and narrow and selfish is the form of so-called patriotism which our poor children are taught is so great a virtue, in comparison with that holy, uplifting passion which comprehends all nations as inseparable parts of the one living universal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! Suppose your enterprise in the great competitions of manufacture and trade surpasses theirs, and you grow rich and gild your palaces with the spoils of their poverty; suppose your sinews of war or your personal prowess and valor surpass theirs, and your empire grows great out of the ruins of their commonwealth,—what are you, after all, but the betrayer of your brother's peace or the destroyer of your brother's life and the disloyal render of the body of your common Lord? Alas, that we have yet to learn that the so-called code of honor among nations is just as mean and vulgar a thing as the code of honor among individuals!

And if Christ is really King, exercising original and immediate jurisdiction over the State as really as he does over the Church, it follows necessarily that the general denial or neglect of his rightful lordship, any prevalent refusal to obey that Bible which is the open lawbook of his kingdom, must be followed by political and social as well as by moral and religious ruin. If professing Christians are unfaithful to the authority of their Lord in their capacity as citizens of the State, they cannot expect to be blessed by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in their capacity as members of the Church. The kingdom of Christ is one, and cannot be divided in life or in death. If the Church languishes, the State cannot be in health, and if the State rebels against its Lord and King, the Church cannot enjoy his favor. If the Holy Ghost is withdrawn from the Church, he is not present in the State; and if he, the only "Lord, the Giver of life," be absent, then all order is impossible and the elements of society lapse backward to primeval night and chaos.

Who is responsible for the unholy laws and customs of divorce which have been in late years growing rapidly, like a constitutional cancer, through all our social fabric? Who is responsible for the rapidly-increasing, almost universal, desecration of our ancestral Sabbath ? Who is responsible for the prevalent corruptions in trade which loosen the bands of faith and transform the halls of the honest trader into the gambler's den ? Who is responsible for the new doctrines of secular education which hand over the very baptized children of the Church to a monstrous propagandism of Naturalism and Atheism ? Who is responsible for the new doctrine that the State is not a creature of God and owes him no allegiance, thus making the mediatorial Headship of Christ an unsubstantial shadow and his kingdom an unreal dream?

Whence come these portentous upheavals of the ancient primitive rock upon which society has always rested? Whence comes this socialistic earthquake, arraying capital and labor in irreconcilable conflict like oxygen and fire? Whence come these mad nihilistic, anarchical ravings, the wild presages of a universal deluge, which will blot out at once the family, the school, the church, the home, all civilization and religion, in one sea of ruin ?

In the name of your own interests I plead with you; in the name of your treasure-houses and barns, of your rich farms and cities, of your accumulations in the past and your hopes in the future,—I charge you, you never will be secure if you do not faithfully maintain all the crown-rights of Jesus the King of men. In the name of your children and their inheritance of the precious Christian civilization you in turn have received from your sires; in the name of the Christian Church,—I charge you that its sacred franchise, religious liberty, cannot be retained by men who in civil matters deny their allegiance to the King. In the name of your own soul and its salvation ; in the name of the adorable Victim of that bloody and agonizing sacrifice whence you draw all your hopes of salvation; by Gethsemane and Calvary, — I charge you, citizens of the United States, afloat on your wide wild sea of politics, There is Another King, One Jesus: The Safety Of The State Can Be Secured Only In The Way Of Humble And Whole-souled Loyalty To His Person and of Obedience His Law." (A.A. Hodge, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes, pp. 284-287)

While Eph. 1:21-22 is considered by many to be the locus classicus showing Christ’s mediatorial reign over all things (sometimes Matt. 28:18 too), McAllister argues from several other Scriptural passages thus in Christian Civil Government, p. 158:

"The Scriptures Teach that Christ is Ruler of Nations

1. Jesus Christ as Mediator, has all power and universal dominion committed to him, which must include authority over nations.

MATTHEW 28:18. – ‘And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.’

JOHN 5:22, 23. – ‘The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him.’

ACTS 10:36. – ‘Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all.’

1 CORINTHIANS 15:27. – ‘He [the Father] hath put all things under his [the Son’s] feet.’

PHILIPPIANS 2:9-11. – ‘God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’"

William O. Einwechter, “The Judgment is God’s” in Explicitly Christian Politics: The Vision of the National Reform Association (1997), p. 81, writes:

“The Judgment is God’s: Christ’s Reign

According to the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures and the New Testament revelation, the statement that the ‘judgment is God’s needs to be further defined to declare that in this age of fulfillment ‘the judgment is Christ’s.’ This declaration concerning the Lord Jesus Christ reflects the fact of His current mediatorial reign over the nations. At the time of the resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ was invested with all authority in heaven and earth and given dominion over all the nations. The Father has committed all judgment to the Son who presently rules at His right hand. Let us briefly consider three important biblical texts that lead to the conclusion that now the judgment is Christ’s."

Einwechter (a Reformed Baptist mininster and former vice-president of the NRA) then goes on to discuss Psalm 2, Psalm 110 and Daniel 7 and how these particular passages teach that Christ, in his mediatorial office of king, has unlimited scope of authority and dominion over all things.

The current mission statement (2017) of the NRA includes this statement:

“In order to honor the commandment of Scripture to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over the nations of the earth (Psalm 2:7-12; Matt 28:18; Eph 1:20-22; Col. 2:10; Rev 1:5; Rev 11:15) and to progress with fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), the mission of the National Reform Association since 1863 has been to work with political leaders, pastors, and lay leaders to promote reformation in government and society, and to secure an amendment to the United States Constitution modifying it as needed, particularly in its Preamble and First Amendment, to recognize Jesus Christ as King and Supreme Governor of the United States. The wording of the new Preamble would be proposed as such:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Thus, from the mid-19th century to the present, the NRA, organized with both Reformed Presbyterian leadership and ecumenical support, continues to testify on Biblical grounds that the United States has an obligation to acknowledge the kingship of Christ and to submit to his mediatorial reign over the nations. To read more about this organization and its principles, please consult 1) George Price Hays, Presbyterians (1892), pp. 420-421; 2) Robert Ellis Thompson, A History of the Presbyterian in the United States (1895), pp. 280-283; 3) David McAllister, Christian Civil Government (1927); 4) James H. Moorhead, Princeton Seminary in American Religion and Culture (2012), pp. 227-228; and 5) Explicitly Christian Politics: The Vision of the National Reform Association (1997).

Note: The author of this post serves on the Board of the National Reform Association as Secretary and Treasurer.