History of Our Society
The historical roots of the Society of Professors in Christian Education (SPCE) can be traced as far back as 1929. Though SPCE did not exist at that time, the seeds of conviction which would ultimately lead to the establishment of our current organization were planted at that time.
By the late 19th Century, many previously theologically-conservative Christian denominations had embraced many of the tenets of the higher critical method. This slowly led to looser convictions about the nature of biblical authority. Two major outcomes of this phenomenon were the embrace of the Social Gospel and the rise of a new type of ecumenism not previously seen in Denominationalism or American Christianity. This ecumenical movement was one based on the dissolution of certain fundamental theological convictions, something understood by conservative evangelicals to be a departure from historical orthodox Christianity.
The Federal Council of Churches
A liberal-leaning organization called the Federal Council of Churches (one who later merged with other congregations to form today’s National Council of Churches) was formed in 1908.
Its existence and rapid growth was believed to present a direct threat to biblical Christianity and theological fidelity. As more churches began de-emphasizing key doctrinal positions there was an increasing realization among evangelical churches that greater emphasis needed to be placed on the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the essential unity of evangelical thought and theology.
The Birth of the National Association of Evangelicals
Leaders became convinced that the best way to meet the need was to build an organization that could unite evangelical “Bible-believing” churches on the basis of their theological convictions. In 1929, the New England Fellowship was formed to do just that. It became clear, however, that the challenges being manifested were hardly relegated to the great northeast. This led to the conviction that a national association for evangelical Christians was needed. In 1942, a band of courageous leaders formed the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) organization to represent all conservative evangelical Christian movements.
Concerns of the National Association of Evangelicals:
From its inception, the NAE was concerned about:
2. Evangelicals’ relationship to the government
3. National and local use of radio technology
4. Public relations
5. The preservation of separation of church and state
6. The guarantee of freedom for home and foreign missionary endeavor
7. The quality of Christian education
Establishment of the National Sunday School Association
The NAE formed various commissions and affiliated organizations to address the concerns of the Association. Among the commissions formed was the Church School Commission. Many evangelical Christian educators were concerned about the growing influence of theological liberalism on the Sunday School movement.
In 1944, several Christian educators met with the Church School Commission of the NAE. The result was the formation in 1945 of the National Sunday School Association (NSSA). NSSA began holding national conventions in 1946. The conventions of NSSA revitalized Sunday schools in many evangelical churches for a time. In the 1950s and 60s, the work of NSSA was reflected in several commissions. Among these were the Research Commission, the Camp Commission, the Youth Commission, the Denominational Sunday School Secretaries, the Area Chairman Commission and the affiliated body, The National Directors of Christian Education.
After a discussion of the needs in Christian education, the leadership of NSSA formed the Research Commission. The members were to be evangelical teachers, professors, and writers in the field of Christian education. This Commission met yearly in conjunction with the National NSSA Convention. Although Commission members represented Christian higher education institutions, much of their work was directed toward improving Christian education in local churches- not Christian higher education.
The Establishment and Work of the Research Commission
Exactly who should be a part of the Research Commission was an issue for several years. From the beginning, only those persons teaching Christian education in institutions of higher learning could be active members. In 1963, the membership qualifications were expanded to include persons who teach related subjects and persons who formerly taught Christian Education subjects and who are interested in higher education. Initially, the Research Commission worked closely with the NSSA. However, as the group grew they began to concentrate more on the needs of higher education.
The 1968 president of the Research Commission, Dr. Paul E. Loth, reported to the NSSA that Commission members were dissatisfied with meeting at the NSSA conventions. In 1969, NSSA, desiring to improve communication with its commissions and began holding annual leadership seminars. The Research Commission held their annual meetings in conjunction with the NSSA seminars. This was during a time of great impact for the NAE during the rise of the ministry of the Rev. Billy Graham, an early leader of the organization.
An Academic Association of Christian Educators
The growing concerns of the Research Commission members were expressed in their desire for a name change in 1970. The recommendation was approved unanimously by the Commission members and was also approved by the board of NSSA. The new name being the National Association of Professors of Christian Education (NAPCE) which borrowed part of its namesake from the “National Association” of Evangelicals.
The National Association of Professors in Christian Education (NAPCE) developed a statement to describe the organization during 1971-72. The new stated purpose was for fellowship and mutual enrichment among association members. Namely, the function of NAPCE was to provide meaningful interaction, professional networking, and scholarly dialogue for professors of Christian education and related disciplines who serve in evangelical Bible colleges, liberal arts colleges and universities, and theological seminaries.
A crisis occurred when Dr. Ron Chadwick, who became the NAPCE president in 1971, became very concerned about the future viability of the organization. When he learned in 1972 of the poor financial condition of the National Sunday School Association (NSSA), he contacted the other NAPCE officers. They decided that the survival of NAPCE required separation from NSSA. In 1980, NAPCE severed all ties with NAE and became an independent association. The Association continued to operate as it had since about 1972. Even the NSSA doctrinal statement continued to be used by the Association. Agreement with the statement was expected of all members although signing of the statement has not been required since about 1975.
The Incorporation of the North American Professors of Christian Education (NAPCE)
At the 1984 NAPCE meeting in Kansas City, the officers of NAPCE recommended incorporation as an independent organization. The first board of directors was formed based on a tentative constitution. Officers were chosen from among the board. This practice has continued since its inception.
The membership of the NAPCE continued to grow. Over two hundred professors joined the Association in 1986. The financial status of the organization improved and at the 1986 convention Dennis Williams accepted the position of a paid part-time Executive Administrator, to promote the Association and to execute administrative duties.
Between 1991 and 1992, the name was changed from the “‘National Association’ of Professors of Christian Education” to the “‘North American’ Professors of Christian Education.” Hence, the organization continued to be called by the NAPCE abbreviation. During the following two decades, NAPCE grew in strength and reputation. In 2011, Dr. Williams was named Senior Consultant and a new executive administrator, Dr. Freddy Cardoza, was appointed.
The Renaming of the Organization to the Society of Professors in Christian Education (SPCE)
At the 2012 Annual Meeting, members affirmed a new name for our group to represent ourselves as an academic society whose membership had grown beyond North America, hence the new name “Society of Professors in Christian Education.”