Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

A MEAL ON THE MOON

February 3rd, 2010

A little-known fact about the Apollo 11 landing 40 years ago:

Forty years ago, on July 20, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climbed out of the lunar module Eagle and took their historic first steps on the moon.

Several months later Buzz Aldrin told GUIDEPOSTS about a little-known “first” that also took place that day.

Before the lift-off, Aldrin was looking for a way to honor God’s presence in the Apollo 11 space mission. He talked about this with his minister, Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston.

When in their discussions the Christian sacrament of communion was mentioned, a plan emerged.

Two Sundays before the moon shot, Aldrin participated in a small, private communion service at Webster Presbyterian, after which Dean Woodruff broke off a corner of the communion bread and gave it to Aldrin along with a tiny chalice and some wine.

Aldrin sealed these in plastic packets and safely stowed them in his personal preference kit (each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with him).

July 20, 1969, was a Sunday. At 3:17 p.m. (Houston time) the Eagle touched down.

Aldrin took out the communion elements from their flight packets and put them on a small table in front of the abort guidance-system computer. Then he called Houston, and asked for a few moments of silence.

In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, he poured the wine, watching it curl gracefully up the side of the chalice.

From a slip of paper he read the biblical passage, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, Revised Standard Version).

And then he took communion.

[1] A Meal On The Moon, Guideposts Magazine, July1989

PHOTO: Buzz Aldrin

THE HAND OF GOD IN AMERICAN HISTORY

February 1st, 2010

Our Christian history pertains to God and his Divine Providence. The founding of America clearly demonstrates providential history, God’s care and guidance of his people and the formation of a nation. The earliest writings show us that the founders of our nation clearly understood their total reliance on God. One of the most powerful and clear statements of God’s hand in American history was preached by the Reverend S.W. Foljambe in an Election Day sermon. He was the Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Malden, Massachusetts, a church founded in 1803. [1]

The Election Day sermon was an important institution in colonial New England. The sermon was not usually, it must be stressed, an attempt to influence the outcome of elections. Instead, it was a reflection on the relationship between government and God, between the polity and Divine Authority. In New England, it was a reminder that the colonial governments were supposed to be expressions of the covenant between God and His people. [2]

Reverend S.W. Foljambe’s Election Day sermon of January 5, 1876, was delivered to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. After the sermon, Mr. Foque of Malden, a Representative, was appointed to present the thanks of the House to the Rev. S. W. Foljambe, of Malden, and to request a copy of the election sermon for publication, with the manuscript of said sermon, and recommending the adoption of an Order providing that 2,000 copies be printed. It was reduced to 1,000 and printed (this was a yearly practice). [3]

Reverend Foljambe’s sermon is very long and it is recommended that you refer to the footnote reference to read a copy online. Here are some brief excerpts to give you the general idea of content:

“When St. Paul stood before that famous court of which the poets and orators of Greece tell such proud things, he proclaimed to them the God they knew not, filling up the inscription to the unknown God with the name of Jehovah. He tells them more of God in a few minutes, than Plato had done in all his life. He brings the matter closely home to them, and makes them feel as if in contact with God; not with an ideal merely, but with a living, personal Being, whose providence is directed at once to the individual interests of men, and the highest interest of nations.
‘Seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him’ (Acts 17:25-27)
Such is the divine basis of that institution which we call the State, and such the ultimate religious end of its existence. Not in force, nor in any mutual compact, nor yet in the family, does the State have its origin. The family and the State may seem to be more intimately related, but they are in fact totally distinct from each other. The State cannot be the natural product of the family, for it is animated by another kind of spirit. The family is the sphere of affection and custom, the State is the sphere of justice; the family is the product of nature, but is evolved under the action and control of Providence, and the tendency of its history, both as to its limitations and powers, is to lead it to God, who exerises that providence, and is the source of that spirit of justice which is its root and life.

The more thoroughly a nation deals with its history, the decidedly will it recognize and own an overruling Providence therein, and the more religious a nation it will become; while the more superficially it deals with its history, seeing only secondary causes and human agencies, the more irreligious will it be. If the history of any nation is the development of the latent possibilioties existing in its special nature, it is also the record of Divine Providence furnishing place and scope for that development, creating its opportunities and guiding its progress. History is not a string of striking episodes, with no other connection but that of time. It is rather the working out of a mighty system, by means of regularly defined principles as old as creation, and as infallible as divine wisdom. With this truth in view, we approach our chosen theme, –
The Hand of God in American History.” [4]

That is the Introduction to a powerful, concise account of God’s hand in our nation’s history. It will be worth your time to read the entire sermon slowly and carefully. It is practically a complete historical education of our early days.

Photo: Massachusetts State Capitol Building, 1798

[1] Directory of the City of Malden, Page 155, C.W. Calkins & Company Printers, 1882
[2] Election Preaching, Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., Acton Institute Blog, November 2008, Page 4
[3] Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1876, Page 233.
[4] “The Hand of God in American History,” A Sermon Delivered Before The Executive and Legislative Departments of the Government of Massachusetts at the Annual Election, Wednesday, January 5, 1876, by Rev. S.W. Foljambe; http://tiny.cc/XObOX; also, The Christian History of the American Revolution, Verna M. Hall, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976, Page 46

CONNECTICUT FOUNDED ON WORD OF GOD

January 25th, 2010

Part 2

Connecticut became the third established colony to have a constitution and receive a Charter. Prior to the Charter, several Connecticut communities had established constitutions based on the word of God.

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. He was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, an ordained minister and was a great speaker and a leader of universal Christian suffrage. [1]

Connecticut calls itself the ‘Constitution State’ and there is a good reason for this. The founders of Connecticut created a significant charter for self-government entitled The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document became the first complete constitution in the New World. Moreover, it was based on a sermon by their founder, the Reverend Thomas Hooker. [2] In fact, it has also been called, “the first written constitution …in the history of nations.” [3]

Hooker’s sermon on May 31st, 1638 emphasized “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance,” and that “they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them,” because “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” [4] His advocacy was to establish a government of law and order by and subject to the will of the people and base it on the word of God. The final constitution was signed on January 14, 1639 and it was the beginning of our Republic and democracy. Thomas Hooker, for this reason, is a founding father to our United States Constitution that was written 150 years later.

Fundamental Orders of 1639

For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth: [5]

This great constitution declares Divine Providence at its core, calls all settlers to be in a covenant “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” and to be guided and governed according to the constitution based on God’s word.

[1] History of the United States of America, Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904
[2] The Book That Made America, How the Bible Formed Our Nation, Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., Nordskog Publishing, 2009
[3] History of the first Church in Hartford, George Leon Walker, Brown & Gross, 1894; as quoted in The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government, Verna Hall, Page 249
[4] The Founding of New England, James Truslow Adams, The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921; End Note: The text of the sermon has not survived and notes taken by some hearer are published in G.L. Walker, Thomas Hooker (New York, 1891), Page 125.
[5] Fundamental Orders of 1639, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library online at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/order.asp

JOHN ELIOT – APOSTLE

January 21st, 2010

By the early 1630s it was nearly impossible for anyone with Puritan convictions to receive a pastoral position in the Church of England. For that reason, many left for the New World, including a pastor named John Eliot. Born in 1604, Eliot had received his education at Jesus College, Cambridge, and although he had taken orders in the Church of England, his sympathies were with the Puritan Party. For a period of time after his graduation from Cambridge, he had assisted Thomas Hooker (later the founder of Connecticut) at Chelmsford in Essex but even there the long arm of Laud exerted its influence by threatening him with suspension.

In 1631 Eliot decided to emigrate to the New World. He arrived at Massachusetts Bay Colony in July of that year on the same ship that brought the family of John Winthrop, the Colony’s first governor. He was invited to preach for several months at the First Church of Boston while their minister John Wilson was in England. Eliot’s preaching was so well received that he was offered the position of Teacher of the church, which he declined in favor of a similar offer from the church at Roxbury. He was settled in Roxbury as Teacher in October 1632 and remained there for fifty-seven years until his death in 1690.

When the Puritans came to the New World they had two goals. One was to form a pure church by separating themselves from the perceived corruptions of the English Church. The other was to bring the Gospel to the native inhabitants. On the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the figure of a Native American ringed by the words “Come over and help us” (Acts 16:9). Thus from its very foundation the Massachusetts Bay Colony articulated the desire to meet the spiritual needs of the native inhabitants of the New World, and there is no doubt that Eliot possessed the desire to carry out this objective. [1]

What is outstanding about the Reverend John Eliot is he truly was an Apostle. An Apostle is considered to be a missionary, but there is more depth to the work of an Apostle. They are responsible for building the church, its government and order. As such, Apostles are planters of the church and John Eliot was called “Apostle of the Indians” because of the fruit of his work. His influence became a major force of change and was far reaching. Consider these achievements:

  • Establishing the Company for Propagating the Gospel in New England, the first missionary organization in our country;
  • Eliot’s methods set the pattern of subsequent “Indian missions” for almost two centuries;
  • By 1674 there were 14 villages with 4,000 converts among the Indians;
  • His converts were gathered into Christian towns, governed by a biblical code of laws;
  • He established schools and encouraged others to establish schools;
  • He translated the Bible in the Algonquin Indian Language and published it in 1663 – it was the first Bible printed in the United States
  • He was influential in the founding of Harvard College (University) and became one of its Governors;
  • John Harvard (1607-1638), a disciple of John Eliot, and a Puritan minister, gave the unorganized college one-half of his estate (Cambridge, MA) and library; then it was named Harvard College in his honor in 1639;
  • Founded The Roxbury Latin School that is the oldest school in continuous operation in North America;
  • He wrote The Christian Commonwealth: or, The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ. [2]

The Christian Commonwealth was a document intended as a plan of government for the Natick Indian community. John Eliot strongly believed government is to be founded on God’s word. Here is an excerpt:

[It is not for man] to search humane Polities and Platformes of Government, contrived by the wisdom of man, but as the Lord hath carried on their works for them, so they ought to go unto the Lord, and enquire at the Word of his mouth, what Platforme of Government he hath therein commanded; and humble themselves to embrace that as the best … [The] written Word of God is the perfect System or Frame of Laws, to guide all the Moral actions of man, either towards God or man.” [3]

John Eliot’s plan for the political organization based on the word of God has far reaching ramifications. Our constitutional liberties are a direct result of our founders’ moral and religious convictions which were based on a belief in a God who created heaven and earth as well as on the fixed and unchanging absolutes of God’s Word.

[1] Sola Scriptura, John Eliot and America’s First Bible
[2] Compiled from various historical accounts
[3] The Christian Commonwealth: or, The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ, John Eliot, London, (written in 1649, published in 1659)