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.

DIVERSE CURRENTS IN COLONIAL CHRISTIANITY

June 7th, 2010

The separation of Church and state, secularism and Statism are not new. In fact, early Colonial Christianity, strengthened by the Puritans and responsible for establishing a Christian foundation in our country, came under attack by false doctrines that started to infiltrate the orthodox Christian theology and faith. Beginning in Europe and spread to the colonies, these beliefs had a significant impact in changing the headway the Puritans had made. In the larger scope of  our country’s early days, it remains evident that God was acknowledged as the Supreme Being and Provider. The founding fathers said and wrote as much and relied on these truths to establish this country. Divine Providence ruled in the end.

The following excerpts from “Diverse Currents,” Chapter 8 of Christianity in the United States by Daniel Dorchester [American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2009; originally published by Philips & Hunt, 1888] provides us with a glimpse of how these diverse currents began and the course it took. These excerpts cannot and do not capture the full story. If you are interested in learning more, check our endnotes for the web site and contact information for American Vision Press. [1]

DIVERSE CURRENTS

An inspection of the religious life of the colonial era reveals new currents of theological sentiment, silently but steadily setting in, at various points, against the long accepted theories. In the subsequent periods they will appear as more active assailing forces, openly antagonizing the old beliefs and seriously engaging the attention of the world.

Section 1. – The Inception of American Skepticism

As early as the middle of the seventeenth century symptoms of this great revolt appeared, in the English mind, in the gradual unfolding of the principle that the natural consciousness of the Divine existence and man’s conscience are all the materials necessary for the construction of a perfect religion, and that Christianity is of no value except as containing germs of this natural religion. In the course of the following century these sentiments obtained a formal recognition under the name of English deism, accompanied often with a denial of the historic verity of the Christian records and a denunciation of the Christian system as priestcraft. The history of English deism covers a period of about one hundred and seventy-five years (1625-1800) [2]  from Herbert to Gibbon, embracing groups of essayists, poets and novelists distinguished for splendid talents and extensive acquisitions. A large portion of the English mind was tainted with these ideas, and a serious deterioration in faith and morals became apparent.

Introduction into America


The celebrated French and Indian war, extending through a period of nine years (1754-1763), afforded an opportunity for their inculcation. During this war American citizens were brought into deistical sentiments. “Most of their American companions had never heard the divine origin of the Scriptures questioned, and their minds were, of course, unprovided with answers even to the most common objections. To such objections as were actually made was added the force of authority. The British officers were from the mother country—a phase of high import—until after the commencement of the Revolution. They came from a country renowned for arts and arms, and regarded by the people of New England as the birth-place of science and wisdom.

The period of intervening between the French war and the Revolution was characterized by a perceptible relaxation of morals, and it is certain that religion suffered serious decline.

The Unitarian departure had its inception in the introduction of the famous “halfway covenant,” which was adopted in the infancy of the colonies, only forty-two years after the landing of the Pilgrims. This measure was a politico-religious expedient resorted to for the purpose of relieving themselves from embarrassments growing out of an extreme and impracticable application of Christianity to the relations of the Church and the civil power.

It has been already observed that the early churches of New England held very strictly to the necessity of saving faith and spiritual regeneration as conditions of membership. And their religion was not a dreamy speculation, or a mere sentiment, or an abstraction, but it was carried out in concrete forms in the practical details of life. Religion was the stock upon which every things must be rejected. Hence we find the State growing out of the Church. Under their regimen no person could hold public office, or vote in elections, or enjoy any of the ordinary privileges of citizenship, who was not a member of the Church.

In 1633, Rev. John Cotton preached a sermon in Boston, entitled, “A Discourse About Civil Government, in a New Plantation, whose Design is Religion.” Its object was “to prove the expediency and necessity of intrusting free burgesses, who are members of churches, gathered amongst them according to Christ, with the power of choosing from among themselves magistrates and men to whom the managing of all public and civil affairs of importance is to be committed.” This was in accordance with the general usage of the New England colonies. [3]

Religious ideas were carried into everything they did. The recluses of the Middle Ages had removed religion from practical life, into caves and cloisters, but the Puritans reversed the order and carried it into the most common affairs. Thus actuated, they made the franchise of the Commonwealth dependent upon church membership, and the latter upon a genuine religious experience. A solemn form, too, was observed in the relation of religious experience before the Church, and inquiries were made into the previous conviction for sin and the radical character of the change. Thus were the membership of the Church and the franchise of the State hedged in with impressive and uncompromising religious ideas and usages. [4]

[1] Editor’s note to article
[2] Herbert died 1648; Hobbes, 1679; The Earl of Shaftesbury, 1713; Toland, 1722; Mandeville, 1733; Collins, 1729; Woolston, 1733; Morgan, 1743; Tindal, 1733; Chubb, 1747; Bolingbroke, 1751; Hume, 1776; Gibbon, 1794
[3] The Ecclesiastical History of New England, By Joseph B. Felt. Vol. l, pg. 169
[4] Endnote: These excerpts are taken from “Diverse Currents,” Chapter 8 of Christianity in the United States by Daniel Dorchester [American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2009; originally published by Philips & Hunt, 1888]. For further information, visit their web site at www.americanvision.org or telephone 1-800-628-9460

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

February 16th, 2010

President Thomas Jefferson

Separation of Church and State is a hot issue these days. To some degree, the issue is clouded due to not understanding what it means. For instance, the phrase “separation of Church and State” is not in the Constitution. Where did it originate? What does the phrase mean? Although this short article cannot fully discuss or explain all the facets of this issue, it will set a foundation by answering these two questions with a little history background.

Where did it originate? We have previously read that most nations had a state religion. This meant that the one religion and church of that religion was the official state religion. It was one of the stronger motivations for an exodus of the people to settle in our new country. Religious persecution, state religion and the lack of true freedom literally drove the early settlers to flee their home countries and travel across the ocean to America.

Without digressing, it is important to emphasize that even after the settlers began to establish their communities and later establish covenants and constitutions, there were dominant religious forces. Many do not know at the time of the writing of the Constitution that nine of the colonies had state churches! The state churches in 1763 were the Church of England in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the southern counties of New York; the Congregational Church in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and its dependencies. Author James McClellan writes, “Establishment” of a church meant that it was a “preferred” sect that might enjoy certain economic privileges; it did not mean that other churches were banned. For the colonial governments were far more tolerant of dissenting churches than were European governments. Sometimes religious minorities were exempted from paying tithes (church taxes enforced by the public authority); sometimes members of congregations were permitted to pay their tithes directly to the church of their choice. Such liberality on the part of the state was unknown in much of Europe at the time. [1]

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson responded to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association about their concerns of government intrusion on their freedom of religion. Jefferson assured them this was not case and the government would leave them alone. It is in this letter that the phrase “separation of Church and state” first appeared publicly. Here is the letter:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802. [2]

What does the term “separation of Church and State” mean? Jefferson clearly did not intend for religion to be excluded from public life. He was instrumental in establishing weekly Sunday worship services at the U. S. Capitol (a practice that continued through the 19th century) and was himself a regular and faithful attendant at those church services, not even allowing inclement weather to dissuade his weekly horseback travel to the Capitol church. [3] He once explained to a friend while they were walking to church together: “No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.” President Jefferson even closed presidential documents with “In the year of our Lord Christ” [4]

Justice Hugo L. Black, U.S. Supreme Court

Unfortunately, a United States Supreme Court case in 1947, Everson V. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) was the beginning of a powerful separationist drive by the Court, during which many programs and practices given government sanction were found to have religious purposes or effects and thus invalidated. Justice Hugo L. Black referred to the ‘wall’ as high and impregnable, meaning separating religion from government at all levels: federal, state and local. This ruling changed the entire meaning of the Constitutional establishment clause.

Author Michael Paulson says, “The original intention behind the establishment clause…seems fairly clearly to have been to forbid establishment of a national religion and to prevent federal interference with a state’s choice of whether or not to have an official state religion.” [5]

Thus, what Jefferson and the founding fathers intended was simple; the government will not establish a state church. What Everson V. Board of Education Supreme Court court ruling did was re-interpret separation to mean the opposite.

[1] Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed. 1989), Part 2, Civil Liberties in the Colonies, by James McClellan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000)
[2] The Library of Congress, Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists, The Final Letter, as Sent; Informational Bulletin, June 1998 – Vol. 57, No. 6 (Martha Graham Collection)
[3] February 18, 1801, available in the Maryland Diocesan Archives; The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Galliard Hunt, editor (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), p. 13
[4] Life, Journal, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler (Cincinnati: Colin Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), Vol. II, p. 119, in a letter to Dr. Joseph Torrey on January 3, 1803; see also his entry of December 26, 1802 (Vol. II, p. 114)
[5] Michael A. Paulsen, Religion, Equality, and the Constitution: An Equal Protection Approach to Establishment Clause Adjudication, 61 Notre Dame L. Rev. 311, 317 (1986)

GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF QUAKERS

February 9th, 2010

George Fox

The Christian religion played a dominant role in the formation of our country. Starting with the Puritans and followed by the Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists and other church bodies, these groups literally gave birth to America. The leaders of these churches were very influential in the formation of our government. Christian men of God established the first communities and colonies of America.

It is important for us to visit these major leaders and to know them and the work they accomplished. George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. The son of a weaver from rural England, Fox was apprenticed to a cobbler. Living in a time of great social upheaval and war, he rebelled against the religious and political consensus by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. Abandoning his trade, he toured Britain as a dissenting preacher, for which he was often persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs. His ministry expanded and he undertook tours of North America and the Low Countries, between which he was imprisoned for over a year. He spent the final decade of his life working in London to organize the expanding Quaker movement.

Though his movement attracted disdain from some, others such as William Penn and Oliver Cromwell viewed Fox with respect. His journal, first published after his death, is known even among non-Quakers for its vivid account of his personal journey. [1]

The great secret of Fox’s power was his faith in God. He started with scarcely any advantages, but soon he influenced the whole world for God. His one desire was the extension of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Through his influence England, Ireland, and Scotland were soon ablaze. In 1661 several of his followers were moved to go beyond the seas to publish truth in foreign countries. In 1664 he married Margaret Fell. In 1670-73 he sailed for the West Indies and North America. Though he was persecuted even there, the work spread. [2]

“Above all, George Fox excelled in prayer. The inwardness and weight of his spirit, the reverence and solemnity of his address and behaviour, and the fewness and fulness of his words have often struck even strangers with admiration as they used to reach others with consolation. The most awful, living, reverend frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say, was the prayer of George Fox. And truly it was a testimony. He knew and lived nearer to the Lord than other men, for they that know Him most will see most reason to approach Him with reverence and fear.”
By William Penn

Regarding the Quakers’ care for Friends within the Society: widows, orphans,

Colonial Quaker Meeting With a Woman Preaching

sick, poor, imprisoned, old, young; they were all cared for by the Quakers. If one assembly was overburdened with expense of care, other assemblies would contribute to their assistance, worldwide. Their care for their own was so thorough that “there was not a beggar among them,” and when a local government would discover that they were providing assistance, which the government was obligated to fund, the government would suddenly drop their opposition to their meetings and assemblies.

Regarding their care for all men: from the Journal, “Sometimes there would be two hundred of the poor of other people (non-Quakers) to come and wait until the meeting was done, (for all the country knew we met about the poor); and after the meeting, Friends would send to the bakers for bread, and give everyone of those poor people a loaf, however many there were of them; for we were taught ‘to do good all, though especially to the household of faith.'”

Thus the early Quakers evidenced three characteristics of true disciples: love among them through possession of the fruit of the Spirit, 2) being massively persecuted by those born of the flesh, and 3) the power of miracles and signs accompanying their ministries.

Under Fox’s leadership, the early Quakers initiated social reforms that are still beneficial to us today. They forced prices to be marked in stores, rather than all pricing being negotiable, even for food and clothing. They reformed the treatment of the mentally insane from being chained in dungeons. They initiated education for women in the trades. They provided rest homes for the aged, unable to work. In 1688, Pennsylvania Quakers passed an anti-slavery resolution in their colonial governing body, initiating slavery’s long demise in America. Their suffering and patient appeals to the governments resulted in religious toleration and freedom throughout Europe. Their ideals even influenced the United States Constitution in its separation of powers, the separation of Church and State, and the United States Bill of Rights, (William Penn’s Frame of Government for Pennsylvania implemented a democratic system with full freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in power, and a separation of powers. Ahead of his time, Penn also submitted a written plan for a United States of Europe.)

The Quakers became a sedate, sober, thrifty people, of most exemplary lives, and most earnest in all good works. They were leaders in the most advanced philanthropic movements of the age. Besides their persistent and sincere advocacy of religious liberty, they were the first advocates of the abolition of slavery, and they never faltered in their purpose until slavery had ceased to exist in the British possessions and in the United States. “They weakly err,” observes William Penn, “who think there is no other use of government than correction, which is the coarsest part of it.” To provide the means of a good education for every child, and to see that all are taught some good trade or profession, would do more for the promotion of peace and happiness than all the machinery of courts and prisons. The principles that actuated the Friends who emigrated to the Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania, are set forth in a contemporary publication, called the Planter’s Speech made by Penn, as follows:

“The motives of our retreating to these new habitations I apprehend to have been, the desire of a peaceable life, where we might worship God and obey his law with freedom, according to the dictates of the divine principle. … Our business, therefore, in this new land, is, not so much to build houses and establish factories, and promote trade and manufactures, that may enrich themselves, (though all these things, in their due place, are not to be neglected), as to erect temples of holiness and righteousness, which God may delight in; to lay such lasting frames and foundations of temperance and virtue as may support the superstructure of our future happiness, both in this and the other world.”

The interior of the Plymouth Quaker Meeting House in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, built in 1708

The Quaker colony of Pennsylvania was first sought by George Fox, twenty years before William Penn made it a reality. In France and on the continent of Europe the great men and writers seized upon The Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania as the most remarkable occurrence of the age. Voltaire was delighted, and from that time he loved the Quakers; and even thought of going to Pennsylvania to live among them. To these men . . .the thought of Christians keeping their promises inviolate for forty years with heathen Indians was idealism realized. It was like refreshment in a great weary desert of previous Christian failures. [3]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Fox
[2] George Fox, The Unshakeable Shaker, Leonard Ravenhill, DAYSPRING 1963, Bethany House Publishers
[3] http://www.hallvworthington.com/wikipediasummary.html