In any attempt at remembering past accomplishments, care must be taken to avoid boastfulness. Recognition of our roots and acknowledging past achievements can however go a long way in identifying who we are or need to become. Crucial to this process is education, which was significantly impacted by Christianity; universal education following close on its heels whereas prior to the churches influence, education was primarily reserved for the privileged few.
Often called “People of the Book,” Christians naturally found it necessary to be able to read. As Christian missionaries mastered the spoken and written languages of those they sought to reach for Christ, the newly ministered-to territories invariably experienced an upsurge in general education as well. Reformist leaders particularly believed the only way for the correcting influence of Protestantism to hold firmly was for the masses of common, ordinary folk to be able to comprehend for themselves what scripture said. It soon became obvious that the more literate a people became the more success they experienced overall.
The first Universities, born of Christian influence, were usually directly affiliated with the church in the Middle Ages. In America, every college founded before the Revolutionary War (except the University of Pennsylvania), was established by one branch or another of the Christian church. Sunday School, started in the late 18th century, had as its founding purpose the provision of Bible-based schooling for poor children who would otherwise receive none.
Compassion and mercy expressed in helping the poor was virtually unknown prior to Christ. People begged, slept where they could and stole to survive – and died by the score. Jesus set the standard of mercy and compassion by demanding we care for others in realistic ways. (See Matthew 25:40) In his parable on the separation of sheep from goats, the good “sheep” gave food, water, clothing and shelter to those in need. They ministered to the sick and visited those in prison. The “goats” didn’t do these things and were condemned and cast out of the kingdom. The early church responded to this teaching by giving charitably to the believer and unbeliever alike; organizing soup kitchens, distributing clothes, setting aside church properties as places of rest and safety for the homeless – care for the orphan and widow considered the essence of true religion. (James 1:2) In fact, Emperor Julian – the last pagan Roman Emperor to attempt the eradication of Christianity, wrote in frustration that he was foiled in part because, “…it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans (Christians) support both their own poor and ours, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” Being “complimented” by their critics was a true testament to the effectiveness of the Judeo/Christian lifestyle and its ability to impact the societies it takes root in.
Government of, by and for all people was a radical concept, ushered in by men of abiding faith who believed power should be used in service to people rather than people serving the powerful. The Mayflower Compact, considered America’s first written constitution, committed its signees to a civil body intending to establish and preserve order and safety; allowing them to then achieve their express purpose of bringing glory to God and the King by advancing the Christian faith through the first colony in Virginia. Later, in establishing the first charters for Virginia, New England and Massachusetts Bay – as well as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut – the same ideals and objectives were stated; a Christian land governed by Christian principles.
At the outset of the Revolutionary War, 75% of Americans had grown up with Puritan beliefs; of the remaining citizens, half had their roots in Calvinism. 50 of the 55 men who made up the Constitutional Convention were unquestionably Christian while 50 of the signees of the Declaration of Independence are on record by word or deed as such.
James Madison, chief founder of the Constitution said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the powers of government, but upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.”
John Adams, considered the Father of the American Revolution, felt strongly that, “These rights may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the insights of the Great Lawgiver and Head of the Christian Church which is to be found clearly written…in the New Testament.”
John Quincy Adams wrote, “The highest glory of the American revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
Patrick Henry believed, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Again, John Adams stated that, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate of the government of any other.”
George Washington agreed, saying “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
Presbyterianism was a thorn in England’s side, many Englishmen calling the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion. The reason being the vocal ministers of the church at large, but in particular the Presbyterian pastors strongly held belief that government had no business telling the church what it could and could not do, holding fast to the notion that they had the right to choose for themselves who would lead in church affairs. Their form of church government served, at least in part, as a model of representative government for our founding fathers. A common battle cry in America being, ‘No king but King Jesus!’
Freedom for all found expression and permanence in laws protecting civil liberties, many of which had their beginnings in scripture. Thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal or give false testimony all being attempts to safeguard life and its benefits. Upholding marriage, curbing “riotous” behavior and punishing libel, slander and falsehood encouraged honesty and integrity in relationships; protecting people’s reputation, livelihood and sense of self from attack. Freedom of religion combined with freedom of choice (within reason) regarding social concerns and individual behavior was seen as the backbone of civil law in society, moderated by the insistence that everyone then accepted responsibility for their actions based on those choices. They recognized that it takes a certain amount of societal control as well as personal effort to curb sin and wrong-doing, which was necessary to achieve and maintain a truly free society. Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”, was considered more than a good rule of thumb; being seen as a model for law and order as well, as they believed ethical people do good things.
Consequently, Alexis de Toqueville traveled across early America in search of her secret to success, and deduced that it came, at least in part from the fact that, “…Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.” And while it is true that our government is set up to be a secular institution, without the moderating effects of Christianity, the freedoms accorded our citizens could and probably would degenerate into anarchy. But as Paul assured the Christian citizens of Corinth, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:7
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