Monday, November 26, 2007
In this age of American independence, it is quite common for men to assign themselves as leaders, especially in the church. Men, by force of arrogance, arrogate to themselves the office of minister. In turn, these erstwhile pastors start new congregations on the power of their personality, preaching or popularity.
But it does not stop there. Some pastors (even legitimate ones) take accolades upon themselves, asserting an air of authority in some specialized field before anyone has legitimately recognized them as experts. They readily assume supposed leadership upon the supposition that popularity implies authority (a common American error). To be a leader amongst leaders is always a temptation.
Yet, what if one were popular? What if accolades and leadership and the public limelight were offered? How should it be approached?
Again, history (within a biblical framework) yields fruitful advice. In this case, a very similar scenario arose in the early 1800s at the then famous St. Andrews college. Thomas Chalmers (a Scottish Presbyterian) was making great spiritual progress within that area. He quietly started a children's Sabbath-school, which in turned quickly grew in popularity amongst the families (Christian and non-Christian alike). This in turn, spawned more such schools and increased his popularity.
He was popular enough (through his engaging teaching and preaching ministry) that Christian societies wanted his face on their boards:
"Soon after he came to St. Andrews Dr. Chalmers was invited to become President of a Missionary Society, composed of Christians of difierent denominations."
Surely, he prayed; surely he sought advise. Yet, he did more:
"He would not accept this office till it had been offered to and declined by others whose [senior] official position entitled them to that mark of respect." [Memoirs, 198]
How many pastors today would take such an approach? Such self-effacement is rare today. Such high respect for those with more experience is refreshing.
The senior professors turned down the job and Chalmers' humility was rewarded. He greatly influenced the cause of missions through the legacy of his students, the St. Andrews Seven.
The rest is history.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
In the proclamation for a day of thanksgiving, we find sentiments of piety expressed in the following and similar language:
That all the people assemble on that day to offer fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that he would incline our hearts, for the future, to keep all his laws, and that he would cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread all over the earth" —"above all, to praise him that he hath continued to us the light of the blessed gospel, and to supplicate him, that he would cause pure religion and virtue to flourish."
It would seem that the wise and patriotic men of those times believed that the "blessed gospel," not the Koran, nor the Shaster, but the Christian system, was better adapted to the wants of men than any other system; and their conduct shows that they did not entertain views congenial to the feelings of infidels and deists of our day. Had both lived at the same time, they would have been antipodes in sentiment and action. We see no lack of proof that the framers of our Constitution, and the men who first administered it, were not anti-christian, as our objectors would have us believe. It is perfectly evident that these men were not ashamed to own their accountability to God, and their dependence on him: nor were they ashamed or afraid to recognize the Christian religion, in their national capacity. They had discernment, fidelity, piety, and patriotism enough to prompt them to make a wise choice, when they laid down the Christian religion as the foundation of this government, instead of the Jewish, Mohammedan, pagan, infidel, or deistical religion. God be praised for the noble deed.
But it appears that many of the members of Congress, for the last twelve or fifteen years, have been ashamed to acknowledge God; and infidels have united with them to prove that we have no Sabbath, and that this nation knows no religion. She may, in her riches and pride, have forgotten her religion; but she once had a religion, and that was the Christian. She ought to
have it still.
Infidels would have us believe that the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the pagan, have as much claim to legislation in favor of their religion, as Christians have a right to expect that Congress will not legislate against theirs. But these pleas are all false—a mere subterfuge to rid themselves of all accountability to the laws of God and man.
When was this succinct and potent piece written?...................1968?
No, rather.....1841 AD
[p.105, The Sabbath: A Brief History of Laws, Harmon Kingsbury]
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
It is filled with much detail, tracing the crucial years of its establishment in 1607 until, by God's all-encompassing providence, it reached critical mass, destined to be a part of America's great religious past.
Well, more precisely America's Protestant religious past. They certainly were not Roman Catholics.
In fact they were Anglicans. The Anglican church's 39 Articles (in the Book of Common Prayer) describe a theology foreign to most Christians.
The Articles affirm the bondage of the will:
X. Of Free-Will.
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
They affirm predestination:
XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.
Lastly, the Articles teach baptism of infants:
XXVII. Of Baptism.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
They honored the Christian Sabbath: morning and evening worship with catechism time as well. They even catechized.
Furthermore, these colonists used the Geneva Bible, which included Calvinistic notes.
Dear reader, this is not written to be as offensive as possible. I write this because it is true. In fact, I was reminded of this problem while studying the history of homeschooling. The leading homeschoolers remind their detractors that the schools are using outdated history books that not only lie through commission (making stuff up) but, more insidiously, the books lie through omission. Think about how much the public schools teach about the Christian origins of America? the Founders? the Constitution? Exactly. You get the point.
So, we ought not omit these important truths of the pre-Revolutionary American culture. There were theological difference, yet from Jamestown to Boston, from English Anglicans to French Huguenots, from laymen to clergy, the culture was substantially Reformed.
That is what is missing in many Christians' history lessons.
That is the other side of Jamestown.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
My interest in the theological and ideological roots of the American Constitution stem from a college paper a decade ago. I wrote a short ten-page thesis on Christianity and the formation of the Constitution...only to change my thesis half-way through my research: it was not just generic Christianity that substantially influenced America, but Calvinism.
In the last two years (with no college schedule to drive my time), I have had more opportunity to discover more non-Christian scholarly work on this subject. Now, I can write five times as much on this topic using secular sources alone.
Well, enough about me; here is a review of a relevant book I would gladly like for Christmas...it's only 98$ :-)
What is fascinating about the review is the critique: the lack of contemporaneousness of the book. It's about twenty years old (it took a while to get the essays published). Yet, from a non-post-modern viewpoint this is not a problem at all: if truth has historical manifestations amongst large aggregates of mankind (think nations), then the truth of Calvinism and Covenantalism for the continual maintenance of this American Republic is quite contemporary.
Can't get more relevant than finding the roots of our freedoms and returning to them! Of course, if mere "covenant" is recaptured without the Covenant of Grace in the hearts of Americans, then we are simply back (and are already there in many ways) to the Covenant of Works.
My prayer, especially for contemporary American Christianity is that she would return to her Calvinistic-Covenantal roots.
And that first begins with acknowledging the truths of history.
Monday, November 05, 2007
quoted some secular source stating the same fact? People might actually listen....
"He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty"
The above sentiment appears arrogant. When the public schools ardently claim that generic "Christian" Deists and unbelieving Enlightenment thinkers founded America, Christians decry this farce, pointing to historical facts that our founders were specifically conservative Christians (cp. Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution). Yet, how many conservative Christians know that it was not a generic conservative Christianity that substantially created America but rather Calvinism? Lutheran minister Eidsmoe acknowledges it (p.19). Hopefully, more people will.
In a letter dated Oct, 31, 1776, Rev. Inglis, rector of Trinity Church, New York, wrote to fellow Anglican leaders:
"I have it from good authority that the Presbyterian ministers, at a synod where most of them in the middle colonies were collected, passed a resolve to support the continental congress in all their measures. This and this only can account for the uniformity of their conduct;for I do not know one of them, nor have I been able, after strict inquiry, to hear of any, who did not, by preaching and every effort in their power, promote all the measures of the congress, however extravagant."
American historian and founder of Annapolis, Bancroft, asserts:
"The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty; and, in the moral war fare for freedom, his creed was his most faithful counselor and his never-failing support. The Puritans... planted... the undying principles of democratic liberty. [He further claimed]:...Calvin infused enduring elements into the institutions of Geneva, and made it for the modern world, the impregnable fortress of popular liberty, the fertile seed-plot of democracy. We boast of our common schools; Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools. We are proud of the free States that fringe the Atlantic. The pilgrims of Plymouth were Calvinists; the best influence in South Carolina came from the Calvinists of France. William Penn was the disciple of the Huguenots; the ships from Holland that first brought colonists to Manhattan were filled with Calvinists. He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty." [A History of the United States, p.464; Literary and Historical Miscellanies, p.405]
Yale history professor, George Fisher, who thought the similarities between Roman Catholics and Protestants greater than their differences, wrote:
favorable to civil liberty is found in the republican character of its church organization. Laymen shared power with ministers... Men who were accustomed to rule themselves in the Church would claim the same privilege in the commonwealth ...Another source of the influence of Calvinism, in advancing the cause of civil liberty, has been derived from its theology. The sense of the exaltation of the Almighty Ruler, and of his intimate connection with the minutest incidents and obligations of human life, which is fostered by this theology, dwarfs all earthly potentates. An intense spirituality, a consciousness that this life is but an infinitesimal fraction of human existence, dissipates the feeling of personal homage for men, however high their station, and dulls the luster of all earthly grandeur. Calvinism and Romanism are the antipodes of each other." [The Reformation, p. 07]
A modern Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics summarizes thusly:
"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings." [Hastings, 153]
Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, an Austrian Roman Catholic aristocrat intellectual and National Review contributor asserts:
"If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather...the prevailing spirit of Americans before and after the War of Independence was essentially Calvinistic in both its brighter and uglier aspects." ["The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?" Modern Age, 1971, 5]
Historian James G. Leyburn, of Washington & Lee University, wrote a book on the Scotch-Irish and summarized it in an essay in the American Heritage Magazine:
...Scottish Presbyterianism was unique in its intensity, even in those religious days...A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, 'Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.' King George was reported to have characterized the Revolution as 'a Presbyterian war,' and Horace Walpole told Parliament that 'there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.'...Such testimony to enthusiasm for the American cause was not given to any other group of immigrants." ["Scotch-Irish: The Melting Pot" online]
On May 20, 1775, the Presbyterian Synod was the first religious body to send a public letter to the churches encouraging general submission to the deceived Crown and specific submission to the Continental Congress and to prepare their lives and souls for war.
Daniel Elazer, a member of presidential committees and of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, eloquently summarizes:
"A majority of the delegates to the Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches...The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., noted: "More than either [the Congregationalists or Anglicans] the Presbyterians in their reliance on federalist and representative institutions anticipated the political makeup of the future United States." Indeed, as the first government came into office under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the Presbyterians held their first nationwide General Assembly. In the Presbyterian system, congregations in a local area formed a presbytery; several presbyteries in a region formed a synod; and then came the General Assembly. As a result, the system of federal democracy established by the U.S. Constitution has often been referred to as Presbyterianism writ large for civil society..." [The Covenant Tradition in Politics, pt.3, p.77]
More can be written. But this should be enough to challenge the modern stereotypes and misconceptions. If we want Reformation again, we have to go to the roots.