Monday, November 05, 2007

Really, It's True: Calvinism Created America

As a Presbyterian minister, if I claimed that Calvinism, and Presbyterianism in particular, was key to the creation of America, people would laugh at me. But what if I nonchalantly
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:

"How is it, then, that Calvinism is acknowledged, even by foes, to have promoted powerfully the cause of civil liberty? The reason lies in the boundary line which it drew between church and State. Calvinism would not surrender the peculiar notions of the Church to the civil authority. Whether the church, or the Government, should regulate the administration the Sacrament, and admit or reject the communicants, was the question which Calvin fought out with the authorities at Geneva, in this feature, Calvinism differed from the relation of the civil leaders to the Church, as established under the auspices of Zwingli, well as of Luther, and from the Anglican system which originated under Henry VIII....A second reason why Calvinism has been
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.


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