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John Jay

Early American Lessons to Make Modern America Great Again, Part 2

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(The following is a modified essay from my June 13, 2016 talk at the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club meeting. Part 1 here.)

Not only did early American Christian churches and schools make her great, her Christian laws and moral backbone were second-to-none.

Early American law included the (now defunct) Sunday “blue laws,” blasphemy and decency laws. Church attendance was high (even as church membership was not as high).

And Christianity and religion mixed.

The political cornerstone of the Republic, the Declaration of Independence, clearly mixed religion and politics. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 of the United States read in part:

“Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

The first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay, asserted: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

John Adams claimed religious concerns about bishops “contributed…as much as any other cause” to the development of 1776.

The Continental Congress called for days of fasting and prayer in the name of God as did presidents Jefferson and Madison.

And almost every state referenced God or Christianity with corresponding oaths of office. South Carolina’s first constitution explicitly named Protestantism the preferred religion of their state.

Jefferson, well-known as the co-writer of the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia (alongside Madison), also pushed for the “Bill for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers.”

But there is more. It was not just the churches and school and the general Christian culture that made her great, the Christian roots of the legal system seals the deal:

Nineteenth-century American judges and lawyers often claimed that Christianity was part of the common law. From Kent and Story in the early part of the century, to Cooley and Tiedeman toward the end, the maxim that “Christianity is part and parcel of the common law’ (or some variant thereof) was heard so often that later commentators could refer to it as a matter “decided over and over again,” one which “text writers have reiterated and courts have affirmed.” The maxim even received an endorsement of sorts from the Supreme Court, which in 1844 affirmed that “the Christian religion is part of the common law of Pennsylvania” (“When Christianity Was Part of the Common Law,” 1998).

This surprising admission makes sense given the intertwining of Christianity and legal history in the centuries before the American Revolution. As professor John Witte Jr. noted, “every one of the guarantees in the 1791 Bill of Rights had already been formulated in the prior two centuries—by [Reformed] theologians and jurists among others.”

This is not surprising when one realizes that the groundwork was laid through axioms taken for granted today but pronounced over 200 years before the Revolution: “that peoples…are not created for their rulers, but rulers rather for their people” (Theodore Beza, Right of Magistrates, 1574).

What made early America great? What made early America great?, Was it our economic industry or political fortitude? Or were these the fruit of something greater? What can we do today to replicate that greatness? It was Morality and more.

First, virtue can make America great again.

Many  today try to push back against the Progressive onslaught through political and social policy, but the early American leaders would want something more fundamental: virtue. Moral integrity. Uprightness.

“A state is nothing more than a reflection of its citizens; the more decent the citizens, the more decent the state.”   Reagan

“The only foundation for… a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”  Rush

“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”  Charles Carrol

As a pastor I would argue that such morality is best rooted in a Christian approach to life–a worldview.

History–at least the history of America, certainly bears out the assertion that the power of Christianity is needed in developing and maintaining a virtuous society.

This leads to the second lesson to make modern America great again: she needs a morality based upon Christian beliefs.

It is not Islam or Hindu that we need. Nor Obama’s “Christianity.” We need Christian values.

And, as a pastor, I would be remiss if I left this assertion alone. If conservatives gain the whole political and social world of America but lose our souls, we have gained nothing. Repentance from sin and trust in the Person and Work of Christ are the most important things.

But for any non-religious folk here, please consider what Christianity can do for you, even if you never convert (but I hope you do!).

The third lesson is that good schools can help make America great again. We must fight schools that undermine tradition virtue. And we must support schools that reinforce those same virtues.

The last lesson for modern America is to take seriously the power of churches to shape society.

There are churches for evil, such as the one that taught Obama. Yet even Obama admitted that religion and churches can and should be influential in America: “To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public-policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

What this means is that Christians must support good churches! Churches have been and can be again a bulwark of civic virtue. At the least that means supporting churches that helped support early America: teaching the sovereignty of God, the depravity of man and the glories grace of salvation in Christ.

To make America great again, this Fourth of July, consider these important lessons from early America: Christian morality taught through strong schools and faithful churches.

[And for the readers in my audience who are not Reformed, you may want to consider investigating the Reformed faith, starting here.]



 

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