WHY IS AMERICA’S CHRISTIAN HISTORY RELEVANT TO OUR PRESENT CRISIS?

WHY IS AMERICA’S CHRISTIAN HISTORY RELEVANT TO OUR PRESENT CRISIS?
Tom Linsay

A knowledge of America’s Christian History makes it possible to discern fundamental answers to current problems in our nation. Many politically active Christians and media personalities are today addressing the issue of the day but most, unfortunately, have little knowledge of our history. Because of this lack of knowledge, many spokesmen become easy prey for well trained humanist journalists who know all of the cliche’s about the “witch hunts,” the “bigoted Puritans” and the “blessings” of pluralism. While Christian leaders call for a return to a God-centered America, the well-entrenched secularist undermines the message by equating it with extremism and visions of the Ayatollah Khomeini or Jim Jones.

If Christians do not know their true history, a false sense of guilt will set in and they will be placed on the defensive concerning their God and their country. Once in a defensive, reactionary position, the Christian community is one of the easiest groups in America to immobilize, because Christians who know the Bible know they can not and should not force their beliefs on others. They do not want a church-run society and if they think this is the only option other than a secular, “do your own thing” state, they will complacently opt for the the latter.  The beauty of America’s heritage is that our founders provided the third alternative: a nation with true liberty and justice for all, including both the believer and the unbeliever.

Here are some specific examples of how a knowledge of America’s Christian history clarifies issues and answers current dilemmas.

WHAT IS THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?

This question is one of the hottest debates of the 1980’s in the courts and legislative halls of our land. The term “separation of church and state” is used today as a catch-all phrase to eliminate religious influence upon anything involving the state or civil affairs. The history of the first Amendment to the Constitution gives us quite a different perspective.

Our Founders had come from European lands ruled by monarchies which used official state churches to control the people. They had had enough of the supposed “divine rights of kings.” So, according to James Madison, the First Amendment was drawn up because “the people feared one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.” The amendment was meant to shield the churches from the encroachment of the Federal Government, specifically, the Congress.  But the framers of the Bill of rights never intended that the church (speaking of Christians and their various denominations) was to have no influence over the state or that religion was to be separated from our national life by an impregnable wall of separation.

Our Founding Fathers presupposed Christianity as the moral foundation of governmental action. George Washington said: “True religion offers the government its surest support.” Supreme Court
Justice Joseph Story, writing in the early days of the of the Republic, said of the period when the First Amendment was adopted: “An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state
policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created a universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation… He explained further that the real object of the amendment was to prevent any
national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to the exclusive patronage of the national government.”

In 1849, Robert C. Winthrop stated the common understanding of the Constitutional period well when he said:

“It may do for other countries, and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.”

What then has caused the present discordant division between religion and the state? The term “separation of church and state” is not in the First Amendment or, indeed, anywhere in the Constitution.  It appears in a personal letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 replying to one from a group of Baptists and Congregationalists in Danbury, Connecticut questioning his religious position. (As a matter of fact, Jefferson was neither a member of the constitutional convention of 1787 nor of the first Congress under the Constitution which passed the Bill of Rights.) Yet the Supreme Court has consistently relied on this personal statement by a man who had nothing to do with writing the Bill of Rights to uphold their rulings that public schools may not hold devotional exercises or Bible readings, that the Ten Commandments may not be posted on the walls of schoolrooms, and many other anti-religious decisions.

In view of the foregoing, it is well to remind ourselves of what the First Amendment actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof..” John W Whitehead, a respected Constitutional lawyer and author, gives the following excellent paraphrase of the Amendment into modern English: “The federal government shall make no laws having anything to do with supporting a national denominational church, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”

Surely the mass of historical evidence from which we have quoted makes it clear that “separation of church and state,” is a non-constitutional phrase now used as a battle-cry by those who would
frighten godly Americans out of the polls and back to the pews and is a blatant distortion of the intent of the Framers of the First Amendment.

EDUCATION IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY

No greater issue looms in the minds of American parents than that of the failure of the American educational system. This failure can best be analyzed from the perspective of America’s Christian history focusing on the long term reasons for the demise of education in America. Otherwise, the debate becomes an existential “blame sharing” match between parents, teachers and bureaucrats crying for more money.

We must see the comparison and contrast between the historic educational philosophy of early America versus the modern, progressive methodology and content used in most schools today if we hope to have a reference point or standard by which to judge and change the present educational establishment.

EARLY AMERICAN EDUCATION

Early education in America was unique, as it was founded upon private education in the home, churches, and schools with the Bible as the foundation stone for character development as well as intellectual insight. The Pilgrims and Puritans were greatly interested in education, but they saw it as a personal, family, and church responsibility. Sometimes formal education was offered at the
township level, but always under parental control and biblically based. These early founders, knowing the importance of education, founded hundreds of private schools and colleges during the colonial period. Most of the colleges were started in order to train men for the ministry. Rosalia J. Slater gives this documentation on the fruit of our Founder’s educational efforts:

“At the time of the Declaration of Independence the quality of education had enabled the colonies to achieve a degree of literacy from 70% to virtually 100%. This was not education restricted to the few. Modern scholarship reports ‘the prevalence of schooling and its accessibility to all segments of the population.’ Moses Coit Tyler, historian of American literature, indicates the colonists’ familiarity with history…extensive legal learning…lucid exposition of constitutional principles, showing indeed, that somehow, out into the American wilderness had been carried the very accent of cosmopolitan thought and speech.’ When the American State papers arrived in Europe..they were found to contain ‘nearly every quality indicative of personal and national greatness.'”

In tracing the greatness of our nation, no more important foundation can be found than 150 years of tutelage in the Christian schools and the self-governing, principled study and reasoning done in the homes by rich and poor alike.

Because all education was built upon the foundation of the Bible, students grew up knowing how to reason from its principles to all of human endeavor. The Bible was the political and economic textbook of the patriots. Rev. J Wingate Thorton’s Pulpit of the American Revolution notes that in 1777 the Continental Congress wrote “directing the Committee of Commerce to import twenty thousand copies of the Bible, the great political textbook of the patriot…”

MODERN PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION

In 1838, Horace Mann became the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Did you know that during the following years, Mann promoted a philosophy of education that was diametrically opposed to that of the Founding Fathers generation? He is known as the father of the public school movement.

1. He supported forced taxation for state schools which undermined parental control and was detrimental to the private schools.

2. Mann, and those who followed him, de-emphasized the Biblical doctrine of salvation as the basis of character development, replacing it with the optimistic, humanistic view of the perfectibility of man through education and environment.

3. He encouraged group thinking and study rather than individual initiative and creativity.

4. He standardized teacher training, textbooks, and accreditation beginning the transition way from the principles of the Christian philosophy of education taught by the great founder of America’s
educational system, Noah Webster.

As the twentieth century dawned, John Dewey, with his progressive method of education, derived partially from his exposure to the Communist educational system in Russia, carried on the death march toward federal secularism. By 1935, a man-centered curriculum had become the dominant influence in most fields of scholarship in this country.

The public school bureaucracy, which is now the largest in the history of the world, has been “vaccinating” the vast majority of America’s youth for several generations against what it considers to
be “the infectious disease of absolute moral values,” our Christian heritage, and our Christian republic which was built upon these truths.

Today, as progressive, public education collapses before our eyes, damaging millions of young lives in the process, we are witnessing an inevitable consequence of 150 years which cannot be
corrected by simply putting voluntary prayers back in the schools. A complete change of philosophy and leadership is needed.

Through a knowledge of America’s Christian history, not only can the progressive public school be exposed, but the positive alternative of the “Principle Approach” to education used in early America be instituted in its place. Criticizing the status quo is an American pastime, but the real question is: How many of us will be willing to sacrifice our time and private funds to rebuild and not tear down?  Learning the deeds of our Fathers will not only cause us to repent but will give us the wisdom needed to restore the broken down walls of our culture.

SUMMARY

Other questions such as the reason for the rise in crime, the failure of the government control of welfare, the failure of the justice system, the failure of evangelical activity to transform society, the dramatic drop in the productivity of our economy can all be understood only when placed against the backdrop of our history and an examination of Scripture. Let us not lose our future by failing to come to grips with our past. We, like the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, need to repent and do the deeds we did at first; but first we must learn what those deeds were!

Computers for Christ – Chicago

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