Christianity in Early American Society

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Before American colonists desired political independence from a king, they sought spiritual dependence on the Jesus, the King of kings. A revival is a "renewed and more active attention to religion; an awakening of men to their spiritual concerns." The Great Awakening began in England and the colonies in the 1730's and lasted through the American Revolution. The colonies had been isolated by denominational differences, but the Great Awakening unified colonists as Christians with a common salvation.

Preacher Edwards documented the Great Awakening in New Hampshire
Jonathan Edwards witnessed the beginnings of The Great Awakening, and documented it in "A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton.(1736)" Jonathan Edwards wrote, "In every place God brought saving Blessings with him, and his Word attended with his Spirit (as we have all reason to think) return'd not void. ...The Work of Conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; Souls did as it were come by Flocks to Jesus Christ. From Day to Day, for many Months together, might be seen evident Instances of Sinners brought out of Darkness into marvelous Light, and delivered out of an horrible Pit, and from the miry Clay, and set upon a Rock with a new Song of Praise to God in their mouths."

Evangelist George Whitefield saw thousands become "born again"
George Whitefield was an ordained Anglican (Church of England) minister with an evangelical passion to see sinners converted according to the "new birth" (John 3:1-8). In 1738 he made the first of seven visits to the America, where with his resonant voice, theatrical presentation, and clear gospel message he saw thousands repent of their sins and receive Christ's forgiveness. Whitefield remarked, "How this glorious Change is wrought in the Soul cannot easily be explained."

This Great Awakening not only brought tens of thousands to new life in Jesus Christ; it also rekindled the Biblical foundation of submission to King Jesus and resistance to evil authorities. This was in opposition to the Church of England (called Anglican in America) who taught submission to all authorities, and an obligation to suffer under oppressive rulers (tyrants). One of the early battle flags of the War of Independence had the motto formerly used by persecuted Christians in Europe: "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God". The great spiritual awakening to freedom in Christ caused a great political awakening to have freedom from oppression.

Jonathan Mayhew preached resistance to evil authorities (1750)
Jonathan Mayhew preached that civil and religious liberties were ordained by God. His sermon the "Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (1750)" answered the Anglican argument that Christians were obliged to suffer under an oppressive ruler with a resounding "No." From Romans 13:1-7 he taught that Christians were obligated to obey godly authorities who punished evil and rewarded good while equally obligated to resist authorities who punished good and rewarded evil. He wrote, "If it be our duty, for example, to obey our king, merely for this reason, that he rules for the public welfare, (which is the only argument the apostle makes use of) it follows, by a parity of reason, that when he turns tyrant, and makes his subjects his prey to devour and to destroy, instead of his charge to defend and cherish, we are bound to throw off our allegiance to him, and to resist; and that according to the tenor of the apostle's argument in this passage."

Jonathan Mayhew's revolutionary sermon caused alarm
John Adams wrote regarding Jonathan Mayhew's printed sermon that "It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies... It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament."

Mayhew’s sermon taught "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God"
The following are excerpts from Jonathan Mayhew's sermon on Romans 13. "Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not intitled to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of any thing here laid down by the inspired apostle." "There is an essential difference betwixt government and tyranny; at least under such a constitution as the English. The former consists in ruling according to law and equity; the latter, in ruling contrary to law and equity. So also, there is an essential difference betwixt resisting a tyrant, and rebellion; The former is a just and reasonable self-defense; the latter consists in resisting a prince whose administration is just and legal; and this is what denominates it a crime."

Though the Declaratory Act repealed the Stamp Act, it went on to declare that the King and Parliament had "full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever..." To the colonists that meant authority not only regarding government but religion as well. As Protestants they would not tolerate an authority greater than God and His words in the Bible. They would not grant absolute authority to any mere human being, for that would be idolatry. For colonists to submit to the Declaratory Act would be tantamount to forsaking God.

No king but Jesus!
About the time of the Boston Tea Party in 1774, a report of the Crown-appointed Governor of Boston, Massachusetts, sent to the Board of Trade in England, stated, "If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ." The Committees of Correspondence and the people began crying out across the Colonies: "No King but King Jesus!" (Peter Powers' Election Sermon entitled "Jesus Christ the King" Newburyport, 1778).

Independence was achieved on Christian principles
John Adams wrote the following to Thomas Jefferson on June 28th, 1813: "The general Principles, on which the Fathers Achieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their Address, or by me in my Answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence."

Morals relate to social practices, and whether ones conduct is right or wrong. Thus a standard is needed by which character is to be determined, as to whether one is considered to be virtuous or vicious. All the founding fathers based their morals on the Bible and Christianity.

When people forget God, morals and freedom decline
Patrick Henry stated: "Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is impossible that a nation of infidels or idolaters should be a nation of free-men. It is when a people forget God, that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom."

Elias Boudinot noted moral corruption is followed by political corruption
Elias Boudinot was president of the Continental Congress in 1783 and a founder of the American Bible Society. (He was baptized by George Whitefield during the Great Awakening.) He stated, "If the Moral character of a people degenerate, their political character must follow. These considerations should lead to an attentive solicitude to be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers...and judge of the tree by its fruits." This is a reference to Matthew 7: 15-20.

Government rests on people governing themselves by the Ten Commandments
In 1787 James Madison, the "architect" of the federal Constitution, stated, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future ... upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God."

George Washington stated "religion and morality are indispensable supports"
President George Washington spoke the following words in his farewell address on September 19, 1796: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness - these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity."

George Washington stated morality can not be maintained without religion
President George Washington spoke the following words in his farewell address on September 19, 1796: "Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Legislature should support good morals through religious institutions
Oliver Ellsworth was a Connecticut delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He stated, "The primary objects of government are the peace, order, and prosperity of society. To the promotion of these objects, good morals are essential. Institutions for the promotion of good morals are therefore objects of legislative provision and support; and among these, religious institutions are imminently useful and important."

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in 1798, "In contemplating the political institutions of the United States, I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible. For this Divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism." Dr. Benjamin Rush later stated, "Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind."

Gouverneur Morris wrote "Religion is the only solid basis of good morals"
Gouverneur Morris spoke more often during the Constitutional Convention than any other delegate, and he wrote the final draft and signed the Constitution. (Gouverneur was his first name, he was not a governor.) He stated, "Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God."

Author of First Amendment was dogmatic about teaching Bible in public schools
Fisher Ames argued in the Sept. 20, 1789 issue of Palladium magazine, "We have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education. We're starting to put more and more textbooks into our schools... We've become accustomed of late of putting little books into the hands of children containing fables and moral lessons... We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text in our schools... The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any other manmade book." Twenty years later the 'dangerous trend' of Bible reading being squeezed out by textbooks had become worse. In his 1809 book, Fisher Ames wrote, "Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a schoolbook? Its morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble.... In no Book is there so good English, so pure and so elegant, and by teaching all the same they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain the standard of language as well as of faith."


Term Definition
Anglican pertaining to England, and specifically to the Church of England in America
Boston Tea Party Sons of Liberty dumped British tea into Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act.
Christian someone who believes and confesses Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, physically died for his/her sins, was buried, rose again the third day according to the scriptures, and was seen by hundreds after His resurrection
civil pertaining to citizens in a society
Continental Congress a meeting of the American leaders before and during the War of Independence
Great Awakening the masses seeking salvation and spiritual renewal
morals social practices and conduct considered right or wrong
revival renewed and more active attention to religion; an awakening of men to their spiritual concerns
revolution in politics, a material or entire change in the constitution of government
tyrant oppressive ruler not constrained by law