“Christianity and the American Revolution”

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1776 Declaration of IndependenceOn this 233rd commemoration of the American Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the debate among Christians is still open whether or not the American Revolution was Scripturally justified. A second related question is whether the independence movement was motivated by Christian ideals or by Enlightenment deists.

I dug up a couple of engaging articles from the Spring 1996 issue of Christianity Today of which the theme was “Christianity and the American Revolution.”

In “Jesus vs. the Watchmaker,” Derek H. Davis examines the difference in how Christians and deists defended the revolution’s goals and ideals. While postmillennial Christians entertained thoughts of an independent Christian nation as the “New Israel,” Enlightenment deists saw the revolution as the beginning of the universal establishment of peace, freedom, and morality, a secular version of the millennium.

In “Preaching the Insurrection,” Harry Stout documents how preachers of different persuasions rallied the angry colonists to declare independence and take up arms. Stout first compares the paltry 15-minute homilies today with the 1-1.5-hour sermons during the colonial period, estimating that the average colonial churchgoer would have listened to some 7,000 sermons by the time he/she is 70 years old, or 10,000 hours, equivalent to listening to lectures to obtain 10  separate undergraduate degrees in a modern university.

How did colonial ministers, most of them Reformed Calvinists, justify preaching sermons in support of the war of independence? First, they regarded the English Parliament’s 1766 declaration that Parliament had sovereignty over the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” as a violation of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and God’s sole claim to sovereignty over all.

Secondly, Reformed colonialists regarded British tyranny as opposed to their identity as God’s covenant people. For them, bowing to the British crown also represented idolatry—worshipping another god.

This weekend, read these two articles and your 4th of July celebration will be more than just another dazzling fireworks display.

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