AMERICA’S CHRISTIAN HISTORY: It’s Distinctives and Importance
Excerpts from an Address By Verna M. Hall, December 1980
There is indeed a stirring in the land—the Lord’s stirring of His people for the preservation and rebuilding of America—the world’s first Christian Republic. It is like unto Haggai 1:14, “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedeck, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” Matthew Henry, the colonial clergy’s commentator says of this passage, “When God has work to do, he will either find or make men fit to do it, and stir them up to it.”
Learning and teaching America’s Christian history and education is GOD’S WORK, as we will show you — it is not just an academic course, an interesting study, a personal theory or idea. IT IS THE LORD’S WORK, which is why it is so important for God’s people to KNOW it, and why it is so dangerous for them to continue to ignore it, which they have done now for at least a hundred years. God’s people have indeed been tempting God, and it is an exceedingly dangerous business.
There are God’s people who are concerned about the economic situation of our nation—and well they should be. There are those who are concerned about the moral situation of our nation—and well they should be. There are those who are concerned with the consequences of public education—and well they should be. There are God’s people who are concerned about our governmental situation—and well they should be. There are those who are concerned about the rapidly growing socialist influence around the world, etc., and well they should be. But dangerous as these issue areas are to the well-being of our nation, they are still only the secondary areas of concern—they are but the effect of not dealing with the primary area—which might be summed up as American Christians deliberately forgetting God’s Hand in the establishment and formation of the nation—America.
There is another very large group of God’s people in this nation who are not dealing with this primary area, and it is composed of those who are not at all concerned about the condition of America, or who have very little sense of responsibility for it, who are only interested in one phase of Christianity—that of evangelism. All important as the Great Commission is, it is not to preclude the practical living of the Biblical principles of life and government. It is not to preclude God’s people from remembering God's hand in this nation's history.
WHY THIS IS THE LORD’S WORKA moment ago I told you that teaching and learning America’s Christian history was important because it is the Lord’s work. All Christian ministries are the Lord’s work—what is distinct, or more important about this activity?
Let me answer by saying the omission of this subject is a sin of omission on the part of God’s people, and has accounted for the failure of our ever-increasing and widening Christian activities to make an impact upon our nation’s life and standards. Likewise did the understanding and constant remembrance of this fact by the founding father generations make a positive impact upon all aspects of life—including government.
To illustrate: Using the business graph technique, consider the amount of money which has been expended on Christian activities during the last fifty years. The amount is exceedingly great—in the billions, and the number of crusades, radio and TV stations, book stores, publication houses, magazines, churches, schools, (audio tapes, video tapes, tracts, bulletins, mailings, etc.) all have an enviable percentage increase for this period. But consider the status of our nation during that same period. All areas have declined which should have shown the effect of this expenditure of funds for Christian activities—home life, morals, business standards and ethics, economics, and government. Not one of these areas is of the quality of fifty years ago. Why has not God honored all of this expenditure for His ministries?
Participating in giving back to American Christians a knowledge of the providence of God in America’s history is the most important evangelical, educational, economic and political activity in which you can be engaged. With this knowledge restored, the wonderful Christian ministries now in operation, can have their desired effect — but without it the gap between Christian activities and their effect upon our social, civil, economic life as a nation will grow wider and wider.
By contrast, consider the same type of business graph for the period in our nation’s history from 1750 to 1800. The expenditure for the outreach of Christian activities was minimal when compared to the last fifty years, but note the effect of Christian principles on all phases of life! It was in this period that God brought forth the world’s first Christian Republic; established the greatest degree of freedom for the individual, home, church and school from the state for the first time in mankind’s history! The Christians must have been doing something right during that period which we are not doing today, and I submit that it is in this one area primarily, that of remembering God’s Hand in our history.
Our nation is not in trouble because of the aggressive activity of socialists, liberals, communists, one worlders, Trilateralists, world bankers, etc. — it is this way because of the failure of American Christians to remember, and value, the Christian History of their nation and the biblical principles of their government... their failure to value what it cost to produce the freedom they take so much for granted.
When one knows something of what is going on governmentally— the abuses of our system, local, state and national— it is very easy to become convinced that the negative forces are the aggressor and the cause of our problems; but the contrary is true—they are but filling the places which should have been occupied by those understanding Biblical principles of government and economics. Those we call the offenders are merely filling the places of leadership in all fields of endeavor, which have been given them by the default of the Christians. This has been going on for over a hundred years; is it any wonder that Biblical principles of our history and government, of economics and education are not in control in our country?
This is a very important point to understand as we enter into the matter of learning what God’s purpose is for America. Otherwise, we will seem to be “not on target”, whereas, if one will admit that our nation’s problems have been caused by American Christians ignoring what we will be studying—then you can see what I said before—this educational activity becomes the most important evangelical, political activity in which you can be engaged. I have dwelt on the point of motive for teaching and learning America’s Christian history, because over the years we have found there are two basic reasons why American Christians do not know this subject, and resist learning it and supporting such activity financially:
- They are not interested in the subject of history or government, and feel to be studying it is to take away from Bible study (more important Bible doctrines such as salvation, separation, sanctification, etc.) or church activities (Sunday School, Neighborhood Witness, anti-abortion demonstrations, etc.); they feel this subject is secular and therefore should separate from it.
- They are interested in government but feel they should spend their time waking people up to the issues because the situation is so serious. They do not see that studying history, even America’s Christian history, is going to do anything about the situation now. It will take too long.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS REGARDING HISTORY
“The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; and forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them” (Psalms 78:9-11).
Matthew Henry says of this passage: “Our forgetfulness of God’s works is at the bottom of our disobedience to his laws.” Noah Webster describes “bottom”: “The foundation or ground work of any thing, as of an edifice, or of any system or moral subject; the base, or that which supports any superstructure.”
The American Christians’ forgetting God’s works, God’s actions (God’s Providence) in the forming of America, is at the bottom, or base of our national problems. As we forgot we began to disobey His laws in the field of government—individually and collectively; we allowed and furthered socialism with all the sinful aspects of it we see in our nation today.
If we will accept the responsibility for our nation’s situation, and see that our forgetting God’s works, God’s actions, God’s Providence is the primal cause, then the repenting of this sin of omission, coupled with the willingness to learn what God has done—the events of our history—will begin, with the Lord’s blessing, the restoring and rebuilding of our nation. But the individual American Christian’s activity must be TWOFOLD—it is not enough to repent, be sorry. The proof of the genuineness of the repentance lies in the second step—the willingness to take the time to learn. This is always the Christian’s stumbling block—willingness to change his way of life. Here is where the character struggle lies. Here is where the battle for the survival of America and all she stands for in relation to the Gospel—here, in the character of American Christians, is the battleground for the survival of America.
Now let us look at Hosea. “For Israel hath forgotten his maker, and building palaces” (Hosea 8:14). The phrase “forgotten his Maker” is of importance to us, for it applies to America Christians — they have forgotten their Maker as Americans.
G. Campbell Morgan, commenting on this phrase tells us there is a different meaning to the word “forget”. He says men cannot forget God. “They can deny Him, but in so doing they are still remembering Him. Men do not forget God intellectually…The Hebrew word means quite simply, to MISLAY. Israel hath mislaid his Maker. You know what it is to mislay something. You have not forgotten it, but you have mislaid it.” Rev. Morgan goes on to say: “After Moses had led Israel through all the difficulties — what is the one grave peril he warns them against: Forgetting God—to mislay God—to be oblivious of.” Moses saw Israel down the coming years, and he knew its supreme peril would be that God should be mislaid, regarding the events by which God had brought them out of bondage.
To emphasize this point a bit more. If a piece of paper were to be handed to all the clergy in the country with the instructions to list the providential events in the Old Testament times, by and large they all could do it well. But if they were handed another piece of paper with instructions to list some providential events leading to the establishment of America and her Constitution — only a very few would be able to do so.
If the clergy cannot do it, can we expect (nominal) Christians to do it? But two hundred years ago the clergy could do this, and did it for the edification of the people. They published such (Thanksgiving, Election, and Artillery) sermons so the people could study them… [The end of Miss Hall’s address has been lost. Nonetheless, its theme is well taken. Therefore, we have taken the liberty, with permission of the Foundation for American Christian Education, to provide an appropriate conclusion to this section on the place of the Bible in history from The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America.—ed.]
SERMONS AS POLITICAL PAMPHLETS1Modern scholarship has established the fact that the many sermons of our pastors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were dissertations on government—individual self-government. They were not political, in our modern sense of the word, but governmental. For a people Biblically educated it was thought right and proper to seek first God’s direction, learn His truths to determine how men should govern themselves individually and collectively. “The annual ‘Election Sermon’—a perpetual memorial, continued down through the generations from century to century—still bears witness that our fathers ever began their civil year and its responsibilities with an appeal to Heaven, and recognized Christian morality as the only basis of good laws.”2 Election day in the colonies was celebrated by long governmental sermons delivered by pastors and printed for circulation throughout the colonies. Many were sent to England.
American Federalism, the practice of self-government at every level of society and government, could not have been learned apart from the study of the Bible. Therefore the history of the Bible and the history of American liberty are inseparable.
There were, in addition to the Sunday and Fast Day sermons, different types, all contributing to the education of the public. Today there is “a famine in the land … of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11)—a famine of instruction in Biblical principles of government. Oh that we might raise up pastors like our Colonial clergy willing to restore the foundations of American Federalism—Christian Self-Government with Union.
ELECTION SERMONSThese were given at the seat of government in answer to the request of either the House of Representatives or the Council upon the election of the Governor’s Council. These sermons were many pages in length and dealt with the subject of character and civil government, showing that both areas must conform to God’s Word.
Consider an excerpt from the Election Sermon of May 26, 1742 by Nathaniel Appleton, Pastor of the First Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, preached before His Excellency William Shirley, Esq. Governour, His Honor the Lieutenant Governor, The Honourable His Majesty’s Council, and House of Representatives. Rev. Appleton’s text was from Psalms 72:1–3, “Give the King thy judgments, O God, and thy Righteousness unto the King’s Son. He shall Judge thy People with Righteousness, and thy Poor with Judgment. The Mountains shall bring Peace to the People, and the little Hills by Righteousness.”
“But then if we consider the moral Law as delivered in Thunders and Lightnings from Mount Sinai, and then written upon Tables of Stone, to denote the Perpetuity of it; and if we consider the particular Precepts under these general Laws, recorded up and down in the sacred Scriptures, we shall find such Precepts of Wisdom, such Rules of Justice, Truth and Goodness laid down, as are a sufficient Directory for us in every Station of Life, whether private or Publick, whether in natural, civil, or sacred Authority. And most certainly, there are no such Maxims of Wisdom, Justice and Goodness to be found anywhere, as in the holy Scriptures. “And now these are the Judgments of God that are given to us as well as unto the Nation of Israel; for they are founded upon the Nature and Relation of Things, and are of universal and perpetual Obligation. They are Precepts & Rules that God in his infinite Wisdom has judged most proper and suitable for such Beings as we, who perfectly knows our Frame, and what Sort of Laws are proper for us to be govern’d by. These are Judgments and Laws that Length of Time, or Changes of Circumstances don't alter the Nature of, nor weaken our Obligation to them. These Laws are founded upon Truth, and Justice and Goodness, and so are Immovable as the Mountains, and Immutable as God himself.
“So that for God to give his Judgments to Kings and Rulers, is to give them a clear Understanding of those Rules of moral Government, that he has laid down in his Word, and that they may learn from the Word of God, what is right and just, true and good, and that they may frame their Notions of these Things, not merely from their own Reason, nor from the Morals of the Heathen, but from the Oracles of god, which give us the clearest, the fullest and the most refined Notions of moral Vertues, and fix our Obligations to them upon their Proper Basis, viz. The Authority of God. (p. 11–12) …
“I have but one Law-Book that I shall pretend to recommend to your careful perusal, and that is the Holy Bible, which contains the Laws, Statutes, and Judgments, the Reports and Records of the King of Heaven: There you will find that God has given us, as we are told, right Judgments, and true laws, good Statutes & Commandments. (Neh. 9:13) O then, Let all your private Counsel, and all your publick Pleas, be such as agree with these Divine statutes.” (p. 54) …
“Before I shut up, I must entreat you to spare me a Word to the body of the people very briefly. And here let me say, That as the Judgments, and the Righteousness of God are necessary to make good Rulers and good Ministers, so are they to make a good People. The same Rules that will teach, and the same Righteousness and Grace that will dispose and enable Rulers to govern aright, are as necessary to direct and dispose you to submit to the Government over you. And the same Laws that empower some to rule, demand Subjection and Obedience from you.…
“And here I would observe, that we have always set up for a religious People, and have gloried in it. I pray God that we may by all our Carriages make it more and more evident that this Character does belong unto us. And that the great Awakenings that have been of late, and are still among People, may issue in such a sober, humble, obedient, regular Carriage, as may give us more and more Occasions for Thanksgivings to God upon this Account. And let me tell you, that Subjection to Authority is such a very considerable Article in Christianity, that there is no pretending to be Christians, much less reformed Christians without it.” (p. 58)
Prologue by the editors:
This stirring sermon excerpt exemplifies how Americans routinely applied the Scriptures to ordinary life, as a means to make the Great Commission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ successful upon every possible societal foundation, so that whether they ate or drank, or whatever they did, early American Christians did all they did for the glory of God. No areas of life were neutral, not even table manners. Contemporary Americans are horribly ignorant of this great heritage.
Since the early 1980s, when both Jerry Nordskog and Ron Kirk became acquainted with Verna Hall, Rosalie Slater, and this great Christian legacy, this ignorance seems to have grown exponentially. The need for the revival of the knowledge of God’s Providence in Christian history ought to be clear to those with even a small inkling of what the Gospel requires in stewardship over foundation institutions such as the home, church, education, and civil liberty and justice. At this very moment—as these words are being written—the House of Representatives has passed the onerous, unconstitutional, and historically watershed bill known as Cap and Trade. If Christians do not now respond to the call to get Biblical wisdom as to the foundations of civilization may very well be destroyed, and the passage often cited by the Foundation for American Christian Education may become our common lament: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3).
Let us not further squander nearly four hundred years of American heritage, with the prospect of perhaps another century to pass before we might recover our once common liberty. Rather, at this time when we ordinarily celebrate America’s Christian liberty in the form of our Declaration of Independence and of the successful defense of the ancient rights of Englishmen through the following long War of Independence, may we solemnly reflect on this great heritage, and seek each one our rightful contribution to its recovery, for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of our God.
Permission to republish by Foundation for American Christian Education (http://face.net/).
- Hall, Verna M., Slater, Rosalie J.: The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America. San Francisco : Foundation for American Christian Education, 1983, pp. 22-24
- Hall, Verna M., The Christian History of the American Revolution. San Francisco : Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976, p. 191.