By Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O’Neil –
Patriot preachers of the 18th Century, in becoming prophets of liberty and truth, set the stage for the Revolutionary War. Hated and feared by the British, they were referred to as the “Black Robed Regiment.” Believing the Bible addressed every subject, including politics, patriot pastors boldly preached about spiritual and civil liberty. When, however, the inevitable clash came they exchanged their black robes for military uniforms, leading men onto the battle field to face the dreaded Redcoats. For in the minds of patriot preachers religious (internal) liberty and civil (external) liberty were inextricably connected.
Accordingly,18th century pastors saw no need to separate church and state. They believed it was wrong to do so, as did Thomas Jefferson and most of the other Founders, despite holding to a strict adherence of separation of church and state. What Jefferson and preachers and congregations of the day adamantly opposed was the establishment of a government-sponsored church.
Nevertheless, they wanted Christianity to be the dominate faith in America, believing that religion was critical to liberty and fair government. Furthermore:
- The overwhelming majority of the Founders were not atheists and desists, as many on the Left believe.
- The patriot preachers believed it a sin not to mix church and state.
- The patriot preachers taught that only godly leaders should be entrusted with the reins of government.
Even today, seven states still have a clause in their constitutions that disqualifies atheists from holding office or testifying as a witness in any court.
Black Robed pastors play an important role in Revolutionary War
How fitting that the shot heard around the world that started America’s War of Independence was fired in Rev. Jonas Clark’s churchyard in Lexington, Massachusetts on the morning of April 19, 1775. Rev. Jonas Clark, with the help of Captain John Parker, who had been training church members and other citizens in Lexington to fight as a military unit, led the Lexington Minutemen out to face the British. Not commonly known is that when Paul Revere rode through Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775 crying, “The Regulars are coming,” he was headed to the house of Rev. Jonas Clark. John Adams, who later became this nation’s second president, proclaimed “Oh what a glorious morning this is” when told of the stand made by Pastor Jonas Clark and his Minutemen against the British Redcoats at Lexington.
Rev. James Caldwell of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, organized and led a sophisticated group of spies who kept General Washington and his army informed of the enemy’s movement. Fighting alongside his troops, Caldwell gave his life for the cause of liberty.
By the time the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775, pastors and their congregations from all over New England had rallied to the cause. Having marched to Boston, they joined with the rest of the Continental Army, dug in and prepared for a fight. Rev. Samuel McClintock of Greenland, New Hampshire, fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill (Three of McClintock’s four sons died defending liberty.). Rev. David Avery of Gageborough (Windsor), Vermont, with hands uplifted as he stood on Bunker Hill, asked “for the blessing of Heaven to crown our unworthy arms with success.”
Pastor Daniel McCalla of Charleston, Pa., offered his services at the outbreak of the war. He was later captured as a prisoner of war. Because of the deep hatred by the British for pastors who sided with the colonies, McCalla was imprisoned on a prison ship, as were many preachers, where he suffered misery beyond imagination for the cause of liberty. Baptist preacher Charles Thompson was likewise sent to a prison ship where he died, after suffering horrendous conditions that many considered a fate worse than death.
Twenty-five-year-old Pastor Joab Trout on the eve of the Battle of Brandywine, Sept. 10, 1776, dying the next day fighting for freedom, offered a prayer for God to prosper the cause.
During the darkest days of that awful winter of 1777 – 1778 at Valley Forge, ministers Peter Muhlenberg, Joab Houghton, and David Avery served as chaplains for General George Washington, preaching to the discouraged and beleaguered troops to lift up their sagging morale. It was the preaching of the Black Regiment that, to a large degree, got the army through that bitter winter and helped save its ranks from being destroyed by desertion.
Liberties threatened once again in 21st century
The War of Independence is not yet over! Not unlike the tyranny our Founders faced in 1776, this nation’s civil and religious liberties are being swept away in the 21th century one by one. As this nation edges closer and closer to the brink of disaster, the modern church and its leaders do not resemble those who fought and died to be free men. Few ministers seem aware of the problems this nation is facing, largely ignoring the highly organized enemy closing in around the Church. As for believers, they feel safe and protected within the church.
It was a different America in 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville visited this country. Traveling widely, he took extensive notes about his observations and reflections. Returning in less than two years, Tocqueville published a report which resulted in the publication of De la démocratie en Amerique in 1835. Tocqueville had this to say about the role of religion in America:
It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo-America society. In the United States, religion is therefore mingled with all the habits of the nation and all the feeling of patriotism, whence it derives a peculiar force.
Much has changed from that century to our own. The war fought then was with guns, swords, knives, and cannons. Today the war is fought with cleverly crafted words, political alignments, and a less than perfect media that chooses sides and the agenda the public will hear and read. The war of 2014 is far less bloody, but just as deadly, and definitely more difficult to win. In 1776 not everyone wanted war, but at least the issues were not all that complicated. It was about liberty: freedom for their families.
Today the issues of war have become far more difficult to understand. Largely problematic is how difficult it is for the public to discern truth from fiction. Even more worrisome is that far fewer Americans care to even enter the battle of words, attempt to discern what the truth really is, or what their role might be in the battle. With all the other cares within our lives, engaging in political words or actions today just requires too much time and becomes emotionally consuming. Americans have grown comfortable in their ignorance, avoiding the tough issues because they can. How much longer will it be before we become like the “frog in water” example: Comfortable until the water is too hot to move, and then there is no hope of survival.
What prompted such a dramatic change in the mentality of our people? There will always be dissension in the battle for ideals, but the balance can change and a side ultimately wins due to a single event that sets a new course. In the 20th century a grave mistake was made by the Supreme Court when the encouragement of religion was confused with the establishment of religion. The outcome restricted reading the Bible aloud in school, praying at school functions, and hanging the Ten Commandments in a classroom. That has since extended to removing prayer and the Ten Commandments from many other public places, where they once were considered essential. When God was removed, it left a vacuum quickly filled by the enemies of Christianity. And what was filled by this vacuum? What we have today, a society that borders on Sodom and Gomorrah.
Part 1: Thorner & O’Neil: Calling all Christians http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/09/ready-thorner-oneil-calling-all-christians-.html#more
Part 2: Thorner & O’Neil: Calling all Church Leaders http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/09/thorner-and-oneil-calling-all-church-leaders-.html#more
Part 3: Thorner & O’Neil: Church falls short if evangelizing is sole purpose http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/09/thorner-and-oneil-church-falls-short-if-evangelizing-is-sole-purpose-part-iii.html
Part 5: Facing a crisis much the same as the one faced this country in 1776, pastors and Christians must respond to God’s call and fully engage the culture before we lose our religious liberties and our opportunity to freely promote and practice our faith.