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Models for Reformation: Puritan America (1620-1776)

By Jay Rogers
Published March 31, 2008

The voices of Christian philosophers, authors and poets – men possessed of greater faculties of insight – had much to say about the destiny of our continent long before the United States came into existence. As the colonies began to prosper and grow, a group of English Puritans began to prophesy a new turn in history. While the American colonies were still in their infancy, they predicted growth in power and civilization, heralding a Western empire.

George Herbert (1593-1633), the Anglican poet, seeing the Puritan emigration to America, prompted by conscience and the desire for religious liberty, was inspired to write the famous verses:

“Religion stands on tiptoe in our land,
Ready to pass to the American strand.”

Herbert died in 1632, twelve years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and two years after the larger movement of the Massachusetts Company which began the settlement of Boston. These verses were almost suppressed by the English government being unsympathetic to the Puritan cause and refusing the proper license for publication. They at last yielded, however, calling Herbert “a divine poet” and expressing the hope that “the world would not take him for an inspired prophet.“1

John Milton (1608-1674), author of Paradise Lost and the heroic Sonnets, wrote a treatise on the emigration of English Christians to America:

“What numbers of faithful and free-born Englishmen and good Christians have been constrained to forsake their dear dearest home, their friends and kindred, whom nothing but the wide ocean and the savage deserts of America could hide and shelter from the fury of the bishops! O, if we could but see the shape of our dear mother England, as poets are wont to give a personal form to what they please, how would she appear, think ye, but in a mourning weed, with ashes upon her head, and tears abundantly flowing from her eyes, to behold so many of her children exposed at once and thrust from things of dearest necessity, because their conscience could not assent to things which the bishops thought indifferent? Let the astrologer be dismayed at the portentous blaze of comets and impressions in the air, as foretelling troubles and changes to states; I shall believe there cannot be a more ill-boding sign to a nation (God turn the omen from us!) than when the inhabitants, to avoid insufferable grievances at home, are enforced by heaps to forsake their native country.“2

Although such statements are not public prayer proclamations in the strictest sense, the English Puritan writings contain the covenantal model of the blessings and curses of God on nations. It may have been merely a practical understanding that England would suffer by losing its and most intelligent, industrious, prosperous and pious citizens. Yet the prophetic nature of the writings of the Puritans cannot be ignored.

We can view the First Great Awakening of 1740 as the impetus for issuing the Declaration of Independence to King George III in 1776. It would be stretching the truth to say that the Declaration was a type of covenantal lawsuit, yet it is undoubtful that through the waking up of the minds of all classes through the Great Awakening, Puritanism was carried into our form of civil government. The First Great Awakening produced a general discussion of the principles of freedom and human rights, the habit of contending for rights with religious zeal, and the preparation of the mind for all questions pertaining to civil government in the American colonies. Although it is true that there was a strong deistic influence at the time of the signing of the Declaration, there is no question that there were the residual effects of strong Puritan influence. The American Revolution could not have occurred without the 150-year-old Puritan foundation in America.

Thomas Jefferson, a man described by his contemporaries as “a French infidel in respect to religion” was ironically indebted to the Puritans for his model of civil government. The evangelical explosion of the Great Awakening in Puritan New England provided the seeds for the first Baptist churches to be planted in Episcopal Virginia, which held to a Calvinistic theology and a congregational form of church government. Jefferson gained his first clear idea of a republican government from seeing the congregationalism of a Baptist church in his vicinity. It was good politics, too, since he strengthened his party’s stance among the people through an alliance with the Baptists and all friends of religious freedom.3

The Jeffersonian distinction between Church and State is very different from the idea promoted in our day. The very phrase “separation of Church and State” is very misleading. It is not a constitutional phrase but it came afterward in the writings of Jefferson. It originated as a Calvinist/Puritan distinction between the spheres of authority of church and civil government. The Church and the State are separate spheres of governmental authority. Separation of Church and State does not mean separation of the civil sphere from God. The issue is not whether the Church should intrude on the State’s affairs. The Church should not. Neither should the State intrude on the Church’s affairs. But Jesus Christ intercedes in the affairs of both. Civil government is not secular; it still stands under the moral Law of God. This was the understanding of most American legislators until the 20th century.

1 The Church Militant: Herbert’s Poetical Works (Little and Brown) p.247, note.
2 Reformation in England, Book II: Works, Vol. III, (Pickering) p.45.
3 Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening (Tappan and Dennet, Boston, 1842) pp.419.420.


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Your comments are welcome!

I appreciate your comments but respectfully disagree on the influence of the church upon the state from Jefferson’s view. According to “Wallbuilders – Our Godly Heritage”, Jefferson is quoted as saying the church must influence the government but the wall of separation is from the government influencing the church. Hence the ammendment says that government shall make no law restricting the free exercise of religion therefore presumably binding the hands of government against the church.
Jefferson knew the only way for our republic to stand was over a Nation submitted to the authority of a Righteous God.

Posted by John Outlaw on 08/26/2009 03:13 PM #

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The Silent Scream (DVD) Eight Languages

“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981

Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House. More recently, it was by catching just a glimpse of what this film reveals that Planned Parenthood director and abortion advocate Abby Johnson turned and became a strong advocate for the pre-born.

The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.

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The Real Jesus: A Defense of the Historicity and Divinity of ChristThe Real Jesus: A Defense of the Historicity and Divinity of Christ (DVD)

Who is the Real Jesus?

Ever since the dawn of modern rationalism, skeptics have sought to use textual criticism, archeology and historical reconstructions to uncover the “historical Jesus” — a wise teacher who said many wonderful things, but fulfilled no prophecies, performed no miracles and certainly did not rise from the dead in triumph over sin.

Over the past 100 years, however, startling discoveries in biblical archeology and scholarship have all but vanquished the faulty assumptions of these doubting modernists. Regrettably, these discoveries have often been ignored by the skeptics as well as by the popular media. As a result, the liberal view still holds sway in universities and impacts the culture and even much of the church.

The Real Jesus explodes the myths of these critics and the movies, books and television programs that have popularized their views. Presented in ten parts — perfect for individual, family and classroom study — viewers will be challenged to go deeper in their knowledge of Christ in order to be able to defend their faith and present the truth to a skeptical modern world – that the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of history — “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the real Jesus.

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Go Stand Speak (DVD)

With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?

Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?

Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?

These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.

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Abortion Clinic 911 Calls (DVD)

Exposes the Dangers of Abortion to Women!

These shocking eyewitness accounts expose the dangers of abortion not only to unborn children, but to the health and lives women as well. An antidote to the smokescreens of the liberal media, these short clips show what really happens in and around abortion clinics.

Although the content is emotionally gut-wrenching, these videos have been used in church seminars and small groups to educate Christians on the abortion issue and to lead people toward a pro-life position. Contains 2 hours and 40 minutes of materials that can be shown separately.

Watch these pro-life videos on-line.

“These videos helped change my mind from pro-choice to pro-life. Your videos are what did it for me. I will be walking in next year’s March For Life in San Francisco.” — A. Jackson, California

“I was going to have an abortion until I saw your video. Praise Jesus!”
— M. Drew, YouTube Commenter

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Martin Luther: Digitally Remastered 1953 Classic (DVD)

“Here I stand … I can do no other!”

With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.

The dramatic classic film of Martin Luther’s life was released in theaters worldwide in the 1950s and was nominated for two Oscars. A magnificent depiction of Luther and the forces at work in the surrounding society that resulted in his historic reform efforts, this film traces Luther’s life from a guilt-burdened monk to his eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.

Running time: 105 minutes

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Watch a clip from Martin Luther.

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