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The Mandate

America's Schools Began With Christian Education

By Editorial Staff
Published April 22, 2008

The founders of the United States believed that useful education – that which produced liberty – must have its foundation in Christianity

by Stephen McDowell

THE FOUNDERS OF THE UNITED STATES were very much aware of the relation of education and liberty. They knew that a people cannot be ignorant and free. Jefferson said it this way:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Benjamin Franklin said that ignorance results in bondage:

A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.

The founders of the United States believed that useful education — that which produced liberty – must have its foundation in Christianity.

Though many may not recognize his name today, Benjamin Rush played a very significant role in American history. Although Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, his contributions were not limited to governmental affairs. He was also a professor of medicine, a writer, a principal founder of Dickinson College, and a leader in education. In addition, he served on many Bible and medical societies, and societies for the abolition of slavery. He wrote in 1806:

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 form 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.1

Education in colonial America was primarily centered in the home and church, with the Bible being the focal point of all education. Schools were started to provide a Christian education to those who were not able to receive such training at home and to supplement home education. The first schools were started by the church. The first common schools originated with the school law of 1647 in Massachusetts, which stated:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.2

Our founders recognized that Satan wants to keep people ignorant. If he can keep them ignorant, he can keep them in bondage. This motivated them to not only start schools but also colleges.

Colleges and universities were started as seminaries to train a godly and literate clergy. In fact, 106 of the first 108 colleges were founded on the Christian faith. One of the original rules and precepts of Harvard College stated:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.3

The father of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams, declared that education in the principles of the Christian religion is the means of renovating our age. He wrote in a letter on October 4, 1790, to John Adams, then vice president of the United States:

Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.4

Knowledge apart from God and His truth is little better than complete ignorance, because the most important aspect of education is the imbuing of moral principles. All education is religious – it imparts a basic set of principles and ideals, a worldview. How the youth are educated today will determine the course a nation takes in the future.

Noah Webster understood this very well. He spent his entire adult life working to reform America and to provide a foundation of liberty, happiness, and prosperity for all citizens. Education from a Christian perspective was key. In 1839 he wrote:

Practical truths in religion, in morals, and in all civil and social concerns ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction. Without a competent knowledge of legal and social rights and duties, persons are often liable to suffer in property or reputation, by neglect or mistakes. Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be; and without both kinds of knowledge, citizens cannot enjoy the blessings which they seek, and which a strict conformity to rules of duty will enable them to obtain.5

Numerous people in America today agree that a lack of moral values is the root of the country’s problems, yet without a standard of moral absolutes rooted in a sovereign God and His truth, and without these being taught and lived in the homes, in the schools, in the government, and in the media, America as a nation will not be able to impart these needed morals.

The people behind the French Revolution believed virtue was necessary for their efforts to succeed, but they thought they could be virtuous on their own apart from God. The founding fathers of the United States knew this could never be. George Washington in his Farewell Address specifically addressed this belief when he said:

And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion… ®eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.6

1 Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, by Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia, printed by Thomas and William Bradford, 1806, p. 113.
2 Significant Documents in United States History, Richard Morris, editor, Vol. 1, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1969, p. 15-16.
3 New England’s First Fruits, 1643, in Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History, by Rosalie Slater, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1980, p. vii.
4 The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, by William V. Wells, Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1865, Vol. III, p. 301.
5 A Manual of Useful Studies, by Noah Webster, New Haven, S. Babcock, 1839, p. 77-78.
6 George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796, in A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, by James D. Richardson, Washington, Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1910, 1:205-216.

From Providential Perspective, June 1995. Reprinted with permission.

Stephen McDowell holds a B.S. degree in physics, an M.S. in geology, and is executive director of the Providence Foundation, a non-profit educational organization that studies the relationship between religion and public life. McDowell is a member of the board of directors of Churches Serving Internationals, which publishes The Mandate.


“The only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government … is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible.”

- Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence


Students Pray Across the World

Youth in formerly communist nations join prayer rallies

Does your university have a flagpole? If so, don’t be surprised to see a large group of students standing around it early in the morning on September 20. They’ll be joining more than 2,000,000 other college and high school students from around the U.S. and in many foreign countries. Their purpose is to pray for their schools, their friends, and the nations.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the event, which is called “See You at the Pole.” (“Pole” is short for “flagpole.”) The event begins the night before with a rally in South Carolina. Guests will include U.S. Congressman Steve Largent, who is a Christian, and many U.S. college students who will share how committing their lives to Jesus Christ has brought them hope and joy. The rally will be broadcast live on nationwide radio throughout the United States.

“See You at the Pole” began in 1990 at a school in Dallas, Texas, when a few students gathered spontaneously for prayer. By 1991, it became a nationwide event, and has continued growing as more and more young people participate and pray for their schools, for fellow youth, and for their nations.

Based on surveys returned by participants, as many as 75 percent of the high schools in the U.S. had students involved last year. Students also met for prayer in other countries, including in every major city in the Philippines, in Moscow’s Red Square, and in Belgium, Canada, England Guatemala, Singapore, Saipan, Japan, and elsewhere.

In Romania, a nation that was once a communist atheist state, young people met last September in a public park in the city of Targu Mures at the statue of a freedom fighter and former king of their country. At a school in Taichung, Taiwan, a group of students met representing 23 different countries.

For more information, or to find out if students at your university plan to participate, contact National Network of Youth Ministries:

Telephone: (619) 592-9200 telephone
Compuserve: 73552.1243@compuserve.com
America Online: NNetworkYM@aol..com.


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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - A Christian Manifesto (DVD)

That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!

Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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A Revival Account: Asbury 1970 (DVD)

What is true Revival and Spiritual Awakening?

Discover the answer in this eyewitness account by Dennis Kinlaw, President of Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, who recounts the story of a visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1970. This is the presentation that has continued to spark the flames of Revival in the hearts of people around the world. Contains eyewitness footage from the Revival at Asbury College in 1970 in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Certain to challenge you to greater holiness and a deeper commitment to full-scale revival. Original news and private footage has been included. If you are a student who longs to see a spiritual awakening at your school, you must see this video!

“This simple video does a wonderful job of conveying something of God’s heart and power, Everyone we have ever shown this to has received an immediate impartation of faith for revival and the power of prayer.”
— Bob and Rose Weiner, Weiner Ministries Int’l

Running Time: 40 minutes

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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.

Speakers include: George Grant, Ted Baehr, Stephen Mansfield, Raymond Ortlund, Phil Kayser, David Lutzweiler, Jay Grimstead, J.P. Holding, and Eric Holmberg.

Ten parts, over two hours of instruction!

Running Time: 130 minutes

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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

Special offer: Order 5 or more for $5 each.

Watch a clip from Martin Luther.

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Freedom: The Model of Christian Liberty (DVD)

“Give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.

The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Welcome to the Second American Revolution!

This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

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