America’s Freedom is Founded on the Application of the Bible to Civics (part II)
by Pastor Earl Wallace 1/20/2020
This article is the second in a series of three articles which delves into the foundations of the United States of America – the American Republic – based upon the understanding of the biblical basis for government. In the first installment, we ended with Pastor Wallace’s outlining of specific time frames for the historical foundations for America’s freedom…
More than 1000 years ago, governmental leaders were taking God’s guidance to heart and writing it into law.
In the Ninth Century, King Alfred the Great, who ruled over the English from 871 to 899, introduced law codes based on traditional Old Testament legislation, beginning these with a recitation of the Ten Commandments. His royal court became a magnet for eminent scholars who became the nucleus around which a great resurgence in Christian learning developed.
Several centuries later, in June of 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta. This ground-breaking document established the concept that kings must rule in compliance with God’s laws and that government must treat people according to these laws. It stated no one (not even a king) is above God’s laws and, in addition, held the church should be free to practice faith as God explains in the Bible. It codified the western world’s concept of this “free church” – a church free from government influence so it could support without compromise the human rights and freedoms the Bible expresses.
In the 1300s. John Wycliff also believed there were inexorable – natural and inalienable – divine laws of God that all must obey. He wrote in the introduction of the 1382 printing of the “Wycliff Bible” that “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
His teachings were foundational for our understanding that faith in Christ makes all people equal (each is a whosoever sinner who can be saved by God’s grace) and that the Bible is the sole determinant of morality.
These ideas planted seeds for those who came long after, for Martin Luther, a century later, and for the framers of the American Declaration of Independence 400 years later.
But then, as now, these ideas were threatening to those who were in power. Although Wycliff escaped persecution and died in 1384, the Catholic Church discovered where he was buried, exhumed his body, burned his remains and had the ashes thrown in the Thames.
The flames couldn’t destroy what he had started though, the desire to follow God’s laws as set out in the Bible.
In 1394, John Hus, a Czech student inspired by Wycliffe, preached against indulgences, the fees paid to the church to satisfy God’s wrath for oneself or another. He was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415.
The idea didn’t die because the Word of God didn’t change. A century after Hus, Martin Luther was converted in 1515 by teaching the book of Romans. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. He was accused of following Hus. In 1520, a papal edict ordered him to recant. He publicly burned the edict which ignited the Reformation into a full flame that changed the world.
The Reformation came about like the waves of an invasion that took place when the Allied Forces attacked Nazi Germany on D-Day, storming the beaches of Normandy. The first assault forces were dramatically cut down, but subsequent waves came over them and conquered.
Wycliff would represent the first wave. With Hus and later Luther, waves would also come from the Zurich, Switzerland Baptists; the Geneva-based Reformed faith; the Scottish Presbyterians, and then, in England, the Puritans would rise.
In the 1600s, Bible-believing Puritans overcame the tyrannical view that the king and the government were above the law and could do no wrong. They escaped persecution by coming to the New World. Free from tyranny, they decided to live and codify God’s will for both their speech, the press and exercise of religion as well as no self-incrimination, jury independence and imprisonment only after due process.
In 1620 this took the form of the Mayflower Compact. Authors Edward Winslow and William Bradford stated in part, “Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civic body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; …and by virtue hereof enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws and ordinances, acts, constitutions, offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the good of the colony.
In the 1620s and 1630s, they established a litmus test for those in politics, civic service and government. It required a person seeking to serve be born again, with evidence of testimony supported by accurate quoting and application of scripture. They also wanted additional proof of character that you were pursuing Godly disciplines including attending church, being in a Bible study and belonging to an accountability group.
By the 1640s, the Puritans were concerned too about not letting the past repeat itself and sought to find a way to ensure the Bible’s truths could not be distorted because people were unable to read it.
They developed what became known as “The Old Deluder Satan Act.” Written first in 1642 and adopted five years later in Puritan Boston, this was British North America’s first law to mandate compulsory education for children to ensure they had access to Biblical knowledge. It states, “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue … and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors… therefore, let schools be established to promote God’s Word.” Every town with more than 50 families was to appoint someone to teach all the children to read and write.
The authors were saying, in other words: The devil has kept us from the Bible long enough. And we do not want Bible-knowledge to die off when our church leaders do. They reflected the 1382 Wycliff Bible introduction that says, “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
They applied the Bible to Civics.
For the first 200 years or so after the settling of North America, education at all levels was explicitly Christian – so that people could read the Bible for themselves. The original colleges and universities were to train ministers.
In 1692, the Bible’s impact spread even more with the Puritan’s publication of The New England Primer, a short little book which went through multiple editions and sold millions of copies. It taught American children the alphabet using Biblical truths. It also contained all 107 questions and answers of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Apostles Creed.
This Protestant foundation eventually matured over the 250 years from the time of Martin Luther. Then, as the Age of Discovery opened up a “New World” for settlement for European peoples, Christianity became planted and brought forth fruit in the new land. In the next installment, this series will examine the more American-based foundations for the Republic.