For many people today, July 4th is a holiday filled with picnics, friends, and fireworks. But it is also a commemoration of America’s Declaration of Independence. The freedom call was not only against a political and economic system, but it was also a cry for independence from the spiritual tyranny of the Anglican Church.
In 1775, there were 668 congregational churches in America. Seventy–five percent of all Americans, at that time, belonged to churches of Puritan derivation. The religious makeup was 98.4 percent Protestant, 1.4 percent Roman Catholic, and three-twentieths of one percent Jewish. America was a nation deeply concerned with religious freedom.
Religious freedom today is far from what the original founders intended. What Americans wanted was a government that did not favor one Christian sect over another. The idea was never to erode Christianity through the separation of church and state.
Competition between the various churches—early Americans thought–was healthy; it kept them from becoming complacent, comfortable and arrogant like the nationally endorsed Anglican Church. In 18th century America, men and women adhered to the Biblical conviction that all men and human institutions were fallible. Americans fought hard for seven years during the Revolutionary War to rid themselves of the shackles of imperial England and her state-controlled church.
The men who called the people of America to independence were men committed to their country and to the freedom of her people. They paid a great price for our independence and religious freedom: five signers were captured by the British army and tortured; 12 signers’ homes were destroyed; two had sons who died during the Revolutionary War; one had two sons taken prisoner by the British; and nine signers of the Declaration died in the war.
Words from President John Adams reveal our foundational beliefs: And may that Being who is Supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation. (3/4/1797)
And on October 11, 1798, he stated in an address to the military: We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other. This July 4th, let us remember those courageous men and women who helped to establish a free nation. Let us thank God for religious freedom won, and exercise that freedom by reaching our generation with the Gospel. Liberty without faith in the God of the Holy Bible is bondage to the world.
Blessings to you on this Independence Day, 2018.
CWA of Washington