There are tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the United States, and millions do not participate in politics even though the Bible says that the civil magistrate is a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4). Millions of these Christians don’t participate in the political process because their pastors are either afraid to address political issues or they believe that Christians would not get mixed up in politics.
Either reason is contrary to the Bible and the history of this once-great nation. “To the pulpit, the PURITAN PULPIT, we owe the moral force which won our Independence,”1 John Wingate Thornton wrote in The Pulpit of the American Revolution. Too many Christians don’t believe or know this history.
Many Christians believe they can be neutral. But there is no neutrality. By not engaging culture at the political level, another worldview dominates and impacts all of us. We must then live under their standard, as we are doing today.
Founding American ministers of the gospel confronted the issues of their day by appealing to the people in terms of the Bible. The annual “Election Sermon” still “bears witness that our fathers ever began their civil year and its responsibilities with an appeal to Heaven, and recognized Christian morality as the only basis of good laws.”2 In addition, the clergy were often consulted by the civil authorities in the colonies, “and not infrequently the suggestions from the pulpit, on election days and other special occasions, were enacted into laws. The statute-book, the reflex of the age, shows this influence. The State was developed out of the Church.”3
The diminishing light of civil liberty in this land is linked directly to the lack of preaching on it in today’s pulpits. Dr. Alice Baldwin’s wonderful book The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution is a welcome antidote to the problem of a supposed neutrality, should we be willing to take it.
Dr. Baldwin illustrates how the preachers of the early American era thought and practiced just the opposite as today. Mountains of research in colonial sermons, tracts, pamphlets, and other publications, reveals how the pulpits of colonial America rang constantly on all aspects of the public square: good rulers, good laws, good forms of government, and the blessings of liberty. We especially hear of those choice values of biblical order that became the battle cries of American independence.
Commenting on the classic paraphrase of “life, liberty, and property,” Baldwin proclaims,
No one can fully understand the American Revolution and the American constitutional system without a realization of the long history and religious associations which lie behind these words; without realizing that for a hundred years before the Revolution men were taught that these rights were protected by divine, inviolable law.
Covering the entire revolutionary era, she concludes that the central force behind it all was the pulpit’s application of the Word of God to politics and government. She says, “It must not be forgotten, in the multiplicity of authors mentioned, that the source of greatest authority and the one most commonly used was the Bible.” And she proves that “from the law of God they derived their political theories.”
It is long past time to recover the great and powerful preaching of our founding era—a time when pastors did not fear to preach politics, resist tyranny, and found their governments on biblical precepts. Dr. Baldwin’s nearly-forgotten book is a powerful resource toward that end. We recommend it to every pastor and every Christian in hope that they follow the example of its subject matter even more.
You can order a copy of The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution from American Vision here. Order one for your pastor as well.
- John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution or, The Political Sermons of the Period of 1776 with a Historical Introduction, Notes, and Illustrations (New York: Burt Franklin,  1970), xxxviii. Emphasis in original. [↩]
- Cited in Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, xxiii. Emphasis in original. [↩]
- Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, xxii-xxiii. Emphasis in original. [↩]