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October 31st: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 6
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 03, 2009
Posted by: Providence Orthodox Presbyterian Church | more..
2,550+ views | 100+ clicks
October 31st is the historical catalyst of Western liberties.

It is time to re-consider the vitality and viability of Christianity once again. Pragmatism is the only native American philosophy. And Americans live it to the hilt. Yet if we follow what 'works' why not follow Christianity?

This series is directed at encouraging American Christians to reconsider their roots and modern detractors to reconsider the historical significance of Protestantism. America is one of the best socio-historical evidences for Christianity.

Our freedoms were forged in the fires of the Reformation. And expanded through her children. And yet too many Americans wish to divorce these freedoms from the framework in which they were erected. They want the fruits without the Christian roots. If there is any cause and effect in the world, then this spells disaster for future generations.

Freedom & the Reformation

How is that so? Let a liberal historian from Yale explain the logical and psychological connections in a three-fold manner:

"How is it, then, that Calvinism is acknowledged, even by foes, to have promoted powerfully the cause of civil liberty? The reason lies in the boundary line which it drew between church and State. Calvinism would not surrender the peculiar notions of the Church to the civil authority. Whether the church, or the Government, should regulate the administration the Sacrament, and admit or reject the communicants, was the question which Calvin fought out with the authorities at Geneva, in this feature, Calvinism differed from the relation of the civil leaders to the Church, as established under the auspices of Zwingli, well as of Luther, and from the Anglican system which originated under Henry VIII..."

Thus, separation of church and state (a legal term not clearly defined until last century) began budding during the Reformation.

"A second reason why Calvinism has been favorable to civil liberty is found in the republican character of its church organization. Laymen shared power with ministers... Men who were accustomed to rule themselves in the Church would claim the same privilege in the commonwealth..."

The Presbyterian model is three-fold: a layer of courts (local church, regional church (Presbytery) and a national church (General Assembly)), joint-rule by laymen (elders) and ministers, and a written constitution. The people vote for their leaders and local issues. The people's voice is exercised through their elders at the regional and national levels. This republican system pre-dated America's by over two-hundred years.

"Another source of the influence of Calvinism, in advancing the cause of civil liberty, has been derived from its theology. The sense of the exaltation of the Almighty Ruler, and of his intimate connection with the minutest incidents and obligations of human life, which is fostered by this theology, dwarfs all earthly potentates. An intense spirituality, a consciousness that this life is but an infinitesimal fraction of human existence, dissipates the feeling of personal homage for men, however high their station, and dulls the luster of all earthly grandeur. Calvinism and Romanism are the antipodes of each other." (George Park Fisher, The Reformation, revised, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), 207ff.)

In fact, historian and founder of Annapolis, George Bancroft (son of a Unitarian minister and no friend of Calvinism) declared:

"The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty; and, in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was his most faithful counselor and his never-failing support. The Puritans...planted...the undying principles of democratic liberty" (A History of the United States, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers), 464)

He even declared:

"Calvin infused enduring elements into the institutions of Geneva, and made it for the modern world, the impregnable fortress of popular liberty, the fertile seed-plot of democracy."

(Literary and Historical Miscellanies, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855), 405-406)

The Point of It All

The influence of the Reformation was not monolithic. And other factors were involved. And historians do debate on how and to what extent Calvinism influenced early modernity. Yet influence it did.

The theological influence of Luther and the Reformers is the most fundamental factor. As such I must mention again that the Gospel calls men to repent of their wayward actions and beliefs. Men, being bound in their sin, have guilty consciences they try to assuage, even to the point of creating entire new worldviews whole-cloth. But the Gospel of Christ, that He died for the sins of those who believe in Him and His work, can free such fettered consciences.

And a free conscience is a free man.

This entire series can be summed up by a modern encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:

"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings."

James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 5, (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 153.)


Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

For more info: For a scholarly assessment of Calvinism's influence read, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion & Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism, Witte; for evidence that resistance to tyrant was part of the middle colony Reformed thought read, Revolution and Religion, Griffin.

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