by Al Maxey

Issue #547 ------- September 14, 2012
We need more Boanerges or sons of thunder in
the pulpit. ... If Satan rules in our halls of legislation,
the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become
so corrupt that the very foundations of government
are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.

Charles G. Finney (1792-1875)
"The Decay of Conscience"

The Black Robe Regiment
The Pastor-Patriots of the Revolution

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in a letter to William Stevens Smith dated Nov. 13, 1787, wrote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots." A true patriot is not one who flees from the foes that would enslave his fellow citizens, but one who is willing to stand, fight and die for freedom for all. At times of crisis, true patriots step forward. They always have; they always will. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) wrote the following memorable words in 1776: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated." As Paine pointed out, there are "sunshine patriots" who talk a good talk, but then slither away when the storm comes. True patriotism is much different. Perhaps Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) stated it best in a speech in New York City on August 27, 1952: "What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? ... A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." Among such patriots, and Jefferson, Paine and Stevenson most assuredly had these in mind, were the godly men within the early American colonies known as The Black Robe Regiment (aka: The Black Regiment), who truly epitomized and personified the meaning of self-sacrificial love for God and country.

These men, and there were a great many of them, were not just patriots, they were pastors. They were the leaders of their congregations, the moral motivators of the people, the spiritual shepherds of the flock of God in this new land. They were also a vital part of, indeed the voice and soul of, the movement to secure liberty from British tyranny. Thus, many of the government leaders were also leaders in the churches. The same was true of those who later took up arms to defend the colonies. Pastors would often go from pulpit to battlefield, leading the men of the congregation into war with the British troops. Their sermons were filled with a call to liberty. As the American Revolution approached, it was the pastors who called their members to take up arms, who would lead them in military drills following the Sunday services, and who would lead them into battle. These church members, who could be "ready in a minute" to confront the enemy, and who were recruited and trained largely by their pastors, were known as the "Minutemen." Historians are quick to point out that had it not been for the influence of the early American pastors, both in their sermons from the pulpit promoting liberty, as well as their leadership on the field of battle, the history of our nation might very well have been written differently. One historian, Tom Barrett, observed, "I do not consider it a stretch at all to say that were it not for the pastors and churches of colonial America, our land would be a British colony today" [The Forgotten Holiday].

The British were only too aware of the power of the pastors in the shaping of public resolve against tyranny and in the people's thirst for freedom. Indeed, when the British troops landed in America, it was the pastors, whom they had disparagingly named "The Black Robe Regiment" (because of the black robes they typically wore in the pulpit), that they went after first. Dr. David C. Gibbs, president of the Christian Law Association, observed, "The colonial pulpit was a major source of strength and inspiration both before and during the Revolutionary War for Independence. In particular, the ministers of New England played a pivotal role in calling for independence and for godly resistance to British tyranny. ... The pulpits of New England were especially important in helping to bring about independence. Long before the general population understood the threat to American liberty, some colonial ministers saw what was coming and boldly spoke out about it from their pulpits" [One Nation Under God: 10 Things Every Christian Should Know About The Founding Of America]. These men saw themselves as the "watchmen on the wall" for God and country (Ezekiel 3:17-21), and they took their calling seriously.

There are some who believe that pastors should never inject secular concerns into their preaching and teaching, that their pronouncements from the pulpit should only be expositions of Scripture pertaining to spirituality. We are citizens of Heaven, they argue, and thus should have no concern for what happens in some earthly nation. I believe such thinking is dead wrong, and so did the members of The Black Robe Regiment. Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766), a member of this group, and one of its most profound thinkers (a graduate of Harvard and the pastor for West Church in Boston), clearly opposed such thinking. Robert Treat Paine, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and also an Attorney General of the United States, called Mayhew "the Father of Civil and Religious Liberty in Massachusetts and America." On January 30, 1750, Jonathan Mayhew preached a sermon on Romans 13:1-7, pointing out that he firmly believed there was a divine imperative for pastors to speak from the pulpit about the ills of society, and about tyranny and oppression. He declared, "It is hoped that but few will think the subject of it an improper one to be discoursed on in the pulpit, under a notion that this is preaching politics, instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that 'all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.' Why, then, should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the pulpit, as well as others?" The Scriptures speak of kings and governments, and the obligations of both rulers and those ruled. Thus, Mayhew reasoned, "politics" was just as appropriate a topic to be addressed from the pulpit as any other. An historian and pastor named Wayne C. Sedlak rightly observes, "The pulpits of that era were anything but neutral. And they certainly did not subscribe to that error of reasoning so dominant in the churches today which says that the only proper subject of concern for the pulpit pertains to individual salvation and one's personal preparation for heaven."

In the early days of our country, the pastors powerfully proclaimed liberty from their pulpits. The Black Robe Regiment stood boldly before the people and called them to throw off tyranny and embrace freedom. John Adams (1735-1826), our 2nd President, rejoiced that "the pulpits thunder and lightning every Sabbath against George 5th's despotism," and praised these pastors as being among "the most conspicuous, the most ardent, and the most influential" men of that day in the "awakening and revival of American principles and feelings" that led to our ultimate independence [The Works of John Adams, Charles Adams, editor]. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) said, "Pulpit oratory ran like a shock of electricity through the whole colony." In 1864, the historian B. F. Morris wrote, "The ministers of the Revolution, like their Puritan predecessors, were bold and fearless in the cause of their country. No class of men contributed more to carry forward the Revolution and to achieve our independence than did the ministers" [Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States]. In 1898, historian Charles Galloway stated, "Mighty men they were, of iron nerve and strong hand and unblanched cheek and heart of flame. God needed not reeds shaken by the wind, not men clothed in soft raiment, but heroes of hardihood and lofty courage, and such were the sons of the Mighty who responded to the divine call" [Christianity and the American Commonwealth]. Yes, had it not been for these powerful pastors and their preaching, our history might have been written differently. In many ways, they were both the soul and the voice of the American Revolution.

Again, the British were not unaware of the significant role the pastors and the churches were playing in the coming Revolution. In fact, in the British Parliament the War of Independence was often referred to as "the Presbyterian Revolt." The Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches were the leaders in this "sedition and treason." Thus, as already noted, when the British troops arrived on our soil they wasted no time seeking out the pastors for special punishment. Many were rounded up and killed, and a great many of the church buildings were burned to the ground. This was because the church buildings were serving as meeting places for the Minutemen, who were made up of the church members, and the church grounds were used as training fields for these fighting forces, which were being led and trained by the pastors and deacons of the churches. In fact, the pastors generally led their members into battle. It is stated that at the time of the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, all except one of the Colonels serving in the Colonial Army were elders in the Presbyterian Church. The spiritual leaders of the churches were also the military leaders during our war for independence!

The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 with the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were in Massachusetts. The pastor for the church in Lexington was Jonas Clark. His sermons calling for liberty had been powerful, and he had been urging his members to prepare for war. Indeed, when the smoke of battle cleared that day in Lexington, the American dead were all from his congregation. Thus, the first blood had been shed in the cause of liberty, a cause promoted from his pulpit. "The teaching of the pulpit of Lexington caused the first blow to be struck for American Independence" [J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution]. James L. Adams observed, "The patriotic preaching of the Reverend Jonas Clark primed the guns" of the Battle of Lexington [Yankee Doodle Went to Church: The Righteous Revolution of 1776]. When Paul Revere made his famous ride, he rode to the home of Jonas Clark. Samuel Adams and John Hancock happened to be with Clark at the time, and when it was learned that "the British are coming," they asked the pastor if the people of Lexington were ready to fight for their independence. Clark replied, "I have trained them for this very hour!" Indeed, when the first shots were fired, Jonas Clark was there with the Minutemen of his congregation taking the battle to the British invaders. One year later, to the day, Jonas Clark would declare in his sermon, "From this day will be dated the liberty of the world."

General John Peter Muhlenberg, who was also a Lutheran pastor in Virginia, preached a sermon one Sunday on Ecclesiastes 3, saying, "In the language of Holy Writ, there is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!" At that point in the sermon he removed his black robe. Underneath he was wearing the uniform of a Colonel (he would later be promoted to the rank of General) in the Continental Army. He said he was leaving the pulpit to defend the cause of freedom, at which point many in his congregation chose to do the same (they would become the famed 8th Virginia Regiment). That moment in history, by the way, is to this day commemorated in a statue of Muhlenberg that stands in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. The General/Pastor would later lead his brigade against Gen. Cornwallis at the Battle of Brandywine. Even the wording of our great Declaration of Independence is almost verbatim from the teachings of a pastor with the Black Robe Regiment named John Wise. For many years he had been preaching and writing about the very issues that would find their way into that document. In 1864, historian Benjamin Morris stated that "some of the most glittering sentences in the immortal Declaration of Independence are almost literal quotations from this essay of John Wise," which was "used as a political textbook in the great struggle for freedom." President Calvin Coolidge, in a speech he delivered in Philadelphia in 1926 (at the 150th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence), affirmed the same: "The thoughts in the Declaration can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710." Thus, this pastor, and others like him from the Black Robe Regiment, through their many sermons and writings, "laid the intellectual basis for American Independence."

One of the accounts that shows the spirit of these noble men is of James Caldwell (1734-1781), who was known as "The Fighting Chaplain," and also "The Fighting Parson of the Revolution." He was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. His wife was shot and killed during one of the battles. His real fame, however, comes from his actions during the Battle of Springfield in June, 1780. As supplies were running low, Caldwell and his American forces, who were greatly outnumbered, needed wadding for their weapons. Caldwell grabbed some of the hymn books from a nearby church (which were filled with the hymns of Isaac Watts -- see Reflections #347: The Dissident Hymnist for my analysis of his life and work), and ripping the pages out of the hymnals, and passing the pages to the troops for wadding, James Caldwell cried out, "Give 'em Watts, boys! Give 'em Watts!" Inspired by this action, the Minutemen pushed back the British, winning the battle that day.

The reality is, and many Americans today are sadly unaware of this fact, "ministers were intimately involved in every aspect of introducing, defining, and securing America's civil and religious liberties" [David Barton, Wall Builders]. Many books and articles have been written about these men -- the famous Black Robe Regiment -- and a search of the Internet will produce a wealth of knowledge about this group. One of the best, most comprehensive, and well-documented studies I found (and it includes some great videos) was by David Barton. It can be read online by Clicking Here. I would also highly recommend the two volume set by Dr. Ellis Sandoz titled "Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805." Yet another excellent work describing the sermons of the Black Robe Regiment is "The New England Soul" by Dr. Harry Stout of Yale University.

On May 9, 1789, in an article titled "The Importance of the Protestant Religion Politically Considered," which appeared in the Washington, D.C. newspaper Gazette of the United States, we find this glowing endorsement of these brave pastors: "Our truly patriotic clergy boldly and zealously stepped forth and bravely stood our distinguished sentinels to watch and warn us against approaching danger; they wisely saw that our religious and civil liberties were inseparably connected and therefore warmly excited and animated the people resolutely to oppose and repel every hostile invader. May the virtue, zeal and patriotism of our clergy be ever particularly remembered." Maybe John Wingate Thornton (1818-1878), an attorney and historian, summed it up most succinctly in the following statement from his book "The Pulpit of the American Revolution" -- "To the pulpit, the Puritan pulpit, we owe the moral force which won our independence." We enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today due, in large part, to the pastors who motivated our forefathers to rise up and break free from their bondage to British tyranny, and who then willingly laid their lives on the line by taking up arms and leading their congregations in fighting for that freedom. May God raise up a Black Robe Regiment today with the same courage of conviction to stand boldly in their pulpits and call the people to freedom in Christ and freedom from tyranny, both religious and secular. A nation is lost when its pastors fail the people from the pulpits!!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
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One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
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Immersed By One Spirit
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(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
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Readers' Reflections

RECONCILING ROSES -- If you haven't yet done so, I would urge you to visit the web site of New Wineskins. The September issue deals with the theme: "The Ministry of Reconciliation." There are some wonderful articles this month from some very talented writers (with more articles to come in the next few days and weeks). My article for this issue is: Reconciling Roses. I think you will find the thoughts shared in that study, as well as in the others, challenging and thought-provoking. I pray they will motivate us all to greater reconciliation within the universal One Body. New Wineskins is also now very interactive in design, allowing the readers to comment upon the various articles, as well as converse on site with one another and the authors. New Wineskins also links the reader to a number of prominent blog sites within our heritage, so you are able to follow the regular writings of such leaders as Rubel Shelly, Edward Fudge, Keith Brenton, Mike Cope, Patrick Mead, Jay Guin, Josh Graves, Trey Morgan, and many others (including my own Reflections). Why not add the New Wineskins site to your list of "Favorites" on your computer, and then visit it often. You will be enriched for the experience.

From an Elder/Mayor in Texas:

As Christians we must act with our God-given abilities to promote change in our world. That means becoming active in voting and getting others in the church out to vote for what God wants! I am concerned that people in Christian leadership refrain from telling people what is wrong, and elect instead to go along with the status quo. They stand on the sidelines and watch our country (world) spiral downward. It is our job to be like the prophets of old and say, "This is wrong ... period." We don't have to name political parties to call out SIN from the pulpit. We can tell people not to vote for anyone who supports abortion, gay rights, or who denies God. People need to know that it is NOT alright for Christians to lend their support to anyone who supports these things. I believe that we must put "God's voice in our vote!" And I am going to promote that publicly. As an elder, I am tired of walking on eggshells when it comes to politics. When a Christian tells us they are voting "Democrat," we must ask them if they support abortion, gay rights, etc. We must get Christians to vote for God, and that message HAS to come from you and me from the pulpit, as well as one on one. I love you, Al, and love what you do and how you do it!! As an elder and also a mayor in ------, Texas, I am committed to doing the same thing! God bless you!

From a PhD in Texas:

I just went back and reread Reflections #158 -- "Grace and the Caveman: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light." It may very well be the best article you have ever written! Also, I'm glad to hear that Shelly is doing well following her gall bladder surgery! I was wondering why there was no Reflections that week.

From a Minister/Elder in Florida:

Thank you for your article "Pastors Politicking From Pulpits." It was very informative, and it also just might save someone from invoking the wrath of the government against them!

From a Reader in Ohio:

"Pastors Politicking From Pulpits" was a great article. It was factual, but not inflammatory. Thanks.

From an Army Captain in Afghanistan:

I really liked your article on "Pastors Politicking From Pulpits," although I have a sinking feeling that if Obama wins, the IRS will be used to squash all such speech from the churches. Obama has already shown he will go after his critics. Imagine the freedom he will have when he does not have to worry about re-election! Just my own thoughts. The military is even more restricted in what we can say about our Commander-in-Chief. I'm sure you heard the story about the U.S. Marine who was discharged over a Facebook page! It is SAD. Freedom of speech is being restricted bit by bit, and I fear it will only get worse if there ends up being more blue than red on the map this November!! Anyway, keep speaking your mind, brother!

From a Reader in Kansas:

I am sooooo glad to see a pastor put his toe in the water! Perhaps you've heard of the "Black Robe Regiment." They were the pulpit preachers in the colonies, and were the first King George went after when his British troops landed. I don't think that was because those preachers spoke of their own convictions, but rather they spoke God's words and spoke against those who put themselves before or above God. Politically, there is not one of us more important than pulpit preachers when it comes to politics, for without family values for a foundation, neither church nor state will stand firm in those values for long. Families and nations depend on the wisdom from the pulpit. That is quite a responsibility. We today are standing on the shoulders of giants -- foremost of whom were/are our pulpit preachers!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Things are so delicate in this regard that my preacher actually reads a prepared statement whenever he speaks about a political issue from the pulpit so that he can't be accused of saying something that he didn't say. Smart move, in my opinion.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Christian leaders, and all Christians, must be addressing the issues that affect faith, morals, and any legislation or policies that impede our freedom to worship. We cannot ignore those candidates who stand for or against such issues that affect our faith and Christian values. These must be addressed, and, for those who can, they must stand on public platforms, including pulpits and papers, and proclaim godly principles. Christian leaders remained largely silent prior to WWII, ignoring the atrocities against Jews and other ethnic groups. Millions would die because there were no pulpits "standing in the gap." Our pulpits today cannot limit the "gospel" to a plan of salvation, proper church organization, and what we do in the building for one hour a week. We must focus on such faith-challenging issues as the murder of the unborn, homosexual marriages, and the threat of the destruction of Israel. Check out the candidates; see who supports these things. Then encourage your preacher to publicly take a stand!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

If you vote for Obama, you will go to hell. So says a famous Pentecostal pastor. He is right!! You cannot murder the unborn and be saved. Is there any difference in killing them yourself or voting for someone to legislate their murder? NO! If people in this country are so stupid as to vote for Obama, then Christian pastors had better begin educating their people to vote against him. This is not a political election, this is a moral election.

From a Reader in Maryland:

Thanks for your article. I knew about the legislation restricting what preachers could say from the pulpit with regard to political candidates, but did not know the source, or history, of that legislation. Keep on educating me! I believe that education and thinking are what is actually changing the Churches of Christ of the 1950's into the more loving body we are beginning to see today -- and this is a very good thing.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Nice read, Al. Thanks for the historical background on this issue. Also, we have all been praying for Shelly.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I used to have a copy of an article you once wrote. As far as I remember, it was one of your Reflections. I gave it to someone because I thought it was excellent. However, I now can't locate it on my computer. I would really appreciate it if you would tell me where to find it. I think it was headed "Like/Love Conundrum," or something like that. With thanks for your hard work expounding the Scriptures.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

"Pastors Politicking From Pulpits" was a very eloquent and intriguing piece on the responsibilities of those with the ultimate power of persuasion. Many a time I have felt the sting of guilt when a parson "shucked down the corn." The same applies when it comes to who we as Christians choose for our leaders. You struck gold with regard to the reasons people vote as they do. We must each ask ourselves if our reasons are selfish.

From a Reader in Georgia:

AMEN to a well-thought-out and well-written article, which I pray will have a wide circulation. A few years ago it would have been almost unimaginable for God to be booed and jeered and put down like He was at the recent Democratic National Convention!! As you said in your article, "I hope it isn't too late" for America. On the bright side, this anti-God demonstration just may have opened the eyes of some Democrats, Republicans and Independents who have not yet decided who they intend to vote for in November.

From a Reader in Vienna, Austria:

If the Democrats don't love God, then they don't love God. We cannot force them to love God. Actually, I was more shocked by the extremely UNdemocratic way God was put back into the party platform! The nays were as loud as the ayes, and yet the chair viewed that as a 2/3 majority?! It was a farce!! This is an evil world, under the dominion of darkness -- we can expect nothing else from the people of the world. So, WE have to offer something entirely different: something revolutionary; something good.

From a Reader in Alaska:

American history abounds with political use of religion, such as the "Black Robe Brigade," which I have read about previously. Unless I've missed it, however, Scripture doesn't authorize or encourage revolt against the king, a key theological point ignored by co-opted preachers during the Revolution. Before going to war, all leaders like to have their nation's God on their side; our revolutionary founders were no different. Like their European forbearers, they inappropriately combined (conflated) Christianity with politics. Christ concentrated on being about His Father's business, so shouldn't we consider that our priority as well?

From a Reader in Arizona:

I was enlightened by your article "Pastors Politicking From Pulpits" (re: the IRS Code). Your final paragraph touched the point of a continuing concern of mine: monologues from clergy to laity. The priesthood of all believers has been swallowed up by "pulpiteers." Joel's prophecy of sons and daughters speaking has been forgotten, and Paul's statement to the four-party church at Corinth has been ignored: "For you may all prophecy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged" (1 Cor. 14:31). If we want all of us to grow up into Jesus' likeness, then all need to speak (as Eph. 4:15-16 indicates). Also, Paul dialogued with those at Troas (Acts 20:7, 9). It was not a monologue. All of these passages point to the same reality: the early church dialogued, just as the ekklesias in the Greek cities and the synagogues that began during the captivity. The priesthood of the first covenant was limited to certain males from the tribe of Levi, but the priesthood of the new covenant is all-inclusive, just as Joel's prophecy indicated. Speaking for God would be by both genders.

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