The Church: A Regiment Gone AWOL

John Peter Muhlenberg

John Peter Muhlenberg, colonial pastor and officer in the Continental army

The unsung heroes of the American revolution were the colonial pastors. Without them, it’s safe to say that we would never have won our independence.

According to The American Quarterly Register (1833),

“As a body of men, the clergy were pre-eminent in their attachment to liberty. The pulpits of the land rang with the notes of freedom.”

The pastors were so prominent in the movement that the British nicknamed them “the black-robed regiment”. When Paul Revere thundered down the streets of Lexington to warn of the British approach, patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying with the local minister, Rev. Jonas Clark.

According to David Barton, Hancock and Adams turned to Rev. Clark and asked if the people were ready to fight. The pastor’s reply was “I have trained them for this very hour!” And he had: the seven casualties in the battle of Lexington were all from Clark’s church.

The Church has lost its patriotism

All this is a thing of the past though, it seems. The only outlet for patriotic feeling the American church knows about nowadays is saying the pledge of allegiance, singing all the patriotic songs in the hymnbook, and applauding the veterans.

The only reason to be grateful for a free country is “so that we can worship freely.” And you can forget about a really patriotic sermon: the best most pastors can do is draw analogies between political freedom and spiritual freedom.

We’ve forgotten what true patriotism is, and why it matters.

Freedom: a Christian concept

For the Christian, freedom isn’t just about worshipping God in peace, earning a living as you choose, and the ability to pursue the American dream.

Freedom is the result of God’s principles applied to the public realm. It’s what a society looks like that operates in the way God intended. It’s the “laws of nature and nature’s God,” applied.

Christians should be burning with zeal to see God honored as Creator and King in every aspect of life: individually, in the family, in the church, in society, and in government. We should care about freedom because we want to see God glorified.

Patriotism is a sacred duty

It’s time for the church to reshoulder the duty of political involvement. It’s the church that should lead society, not Hollywood, CNN, or (God forbid) Oprah.

We need to ditch the “Just love Jesus” theology and start being salt and light. May Christians wake up to this reality, and may the Lord raise up another “black-robed regiment” to lead us back to the front lines of freedom!

6 Responses to “The Church: A Regiment Gone AWOL”

  1. Hannah, you did an outstanding job on this one. Thanks so much!

  2. Wesley Wilson July 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Well said. In evangelicalism today there is a strange mix of patriotism (or is it closer to nationalism?) and Christianity that views Americanism as an extension of Christianity or vice versa–as if I’m somehow a better Christian if I’m a proud American, than some Chinese Christian under communism.

    In the church, we need to lose the baggage of Americanism as if it is somehow distinctly Christian, but we need to view our country as a realm to bring under Christ’s dominion. You said it best here:

    “Christians should be burning with zeal to see God honored as Creator and King in every aspect of life: individually, in the family, in the church, in society, and in government. We should care about freedom because we want to see God glorified.”

  3. If a church took these principles and applied them, what would it look like in the modern day?

  4. VERY well put! If the church had not been so vocal on politics and governance, we would not have had the fervor for the American Revolution, or for women’s suffrage, or the abolition of slavery in the US.

    The church and Christians need to raise their voice for good and for righteousness, even in the political arena.

  5. @Joshua – thanks so much!

    @Wesley – I think a true Christian will be a true patriot as well. It’s very commendable to love your homeland. What we’re seeing is a nation full of people who have forgotten how to be patriots or Christians, so they fake it as best they can.

    @Jon David – interesting question. I think you’d really see the government running scared, and it might get kind of ugly for a while. However, if enough pastors stood firm, any efforts of the government and the IRS to stamp it out would only fan the flames.

    @Tim – you’re exactly right. We’re commanded to be salt and light in every area of life and society. Good point about the abolition movement, and I’m intrigued by your mentioning the suffrage movement. Must check that out.


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