Never Before in History

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The founding principles on which the United States were established belong to the ongoing human quest for political and religious liberty. That quest has been the central theme of Western civilization. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, they were seeking religious freedom. When the American Revolution was fought, it was fought for political freedom. The American Revolution is inconceivable in the absence of the context of ideas, which have constituted Christianity, such as Martin Luther's 95 theses, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as the social theory from the Puritan Revolution. The leaders of the Revolution in every colony were imbued with the precepts of the Reformed faith.

The American Revolution might be said to have started, in a sense, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Martin Luther held one of the largest parts in the Reformation. The Protestant reformation provided the socio-political context in which the United States was established. When the pope expelled Luther from the Roman Catholic Church in 1521, a trial was set, in which Luther was to defend his religious beliefs. When Luther stood before the court and told the authorities that it was wrong for anyone to go against his or her conscience in religious matters, a seed was planted for a future society based on Liberty of Conscience. That society would emerge over the next three centuries and culminate in the founding of the United States. Luther's call for religious freedom unleashed the forces responsible for that new nation. Through the Protestant Reformation, liberty of conscience would become a fundamental principle of the American nation.

Luther believed that a man’s life is divided in to two spheres. One sphere deals with a person’s physical life in society as he or she interacts with other human beings and the world at large. This part a person’s life relates to God as creator. The other sphere deals with a person’s spiritual life as someone made in God’s image and needing redemption. This part of man’s life relates to redeemer, who through Christ brings salvation from sin. According to him, God governs both spheres differently. God governs one sphere though law of creation, the other through the law of redemption. Luther describes the creator/redeemer distinction this way, “God has ordained two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly.”

After Luther, the next major Protestant movement occurred in Geneva, Switzerland. Here a society of Christians, often called the Presbyterians, struggled to establish a community under the leadership of John Calvin (1509-64). Calvin shared many of Luther’s concerns about liberating Europe from church and state oppression. Calvin wrote a famous set of volumes called the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s Institutes exerted a tremendous amount of influence on the founders of the United States. Many of them acquired their worldview from the Bible in one hand and Calvin’s Institutes in the other. Calvin’s theology profoundly influenced John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison to name only a few. Calvin’s theology also had weighty impact on the key political thinkers who influenced America’s founders such as, Algeron Sydney, Samuel Rutherford, and John Locke. Through their political writings, Calvin’s ideas shaped the founder’s political views.

The final pages of Calvin’s Institutes were highly influential in America's birth. They addressed the limits of authority. The last paragraphs discuss whether in religious matters a person ought to obey one’s conscience or the dictates of royal authority. Citing Daniel’s outward disobedience of the king’s orders, Calvin implies that a...
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