Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christianity and Orthodoxy: Was Arius Christian?

Alot has happened in a day, and it looks like one Chris Smith (unknown to me, but I'll read more shortly as I catch up) has beaten me to the punch, but while I catch up let me post this outline of a position I was working on, which is suddenly rather topical.

CHRISTIAN: A name derived from that of Christ himself. The name refers to all those who have been anointed through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism; hence, the followers of Christ, the members of the Christian Church. According to Acts 11:26 "it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (1289). - Glossary of the Catholic Catechism

This post intends to illustrate the undesirability of conflating the terms "Christian" and "orthodox", emphasizing that we need both terms, one with a wide definition, the other with a narrow one, if we are to make any sense of history.

To begin with, as an appetizer, consider the natural-sounding expression "the Christians are debating orthodoxy again", or its historical equivalent "orthodoxy emerged from disputes in the Christian community". Neither expression is coherent if orthodoxy defines Christianity, for then orthodoxy cannot be debated among Christians; in any such debate, at most one side would be orthodox, and therefore at most one side could be Christian.

Historians of Christianity, of course, would like to say such things as "orthodoxy emerged from disputes in the Christian community", since that just makes sense. In order to do so, they need a broad sense of what Christianity is, so that both the "right" and the "wrong" (or winning and losing, or whatever) sides in a dispute about orthodoxy can be considered "Christian".

Thus, for instance, if I turn to my first (and still favorite) "A History of Christianity" by Kenneth Scott Latourette (American Baptist), in the preface I read:
Most of this will have to do with what we term Christianity. Christianity is a religion and as such is one of many religions. Its distinctive feature is that, as its name implies, it has Jesus Christ at its very heart. Yet Christianity is a synthesis of what the Christian regards as the Gospel, God's gift to man in Christ, and of the human response to it. Christianity centres about Christ, but it is compounded of the faith, Judaism, from which Jesus sprang and which prepared the way for him; of Jesus himself, his birth, life, teachings, deeds, death, and resurrection; of the faith of his immediate disciples in him; and of the several aspects of the many environments into which it has moved. Obviously, a well-rounded account of the history of Christianity will narrate the story of its geographic spread, taking account of the forms of the faith which spread... [and after another page of such generalities] If it is not to be distorted, the history of Christianity must include all the varieties of the faith. (xiv-xv)

Let's try to explore the bounds of this broad sense of Christianity with a test case, the Alexandrian priest Arius. If orthodoxy is defined in terms of, at least, the Nicene creed, and if the unorthodox are not Christians, then there should be no question of Arius' non-Christianity, since the Nicene creed was composed specifically to condemn him. But what is the story as reported by Latourette, i.e. as reported by a historian? The following is a severe abridgment of pages 151-164.

Two streams of thought emerged from the work of Origen, the conflict of which would result in the most serious division of Christianity to that time (4th century). One of the streams, today considered heretical, was championed early by Lucian of Antioch, who died in the persecution of 312, but whose work was carried on by his better known pupils, Arius of Alexandria and Eusebius of Nicomedia. I'll skip what the actual issues were (it's irrelevant to the question at hand). Arius and Eusebius were opposed by Alexander of Alexandria, Arius' bishop and immediate superior, and Athanasius (a deacon in Alexandria, later Alexander's successor as bishop). What could have remained a minor quarrel in a corner of the empire spread, in part because Arius composed a number of popular songs expressing his theology, which went viral (to use a modern term) and brought, for the first time in history, large masses of laypeople into what should have been an obscure theological quarrel. The Emperor Constantine called a council of all bishops in Christendom to resolve the dispute, in Nicaea, in 325 AD.

The council decided for Alexander and Athanasius, banished Arius, ordered the burning of his works, and published a creed (not our Nicene creed, but a first draft of sorts) that expressed the correct faith as determined by the council. After the council (at which Eusebius signed the creed), Eusebius was stripped of his see by the Emperor, and other supporters of Arius also lost their positions. Two years later, however, another gathering of bishops in the same city readmitted Arius to fellowship and reinstated Eusebius as a bishop, as it became immediately clear that while the council of 325 had been maneuvered into compliance, the Christian community at large was at least as suspicious of the apparently Sabellian [another heresy] doctrines of Alexander and Athanasius as it was of the doctrines of Arius and Eusebius. Besides, there was big politics involved: Arians dominated the eastern mediterranean, Nicaeans (as they came to be called) the west, Arians taught obedience to the Emperor, Nicaeans taught an independent sphere for the church (and within them, a growing splinter taught supremacy of the bishop of Rome). Within a year Eusebius was a principal advisor to the Emperor, and it would be the Arian confederate Eusebius who baptised the emperor shortly before his death ten years later.

Arius, though, died in 336, the year before Constantine's baptism. He was, at that time, a member in full standing of the church (since his return from exile years earlier), though he never received communion from the hands of Athanasius, his archenemy and bishop of Constantinople (the city on whose streets Arius suddenly collapsed). One legend has it that God struck Arius down miraculously to prevent his receiving communion from Athanasius, another has it that Arius was poisoned.

Anyway, the doctrinal position of Arius never changed; it was the church that zigged and zagged between the Scylla and Charybdis of Arianism and Sabellianism, until the Cappadocians formulated what would become the orthodox doctrine on this matter, some 40 years after Arius' death. At the time of his death, Arius' doctrine was in the ascendancy, so much so that at least one bishop of Rome (Liberius) is believed to have accepted Arianism, albeit under imperial threat of exile.

The rest of the story is a mess of compromise, with the Nicaeans shifting toward the semi-Arians, and the Cappadocians cutting the Gordian knot of reconciling anti-Sabellianism with anti-Arianism. The Nicene Creed as we know it today reflects this Cappadocian synthesis (and is drawn from a Jerusalem Creed which in turn was influenced by the first Nicene Creed), and is commonly associated with the council of Nicaea of 381, although it was not actually adopted there. Its origins are, however, roughly from the 380s, and its theology is similar to the Cappadocian synthesis adopted at Nicaea in 381.

So, today Arianism is named a heresy, as proclaimed in a Creed written long after Arius died, but apart from two years' banishment, Arius remained a member of the church all his life, albeit with continuing personal feuds with his ecclesiastical superiors, including denial of communion by his archenemy Athanasius. Latourette winds down the story thus (p. 164):
By a slow and often stormy process the overwhelming majority of Christians had come to believe that the formula which bore the Nicene name contained the correct statement of the Christian faith on the questions which had been at issue. Today most of those who are called Christians continue to honor it, along with the Apostle's Creed, as the official authoritative formulation of their faith and employ it in public worship.

Latourette clearly leaves room for non-Nicene Christians, both in the 4th/5th centuries and today. For the historian, orthodoxy is tighter than Christianity. I suggest that based on his lifelong personal faith and devotion to Christ and his church, Arius is one of those non-Nicene Christians.

We Interrupt This Program...

Since things are so lively around here [and that's a good thing] and deserve close reading and discussion, the post on Ben Franklin's religion is pre-empted and will be aired at a future date. It's waited for over 200 years, it can wait just a little while longer. Ben was a patient man, and so am I...---TVD

The Problem with Terms

Whoever gets to define them wins the argument
by Tom Van Dyke

Jonathan Rowe cross-posts the below at his other groupblog, Positive Liberty, and gets a worthy reply from one Chris Smith:

As a practicing historian of Christianity, I must say that the “broad” definition of Christianity is the most widely accepted one in the field. A major reason for this is that from the very beginning, the followers of Jesus were an extraordinarily diverse group, and many of them were not at all what we would call “orthodox”. I think that in today’s post-modern academy, where historic orthodoxy’s “will to power” is viewed as somewhat less than legitimate, recognizing heretics as “Christians” is a political statement.

A very weighty proposition, but I'd offer that "today’s post-modern academy" prefers to exploit the doctrinal differences between Christians in an attempt to eject the word [and concept] of "Christian" from the discussion entirely.

Not all such folks are from the "post-modern academy," of course: some are evangelicals [Gregg Frazer] or even Catholics [Robert Kraynak]. So when Mr. Rowe asks,

"...why did Oxford University Press publish [evangelical] Dr. Gary Scott Smith’s book “Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush” which explicitly relies on Dr. Frazer’s thesis and concludes the key American Founders were neither “Deists” nor “Christians” but “theistic rationalists,”

if the academy is hostile to any role for Christianity in the Founding [I believe it is, and I'm not alone on this], it would stand to reason that the academy would push such views to the forefront, put the torch to the "theologians who eat up David Barton's work," and completely exclude the middle.

Still, Mr. Smith does illustrate the problem of hammering people into boxes, definitions and terms, because in doing so, we create new problems:

If you’re not going to classify Arians as “Christian” then you either have to come up with some classification that makes more sense or avoid classifying them altogether. Given that Jesus was no less central to their faith than to that of the orthodox, “Christian” seems a perfectly natural designation for them...You’d frankly have to be immersed in the special definitions and special pleading of evangelical culture to define them any other way.

The use of language---terms, definitions, etc.---is ideally a way to clarify our thinking, but it is only a shorthand for the actual concepts. Often, terms and definitions become the enemy of clarity, and conceal more than they reveal. Sophists exploit them; the philosophically-minded, the seekers of truth, seek to overcome their limitations.

Although there are legitimate differences as to what it means, the concept of "Christian" has a unique and irreplaceable role in the Founding, and to quibble it away to annihilation and euphemism does a murderous disservice to the search for truth.

Theologian Who Eats Up David Barton's Work & The Proper Historical Definition of "Christianity"

Kristo Miettinen and I still are not seeing eye to eye on the "Christian Nation" issue. He left a particularly prickly comment in response to my last post which I in turn answered in the comments at American Creation. But there are a few things I'd like to answer on the front page. He writes:

First of all, you do realize, don't you, that for the historical question that we are discussing, it is not the opinion of "orthodox Christian theologians" that matters, but rather the standard appropriate for historians of Christianity....You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses. In order to defend the position you are wedded to, you have to cling to an unhistorical definition of "Christianity", and furthermore you have to pretend, against contrary evidence, that your opponents (like Barton) cling to that same unhistorical definition, when in fact they don't (for historical purposes).

Honestly, it seems he doesn't know David Barton very well; Barton gives history an utter political and theological reading. If there is one historian who does NOT try to separate the political and theological from history, it's David Barton. Note, I'll be fair to Barton and also remark that lots of leftist historians who occupy prestigious positions in the academy engage in the same politicized readings of history (the Howard Zinn types).

But more importantly for the sake of THIS discussion, Barton's primary target audiences do NOT separate the theological and political from the historical and I see no effort on Barton's behalf to "educate" them that when we discuss "who is a Christian?" for historical purposes, we necessarily mean anything different than what your pastor defines as "Christianity." Indeed, one day they are hearing assertions from their pastor like "Mormons are not Christian" and the Davinci Code peddles blasphemous "non-Christian" positions because it denied the Trinity. And the next day they hear David Barton preach that almost all of our Founders were "Christians" and America was founded on "Christian principles."

Here is an example of a typical David Barton promoter: Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, a megachurch whose national broadcast reaches millions. Here is a report from one of Jeffress' Baptists critics:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, preached a passionate sermon entitled "America is a Christian Nation" yesterday. The sermon was full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that the pastor is completely misguided regarding the meaning of the First Amendment to Constitution of the United States.

The source of Jeffress misguidance was cited early on in his sermon. He credits David Barton who spoke at his church not long ago.

Hmmm. Now lets see how Mr. Jeffress defines "Christianity." Here is an article on how Dr. Jeffress told Christians NOT to vote for Mitt Romney because he wasn't a "Christian" but a "Mormon."

A prominent Dallas minister told his congregation that if they wanted to elect a Christian to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney wasn't qualified.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Mormonism is a false religion and that Mr. Romney was not a Christian.

"Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise," Dr. Jeffress said in a sermon on Sept. 30. "Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult."

Now as I showed in my last post, the reason why orthodox Christians like Dr. Jeffress term Mormonism NOT Christianity (even though Mormons call themselves "Christian") is because it flunks the test for historic Christianity as set out in the Nicene and Apostles' creed. Does it stretch the imagination to conclude when Dr. Jeffress' hundreds of thousands of followers hear him preach "America was founded to be a Christian Nation" and "almost all of the Founders were Christian" that they understand "Christianity" to mean the strict orthodox Trinitarian standard that excludes Mormonism (and consequently excludes the "Christianity" of J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Priestley, Price and the other non-Trinitarian Founding Fathers and philosophers who influenced them)?

Dr. Jeffress is just one megachurch that promotes Barton's work and the "Christian Nation" thesis in this manner. There are many others, notably the late D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Hour. When you start adding up the numbers that these megachurches reach you see how Barton -- a figure that the respected historical academy ignores or laughs off -- reaches millions and, from what I've heard, makes quite a nice living (probably from speaking fees), probably far more than the respected historians in the academy whom he accuses of being "revisionists" and who in turn laugh him off or ignore him.

The next point of Mr. Miettinen's with which I disagree is that somehow "historians" would necessarily conclude that his understanding of "Christianity" is the "proper" one. Note: I think his "broad" definition of "Christianity" is defensible on historical grounds; however it's nonetheless a matter of reasonable dispute on those grounds. Certainly many orthodox Trinitarian Christians who are also historians might feel like they'd have to "bite their tongue" if forced to concede that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arians and Socinians were "Christians" for "historical" purposes, but not for their personal "theological" purposes.

But, it's not just "personal theology" that leads historians who happen to be orthodox Trinitarian Christians to define "Christianity" exclusively with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. Take for instance, Dr. Gregg Frazer, who heads historical and political studies at The Master's College and has served as somewhat of a mentor on this issue for me. Though he personally is an orthodox Trinitarian Christian of the evangelical/fundamentalist bent, he bases his claim that for late 18th Century historical purposes, "Christianity" equates with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine on the fact that every single established Christian Church in late 18th Century America (save the Quakers) officially adhered to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. See page 10 of his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University.

And if it's so "obvious" that for "historical" purposes this understanding of "Christianity" is incorrect, then why did a dissertation committee consisting of very distinguished scholars, Drs. Joseph Bessette, Charles Kesler, and Ralph Rossum, of Claremont Graduate University grant Frazer his "Doctor of Philosophy" in political philosophy based on this thesis? Further, if this understanding of "historical Christianity" is incorrect why did Oxford University Press publish Dr. Gary Scott Smith's book "Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush" which explicitly relies on Dr. Frazer's thesis and concludes the key American Founders were neither "Deists" nor "Christians" but "theistic rationalists." Now, Smith, like Frazer, is an evangelical and chairs the history department at Grove City College, an evangelical institution. But prominent secular historians have also endorsed Dr. Frazer's understanding of "theistic rationalism." For instance, Dr. Peter Henriques of George Mason University, "a member of both the editorial board for the George Washington Papers and of the Mount Vernon committee of George Washington Scholars." His book Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington (University of Virginia Press) likewise endorses Dr. Frazer's work and categorizes Washington's religious creed as "theistic rationalist" as opposed to "Deist" or "Christian."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Contemporary Orthodox Theologians Who Deny Non-Orthodoxy As Christianity

I was beginning to think it self evident that most orthodox Christian theologians define non-orthodoxy as "non-Christianity," but apparently this thesis needs a defense. My co-blogger at American Creation, Kristo Miettinen, a theologically and politically conservative orthodox Christian of the Lutheran bent, challenges me on my assertion. He writes:

You talk about "conservative theologically orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or capital O Orthodox Christian faith" as though I wasn't one. If you want to debate the (rabid radical) religious right, I'm right here in front of you. You speak of "conservative Christian audiences which eat up [David Barton's] work"; as for myself, I'll not go that far, but let's say I'm a conservative Christian who appreciates his work (such of it as I have read - about half of [Myth of Separation]). BTW thanks for introducing me to Barton. And I mean that sincerely; this is why I want you to cite the right wing nutjobs that you claim to be rebutting, I have a genuine interest in reading them, if they really exist.

Okay. Mr. Miettinen wants to know of theologically-politically conservative Christians who define "Christianity" with orthodox Christian doctrine and define unorthodox groups like the Mormons "outside" of the definition of Christianity. I should note off bat that Dr. Gregg Frazer is one such conservative evangelical whose PhD thesis argues these Protestant figures from America's Founding era were not "Christian" but something else (even though they tended to think of themselves as "rational Christians" or "unitarian Christians"). He showed on page 10 of his PhD thesis that all of the established Churches in late 18th Century America (except for the Quakers) held to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. They included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglican/Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. And as such it's "reasonable" for late 18th Century America purposes to define "Christianity" with orthodox doctrine.

But in any event here are some notable modern day theologians and figures who likewise define "Christianity" as synonymous with orthodox doctrine. Yes, Virginia, they do exist. And exist in abundance! What I reproduce will be very "Mormon heavy" in the sense that the test of "Christianity" = "orthodox doctrine" = the "Nicene Creed" is most likely to be flunked in contemporary America by the Mormons.

First Joe Carter, one of the most well respective conservative evangelicals in today's blogsphere:

If you tell me that you’re a "Christian" I take that to mean that you subscribe to a common set of doctrines outlined in either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Both of these creeds are ecumenical Christian statements of faith accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and almost all branches of Protestantism. They outline what it means to be a "mere" Christian.

Next, Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things Magazine, for the Roman Catholic take:

Christianity and the History of Christians

Beyond these doctrinal matters, as inestimably important as they are, one must ask what it means to be Christian if one rejects the two thousand year history of what in fact is Christianity. Christianity is inescapably doctrinal but it is more than doctrines. Were it only a set of doctrines, Christianity would have become another school of philosophy, much like other philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity is the past and present reality of the society composed of the Christian people. As is said in the Nicene Creed, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That reality encompasses doctrine, ministry, liturgy, and a rule of life. Christians disagree about precisely where that Church is to be located historically and at present, but almost all agree that it is to be identified with the Great Tradition defined by the apostolic era through at least the first four ecumenical councils, and continuing in diverse forms to the present day. That is the Christianity that LDS teaching rejects and condemns as an abomination and fraud.


Another Religion

Some have suggested that the LDS is a Christian derivative much as Christianity is a Jewish derivative, but that is surely wrong. The claim of Christianity is that its gospel of Jesus Christ is in thorough continuity with the Old Testament and historic Israel, that the Church is the New Israel, which means that it is the fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be "a light to the nations." The Church condemned Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, and she never presumed to rewrite or correct the Hebrew Scriptures on the basis of a new revelation. On the contrary, she insisted that the entirety of the old covenant bears witness to the new. While it is a Christian derivative, the LDS is, by way of sharpest contrast, in radical discontinuity with historical Christianity. The sacred stories and official teachings of the LDS could hardly be clearer about that. For missionary and public relations purposes, the LDS may present Mormonism as an "add-on," a kind of Christianity-plus, but that is not the official narrative and doctrine.

A closer parallel might be with Islam. Islam is a derivative of Judaism, and Christianity. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad in the seventh century claimed new revelations and produced in the Qur’an a "corrected" version of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, presumably by divine dictation. Few dispute that Islam is a new and another religion, and Muslims do not claim to be Christian, although they profess a deep devotion to Jesus. Like Joseph Smith and his followers, they do claim to be the true children of Abraham. Christians in dialogue with Islam understand it to be an interreligious, not an ecumenical, dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.

Next Clayton Cramer who is a notable, smart evangelical conservative and historian of the Second Amendment:

The Nicene Creed

I mentioned a few days ago a controversy brewing concerning the Idaho Prayer Breakfast's invitation of a speaker who is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity. In the course of that discussion, I explained that are certain core values that define various faiths, and trying to gloss over those differences is silly. I gave as an example of a core value of Christianity--really, a lowest common denominator definition--the Nicene Creed. At least from my reading, the Nicene Creed is one that the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and nearly all Protestant denominations, accept. (I don't know about the Unitarian-Universalist Church. "Is it true that if you are a Unitarian, bigots burn a question mark on your lawn?")

In the last thirty years, I will admit, you can find some of the more liberal denominations awash in theologians and clergy who deny significant portions of the Nicene Creed. For example, denying "Jesus Christ" was "the only-begotten Son of God" and at least reluctant to admit "He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures...." These are pretty much the exception, and I think you would find that most members of even these liberal denominations, to the extent that they have thought about it, would not take these positions.

One of my readers took exception to my claim about the Nicene Creed being a core definition of Christianity. He pointed out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) do not accept the Nicene Creed, and therefore the Nicene Creed is not the core definition of Christianity. I would say that a more accurate statement is that the Mormon Church, whatever you might want to think or say about it, is not a Christian church in the sense that Christians (and that's pretty much all divisions of Christianity) define it.

I'm not looking to pick a fight with Mormons. I have friends who are Mormons. I have a Mormon neighbor. I can tell you that if my choice is living in a community that is 70% Mormon, or 70% liberals, I would much prefer living in the 70% Mormon community. I can be pretty confident that Mormon parents will not be supplying marijuana, alcohol, or crack to their kids, or to my kids. I can be pretty sure that Mormons aren't going to be showing up at city council hearings demanding that the city license a lap dance joint, or asking the state to recognize gay marriage, or demanding that the government make enforcement of gun control laws a higher priority than rape. If my ten-year-old goes over to a Mormon home, I can be pretty sure that he and his playmates aren't going to find fur-lined handcuffs and pornographic movies in the mother's dresser. And that is what separates Mormons from liberals (at least, the kind that I had to live with as neighbors in Sonoma County).

Still, Mormon theology is different from Christianity, as defined by not only the Nicene Creed, but nineteen centuries of consensus. Let me start out by saying that I have worked with Mormons in the past who really did not understand Mormon theology. One of them had married a Mormon gal, attended Mormon churches, but did not go through the LDS educational system that effectively all Mormon young people attend. (And by the way: I wish that evangelical Protestants were this committed to educating their kids in our religion. They aren't. Not even close.)

Now, if you are LDS, and are comfortable with the LDS theology, fine, I'm not looking to pick a fight. I've had a few too many discussions with Mormon missionaries, and the whole notion that people can become gods, populating their own planets, is well outside Christian belief. If you are comfortable with it, fine, but it is as far outside of Christianity as Islam is outside of Christianity.

Now, I am not just accepting the claims of those Protestants who criticize Mormonism. Mormon missionaries with whom I have talked have made statements that fit exactly into these claims--for example, that God lives on Sirius B. (Sirius B is a star, not a planet.)

One thing that does bother me quite a bit is that the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints presents their basic beliefs in a form that is profoundly mainstream Protestant. Yet, when you read websites defending Mormonism, you start to see that there many of Mormonism's positions are radically different from Christianity--and there has been a long history of Mormonism entertaining or internally debating positions that are, as I said, well outside the mainstream of Christianity....

Next, former baseball star and now conservative Christian columnist Frank Pastore who wrote:

Just as Christians and Jews, by definition, cannot ignore their differences over the resurrec-tion and the New Testament, so too Christians and Mormons cannot ignore the differences be-tween the Bible and the three books of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Cove-nants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Yet many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a grow-ing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Chris-tian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely “a non-Christian religion.” To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity ( — a group that claims to Chris-tian while denying one or more central doctrines of the Christian faith.

The polytheism of Latter Day Saints is a striking contrast to the monotheism of the Bible. The Mormons also deny original sin (central to a Christian understanding of the human condition) and believe that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. I could go on, but Mormonism has far more that distinguishes it from the historic Christian faith than unites it to Christianity.

Next from "Worldview Weekend" which promotes David Barton's "Christian America" idea more than most any other source I've seen:

And so you see, 45% of Christians know what thousands of the media elite do not: Mormonism is not Christian.

Next, the late Bible Answer Man, Dr. Walter Martin:

Mormon theology is polytheistic, teaching in effect that the universe is inhabited by different gods who procreate spirit children, which are in turn clothed with bodies on different planets, "Elohim" being the god of this planet (Brigham�s teaching that Adam is our heavenly Father is now officially denied by Mormon authorities, but they hold firm to the belief that their God is a resurrected, glorified man). In addition to this, the "inspired" utterances of Joseph Smith reveal that he began as a Unitarian, progressed to tritheism, and graduated into full-fledged polytheism, in direct contradiction to the revelations of the Old and New Testaments as we have observed. The Mormon doctrine of the trinity is a gross misrepresentation of the biblical position, though they attempt to veil their evil doctrine in semi-orthodox terminology. We have already dealt with this problem, but it bears constant repetition lest the Mormon terminology go unchallenged.

On the surface, they appear to be orthodox, but in the light of unimpeachable Mormon sources, Mormons are clearly evading the issue. The truth of the matter is that Mormonism has never historically accepted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; in fact, they deny it by completely perverting the meaning of the term. The Mormon doctrine that God the Father is a mere man is the root of their polytheism, and forces Mormons to deny not only the Trinity of God as revealed in Scripture, but the immaterial nature of God as pure spirit. Mormons have gone on record and stated that they accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but, as we have seen, it is not the Christian Trinity. God the Father does not have a body of flesh and bones, a fact clearly taught by our Lord (John 4:24, cf. Luke 24:39).

Finally, responding to one of my posts at Positive Liberty, the very bright, young, orthodox Christian missionary, attorney and scholar Joshua Clayborn asks:

I’d be curious to see a legitimate, respected member of the [o]rthodox community that does not consider [o]rthodox to be Christianity.

A Tidbit on America's Radical Unorthodoxy

I have, elsewhere on this blog, defended the position that America was founded as an unorthodox Christian nation, and also that one sign of that unorthodoxy was the complete lack of bishops of any episcopally organized denomination (Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox) in America prior to the revolution.

A tidbit relating to this, that I have yet to integrate into my view, is the following: having rejected bishops and the ecclesiastical machinery that goes with them, one of the institutions lacking in America was religious courts. Because of this, offenses that were matters for church discipline in England became matters for the civil magistrates and courts in America. Among them Brogan lists (Longman History of the USA, p.44): heresy, witchcraft, profanity, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, and Sabbath-breaking.

As I have mentioned earlier, the cause for Roger Williams' sermons against the involvement of civil authority in church affairs was that the civil machinery was coming down on him and his deviant congregation for their refusal of communion fellowship with the Anglican church (and thereby with the Puritan congregations of the Bay colony), a purely religious matter.

So, rather than separating church and state, American unorthodoxy pulled the state in colonial times into a broad spectrum of affairs that weren't its jurisdiction in contemporary Europe, to fill the vacuum left by the missing church hierarchy.

Pat Robertson, Michael Medved and The History of Thanksgiving

I wish I had found this a few days earlier. This video is sure to get a discussion going. In the clip, Pat Robertson and Michael Medved discuss some of the "lies" of American history and how they distort America's Godly heritage:

This video is a good illustration of the ongoing battle between Native Americans (sorry Pat Robertson, I meant to call them Indians) who feel that Thanksgiving is a pro-White Man holiday established on the bones of their distant relatives, and Christian Americans, who embrace the holiday as a day to give thanks to God for, among other things, America's prosperity and abundance. And while I am admittedly in favor of Thanksgiving as an American holiday, I would be interested to hear any dissenting opinions on this issue.

Your thoughts...

Roger Williams: Christian Restorationist

Nearly every student of early American history has heard the tale of Roger Williams. His story is usually told from the perspective of his being a religious anomaly of sorts, who defied the Puritans of Massachusetts and established a community of religious toleration in Rhode Island. While this version of the Williams story is generally true, there is a deeper saga that is often omitted from the Williams chronicle.

As we all know, Williams was a deeply inquisitive man. His knack for questioning everything around him -- particularly in the religious arena -- caused Williams to constantly push the religious envelope. Though he originally embraced Puritan theology, Williams' concerns that Puritanism still maintained an attachment to the Church of England -- which he saw as a continuation of Roman Catholic dominion as the Antichrist -- caused him to adopt a more Separatist perspective. Inspired by these anti-Church of England sentiments, Williams embraced the admonition of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:17 to, "come out from among them, and be ye separate."

Williams not only decided to completely separate himself from any attachment to the Church of England, but also chose to separate from the home world itself. Upon his arrival to the "New World," Williams took his religious views even further. Instead of following the traditional beliefs of the early Puritans in Massachusetts, Williams chose to criticize his new neighbors for what he saw as a lack of penance. While Massachusetts Puritans were happy to accept both the godly and ungodly in their worship services -- with an exception being made for the Lord's Supper -- Williams believed that those outside of God's grace should not be permitted to worship with God's elect. In other words, those who had not yet experienced God's saving grace could not even attend the same services as those that had received God's grace (See The Hireling Ministry None of Christs). In addition, Williams also believed that any person who had not repented for his/her former association with the Church of England was in danger of losing their salvation. As Williams stated:

"why although I confesse with joy the care of the New English Churches, that no person be received to Fellowship with them, in whom they cannot first discerne true Regeneration, and the life of Jesus: yet I said and still affirm, that godlie and regenerate persons are not fitted to constitute the true Christian Church, untill it hath pleased God to convince their soules of the evill of the falce Church, Ministry, Worship etc. And although I confesse that godly persons are not dead but living Trees, not dead, but living Stones, and need no new regeneration, yet need they a mighty worke of God's Spirit to humble and ashame them, and to cause them to loath themselves for their Abominations or stincks in Gods nostrils..." (The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, vol. 1, 350).
These religious views, which eventually landed Williams in trouble with the Puritans of Massachusetts, only tell part of the story. Williams' departure to Rhode Island actually caused him to further question his faith. Williams began to question the validity of his baptism and those of his followers, which eventually helped to spawn the Anabaptist movement. As Williams continued to ponder the Bible and its teachings, he eventually came to the shocking conclusion that no church had the authority to assemble in Christ's name. His reasoning was simple: The apostles commissioned by Christ had been his personal ministers on earth. Until Christ returned to the earth and renewed the apostleship, no person/persons had the right or authority to gather as a Christian Church. In other words, Roger Williams began to believe that a complete and total RESTORATION of Christ's gospel, complete with the authority of the holy apostleship, had to return to the earth, or no religion could rightfully act in the name of God. Williams makes this belief clear when he writes:

I desired to have been dilligent and Constant Observer, and have been my selfe many ways engaged in City, in Countrey, in Court, in Schools, in Universities, in Churches, in Old and New-England, and yet cannot in the holy presence of God bring in the Result of a satisfying discovery, that either the Begetting Ministry of the Apostles or Messengers to the Nations, or Feeding and Nourishing Ministry of Pastors and Teachers, according to the first Institution of the Lord Jesus, are yet restored and extant" (The Complete Writing of Roger Williams, vol. III, 160).
Williams further adds credence to his argument when he writes:

"If Christs Churches were utterly nullified, and quite destroyed by Antichrist, then I demande when they beganne againe and where? who beganne them? that we may knowe, by what right and power they did beginne them: for we have not heard of any new Jo: Baptist, nor of any other newe waye from heaven, by which they have begunne the Churches a newe" (John Winthrop Papers, vol. III, 11. Quoted in Roger Williams: The Church and the State, 52, by Edmund Morgan).
By first separating himself from Puritan thought both spiritually and literally, Williams was free to explore the full scope of his radical views on Christianity. Through intense scripture study and personal reflection, Williams came to the conclusion that Christianity, in all of its forms, was a distortion of Christ's actual gospel taught in antiquity. In much the same way that Thomas Jefferson believed that the original doctrine of Christ had been changed over time, Williams believed that the religion and authority of Christ was not on the earth, and would not return until Christ's Second Coming. In essence, Williams' religious beliefs should be classified as those of a RESTORATIONIST. In this sense, Williams can be compared with the Restorationist beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Smith, Jemima Wilkinson, etc.

Joseph Priestley's Biblical Defense of Unitarianism

Theological unitarians disproportionately influenced the American Founding. Joseph Priestley (co-discoverer of oxygen) was the theological mentor to Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. Madison appealed to the Arian heretic Samuel Clarke (not John Witherspoon) when asked to put his theological cards on the table. Richard Price was especially influential. And of course John Locke and Isaac Newton, figures revered by America's Founders were likely secret unitarians. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson never really gave serious philosophical or biblical rebuttals to the doctrine of the Trinity. They tended to bitterly mock it and related orthodox doctrines, seeing it as a self evident falsehood.

Their theological mentor Joseph Priestley however, did get into the philosophical trenches and argue against the Trinity (and Jefferson & J. Adams tended to simply appeal to his authority). Though Priestley, like America's key Founders, didn't believe the Bible infallible -- indeed he held the "plenary inspiration of the Bible" to be a classic "corruption of Christianity" -- he did make a strong biblical case AGAINST Trinitarianism. You may read it here and here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The "Melancholy" of Meriwether Lewis

The study of mental health is, for the most part, a relatively new field of science. For centuries the human race has had little to no understanding of how the mind processes or responds to the various stimuli and experiences of an individual's life. For the most part, the common understanding of mental health throughout history has been to categorize individuals as "lunatics," "insane," or "melancholy." This lack of knowledge regarding the proper diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues often led to tragic tales of individuals locked away in asylums, or of men and women taking their own lives out of desperation.

The early American republic, despite its great advances in government and politics, was still a world of ignorance when it came to medical and mental science. Doctors possessed little to no understanding of the causes or treatments of mental illness. As a result, many early Americans were forced to deal with the various forms of mental illness on their own.

Such was the case for the heroic early American explorer, Meriwether Lewis. As a young man, Lewis was labeled as being, "prone to long bouts of melancholy." In fact, Lewis' good friend, Thomas Jefferson, described him as, "a man of good sense, integrity, bravery and enterprise" but also, "prone at times to sensible depressions of the mind...that seem to persist in the family."

Even during his infamous trek across the American countryside, Lewis seemed troubled by what his subordinates called "deep bouts of melancholy." Though Lewis never mentioned such troubles himself, one can easily see a pattern of highs and lows in his journal. For instance, Lewis would go weeks without writing a single thing down (even though President Jefferson had insisted that he keep a record of every day), while on other occasions he would fill several pages with his ramblings on mundane issues. In addition, William Clark and others noted how Lewis would refuse to get out of bed one day, while being the first to rise and go full throttle on another.

By most standards, it appears that Lewis suffered from Bipolar Disorder. One of the typical features of this disorder is a pattern of extreme highs and extreme lows. The individual will commonly experience a profound period of deep depression, in which they are unable to cope with common daily issues. After a period of time, the individual will experience a complete change in their emotional state, in which the depression is replaced by a state of extreme euphoria. During this period, the individual may feel that they can literally conquer the world. Again, after time, this stage will cycle back to depression.

And while "psycho history" is virtually impossible to document with any degree of certainty, Meriwether Lewis appears to be a textbook case for this disorder. During his "low" times, Lewis was inconsolable, often seeking seclusion from society. During the "high" moments, Lewis was a fireball of energy and ambition. Throughout the trek west, Lewis would commonly attempt to cross several dangerous rapids or stare danger in the face without flinching. At other times, he was virtually impossible to motivate or talk to.

When it came to religion, Lewis' apparent struggles with depression often got the better of him. On a number of occasions, Lewis' friends (including Thomas Jefferson and William Clark) would urge the brave explorer to rely more on the power of God to overcome his "melancholy." Not understanding that Lewis' problems stemmed from a chemical imbalance, those who suggested prayer, fasting, etc. as a cure for Lewis' problems were inadvertently pouring gasoline on a fire. As a result, Lewis was known by those closest to him as agnostic or even profane when it came to his religious beliefs. One can only wonder how Lewis' struggles with depression could have effected his communion with God.

Unfortunately, Lewis's mental illness would eventually get the better of him. On the night of October 11, 1809, while his party stayed the night in the cabin of a Mrs. Grinder, the life of Meriwether Lewis came to an abrupt and tragic end. According to Mrs. Grinder, Lewis appeared to be in a state of profound depression. The depression was severe enough that the men accompanying Lewis that night actually contemplated tying him to the bed for the duration of the night. Mrs. Grinder stated that she witnessed Lewis "pacing around the home...speaking to himself in a violent manner."

Later that evening, while preparing to retire, Mrs. Grinder heard a shot ring out, and Lewis shouting, "O Lord!" Lewis had shot himself in the chest. In the early hours of the morning, Lewis finally succumbed to the self-inflicted wound.

Though the story of Meriwether Lewis ends sadly and abruptly, it serves as a wonderful illustration to historians of the realities of mental illness. By no means are these illnesses exclusively reserved for the modern individual. We would all do well to remember that people of the past, just as they do today, suffered greatly from the afflictions of the mind.


Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuler Inc., 1996.

Frank Bergon, ed., The Journals of Lewis and Clark. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Richard Dillon, Meriwether Lewis. New York: Cowart-McCann Inc., 1965.

Thanksgiving Proclamation & Civil Religion

I am going to comment on Brad recent post that reproduced George Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation. Brad aptly notes that the God words in the address are consistently generic and philosophical -- "inclusive" if you will -- and not specifically orthodox Trinitarian in their character. This was notable and precedent setting. Under the "old" political orders, governments were connected to specific sectarian theologies and it would be expected that political leaders' "God talk" endorsed the official state theology, be it Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Presbyterian or whatnot. Well there was no "official" theology for Washington and company to endorse. But they, through their public God talk established an "unofficial theology" or a "civil religion." And that civil religion specifically avoided invoking orthodox Trinitarian doctrine or Jesus Christ.

Why is this important? David Barton and the other Christian Nationalists are sympathetic to the notion that the organic law of the United States is "Christianity generally." Well that begs the question, what is Christianity? To most evangelicals, Roman Catholics and capital O Orthodox Christians, Christianity is synonymous with orthodoxy (Christ's divine nature as God the Son, second person in the Trinity, the Atonement, etc.) A theological system that rejects these tenets is "not Christianity" whatever it calls itself.

Well, it would follow then, if Washington intended to establish "Christianity generally" -- which defines as orthodox Trinitarian doctrines under which the different Christian sects were united -- as the "civil religion" of America, his public God talk would often be done in the name of the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," the infallibility of the Bible and would cite verses and chapters of scripture as "trumping" authority.

But Washington's public God talk [for instance the content of Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation] does none of this. Now, it could be that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, privately, but publicly didn't want that specific form of Christianity to be the "de facto" civil religion and avoided mentioning these doctrines to make America seem more inclusive and welcoming of diverse faiths. Certainly Presidents who have been orthodox in their personal theology like Jimmy Carter or George Bush opt for this message of public inclusive God talk while remaining privately orthodox.

However, if Washington were privately orthodox, we would expect to see his private writings, especially communication with orthodox figures, peppered with orthodox Trinitarian theology, but we don't. Indeed Brad Hart uses Peter Lillback's research against his thesis that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Lillback has two theses, one -- that Washington wasn't a Deist (which he proves) -- and two -- that Washington was orthodox (which he doesn't). Drawing from Lillback's research, Hart reproduces "the actual phrases that Washington used in his 'written prayers' to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used:"

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Salvation" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0

Not once is Washington recorded as praying "in Jesus' name." This is why Christian Nationalists are so desperate to use Washington's spurious "Daily Sacrifice" prayerbook, because that contains orthodox theology.

The profound insight that Dr. Gregg Frazer posits in his PhD thesis is that the private theology of the key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, etc.] was indeed the public civil religion which they established in their public God talk and was the ideological theology behind the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Since the blog is on a holiday kick, I thought that this might be an appropriate way to continue the theme. After all, I don't want to be the one that breaks with tradition!

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 -- October 14, 1789 to be exact -- has been lauded by Christian nation sympathizers for decades as proof positive that America's first Commander-in-Chief was a devout believer in Jesus Christ. And while I am in 100% agreement with their assertion that Washington was a devout man of faith and prayer, I also recognize that the historical record -- as it applies to Washington's religion -- is far from concrete in labeling him a devout Christian.

Let us look at the Thanksgiving document itself for additional evidence on Washington's faith. First off, most anti-Christian nation advocates routinely point out the fact that the actual author of the proclamation was not President Washington, but William Jackson, the President's personal secretary. And while it is true that Washington did not himself pen the proclamation, it is reasonable to assume that he read and gave consent to the document's contents, thus the actual authorship of the piece has little to no relevance. What is relevant, however, is the wordage that was chosen to pay homage to God. Does Washington actually invoke the blessings of the Christian God as so many Christian nation apologists insist? Below is a copy of Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington
As noted in bold above, Washington's proclamation contains five specific references to deity. Contrary to what many anti-Christian nation advocates claim, the document is clearly religious in its content and purpose. However, does it support the Christian nation crowd's assertion that Washington was a devout Christian? I would argue that it does not. With that said, it is more than clear from this document and others that Washington was a man of faith. What TYPE of faith is the real question we must endeavor to answer.

As I have pointed out in a previous post, the language used by Washington when speaking of deity can be seen as a good barometer of the General's personal religious creed. In his book, Sacred Fire author Peter Lillback successfully illustrates the fact that Washington was indeed a man of prayer and faith. However, his work falls short of conclusively proving that Washington was a devout Christian. In Appendix 3 of his book, Lillback lists all of Washington's public papers that mention God. As Lillback states at the beginning of his appendix:

One of the elements of the Christian faith that was suspect, and eventually abandoned by Deists, was the practice of prayer. This was logical since there was little purpose in speaking to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contact and communication with his creation.

Given this understanding, Washington's lifetime practice of prayer, illustrated by these more than one hundred written prayers, is an undeniable refutation of his alleged Deism...The sheer magnitude of the umber of prayers, coupled with the expansive topics included in his prayers, give substantial credence to the universal testimony of Washington's contemporaries of his practice of corporate and private prayer.

This underscores how misplaced contemporary scholars have been in claiming that Washington was a man of lukewarm religious faith.
With this in mind, I decided that it would be worthwhile to dissect the various "written prayers" that Peter Lillback sites in his book. After all, the language that Washington used in these prayers should be a valuable tool in determining Washington's actual beliefs.

Here are the actual phrases that Washington used in his "written prayers" to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used:

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Salvation" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0

And the same can be said of Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation. Instead of using words like "Messiah," "Savior," "Jesus Christ," etc., Washington chooses neutral phrases like, "Great Lord and Ruler of Nations," "Almighty God," and "great and glorious Being." As is evidenced from Lillback's work, Washington made it a habit to avoid using the language of a typical devout Christian of his day, which would logically seem to suggest that Washington was not the orthodox Christian so many wish him to be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Natural Law as a Protestant Christian Theory of Politics

Nature, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal [i.e. the state is a human imitation of divine designs]. –Hobbes, Leviathan

I hope in this post to illustrate the protestant Christian theory of natural law, distinguishing it among theories of natural law (the term is not used consistently in the history of thought), and indicating that the American founders had in mind specifically the protestant version of natural law theory in founding the federal United States.

In a nutshell, I will argue that the idea that natural law evident to reason provides a standard for justification of rebellion against apparently legitimate authority is a protestant Christian principle, and that it was a central idea to the founders – the idea that distinguishes among natural law theories the one that suited the founders’ purpose.

But first, a quick introduction to the concept of a state and a sovereign: many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian alike, have understood throughout history that there are laws that man ought to obey in his social interactions (e.g. honor your contracts), which man nonetheless due to his sinful nature (or lack of enlightenment, or innate selfishness, or whatever) does not willingly obey. These laws are understood to be for the benefit of society collectively, and therefore also for the benefit of the individual indirectly, insofar as what is good for the body (the state, Hobbes’ “artificial animal”) is also good for an individual organ of that body (the citizen). The state is not the government; the government is merely an organ that looks after the interests and prerogatives of the state.

Whereas men do not voluntarily do what is good for the state, (and thereby indirectly good for themselves or their posterity), the state needs a leader and arbiter, a sovereign (either an individual or a group, but something compact enough to make decisions on behalf of the state and act upon them). All of this is relatively uncontroversial, and as yet not specifically Christian, let alone protestant.

But here we arrive at the point of departure: if the sovereign makes and enforces laws for the state, binding upon the citizens, in order to curb their human tendency to do wrong, and if the sovereign is himself human, with those same tendencies to do wrong, then isn’t the establishment of a state (with its associated government) a bad idea, the replacement of many small uncoordinated evils with one big coordinated evil?

The classical pre-Reformation Christian answer to this is that the sovereign must be self-regulating, in the manner in which a pious Christian is self-regulating. As long as kings were ordained by popes, and subject to being deposed by popes, this tied off all loose ends for those who submitted to papal authority. The king was sovereign by divine commission (ordination), and citizens were subject to the authority of the sovereign, but the sovereign held his authority on behalf of God, was chosen for his godly qualities, and was subject to the oversight of the Vicar of Christ, like all other ordained persons. Aquinas spelled out the classical position in requiring submission of all citizens to the authority of a legitimate sovereign, while recognizing not only a right but an obligation to rebel against an illegitimate sovereign. The judgment of the legitimacy of a sovereign was not the prerogative of the people, but action against an illegitimate sovereign was.

The Reformation, with its rejection of papal authority, reinvigorated the question of the divine right of kings. Granted that the king must be self-regulating, and that God intends order among men, which in practice requires a sovereign of some sort, how are the people to judge when a sovereign is acting consistently with his (or their) divine mandate, and how are the people to judge when a sovereign has breached the divine trust placed in him? When may the people justifiably rebel against their sovereign, if as protestants they have no pope to sanction the rebellion?

The Reformation answer, consistent with protestant theories in rebelling against the papacy itself, is to hold that only such positive laws are truly laws as are consistent with the “natural law”, the latter being an analogue of the moral law that is held to be within the power of reason to grasp, just as the moral law and Word of God are within the power of conscience to grasp. This idea is present already in Aquinas (“every human law has just so much of the nature of a law as is derived from the law of nature”) and Augustine, just as the Reformation ideas of conscience are also based on Thomistic (and Augustinian) doctrine. As with conscience and the Word, so also with reason and the law, the reformers argued that the ability of every Christian to judge certain matters for themselves gives them the sanction to resist any putatively divine authority that contradicts what is made plain by God to conscience or reason. Aquinas (and Augustine) is the source of much Reformation doctrine, but Aquinas consistently denies individual judgment in these matters: the Reformation is, in many ways, nothing more than the innovative assertion of the rights of individual reason and conscience to apply Thomistic doctrine against authoritative institutions, whether the church or the state.

OK, so far so good. But didn’t the Enlightenment establish these same principles (e.g. right of just rebellion) on a secular basis? Of course not, nor could it. The problem at hand is one of establishing authority (of the people over their sovereign), but secularism can at best tear down authority (e.g. tear down the authority of the church or of the sovereign). Reason alone, as a secular “fact of life” (rather than a God-given faculty), cannot be authoritative, it cannot give prescriptive meaning to “ought”, it can only be anarchic (as in “you can do that if you want, just be aware that the likely consequences are… [whatever]”). In Kantian terms, reason as a brute fact can only authoritatively establish hypothetical imperatives, but not categorical imperatives. Reason can tell you how to get what you want, but not what you ought to want, or even that there is any meaningful sense of “ought” at all. Kant, of course, famously solved this problem, and Kant was an Enlightenment figure himself, but though I, as a Lutheran and Kantian, would be overjoyed to tell you that the American Revolution was based on Kantian principles, that just isn’t so.

So what, I hear you say; regardless of any deficiency in the moral sense of “ought”, didn’t Hobbes establish the theory of the democratic state on the basis of natural law and a social contract? Why yes, sort of, he did, if fascism by mutual consent is considered a form of democracy, but relations between the people and the sovereign aren’t covered by a Hobbesian social contract, and so the sovereign cannot be held to be in violation of it based on how he rules (the sovereign is capable of ordinary violations, e.g. theft or rape or adultery or murder, but his laws and edicts are not subject to review under natural law or the social contract). This is an important point to understand about non-theist social contract theory: as Hobbes himself says, “covenants, without the sword, are but words”. The contracts that men make with one another are meaningless unless they occur under the umbrella of a sovereign authority; therefore there can be no contract between the people and the sovereign without a higher authority holding the sword over the parties (the people and the sovereign). Hobbes’ version of natural law doesn’t produce a contract between people and sovereign that the sovereign can be held to bind the sovereign, unless God is considered the guarantor of the contract, and so doesn’t produce a right of just rebellion such as was needed (and claimed) by the founders, except on a non-Hobbesian interpretation of God (or a pope) overseeing the contract.

Here is Hobbes’ “without the sword” passage, in full:
For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and (in summe) Doing To Others, As Wee Would Be Done To,) if themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore notwithstanding the Lawes of Nature, (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely,) if there be no Power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men. And in all places, where men have lived by small Families, to robbe and spoyle one another, has been a Trade, and so farre from being reputed against the Law of Nature, that the greater spoyles they gained, the greater was their honour; and men observed no other Lawes therein, but the Lawes of Honour; that is, to abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their lives, and instruments of husbandry. And as small Familyes did then; so now do Cities and Kingdomes which are but greater Families (for their own security) enlarge their Dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of Invasion, or assistance that may be given to Invaders, endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbours, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other Caution, justly; and are rememdbred for it in after ages with honour.

Note the critical point, made thrice, first for individuals, then for families, then for nations: in the absence of an enforcer, it is not merely a pragmatic fact that nobody obeys natural law, it is a matter of justice that natural law can be disobeyed. In the absence of a sovereign, every man may lawfully rely on his own strength, families may rob one another (subject only to rules of honor), and kingdoms may enlarge their dominions on mere pretence, yet despite violating natural law, they all do so justly. Absent an enforcer there is not only no enforcement of natural law, there is also no obligation to follow natural law, no moral dimension to natural law, no sense of “ought”. Thus, Hobbes’ social contract as a source of right and just can exist only among the subjects of a sovereign; the sovereign and people cannot contract with one another for lack of an enforcer, and so the sovereign cannot violate any such contract, and therefore the people have no basis for just rebellion.

Wait a minute, Kristo, that can’t be: isn’t the whole Enlightenment point behind natural law that such law has objective validity? Hugo Grotius famously argued that even God could not change natural law. Natural law is as it is, fully independent of the will of any sovereign; e.g. Hobbes himself was able to enumerate 16 points of natural law without consulting any sovereign. So the sovereign as enforcer is not needed to determine the natural law.

Why yes, this is so, but this gets only at the content of natural law, not at its moral gravitas, the sense of “ought”. This important distinction is scholastic; it is a consequence of accepting the role of reason in determining logical modalities, the definitions of “possible” and “necessary”. Whatever can be fully conceived of without contradiction is possible, whatever cannot be so conceived is impossible, whatever cannot be denied without contradiction is necessary, and so on. An immediate consequence of this system of modal reasoning is that reason as we know it is necessary; for we cannot conceive of conceiving things differently than we currently can conceive them. A reason different from reason as we know it is, by our reason-based definition of “possible”, impossible. Thus, e.g., Kant would famously declare that even God cannot change the fact that triangles have three sides, and God cannot change the content of the moral law. However, moral law cannot get its authority from reason; in Kant’s terms, reason is the author of moral law, but God is the lawgiver. This distinction does not begin with Kant; Hobbes himself observed it when he argued, as pointed out above, on the one hand that reason can discover 16 points of natural law independent of any sovereign, yet on the other hand that justice does not require adhering to natural law in the absence of a sovereign. The roles of author and lawgiver are distinct, and both are needed before a law morally binds, before there is any sense of “ought”. Locke also recognizes the same distinction, as he argues on the one hand that natural law is rational in its content, and on the other hand that God is the source of moral prescriptive power.

As a matter of historical accident, the issue of justifiable rebellion in the years leading up to the American Revolution is primarily a British concern, as other protestant domains had either weak monarchs, or little rebellious tendency. Only (or mostly) in Britain was there a critical combination of protestant doctrine, strong monarchy, and vigorous opposition. The seminal work on the topic is John Ponet’s Short Treatise of Political Power, a work known at least to John Adams, who credits Ponet with inspiring Locke. To read Ponet:
For the opposing point of view, updated to post-reformation standards, one can read King James’ (yes, that King James) True Law of Free Monarchies:
William Blackstone summarized the impact of Christian natural law on English common law thus: “This law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” Natural law is the source of the moral force of positive law, as well as the measure of legitimacy of positive law, and the source of natural law (and its moral import) is God. Note also that Blackstone distinguishes validity from authority (the roles of author from lawgiver): laws are valid insofar as they conform to natural law, and such laws as are valid derive authority from natural law.

The Reformation brought many other political innovations, besides the natural law evident to reason as a measure of the validity of positive law (and a measure of the legitimacy of sovereigns). It also, in weakening the position of the sovereign, devolved much of the expectation of pious Christian self-regulation from the sovereign to his many servants, the magistrates and other officials who performed official duties on behalf of the state. Whereas in previous times such officials were subject to the absolute authority of the monarch, in protestant Christian polities, and especially in early America, magistrates and officials had to provide to the public the same sort of evidence of Christian self-regulation as the king was expected to provide, including swearing oaths of office that amounted to Christian creeds of a specifically minimalist nature, stripped of all elements that had no bearing on fidelity to the public trust. In modern terms, some states’ oaths were Christo-Islamic creeds, in that they only emphasized belief in a coming divine judgment, though the founders show little evidence of having Islam on their minds; other states’ creeds were explicitly Christian. The battle lines at the time of the founding were drawn somewhere around Universalism, the belief that everyone goes to heaven. At the time of the revolution and for some time afterward, some states allowed Universalists to hold office, testify in court, etc., but others did not. The Judiciary Act of 1789 set as the federal standard that a witness was not competent to testify who did "not believe that there is a God who rewards truth and avenges falsehood." The transition from Coke’s criteria to the Omychund standard was still being worked out in the colonies at the time of the revolution (and legally binding though no longer enforced remnants of colonial standards denying testimony of nonbelievers persisted well into the 20th century). But I digress.

In summary: the founders, when they spoke or wrote of natural law, had, of necessity, in mind that sort of natural law such as empowers a subject people to justly rise up in rebellion against an established and to all appearances legitimate authority. This is not classic Greek natural law, for neither Aristotle nor the Stoics constructed a moral case for rebellion from natural law; nor is it Renaissance or Enlightenment natural law, for similarly neither Machiavelli nor Hobbes would argue that a sovereign could be judged by his subjects in matters of governance (as opposed to personal conduct) on the basis of any prior natural law. It is reliant upon classical western Christian natural law (e.g. that of Aquinas), which recognized the right (and duty) of peoples to overthrow illegitimate sovereigns (those who govern contrary to natural law), but requires in addition the specifically Reformation principle that the people are authorized to apply their own reason directly to the question of whether their sovereign is legitimate or not, as indicated by the conformance or contradiction of the government of the sovereign and natural law.

Who Started the War on Christmas

Every year, about this time, we are hit with two things - Christmas and the War on Christmas - generally from the same 'side'. The Comedy Central FoxNews pundit, Bill O'Reilly, has made it his mission to make a war on the war on Christmas, whether there is such an animal is of no consequence to him. (More than likely, the perceived War on Christmas is the actual 'war' on demonstrations of religion on the public square, serving as a confluence of political forces, left and right.) Further, it would most likely not matter to Mr. O'Reilly that the original war on Christmas was began by the Religious Right and that Americans did not celebrate Christmas until the middle of the 19th century, a generation or two after the founding of the Republic and centuries after the first colonies. Nor, I doubt, would it cross his mind that the long standing Christmas traditions were but recently invented, and that Christmas has been historically derided as a 'popish' holiday.

The history of Christmas in this country - that eternally standard holiday, from ages and ages hence - does not date from the American Creation, but instead from fictional accounts with a need for historical revision to some fantasy ideal of English and Dutch traditions which warmed the heart. As a matter of fact the first Congress under the new Constitution was in session on Christmas day, 1789; it was not until 1870 that President Grant actually declared Christmas a Federal holiday. The idea that Christmas as a tradition - American, for the topic of this post - more than a century or two old is laughable, and thus the idea that it is something to wage war for or against is equally humorous.

Christmas was banned in England by the Presbyterian Oliver Cromwell, during the English Interregnum. Cromwellian England saw the Puritans thrive, but it was here in the colonies that the more orthodox Puritans entrenched themselves. It was the Catholics, Episcopals and Lutherans that celebrated Christmas in the colonies (later States), as it had long been a part of their feast days, as opposed to the anti-Roman Baptists and Presbyterians.

Christmas in the colonies was very different from modern day celebrations. It consisted of worship, dinner, entertainments, and maybe a few social calls, but it was not something that was near and dear to the hearts of the American colonists. Philip Vickers Fithian's (a Presbyterian minister and missionary) December 18, 1773, diary entry about exciting holiday events mentions: "the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments..." seemingly excluded activities for children as well as any mention of religious events. According to Steven Mintz, in Massachusetts there was a five shilling fine for celebrating the holiday while in Virginia and Maryland, it simply wasn't celebrated. As time progressed, and the puritanical hold relaxed, Christmas became a 'rowdy drunken street carnival, a raucous combination of Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Mardi Gras.' The poor, as it was in England (figgy pudding), would find ways into the homes of the rich, demanding food, drink, and money. A city police force was instituted in 1828 after a particularly violent Christmas riot in New York City.

As we know, during the Battle of Trent, the German mercenaries were in the midst of their traditional celebrations when the American colonists attacked. This was not something new - to have Christmas as a small celebration, and considered just another day. The present Christmas customs are derived from a wide array of inspirations further derived from the immigrants who brought their own culture to this land. Most of the ways Americans celebrate the midwinter holiday came about in the nineteenth century, as the importance of Christmas increased.

In 1621, a mild conflict arose when some newcomers had to be confronted over their use of the day:

On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most part of this new company excused themselves and said that it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, they found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their implements and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep their houses; but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (Samuel Eliot Morison, ed.; New York: Alfred Knopf, 1979), p. 97. )

The idea of Christmas as a sacred national holiday began to pick up steam with fictional poems and stories first published in the 19th century (and familiar to many Americans today. It was reinvented from raucous carnival holiday (Think figgy pudding - where if the hearer did not response positively to the carol, their could be violence and bodily harm.) into a family-centered day of peace, warmth and longing for years gone by - which generally never occurred. The early 19th century saw a great change in the traditional American landscape. In response to immigration, among other things, the Know Nothing Party was founded to stem the tide of the increasing control of Rome and the Masons (via Irish Catholic Immigration, among others) over the young country by appealing to nativism. Although the Know Nothing Party quickly failed, it brought to light the hidden fears of many Americans - that they and their traditions were under attack by 'others'.

From wiki

Historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United States was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to re-focus the holiday from one where groups of young men went from house to house demanding alcohol and food into one that was focused on the happiness of children. He notes that there was deliberate effort to prevent the children from becoming greedy in response.[59]

The riot, loss of a perceived hegemony and traditions, and the general direction of the country cumulated in the American populace's adopting of the Christmas tradition, or at the very least helped the American populace rediscover ancient traditions. Admittedly, however, they adopted for these traditions works written a half a generation before. In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of an English Christmas featuring a squire who invited the peasants into his manor for the holiday. In contrast to the problems that were clearly seen at Christmas - which were thrown open with the New York Christmas Day riot - the two groups mingled effortlessly. Irving presented Christmas as a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving pictured his groups as celebrating “ancient customs.” The history of Irving does not allow for Irving to have actually attend an event like this, but does allow for a certain amount of poetic license to invent a tradition.

As a side note, Irving is noted for his laments that the Americans had no heroes and traditions.

We cannot forget as well Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, written in 1843. It expressed the deep class divide which suddenly dissipated at Christmas. Thomas Hood, and English poet, said, 'If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease.' Historians attribute a redefinition of Christmas to Dickens' work of prose.

A fellow New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore (a slave holder and a Presbyterian), brought about a tradition large enough to span the globe, in a matter of 56 lines. He is thought to have written the most famous Christmas poem of all time, A Visit from St. Nicolas (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas"). Of course, much is owed again to Washington Irving and his History of New York, (1809). Sinterklaas was made an American tradition named "Santa Claus" but lost his bishop's apparel (He began not as a creation of pen and parchment, but as an actual Saint in the Roman/Orthodox tradition). He was having some fun at the Dutch, but Moore seemed to miss that as he brought St. Nicholas into the American mainstream. Santa would later find himself as a piece of Union propaganda against the Confederacy as a drawing featuring Santa and Union soldiers was circulated in Harper's Weekly (1863). Granted, Santa Clause was not merely an American creation (with the English variation - Father Christmas - come some time before), but it was the Americans which developed the legend into a true Christmas tradition, albeit some 1500 years after St. Nicholas lived and a few centuries after the discovery of the New World.

According to Steve Mintz,

The first painting of St. Nicholas by an American artist did not appear until 1837. In the early days, Santa Claus didn't necessary give children presents; he was often pictured holding a birch rod in his hands, and he punished children with his gift of a whipping. In 1839, there was a Broadway production: Santaclaus: Or, The Orgies of St. Nicholas.

In connection with Santa Clause, gift giving at Christmas was inherited from the Germans and the Dutch, as it was originally on New Year's which gifts were given. Cash, books, and sweets in small quantities were given by masters or parents to dependents, whether slaves, servants, apprentices, or children. It seems to have worked in only one direction: children and others did not give gifts to their superiors. Along with Santa, the idea of gift-giving developed long after the American founding, and long, long after the origins of Christmas.

It may be said that the Religious Right was the first to wage a war on Christ, when in 17th century England, after the beheading of the King, Cromwell became a dictator and was led to outlaw Christmas because of the 'pagan traditions', spurred on by the Puritan forces that supported his rule. Across the Atlantic, the Puritans essentially outlawed Christmas and kept it so for several centuries, until commercialism invented a holiday.

The Swiss Calvinists banned Christmas in Geneva and with the spread of Presbyterianism, Scotland would follow their lead in 1583. The Register of Ministers in Geneva (1546) records a list of "faults which contravene the Reformation."(Phillip E. Hughes, ed. and trans., The Register of the Company of Pastors in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), p. 56) Among the directives regarding "Superstitions" is the following: "Those who observe Romish festivals or fasts shall only be reprimanded, unless they remain obstinately rebellious. " In personal correspondence with John Haller, a pastor in Berne, Calvin writes, "Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord's day." He added, "If I had got my choice, I should not have decided in favor of what has now been agreed upon." (Letters of John Calvin (Jules Bonnet, ed.; rpt. New York: Burt Franklin, 1972), Vol. 2, pp. 288-89.)

Scotland's own John Knox followed the lead of Calvin and Geneva with the regulative principle, which forbade anything not in Scripture. In 1560, Knox wrote his First Book of Discipline, which contained the statement,

Lest upon this our generality ungodly men take occasion to cavil, this we add for explication. By preaching of the Evangel, we understand not only the Scriptures of the New Testament, but also of the Old; to wit, the Law, Prophets, and Histories, in which Christ Jesus is no less contained in figure, than we have him now expressed in verity. And, therefore, with the Apostle, we affirm that "all Scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove, and to exhort." In which Books of Old and New Testaments we affirm that all things necessary for the instruction of the Kirk, and to make the man of God perfect, are contained and sufficiently expressed.

By contrary Doctrine, we understand whatsoever men, by Laws, Councils, or Constitutions have imposed upon the consciences of men, without the expressed commandment of God's word: such as be vows of chastity, foreswearing of marriage, binding of men and women to several and disguised apparels, to the superstitious observation of fasting days, difference of meat for conscience sake, prayer for the dead; and keeping of holy days of certain Saints commanded by men, such as be all those that the Papists have invented, as the Feasts (as they term them) of Apostles, Martyrs, Virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our Lady. Which things, because in God's scriptures they neither have commandment nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realm; affirming further, that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abominations ought not to escape the punishment of the Civil Magistrate. (>Knox's History, Vol. 2, p. 281. Cf. John Knox, Works (David Laing, ed.; Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895), Vol. ii, p. 190.)

In response to a letter from Theodore Beza to the Scottish Assembly concerning the Second Helvetic Confession, the Assembly replied,

scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession concerning the "festival of our Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Ghost upon his disciples," that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles prescribed ( In Knox, Works, Vol. vi, pp. 547-48. The same position is expressed in the Second Scotch Confession (1580), which rejects the "dedicating of kirks, altars, days." )

As late as 1835, Samuel Miller, the Moderator of the Presbyterians in the United States, used the regulative principle to reject Christmas and Easter as Romish holidays. Initially, he notes the regulative principle regarding worship: "the Scriptures being the only infallible rule of faith and practice, no rite or ceremony ought to have a place in the public worship of God, which is not warranted in Scripture, either by direct precept or example, or by good and sufficient inference." Not only does the celebration of non-biblical holidays lack a scriptural foundation, he says, but the scriptures "positively discountenance it" (Miller, pp. 65, 74. ).

As Amy McNeese writes, in an article first published in the Church of Scotland magazine, Life & Work, an historical account of the Scottish ban on Christmas that only was lifted in the 1950's:

"For almost 400 years, Christmas was banned in Scotland. At the height of the Reformation, in 1583, when anything smacking of Catholicism and idolatrous excess was thrown out with contempt, Christmas and all its trappings was wiped off the official calendar...

...Reinforced by the hard arm of the law, this was a ban that had bite...
This was an age when religious belief could mean the difference between life and a very nasty death....

Scottish Presbyterians, when called on for support by the Puritans of the English Parliament in 1644, did so on the understanding that their allies would in exchange impose the ban on Christmas. For over a decade traditional English Christmas festivities were prohibited

From Scotland, the ban on Christmas spread briefly, as Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army brought the Cromwellian revolution to England. Cromwell's Puritans banned Christmas in England for about a decade but the measure was unpopular. Feelings among pro and anti Christmas advocates ran strong and, after a second enforcement act against Christmas was passed by the English Parliament in 1647,

Again the people rebelled, this time so forcefully that armed officers had to be sent to remove evergreens decorating St Margaret's Church, near the English Parliament itself. Rioting broke out in London, Kent, Oxford, Canterbury and Ipswich, in which several people were killed. A petition with more than 10,000 signatures demanded either the restoration of Christmas or else the king back on the throne...

Even after the bans were revoked in England in 1660, Puritans and other Non-Conformists “ranted against Anti-Christ’s-masse and those Masse-mongers and Papists who observe it”, and were commonly known to “inveigh against New Year gifts and evergreens, or to attack the Pope by refusing to eat plum-broth; or to condemn those who ate mince-pies as Papists and idolaters”. There was even objection to the word Christmas because it incorporated the Popish ‘mass’.

These attitudes were carried to the New World by English Puritans, Quakers, Baptists and Scottish Presbyterians. In America, reprisals were as harsh here as back in Scotland. In Massachusetts a five-shilling penalty was imposed on anyone found feasting or shirking work on Christmas Day, and in 1621 the Governor of Plymouth Colony reprimanded some “lusty young men” whom he found on Christmas “pitching ye barr, and some playing at stoole-ball and such like sports”.

A hundred years later the Quakers were still ranting against the Christmas pie as “an invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon, an hodge podge of superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his works”.

It is a historical rumor that the Cromwellian government was brought down by Christmas as many English men demanded either Christmas or the King.

The idea that Christians and Christmas celebrants were being warred upon was not invented by Mr. O'Reilly, but by a small tract that still haunts the world.

From here. (The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem)

And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards. And even in this business one comes upon that same policy of declaring Anti-Semitic everything that is Christian. If Rabbi Coffey says the New Testament is the most Anti-Semitic book ever written, what must be the judgement on an Easter card that is truly an Easter card?

By large, it is one of the most anti-semitic tract ever written and still serves as a starting point to attempted genocide. It was published in 1921

The Christian Crusade, founded by a father of the Christian Right - Billy James Hargis, was heavily Christian nationalist, reminiscent of Dominionism (Rousas John Rushdoony), often used the 'war on Christmas' as a bait for the American left, forgetting that the true, historical War on Christmas was a creation of the Protestant right.

According to Billy James Hargis' in 1960 "Crusader" article which was published before the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was the 'egg-headed socialists and atheists that wished to ban Christmas.' He reports that in 1957, New Jersey, and some cities in California and Illinois had outlawed Christmas, even to the point of denying the right to observe the birth of Christ. He blamed Communists for taking away this historic tradition - historic to Christians and Americans. Of course, the idea of a family Christmas as a timeless and American tradition, essential to the Republic, was invented barely a century and a half ago. The idea that Christmas is under attack - the Christmas that is upheld as an American Tradition, and enshrined in the Constitution - is an idea that predates Bill O' Reilly and was essentially initiated by anti-Semites and carried along into the 1960's by those who waged the 'war' against the take over of the United States by 'godless Communists'. In other words, it was a tool of fear used against others to gain power.

More than likely, the 'war on Christmas' is simply a desire by some to end the public demonstrations of religion on the public square, but if there was a war on Christmas, then it has its roots in the Reformation era Religious Right which lost the war to time and commercialism.