As the Fall Season approaches, school is now in full swing and our thoughts turn to education. Not only the education of our youth, but as adults we should never cease to learn new things as well. For example, there is a nation full of people that have not heard about America’s Christian heritage. Facts such as this, as well as, education in general, were extremely important to our Founding Fathers. Dr. Benjamin Rush said of education, “…that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments” (On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1798).
We here at Christian Heritage Fellowship always strive to follow the lead of our Founding Fathers such as Dr. Rush as we seek to, not only share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to ed-
ucate Americans on their Christian heritage. As you and your family settle in to another year of education for your children and grandchildren, we invite you to be active in the endeavor of educating America as Dr. Rush suggests.
As I close, we here at CHF would like to thank you for your ongoing support of our message and mission. Moreover, special thanks are extended to you for your prayers and encouragement shown to our Executive Director, Dr. Steve Flick, over the last fourteen months. In the coming days, as he follows through with the sale of his house and seeks a new place to call home, please continue to lift him and his family to the Lord in prayer.
God bless you all…
Secretary, Christian Heritage Fellowship
Keith Click was born and raised in Knoxville, TN and is married to Tammy Click, wife of 38 years, also of Knoxville. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, majoring in Church history. Keith and Tammy enjoy their spare time by riding motorcycles in the beautiful East Tennessee area.
A few weeks ago, a friend from Iowa contacted me concerning the influence of the Bible and Christianity upon the origin of American education. She had noticed that one presentation she had recently viewed completely avoided any discussion of the influence of Christianity upon America’s academic origins. This form of neglect is the most popular means of denying Christianity’s influence upon the rise and progress of America. Though this subject cannot be fully explored in this article, some of the major ideas may be briefly developed.Christian Origin of American Education
The Bible and American EducationChristian Origin of American Education
Fundamental to a study of American education is the question of the philosophy or thinking of those who first populated the English colonies of the eastern seaboard. Within European Christianity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a division occurred with regard to the source or foundation for Christian beliefs. During this era, nearly all of Christianity was struggling with this question. Christians south of the Swiss Alps turned to the pagan Greek and Roman cultures, and they relied on church councils and the direction of the Bishop of Rome as the source of direction for Christian beliefs and practices.
Christians north of the Swiss Alps returned to Scripture as the primary source of authority for the principles and practices for Christian living. In addition, these Christians revived the study of the Church Fathers or those closest to the life of Christ and the Apostles to ask, “What did the earliest Christians believe and how did they live the Christian life?” During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the idea of the Bible as the source of authority for Christian living influenced Northern Europe and the British Isles.
The role of Scripture in American life was foreshadowed by the prominence given to it by the English monarchy. While the act of taking an oath with one hand placed upon the Bible is now commonplace, it was not always so. In fact, its origin—though not with complete parallel—has profound historical and religious significance. Its origin may be traced to the coronation of the successor of Henry VIII, his son Edward VI, as noted in the following account:
The piety of the youthful monarch [Edward VI] was manifested at the coronation. Bale relates, upon the authority of credible witnesses, that when three swords were brought to be carried in the procession, as emblematical of his three kingdoms, the king said there was one yet wanting. The nobles inquiring what it was, he answered, “The Bible,” adding, “That book is the sword of the Spirit, and to be preferred before these swords. That ought in all right to govern us, who use them for the people’s safety by God’s appointment. Without that sword we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have no power. From that we are what we are this day. From that we receive whatsoever it is that we at present do assume. He that rules without it, is not to be called God’s minister, or a king. Under that we ought to live, to fight, to govern the people, and to perform all our affairs. From that alone we obtain all power, virtue, grace, salvation, and whatsoever we have of divine strength.” When the pious young king had thus expressed himself, he commanded the Bible to be brought with the greatest reverence, and carried before him.
During the early seventeenth century, the American colonies were populated primarily by those Christians influenced by sources north of the Swiss Alps where the Bible was regarded as the final source of authority. For this reason, all of the charters of the Thirteen English Colonies contained biblical confessions of allegiance to the Christian faith. The role accorded the Bible by American settlers and their descendants has helped to distinguish America as the most unique nation in world history.
Christianity and the Ivy League
There is little evidence in the contemporary life of Ivy League schools to suggest they were birthed by Christians. While much more could be said concerning the Christian origin and development of this prestigious group of schools, we will limit ourselves to two observations.
First, notice the birth of each school. All of the Ivy Leagues schools were birthed or directly influenced by Christians:
1636 — Harvard was started by the Puritans;
1693 — William and Mary, by the Anglicans;
1701 — Yale by the Congregationalists;
1746 — Princeton by the Presbyterians;
1754 — Columbia (King’s College) by the Anglicans;
1754 — University of Pennsylvania was independent but minsters were board members;
1764 — Brown (Rhode Island College) by the Baptists;
1766 — Rutgers by the Dutch Reformed Church;
1769 — And, Dartmouth was founded to train Indians as missionaries to their own people, as well as to educate and Christianize English youth.
Second, notice the Christian ethos or character of the schools. The second and third regulations for students at Yale provides insight into the character of all of the Ivy League schools:
Every student shall exercise himself in reading Holy Scriptures by himself every day, that the word of Christ may dwell in Him richly and that he may be filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.
Every student shall consider the main end of his study, to wit [which is] to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a godly sober life.
Education Laws vs Satan
American public education was initiated only a few years after the arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in the New World. Christians began to establish the private Ivy League schools only sixteen years after the Pilgrims first arrived in New England. The foundation for public education, however, was first laid in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the years 1642, 1647, and 1648. The three legislative acts of these three years are known as the Massachusetts School Laws and was the first step toward compulsory government-directed public education in the United States.
The Massachusetts school legislation of 1647—also known as “Old Deluder Satan Law” (taken from the first sentence)—suggested Satan used ignorance and error to the misfortune of the human race. Massachusetts legislators believed Satan’s influence could be circumvented by proper Christian education. The legislation required every town having fifty families to hire a teacher and every town with more than one hundred families to go further and establish a “grammar school.” To fail to comply could result in a £5 fine. It was believed that a “grammar school” education would prepare scholars for Harvard, the first of the Ivy League schools established to prepare young men for the Christian ministry.
To ensure “domestic tranquility,” America’s earliest educational laws advocated scriptural principles be taught in schools, as reflected in the 1647 legislation:
It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors. It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns. And it is further ordered, that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university, provided that if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year that every such town shall pay 5 pounds to the next school till they shall perform this order.
Founders, Ministers and Textbooks
Only those who have never read primary sources or those who are eager to subvert truth would ever suggest that America was not founded upon Christian principles. America’s Founding Fathers understood the necessity of Christian education in the classrooms of the nation. Volumes could be written to support this fact, but several select quotes should demonstrate this.
Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the three most important Founding Fathers, and perhaps the most distinguished physician of his generation, defended the teaching of Scripture and the Christian religion in public schools in his Defense of the Use of the Bible in Schools. In an address to Revolutionary War chaplain, Rev. Jeremy Belknap, pastor of the Congregational Church in Dover, New Hampshire, Dr. Rush summarized his argument:
It is now several months since I promised to give you my reason for preferring the Bible, as a schoolbook, to all other compositions. Before I state my arguments, I shall assume the five following propositions:
1. The Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that, in proportion as mankind adopt its principles, and obey its precepts, they will be wise and happy.
2. That a better knowledge of this religion is to be acquired by reading the Bible, than in any other way.
3. That the Bible contains more knowledge necessary to man in his present state, than any other book in the world.
4. That knowledge is most durable, and religious instruction most useful, when imparted in early life.
5. That the Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life.
Another Founding Father, Gouverneur Morris, was a member of the Constitutional Convention (1787) and spoke 173 times on the floor of the Convention. Morris shouldered the responsibility of physically writing the Constitution of the United States; it is his handwriting we see when we read, “We the people…” In an attempt to assist the French (following the French Revolution), Morris authored two works which reflected his involvement in the development of the American Constitution: Observations on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France, and Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France. The man who penned the American Constitution affirmed the role of religion of Christianity in education, in his advice to the French:
Religion is the only solid basis of good morals, therefore, education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man toward God.
The principles that gave rise to America as an independent nation did not originate from secular sources, but arose primarily out of what was being taught from American pulpits. In his book, Seed Time of the Republic, Clinton Rossiter identified six of the leading voices of the American Revolution, four of which were ministers. Early American ministers exercised a much greater role in cultural life than their contemporary counterparts.
One of the chief means of denying America’s Christian heritage is historical omission. Secularists and those seeking to deny America’s Christian origin conveniently fail to relate the religious beginnings of colonial America. Pastors and their influence upon early America are routinely neglected.
One of many preachers to infuse the Christian faith into American academics was John Witherspoon. As a Presbyterian minister, president of Princeton, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Witherspoon trained at least 87 founding Fathers. As a minister of the gospel, his influence was felt through his students. He was responsible for training:
1 President (James Madison)
3 Supreme Court Justices
10 Cabinet Members
Rev. Dr. Jedediah Morse—father of the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse—is known as the “Father of American Geography.” During the American Revolution, Rev. Morse was very active for the American cause. He was largely credited with initiating the study of geography in American schools. In 1784, he published his first book, Geography Made Easy. The sentiment of this textbook used so widely in American classrooms was reflected in one of Rev. Morse’s printed sermons for a national fast day:
The foundations which support the interests of Christianity, are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own. In all those countries where there is little or no religion, or a very gross and corrupt one, as in Mahometan [Muslim] and pagan countries, there you will find, with scarcely a single exception, arbitrary and tyrannical governments, gross ignorance and wickedness, and deplorable wretchedness among the people. To the kindly influence of Christianity, we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. I hold this to be a truth confirmed by experience. If so, it follows, that all efforts made to destroy the foundations of our holy [Christian] religion, ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.
Much more should be noted concerning the content of textbooks, which were heavily ladened with Christian teaching, but space does not allow extended treatment of this subject. The schoolbook texts of Noah Webster and later William McGuffey were imbued with Scripture and Christian doctrine. In fact, such texts remained part of public-school curricula until the middle of the twentieth century when liberal judges began their assault against America’s Christian heritage.
In 1893, a survey of the history of education in Kansas was made by educators of the state. In a chapter titled, “Denominational Schools,” Superintendent Lyman Child Wooster recounted the fact that American education had arisen out of the Christian Church. Then, he warned that should schools ever neglect the principles of Scripture, the Church should once again undertake the important task of educating the nation:
The free public schools of America are outgrowths of the parochial [church] or pastoral schools of puritan New England, which were established by our forefathers to prepare their children for becoming useful members of society and the church. Nurtured in the lap of the church, these schools soon became so necessary to society at large that the church reluctantly relinquished her claim upon the elementary schools, and turned them over to the care of the commonwealths, retaining for herself the higher institutions of learning the academies and colleges.
Whether this was wise or not is not our purpose to discuss, further than to remark that, if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools, if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily programs, if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises public elementary schools, then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control.
Once all America understood that the classroom was an arena for the “inculcation of the principles of Christianity.” Why did the Founding Fathers so closely intertwine their Christian faith with the classroom? Jedediah Morse reminds us: “Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” The Founding Fathers laid down their lives to bequeath their Christian values and its republican blessings to succeeding generations. May God give us grace to ensure their labors were not in vain.
Article Notes and Sources
 Edward King of England, Writings of Edward the Sixth, William Hugh, Queen Catherine Parr, Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey, Hamilton, and Balnaves (London: Religious Tract Society, 1831), 3:6.
 Harvard’s Rules and Precepts for students reflects the Christian origin of the first Ivy League school: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ at the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, Let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him, Prov. 2:3.” See American Higher Education: A Documentary History (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 1:9.
 Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, with Annals of the College History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1885), 1:347.
 “Massachusetts School Laws,” Wikipedia, September 26, 2012; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_School_Laws.
 George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, together with Dr. Benjamin Rush, were regarded esteem in early America as the three most important Founding Fathers.
 Benjamin Rush, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a Schoolbook, Addressed to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, of Boston,” in Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical by Benjamin Rush, M.D. And Professor of the Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice in the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Thomas and Samuel Bradford, 1798), 93-94.
 Jared Sparks, The Life of Gouverneur Morris with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832).
 Sparks, Life of Gouverneur Morris, 3:483.
 Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the American Tradition of Political Liberty (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1953).
 Jedediah Morse, Geography Made Easy, Being a Short, but Comprehensive System of That Very Useful and Agreeable Science (New Haven, [Connecticut] : Meigs, Bowen and Dana, 1784).
 Jedediah Morse, A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America (Charlestown, [Massachusetts] : Samuel Etheridge, 1799), 11.
 Lyman Child Wooster, Columbian History of Education in Kansas. (Topeka: Press of the Hamilton printing Company, E.H. Snow State printer, 1893), 81-82.
Throughout the entire calendar year, Americans are provided with numerous opportunities to call attention to the influence of Christianity upon the founding and development of America and cultures around the world. A few suggestions are offered for your consideration in the brief list below. Additional resources and suggestions may be accessed by clicking the image to the left of each listing.