David Barton: Was John Adams really an enemy of Christians? (Part 4)

4 Of 5 / The Bible’s Influence In America / American Heritage Series / David Barton

Evangelical leader Ken Ham rightly has noted, “Most of the founding fathers of this nation … built the worldview of this nation on the authority of the Word of God.” I strongly agree with this statement by Ham.

Dr. Michael Davis of California has asserted that he has no doubts that our President is a professing Christian, but his policies are those of a secular humanist. I share these same views. However, our founding fathers were anything but secular humanists in their views. John Adams actually wrote in a letter, “There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government – but that which is administered by this Holy Ghost.”

In June of 2011 David Barton of Wallbuilders wrote the article, “John Adams: Was He Really an Enemy of Christians?Addressing Modern Academic Shallowness,” and I wanted to share portions of that article with you.


 At WallBuilders, we are truly blessed by God, owning tens of thousands of original documents from the American Founding – documents clearly demonstrating the Christian and Biblical foundations both of America and of so many of her Founding Fathers and early statesmen. We frequently postoriginal documents on our website so that others may enjoy them and learn more about many important aspects of America’s rich moral, religious, and constitutional heritage that are widely unknown or misportrayed today.

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Period I includes the three centuries of Christianity immediately following the life of Christ. According to Wise, this was “the most refined and purest time, both as to faith and manners, that the Christian church has been honored with.” 15 Period I is the “Period of Purity,” and Jesus’ followers throughout that time largely did just what He had taught them to do.

Period II spans the next twelve centuries, and according to Wise, it was a period that “openly proclaimed itself to the scandal of the Christian religion.”16 The State took control of the Church, with the State decreeing Christianity to be the official religion of the State and all other religions illegal. 17 This was a time of “the secularization of the Church and the depravation of Christianity” 18 – a time when the State seized and corrupted the Church and its doctrines, wrongly asserting “that one of the chief duties of an imperial ruler was to place his sword at the service of the Church and orthodoxy.” 19 Christianity became coercive through brutal civil laws attempting to enforce theological orthodoxy.

This age was characterized by autocratic leaders in both State and Church, with monarchies and theocracies (usually oppressive ones) as the primary forms of governance. The Founders frequently described Period II as a time of “kingcraft” and “priestcraft” – a time when kings and priests joined together against the people, using selfish ambition to gain personal wealth and power. 20

Period II is called the “Period of Apostasy” or “Period of Corruption,” and during this time, the Church was no longer a collection of individuals joined together in a voluntary association; instead it became a civil hierarchy overseeing a massive organization and numerous facilities. The individual follower of Christ was no longer of consequence; the common man was forbidden access to the Scriptures and education; tyrannical leaders became the pinnacle of consideration. The emphasis shifted from the personal to the structural, from the individual to the institutional – an anti-Biblical paradigm that prevailed for the next twelve centuries. Nearly all the negative incidents in world history associated with Christianity (e.g., the Inquisition, wholesale murder of Jews, tortures, etc.) are almost exclusively from this period of Christian corruption.

Period III, according to Wise, is that which “began a glorious reformation.” Wise explains: “Many famous persons, memorable in ecclesiastical history, being moved by the Spirit of God and according to Holy Writ, led the way in the face of all danger . . . for the good of Christendom.” 21 Early seeds of this change began with the efforts of numerous Christian leaders, including John Wycliffe (1320-1384), called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Nearly two dozen other Christian leaders also worked to spread Bible teachings across their respective countries, including Englishmen such as Thomas Cranmer, William Tyndale, John Rogers, and Miles Coverdale; Czechs such as John Huss and Jerome of Prague; Germans Martin Luther, Thomas Münzer, Andreas Carlstadt, and Kaspar von Schwenkfeld; Swiss Ulrich Zwingli;Frenchmen William Farel and John Calvin; Scotsmen John Knox and George Wishart; Dutchmen Jacobus Arminius, Desiderius Erasmus, and Menno Simons; and others.

This third era, called the “Period of Reformation,” emphasized a return to the Bible as the guidebook for all aspects of life and living. It therefore rekindled many of Christianity’s original teachings, including the Priesthood of the Believer (emphasizing that the individual had direct access to God without need of assistance from any official in Church or State) and Justification by Faith (emphasizing the importance of personal faith and an individual’s personal relationship with the Savior). The renewed Period III Biblical emphasis on the individual altered the way that both Church and State were viewed, thus resulting in new demands and expectations being placed upon each. Self-government and freedom of conscience were advocated for both institutions.

But such Bible teachings were not embraced by all, for they threatened the previously uncontested power of tyrants. Consequently, ruthless leaders in both State and Church initiated bloody purges, utilizing the most cruel tortures and barbaric persecutions to suppress the followers of the renewed Biblical teachings. For example, French leaders conducted the famous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of September 17, 1585, eventually killing 110,000 French Reformation followers (i.e., Huguenots). Some 400,000 others fled France to avoid death and persecution, with many coming to America, especially South Carolina and New York.

Similarly, English leaders such as King Henry VIII attempted to suppress the Reformation’s individualistic teachings by public executions and burnings at the stake; and Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I, and subsequent monarchs continued those efforts. In fact, King James I even concocted two revolutionary new government-church “doctrines” to help him suppress the growing influence of Reformation teachings in England: the Divine Right of Kings, and Complete Submission and Non-Resistance to Authority.

Not surprisingly, Reformation followers (often known as “Dissenters” for opposing, or dissenting against, the autocratic and tyrannical practices of both State and Church) openly opposed James’ “irrational and unscriptural doctrines,” 22 thus prompting him to level additional brutal persecutions against them, including mutilation, hanging, and disemboweling. The Pilgrims came to Massachusetts in 1620 to escape the hounding persecution of King James, and a decade later, 20,000 Puritans also fled England after many received life sentences (or had their noses slit, ears cut off, or a brand placed on their foreheads) for adhering to Reformation teachings.

Despite the brutal worldwide persecution, the Reformation eventually prevailed, resulting in massive changes in both State and Church, finally bringing to an end the corrupt practices of Period II Christianity. The impact of Reformation Christianity upon nations during this period was almost exclusively positive, especially in America, where Reformation teachings took root and grew more quickly than in the rest of the world, having been planted in virgin soil completely uncontaminated by the apostasy of the previous twelve centuries.

American Founding Fathers and leaders (including John Adams) made a clear distinction between America’s Period III Christianity and Europe’s Period II Christianity. For example, Noah Webster emphatically declared:

The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe which serve to support tyrannical governments are not the Christian religion, but abuses and corruptions of it. 23

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5 Of 5 / The Bible’s Influence In America / American Heritage Series / David Barton

15. John Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches (Boston: John Boyles, 1772), p. 3. (Return)

16. John Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches (Boston: John Boyles, 1772), p. 5. (Return)

17. Fordham University, “Medieval Sourcebook: Banning of Other Religions, Theodosian Code XVI.1.2” (at:http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/theodcodeXVI.html). (Return)

18. Samuel Smith Harris, The Relation of Christianity to Civil Society (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1883), p. 62. (Return)

19. Joseph Blötzer, transcribed by Matt Dean. “Inquisition” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York (at:http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08026a.htm). (Return)

20. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New Haven, 1828), s.v., “kingcraft” and “priestcraft.” (Return)

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