Monthly Archives: November 2017

Did the Continental Congress Publish America’s First Bible?

The Aitken Bible, the “Bible of the American Revolution,” remains a source of confusion, for many Christians today. A rare copy of this Bible is on display at the new Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible, which opened in Washington, D.C. in November, 2017, seeks to educate visitors about the role of the Bible in America. We need such a museum, as an examination of the evidence reveals a number of misconceptions people, even some Christians, have had about America and the Bible.

Prior to the American Revolution, most of the colonies embraced some form of public commitment to Christianity. For example, in those days, the Church of England was the official faith of my native state Virginia (then a colony), supported by law and the collection of taxes. If you considered yourself an “Episcopalian” or an “Anglican,” you were in good company.

But if you were a Baptist, you might have problems. For example, weddings performed by Baptist clergy were not legally recognized in the colony of Virginia. So, if you were Baptist, and you could not abide by the wedding liturgy of the Church of England, you were in trouble. For according to the law, you and your Baptist spouse would be “living in sin,” unless an Anglican priest married you.

The favoritism towards the Church of England, in Virginia, lasted through the Revolutionary War period. The Church of England, which became the “Episcopal Church” in America, was finally disestablished in the new state of Virginia, in 1786. This was accomplished by the passing of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a document anticipating the religious freedom clauses of the federal Bill of Rights, amended to the U.S. Constitution, in the early 1790s. The traditional link between Christian church and state was effectively broken, by America’s Founding Fathers. But even as late as 1902, Virginia’s religious freedom clause, in the state constitution, still maintained this admonition, originally written in 1776, “it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

Therefore, a common secularist canard, that Christianity was never really part of the founding of America, can be easily dismissed. True, Christianity, broadly speaking, was not, in a strict sense, the “official” religion of America, in the early decades of the young republic. The Founding Fathers, and American leaders after them, were certainly not opposed to the spread of Christianity, but they were increasingly inclined not to make explicit, governmental endorsements of the faith. However, for all practical purposes, Christianity was the de facto standard of faith, towards the latter end of the 18th century, and even into much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nevertheless, a commonly accepted belief today comes under scrutiny here: What about the Continental Congress? Did not the Continental Congress actually print the first American Bible in English? Was not this first Bible distributed for use in public schools? Was this not an explicit, government endorsement of Christianity?

Let us consider the evidence: You should take a minute to view the following YouTube advertisement, promoting the Museum of the Bible’s (MOTB) grand opening. On display is the so-called Aitken Bible, what the museum calls “the Bible of the American Revolution.” Pay careful attention to how the MOTB frames the story, and then keep reading:

Continue reading


The Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C., opens November 17, 2017

The Museum of the Bible opens in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 2017. The Green family, founders of the nationwide chain of Hobby Lobby arts and crafts stores, envision this museum to tell the story of the Bible. Here will be displayed an impressive collection of Bible artifacts, using the latest technology,  in a completely new and compelling way.

But why a $500 million “Museum of the Bible?” Like many other cultural observers, the Greens are concerned that Americans are suffering from historical amnesia about the Bible. Despite its cultural importance, biblical illiteracy is extremely low among Americans today, even for many professing Christians. Hopefully, a museum dedicated to educating people about the Bible might help stem back, or even reverse, this trend.

However, folks should know that the museum has its critics, and what they are saying. When the Green family began years ago to travel the world and collect a few Bible artifacts, from antiquity, they really did not know what they were doing. As critical scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden write in their book, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, the Greens eventually had to settle a court dispute by paying a hefty fine and returning thousands of artifacts that had been illegally obtained from their rightful owners.

The Greens have promised that they have learned from these mistakes, but a number of critics still have other issues with the museum. The Museum of the Bible is located just a few blocks from the Washington Mall, raising concerns that the Greens are engaging in a new tactic in the “culture wars,” by casting out their vision of America as a “Christian nation.” The Museum of the Bible is purely a private venture, with no government sponsor. But having a 430,000 square foot exhibition so close to the nation’s public Smithsonian collection of museums, will probably confuse some visitors.

Some of those firmly in the evangelical camp have their own suspicions, from a completely different angle. In a recent Christianity Today magazine review of the museum’s exhibits, we learn that a potential, wealthy donor was dismayed that the Museum of the Bible will not have a “decision” room available, whereby museum visitors nearing the end of the exhibits, might commit their lives to Christ, with counselors standing-by. Because of the absence of such a room, the prospective donor rescinded his offer for support.

Or, as a recent Washington Post article put it, the Museum of the Bible has a whole lot about the Bible, “but not a lot of Jesus.” Steve Green, the chair of the museum, responds that direct evangelism is “not [the Museum’s] role. Its role is to present facts and let people make their own decisions.” The Greens have one primary goal for presenting the Bible to America: Just try reading it!

In addition, evangelical Christians across other parts of the world, may have their own concerns: Is the Bible being captured by Americans, at the exclusion of other cultures, and thus diminishing a more global appreciation of the Bible? Over time, the experience of visitors will largely provide answers to such difficult questions.

However, despite what critics say, the fact remains that the Bible has played an incredibly influential role in the history of America. From the New England Puritan attempts to build a “Bible commonwealth,” in the early Atlantic colonies, to the trauma of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Bible has remained at the center of private and public American life. From Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, and on college campuses, to the eccentric uses of the Bible by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bible is right there in the thick of the American experience.

Unlike the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky, that promotes a view of the Bible that causes controversy within the evangelical Christian movement, the Museum of the Bible promises to promote a more nonsectarian approach to the Bible, which should garner wider support. No matter how well the museum is received by visitors, the display promises to be excellent in quality, engaging and inspiring to those who deeply love the sacred text, and a memorable experience.

If you do not believe me, watch the 3-minute promotion video below (a Biblical prophet, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gutenberg Bible and Luther’s revolution, the Sistine Chapel, the beginnings of modern science, Wesley’s stormy journey across the Atlantic with the Moravians, the American Revolution, Lincoln and the Civil War, emancipation of slavery and Martin Luther King Jr…. breathtaking). If you go to Washington sometime, and stop by to see the museum, drop a comment here on the Veracity blog, and tell us what you think!


A Tribute to Dick Terman

 

In just a few weeks, Dick Terman, a dear friend and mentor of mine, will be moving away from Williamsburg, Virginia. I want to tell you about him.

Dick Terman grew up in the Midwest, in a Christian family. His grandfather was a Free Methodist pastor, and strict promoter of “Prohibition,” the 18th Amendment, that sought to ban alcohol in America. Dick describes his grandfather as a caring man, but boy, could he be strict. Dick remembers his grandfather (rightly) scolding him once, from the pulpit! As a kid, Dick took only a casual interest in spiritual matters.

When Dick was in high school, he was active in the Boy Scouts. However, he had trouble. Another boy in the troop loved to pester and irritate Dick. One day, on a troop hike, the boys were hiking the perimeter above a steep gravel pit. The thought crossed Dick’s mind that he could push this pestering boy off this high ledge. It would only take a few seconds, a strong shove, and Dick’s problem would be gone.

Dick restrained himself. But the angry temptation that filled his heart, scared the wits out of Dick Terman. He could have gotten rid of this bothersome boy, by pushing him over a hundred foot drop, to the boy’s death.

Dick could have been a murderer.

Dick had come face to face with his own sinful nature. He knew he had to get right with God. So, Dick kneeled in prayer before his Maker, admitted his need for a Savior, and gave his life in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Continue reading


Parking Space 23, and The Story of John Knox

(Editor’s Note: I have been trying to get an avid Veracity reader to write this blog post for several years, as he has personally been to Scotland to see “Parking Space 23.” But alas, in this, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, I could wait no longer…)

If you go to Edinburgh, Scotland, today, you might have trouble finding the grave of Scotland’s greatest Protestant Reformer of the 16th century, John Knox. Hidden away, underneath the asphalt of parking space 23, lies the body of one John Knox, who paved the way for the Reformation to transform the country of Scotland. A plaque embedded in the pavement reads:

“The above stone marks the approximate site of the burial in St Giles graveyard of John Knox, the great Scottish divine who died 24 Nov 1572.”

Why would John Knox’s grave be found in a parking lot? Just imagine if the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. were bulldozed over, and converted into a parking garage.

In much of secular Scotland today, the Christian faith of the Reformation era is largely forgotten. Yet John Knox is unquestionably the founder of modern Presbyterianism, as he resolutely preached his way throughout Scotland, moving this northernmost segment of the British Isles away from Roman Catholicism towards a Protestant faith. Within a few centuries, the Scottish church would become one of the greatest missionary sending communities of all time, establishing Christian witness over all the world.

Was there something about Knox himself that contributes to this historical neglect? Though a fiery evangelist, with a great love for the Gospel, John Knox was also known to be rather severe. Was it because he acted as a bodyguard to another Scottish preacher, for a time? Was it because he suffered for two years of oppressive prison labor, aboard a French galley ship? Was it because he actively opposed the idea of having a woman as a secular ruler?

Yet it might be time to restore John Knox, Scotland’s greatest Reformer, from this historical neglect.

The film Knox explores these questions, and tells his story. Here is the trailer:

For a review of Jane Dawson’s recent scholarly biography of John Knox, consult the resources at the Gospel Coalition.


Menno Simons in Eight Minutes

A Dutch Anabaptist, Dirk Willems, was chased across a frozen pond, by one of his persecutors. When his persecutor fell through the ice, and feared for his life, Willems had compassion on the man, and pulled him out of the frozen waters to safety. Willems was then apprehended, and days later, was executed for his Anabaptist beliefs…. So, who are these Anabaptists? A brief look at one of their prominent leaders, Menno Simons, tells their story.

Menno Simons, the founder of the “Mennonites,” was enjoying the “good life” of a typical medieval priest, in the 16th century. Yes, he had his religious duties, performing baptisms and the Mass, but he also had a “good time” drinking with his friends, and partying into the wee hours of the night.

But his conscience had gripped him, when he knew of neighbors who had died as martyrs, clinging to a belief in the Bible, as the true source for what it really meant to be a Christian. Menno, even though he was indeed a priest, knew nothing of the Bible.

“[My friends] and myself spent our time daily in playing, drinking, and all manner of frivolous diversions, alas! as it is the fashion and way of such useless people; and when we were to treat a little of scripture, I could not speak a word with them without being scoffed at; for I did not know what I asserted. Thus concealed was the word of God to my understanding. At length I resolved that I would examine the New Testament attentively.”

Menno eventually became convinced of “Believer’s baptism,” a key feature of the “Anabaptist” movement. He embraced the discipline of a scholar, spending several years, in trying to understand the Bible. But some of his new Anabaptist friends had gone down the wrong track, embracing the error of violence. The Holy Spirit was still working on Menno’s hardened heart:

“I could find no rest in my soul. I reflected upon my carnal, sinful life, my hypocritical doctrine and idolatry, in which I continued daily under the appearance of godliness. I saw that these zealous children willingly gave their lives and their estates, though they were in error, for their doctrine and faith. And I was one of those who had discovered some of their abominations, and yet I myself remained satisfied with my unrestrained life and known defilements. I wished only to live comfortably and without the cross of Christ.”

After seeking after the Lord, and through his study of the Scriptures, Menno Simons finally discovered the grace of God:

“Thus have I, a miserable sinner, been enlightened of the Lord, converted to a new mind, fled from Babel, entered into Jerusalem, and finally, though unworthily, called to this high and arduous service…..He who, purchased me with the blood of his love, and called me, who am unworthy, to his service, knows me, and knows that I seek not wealth, nor possessions, nor luxury, nor ease, but only the praise of the Lord, my salvation, and the salvation of many souls.”

Many of the Anabaptist leaders of the Radical Reformation were killed during the 16th century. Menno Simons survived, preaching and teaching from the Scriptures, and those who have been drawn to his teachings are now scattered all over the world. We know these particular Anabaptists today as “Mennonites.”

Christian history professor, Ryan Reeves, gives an eight-minute overview of Menno Simons’ life (For more on Menno Simons personal testimony, read here).

 


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