The Roots Of Liberty And The Westminster Catechism With Leah Farish – What are the roots of liberty in America? How did the Reformation come to America? What is the Westminster Catechism and why is it important? Join us today to discuss these things and more with Leah Farish.
Air Date: 03/07/2022
Guest: Leah Farish
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
- WallBuilders | American historical events, founding fathers, historical documents, books, videos, CDs, tapes, David Barton’s speaking schedule.
- Coupons: Use promo code WBL17 to receive 10% off your entire order on ALL WallBuilders Store Products!!
- Helpful links:
- Send In Your Questions!Â
- The Founders Bible
- The Founders Bible App
- Constitution Alive
- First Liberty
- The Courageous Leaders Collection
- Heroes of History
- Quotations of the Founders Books
- Alliance Defending Freedom
- Liberty Counsel
- Patriot Academy
- High Point Leadership Camp
- WallBuilders’ YouTube
- Wallbuilders Summer Leadership Training Program
- Today’s Links:
- Religious Roots Of The Constitution Leah Farish Article
Download: Click Here
Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Welcome to the intersection of faith and culture. Thanks for joining us today on WallBuilders Live. We’re taking on the hot topics of the day from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective. And we’re going to zero in on that biblical perspective today. I’m Rick Green, America’s Constitution coach and former Texas rep, here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and just all around Texas, I mean, everything about David Barton is Texan. I think so, David, is there a Texas Westminster catechism? We should do one in like Texan talk.
If there’s not there will be after we talk about it for a bit. I mean, we just create Texan for everything. And I know other states don’t like that and they get tired of that. But as soon as you reach the state of perfection, you can do it too. It’s easy.
As soon as you reach a state of perfection. That’s right. I like that. Well, everybody is wondering why in the world did he throw Westminster catechism in there? Really interesting program today, we’re going to be looking at the roots of liberty and looking at even the roots of the First Amendment, and how much that was influenced for the founding fathers by the Westminster Confession. And catechism, I’m so confused on this, David. So I don’t even know the difference. Did the Catechism come from the confession? We got an interview with a gal today that’s going to share a lot of with us on this. But can you set the stage on this and where this came from and how it kind of fits into history, kind of even what point in time was this done?
Yeah. To you understand religious liberty in America, you have to understand what was going on with religion in Europe. And so if you back up, we go through a period of time. The first three centuries of the church, a lot of historical writers talk about this “Period of purity”. We did what Jesus said what the Bible said we did really good. The next 12 or so centuries, they call the “period of apostasy” because that’s where we put away the scriptures and didn’t start doing it anymore. Whatever the emperor said, and you know, Theodore, just when he became emperor said, look, I’m a Christian, everybody’s going to be a Christian, or I’ll kill you, which is really nice Christian thing to say, obviously. And I say that facetiously.
But that’s where you start seeing the state established Church come in. And at that point, if the state is going to tell you what to believe, why would you read the scriptures? You don’t need to do that. So we go through about 1,000-1200 years, so people really don’t read the scriptures. Probably about 1300 thereabouts, you have people like John Wycliffe, the morning star of the Reformation start saying, man, we got to get back to the Bible. The Church, state, none of them are doing what God said, we got to get back to that. He gets put to death for trying to put the scriptures in a version where people can actually read it for themselves, rather than have someone tell them what it says.
And over the next 200 years, over seven different nations in Europe, there’s about 24 different folks that arise and say we got to reform the church and the state, we got to get back to reading the Bible and a lot of them get killed for saying that. And then eventually what we hear about is Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation. When Luther says, I’ve had it, I’m going to break off and start a new version of the church as uncorrupt, we’re going to use the scriptures. So at that point, you’re talking in the early 1500s.
Now, what happens in about 1536 is Henry, King of England says, I want to divorce and the church not a Catholic church at the time, except Catholic with a small C meaning the universal Christian church said, no, no, no, that’s not a biblical teaching, no fault divorce, you got to have a fault or a reason and you don’t. It’s just that you want a different wife and so we’re not getting you that. And so what happened, Henry says, well, I’ll start my own church, is called the Anglican Church. He gave himself a divorce.
And so about 1536-1537 is when the Anglican Church comes out with a statement of beliefs, what its doctrines are. Well, at that point in time, just a few years later, I guess, it’s about 1545, or thereabouts the Catholic Church or the small Catholic Church says, well, let’s put out what we believe now that we’ve split. And so that’s the Roman Catholic Church at that point. So at that point, you’ve got Great Britain, you’ve got the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and they’re going along for the next century.
And then as we start getting into the early 1600s, there’s a whole lot of people in Anglican church that said man, this is just as bad as it was when we weren’t reading the scriptures in the small Catholic Church, we got to reform the Anglican Church. And so that’s where the Puritans come in. And the Puritans were eventually the one that come to America. They’re saying the English church, the Anglican Church is really corrupt, that has to be reformed. We’ve got to fix that.
And so when they find out they can’t fix it, that’s when they end up coming to America. 1630, about 10,000 come to America, the separatists, which is another form that Puritans to come with the pilgrims to 1620. But when the Pilgrims came over, they said we’ve had it with the church, we’re just going to be separate and go our own way. And the Puritans and said, no, we can still purify the church. And so about 1630, the official state Church of England said, oh, yeah, you think you can, watch this and so they started slitting noses of Puritans and chopping off their ears and chopping off their tongue and saying, let’s hear you complain now. And so that’s when the period has said, okay, we can’t even fix the church over here, we’ll go to America and do it.
And about that period of time after they got to America, then you had the Puritans who said, well, we’re really going to have to start a new denomination separate from the Anglicans. And that’s where you get what’s called the Westminster Confession. And the Westminster Confession comes out in about 1643 and they say here’s what we believe as Reformed theology. And Reformed theology really means that we take the Bible very seriously. We think that God put us here to make a difference in all parts of the culture. And so, in Reformed theology, they believe in the sovereignty of God, they will believe in predestination, they will believe in the aspect of the depravity of man that he needs the Savior. And so that’s really the blade on which most of America was founded.
And so they emphasize then that man is evil and needs God, not kind of what we hear a lot of today where you’re really everybody’s good, let’s just instead of you’re good and the world corrupted you, it’s your bad and you need God.
That’s right. And so they really do see a need for a Savior, they see a need to be guided by God’s word, they see a need to stay in God’s word and know God’s word, conformed life to God’s word, make your culture reflect what biblical principles are. And so this is where you get liberty. This is where you get ordered law. This is where you get the rule of law, written constitution, so many other things that we’ve come to cherish and respect.
So in 1643, they come out with a Westminster Confession of Faith. And that Westminster Confession of Faith says, here’s what we believe about the Bible, about original sin, about God, the Creator, and it just lays down all these major fundamental, basic biblical aspects. Now, they said, we got to be able to teach this to our people. And so then they come out with what’s called the Westminster shorter catechism and the longer catechism. The longer catechism goes into all their doctrines. And it’s a question answer format that young people learn, all new people of the church learn, this is what we believe, this is why we believe in. The shorter Catechism is what was used in schools and what was used with the younger children to help them get the really important doctrines first.
And so these are works that shaped America. You have the first public school law and American 1647. And that’s shortly after the Westminster catechism, longer and shorter and the Westminster Confession of Faith. So you’ll find that this is what we want to educate, this is what people need to understand. You can’t have ordered life and you can’t have stable government without ordered liberty. And that comes from the Bible. So that’s really how this came to be.
So Leah, what she talks about is how that this concept of what we’re talking about with the Reformation, how the Reformation came to America, and then we had really kind of an American reformation that was different than the British reformation where we said, well, you know, Great Britain still doesn’t have this thing right yet, but we’ve been studying the Bible more than they have. And we found, thanks to the Bible, we should be following, the Great Britain’s not. So we even have an Americanized version of that.
And when you understand that, then you start saying, okay, so when the Founding Fathers talked about freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, free exercise of religion, the First Amendment, what did they base it on? And that’s where you see if you can understand this part of our history, now you know what the intent is. And this is where Leah did such a good job of going back and showing how the Westminster Confession of Faith how it shaped the way the Founding Fathers thought about religion and therefore how you can understand the First Amendment if you don’t understand the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Well, full article at Religious Freedom Institute. We have a link today at wallbuilderslive.com. But Leah is actually going to join us to discuss that article and some of that history. Leah Farish, our guests when we return on WallBuilders Live.
Have you noticed the vacuum of leadership in America? We’re looking around for leaders of principle to step up and too often, no one is there. God is raising up a generation of young leaders with a passion for impacting the world around them. They’re crying out for the mentorship and leadership training they need.
Patriot Academy was created to meet that need. Patriot Academy graduates now serve in state capitals around America in the halls of Congress, in business, in the film industry, in the pulpit and every area of the culture. They’re leading effectively and impacting the world around them. Patriot Academy is now expanding across the nation and now’s your chance to experience this life changing week that trains champions to change the world.
Visit patriotacademy.com for dates and locations. Our core program is still for young leaders 16 to 25 years old, but we also now have a citizen track for adults, so visit the website today to learn more. Help us fill the void of leadership in America join us in training champions to change the world at patriotacademy.com
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Leah Farish is with us. We’re talking about the Christian, the religious roots of the Constitution. Leah, thanks for coming on. Appreciate your time today.
Oh, my pleasure.
Well, you actually had, this is the article I’m looking at was a couple years ago, but it’s about the religious roots of the Constitution and you break down the history of why the First Amendment ended up in Constitution in the first place, these rights of conscience were something the founders really valued and they wanted our nation to reflect that.
They sure did. And we started with a foundation that 9 of the 13 colonies had established religions, and certainly, the Presbyterians when they came over from Europe had brought their Westminster Confession of Faith with them. And it had contemplated a monarchy was an established religion. Once we had a revolution, we had to rethink that a little bit. And I think that the First Amendment’s religion clauses reflect that rethinking.
Talk a little bit about the Westminster Confession of Faith and the impact that that had on them. I noticed in your article, you said about two-thirds of the Founders came from a Calvinist background. So a lot of those were most of those, I guess, were Presbyterians. But so they were studying the Westminster catechism from the time they were kids.
Absolutely. It’s been estimated there were 4 million people in the colonies, and about 5 million copies of the Westminster catechism were floating around and that was to train children. So most of our founders learnt by heart, even if they didn’t go to a Reformed Church, or a Presbyterian Church, it was widely, widely adopted as even a prerequisite to enter Princeton or other higher education, you had to sign on that she agreed with his principles. And so it did influence the Founders.
And the Westminster Confession stood in their minds for something very unifying. And that becomes very important. When we look at what happened with our own Constitution. It had unified England and Scotland in the 1640s. And everyone knew that and they had this memory of how it built an empire by everyone signing on to it. And so when we revised that for this country, the intention was, again, to give something people could unify around.
Yeah. And the whole idea that the individual in the church would be the ones dealing with matters of faith, not the government, and that civil magistrates wouldn’t interfere in that was a part of that.
If we just lost that in our history of it, honestly, I mean, we do this all the time. And I don’t hear much talk of John Calvin as an influencer of the founding fathers. It’s almost always Locke and others. But you trace it all the way back to Calvin and say that even some of the founders thought he was essentially, or historians that have said Calvin was a virtual founder of America.
That’s right. It’s surprising. Horace Walpole said, cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian minister and there’s an end of it.
So that influence though, even today, people can feel it. Because we do still, I think, even if we have bad Supreme Court decisions and abusive politicians very often, the American people as a whole still value freedom of thought and freedom of expression, and freedom of religion and not having the state tell them what to think. How do you think that influence in the founding era would have looked on this situation now where we have even some states and local entities telling people what their religion says or doesn’t say, with regard to vaccines, for instance? I mean, they’re literally breaking down their religion and saying, well, no, we don’t see it in the tenets of your faith or because some religious leader in your particular denomination actually said that they supported vaccine passports or whatever the issue may be, they’re quite literally trying to tell people what their denominational tenets are. I mean, that’s come a long ways from the Westminster Confession.
Yeah. And I really think that this emphasis on unity was different from a belief in uniformity. I really think that the key in this establishment clause wording especially was that the Founders wanted to give us unity, but not uniformity in how we handled the establishment of religion. I’m not saying that they wanted. They didn’t disestablish any state established religions when they ratified the Constitution.
And the First Amendment is a promise not to do that, says Congress will not make a law respecting an establishment related. We’re going to leave you guys alone. We’re going to leave the States alone. We promise we will not make a law respecting an establishment of religion. But we will never prohibit the free exercise of religion which is kind of that individual exercise that you’re talking about. And so they were saying we’re going to let the states and the more local communities decide.
And so today, Rick, we have these spectacles of this Furman at school board meetings and things like that, because the communities want to have input in what values and practices are reflected in their local communities. And that is what the earliest Founders wanted. When they came here, they did not protest an establishment of religion. There’s no objection to establish rule of religion in the Declaration of Independence. That was not what they were rebelling against. They were rebelling against not being able to have procedural fairness and local input.
Sounds a little bit like today.
Exactly. And so when they changed the church and state portion of the Westminster Confession for America, they took out that the state would be the guarantor of the purity of the faith or that it would put down heresies. That’s the kind of stuff they took out. We didn’t want that in America. We do not want the government to be the arbiter of what we believe individually at the church level, at the school district level, at the community level. We want the state to give us procedural fairness, and equality with everyone, and even to protect those we don’t agree with. That’s procedural fairness.
And instead, what they said, they did move from a footnote in the European version that the government will protect the church, they move that to the body of the main confession for America. Because the deal was, the church was saying, okay, we’ll put down our arms, we want no part of some kind of warfare over religious beliefs. But you better protect us, government because look at what we’re doing, we are disarming. And so we need the fairness and the freedom that a government is supposed to provide under Romans 13. And we’re going to trust the government to do that.
And the other thing that they did was to say, this new language, no law of any Commonwealth shall interfere, let or hinder, let meaning like a let ball in tennis, not catch up, not hold back, religion or the new exercise thereof. And that syntax, the arrangement of the grammar there is very unusual. And it had not been used, except in the Maryland Toleration Act in the hereafter the Westminster Confession of Faith was written.
So this echo to way back, everybody recognize and Madison didn’t write it, he wanted more enlightenment language about the majority and the minority and the rights of conscience and that kind of language. And Fisher Ames, actually, and Samuel Livermore or congressman who actually wrote it and submitted it; and after a whole summer of wrangling over the wording in the First Amendment, when they came up with this formulation we have now, the Congressional Record said it was somewhat hastily adopted, everybody loved it. They went, yes, this is exactly what we want. Now you’re striking the balance.
And hitting all the right tones. I did not realize so they actually looked at the European Westminster Confession and said, so this part about the state must enforce church law, you’re saying that was essentially a footnote. And they said, no, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to have the state enforcing, but we will have the state defend the freedom of the church?
Yeah. They moved one footnote up to the main body. They did completely remove the part about the state enforcing the pure doctrine and putting down heresy. They took that out complete.
Okay, got you. Alright. And how difficult was that part having essentially a Westminster Confession that would fit America?
It was tricky, I’m sure. But the Presbyterians were already mad at the Presbyterian Church in Europe. And they were about 10 years ahead. There are tremendous parallels between this and the colonies themselves. The Presbyterians were complaining to your Europe, you guys aren’t giving enough support. We’re having to send support to you. Your pastors are immoral. You’re not sending good preachers. And this was a call kind of complaint that the colonies had toward the king too.
And so there’s this kinship, there’s this parallel experience between the church in the colonies that is reflected in this throwing off of the old kind of immoral, corrupt, European model. And we’re going to do something different, no king, but King Jesus, and we want to strike a new balance. And we know they must have communicated with each other. And if you look at a map of Philadelphia, and where the Senate met, the Presbyterians met, and where the Constitutional Convention met, maybe I as a woman, but I think about food, I go, where do they go on their lunch break? You can look at the map and see the merchants coffeehouse and the Indian Queen tavern that’s right between them. And they would go there and talk.
Now the Constitutional Convention was under an oath of silence about what they were doing. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t listen. And they could hear what the Presbyterians were doing, and how they were planning this relationship of church and state, and it’s what worked.
It’s fascinating. And I want to read to the listeners real quick because right out of your article, you quote the American confession where it says “That civil magistrates may not in the least interfere in matters of faith, yet as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord without giving preference.” And that is so close to what we ended up with in the First Amendment. That is fascinating. I love it. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us. How can folks follow you and read more articles in the future?
Oh, thank you. Well, my last name is Farish, F-A-R-I-S-H, is just one R. And they can find me on Facebook and Instagram, LeahFarish.
Leah, we appreciate it so much. Thanks for coming on today.
Thank you, Rick.
That was Leah Farish. And we’ll have her full article, the links to it at our website wallbuilderslive.com today. Back with David Barton. And David, I keep hearing this word catechism and it just seems like I always associate that to the Catholic church because they pretty much, don’t most kids in the Catholic Church go through catechism. But the Protestant church it really doesn’t. But here we’re talking about the Westminster catechism, that’s the Protestant church, right? So why do we not still do more of this catechism thing? You do with Constitution, of course, and we’ve got that 1828 catechism on the Constitution, but not on the Bible as much.
Well, we actually did it in early America, it was a Protestant deal. It was very much Protestant deal. And if you go to Proverbs 22:6, it says, If you train up a child in the way he should go, when he’s old, he won’t depart from it. Well, in the marginal of that, going back to the original language, it doesn’t say when you train up a child, it says when you catechize a child in the way he should go, he won’t depart from it.
So Catechism is a teaching method that uses questions and answers. Now you use catechisms when you’re interested in teaching someone how to think. When you did what we did in the 1920s, and said, we don’t want you to think anymore, we just want you to learn, just listen to what we say and repeat what we say. Here’s the multiple choice test now. Here’s a true/false, here’s a fill in the blank. And this is why we’ve become so gullible today because we don’t teach thinking, we teach learning.
But I’ll take you back to early American education. And we have a collection of early American textbooks that go back all the way to 1690 with our first American textbook published in America, and we have catechism, some music catechisms on history catechisms on electricity, catechisms on entomology, catechisms on science, catechisms on chemistry, catechisms on anything you can name. Catechism was a teaching method. And you’ll find that the first textbook used in America and all those years, the first one I mentioned 1690 was the New England Primer. And the New England Primer had the Westminster shorter catechism in this book.
This is what every first grader learn and we call them first graders, this is when you started school, they didn’t have grades like them back we do. But when you start school, every kid knew the 107 questions and answers. And this was something that was just part of the Protestant world pretty much. Catholics had a catechism as well. So it’s not like just Calvinist or just Presbyterians did this. It was everybody. It was Congregationalist. It was Baptists. It was Anglicans. Everybody went through the shorter catechism.
And so this is really what taught you how to think, taught you how to think about religion, taught you how to think about doctrines, it taught you so many aspects. So catechism, we don’t use them today and that’s because we don’t teach thinking anymore. And because we don’t use them today, and Catholic still do, and by the way, Jews still do as well, we say, well, it must be a Catholic thing. No. No. It’s a historical thing. It was part of education, non-religious catechisms; and then religious catechisms also were specifically the Westminster shorter catechism of 107 questions.
Sounds like it’s exactly what we need to be doing more of both with the Constitution and the Bible, and actually, getting back to that teaching at a young age in a disciplined way, I guess is the word I’m looking for in a proven way.
I’m going to make a recommend. We have reprinted the 1690 New England Primer. Now it’s a 1690 version that was reprinted in 1777, John Hancock is on the front end piece of that because he was a big hero in 1777. But every single American, period, I don’t care what your age is, you’re adult, you can be 90, you can be 70, you can be 17, everybody ought to get that New England Primer and turn to the back of the book and look at those shorter catechism questions and answers. Now, this is what every single kid in America could answer all the way through those years. This is what we taught an education. This was basic.
Every American ought to go back and look at this and read it and try to understand it. It’ll help your faith so much more than you can possibly imagine. Plus, its historical, and you’ll learn how these guys came to be thinkers. But I really would recommend going to the WallBuilders website, getting a New England Primer, I don’t care what age you are, and maybe a first grade textbook, it’s going to be too tough for most of us, including me. This is a very rigorous book, which is how we taught kids to think. But it’s really worth doing that catechism and the book, those 107 questions, they’re great.
Check it out today at wallbuilders.com, folks, it’s called the New England Primer and it’s great. And they’re small. I mean, you could get one for everybody in the family and have some fun with it. You know what, get a New England Primer, put your parents on the spot, ask them the questions do to them what Barton does to me all the time on television and embarrasses me by asking me some question that a third grader could answer 200 years ago, and I can’t even pronounce. It’s actually great stuff. Check it out, New England Primer today at wallbuilders.com. Thanks so much for listening. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.