Thomas Hooker (1586-1647) and the Biblical Roots of American Freedom

on

Article #334

by Bill Nugent

 

There’s a man who lived in early colonial America who’s unknown to most of us, yet he’s called the father of American democracy by historian John Fiske. This man, Thomas Hooker, was born in Leicestershire, England in 1586. He was a Puritan and he was well educated in theology.

 

He earned his Masters degree at Emmanuel College of Cambridge University in 1611. Decades later, his son would graduate from Harvard University, class of 1653. Thomas Hooker served as pastor, preacher and lecturer. He was a leader of the Puritans. The Puritans were a radical sect who worked for major reform of the Church of England. The high churchmen were annoyed by Hooker and summoned him to the Court of High Commission in 1630.

 

Hooker, his wife Susannah and their children fled to the Netherlands and then to the Massachusetts Bay colony in America in 1633. He became pastor of the first church established in Cambridge Massachusetts. The Hooker family and Rev. Samuel Stone and about one hundred others soon left, in 1636, for the wilderness of Connecticut. They founded the town of Hartford and other enclaves which were the first villages of the new colony of Connecticut.

 

Two years later, a constitution called The Fundamental orders of Connecticut  was crafted under Thomas Hooker’s leadership. American historian John Fiske (1842-1901) called it the first written constitution in world history that created a government. This constitution influenced the future US constitution of 1787. Fiske also claimed  that Hooker, more than any other man, was the father of American democracy. (Everipedia.org)

 

Hooker’s contribution was to take the Puritan congregationalist form of government and apply it to the civil government. Congregationalism was a form of church government in which the people of the church held elections to choose the pastor and elders. Hooker applied this democratic concept to the civil government in a more radical way than was done in Massachusetts. Hooker’s descendants included ministers who carried on this practice of elections in both church and state. Over the centuries some of Hooker’s descendants have included Vice President Aaron Burr, President William H. Taft and financier J. P. Morgan.

 

Let’s look at the context in which Hooker operated. Have you ever wondered why the great leaps of political freedom, human rights and equality occurred in Europe and America in the centuries just after the Protestant Reformation? Church reform led to political reform. The sixteenth century was the first time in all of world history that the Bible was freely available to millions of people. The Bible was freely read by people across the continents of Europe and North America.

 

The Bible was available in the languages of the people and was no longer chained to pulpits and restricted to Latin Vulgate language. Biblical concepts of human dignity, equality and freedom became known to all classes of people.

 

Every human government down through ancient and medieval history, including the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Greek city states, the Roman empire, the Celtic clans in the forests of northern Europe, the absolute monarchies of medieval Europe, the eastern despotisms of ancient and medieval China and the tribal chieftains of subsaharan Africa were all tyrannical. They concentrated power in one man or small group of men and trampled on any concept of human rights and dignity. That all began to change, in an accelerated way, in the sixteenth century.

 

The sixteenth century was the century of the Protestant Reformation. Luther nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door in 1517. Luther, Calvin and the other reformers sought to reform the church but they also had much to say about human government. John Calvin criticized the monarchical form of government as having too much power entrusted to the king. The reformers were persecuted by European royalty for promoting this view.

 

Late in the sixteenth century there arose in England a group called the Puritans. The Puritans sought to purify the church of England of every vestige of unbiblical practice. Some Puritans became separatists and formed independent congregations apart from the state church hierarchy. Puritans were outraged by the abuses of power by the  bishops and other clergy that were appointed by the high churchmen. Medieval bishops were often not even born again Christians and many behaved as unaccountable tyrants.

 

The Puritans adopted the congregationalist form of church government in which elections were held so the people could choose the pastor and elders and remove corrupt clergy. Congregationalism was a deviation from the New Testament apostolic form of church government but we must remember, there was no apostolic ministry operating in the sixteenth century church.

 

During the 1500s, the reformers taught about the priesthood of the believer. The Bible in First Peter 2:9 calls Christians a “Royal Priesthood.” The priesthood was not to be restricted to ordained Roman Catholic clergy. Each Christian is a priest of God who has a one on one relationship with God and offers sacrifices of praise and intercession to God.

 

A century later in the 1600s, British and American Puritans, including Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), founder of Hartford Connecticut, began to emphasize the royalty  of the believer. Each Christian is not just a priest, but is a royal priest. We are all equal before God. As the saying goes: “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Every Christian is a king or queen with political rights and privileges.

 

The royal Christians comprise a society composed entirely of royalty. How does a society, composed entirely of royals, form a government? The obvious answer is that they must hold elections. They choose to give temporary power to several of their royal people to write laws, execute laws and judge in accordance with law. Hence, American and British democracy flowed directly out of the biblical concept of the royalty of the believer.

 

Democracy flourished in colonial America but democracy stalled in Britain because the people were beholden to the national Church of England which suppressed Puritan congregationalism. Additionally, by the eighteenth century, the British government was dominated by an assertive king and a parliament that refused to seat any American colonialist as member. The king also vetoed several colonies’ attempts to abolish slavery. This set things up for the movement toward American independence which was, unfortunately, decided violently on the battlefield.

 

One of the most influential of framers of the US constitution was James Madison, (1751-1836), often called the father of the constitution. In his federalist paper number 51 Madison wrote “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” What Madison was referring to was the Bible’s concept of original sin. Men are not angels. Original sin is the biblical teaching that all people are born sinners. No person can be trusted with too much governmental power. John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote much on original sin and he warned against trusting the king with too much power.

 

Today’s secular view is that all people are born “basically good.” If the 1787 constitutional convention was run by secularists they never would have divided power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Nor would secularists have produced the Bill of Rights, which are the first ten amendments to the U.S. constitution, which were ratified in 1791. The concept of human rights also comes from the Bible. Human rights come from the Bible’s doctrine of the sacredness of human life, the equality of all people and the royalty of each Christian. Secularists have no Bible, hence they have no basis for human rights in their secular worldview.

 

The Bible in Genesis 9:6 teaches that humans are created in the image of God and human life is therefore sacred. This is the concept of the right to life and the dignity of Man. I could quote many passages in the Old Testament that command justice for the poor and the oppressed that show that social justice is given to us in the Bible. The New Testament in Galatians 5:1 and Romans 14:1-5 gives the concept of personal liberty in decision making. The Bible clearly teaches that regarding certain issues, each person should “be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5 NASB). This is the biblical concept of individual autonomy or self-governance. The fact that all people are created equal is given by divine revelation in the Bible in Acts 10:34-35 and Galatians 3:26-28.

 

The Bible even gives us the weekend. The fact that Saturday and Sunday are not regular business days is because of the Biblical Sabbath. Jews and Adventists believe Saturday is the Sabbath. Most Christians traditionally believe Sunday is the biblical day of rest. So we got in the habit of taking both days off!

 

The constitutional convention of 1787 had its roots in centuries of biblical teaching about the nature of man and the need for limitations on power. The U.S. constitution refers to Jesus in article seven which contains the following: “the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.” The founding fathers, in giving the date of the signing of the constitution wrote that it was in the year of “our Lord.” Who was their Lord? Their Lord is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ! Since there is a direct reference to Jesus in the US constitution it should be difficult for a secularist to argue against a nonsectarian public display of the Ten Commandments or the placing of the motto “In God We Trust” on our coins and bills

 

The Bible gives us the basis for the best political philosophy because the Bible teaches us the real truth about human beings (created in God’s image, sacredness of human life, equality of people). The Bible teaches that people are mired in sin from birth (original sin). The Bible also gives us the true soteriology (doctrine of salvation from sin).

 

Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over 300 prophecies that were written in the Old Testament hundreds of years before His birth. Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel. The prophecies foretold that Christ would suffer and die, taking upon Himself the penalty we deserved because of our sins. The prophecies also foretold that He would rise from the dead. Jesus offers forgiveness of sins to all who turn to Him in repentance. I invite you to call upon the name of Jesus Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins!

Steps to salvation:

Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

  • 1) Believe that God created you and loves you and sent the Messiah (Messiah is Hebrew for Christ) to redeem you.
  • 2) Believe that Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of over 300 Bible prophecies to die for you, to take upon Himself the penalty of your sins (Isaiah 53:5-6, John 6:29, Romans 4:5, First Peter 3:18).
  • 3) Turn from sin and call on the name of Jesus to receive forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:13).
  • 4) Receive Jesus as Savior and experience the new birth (John 1:12, Acts 2:38).
  • 5) Follow Jesus Christ as Lord (John 14:21).

Prayer to receive salvation:

“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:

“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!



(C) 2016 William P. Nugent, permission granted to email or republish for Christian outreach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *