Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Kopel on Mayhew:

Liberty Magazine has a great article by David Kopel on Jonathan Mayhew, a founding era preacher who coined the phrase, "no taxation without representation." Coincidentally, Mayhew has been the topic of much discussion on this blog as of late.

As Kopel's article notes, Mayhew preached pro-Revolutionary sermons from the pulpit and used the Bible to justify revolt. The problem was, Scripture, in Romans 13, seems to explicitly forbid revolt against government. Indeed, traditional interpretation of the Bible, John Calvin's for instance, held that the Bible, in no uncertain terms, demands obedience to civil leaders and forbids revolution.

Mayhew was also a theological unitarian who took a very unorthodox approach to Biblical interpretation. Kopel's article accurately states:

Mayhew rejected these Calvinist principles in favor of modern, Enlightenment views. Indeed, he even rejected the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity (that the Godhead is composed of three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Mayhew contended that God was One — which implied that Jesus was not God, but instead was simply mankind's mediator and advocate with God. He was one of the most influential forerunners of Unitarianism in America. Yet he always considered himself a Congregationalist, as did the members of the Old West Church, which could have dismissed him if they chose. They didn't. And Harvard was so impressed with Mayhew that he was named a lecturer in 1765. His insistence on the importance of the individual conscience became not only a Unitarian doctrine but also a cornerstone of broader American cultural beliefs about religious freedom.

The controversy is whether Mayhew's unorthodox "revision" of traditional theological Christian beliefs also parallels his "revision" of the traditional understanding of Romans 13, which, when applied to the American Revolution, obviously holds such to be a biblically unjustified act.

I'm not going to try to resolve this controversy in this post. As I noted in a comment:

Ultimately, regarding Romans 13 and the right to revolt, like other important moral issues -- slavery, and religious liberty -- one could argue that the Bible gives no definite answer and orthodox [and unorthodox, I might add] Christians have been on both sides of the debate and have quoted Scripture to justify their positions.

1 comment:

Steve Scott said...

I view the revolution a different way. The colonies were biblical establishments of civil government. States are given the sword by God to punish evildoers, and this includes war against other evil governments. Parliament was the unbiblical attacker on legitimate biblical civil aurhority, so the colonies used the sword against Parliament as a godly punishment of evil. It was Parliament who was the revolutionary, not the colonies. So the American Revolution is a bit of a misnomer, as it was more of a defensive counter-revolution. My 2 cents.