“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
Without question, David Barton is the leading history teacher among those who long to hear stories about the Christian founding of America, and as we know, for the past year, he has operated as Glenn Beck’s historian on Fox News. As believers, we all rejoice to hear about those who stood strong in the faith, especially in the face of difficult trials. But does this apply to the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution? Were they Bible believing Christian men fighting to establish a Christian nation? According to teachers like David Barton, the answer is yes. But as we show in the film, The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers, much of Barton’s historical information is quoted out of its full context. He gives the false impression that the revolutionaries supported Christianity, when in truth they rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and were even hostile to its precepts.
JOHN ADAMS & THE HOLY GHOST
Perhaps the greatest example of Barton’s mishandling of history is a quote he presents by John Adams, the second president of the United States. The quote is from a letter by Adams to Benjamin Rush, in which the author writes about the Holy Ghost. When presented by David Barton, the quote makes it appear that John Adams had a strong Christian conviction. Immediately, anyone who has studied Adams in history would be concerned, since he was a well-known Unitarian. In other words, Adams did not even believe that the Holy Ghost existed.
In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wrote specifically against the concept of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and the Christian belief that these three are one. Adams, like many of the revolutionaries, was influenced by the Pagan concept of “Reason” which is the belief that the wisdom of the natural man should govern human affairs. While Adams rejected Biblical revelation, his true faith was in what he called the revelation of human understanding, which caused him to reject the Holy Trinity. He wrote to Jefferson:
“The human understanding is a revelation … This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one …. Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine Shechinah, and there told that one was three and three one, we might not have had courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it. The thunders and lightnings and earthquakes, and the transcendent splendors and glories, might have overwhelmed us with terror and amazement, but we could not have believed the doctrine. We should be more likely to say in our hearts — whatever we might say with our lips—, This is chance. There is no God, no truth. This is all delusion, fiction, and a lie, or it is all chance.” (John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1818)
Notice, Adams is saying that even if he and Jefferson were on Mount Sinai with Moses, they still could not believe the doctrine of the Trinity. This stubborn form of unbelief was warned about by Christ Himself in Luke 16:31 where He says, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
The same wording from Adams’ letter where he says: “one was three and three one” – which is a clear reference to Trinitarian doctrine, was also used by his wife, Abigail Adams. In a letter to her son, she wrote:
"I acknowledge myself a Unitarian -- Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God … There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three." (Abigail Adams, Letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, May 5, 1816)
Clearly, she agreed with her husband. In the same letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams goes on to rail against those who have believed Trinitarian doctrine in the churches. He acknowledges that they would reject the idea of Adams as being a Christian. He says:
“Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced.” (Adams, Letter to Jefferson, Sept. 14, 1818)
The reference to “Calvinistic” is because John Calvin had famously condemned Michael Servetus who also rejected the concept of a Triune God; while his sleight toward “Athanasian divines” refers to those who embraced the Athanasian Creed, which was a confession of faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
BARTON & THE LETTER FROM ADAMS
It turns out that David Barton actually owns a copy of this letter from Adams to Benjamin Rush, which he presents with subtle dramatic flair in his presentations. He has shown this letter on the Glenn Beck program, and also in church. He holds it up, as an old looking piece of parchment paper that convinces the audience that what he is about to tell them must be true. This is what he is famous for. I have even heard Christians reject sound information to the contrary simply because they saw Barton holding “original source documents” when he spoke to them. His letter from Adams, of course, is true; but not the way he presents it.
In his church presentation, Barton begins by saying, “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of John Adams’ letters. I brought one just in case you might want to see one.” Then he walks toward the congregation, gently holding up the letter, in what can only be called a clever bit of theatrics. He says, “He wrote this to Benjamin Rush … signed on the back by John Adams here …” pointing to the reverse of the letter.
Barton continues, “But I want you to see the kind of stuff that John Adams would write in his letters …” Then he has the letter presented on a slide screen so everyone can see it; but of course, the writing itself is so small that no one could possibly read it. Then a red arrow points to a particular paragraph. Barton says, “I’m gonna read from the bottom paragraph … you see where the arrow is pointing? It says, the Holy Ghost. Look what John Adams declares in this letter.”
Then Barton presents the following quote:
“The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in His truth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost … There is no authority civil or religious: There can be no legitimate government but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation.”
Then with a wry tone, Barton says: “I don’t think I saw that on the HBO special.” His implication is that the producers of the film, “John Adams” somehow covered up Adams’ Christian faith. His rhetoric feeds into the “us against them” mentality that many Christians have toward left wing media, and fuels Barton’s repeated assertion that the “revisionists” have covered up the “faith” of the Revolutionary Founders. But what was their faith? In truth, the letter Barton is presenting provides some of the most damning evidence found anywhere, and is consistent with many of the writings of the Revolutionaries, proving their contempt for Bible based Christianity.
In this letter, John Adams was not speaking in approval of the Holy Ghost, but was rather mocking the idea of it and of the faith of true Christians. As we showed before, Adams did not believe the Holy Ghost was real, and he spoke about it in what can only be called insulting and irreverent terms.
The full context of the letter is presented below, and can also be found on David Barton’s Wallbuilders website.
“The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost … There is no authority civil or religious: There can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation. Although this is all artifice and cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lie down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagots for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe human nature.” (John Adams, Letter to Benjamin Rush, December 21, 1809)
Notice that Adams says that belief in the authority of the Holy Ghost is “all artifice and cunning.” The word “artifice” means clever deception or fakery. When he says “they would lay down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagots for it,” he is referring to Christians who have died for the faith. He then calls them “weak, ignorant, dupe[s].” Obviously, Adams’ intent in mentioning the Holy Ghost was the exact opposite of what was presented by David Barton. How Barton, who claims to have read more of the Founders writings than anyone else, could have overlooked this, we can only wonder.
The question is, why would Barton quote the letter out of context and then show the whole thing on his website? It is this writer’s opinion that he does such things for two reasons: 1) he knows that most of his audience will not double-check his information; and 2) so he can always refute claims of manipulation. “I wasn’t trying to deceive anyone,” he can say. “After all, I presented the whole letter on my website.”
The Bible tells us to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) and to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) that was once delivered to us by Jesus and the Apostles. The purpose of this article is to remind our Christian brethren that our loyalty should be to Christ and the Gospel, “not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nothing” (1 Corinthians 2:6).
Furthermore, the Scriptures are very clear that if any man does not abide in the “doctrine of Christ” he should not be received in the church and should not receive the blessing or approval of Christians (2 John 9-11). As such, should Christians receive the Founding Fathers into our houses of worship today?