“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” – The American Declaration of Independence
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” – Hebrews 12:1-2
Yesterday, we celebrated America’s 240th birthday, and throughout our nation’s history pastors and God’s church have played a role in shaping who we are. Today, I am introducing a new column called “Man of God.” The purpose of this column is to inspire us as we remember how other men and women of God before us have served the Lord and our nation. In today’s column we will feature Pastor James Caldwell, “The fighting chaplain.”
Americans had many reasons for fighting for independence from the British crown. For the church, no reason stood as strong as religious freedom. For Christian Americans remembered their time in Europe far too well. Many were persecuted and forced to worship in a church they did not believe in. Many fled to America to escape the tyranny of the European governments.
The family of Pastor James Caldwell was one of many to do so. The Caldwells fled from France to Scotland and later came to America, where they would start a Presbyterian community in Virginia.
By the year 1770 religious freedom was changing in America. Churches that were not part of the established church, the Church of England, were required to pay taxes to the established church. Permits were required to preach God’s Word. Preaching in private homes was banned. Church doors were required to be open so that the King could send spies. Any dissenting ministers were imprisoned.
Pastor James Caldwell remembered the persecution of Christians in Europe, and in 1770 he joined the growing number of Virginians and American colonists speaking against the Crown and for American independence. He encouraged other Presbyterian ministers to do the same.
When war broke out against England, Pastor Caldwell not only encouraged members of his church to join the continental army, but he also joined himself. For the next few years Pastor Caldwell served his church, his family, his community, and the continental army. Pastor Caldwell was actively engaged in the spiritual lives of the troops and often preached messages to soldiers. While marching through communities, Pastor Caldwell would stop and share a timely message, urging colonists to hope on the Lord.
American independence did not come easily, and it did not come without great cost. Discouragement plagued the young United States, as the war dragged on and lives were lost. But Pastor Caldwell gave his life to keeping America’s eyes on the Lord, so their hope was not in the next battle, but in the providence of God. For this cause Pastor Caldwell sacrificed everything, including the burning of his home and church, the murder of his wife by British troops, and later the loss of his own life.
Because of the sacrifice of men and women like Pastor Caldwell, we get to live in a nation where we are free to share the gospel with minimal government infringement. Communities like my little hometown of Earlham are filled with churches that have many theological differences. They can express them freely and plant churches freely. Nowhere else in the world will you find this.
Freedom was not free. The church has played a role in bringing the message of freedom to so many in so many different ways, freedom in this life and the next. Let us never quit being fighters for freedom.