January 21, 2017
Peter stood in his pulpit looking out across his congregation. He knew the sermon he was about to preach was the most important one in his life. Choosing the text specifically for the day, he began to recite Ecclesiastes 3:1, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."
He proceeded with his message while the congregation hung on his every word. As he came to the end, Peter stepped down from the pulpit as to address the people in a more personal manner. He began, "In the language of the Holy Writ, there was a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away." With every eye on him, he continued, 'There is a time to fight and that time has now come." With that, Peter whipped off his clerical robe, revealing his Continental Army officer uniform underneath.
Peter left the sanctity of the altar and walked down the center aisle to the rear of the church. Outside, a drum began to roll. Before exiting he ask, "Who among you is with me?" With that, one by one, men in the congregation rose and followed Peter out the door. A total of 300 patriots from his congregation joined the Continental Army by the end of the day.
Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg was known as “the fighting parson of the American Revolution.” A well known and well respected military man, he was also a prominent and highly regarded minister. After becoming a licensed Lutheran pastor in 1769, Muhlenberg’s first assignment was with his father, Henry, ministering to congregations in New Jersey. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a German Lutheran pastor, immigrated to America as a missionary in 1742 to help organize the disconnected Lutheran churches already in the New World, such as those started by your ancestor, Rev. John Casper Stoever. Muhlenberg is credited for founding the first Lutheran church denomination in North America and is considered the father of the Lutheran Church in the United States.
After marrying Anna Barbara Meyer the following year, Peter Muhlenberg received his own church in Woodstock, Virginia. Even though the Shenandoah Valley was primarily settled by Pennsylvania Lutherans, Anglicanism was Virginia’s established state church. Muhlenberg traveled to London to be ordained in the Anglican church so he could legally minister to the German Lutherans of his area.
When news of the Battle of Bunker Hill reached Muhlenberg, he began to rethink his position. (see and ) For years he had been preaching, along with many others, about freedom and independence. They taught about the evils of tyranny, and God’s plan for liberty. Following in the footsteps of George Whitfield, these men were labeled the “Black Robed Regiment” by the British. (see , , and ) In their eyes, this regiment was far more dangerous than any military outfit they could encounter as these ministers sewed the seeds of independence deep in the minds and hearts of the people.
Muhlenberg is perhaps the most iconic member of the “Black Robed Regiment” and on January 21, 1776, he decided it was time to practice what he preached.
Days before he gave his fateful sermon, Rev. Peter Muhlenberg received a letter from General George Washington. The circular letter was sent to Protestant Churches requesting the assistance in assembling regiments for the Revolutionary Army. Muhlenberg enlisted before Sunday, receiving the rank of colonel. He and the 300 men from his congregation formed the 8th Virginia Regiment.
Muhlenberg’s regiment saw action in several major battles including Charleston, Brandywine (see ), Morristown, Stony Point, Monmouth Courthouse(see ), and Yorktown (see ). They also spent the winter at Valley Forge with Gen. Washington. (see and ) Muhlenberg became a trusted and valued commander in Washington’s Army, reaching the rank of Major General. When Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Muhlenberg was front and center for the event.
After the war, Muhlenberg did not feel right entering the pulpit again following his years on the battlefield. Though he continued to be an active member in the Lutheran church, he turned his professional focus to politics. He served in the first, third and sixth Congresses as a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania. A leading Democratic-Republican, his influence helped elect Thomas Jefferson in 1800. (see ) Muhlenberg was also elected to the U.S. Senate but resigned before serving. Instead, he accepted the position of U.S. customs supervisor in the Pennsylvania district.
Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg died on his 61st birthday, October 1, 1807, at his home at Gray's Ferry located on the Schuylkill River. A statue commemorates Muhlenberg in the Capital building’s Small House Rotunda.
Peter’s brother, Frederick Muhlenberg, was also a minister and located in New York. He initially rejected pastors participating in the war or politics, and he told Peter as much. Peter explained to his brother in a letter: “I am a Clergyman it is true, but I am a member of the Society as well as the poorest Layman, and my Liberty is as dear to me as any man, shall I then sit still and enjoy myself at Home when the best Blood of the Covenant is spilling? ...So far am I from thinking that I act wrong, I am convinced it is my duty to do so and duly I owe to God and my country." Frederick's views changed after the British attacked New York and desecrated his church.
Following the war, Frederick was also elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania along with his brother. Frederick, however, became the first Speaker of the House. His home is known as “The Speaker’s House” and is now a museum. Frederick’s portrait hangs in the Capitol building’s Speaker’s Lobby.
During the war, it was believed the British sought to hang Peter and Frederick's father, Henry. He wrote about the threat stating, “Toward evening came a report that they were near-by and going to take me. I cannot flee, much less leave my sick wife behind, so I must await whatever God’s holy providence and governance…has ordained for me and commit it to him, the Lord of Lords…” The Lord protected Henry as the British never came.
Because many want to deny the impact of pastors, churches and religion on the founding of our country, stories such as the Muhlenbergs’ are omitted from our history and text books. But the truth is, men of faith fought for America’s freedom both in the pulpit and on the battlefield. The idea of ‘separation of church and state’ is an unconstitutional concept used by those with an agenda to reject religion. (see and ) A new “Black Robed Regiment” has formed in recent years, fighting this new battle for religious freedom. As their forefather’s did, they are using the pulpit to fight the oppression of the government regarding what the church can and can’t do.
Liberty, though I love to cheer the boldness of our clergy in rejecting tyrannical governments, I must remind myself daily that this is our temporary home. We are in this world, however, we are not of this world. That doesn't mean we don’t fight for our freedoms, but it is important to remember that is not our primary duty to God. No matter what regulations and laws our government passes, our purpose it to spread the Gospel to everyone we can. Our goal is to witness to Christ’s saving grace, helping others reach our eternal home.
A war is waging and the battles are over souls. As with Muhlenberg, we are definitely soldiers, but of a much bigger, much stronger, much more worthy army. As the hymn goes, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” We will fight many battles during our lifetime and it is our duty to engage. But no matter what happens, always know the war is already won. Christ obtained victory for us 2000 years ago when he hung on the cross for our sins. Nonetheless, we still fight on.
So, as I go out into this world to face Satan, I ask, “Who among you is with me?”
That’s my 2 cents.
WHO AMONG YOU
IS WITH ME?