From J. C. D. Clark, The Language of Liberty 1660-1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World (1994)
Once the Revolution had been firmly identified as the first crusade of the American civil religion, it became necessary to canonise the zealots who had brought it about. The Founding Fathers, where possible, were turned form political opportunists, propagandists or self-seekers of tepid or heterodox religious belief into the Luthers and Calvins, the Melanchthons and Zwinglis of the Novus ordo seclorum. With some exceptions, like the now-notorious Tom Paine, each became the subject of a secular epiphany. Especially was this true of the unlikely figure of George Washington, a stolid man of limited imagination and still more limited religious faith, but now repeatedly hailed (without irony) as the Moses or the Joshua of a redeemed people. On his election to the Presidency in 1789, the Presbyterian General Assembly presented him with a congratulatory address, professing to draw particular comfort from Washington’s personal piety:
Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue. We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief Magistrate, a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the christian religion, who has commended his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of Piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the Gospel of Christ, and on the most public and solumn occasions devoutly acknowledges the government of divine Providence.
Washington’s reply was all they could expect. He championed religious toleration, acknowledged their prayers, and coupled an ecumenical Deity with a lively regard for the value of religion as a social cement:
While I reiterate the possession of my dependence upon Heaven as the source of all public and private blessings; I will observe that the general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry and oeconomy seems in the ordinary course of human affairs are particularly necessary for advancing and confirming the happiness of our country.
By the first centennial, the image of the Revolution as a holy war had expanded within the folk memories of the American sects to the point where the division and ambiguities within those denominations were forgotten. Presbyterians pictured the war as a Presbyterian crusade which sanctified martial heroism, turned the heterodox rhetoric of the Founding Fathers into the idiom of revivalist preaching, traced in the ‘apparent chaos’ of armed rebellions ‘the will of God. . . working toward order and organisation in a constitution depicted in terms reminiscent of the millennium. (389-90)
Peter Lillback got it honestly.
Clark goes on to observe an irony that continues to afflict “conservative” Protestants who do not oppose civil religion as they should, nor are as wary of the broad churchism that almost always traffics with baptisms of civil authority:
. . . this homogenisation of the position of colonial denominations acted to secularise the historical interpretation of the Revolution and to drain the role of the sects of its immense signficance: if most men, regardless of denomination, eventually seemed to have endorsed the Revolution, then the Revolution’s values and causes must by definition have been irrelevant to religious differences.
In other words, confusing the kingdoms brings into the kingdom (the earthly city sacralized) people who are not kingdom people while it empties the church (the foretaste of the heavenly city) of those attributes that make the church unique (and that divide the churches into different communions). It is, in the words of Vernon Dozier, a “big bowl of wrong.”