Pastor and Soldier: Pastor John Muhlenberg reveals to his congregation his soldier’s uniform.
During the American Revolution, two brothers — both pastors — greatly disagreed on whether or not the church should involve itself in government affairs. By the end of the conflict, they strongly agreed that Christians should fight for freedom from the pulpit and on the battlefield.
John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg pastored two churches in Woodstock, Virginia, and served as an officer in the Continental Army. In addition to his religious and military duties, John Peter also served in the Virginia legislature.
Frederick Augustus, John’s brother, on the other hand, proclaimed that pastors should never be involved in politics and voiced his displeasure about his brother’s actions in scathing letters to John.
One January day, while America was still under colonial rule, British soldiers descended upon Williamsburg, Virginia, entering homes and stealing armaments and other things. Enraged, American hero Patrick Henry confronted them with a force 5,000 farmers strong. Inspired by Henry’s boldness, John Peter rallied his church to action in his next.
Sunday sermon, January 21, 1776, taking Ecclesiastes 3 — “To everything, there’s a time, purpose, season” — as his text. He told them that the situation, at present, was that of war.
He spoke of the event in Williamsburg, and the people of the church offered their help, though they didn’t know what specifically they could do.
After the sermon, John Peter removed his black robe in the presence of his congregation, revealing his Continental Army uniform. He encouraged the Christians before him to defend their God-given civil liberties. The cost of complacency would be the loss of freedom. Three hundred men, ready to help, gathered to the preacher at the back of the church.
Frederick Augustus, a pastor in New York City, wrote to his brother, reprimanding him for his political activism. John stood resolved that he was both a citizen of heaven and of earth. The disagreement continued until British troops entered New York City and attacked Frederick Augustus’ church — abruptly changing his mind about political activism. Watching them violate the house of the Lord, Frederick realized that he, too, needed to take a stand for freedom.
The newly reformed brother became the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and helped the state of Pennsylvania craft its constitution. Just two elected officials’ signatures adorn the Bill of Rights: Vice President John Adams and Representative Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg. John Peter became one of Washington’s best generals in the American Revolution. Today, a statue of John Peter revealing his military uniform from under his preacher’s robe stands in the U.S. Capitol building.
Two brothers, united in Christ and for country, fought for a freedom which, 245 years later, is still worth fighting for.