The United States of America honors those who defend it and have even died for it. But even before it was a nation, soldiers were gathering to take up the cause of the American colonies against their British overlords. They would be led by men, though, whose first business wasn't war, but prayer.
Feeling the lash of British oppression, these men all colonial representatives met at Philadelphia's Carpenters' Hall in 1774.
"When the colonialists were beginning to worry about all the problems happening with the British assault on their liberties, they came to Philadelphia," said Philadelphia historian Dr. Peter Lillback of the Providence Forum.
Wouldn't Meet in Puny New York City
He explained, "This was the big city. It was much bigger than the little farm town of New York. This is the place where it all happened. Plus, Philadelphia was also centrally located. So it was a big city right in the middle."
Standing in front of Carpenters' Hall, he told CBN News, "You might say the first meeting of what becomes our country is in this building."
But no one was sure how to begin a Continental Congress. Patriotic firebrand Samuel Adams jumped in with a controversial proposal that stirred up instant debate.
'Let's Pray' – 'We Can't Pray!'
Because Lillback said Adam's proposed, "'Let's open in prayer.' Isn't that amazing? America is opened up with a proposal for prayer, and it begins with a debate over prayer. 'We can't pray!'"
Why? Lillback points out these representatives were Catholics or Protestants from a wide array of denominations.
"They never prayed together," he explained. "They all thought they were from different religions. They thought 'We're biblical or we're true and they're not!'"
His Guys Chopped Their Leader's Head Off
Adams was a Congregationalist – basically a Puritan like those who under Oliver Cromwell fought a vicious civil war against England's Anglicans in the 1600s.
"And the Puritans had chopped off the head of the head of the Anglican Church. He's called Charles the First, the king," Lillback said.
'I Can Pray with Any Man Who Loves His God'
But Adams made a revolutionary statement.
Lillback recalled Adams commented, "I can pray with any man who loves his God and loves his country.' So here he is, a Congregationalist. And he says, 'I hear there's just such a man over in that church over there' – the Anglican church."
Adams proposed its pastor, Jacob Duche, open the first Continental Congress in prayer.
Adams Laid the Foundation for a Nation Where Believers of All Stripes Can Come Together
Lillback contends, "It was at that moment that Samuel Adams created the American ecumenical spirit, wherein the public square, we can walk over our denominational boundaries. Literally, if you will, he stepped over the aisle."
Duche came, but all dressed up in fancy, priestly robes.
Lillback explained that led Massachusetts' representative John Adams to take quill and ink: "As he writes his beloved Abigail: 'He came in his full pontificals,' which meant he was really decked out with the very things that the Puritans hated.
Awe of What the Word of God Said for These Representatives
Duche held the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which Puritans loathed. But then Duche began the reading set long ago for that day in the prayer book. With a possible war looming, the Congress felt it was a totally prophetic moment as the reading was from Psalm 35, about being loyal to an elder who suddenly betrays.
"That was the very sense of what they felt," Lillback explained. "That 'we had been loyal to the mother country and they're turning against us and harming us.'"
It started out, "Fight against them that fight against me."
Lillback said Adams wrote, "'As you would have thought, in God's providence that was put in the Book of Common Prayer just for this day for us.'"
'It's a Beautiful Thing'
Duche's prayer then asked God for freedom from the rod of America's oppressor and ended in the name of Jesus Christ.
"It concludes in the name of Jesus Christ," Lillback shared. "And I think it's a beautiful thing to realize that American colonialists found a way to come together. They did it in the Gospel name of Christ, crossing denominational boundaries."
He concluded, "It's quite a remarkable moment that that's where the American story began -- in prayer -- as opposite sides came together for a greater good in the name of Christ."
What is prayer? Does God hear me if I pray? Your important questions about prayer are addressed here.