Few people realize our educational system in the United States began as a direct result of religion. One of the main reasons many of the pilgrims came here was for religious freedom. Upon arriving, the early settlers taught the Bible at home. Soon they began to develop an educational system for schools and community. The local minister was usually the teacher and the Bible was the center of all the education.
Within eighteen years after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the first college was established. It is known as Harvard and its purpose is etched above its gates and says in part; “…one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity: dreading leaving an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” Harvard’s “Rules and Precepts” adopted in 1646 included the following essentials: “Everyone shall consider the main end of his life and studies to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life.” Due to these ideas, calculations show that some fifty-two percent of the seventeenth-century graduates of Harvard became ministers.
Yale University was established in 1701 because many felt that Harvard was too far away or too expensive and that the spiritual climate had so declined they didn’t desire to go there. The stated purpose for the establishment of Yale was to train “learned, pious, and orthodox,” ministers through the classic arts and sciences.
In 1746, during the religious “First Great Awakening” in America, The College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton started. Its purpose also was to train men for the ministry. Princeton maintained its religious vigor longer than any of the Ivy League schools.
Dartmouth began in 1754 from a desire to reach the Indian tribes and educate and Christianize English youth as well.
Every collegiate institution founded the colonies before the Revolution, with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania was established by some branch of the Church. Even in this great university, evangelism played a large part in its establishment and growth.
In all, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 well-known schools began as minister training schools, but have gone far afield from their original purpose. These include such schools as William and Mary, Duke University, Phillips University, Texas Christian University, Culver-Stockton College, Lynchburg College, Transylvania College, Drake University, Brown, Butler and others. Many of them still train ministers, but their main end is secular education.
How did this come about? The answer varies with the schools. Some began to desire “academic excellence” above their original purpose. Others failed to ensure the faithfulness of their faculty toward this end. Princeton’s charter was designed to ensure the faithfulness of the faculty, but in time pressure came from the alumni to change this situation.