WAS AMERICA FOUNDED as a CHRISTIAN NATION?
The question of our Biblical origins has been bandied around in intellectual circles for many years, especially now that there is a renewed Christian involvement in the culture of America. The major hurdle in answering the question is to define terms properly. The concept of a Christian nation is often written off because of misconceptions as to what this means. A Christian nation is not one in which all people in a society are Christians, just as in an Islamic country, not all people are necessarily Moslems. But in a Christian nation, as our Founders would have defined it, the principles and institutional foundations are Biblically based and the people in general share a Biblical world-view.
Nor should we confuse the term “Christian nation” with a “Christian state.” Since the word state refers to a political body or the body politic of the nation, the term “Christian state” would mean one in which the government ruled in religious matters through a state church. This would, of course, preclude religious liberty.
All Laws Are a Codification of a Religious System
Nevertheless, it is imperative to understand that all laws of a nation are the codification of a presuppositional world-view, i.e., the laws of the Untied States have presupposed from the beginning that the Bible was the foundation of our system. Rev. John Wingate Thornton said:
“The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY.”
Rev. Thorton’s words condense and paraphrase comments Adams made in a July 4, 1837 oration, which are even more powerful in their full statement:
“Is it not that, in the chain of events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation?
Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemers mission? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets 600 years before?”
Such convictions as these concerning the Christian foundations of our government persisted into comparatively recent times. John W. Whitehead analyzes the Supreme Court’s historic understanding of the relationship between Christianity and government in the United States:
“In 1892 the United States Supreme Court made an exhaustive study of the supposed connection between Christianity and the government of the United States. After researching hundreds volumes of historical documents, the Court asserted ‘these references add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a religious people … a Christian nation.’ Likewise in 1931, Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland reversed the 1892 decision in relation to another case and reiterated that Americans are a ‘Christian people’ and in 1952 Justice William O. Douglas affirmed ‘we are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.'”
Christianity the Dominant Influence in America
America was under the dominant influence of Biblical Christianity from 1620 until well into the nineteenth century. There are many who, in their desire to lay claim to the great accomplishments of that era, have tried to minimize the Christian influence and take the credit for themselves. But only God deserves the glory for what He did in the founding of this great nation.
People from many denominations came to America in the early years, but the vast majority of them shared a common faith in the basic tenets of Christianity. Whitehead’s research reveals that:
“When the Constitution was adopted and sent to the States for ratification, the population of America numbered only about 3 1/4 million. The Christian population numbered at least 2 million. James C. Hefley has commented that about 900,000 were Scotch or Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, with another million also holding to basic Calvinistic beliefs.”
Christian Nation in Apostasy
It must be admitted that today, although we are still essentially a Christian nation in form (i.e., the Constitutional, legal structure, church affiliation), we are not one in conduct. For the first 250
years of our existence Christian character determined the conduct of self-government in homes, churches, and civil society. But today we have forgotten our heritage and only the skeleton remains. Even so, deep within the American character there lingers a Christian conscience ready to be revived by the spirit of God through awakened American Christian patriots.
It should be noted that by stating that America was a Christian nation we are not saying that we were the “New Israel” or a special race that God must bless. Quite the contrary, God Blessed America because our forefathers built their nation with reliance on Him and His Word, and because God had a Gospel purpose for our nation. If we turn from His purpose we can expect His judgment, perhaps greater judgment than other nations because “to whom much is given, much is required.”
Every nation can be a nation under God if it chooses to follow Jesus Christ. Our history is unique in that we were allowed to express the full flower of Christian civilization and government. This fact should give us cause to ponder the price we have paid for the maintenance of our Christian liberty. Will we be the generation that presides over its death?
Computers for Christ – Chicago