The Liberty to be Christian
Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
Is America a Christian Nation? (Or Pluralistic?)
A famous political philosopher to whose views on the formation of governments most Americans subscribed, John Locke (1632-1704) wrote profoundly important treatises on religion. His letters on toleration became a bible to many in the eighteenth century, who were still contending against the old theories of religious uniformity. Locke also argued for the "reasonableness" of Christianity but rejected the efforts of Toland and other deists to claim him as their spiritual mentor.
Does America have the Freedom to be a Christian Nation?
Founding Documents have the source of their ideas in the Bible -- rooted in Scripture. Over 100 Colonial Constitutions and Compacts written affirm depends on and authority of God, Jesus and the Bible. Many default to Scripture "if there be any lack of ordinance".
The Political ideas of 1760-1865 most quoted source was the Bible (34%). The majority sources (85%) where that of Biblically Informed and/or Christian scholars: Blackstone, Locke, Montesque.
1970's book "The Light and the Glory", by Peter Marshall Jr. and David Manuel (Did God have a plan for America). "U. S. had originated as a Christian nation, had had a special calling from God to be a light to the world, and had fallen away from God, forgetting the Lord’s “definite and extremely demanding plan for America.”"
The FORM of government set forth in the Constitution is harmony with God's view of man in the Bible: Man is a Sinner and Prone to Sin
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Thomas Jefferson explained the constitution acts as a chain to bind down the power of men. The U.S. Constitution is is regarded as the oldest written and codified national constitution in force. A Major part of the content of US Constitution is the LIMITATION and SEPARATION OF POWER.
7 Original articles gave the FRAME of government -- Articles 1-3 describe the 3 branches of government.
- LEGISLATIVE - bicameral Congress: Senate and the House (Article One) -- CREATES THE LAW
- EXECUTIVE - president (Article Two) -- CARRIES OUT THE LAW
- JUDICIAL - Supreme Court and other federal courts (Article Three) -- INTERPRETS THE LAW
- Articles Four, Five, and Six embody concepts of federalism describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments, the states in relationship to the federal government, and the shared process of constitutional amendment.
- Article Seven establishes the procedure used by the thirteen States to ratify it.
- God can righteously carry out all 3 functions: Isa 33:22 For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
SUPREME COURT - In an 1892 Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, justice DAVID JOSIAH Brewer stated that America is a "Christian nation".
These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. 143 U.S. 457 (1892)
In a 1905 book titled: The United States: A Christian Nation, Brewer explained further:
But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that people are in any matter compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Neither is it Christian in the sense that all of its citizens are either in fact or name Christian. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian Nation—in fact, as the leading Christian Nation of the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has substantial basis—one which justifies its use.
Who were the FOUNDING FATHERS?: There’s no official consensus on who should be considered a Founding Father. On the whole, though, it’s applied to those leaders who initiated the Revolutionary War and framed the Constitution. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Samuel Adams, John Jay, John Hancock, Joseph Warren, Nathanael Greene, etc.. <<Historian Thomas Fleming: "I find the term Founding Fathers trite. The Founding Generation did not view the "founding fathers" as we do. Adams was despised by half the people, Jefferson by the other half. At first, the men Americans most venerated were military heroes, Washington of course, and many local favorites: in New England, Old Put, the Fighting Quaker, Henry Knox, and the martyred Joseph Warren; in the South, Lighthorse Harry, the Swamp Fox, the Carolina Gamecock. Then, with Jefferson’s ascent to power and the politically inspired veneration of the Declaration of Independence, the 56 “signers.” Not until the 50th Jubilee, when both Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, did Americans begin to feature the small crew we know today.>>
- RELIGION In colonies after 1700, religion was in the "ascension rather than the declension"; A "rising vitality in religious life". From 1700 onward colonies were in a state of "feverish growth." Figures on church attendance and church formation support these opinions. Between 1700 and 1740, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the population attended churches, which were being built at a headlong pace.
Toward mid-century, The Great Awakening swept the English-speaking world, as religious energy vibrated between England, Wales, Scotland and the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. In America, the Awakening signaled the advent of an encompassing evangelicalism--the belief that the essence of religious experience was the "new birth," inspired by the preaching of the Word. It invigorated even as it divided churches. The supporters of the Awakening and its evangelical thrust--Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists--became the largest American Protestant denominations by the first decades of the nineteenth century. Opponents of the Awakening or those split by it--Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists--were left behind.
Another religious movement that was the antithesis of evangelicalism made its appearance in the eighteenth century. Deism, which emphasized morality and rejected the orthodox Christian view of the divinity of Christ, found advocates among upper-class Americans. Conspicuous among them were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Deists, never more than "a minority within a minority," were submerged by evangelicalism in the nineteenth century.
DEISM: the religion of nature -- religious truth should be subject to the authority of human reason rather than divine revelation. . In his widely read The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine, the principal American exponent of Deism, called Christianity “a fable.” Paine, the protégé of Benjamin Franklin, denied “that the Almighty ever did communicate anything to man, by…speech,…language, or…vision.”
Whatever their beliefs, the Founders came from similar religious backgrounds. Most were Protestants. The largest number were raised in the three largest Christian traditions of colonial America—
- Anglicanism (as in the cases of John Jay, George Washington, and Edward Rutledge),
- Presbyterianism (as in the cases of Richard Stockton and the Rev. John Witherspoon), and
- Congregationalism) (as in the cases of John Adams and Samuel Adams).
- Other Protestant groups included the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Lutherans, and the Dutch Reformed. Three Founders—Charles Carroll and Daniel Carroll of Maryland and Thomas Fitzsimmons of Pennsylvania—were of Roman Catholic heritage.
- Most were baptized, listed on church rolls, married to practicing Christians, and frequent or at least sporadic attenders of services of Christian worship. In public statements, most invoked divine assistance.
Churches in eighteenth-century America came in all sizes and shapes, from the plain, modest buildings in newly settled rural areas to elegant edifices in the prosperous cities on the eastern seaboard. Churches reflected the customs and traditions as well as the wealth and social status of the denominations that built them. Hence, a new Anglican Church in rural Goose Creek, South Carolina, was fitted out with an impressive wood-carved pulpit, while a fledgling Baptist Church in rural Virginia had only the bare essentials. German churches contained features unknown in English ones.
The fundamental premise of evangelicalism is the conversion of individuals from a state of sin to a "new birth" through preaching of the Word. (John 3)
The first generation of New England Puritans required that church members undergo a conversion experience that they could describe publicly. During the first decades of the eighteenth century in the Connecticut River Valley a series of local "awakenings" began. By the 1730s they had spread into what was interpreted as a general outpouring of the Spirit that bathed the American colonies, England, Wales, and Scotland. In mass open-air revivals powerful preachers like George Whitefield brought thousands of souls to the new birth. The Great Awakening, which had spent its force in New England by the mid-1740s, split the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches into supporters--called "New Lights" and "New Side"--and opponents--the "Old Lights" and "Old Side." Many New England New Lights became Separate Baptists. Together with New Side Presbyterians (eventually reunited on their own terms with the Old Side) they carried the Great Awakening into the southern colonies, igniting a series of the revivals that lasted well into the nineteenth century.
- George Whitefield
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was ordained in the Church of England, with which he was constantly at odds. Whitefield became a sensation throughout England, preaching to huge audiences. In 1738 he made the first of seven visits to the America, where he gained such popular stature that he was compared to George Washington. Whitefield's preaching tour of the colonies, from 1739 to 1741, was the high-water mark of the Great Awakening there. A sermon in Boston attracted as many as 30,000 people.
George Whitefield used a collapsible field pulpit for open-air preaching because the doors of many churches were closed to him. The first recorded use of the pulpit was at Moorsfield, England, April 9, 1742, where Whitefield preached to a crowd estimated at "twenty or thirty thousand people." Members of the audience who had come to the park for more frivolous pursuits showered the evangelist with "stones, rotten eggs and pieces of dead cat" Nothing daunted, and he won many converts. It is estimated that Whitefield preached two thousand sermons from his field pulpit.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was the most important American preacher during the Great Awakening. A revival in his church in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1734-1735, was considered a harbinger of the Awakening which unfolded a few years later. He died of smallpox in 1758, shortly after becoming president of Princeton.
The Revival of Northampton Jonathan Edwards's( account of a revival in his own church at Northampton, Massachusetts, and in neighboring churches in the Connecticut Valley was considered a portent of major spiritual developments throughout the British Empire. Consequently, his Narrative was first published in London in 1737 with an introduction by two leading English evangelical ministers, Isaac Watts, the famous hymnist, and John Guyse. In their introduction the two divines said that "never did we hear or read, since the first Ages of Christianity, any Event of this Kind so surprising as the present Narrative hath set before us."
Jonathan Edward's Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was not representative of his vast theological output, which contains some of the most learned and profound religious works ever written by an American. Like most evangelical preachers during the Great Awakening, Edwards employed the fear of divine punishment to bring his audiences to repentance.
Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) was the Presbyterian leader of the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies. Upon George Whitefield's departure from the colonies in 1741, he deputized his friend Tennent to come from New Jersey to New England to "blow up the divine fire lately kindled there." Despite being ridiculed as "an awkward and ridiculous Ape of Whitefield," Tennent managed to keep the revival going until 1742.
- Presence of prayer in Congress
- national days of prayer and thanksgiving
- the invocation of God as the source of our “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence.
- American textbooks
The Debate and confusion at present regarding the faith of the founding fathers is due in part to this aspect of their lives not being taught in schools anymore.
An 1848 textbook, in use for decades, was titled Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It included a biography of each of the signers of the 1776 document declaring separation from Britain, openly discussing the Christian beliefs and faith of many of them.
Some of the 56 SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDANCE (at least 50 of whom were Christian):
John Witherspoon was an ordained minister and played a major role in publishing was is considered America's first Family Bible.
“Charles Thomson was secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. Charles Thomson is another Founder responsible for an American edition of the Bible. That Bible—called Thomson’s Bible—was the first translation of the Greek Septuagint into English. It took Charles Thomson twenty-five years to complete his translation, but even today that work is still considered one of the more scholarly American translations of the Bible.”
Benjamin Rush Many Founding Fathers rated Benjamin Rush alongside George Washington and Ben Franklin. He started America’s first Bible society, the Bible Society of Philadelphia. Dr. Rush “pointed out that with a Bible, every individual could discover how to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; second, he argued that if every individual owned a Bible—and would study and obey it—that all of our social problems, including crime, slavery, etc., would diminish” (p. 26).
Charles Carroll Charles Carroll died in 1832 at the age of 95, the last of the 56 signers. On his 89th birthday he declared, “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation, and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts”. Carroll also personally funded a Christian house of worship.
Richard Stockton Captured by the British and later released, a dying Richard Stockton penned his last will and testament to his children, which became a living testimony to his faith in God. He extolled the greatness of God and His divinity and the completeness of the redemption purchased by Jesus Christ. He encouraged his children to a habitual virtuous life, living by faith. He charged his children to exhibit the fear of God, which he viewed as the beginning of wisdom, and that “all occasions of vice and immorality is injurious either immediately or consequentially—even in this life”.
Francis Hopkinson Francis Hopkinson was a church music director, a choir leader and editor of one of the first hymnals printed in America. He set all 150 psalms to music.
John Hancock John Hancock, whose large signature on the Declaration of Independence is now a byword for fidelity, loyalty, courage and commitment, served as a president of Congress during the Revolution and later as governor of Massachusetts. As governor, on October 15, 1791, Hancock issued a proclamation for prayer, asking especially “that universal happiness may be established in the world; [and] that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory”..
Samuel Adams Samuel Adams has been called “the Father of the American Revolution.” As governor of Massachusetts, he also issued strong proclamations, one of which closed with a request to pray “that the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known and enjoyed throughout the whole family of mankind”. Adams often repeated such requests, as in 1797, which asked that the people pray for “speedily bringing on that holy and happy period when the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and all the people willingly bow to the sceptre of Him who is the Prince of Peace”.
George Washington George Washington, though not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was military commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War. When Great Britain signed the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, General Washington immediately resigned his commission to return to private life. He then sent a letter to the governors of the 13 states informing them of his resignation, closing with a prayer for the States and governors:
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and a love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that character, humility, and [peaceful] temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation”..
Ps 119:45 ¶ And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. 2 Co 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Ga 5:13 ¶ For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.