America’s Biblical Foundations
2 Corinthians 3:17
As you may have noticed, all our music and readings point to an American heritage of biblical authority. But as you know, there are a lot of people in our world today who would argue differently. If you search the internet for information about America being based on a biblical faith or even that the Founding Fathers had a faith in God, you will find lots written from both sides. Does America have any biblical roots?
No one will argue that there were godless individuals among some of the early leadership of our nation. So, what do we know for sure about our Founding Fathers? We know a great deal about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and the men who were the framers of the Constitution because we have a lot of their correspondence, public statements, and even biographies about them. What we find about the 55 men who were delegates to the Constitutional Convention, these are the men we have labeled as the Founding Fathers, shows us that there was a biblical mindset among these men.
Steeped in Biblical Thinking
The denomination affiliation of these men is a matter of public record. Keep in mind, that as a member of a church during this time, a person must make a sworn public statement of biblical faith in God. Among the delegates of the Constitutional Convention were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists (John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987, p. 43). Keep in mind that a deist still believes in God, or at least a supreme being, but they believe that God does not intervene in the affairs of humankind. But they still have a biblical mindset.
Let me ask you something. If most of these men are affirming a biblical faith, then certainly their considerations for a new form of government would be steeped in their biblical mindset. Often when this is brought up, someone will dig up a statement made by one of these men that is contrary to a biblical faith. I wonder, if they looked hard enough at things I have said or even written if they couldn’t find something, I have said that is contrary to a biblical faith as we know it? We can certainly find things that are not in alignment with a biblical faith, not just in the lives of these men, but probably all Christians have said or have done something that was out of character for who they are in Christ.
51 of the 55 men who were considered the Founding Fathers of our constitutional system, the framers of this great nation, were publicly declared Christians. Even Benjamin Franklin, who was raised in a Puritan home, declared himself a deist, but late in his life made a call to prayer on June 28, 1787 and listen to what he said as quoted by James Madison:
And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. (Benjamin Franklin, quoted by James Madison in Notes on Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966, 1985, p. 209).
Did this deist turn back to a biblical understanding of God? You see, whether these men lived out their faith in a way that was pleasing to the Lord or not, their mindset was steeped in biblical thinking. Though they may have had doubts about their faith at times, it is clear that biblical faith had a huge influence on what they were doing. How do we know that? Just look at the things they said.
Described in Biblical Terms
For instance, read the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration directly refers to God four times. Terms like Nature’s God, Creator, Supreme Judge, and Divine Providence, all point to a belief in God as the basis of human rights. This declaration was signed by 56 men who were putting their lives and even the lives of their families were in danger for making this declaration of separation from England. But the basis for what they were doing was steeped in biblical thinking and described with biblical terms.
Later, listen to how John Adams describes the principles of the Declaration of Independence in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813, Adams says,
The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.
Clearly John Adams understood the principles of freedom as God ordained. Listen to how Benjamin Rush describes what he refers to as the miracle of the Constitution in a letter to Elias Boudinot on July 9, 1788:
I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.
Did you hear that? Benjamin Rush is convinced that the Constitution of our nation is the work of God in our nation. The founding of this great American experiment was steeped in biblical thinking and clearly stated in biblical terms. But even the structure of our branches of government were based on God’s authority.
Structured System with Biblical Authority
Many are amazed that the Founding Founders had the wisdom to divide the government into three branches of checks and balances. Each branch has the responsibility of being answerable to the other branches. That way, no one part of the government has overriding power. How did the Founders come up with this?
Historians attempt to connect this idea to an Enlightenment philosopher named Montesquieu who wrote a book called “Spirit of Laws.” This may be the source of some of their ideas about separation of powers, but honestly, we do not know. But we do know that it parallels God’s authority. In many places throughout Scripture we find God described in these same capacities as King (executive), Lawgiver (legislative), and Judge (judicial). In fact, as Isaiah speaks of the future happiness of the redeemed, he attributes it to the sufficiency of God in all three of these attributes.
Isaiah 33:22 (ESV)
For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us.
Three different functions that are generally carried out by human governments are here attributed to the Lord: judge (for deciding proper interpretations and applications of laws), lawgiver (for making laws), and king (for enforcing the laws and defending the nation). Could a people who are steeped in biblical thinking have structured a system of government that is patterned after the God they worship? Absolutely.
Greg Koukl said in his article, Faith of our Fathers:
“When you study the documents of the Revolutionary period, a precise picture comes into focus. Here it is: Virtually all those involved in the founding enterprise were God-fearing men in the Christian sense; most were Calvinistic Protestants. The Founders were deeply influenced by a biblical view of man and government. With a sober understanding of the fallenness of man, they devised a system of limited authority and checks and balances. The Founders understood that fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for their great experiment to succeed.” (https://www.str.org/articles/the-faith-of-our-fathers#.XQj_0PZFzKt)
Why did the Founders stop short of giving Christianity legal privilege? Because they understood the concept of freedom and that America could be a lighthouse to the world not just for freedom in a secular sense, but freedom spiritually. Then the world could see what living by God’s principles would be like.
A City Set On a Hill (Matthew 5:14-16)
The hope was that others would see the blessing of living by God’s design. The first amendment to the constitution insured the liberty of being salt and light, of being a moral beacon to the world. But it also insured that Christianity, or any other religion, would never be the law of the land. That it would never be forced upon people. The guiding principles of law and government were designed to protect our rights and insure freedom.
What is interesting to me is that the original colonies on American soil viewed their new life in this land as being “a city set on a hill” based on Matthew 5:14-16.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
It is the same for us today. Christians must realize that success in God’s eyes is not measured in political muscle, forcing ourselves upon others, but in faithfulness to Him. But faithfulness to God includes our influence on this nation. We live in a day when many Christians are withdrawing from the politics of our land simply because it is frustrating and difficult.
Some I have talked to did not vote in our last presidential election because they could not in good conscience vote for either candidate they said. But every time I have asked if they voted in the primaries to select a candidate, they have said “no” or “that they choose not to be affiliated with a political party and thus, they can’t vote in the primary caucuses.” It takes time to read the political party platforms and most people do not even know the vast difference between the two major parties today. We live on the verge of becoming a socialist nation which has clearly financially destroyed several other nations around the world. We need to be educated about the political parties and we need to vote in primary caucuses to see change take place. We need to elect men and women who stand for what we do.
For our children’s and grandchildren’s sake, we need to be involved in our political process. Christians need to be proactive when it comes to knowing and understanding how the election system works and why it works.
Many of you probably know that the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Thus, there were many people who remained outside Independence Hall to hear the outcome. One of the ladies that waited outside, asked Benjamin Franklin when he came out, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Immediately Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
You see, our system of government is one of a kind in the world built upon biblical principles for a moral people. We are not a true democracy where majority rules. We have a representative democracy with very strict limits of a republic set forth in our Constitution. But just as Benjamin Franklin said, “If you can keep it.”
I guarantee, that if the generations that follow us are not taught the importance of our founding and their continued involvement our system of government, we will lose this very important distinction. America is a city set on a hill. Will it last?
As we celebrate the founding of our nation this week, I hope that you are renewed in your desire to be involved in the political process and that you will encourage and educate your children. But even more important than that, I pray that you have a genuine faith in God. The Founders of our great nation understood that without faith in God, this free system will not work. Has there been a time in your life when you have put your faith and trust in Him? There is a verse quoted by several leaders in those early days that indicated they understood freedom as a result of a relationship with the Lord. It is 2 Corinthians 3:17:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
The verses before and after this verse show us that genuine freedom comes to those who turn in faith to the Lord. Do you have the freedom of a life in Christ? Freedom from sin? Freedom from its penalty? We can live in a free nation, but live enslaved to sin and its penalty. Genuine freedom must first begin right here in our hearts. Do you have this freedom?