Is America a Christian Nation | John Ankerberg Article Archive

Is America a Christian Nation

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By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2012
The questions of “Is America a Christian nation?” or “Was America founded as a Christian nation?” are, in one sense, not easily answered because the answer is “yes” and “no” and “to a major degree.”

Is America a Christian Nation? – America the Beautiful

"The biggest problem [in America] right now is that were trying to throw God out of our society."[1] –Ben Carson, M.D., one of America’s top neurosurgeons, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, holder of 61 honorary doctorate degrees, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, author America the Beautiful

The questions of “Is America a Christian nation?” or “Was America founded as a Christian nation?” are, in one sense, not easily answered because the answer is “yes” and “no” and “to a major degree.”

It is a correct statement that America has been the most Christian nation ever founded. Also, Americans have typically seen themselves as constituting a Christian nation. As historian John Fea points out in Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? An Historical Introduction, “The idea that the United States was a “Christian nation” was central to American identity in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War” and “If the United States was ever a “Christian nation,” it was so during the period between the ratification of the Constitution (1789) and the start of the Civil War (1861)” because “Christianity, and particularly Protestant evangelicalism, defined the culture”.[2]

Clearly, America has had more Christian influence upon it than any other nation in human history, but this influence has varied historically. Nevertheless, it is impossible to understand America, past or present, apart from biblical Christianity. While the early American states were far more biblically Christian than the average American has any idea, the federal government promoted freedom of and for religion (not freedom from religion as mistaken and biased secularists and separationists argue for today). As noted historian of the history of Christianity in America, Mark A. Knoll observes, Christian “theology played an extraordinarily important role in American thought” from the 1730s-1860s[3] — and that is been more or less true until recently. If you read the books by David Barton and the original documents at WallBuilders.com with Peter Marshall’s, The Light and the Glory and historian John Fea’s book, you’ll get pretty close to the truth.

True enough, no nation on earth has ever been fully Christian because no nation has ever been 100% Christian and even then it would still fall short of Christian standards because all Christians remain sinners until they die. The question is one of the degree of Christian influence and properly defining terms.

Clearly, God in His providence founded America for His purposes and glory, graciously providing it with major Christian influence in its founding, culture and history. From the early American settlers, the Puritans and the pilgrims, to the fact that the US government was founded on Christian principles, to the fact that its laws were based upon Mosaic law and the teachings of Christ, to the colonial charters, the state constitutions, and the colonial and state criminal codes, presidential religion, and much else, the powerful influence of Christianity is undeniable. As Dr. Jeffery Donley, an internationally known biblical authority points out, 52 of the 55 people drafting the U.S. Constitution were Christians; 27 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had Bible seminary degrees; over one third of the documents written between 1760 and 1805 quoted the Bible more frequently than any other source; and “94% of all quotes by the founding fathers were based on the Bible.”[4]

In “Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States” (1892), a case involving immigration policy, the US Supreme Court did formally assert that the US is “a Christian nation.” Of course, it was not so in the sense that Christianity should be the officially established religion or that people should be compelled to support or become Christians, but it was a Christian nation in the cultural and historical sense, something that was perfectly true.

Even the more liberal, secular Wikipedia (Cf. Conservapedia.com, Theopedia.com) observes:

“Nineteenth century historians wrote extensively on the United States of America having a distinctively Protestant character in its outlook and founding political philosophy…. This concept of America’s unique Bible-driven historical and cultural identity was developed by historians as they studied the first centuries of America’s history, from the Pilgrims through Abraham Lincoln. The statements and institutions of the founding generation that have been preserved are numerous, and they explicitly describe many of their biblical motivations and goals, their interest in Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, their use of Jewish and Christian images and ideas. In the words of patriot Benjamin Rush, “The Old Testament is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings, and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind.” James Witherspoon, president of Princeton, teacher of James Madison and later a member of the Continental Congress, and one of the most influential thinkers in the Colonies, joined the cause of the Revolution with a widely publicized sermon based on Psalm 76, identifying the American colonists with the people of Israel. Of fifty-five printed texts from the Revolutionary period, thirty-three took texts from the Hebrew Bible. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, referred to God twice in Hebrew terms, and Congress added two more: Lawgiver, Creator, Judge, and Providence. These Judeo-Christian values were especially important at the key foundational moments of the settling of America, the War for Independence and the Civil War.

“Perry Miller of Harvard University wrote in 1956:

Puritanism may be described empirically as that point of view, that code of values, carried to New England by the first settlers. […] The New Englanders established Puritanism—for better or worse—as one of the continuous factors in American life and thought. It has played so dominant a role…all across the continent…these qualities have persisted even though the original creed is lost. Without an understanding of Puritanism…there is no understanding of America." ("Judeo-Christian"); [1]

Thus, it’s logically impossible to deny that Christianity has had a majority influence in the nation’s history and culture. As a result, America has largely been an “unofficial” Christian nation in terms of dominating influence. Even today Christian influence remains strong, despite its recent significant decline, which in and of itself says a good deal. As Fea observes, “those who want to argue that the United States is a Christian nation have some strong historical evidence on which to rely, but they must also realize that Christian nationalism took many different forms during the 20th century”[5] and, “the belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation has a long history that dates back to the beginning of the Republic.”[6]

But again, belief and reality are not necessarily the same. It is mistaken for someone to argue that America today is a truly Christian nation – if that were so things would be vastly different in American culture and behavior. America today is a post-Christian, nominally religious nation with steadily declining Christian influence and increasing secular and relativistic influence with perhaps 15% of the nation truly Christian[7], although one can always hope this is a low figure.

Why did America become a nation with such unparalleled Christian influence? I can tell you in two Bible verses:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In God’s Providence America was founded as she was because godly men obeyed Scripture. But things have changed.

If America is to survive, and experience God’s blessing as opposed to His displeasure, she must return to her godly roots – which means that true Christians must take their calling seriously and be in prayer that God would bring repentance to His Church and revival to American culture – hopefully, a final Great Spiritual Awakening before His return. Indeed, anyone who does not know Jesus Christ personally should carefully ponder the words He spoke:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NLT)

Further Reading

Ben Carson, M.D., America the Beautiful (2012)

The books of David Barton and WallBuilders.com offer a good deal of information for those interested in pursuing the issue: The Foundations of American Government; Practical Benefits of Christianity; The Influence of the Bible on America (10 Lesson Online Interactive Course); Separation of Church & State: What the Founders Meant; Original Intent: the Courts, the Constitution, & Religion; Four Centuries of American Education; America’s Godly Heritage (video transcript); Keys to Good Government; Also Benson J. Lossing, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration Of Independence (reprint of 1848 edition). At WallBuilders.com, see Curriculum, Documents, New Products, Historical Documents, Historical Writings, Issues & Articles, Newsletter Archives. Plus there are many works of a similar nature by various scholars. See also: Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding; John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution; Kirby Anderson, "One Nation under God," Probe Ministries; http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4221051/k.5894/One_Nation_Under_God.htm; Gaustad and Schmidt’s, The Religious History of America (revised, 2004); Edwin S. Gaustad (ed.) A Documentary History of Religion in America to 1877; Mark A. Knoll, A Documentary History of Religion in America since 1877 and A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. For an interesting study see noted historian Philip Jenkins’, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity.

Notes

  1. Interview, The 700 Club, February 13, 2012
  2. John Fea, Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? An Historical Introduction, 2011, 3-5
  3. Mark A. Knoll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Oxford, 2005, 3
  4. Jeffrey Donley, The Everything History of the Bible Book, 2006, 245
  5. Fea, 56
  6. Ibid., 58
  7. According to a June 3, 2011 Gallup poll, over 90% of Americans continue to say “yes” when asked “Do you believe in God?” The problem is the kind of God they believe in, which, as a whole, is either a fundamentally self-serving God or a non-biblical God. For example, in Americas Four God’s: What We Say about God — and What That Says about Us, Baylor University sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader determined that Americans see God in basically four ways (i.e., four types of God) – authoritarian, benevolent, critical (22%-28% each) and distant or deistic (5%). Not one of these views of God are fully biblical (cf. Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Americans views of God shape attitudes on key issues,” USA Today October 7, 2010;http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-10-07-1Agod07_CV_N.htm.) Only when one looks at the biblical God and His attributes does one arrive at a correct view of God – infinitely loving (demonstrated at the cross) and infinitely wise, joyful, holy, just, and merciful; an infinite-personal, immortal God who is truth, immutable, imminent, transcendent, etc. Only such a God, and there is only one, is the greatest Treasure in the universe, infinitely perfect in all His attributes and ways. While I believe the above study has its limitations, it does illustrate my point. In addition, polls reveal that Americans believe overwhelmingly that all good people will go to Heaven – something that biblically simply isn’t true – no one is good enough to merit Heaven, which is why we need God’s grace and the atonement of Christ to forgive our sins and spiritual regeneration to grant us faith.

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