I love American history and have read hundreds of books directly bearing on this subject, including many dozens of biographies of America’s most influential early leaders as well as more recent ones.
It can surely be said that America is a Christianized nation in the sense that there has always been a strong Christian influence, using the term “Christian” in a general sense. America has been a nation of churches, a nation of Bible owners, a nation of Bible readers, a nation that has witnessed powerful spiritual revivals, a nation of far-flung, unprecedented and unequaled missionary enterprise, a nation in which the president takes his oath of office with his hand on a Bible. America is a nation whose founding institutions and authoritative documents have been deeply influenced by the Bible.
(We have documented the Bible’s powerful influence on America in the new book The Bible and Western Society, available in print and in a free eBook edition from Way of Life Literature.)
But America was never a Christian nation in the sense that she was a nation in which true Bible-believing Christians ever formed a large percentage of the population, or in the sense that she was a nation submitted to God’s Word, or that she was a nation that existed for the glory of God.
America has been heavily influenced by the Bible, but she has never been a truly biblical nation or a truly godly nation. From the 17th century, America has always been a mixed multitude, and genuine Christians have been a small minority.
What America has been above all else is a land of freedom: an unprecedented haven of personal liberty to pursue one’s individual dream.
Many came to America for religious freedom, but more came purely for personal freedom and economic opportunity.
For this reason it has rightly been said that “the United States is both the most religious nation on earth and the most secular, the most devout and the most commercial” (John Gordon, An Empire of Wealth, p. xvii).
And this was true almost from its inception. The first Americans were “a colony of adventurers” who represented a bewildering assortment of nationalities and religious views and who came for all sorts of reasons.
Even those who came to America for religious freedom, such as the Pilgrims, came for economic opportunity as well. America has always been pre-eminently a nation of enterprise and commerce.
The Jamestown Colony was founded by the English government as a profit-seeking, joint-stock corporation. The first settlers arrived in 1607, and within a mere eleven years, 20,000 pounds of tobacco were being grown and shipped to England, and within twenty-two years that had leaped to an amazing 1.5 million pounds.
Maryland was formed as a grant from King Charles I. Its Toleration Act of 1649 was the first passed by a colonial assembly to guarantee the religious rights of all Christians, including Roman Catholics and Jews. But religious liberty was only a small part of that enterprise, and Bible-believing Christians have never formed a large percentage of the citizenry of that part of America.
The colony of Carolina quickly became an economic powerhouse, driven by sugar, tobacco, rice, indigo, and deer skins, driven by a mixed multitude of citizens, both religious and profane. It wasn’t a very godly place and it’s hard to say how it could have been called a Christian colony by any biblical measure. The first governor of South Carolina, John Yeamans, was a ruthless, covetous man who had murdered a rival and married the man’s widow.
New York originated as a Dutch colony in 1621 called the New Netherlands. It was religiously tolerant but definitely not godly and biblical. It was all about unbridled capitalism. So busy were the early citizens engaged in making money that they didn’t get around to building a church house for 17 years. The colony seal was a beaver encircled by wampum, which was the Indian form of money. It might as well have been the symbol for mammon! Manhattan was a real Babel with 18 languages spoken by the 1640s, representing a mixed multitude of religion and no religion.
Pennsylvania was established as a haven of religious liberty by the Quaker William Penn, but it was just as much about unbridled enterprise. Penn said, “Though I desire to extend Religious freedom, yet I want some recompense for my trouble.” There was some real godliness and biblical reality in the colony, but that was not the only theme and perhaps not even the dominant one. Pennsylvania was a land of liberty and opportunity for all who could make the most of it. There was more “dog eat dog” than true Christian godliness.
The Puritans who first settled New England to build a “city on a hill” were there to obey God’s commandments, there can be no doubt. They were the Bible readers and the Bible educators and the Bible printers, but they never formed any sort of majority in American society at large.
Many other parts of the nation were more like the wild west even during the colonial era. In fact, the word “cowboy” was invented in South Carolina to describe rowdy black slaves who branded and herded cattle.
Consider the Revolutionary army under George Washington. In July 1779, the great general bemoaned the fact that even though many orders had been issued against swearing, “it prevails, if possible, more than ever” (Jerry Newcombe, George Washington’s Sacred Fire).
How does that reflect the moral character of a nation that can truly and honestly be called “Christian”?
In the very lifetime of George Washington, American politics had degenerated into the selfish, petty, power-hungry, covetous, divisive thing it has been ever since.
“In July 1799 Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut with the backing of many Federalists urged Washington once again to stand for the presidency in 1800. Only Washington, Trumbull said, could unite the Federalists and save the country from ‘a French President.’ Finally Washington had had enough. ... he talked about the new political conditions that made his candidacy irrelevant. In this new democratic era of party politics, he said, ‘personal influence,’ distinctions of character, no longer mattered. If the members of the Jeffersonian Republican party ‘set up a broomstick’ as candidate and called it ‘a true son of Liberty’ or ‘a Democrat’ or ‘any other epithet that will suit their purpose,’ it still would ‘command their votes in toto!’ But, even worse, he said, the same was true of the Federalists. Party spirit now ruled all, and people voted only for their party candidate. Even if he were the Federalist candidate, Washington was ‘thoroughly convinced I should not draw a single vote from the anti-Federal side.’ Therefore his standing for election made no sense; he would ‘stand upon no stronger ground than any other Federal character well supported’” (Gordon Wood, “The Greatness of George Washington,” The Virginia Quarterly, Spring 1992).
The Bible has had a unique influence on America, but the Bible has never been the final authority in American government or culture.
As Pastor Dave Halyaman observes: “There was corruption, bickering, and a God-denying population in American in 1790. There MAY have been more dedicated believers then, but the major power-brokers before, during, and at the end of the Revolutionary War were still corrupt, humanistic men who put ‘nation’ before God.”
In fact, the idea that America is a Christian nation has brought reproach to the name of true Christianity throughout the world, because while many people have assumed that America is indeed a “Christian nation,” it has been obvious that America doesn’t act Christian as a nation and that the average American doesn’t live according to the precepts of the Bible.
While doing evangelistic work on a university campus in South Asia, I found that one of the chief arguments proposed against the gospel of Jesus Christ is America’s gross moral failings (some only perceived, but many real).
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN NATION?
Where in the New Testament do we even find the authority and pattern for a “Christian nation”?
Paul described three groups of people in the world today: Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). Gentiles are all of the people that aren’t Jews, and in the context of Paul’s statement they are the unsaved Gentiles that aren’t part of the church. The church of God is not a nation. It exists in the world today as Bible-believing congregations. In the apostolic writings we don’t read about a “a church of Asia” or “a church of Judea” or “a church of Macedonia” or “a church of Galatia,” but there were “churchES of Asia,” “churchES of Judea,” “churchES of Macedonia,” and “churchES of Galatia.”
The New Testament mentions Gentile governments as instruments of God (e.g., Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:12-15), but there is no mention of, or authority for, a “Christian nation.”
There never has been a time since 1776 when the majority of America’s citizens have been born again. Consider the following description of the state of Vermont soon after the Revolutionary War which was written by Nathan Perkins, a Congregational missionary who toured the state:
“About one quarter of the inhabitants and almost all of the men of learning are deists. I have rode more than 100 miles and seen no meeting house! ... Not more than 1/6 part of the families attend family prayer. About 1/2 --- would chose to have no Sabbath--no ministers--no religion--no heaven--no hell--no morality” (Willard Randall, Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, p. 619).
Not every state was in the same spiritual condition as Vermont in those days, but still, Vermont was very much a part of the newly-formed nation of America.
Does that add up to a “Christian nation”?
We must not confuse the founding of Plymouth Colony in the 17th century, which was established somewhat upon biblical principles*, with the broader America that existed during the colony period or with the founding of the nation in the 18th century. (* Even the biblical principles of the original Christian colonies were corrupted by Reformed Theology, Replacement Theology, the church-state heresy, and the spirit of persecution that Protestants had brought out of Rome. See, for example, “The Protestant Persecution of Baptists,” a free eBook available at the Way of Life web site -- www.wayoflife.org.)
THE NATION’S FOUNDERS
Most of the nation’s founders were Christian in name, but the evidence demonstrates that most of them were not born again. Many, in fact, were skeptics who were under God’s curse for their blatant unbelief and their rejection of Almighty God, the Fall, and Christ’s Divinity, Atonement, and Resurrection. They were wise men in a worldly sense, and even good in a worldly sense, and they were deeply influenced by the Bible. The Lord raised them up and gave them the wisdom to create a unique nation that has been a bastion of liberty and a headquarters for world evangelism and a helper of the nation Israel for nearly two and a half centuries.
America’s founders accomplished many great things from a worldly perspective, and it would be a powerful thing if their lives and writings were given more serious attention today throughout the nations and even in America’s own public schools. We can continue to benefit from the farsighted wisdom of these men.
Men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams should be upheld as the great men, pioneers, heroes, brilliant thinkers, and inventors that they were, and the fact that America’s educational system today slights and nitpicks and even viciously criticizes its own founders, judging them by the vapid principles of modern political-correctness, straining at gnats and swallowing camels, is evidence of the nation’s deep apostasy.
At the same time, most of America’s founders were not strong Bible-believing Christians, and some were, in fact, enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. This has continued to be true throughout America’s history. Very few of America’s presidents, for example, have been born again Christians when measured by the standard of God’s Word.
How does this add up to a “Christian nation”?
Consider some examples among the founding fathers:
Consider Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s greatest founders, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the first Secretary of State under George Washington, the third President of the United States, purchaser of the Louisiana Territory, and instigator of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
He said, “I am a Christian,” but this was only in the sense that he believed vaguely in the moral precepts of Jesus. He rejected such fundamentals of the Christian faith as the Trinity, Jesus’ deity and virgin birth, the Fall, the Blood atonement, and bodily resurrection, and the judgment of hell.
Jefferson wrote to John Adams and blasphemously compared Christ’s virgin birth with a pagan myth. “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823).
Jefferson made his own “bible” by cutting out of Scripture everything pertaining to the divine and miraculous in Jesus’ life. This work began under the title “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth” and was concluded in 1820 with the title “The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ Extracted Textually from the Gospels.”
This “Jefferson Bible” was compiled with extractions from the moral teaching of Jesus.
Jefferson wanted to extract “the authentic Jesus” from Scripture, but his Jesus was a false christ with no saving power, a mere great moral teacher who did not die for man’s sins and did not rise from the dead.
Jefferson claimed that the true teachings of Jesus were hidden in the “rubbish and dross of his biographers,” thus brazenly denying the New Testament’s own claim to divine inspiration.
Jefferson said that the Gospel writers added mythical accounts to Jesus’ actual actions and words. He called many parts of the Gospel accounts “so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth and imposture” (Jefferson’s letter to William Short, April 13, 1820, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Andrew Lipscomb, 1907).
Jefferson’s “bible” left out references to angels, prophecy, the Messianic genealogies, Christ’s deity, the virgin birth, and the Trinity. It blasphemously ends with Jesus’ dead body lying in the tomb, a blatant denial of the resurrection, without which we have no hope of salvation and eternal life. Jefferson’s unbelief and skepticism is no light matter.
Jefferson said that it is possible to believe that Christ was as “a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law” (Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787). This was one of two views that Jefferson said might be legitimate (the other being that Jesus was the virgin born Son of God) and instructed Carr not to “be frightened from this inquiry.” Jefferson didn’t care whether or not the young man rejected God’s Word. Belief or unbelief, it was all the same to this Founding Father.
Jefferson said his Bible was “an abridgment of the New Testament for the use of the Indians,” though it was never published in his lifetime or used for that purpose. Even had it been published for the education of Indians, it would have been a wicked work, as he removed the gospel, which alone is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and left only the Bible’s moral precepts, which are true and good, but which are powerless to save a fallen sinner.
Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s most prominent founders, was an enemy of Jesus Christ and His Cross.
Exactly what was “Christian” about that?
Consider the brilliant, clever, and far-seeing Benjamin Franklin, who has been called “the first American” for the powerful influence that he had on the founding of the nation.
Franklin had sympathy toward “Christianity” as a system of morality, but he was an enemy of Christ’s atonement and of the divine inspiration of Scripture. In other words, he had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof, which is the essence of the end-time apostasy from which God’s people are to turn away (2 Timothy 3:5).
Franklin was not a bold skeptic. He did not brashly and publicly attack divine Revelation in public as Thomas Paine did, but he was a skeptic nonetheless.
Franklin wanted to maintain peace with men of all religious persuasions and did not want to rock the boat. At the end of his life he wrote to a friend and shared his disbelief in Christ’s divinity, but he concluded by asking him not to publish the letter, because, “I have ever let others enjoy their religious sentiments, without reflecting on them for those that appeared to me unsupportable and even absurd. All sects here [in America], and we have a great variety, have experienced my good will in assisting them with subscriptions for building their new places of worship; and as I have never opposed any of their doctrines, I hope to go out of the world in peace with them all” (H.W. Brands, The First American, p. 707).
Franklin was a pragmatist. On the one hand, he did not believe in the Bible’s divine inspiration and did not believe in man’s fall and salvation through Christ’s atonement. On the other hand, he saw the necessity of maintaining religion and morality as the foundation for a healthy society. For this reason, he was somewhat ambivalent toward deism. He shared the deist’s rejection of a divinely-inspired Bible, but he feared its consequences if men took deist doctrine to heart and followed its natural consequences, fearing the moral consequences on society.
Toward the end of his life Franklin tried to discourage a skeptic from publishing a dissertation against “organized religion” purely on the basis of pragmatism. He said, “Think how great a proportion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced and inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual. ... If men are so wicked as we now see them with religion, what would they be without it?” (The First American, p. 658).
When defending the Presbyterian heretic Samuel Hemphill, who was condemned for denying fundamental Bible doctrines and suspended from the ministry, Franklin wrote that no one in this world can know “where lies true orthodoxy,” so the only thing that matters is “morality” (p. 143). He said, “I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue” (The First American, p. 153).
To reject the heart of the biblical Christianity, which is salvation through Jesus Christ, is to reject it all and is to destroy the power of true morality.
In fact, though Franklin praised “morality,” he wasn’t very moral. This is for the reason that true morality cannot be lived apart from supernatural salvation through faith in Christ’s cross. Franklin was a womanizer from his youth to his old age and had a child out of wedlock. “As much of his adult life would demonstrate, Franklin possessed a lively libido, which now hindered faithfulness to one so far away, when other females were close at hand” (The First American, p. 64).
Ben Franklin’s ultimate authority was his own mind rather than God’s infallible Word. He was a proud man who exalted his puny intellect above God’s Revelation.
Franklin’s closest drinking buddies were such ribald anti-God skeptics as Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus and the movers and shakers among the Christ-denying Unitarians. He was drawn to the company of bitter skeptics such as Emmanuel Kant, David Hume, and the French poet Roucher.
While in France, Franklin was a member of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters, among the members of which were “the freest-thinkers in the realm.”
Franklin was a great fan of the blasphemous French skeptic Voltaire. Instead of bringing his grandson Benny Bache to the feet of Jesus, Franklin sought Voltaire’s blessing on the boy (The First American, p. 563). Not long before Voltaire died, Franklin publicly embraced and kissed the proud, morally filthy skeptic at a session of the French Academy of Sciences.
Franklin participated enthusiastically in a eulogy following Voltaire’s death. It was held in a hall dressed in black and lit by candles. Franklin took his Masonic crown and laid it at the foot of a large painting of Voltaire (The First American, p. 565).
“Franklin attacked the notion of the immortality of the soul. He identified the soul with consciousness and the ability to treat ideas absorbed by the senses (‘The soul is a mere power or faculty of contemplating on and comparing those ideas’), and then argued that when consciousness ended, the soul in some way attached itself to a new body and new ideas. ‘But that will in no way concern us who are now living, for the identity will be lost; it is no longer that same self but a new being’” (The First American, p. 73).
“Temperamentally, Franklin was a skeptic rather than a rebel. ... When it surfaced during his teens, at a time when his reading was rapidly expanding his intellectual horizons, it made him increasingly dubious of biblical revelation. Why should God speak to one insignificant desert tribe, to the exclusion of the vast majority of the human race? Yet unwilling--and in those pre-Darwinian days intellectually unable--to dispense with divinity entirely, Franklin gravitated toward the mechanistic approach of deism. One book written against deism by the chemist Robert Boyle in fact pushed Franklin further in a deistic direction. ‘The arguments of the deists which were quoted to be refuted,’ he wrote, ‘appeared to me much stronger than the refutations’” (The First American, p. 94).
“Franklin codified his new thinking in what he called his ‘Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion,’ dated November 20, 1728. Borrowing from Cato, he declared, ‘I hold: If there is a Power above us (and that there is all nature cries aloud, through all her works), He must delight in virtue, and that which He delights in must be happy.’ As the deists did, Franklin measured the immensity of the universe against the minusculity of the earth and the inhabitants thereof, and concluded from this that it was ‘great vanity in me to suppose that the Supremely Perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable nothing as man.’ Moreover, this Supremely Perfect had absolutely no need to be worshipped by humans; He was infinitely above such sentiments or actions. Yet if worship filled no divine purpose, it did serve a human need. ‘I think it seems required of me, and my duty as a man, to pay divine regards to something’” (The First American, pp. 94, 95).
Franklin believed in a type of reincarnation.
“When I see nothing annihilated, and not even a drop of water wasted, I cannot suspect the annihilation of souls, or believe that he will suffer the daily waste of millions of minds ready made that now exist, and put himself to the continual trouble of making new ones. Thus finding myself to exist in the world, I believe I shall, in some shape or other, always exist; and with all the inconveniences human life is liable to, I shall not object to a new edition of mine; hoping, however, that the errata of the last may be corrected” (The First American, p. 657).
At the end of this life, Franklin wrote the following to a friend who inquired as to his religious beliefs:
“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure” (The First American, p. 706).
In regard to the preaching of Revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, Franklin “was fairly certain he was neither beast nor devil, and his view of fire and brimstone was purely scientific” (The First American, p. 147).
Franklin liked Whitefield at a personal level and printed his sermons, but “for Franklin this was principally a profit-making enterprise” (p. 148).
“Yet though Franklin supported Whitefield’s good works and defended his right to preach, he drew the line well short of his own conversion. Whitefield spared no effort on behalf of Franklin’s soul, but Franklin rebuffed them all. He was as skeptical of organized religion as ever, even religion that challenged prevailing orthodoxy” (The First American, p. 149).
At age 60, Franklin told George Whitefield that his hope was in “God” but it was a vain hope that was not based on the Bible but upon his own human reasoning. To reject Jesus Christ as God and only Saviour is to reject the God of the Bible.
“Throughout, however, Franklin’s God remained as reasonable as Franklin himself. ... Franklin replied [to Whitefield]: ‘That being who gave me existence, and through almost threescore years has been continually showering his favours upon me, whose very chastisements have been blessings to me, can I doubt that he loves me? And if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me not only here but hereafter? This to some may seem presumption; to me it appears the best grounded hope: hope of the future, built on experience of the past’” (The First American, p. 380).
This sounds reasonable, but in reality it is a brash rejection of the clear teaching of Scripture, which says that God is holy and fallen man can be reconciled to Him only through the atonement made by Jesus Christ. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Benjamin Franklin insisted on knowing God on his own terms and rejected his personal need of the Saviour.
Benjamin Franklin was most definitely a Christ-rejecting rationalist.
Richard Hooker was a 16th century Anglican theologian who had a great influence on the American founders through his own writings and through his influence upon men such as William Blackstone and John Locke.
His view of “natural law” as the basis for human government, which was called “self-evident truth” by Thomas Jefferson, was heretical rather than sound doctrine.
While there is a law written in man’s heart, even in his fallen condition (Rom. 2:12-13), and it is enough to condemn him before God, it is corrupted by sin (Jer. 17:9). It is also corrupted by the invention and spread of false religion, and it is highly undependable. To know God’s moral laws properly, man is dependent on the written Revelation in Scripture.
Hooker “drew from Augustine and Aquinas” to describe the “law of nature” as “a moral law universally agreed upon by all men and able to be known from man’s reason.” He wrote,
“... those laws are investigable by reason, without the help of revelation, supernatural or divine. ... the knowledge of them is general, the world hath always been acquainted with them. ... It is not agreed upon by one, or two, or few, but by all. ... but this law is such that being proposed no man can reject it as unreasonable and unjust. Again there is nothing in it but any man, having natural perfection of wit and ripeness of judgment, may by labour and travail find out. And to conclude, the general principles thereof are such as it is not easy to find men ignorant of them. Law rational, therefore, which men commonly use to call the law of Nature, meaning thereby the law which human nature knoweth itself in reason universally bound unto, which also for that cause may be termed most fitly the law of reason, this law, I say, comprehendeth all those things which men by the light of their natural understanding evidently know, or at leastwise may know, to be beseeming of unbeseeing, virtuous or vicious, good or evil for them to do” (Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 1593).
Hooker’s teaching is contrary to Scripture and even to human society as it existed in his own lifetime. For example, every sin was justified in Hindu society in the 16th century. They had “natural law,” but they did not thereby find out a semblance of absolute moral truth. Every sin was justified, including idolatry, lying, stealing, murder, human sacrifice, infanticide, and the burning of widows. Such things conformed to the pagan’s “natural law” and religion.
To emphasize “natural law” in the way that Hooker and others did is to detract from the authority of Scripture.
This was also the error of John Locke.
Algernon Sidney was an English political philosopher of the late 17th century who was put to death for allegedly plotting to overthrow the king.
Whether or not he was guilty of this, his writings certainly undermined the king’s authority, and they had a large influence on the American founders. His Discourses Concerning Government (1698) has been called “a textbook of revolution.” The Founding Fathers often mentioned the influence of John Locke and Algernon Sidney together. Thomas Jefferson cited Sidney as one of the influences on the Declaration of Independence and often recommended both Locke and Sidney. John Adams recognized the influence of Locke and Sidney in A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787).
“In addition, Locke and Sidney were influential among the clergy and often cited in political sermons in Boston during the revolutionary era. Revolutionary clergyman Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, for example, was greatly influenced by Locke’s writings” (Angela Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
Sidney argued that “since all men are equal, earthly political power resided with the people--hence the concept of popular sovereignty” (Kamrath). In summarizing Sidney’s position, Kamrath says that he argued that “God does not assign absolute rulers or forms of government over men, but rather the choice of rulers and government belongs to the people or multitude, made up of men who are all equal in position. Earthly civil power is given by God to the people” (The Miracle of America).
Sidney cited Scripture and appeared to hold it as authoritative, but a careful analysis of his thinking shows that he used Scripture as a “pretext” rather than a text. He did not interpret it properly within context.
He wrote, “The creature having nothing, and being nothing but what the Creator makes him, must owe all to him, and nothing to any one from whom he has received nothing. Man therefore must be naturally free unless he be created by another power than we have yet heard of. ... This liberty must continue, till it be either forfeited or willingly resigned.”
There is no biblical support for this. It is human reasoning. It ignores the fall and God’s judgment.
Sidney cites the Tower of Babel and the families that went forth from there after the confusion of the tongues. He said that since God did not assign any one group to rule over the others, this means that man is free. “But because I cannot believe God hath created man in such a state of misery and slavery. ... I am led to a certain conclusion, that every father of a family is free and exempt from the domination of any other, as the seventy-two that went from Babel were.”
Note that he says, “I cannot believe that...” His human reason was his final authority. To cite Genesis 5 as the standard for human government in all ages is to ignore the plain teaching of the rest of Scripture.
Sidney wrote, “The only sort of kings mentioned there [in Scripture] with approbation, is such a one ‘as may not raise his heart above his brethren’ (Deuteronomy 17].”
But Sidney was wrong. He overlooks or slights the fall and God’s judgment on sinful man. God put kings over the nations, and not just good kings but evil as well. God chose cruel, arrogant, boasting Nebuchadnezzar and gave him authority over a large part of the world, as Daniel explained (Daniel 2:37-38). In the same chapter of Scripture we see that God raised up the wicked kingdoms of Persia, Greece, and Rome, with their unrighteous and unjust and often vicious rulers. This is because of mankind’s rebellion and stubbornness in the face of divine light.
Sidney’s fundamental error was the same as that of Richard Hooker and John Locke. He used human reasoning rather than Scripture to determine what rights God has given to men and then argued from that faulty foundation. In practice, he exalted human reason over Scripture, and this is no small error.
Consider Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense was the best-selling book of the American Revolution and had a massive role in turning the minds of the citizens toward independence from Britain. It sold more than 500,000 copies. “More than any other single publication, Common Sense paved the way for the Declaration of Independence” (“Thomas Paine,” Encyclopedia Britannica). Paine’s “Crisis” papers, which were published during the war, were equally influential. The American Crisis Number 1 (Dec. 19, 1776) began with the memorable words: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Yet Thomas Paine was one of the most brazen skeptics of any age. In The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, Paine attacked the divine inspiration of the Bible and its miracles, exalting human reason as the final authority. He replaced the holy Almighty God of the Bible with a deistic God who is not involved in the affairs of man and is not Judge and Saviour. He rejected the doctrines of man’s fall and of Christ’s deity, virgin birth, blood atonement, and bodily resurrection. He denied both heaven and hell. The book began with the following statement:
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. MY OWN MIND IS MY OWN CHURCH.”
Paine described the Bible as “fabulous mythology” and “a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy” and a “pretended word of God.” He likened the Bible’s miraculous accounts to “Arabian tales, without the merit of being entertaining.” He called the God of the Old Testament “tyrannical.” He labeled the book of Genesis “an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies.”
Paine’s blasphemous book, which was dedicated to his “Fellow Citizens of the United States of America,” was rejected and attacked by many, but it also became a bestseller, spreading the heresy of Deism and undermining the faith of many. It helped lay the groundwork for the skepticism that has flashed through American society since the 19th century.
John Adams was a chief American statesman, diplomat, and a leader of the independence from Britain. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He was the first Vice President under George Washington, and the second President of the United States
Adams was a Unitarian. He rejected belief in the Trinity, in Jesus’ divinity, and in the supernatural inspiration of the Bible. He called the doctrine of the Trinity “absurdity.”
“David Barton also denied that he quotes history out of context, when Stewart confronted him about a quote from John Adams concerning ‘the Holy Ghost,’ as is shown in the film, The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers by Adullam Films. In this quote, Barton makes it appear as if John Adams was speaking favorably about the Holy Ghost in a letter he wrote to Benjamin Rush. In reality, Adams was mocking the idea of ‘Holy Ghost authority’ and called Christians ‘dupes’ for believing in it” (“David Barton Approves,” Christian Newswire, May 12, 2011).
Ethan Allen was one of the fathers of the state of Vermont and an influential figure in the American Revolution.
His 1785 book Reason, the Only Oracle of Man was a vicious attack upon the divine inspiration of the Bible, which he labeled “a torrent of superstition.” He “employed his special brand of ridicule to mock the idea that the devil was turned loose on two innocent young people in the Garden of Eden” (Randall, Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, p. 619). He mocked the doctrines of original sin and hell, exalting human reason as the ultimate standard of truth. When Allen died, Ezra Stiles, then president of Yale College, wrote in his diary, “Died in Vermont the profane and impious Deist General Ethan Allen, author of the Oracles of Reason, a book replete with scurrilous reflexions on Revelation. ... And in Hell he lift up his eyes being in torments” (Randall, Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, p. 528).
Unitarianism and humanism were permeating America’s churches and thinking even before her independence from England.
John Locke (1632-1704) was one of the most influential American writers. He was often recommended by Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Rush called Locke “an oracle as to the principles ... of government” (Observations upon the Present Government in Pennsylvania, 1777). But Locke was a Unitarian who rejected the Bible as ultimate authority and replaced it with man himself. He exalted human reason above Scripture: “Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring” (Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol. 1). Locke seemed to defend Christianity, but actually he taught that man is not required to believe that which he cannot understand, thus laying the foundation for the rejection of doctrines such as the Trinity and the Atonement. “Since it is impossible explicitly to believe any proposition of the Christian doctrine, but what we understand, or in any other sense, than we understand it to have been delivered in; an explicit belief is or can be required in no man, of more than what he understands of that doctrine” (The Reasonableness of Christianity). Locke downplayed the role of God in human affairs and exalted man himself. “It was John Locke who set the trajectory towards the secular democracies and republics” (Kevin Swanson, Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West).). French revolutionary philosopher Voltaire praised Locke as a “sage.” Thomas Jefferson quoted from Locke in the Declaration of Independence. It was Locke’s influence that resulted in the U.S. Constitution’s omission of God. Instead of exalting God, as the Mayflower Pilgrims had done in the very first words of their compact, the framers of the U.S. Constitution exalted man: “We the people of the United States...”
By 1800, one-third of the Congregational churches in Boston had become Unitarian. By 1810 “nearly every prominent Congregational pulpit in eastern Massachusetts was held by a preacher of Unitarian doctrine” www.bibliomania.com/2/3/270/1820/21935/1/frameset.html).
By 1805, Unitarians took control of Harvard College. A divinity school was established at Harvard in 1816 and “became the centre of Unitarian thought.” Harvard botanist Asa Gray was Charles Darwin’s most important popularizer in America. Under the leadership of Charles Eliot, from 1869 to 1909, Harvard had a massive influence in spreading Unitarianism, theological liberalism, and Darwinianism. Eliot appointed John Fiske to the post of science and history “specifically to introduce evolutionism in the Harvard curriculum” and “as America’s leading university, Harvard became the example to others, and almost the entire university world quickly followed her down the evolutionary trail” (Henry Morris, The Long War Against God, p. 47).
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America’s most famous poets, was introduced to Hinduism as a child by his aunt Moody Emerson. Though he was for a while the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Boston, he held Hindu concepts of pantheism and the divinity of man. He wrote, “... the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God” (Emerson, Nature), and, “... there is no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins” (Emerson, The Over-Soul, 1841). Emerson taught that man is his own ultimate authority. In his message to the Phi Beta Kappa society at Harvard in 1837, entitled “The American Scholar,” Emerson exhorted scholars to free themselves of tradition (such as the Bible) and to maintain a “self-trust.” He taught that man should follow his own heart. “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,--that is genius” (Emerson, Self-Reliance).
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), another of America’s prominent authors, author of On Walden Pond, was a Unitarian. He denied man’s fall, the necessity of the new birth, and Christ’s sacrificial atonement. He rejected God’s Word and exalted human thinking. He sought for “truth” through communion with nature, study of eclectic philosophies, and reflection. He was his own god. In Walden, Thoreau said, “No man ever followed his genius till it misled him.” Like Emerson, Thoreau loved Hindu doctrine. He wrote, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial” (On Walden Pond).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), another of America’s famous poets, was a Unitarian. He was a professor of modern languages at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, which was a hotbed of Unitarianism and abolitionist thinking fueled by the liberal social gospel. Influential Unitarian Hezekiah Packard was a trustee of Bowdoin in the 1830s and 1840s. Packard’s son Alpheus was a professor of Latin and Greek at Bowdoin from 1824-65. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), was the wife of a Bowdoin professor and wrote her book in her husband’s office. She is known as “the little woman who started the big war,” as her book incited anger against the slavery states and provoked hotheads on both side of the issue. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher was the liberal pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. During Beecher’s career there, he opened his pulpit to Unitarians such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Horace Greeley and even to agnostics such as Mark Twain. Henry Beecher “once argued that a Sharps rifle held a better argument than a Bible for persuading slaveholders--hence these rifles were nicknamed ‘Beecher’s Bibles’ when used to combat the spread of slavery in the Kansas Territory before the American Civil War” (http://www.embassy.org.nz/encycl/u1encyc.htm). The Beechers were related to Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian universalist and the author of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which confused the coming of Christ with the American armies of the North. She misidentified God’s altar with “the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps” and falsely claimed that His gospel was “writ in burnish’d rows of steel.” Julia Ward Howe delivered a pantheistic, universalistic message at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 entitled “What Is Religion?” (http://womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_1893_pwr_howe.htm).
AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE SERMONS
America of the 18th century was a nation of sermons. In many of the colonies and states, particularly in New England, a large percentage of the people attended church and heard sermons every week.
“Recent scholarship indicates that at the beginning of the Revolution, in the 1760s and 1770s, the majority of America’s three million colonists were active in churches” (Angela Kamrath, The Miracle of America).
Sermons were printed and distributed by the millions.
“For all of the 17th and most of the 18th century, the sermon was the dominant literary form in the American colonies. The sermon played an important role in the Revolution, and, while retreating somewhat in its dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries, remains a significant force in American cultural life” (Joe Fulton, “Sermons,” Oxford Bibliographies).
Sermons were preached both for and against the War of Independence, but in a large number of cases, the Bible was used as a pretext to support the preacher’s political views. Scripture was taken of context and misused.
Consider John Allen’s “An Oration Upon the Beauties of Liberty,” preached in December 1772 and widely distributed in multiple print editions. Allen was a Baptist pastor, and his sermon was one of the most influential of that era and won many to the cause of revolution against Britain. Allen’s text was Micah 7:3 -
“That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.”
The context of Micah 7 is Israel’s apostasy and wickedness. Israel’s king, judges, and great men were corrupt, seeking bribes and working evil.
Allen applied this to the British government. He applied “and so they wrap it up” to Britain’s “taxation without representation.”
Allen used Micah 7 as a call to arms against oppressive government. Consider his interpretation of “the great man uttereth his mischievous desire” -
“It is no rebellion to oppose any king, ministry, or governor, that destroys by violence or authority whatever, the rights of the people” (John Allen, “An Oration Upon the Beauties of Liberty,” 1772).
The context of Micah offers no biblical support for this interpretation. “People’s rights” are not a major subject of Scripture, to say the least. The Bible focuses, rather, on man’s sin against God, his fallen condition, God’s subsequent judgment of mankind and the working out of God’s eternal plan of redemption. Fallen man does not “deserve” good government, and he surrendered his “natural rights” when he sinned against God. The sinner has only one “right,” and that is the right to die and be judged for his crimes against God’s law.
Like many others of his day, Allen overlooks the fall and God’s judgment on sinful man. God put kings over the nations, and not just good kings but evil as well. As we have already noted, God chose oppressive Nebuchadnezzar and gave him authority over a large part of the world (Daniel 2:37-38). In the same passage of Scripture we are taught that God raised up the oppressive kingdoms of Persia, Greece, and Rome, with their unrighteous, unjust rulers. This is because of mankind’s rebellion against God.
Micah and the other prophets of Israel did not call for the overthrow of the king of Israel even when the government was oppressive. Likewise, in the New Testament, the apostles and prophets did not call for the overthrow of the Roman government in spite of its injustice, corruption, and heavy taxation.
Whether or not there was biblical support for the American War of Independence, it cannot be found in Micah 7:3.
Allen’s sermon was all too typical of the sermons of that day. There was far too much politicizing of the Word of God.
Many preachers continue to engage in this type of thing in the twenty-first century, twisting the Bible to fit their political views.
Because a nation is a nation of sermons doesn’t mean it is a biblical nation.
AMERICA’S FOUNDING DOCUMENTS
America’s founding documents themselves are an unholy mixture of biblical thinking and enlightenment humanism.
The U.S. Constitution is an amazing document, but it is influenced not only by the Bible, but also by enlightenment thinking that cited the Bible but that was actually founded on human reasoning that did not conform to biblical truth.
The following is by Stephen Douglas Wilson, dean emeritus and chair of the history department of Mid-Continent University:
“No Bible verses and/or expressions from historic Christian works are contained in the document.
“In fact, the major influences on the men who drafted both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights originated from the writings of the enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries who, for the most part, believed that faith could be expressed purely by use of reason and intellect, and that God's intervention in the process was not a necessary element -- hardly a Christian concept.
“For instance, Englishman Thomas Hobbes argued that government should be a contract between those that govern and the people. John Locke, taking up Hobbes’ theme in his work, Two Treatises of Government, felt that government should look out for the well-being of its citizens and respect their individual rights. He especially promoted the rights of ‘life, liberty, and estate’ (or property) for all citizens. Interestingly enough, when Thomas Jefferson drafted most of Locke’s theme into the Declaration of Independence, he slightly revised Locke and instead wrote that the people had a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Perhaps Jefferson thought that future American governments should not guarantee that all citizens possess a property entitlement. Locke’s phrase, however, does show up in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. In that amendment the document states that citizens cannot ‘be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.’ When the 14th Amendment applied federal guarantees to the individual states, the phrase and its context was repeated.
“Other enlightenment philosophers also directly impacted the Constitution. Baron Montesquieu in his work, The Spirit of the Laws, proposed that government should be divided into branches. Each branch would then maintain ‘checks and balances’ on the others -- thereby limiting the power of each branch. Cesare Beccaria, along with Voltaire, expressed concerns about how citizens were punished. Beccaria’s concerns, published in his work, On Crimes and Punishments, advanced the principle that punishments should not be ‘cruel or unusual.’ He obviously influenced the Eighth Amendment that bans such punishments.
“Enlightenment philosophers, like Voltaire (in the Treatise on Tolerance) and others, ironically agreed with the Baptists and other communities of dissenting 18th century Christians and argued against the tyranny of state-supported churches. Voltaire, along with other like-minded philosophers, instead advocated that all faiths should be allowed to worship without state interference. This influence is most evident when the Founding Fathers abolished the religious tests for federal office seekers and created the First Amendment guarantee for religious liberty. While the constitutional convention operated in a society heavily influenced by a Christian worldview, the U.S. Constitution itself was a product of enlightenment thinking, and the United States became the first modern nation to base itself on enlightenment principles” (“The Constitution and Its Benefits to Christians in America,” Baptist Press, March 4, 2013).
America’s economy has largely reflected selfish greed rather than godliness, and an economy is a reflection of a nation’s true character.
The first “home-grown depression” was in 1818, shortly after the nation’s founding, when it should have still been in its pristine godliness if indeed it ever were a “Christian nation.”
Banks collapsed. Farmers were ruined. Soup houses were established for the unemployed.
The depression was a product of unabashed greed and economic folly. The Second Bank of America had been established in 1816 to bring some semblance of financial order to the nation, but its head, William Jones, had gone through a personal bankruptcy and was therefore a ridiculous choice for the job. Not surprisingly, he ruled over a frenzy of foolish lending sprees and outright embezzlement. But Jones wasn’t alone in his lack of character; rather he reflected the character that was generally prevalent at that time. “Philadelphia State Senator Condy Raguent, observed, “The whole of our population is either stockholders of banks or in debt to them. It is not the interest of the first to press the banks and the rest are afraid to ask. ... An independent man ... who would have ventured to compel the banks to do justice, WOULD HAVE BEEN PERSECUTED AS AN ENEMY OF SOCIETY” (Peter Bernstein, Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation).
Another observed that the depression was the result of dissipation and vice.
When the U.S. Treasury called on the Bank of the United States to deliver $3 million in gold to the French as payment toward the amount due on Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the bank had to borrow the money from creditors in London, even though it was obligated under law to keep at least $7 million in silver or gold on hand at all times.
The first Bank of America was established by Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, but he “had no inhibitions about employing his banks to further his political ambitions and to deprive his political enemies of financial accommodations” (Wedding of the Waters, Kindle location 3557).
It was Hamilton who established America’s economy on the principle of debt, which is so contrary to Biblical wisdom. “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).
America’s economic system has gotten ever more ungodly since its founding.
American politics has also been an ungodly business since its inception.
In the early 1800s, when some of the nation’s founders were still alive, American politics was described as “the great game of political brawling” (Peter Bernstein, Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, Kindle location 3481).
Some banks refused credit to supporters of Thomas Jefferson. Newspapers were vicious in their opposition to candidates on the opposing political side. The reports were “descents into the gutter.” Jefferson’s opponents slanderously predicted that his election would result in the “teaching of murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest.”
New York mayor DeWitt Clinton observed, “Our ingenuity has been employed, not in cultivating a vernacular literature, or increasing the stock of human knowledge; but in raising up and pulling down the parties which agitate the community. ... The style of our political writings has assumed a character of rude invective, and unrestrained licentiousness, unparalleled in any other part of the world, and which has greatly tended to injure our national character” (Wedding of the Waters, Kindle location 3496).
New York’s Tammany party was formed during the lifetime of the founding fathers, and it was known for “corruption and unabashed stealing from public funds.” This was documented by Gustavus Myers in his 1901 Tammany Hall.
In 1950s America, which is looked upon nostalgically by many as time when the nation was still Christian, Dwight Eisenhower called politics “a combination of gossip, innuendo, sly character assassination and outright lies” (John Wukovits, Eisenhower: A Biography).
That doesn’t sound like a “Christian nation” to me.
AMERICA’S GREAT BUILDING PROJECTS
America’s major building projects have been glorious, but typically they have been done to the glory of man rather than the glory of God and they have often been shot through and through with corruption.
For example, the Erie Canal, America’s first gigantic construction project, required a 25 year slugfest before the ground could be broken in 1817, and the battle royal continued to the very end of the project. The battle consisted of lies, character assassination, and every sort of ungodly tactic and selfish scheme. None of the main players on either side of the project were godly by any biblical definition.
The same can be said of the transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal, the interstate highway system, and the Apollo moon program, to mention a few.
We conclude that America has been strongly and uniquely influenced by Christianity and the Bible, but America has never been a Christian nation in a biblical sense.
For the other side of this coin, see our new book The Bible and Western Society, which is available in print and in a free eBook edition from Way of Life Literature.
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