Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thoughts About "Christian" America

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord….” (Psalm 33:12)

As we celebrate America’s birth, I invite us to remember that for most of its history, our nation was and has been distinctly “Christian” in spirit (even if not always in practice).  This is the source of the popular phrase “Christian America.”

It does not mean that every American was, or is (or needs to be) a Christian in either belief or practice.  Nor does it mean that those who are/were are from immune from hypocrisy, misuse, and misappropriation of the gospel in their practice of faith. Nor does it mean that people cannot or should not hold viewpoints and offer opinions which differ from Christian values or principles.

On the contrary, saying that America has historically been AChristian@ merely reflects to the reality that the prevailing ideals, values, and attitudes of much of its history has either been taken directly from, or are generally in accord with, those of orthodox Christianity.  Historian Sanford Cobb once wrote that AThe religious quality of a people is... determined by [their] spirit and life@ [Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p.524], and a study of America’s historic “spirit and life” reveals the presence of ideals, values and principles rooted and grounded in Christianity. 

For example, in its early history, political ideals like Natural/@Inalienable@ Rights, government by consent, the concept of limited government (AKA the “separation of powers”), and even prevailing assumptions about the nature and duties of government all are philosophically rooted in content and concepts that come directly from the Bible.  What’s more is that the sources of these ideals -- from the values of the Puritans, to the effects of the AFirst Great Awakening,” to the origins of our educational systems, and even to the nature and concept of “Civil Law” -- were similarly distinctly Christian in principle.

My point here is that while America can in no way claim now to be (or to have ever been) a “Christian nation” in practice (after all, we are flawed like all other nations and peoples), nevertheless it’s spirit, character, and strength has always lay in its reliance (even if at times tacitly) upon the ideals, values and principles of Christianity. 

So, my prayer is that as we celebrate our nations’ heritage and freedoms, we would remember and celebrate the God who gives them, and recognize that without our corporate acknowledgement of His work and presence in our national life, we not only turn our backs on what has made us great in our past, but we also jeopardize our present and future by doing so.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever@ [Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, 1781-1782, p. 237; Paul Leicester Ford, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 3, p. 267].

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

(P.S., If you’d like more information on the history and biblical basis for the ideals and values of early America that I’ve talked about above, please contact me and I can share notes and a handout with you)

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