Sunday, June 30, 2013

Christian Faith In Early America

“Blessed is the country with God for God…”
(Psalm 33:12, MSG)

In my June 30 sermon “Mending the Bell,” I invited our congregation to become better aware of the spiritual and religious background of our national heritage and history.  One place that we find examples of Christian “faith” in early America is in the written documents of the period:

For example, we find examples of “faith” in the wording of many  early Colonial and (later) State Constitutions, proclamations, and oaths.  The “The Declaration of Independence” itself contains religious phrasing such as “...endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights...”, “...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” and “... with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence....” 

And while it’s true that the U.S. Constitution contains no direct references to God or religion, one should not expect it to, as (in the words of author Gary DeMar), “The U.S. Constitution is not a source of fundamental values. It is an instrument whereby instrumental values can be protected, defining  the procedures, principles, and methods whereby government can function to allow people to give content to their lives. But the Constitution itself cannot give that content” [--Gary DeMar, God and Government, Vol. 1 (American Vision Press, 1997), p. 151].

Even so, the Constitution does possesses what many have identified as a Christian “spirit” through the implicit “Christian” ideals, values, and attitudes that it promotes and presumes, and which were prevalent throughout colonial America during the time of its writing (including ideals such as Natural Rights, Government by Consent, Separation of Powers, etc.)

On June 28, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin issued a now famous call to prayer that captured the essence of these prevalent religious values and attitudes:  “Have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we now 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 labour in vain who 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, cited in James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (NY: W.W. Morton & Co., Original 1787 reprinted 1987), Vol. I, p. 504, 451-21].

My point is that while early America wasn't a bastion of Christian orthodoxy -- nor were our founders all active or orthodox either in their practice or beliefs about Christianity -- nevertheless there was an implicit Christian “spirit” that guided our nation in its early years that today is often minimized and dismissed. And I believe that without a return to it, as a nation we will continue to fall into moral chaos and disintegration.

So, I invite each of us to do our part to help restore the spiritual and religious heritage that has under girded our national moral fabric for over two centuries.  Pray for our nation, it’s leaders, and ourselves that we would honor God in all areas of life -- private and public -- so that we can continue to be “one nation, under God.” Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

[For much more details about what I’ve shared in this blog, read the session notes to a 3-part class I've taught on this subject called “America’s Christian Heritage.” You can read the class materials and notes HERE.]

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