The Christian and the State PART 4 – The American Experiment

**this series is based on Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project” with Del Tackett. Click here for original materials.

The King who thinks he is God… soon becomes the devil.

It would be hard to look at history and find reason to disbelieve that statement.

According to Romans chapter 13, the State is God’s servant and will be judged by Him. Hence rulers who take the mantle of leadership in government will undergo a strict judgment and should rule according to justice and not ego or selfish ambition.

This simple but powerful concept rushed into the once barbaric Roman Empire after Constantine legalized Christianity in A.D. 312. The faith quickly “infected” culture and politics and turned the blood lusting Roman world into modern Europe, a hot bed of human flourishing. For nearly a thousand years after Constantine christened Rome, apostles, scholars, priests and bureaucrats yearned to create a legal system that would be deemed just by the God of their bible. Kings were told that they would be judged according to their righteousness and so pressure mounted on them to be just and fair to their subjects. In A.D. 1215 the Magna Carta was born of this urge and the origins of radical concepts of freedom for the common man were born. Unheard of  ideals such as separation of Church and State, the legal system being above the King himself, protection from unlawful imprisonment and unfair taxation were in their embryonic form in “the Great Charter.”

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the signing of the Magna Carta (the Great Charter) in A.D. 1215, overseen by Stephen Langdon, Archbishop of Canterbury

This was the first real attempt in Europe – and perhaps world (except for Cyrus Cylinder) – to wrench power from the Monarchs and give some to the people. Eventually the continual purifying of legal systems in Europe culminated in British Common law, which itself heavily influenced the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. And the United Nations’ Human Rights Charter borrowed almost everything from these predecessors.

A serious question could be asked at this point. Why didn’t this emerge on the Asian continent or pre-colonized Africa or in the Aztec empire? What exactly took us from gladiatorial Rome to a Western Civilization that sprung human rights? Could it be that the judecohristian system not only put the fear of God into rulers, but that the ethics it taught every man, woman and child were the right ones? That they actually worked. Right-living individuals easily come together to form a healthy society. And it is hard, if not impossible, to find another civilization whose holy books or philosophy pushed for a king-less world in which personal righteousness and God’s Law were held above government. The dethroning of a king’s god-like status is a hallmark of both Judaism and Christianity. Something which helped the German monk Martin Luther humanize the Catholic priest and de-sacralize the Pope thus ushering in the Protestant Reformation.

This tradition of removing undue human authority over the people continued unabaited until the Enlightenment of the 1600’s in Europe. Then came the European Existentialism and Scientism movements of the 1800’s under Nietzsche, Karl Marx and Darwin. Man began losing his status as Crown of Creation in God’s Image and began returning to a more pagan concept of being on a continuum with all of nature, not set apart.

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Fortunately, a funny thing also happened in the 1600’s, a group of European puritans escaped mounting religious persecution by going to the New World on the American continent. Using a blank slate, they attempted to form a political theory as biblical as they could muster. Now, the American founding fathers were human and therefore imperfect and sinful. Just like anyone else. No one claims the resulting colony known as the United States of America was or is a paradise. Yet we should appreciate the historical uniqueness of this social experiment.

Easily the most unique aspect of this new society was the overt Christian DNA that was infused into its original legal documents and educational establishments. By today’s standards, the degree to which the founding fathers and the original colonizers merged their faith with their politics, education and culture would be considered fanatical. In fact, it would be illegal in the modern realm. Let’s look at some examples of the “hyper” Christianized American nation.

The second best selling book in the American colonies a couple hundred years ago was the the New England Primer. An elementary school text book on reading and writing. As you can see, it was a biblically themed work and encouraged kids to obey their parents and God as well as having a healthy prayer life.

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Further, the National Education Association unabashedly stated: “…if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools… …if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools; then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control.” Wowzers. Imagine how quickly the ACLU would be unleashed on a politician making such a statement today.

In 1636 Harvard became the first university founded in the United States. We have the puritan to thank for this institution and its original Rules & Precepts declaration: ““Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ at the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”

Yikes! I could just imagine the mob protest that would follow this kind of declaration today. Notice also that the original Harvard University logo included the Latin words for “Christ” and “Church” along with the central word “Truth.” The modern logo has dropped these first two but kept the Latin for truth.

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LEFT: the 1636 crest                                                 RIGHT: modern isignia

In 1663, John Eliot translated the Bible into a regional First Nation’s dialect. The Algonquian Indian Bible received was funded by the British Parliament as was a movement to evangelize the First Nations.

Princeton Univeristy was founded in 1746 with the cornerstone statement: “Cursed is all learning that is contrary to the Cross of Christ.” Columbia University’s seal in 1754 had the Hebrew word “Yahweh” at its head and included verses from Psalms 36 and 27 as well as one from 1 Peter 2.

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The overwhelming majority of the minds that shaped the foundational legal, political and philosophical structures of the United States were unabashedly clear that they intended to forge a nation soaked in Christianity. Gouverneur Morris (one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution) declared “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.” Samuel Adams was even more forthright: “Let Divines, and

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Samuel Adams

Philosophers, Statesmen and Patriots unite their endeavours to renovate the Age, by impressing the Minds of Men with the importance of educating their little boys, and girls – of inculcating in the Minds of youth the fear, and Love of the Deity… …Phylanthropy… …the Love of their Country… …in the Art of self government, without which they never can act a wise part in the Government of Societys great, or small – in short of leading them in the Study, and Practice of the exalted Virtues of the Christian system, which will happily tend to subdue the turbulent passions of Men… …for the Earth shall be full of the Knowledge of the Lord.” Benjamin Rush signed the Declaration of Independence and in “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book” proclaimed: “(In) contemplating the political institutions of the United States, I lament that (if we remove the Bible from schools) we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…For this Divine Book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and these sober and frugal virtues which constitute the soul of (our government).”

The Northwest Ordinance was a July 13, 1787 document that laid the ground rules the original colonies desired a new territory to abide by in order to join the Union. It included this statement: “Article 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever by encouraged.” In short, the American nation wanted a territory to be Christian in its politics and education in order to be compatible with the growing Union.

An excerpt from George Washington’s Farewell Address given on Sept 17, 1796 said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…” John Adams on June 21, 1776 wrote: “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Noah Webster, author of the Webster Dictionary said, on October 25, 1836. “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed… no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Murals in the Rotunda in Washington, D.C. are filled with Christian-themed imagery. We have the portrait of Christopher Columbus portraying him as a missionary. And we see the Puritan Pilgrims circled in prayer on the America-bound boat Speedwell.

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“Landing of Columbus”
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“Embarcation of Pilgrims”

An oft cited mantra nowadays is that the “U.S. was founded as a secular nation.” Few things could be more erroneous. The secularization of America has certainly blossomed, but this was not the Union’s original embryonic or new born state. The first threads of secularization began in the mid 1800’s. One of the original “deconstruction” fathers was John Dewey. Commonly known as the architect of Modern Education was a strict secularist:

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Many modern readers will think to themselves, “what’s wrong with secularizing the U.S.? After all, doesn’t their Constitution speak of the Separation of Church and State?” Very good question. Clearly the founding fathers were attempting to establish a nation based on the Christian religion and moral system. So why would they include the Separation of Church and State clause? First, “Separation of church and state” is a paraphrase from Thomas Jefferson, and does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Jefferson’s words were an abbreviation of the portion of the First Amendment which read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. PART4 America 9This First Amendment included what is known as the Establishment Clause as well as the Free Exercise Clause. Both revolved around the relationship of the government to the church and was written specifically to cement the right to religious freedom, keeping the government from ever having the power over Christians or the church. Remember that the founders of the U.S. were almost all Christians fleeing persecution from their European monarchs. By making sure the government could not suppress the church, these puritan pilgrims could permanently secure their right to worship. Further, by keeping the State free from the Church, the U.S. could never merge the two into the unholy alliance of an official national Church. They had seen the damage a political church could do and wanted to avoid this tragedy. Therefore, Christians could express their faith everywhere, including in the political and educational spheres, but they could not force anyone to be Christian through the use of government power. This did not mean that laws could not reflect Christian values — the U.S. was built on Christian ethics — but that the government could not be used to enforce religious traditions such as church membership, baptism, etc.

Ironically, modern secularists have misinterpreted this amendment and use it to prevent any trace of Christian doctrine from schools and public office. In short, they violate the First Amendment by using the Supreme Court to ban Christianity and enforce secularism unto the nation. Simply because secular folks do not form a “church” does not mean they are not just as faithful to their worldview as Christians. And now they wield the First Amendment in complete reverse fashion to secure the mainstreaming of their “church” and beliefs and — very ironically — block those of the founding fathers. After all, it was the very first president of the U.S., George Washington who warned: ““And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion… reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusions of religious principles.” Patrick Henry (of “give me liberty or give me death” fame), governor of Virginia and one of the founding fathers stated: “The great pillars of all government and of social life are virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor… and this alone, that renders us invincible.” A visiting frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the following in his work “Democracy in America”: “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other. The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me upon my arrival in the U.S. In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions, in America, I found them intimately linked together and joined and reigned over the same land… …Religion should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions. From the start, politics and religion have agreed and have not since ceased to do so.”

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Alex de Toqueville

And even non-Christian Benjamin Franklin declared, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Were these men oblivious to the notion that the very first amendment in their Constitution contradicted every single fiber of their political theory? Of course not. They understand that by freeing the individual from both the State and the Church they were opening the door for organic Christians to build laws and a nation inspired by their Christian beliefs. They were certainly not banning Christianity from public life or education, but trying to maximize the freedom of the Faith to do exactly that: be the foundation of their ethics, laws and culture. Amazing what a couple hundred years and some incredibly well edited history books can do to the public mind.

Now, if we establish the Christian-friendly ideology of the U.S. founding fathers, do we now have to admit that they were just a product of their backward time? Should they be seen as museum pieces? Relics of the past? Image result for federalist papers wikipediaOften, modernists will look back at their agrarian American ancestors with a sense of superiority. After all, how well informed or progressive could a pre-internet society be? Well, remember that the “Federalist Papers” were written for the average farmer. Yet these writings form incredibly tough, nuanced reading that many modern law students struggle with. Remember that many American farmers and pioneers could hunt, farm, build homes, play instruments, read philosophy, theology and history at levels most university students today cannot. The founding fathers and architects of the American Constitution had fled an oppressive government. They certainly DID NOT want to repeat history and they crafted a political and legal framework that still functions to this day, hundreds of years later.

Unfortunately, no political document could replace virtue within the average citizen. As we become more and more secular, the State must grow to try and contain what only the Holy Spirit can tame: the human soul and its ill passions. If civil magistrates are to punish evil and condone good they must first know what is good and what is evil. If these magistrates are not looking outside to an external standard, then he /she will become the standard. And the small, sinful human mind will elevate itself, hauntingly, to the heights only a God can or should. We need a real moral framework that comes from the mind of a God. Or else we are floating through space with our own imagination as guide. The U.S. Declaration of Independence stated: “…and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitles them…” Meaning that humanity needed to know that Nature and Her God were the givers of human rights, not other humans. If humans own or create rights, then those rights can be taken away. As they have in all communist states and other dictatorial regimes. Famed British judge Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) declared: “The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction… the moral law, called also the law of nature.” Charles Finney, famous Christian evangelist, converted after reading British law professor William Blackstone’s legal writings. Blackstone was a major contributor to the developing concept of British Common Law, which itself was a major inspiration for the U.S. Constitution. His work was so drenched in Christian theology that they doubled as theological materials.

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle as well as many other of history’s great minds (Augustine, Aquinas, Newton) agreed that ethics were metaphysical (supernatural). By definition, morals have to be a transcendent (originating from outside humans) part of reality that we discover just like physics and chemistry. And that are just as real as electrons and gravity. Given by God, not man. Real, not imagined. No other scenario guarantees that rights are irrevocable then the theistic framework.

If Christianity is the true description of reality, it is the true morality. As Blackstone’s work shows, the creation of the progressive laws of Britain and the U.S. were steeped, unabashedly in Christian beliefs. The concept of justice and true theology were considered interchangeable. With the 1800’s came the rise of nihilism and the 1859 publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species.” Joining this momentum was Charles William Eliot, voted as president of Harvard University in 1869. He ushered in the evolutionary viewpoint as the campus ideology and accelerated the secularization of the American mind. The evolutionary history of biology, a purposeless meandering of organisms on a floating rock, became the chaotic basis which was applied to the history of law. No longer was justice and ethics learnt from an external, non physical reality, but to be seen as local and ever changing and as non transcendent. Much like our evolutionary history as mollusks turning into raccoons and jazz singers. Like biology, sociology was just slowly meandering without a guide from outside the world. This inevitably lead to Legal Positivism, the claim that the state is the ultimate authority for creating, interpreting and enforcing law. All legal truth is based on the decision of the state. The State is God at that point. Constitutions of early States nearly always demanded that Christian men hold positions of power. Now it has become almost the opposite. Anyone clinging to Christian principles is seen as delusional and unfit for leadership.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian and novelist whose seminal work “The Gulag Archipelago” chronicled his native country’s decline into madness in the form of the U.S.S.R. and the ensuing attrocities brought upon by Stalinism and Leninism. In his  he 1983 “Templeton Address” in London he spoke this eerie warning:

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Over half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

There arose a generation that knew not God. And God rose up nations against them. (Judges 2:10)

When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. (Hosea 13:6)

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:5)

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