America has never been a Christian nation. It is a semantical, theological impossibility for a nation to be “Christian.” A country can no more be a Christian nation than a car can be a Christian car.
A car’s driver can be a Christian and the occupants can be Christians. The philosophy under which the car is driven can be based on Christian principles of kindness, responsibility and respect for authority. It may be driven only to church on Sundays. However – to be theologically accurate – a car cannot be a Christian car.
The car may have been built by an auto manufacturing corporation run on distinctly Christian principles. It can be maintained by an integrous Christian mechanic, and it may be ticketed by a diligent Christian parking enforcement officer. It can even be covered by Christian bumper stickers, which others may see and “honk if they love Jesus.” However, a car is an apparatus of various manmade materials and has no place in eternity. It has no soul, so cannot be “Christian.”
According to Evangelical Christianity, the New Testament Scriptures define what is “Christian.” Individuals are Christians (Acts 11:26) – not cars, not pets, not nations.
It is true that a collection of Christians might form what is accurately called a “Christian” church, but such an organization can only be called “Christian” because the Bible is the basis for that organization. The New Testament Scriptures clearly delineate a church’s governmental framework and establish its standards, programs, practices and elements of its liturgy. However, there is no biblical precedent for a Christian nation. Israel, of course, was a nation conceived by God, and whose foundations were laid out in the Bible, but all other nations – including America – are of manmade origin.
America was founded by Christians, deists and others who embraced virtue and biblical morality, and who understood the importance of humility before the Creator. Hence, early documents such as the Declaration of Independence made so many references to God and His Providence. That is why so many of our laws and governmental practices were originally adapted from biblical precepts and standards.
Without a doubt America was founded on biblical principles, but lacking a New Testament mandate, and given its manmade origin, the nation our founders created can never be called “Christian.”
It is important to note that although our nation was not originally a “Christian” nation, our Founding Fathers understood the wisdom of Christian morality and the necessity of acknowledging God’s supreme authority. They communicated in their writings that if our nation, with its unique vision for self-government and personal liberty, were to persevere in greatness, its individual citizens would need to embrace the morality and Christian worldview upon which it was founded.
Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. – Benjamin Franklin
The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. – Benjamin Rush
Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits … it is founded on morals and religion, whose authority reigns in the heart, and on the influence all these produce on public opinion before that opinion governs rulers. – Fisher Ames
Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments. – Charles Carroll
[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. – John Adams
Our Founding Fathers warned that the forsaking of virtue, biblical morality and humility before God would cause our nation to lose the very liberty for which the founders risked their lives. Yet, that is precisely what has happened in the last 200 years – America now suffers from moral decline on almost every level, because its citizens no longer promote biblical virtue and submission to God.
Thomas Jefferson put it most poignantly:
No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and people so demoralized [lacking good morals] and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control, their reformation must be taken up ab incunabulis. Their minds [must] be informed by education what is right and what wrong, be encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned indeed, but irremissible. In all cases, follow truth as the only safe guide and eschew error which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government. – Thomas Jefferson to John Adams (1819. ME 15:234)
Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on which our government has been founded and its rights asserted. – Thomas Jefferson to P. H. Wendover, (1815. ME 14:283)
To put it in today’s language, it was Jefferson’s conviction that by nature, people are depraved, immoral and lacking self-control. He therefore believed that the only way that the American style of government could be maintained was to instruct everyone in right and wrong from birth, and train them toward good habits and virtue through disciplinary consequences. Political self-government, he said, requires that citizens be raised to despise dishonesty and embrace personal integrity through instruction and repeated admonitions. Religion and reason, he said, form the basis for our nation’s foundations.
Thomas Jefferson and the other founders built our nation upon Christian principles and ethics, and warned that America would morally disintegrate if it forsook its “religious” roots. Although such a foundation could not make our nation “Christian,” we would be wise to listen to our predecessors and embrace our Creator and the Bible that communicates how to walk in morality and virtue.