Is the United States’ society and its system of government founded on Christian principles?
As we celebrate the United States of America’s birthday this week, I thought it would be good for us to pause and consider our Christian heritage, for it is a very rich one for which we should be very grateful.
But tragically, it is a heritage that is now being denied by historical revisionists who wish to erase all vestiges of Christianity from our nation’s memory. And so, I plan to prove to you that our nation was established on a very strong Christian foundation.
As you may know, I have a rather unusual perspective for a Christian minister. The reason is that in addition to having studied the Bible all my life, I was a university professor of American Government, American History and Constitutional Law for 20 years before I decided in 1980 to give up my academic career and commit the rest of my life to teaching and preaching God’s Word.
I can say to you without qualification that our American constitutional system is a unique one because it was the first government ever devised by Man that was based upon biblical principles.
Its cornerstone was a belief in the biblical teaching about the inherently evil nature of Man, which produced a conviction that no person can be trusted with power. This belief that Man’s nature is corrupted and irreparable apart from the power of the Holy Spirit represented a radical departure from history.
Until that time, most of mankind had always been ruled by kings who were considered to have a divine right to rule and who usually ended up ruling like they thought they were gods. The American colonists rebelled against such a king, and they had no intention of replacing the British monarch with an American one.
What is amazing is that they did not proceed to establish an oligarchical form of government since most of the leaders of the American Revolution were wealthy aristocrats. But the vast majority of them were also devout Christians, and they were fully aware of the biblical teaching about the fallen nature of Man. You can find one of the clearest expression of it in Jeremiah 17. Jeremiah wrote: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind… Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord…'” And then he explains why: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick…” Because of truths like this revealed in the Scriptures, our Founding Fathers did not trust anyone with power, not even themselves. They therefore proceeded to construct a government that would limit the use of power.
Equally important was their conviction that the Word of God constitutes a higher law to which all men and governments are subject, that the fundamental rights of mankind are derived from that law and not from government.
And thus, in the nation’s Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
To put it another way, the Founding Fathers of our nation expressly rejected the traditional philosophy of Humanism and its concept that Man is basically good and capable of perfection and that therefore those who are highly educated have a natural right to rule over those less fortunate.
They also rejected the radical form of Humanism that came to prevail in the French Revolution and which produced a reign of terror; namely, a belief in the essential goodness of the common man. Again, because of their world view, our Founding Fathers trusted no one. They refused to establish a monarchy or an oligarchy. But they also distrusted the common man, so they refused to establish a democracy because they feared it would quickly evolve into mobocracy.
Because our Founding Fathers believed in the biblical principle that Man is inherently evil and that God alone should be trusted, they carefully constructed a representative republic with an ingenious set of checks and balances. For example, in the original government established by our constitution, there was only one, yes, just one national official directly elected by the people, and that was the local Congressman who was elected to serve for two years in the House of Representatives. Senators were not directly elected. They were appointed by state legislatures, and this continued to be the case until the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913 which requires the selection of Senators by direct popular vote.
Likewise, the President was not originally selected by direct election. Instead, he was selected by electors who, in turn, were appointed by the state legislatures. Over a period of time, the state legislatures began to allow voters to select the electors. But as late as 1824, more than a quarter of all the state legislatures were still appointing electors. Today, all electors are selected by popular vote. Even so, the system of selecting the President continues to be indirect since voters are voting directly for electors and it is the electors who directly select the President.
Thus, in the election of 2000, George W. Bush was selected as President by the Electoral College by a margin of 271-266 even though his opponent, Al Gore, garnered 500,000 more popular votes than Bush.
Our Founding Fathers also divided the powers of government between the federal government and the state governments. In the 10th Amendment they defined what was given to the central government, they prescribed what was denied to state governments, and they stated that all other powers were retained by the States. Within the federal government, power was further divided between three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
And the basic rights of the people to be protected from all governmental intrusion were spelled out in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. That’s the name given to the first ten amendments approved in 1791 and considered to be a part of the original Constitution since their adoption was essential to the ratification of the Constitution.
In the second segment of this series on the Christian heritage of America, we will be warned by the Founding Fathers that morality and religion are essential to preserving liberty.