On July 4, 1776, did the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to found a Christian nation? Is America Christian?
We know they were motivated by liberty, a Christian theme. But the answer depends on how you assess the question. Is it about the Founders and the Constitution? Is it about our current leaders, law, and policy? Is it about the religion of the citizenry?
The Christian faith motivated many of the Founders. Noah Webster, Revolutionary War veteran, lawyer, and educator wrote in History of the United States, “Our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.” He wrote in a letter to James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, “I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of Christianity have not a controlling influence.”
Madison led the adoption of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. In plain language it says that Congress cannot establish a national church, Christian or otherwise, nor can it prohibit you from freely exercising your faith. Yet it took another 74 years to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery.
Despite its flaws, God has preserved America through wars, depression, and scandal. Ronald Reagan said, “There was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.” Yet we struggle against recurring racism, legalize the termination of vulnerable human life, and steal from the future with a burgeoning national debt.
A country can’t be Christian in the plain sense that Christ Jesus came to change the world one person at a time, by saving sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The Christian gospel is that by faith you are accepted into the life of Christ and the community of believers. It is true that polls consistently show that a majority of American citizens identify with the Christian faith. But do they actually know and follow the Lord Jesus, or are they cultural Christians?
Martin Luther’s “Tower Experience” was quite personal. Reflecting on the words of Romans 1:17, he said, “The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
Unless you’re making an argument about public policy, the question, “Is America Christian?” may be moot. But this one isn’t: Are you? If you have entered those open gates, America is more Christian than it might have been.