By Tim Throckmorton
Nothing seems to incite more controversy these days than the phrase “Christian Nation.” In fact, I have seen folks with swelled veins and clenched fists who refuse to believe it’s so. Now before the lawyers get too antsy and the charges are filed, allow me to take a few minutes and explain from history the basis of my comments. This is American history mind you, that was at one time taught in schools from Sea to Shining Sea. These are simply recorded facts; you are free to do with them as you will. But you cannot deny the truth these historical accounts reveal.
The hardy souls who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 fled from tyranny and oppression. And in the Mayflower Compact, which they signed beneath the swinging lantern in the cabin of their ship, they proclaimed that they had come to the new world for “the glorie of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” In 1643, as more and more people arrived on these shores, they joined together to form “The New England Confederation.” They wrote a constitution, the first constitution written in the New World, and it began with these words: “Whereas we all came into these parts with one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the gospel in purity and peace…”
But as time passed, and the original settlers died off, many of their descendants were more concerned with increasing their wealth and comfortable living than being faithful to God and His Word. Then England began a program of emptying its prisons by making it possible for prisoners to come to the New World and the spiritual atmosphere deteriorated rapidly. Churches were dying, and many of them that had once sought religious freedom for themselves were now being intolerant of others. It was during this time that some went off in strange spiritual directions. For example, in 1692 a slave girl was brought by her master to live in Salem, Massachusetts. She began to tell young girls there wild and vivid tales about the power of Voodoo, and it wasn’t long until fear filled the community, and the Salem Witch Trials began. The result of it all was that by 1730, only about 10% of the people in the Colonies attended church at all.
Then something amazing happened! Beginning in 1734, a handful of preachers – Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennant, John Wesley, and others – began to preach in the churches and the streets and the fields. These great crusades and revivals spread throughout the 13 Colonies. So many people came to Christ that the era came to be known as “The Great Awakening.” Tens of thousands dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ and were baptized. So many people came to hear Whitefield as he traveled the colonies that he had to hold open-air meetings because there just wasn’t enough room in the churches. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Now, why is this important you ask? Because this “Great Awakening” was a precursor to the American Revolution. Our Founding Fathers, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, those who wrote our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, those who put their lives on the line, who fought and died that we might be free – all these grew up and came into leadership while this “Great Awakening” was engulfing the land. The generation that experienced the “Great Awakening” became the leaders of the American Revolution!
Over a 10-year period, political science professors at the University of Houston collected and cataloged 15,000 writings by the founding fathers. Their goal was to determine the primary source of ideas behind the Constitution by identifying the sources quoted most often by them. Guess what that primary source was? It was the Bible. 94% of the founders’ quotes were based on the Bible. “America’s government is patterned after biblical principles.” You know that we have an Executive Branch, a Legislative Branch that makes laws, and a Judicial Branch. Where did the framers of our government get the idea or pattern for three branches of government? Not from Europe; not from Plato or any of the other philosophers. No, when the framers of our government got together to determine, “How can we best organize our government?” they looked to the word of God. They were influenced by Isaiah 33:22 which refers to God in those same three aspects. “For the Lord is our Judge [that’s judicial], our Lawgiver [that’s legislative], and our King [that’s executive]. It is He who will save us.” What a wonderful thought to know that the formation of our cherished documents was shaped by the truth of God’s word! May it continue to be so.
The influence of the “Great Awakening” in the early to mid-1700’s touched the lives of many of the men who signed their name to the Declaration of Independence. It’s worth noting that even though Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin (two of the least religious signers) are typically the only signers studied today, almost half of the signers of the Declaration (24 of 56), held what today would be considered seminary or Bible School degrees.
They were also involved for religious reasons. Americans are taught that “taxation without representation” was the reason that America separated from Great Britain, yet that was only number seventeen out of twenty-seven reasons given in the Declaration of Independence, and it was not even in the top half. Never mentioned today are the numerous grievances condemning judicial activism or those addressing moral and religious issues. What religious issues do you ask? In 1762, the king vetoed the charter for the first American Missionary Society; he also suppressed other religious freedoms and even prevented Americans from printing an English-language Bible. Almost unknown today is the fact that Declaration signers such as Samuel Adams and Charles Carroll cited religious freedom as the reason they became involved in the American Revolution.
So, how did the founding fathers really feel? It was John Jay, the first Chief Justice and “Father” of the Supreme Court, one of the primary writers of our Constitution, who wrote, “It is the duty of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Check out this prayer recorded in the personal diary of George Washington, and in his own handwriting: “Let my heart, gracious God, be so affected with Your glory and majesty that I may … discharge those weighty duties which thou requirest of me … Again, I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of sins … for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered on the cross for me. Thou gavest thy Son to die for me and hast given me assurance of my salvation.”
Or listen to this quote, “We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that 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 … I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more clergy of the city be requested to officiate in that service.” Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Constitution, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Pennsylvania
Many people are surprised to learn that the United States Capitol regularly served as a church building; a practice that began even before Congress officially moved into the building and lasted until well after the Civil War. President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793, but it was not until the end of 1800 that Congress actually moved into the building. According to the Congressional records, for late November of 1800, Congress spent the first few weeks organizing the Capitol rooms, committees, locations, etc. Then, on December 4, 1800, Congress approved the use of the Capitol building as a church building. The approval of the Capitol for church was given by both the House and the Senate, with House approval being given by Speaker of the House, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, and Senate approval being given by the President of the Senate, Thomas Jefferson. Interestingly, Jefferson’s approval came while he was still officially the Vice President but after he had just been elected President. From Jefferson through Abraham Lincoln, many presidents attended church at the Capitol, and it was common practice for Members of Congress to attend those services. Christian worship services on Sunday were also started at the Treasury Building and the War Office. John Quincy Adams, a U. S. Senator, made frequent references to these services. Typical of his almost weekly entries are these: “Religious service is usually performed on Sundays at the Treasury office and at the Capitol. I went both forenoon and afternoon to the Treasury.” (October 23, 1803)
Perhaps you are at this point wondering why I as a pastor should be concerned with politics, government, and even American history. Here’s why: as an American pastor I enjoy the freedom to preach the Word of God without hesitation for fear of government rules and regulations limiting what I can say, and I have a sacred obligation to rely on and effectively share the true history of this great republic. I have children and grandchildren who will either be blessed by my actions or suffer because of my inaction. You see, these freedoms aren’t enjoyed everywhere in the world, but only where men are free! I believe it behooves us and those who follow in our footsteps to be reminded of our great, godly heritage.
Tim Throckmorton is pastor of Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio. He was in retail management for 20 years. In 1996, he began service with the Church of the Nazarene and served as Pastor, Credentials Board Secretary, and District Secretary. He is the vice chair of the Facility Governing Board at Star Community Justice Center in Franklin Furnace. He writes a weekly column for a number of newspapers in the Central and Southern Ohio region, is the former host of Tri-State Celebration, Daystar Television’s local affiliate in Ashland Kentucky, and has hosted Morning Show WOKE 98.3 Joy F.M. In 2010, he released a DVD project entitled Lest We Forget, which is a study of our Godly American Heritage. His latest book, Jesus Hit Me was released in the fall of 2013. Tim and his wife, Terri, have two children and a granddaughter.
This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.
1. All Scripture quotations from King James Version (KJV)