Point of Reference
by Fred Price
No one necessarily denies that our country was established and built upon the beliefs and actions of our forefathers, but a hotly-contested debate centers on whether we should continue to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors or find our own way. In particular, some question the relevance of these men’s faith and the practical everyday influence it exerted on their lives, others doubt the necessity of faith altogether. The European Union debated implementing a far-reaching continental constitution that at least in part, purposefully avoided mentioning Europe’s religious heritage and history, while the U.S. continues to wrestle with its own unique concept of the separation of church and state. At this juncture, I believe it would be in the best interest of everyone involved to pause and take an honest look at our past, acknowledging that mistakes – sometimes disastrous ones – were made, but not overreact to them by banishing any mention of the tremendous good done as well. By not being honest, we risk missing the point of who we were and where we came from, as well as who we can and should become; diminishing our accomplishments in the past and guaranteeing failure in the future. (Not to mention the possibility – or probability – of God dealing with us as He did Israel, warning, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away… Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you… Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds… Teach them to your children,… so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land…” Deuteronomy 11:16-21)
Western thought, originating in Europe and spurred by Judeo-Christian principles, helped reshape the face of not only the European continent but countless others abroad. From there, the U.S. acquired the concepts of individual freedom, personal responsibility, universal opportunity and ethical behavior. Mistakes were made, but that’s the nature of mankind. However, it was the nature of God’s Spirit that allowed men to see beyond themselves and create something new and better. From them came government that exists for the benefit of the people it governs, freedom to practice the faith of their choice, economic opportunity for all as a result of ability and effort – not birth and privilege. To deny the Church’s influence and blessing would be just as wrong and foolish as to deny its mistakes and shortcomings.
From Europe came the men and concepts that helped create the, “land of the free and the home of the brave.” And while we must acknowledge not every citizen of this just forming United States was a Christian, historian James Reichly’s findings may surprise some. “The single most influential cultural force at work in the new nation was the combination of religious beliefs and social attitudes known as Puritanism. At the time of the revolution, at least 75 percent of American citizens had grown up in families espousing some form of Puritanism. Among the remainder more than half had roots in related traditions of European Calvinism.” This supports the fact that of the 55 men who met for the Constitutional Convention, 50 were unquestionably “Christian,” of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 50 of these were likewise definitively “Christian;” most being deeply religious, all showing respect for the Christian traditions of the various colonies and Biblical moral values.
James Madison , chief framer of the constitution said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the powers of government, but upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments….” Samuel Adams , called the Father of the American Revolution declared, “These (rights) may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the insights of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church which is to be found clearly written… in the New Testament.” John Quincy Adams believed that, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” Patrick Henry felt that, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” We must be vigilant to ensure that the government born of Christian principles does not become the means by which those principles are now denied.
Thomas Jefferson strongly believed in separating church and state functions, making him the darling of the anti-religion forces. While certainly not a Christian in the sense we would prefer, he did profess that, “My views… are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and are different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinion. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be, sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others.”
The difficulties of uniting these 13self-interested political bodies, who were extremely suspicious of any centralized form of government, cannot be overstated. Countless hours were expended forming a loose confederacy let alone a democracy with strong federal powers; the balancing of executive powers with equally strong legislative and judicial branches being unheard of. These difficulties prompted Benjamin Franklin , who never accepted Christ as Savior but was a friend of Christians and Christianity, to rise before the Constitutional delegates to request prayer before their assembly. His wisdom in this was realized and acted upon – and prayer has opened both houses of Congress ever since, the mixing of politics and religion a natural outgrowth of their need and strongly held beliefs; they didn’t want the state dictating faith but didn’t want it to interfere in the “free exercise thereof” either. It’s freedom of – not freedom from . Their document gained notoriety throughout the world attesting to God and America’s reliance on him; speaking of, “…the laws of nature and of nature’s God…” and states that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and that, “...they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”
George Washington declared at the conclusion of the Revolutionary war that, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this…,” and spoke of “…the marvelous care of Providence, that protected me…” Further calling on “Almighty God” to protect “our dearest country”; believing, “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 pillars of human happiness… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” i.e. Christianity. James Madison unequivocally stating, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate of the government of any other.” He agreed with Edward Burke that, “There must be some restraining influence upon the will and passions of men, and the less there is from within, the more must be from without.” (Which characterized the failings of the French Revolution.)
Our heritage of faith is irrefutable. The real question to be dealt with by society today is whether that faith is worth emulating. Earl Warren, a former Governor of California and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wrote, “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the Spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses… Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia… or to the Charter of New England… or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay… or to the fundamental orders of Connecticut… the same objective is present, a Christian land governed by Christian perspectives.” Noah Webster prophetically declaring, “The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be accessory to all the disorders which society is doomed to suffer.”
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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