Why America Was Never a Christian Nation

Posted: November 13, 2008 in Christians and Culture
Tags: , ,

In the wake of the election, all the debates, hype, and turmoil, it is clear that many Christians still do not understand what America is all about and what our place in it really is. I have seen numerous calls for a returning of America to a Christian nation. People; we never were a Christian nation! Was the country in some large way influenced by Christian principles? Absolutely. But it was equally influenced by the philosophical and political theories of European enlightenment which were anything but Christian. Were many of the founding fathers Christian. You bet. But many of them were anything but Christians. But even if everyone of them was a radical follower of Jesus, that is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this is a Christian nation. What matters is what kind of government they established. When we look at that government, established via the constitution, it is clear that when it came to religion they wanted everyone to have the freedom to practice it as they saw fit and that the government would not enact laws that promoted or prohibited that practice. What it means as that all religions have equal standing before the law. We are a country designed to be sympathetic to religion but not adhering to or promoting one above another.

England is a Christian nation. They have a national church and the Queen is technically the head of the church. It is what led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 when he decided to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. You simply could not be head of the church and be married to a divorced woman. So he gave up the crown. It is why there was such consternation over Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. A handful of other European nations are Christian nations. Germany has an official state church that receives funding directly from the government.

Now if you really want America to be a Christian nation I suggest that you first take a long hard look at the church in those Christian countries. How is that working for them? It’s not. The fact is Christianity is a faith best practiced when it is not in power. It is a faith of the exile. For the first 300 years our brothers and sisters living under Roman rule were outcasts. Sometimes being left alone, often times being hounded for their faith, many of them lived their faith to the point of hideous deaths. As they did so, they sought only one thing, to glorify God in their manner of life and death so that others would be moved to fall on their knees and worship Him. And guess what? It worked. They changed the Roman world one heart at a time.

Our faith is to be counter cultural. We are to be a light to the world. That means that we somehow stand apart, show a different way. When we are in power, we have the same tendency as other humans. We let it go to our heads and we become intoxicated with power. Even the briefest of looks at the history of Christendom will show that when in power we will coerce and threaten people into conversion in ways that rival the most militant jihadist. That is in stark contrast to the servant lifestyle that Jesus demonstrated and calls us to.

There is another lesson to be learned from our first century brethren. They were the best possible citizens a ruler could hope for. They served in the military. Even though they could be killed if they failed to burn incense to Caesar. They served in the government, even though that government often killed Christians. They served in the public arena, even in Caesar’s household and did so with distinction. They cared for the poor. They turned the other cheek. They fed the hungry. They clothed the naked. The cared for the sick and dying when their own pagan families refused. And by living as that kind of counter-cultural exile, they brought people to Jesus. They had no prayer in their schools. They had no laws prohibiting commerce on the Sabbath. They had no constitutional assurance that they would be free to worship with no fear of governmental reprisal, just the opposite. They had so much less than we. And yet they changed the world.

America is not a Christian nation. But it is a nation in which Christians have greater freedom and resources to celebrate and live their faith, as they see fit, than anyone ever before. Even in the “Christian” nations of the past, it was only certain types of Christians who had that freedom. If you belonged to the state church you were safe. If not, you could suffer worse than non-Christians in the same country.

In reality, nations are not Christian. Only living, breathing, men, women, and children are Christians. And we must learn to live our faith as exiles in this world, no matter what government we submit to. If we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, then many more will fall on their knees and worship Him and whether or not we are a “Christian” nation will be a moot point. Why? because our provocative lives will have changed the world.

Comments
  1. Peg says:

    Amen and amen!!

    I’ve often tried to explain this to people but never quite as cleanly and elegantly as you have here. Will be linking to this post shortly.

  2. […] Why American Was Never a Christian Nation from the blog Provocative Christian Living. […]

  3. elmwoodjesus says:

    “Christian” makes a great noun, but a horrible adjective.

  4. Dan Lacich says:

    Thanks Peg, and I really appreciate your taking the time to post the link on your blog.
    Dan

  5. Dan Lacich says:

    Drew,
    You crack me up. So you mean, “Christian” theme park, or “Christian” plumber, or “Christian” used car salesman just don’t work. Huh.

  6. Scotty says:

    Yes, yes, yes. When pressed, Jesus always elevated the conversation above politics and the present “kingdom.” (He called a tax collector (a right winger?) and a Zealot (radical left winger?) to be a part of his mission—vastly different political views on how to cooperate or rather, not cooperate with the Roman government.) He established a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36), not a plan to tweak the earthly kingdom to his or our liking. As Americans the environment is simply “friendlier” due to America’s value of personal freedoms.

    Good post Coach.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Nice. Forwarding on to others who need to read this as much as I did.

  8. George M says:

    After reading several politicaly charged comments, insluding a couple of my own!, following your posts about the election, I was pleased to read Why America Was Never a Christion Nation. I have never read a better summation of how religion and politics should be interwoven in our society and how Christians should conduct their lives in our country. And you backed it all up with historical examples which supported your premise to a ‘T’ Hard to see how anyone could argue whith this one.
    Dr. Dan, may I touch the hem of your garment…..

  9. Dan Lacich says:

    Scotty,
    I have always marveled at the people Jesus brought together to be His closest followers. It amazes me that the tax collector and Zealot didn’t shank one another at some point. We need to recapture the radical, counter-cultural, and counter intuitive nature of the Kingdom of God.
    Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to more from you.
    Coach

  10. Dan Lacich says:

    Jen, Thanks so much for the wonderful encouragement. Keep passing the message on. Maybe someday Christians will be living such provocative lives that we will be constantly asked to explain the reason for the hope that is within us.
    Dan

  11. Dan Lacich says:

    George,
    That is high praise coming from you. But as to the hem of my garment, not sure I am wearing anything with a hemline. If I do, I will let you know.
    Dan

  12. Janice says:

    Great perspective. I think if we as Christians quit compartmentalizing our faith, and live in a way that exemplifies Christ, we could be a nation that impacts the world through are freedom. Maybe this article will start a paradigm shift in how we view our role as Christians in our Nation. Thanks for challenging our thinking.

  13. Logan says:

    Great post! One paragraph that challenged me to serve the Lord with everything I have is “They were the best possible citizens a ruler could hope for. They served in the military. Even though they could be killed if they failed to burn incense to Caesar. They served in the government, even though that government often killed Christians. They served in the public arena, even in Caesar’s household and did so with distinction.”

    Thanks for providing this perspective and reminding me of what it means to really live my life for Him.

  14. Gwen says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! Your article on misconceived beliefs that America is (and always has been) a Christian Nation is a lifesaver. I have been receiving emails claiming that the United States is God’s “Christian version of Israel!” Now I will simply respond to the zealots by sending a link to your article. The “zealots” are fellow Christian friends who have fallen into the trap of hating Muslims and trying to justify that hatred by claiming that the U.S. is a Christian nation that should not accept non-Christian immigrants

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