Was the United States ever a Christian nation?  I decided to write about that question this week because lately (or even the last few years) I have heard many different opinions about this topic.  There are a lot of historical misconceptions out there.  Many Christians are concerned and complain that we have lost the Christian values that our country was founded on.  Was the United States ever a Christian nation?  Let’s look at some facts to answer that question.

First of all, what does it mean to be a Christian?  Does having or using the Bible make someone a Christian?  Does having or using the Ten Commandments make someone a Christian?  Does going to a Christian church make someone a Christian?  No, no and no.  What makes a person a Christian is that he believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior—that Jesus lived a perfect life for him, died the death he deserved, and rose from the dead so that he too would live.  What makes someone a Christian is his belief in that gospel message about Jesus Christ which is found in the Bible.

Our nation’s founding fathers may have been Christian.  Many of them belonged to Christian churches, yet that does not mean they were Christians.  Many of them read their Bibles, yet that does not mean they founded the United States as a Christian nation.  In fact our founding fathers never came close to describing Jesus Christ as we define him as our Savior.

One of our founding fathers, James Madison, actually opposed the concept of a Christian nation.  He was once asked the question “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?”  Madison responded by saying, “The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.” - Source

Another one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, really should not be considered a Christian.  On occasion you can see the Bible of Thomas Jefferson on display at the National Archives in Washington D. C.  From it he removed anything that didn’t make logical sense such as miracles and Jesus’ resurrection.  He also removed the writings of the Apostle Paul because he didn’t like them.  He called Paul the “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.”  Jefferson used his shaving razor to cut, trim and reposition the record of Jesus Christ.  In a letter to John Adams (1813) Jefferson wrote:

“There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.  I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.” - Source

By extracting from Jesus his deity and the atoning nature of his work, Jefferson gave us a restructured morality.  This is not the complete picture of Christ.  For that reason it can be said that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation.  It was, however, founded on the basic foundational values or morals that reflect what has been called a Judeo-Christian ethic.  It is a value system that is hardly ever invoked in today’s society but which formed the initial moral framework for the nation.

Every government needs a set of laws in order to keep the country running in good order and to keep people safe.  Many of our founding fathers belonged to Christian churches so they knew about the Ten Commandments.  It shouldn’t surprise us that they choose those as the basis for many of the laws in this country.  To those men, that law worked very well.  To us Christians, we know it works well because it is God’s perfect law.  Yet the United States was not founded on the Ten Commandments as moral principles alone.

The United States was really founded on the concept of freedom.  Our Constitution was written to insure people’s freedom to say and believe what they wanted, to protect the possessions they accumulated, and to be free from all pressures and morals by any religion.  Right in the opening words of the Constitution you see its purpose:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” - Source

From this you can see in addition to freedom, the Constitution was established for justice, peace, safety, and general welfare—not religion or specifically Christianity.

So the Constitution was not written to make the United States a Christian nation.  You can’t force a nation to be Christian because it isn’t the law that produces believers.  It is the gospel.  Well how much gospel is in our nation’s documents?  If you would do a word search of our constitution and all amendments, neither “God,” “Jesus,” “Bible,” “Christ,” “gospel,” or “forgive” are mentioned.  If we would define Christian as we did to begin with, we would have to come to the conclusion that the United States is not a Christian nation.

So where does that put you and me today?  What does that mean for our daily lives?  How do we talk to people at work?  What do we share or not share on social media?  How do we view our government and its decisions?  How do we choose someone as president?

The United States being founded on freedom is both a blessing and a struggle for Christians.  We have experienced wonderful freedom of religion here in the United States.  We can worship where we want.  We can pray where we want.  We can tell others about Jesus wherever and whenever we want.  Our freedom of religion is wonderful, but others take a hold of their free rights as well.  Some of the free rights that those people claim go against God’s Word.  Those free rights come in the form of approving what God calls sinful.  Yet according to the freedom our country is founded on, they really have free rights.

As Christians we want to uphold God’s Word.  It becomes much more difficult for us when we take a stand on that Word and we’re criticized for it.  People hate us because we don’t go along with their sinful behavior and they find ways to make our life hard when we follow God’s will.  Jesus warns us that will happen, because the same thing happened to him.

So what does that mean for us?  First, we need to acknowledge that the United States was never a Christian nation.  Second, we need not be surprised when we’re attacked for standing up for God’s Word.  Third, we continue to respect our government and those in positions there, because God ultimately is the one who placed them there.  Fourth, we trust in our God and Savior that he has everything under control in our country.  Fifth, we live our Christians lives as God encourages us in his Word—if we need to take a stand on God’s Word, then we do that..  It doesn’t matter that we’re not a Christian nation.  We are Christians and we know that we will inherit the perfect Christian nation—heaven.

Extra Thoughts

  1. There really was only one nation that truly was a “Christian” nation.  The nation of Israel was a theocracy—the only nation that was governed and ruled by God.  I say “was” because Israel no longer is a theocracy.  From the time God gave Moses the law on Mount Sinai (about 1446 BC) to just before Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC), God ruled his people of Israel.  Since Jesus Christ had not come to earth yet, the people of Israel would not have been called “Christians.”  Yet they were believers, because they continued to believe that God would send them a Savior one day.
  2. One reason I wrote this post is because of an email going around which tries to show that the United States is a Christian nation.  It gives evidence from says of church fathers, many Bible references in public buildings, Christian practices being used.  I could easily spend a lot more time discussing that email, but another website has done a very good job revealing the true historical facts.  You can check out that website page here.

Here are the readings for your worship preparation:

The First Lesson – Exodus 34:29-35
Coming down from Mt Sinai, the glory of the LORD is reflected in the face of Moses. Moses veiled his face because he did not want the Israelites to see that glory fade away.

The Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Only in Christ is God's glory unveiled and can safely be revealed to us. Through Jesus the image of God is restored in us so we become more and more like him in our lives.

The Gospel Lesson – Luke 9:28-36
On a high mountain, Jesus' glory is unveiled. This gives us sure and certain hope that the Christ has come and our salvation is at hand.