Posted by: Jim Black | May 7, 2013

Is America a “Christian Nation”?

Nobody can speak as much as I do on a weekly basis and not say something every now and then that bears further explanation.   On Sunday, as I was discussing the Apostle Paul’s preaching of the gospel throughout the pagan world of the first century, I offhandedly made a comment that several have asked me about.  I referred to our own country, the United States, and commented on how similar it is to the world of Paul’s day.  I remarked that it has never been a “Christian nation” as some have supposed.  Here is what I meant by that.

A “Christian” is one who has submitted himself or herself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  By definition, a Christian is an individual, not a group or a nation.  In that technical sense a nation can be neither “Christian” nor “non-Christian” since a nation is made up of all kinds of people with all kinds of different beliefs.  America is a “Christian nation” only insofar as its citizens are Christians.  While many Americans have a background in “Christianity” that is not the same thing as personally submitting oneself to His Lordship.

In fact, our founding fathers ensured that the government of our nation could not be “Christian” in the principle of the separation of church and state implicit in the Constitution.  While that principle may have been misunderstood and even misapplied today, the idea very clearly is that the government is to stay out of the affairs of religion.  Therefore it cannot properly be called “Christian” can it?

This is a great thing, as it allows for the free exercise of my faith!  I love my country, not because it endorses Christian teaching, but because it allows me the freedom to actively pursue my Christian teaching!  I suppose England is “officially” a “Christian” nation with the Church of England as its national religion.  Early Americans fled that country because of the abuses inherent in that system.  Surely no one wants a state religion in the United States today.

I understand, though, that when many of us use the term “a Christian nation” we are referring to our background and heritage.  It is very true to say that our founding fathers came from a very similar Judeo-Christian background and that the values and principles they held dear were written into our founding documents.  Certainly, most of them were believers and unashamedly acknowledged God even in those documents.  I am very grateful for that and wish today’s leaders shared those same convictions.   However that does not make our nation “Christian” today.  The fact that my parents were Christians does not mean that I am.  I must have my own faith.  I must own my own relationship with Jesus in order to properly be called a “Christian.”  Just because our founding fathers were “Christians” doesn’t make our present government “Christian” does it?  What would it look like if they were?

When I look around our country,  I do see so much good and I see God’s people at work in so many ways, yet there is also much fallenness.  Our people laud and applaud what was once called evil and sin.  Our culture glamourizes infidelity and adultery and mocks purity and uprightness.  I can’t turn on the television without hearing the Lord’s name used in vain or seeing people treated as objects of someone’s sexual fantasies.  If you look at ancient Israel in the books of Joshua, Judges and the Kings… you find much the same thing.  Israel was supposed to be a “Godly nation.”  In fact, it was supposed to BE “God’s nation.”  Yet, it was unfaithful to that call and experienced the consequences of its unfaithfulness.  God was harsh enough to allow those consequences and even used other nations around them to bring His judgment on them.

So, when I say that America (the country that I love) is not and never has been a “Christian” nation, that is what I mean.  I pray for the day when all of its citizens will bow on their knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… but until that day, it is my job as a Christian to faithfully witness to those around me that day is coming.

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