Is America a Christian Nation?
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 August 2007; revised 9 September 2011
Many Americans grew up being taught that America is a Christian nation. Peter Marshall published a well-known book called The Light and the Glory to prove that America was founded as a Christian nation. It is also pointed out by many that a famous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1892 called America a Christian nation (Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, 143 U.S. 457). However, since an adjective attributes a certain quality or characteristic to the noun it modifies, then it is very important to define the term “Christian.” And, as an adjective the quality must so pervade the noun in such a substantive quantity as to not be diminished by any incidental exception.
First use. First century disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) did not call other believers “Christian” and the label "Christian" does not appear consistently as a self-designation until the Didache in the early second century (c. 100), Chap. XII. Jewish disciples regarded themselves as The Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22; cf. John 14:6) or Natzratim or Notzrim (Nazarenes, Acts 24:6; cf. Matt 2:23; Acts 3:6; 22:8), that is, followers of the man from Nazareth. The term Christianos (Acts 11:26) was originally coined as an epithet in Syrian Antioch by unbelievers to mock those who had chosen to believe in and follow Yeshua as the Messiah. If the character of the disciples in Antioch was used as the basis for defining “Christian” then it would mean a person who trusts in Yeshua as his atoning sacrifice, demonstrates a willingness to live within the framework of God’s commandments, manifests a spiritual character and devotes himself to the advancement of God’s Kingdom (Acts 13:1-3, 52).
The term “Christian” is used only two other times in the apostolic writings. In Acts 26:28 King Agrippa, a Jew, used the term with the apostle Paul who was on trial, demonstrating adoption of the term by governing authorities as a useful label for devotees of the one called “Christ” who had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. The apostle Peter adds the dimension of suffering to the definition, when he wrote to his fellow Jewish believers, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Pet 4:16). Peter’s comment acknowledged the continued use of the term by non-believers.
There is a strong possibility that “Christianos” in the New Testament may represent a textual correction of the label Chrestianus, because “Christ” was confused with Chrestus. The historical situation is alluded to in Acts 18:2 where it mentions that Jews had been expelled from Rome. The cause of Claudius' expulsion is confirmed by the Roman historian Suetonius (c. 75-160 CE) who explained, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome" (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book V, 25:4). Chrestus is the Latin form of the Grk. Chrestos.
Scholars debate whether Suetonius was referring to "Christ" (Grk. Christos) or not. After all, Chrestus-Chrestos is a personal name and Christos is not. However, the mistaken use of Chrestus for Christos apparently continued, because in the early fourth century Lactantius complained that ignorant non-believers were accustomed to refer to "Christ" as "Chrestus" (Divine Institutes, IV, 7:5). In the fifth century Paulus Orosius in his History Against the Pagans believed Suetonius spoke of Christ. Orosius quoted the above words from Suetonius' history and changed Chrestus to Christus (Book VII, 6.15). Both Justin Martyr (103-165 CE) in his First Apology (IV) and Tertullian (160-220 CE) in his Apology (III) complained of being called “Chrestian.”
Catholic Church Membership. The Church embraced the term “Christianum” as an appropriate label in the early second century, but it served primarily to dissociate Christianity from Judaism (e.g., Ignatius, The Epistle to the Magnesians, X). By the fourth century “Christian” meant someone who had been baptized into the Church according to the Church’s ritual and who submitted to the Church’s authority. Once the Church became the official state religion citizens were gradually coerced into conversion and submission to the Church. Those who resisted the church’s edicts risked the loss of their civil rights, including their lives. So, millions made the prudent choice and the term “Christian” ceased to have any meaning of someone who has a personal relationship with Yeshua and is Spirit-filled. Jews who trusted in Yeshua as Messiah and Savior still called themselves “Nazarenes” as in the early church, but because they practiced circumcision the Catholic Church refused to consider them part of the Body of Christ (Augustine, Anti-Donatist Writings, Book VII. §1). This definition of “Christian” becomes problematic since the founders of the American colonies and the framers of the Constitution were not Catholic. In addition, the Vatican has never recognized any non-Catholic as being truly Christian and the majority of Americans today are not Catholic, nor members of any church.
Christian Theocracy. Before the Protestant Reformation the Church essentially ruled the State. The Church was viewed as the Kingdom of God on earth and the Pope was Christ’s regent to rule the earth. Even though the Protestant Reformation changed the politics in some countries the Vatican has never surrendered its perceived right to rule the world. In any country dominated by Catholics the Pope still exercises considerable authority over the masses and the government. There have been Protestant attempts to exercise the same power, most notably the Calvinists in Holland and Geneva, Switzerland, but these efforts eventually failed and the Calvinist churches lost their power over the State. King Henry VIII turned the tables on the Vatican and the Protestants by assuming the headship of the Church in England. When the Pilgrims and Puritans fled to the colonies it was to escape theocracy, yet like the Calvinists in Holland and Switzerland they established communities that were to be ruled by religious values. Nevertheless, when the American Revolution freed colonial America from England the signers of the Declaration of Independence and framers of the Constitution deliberately set about to organize a government that would not be ruled by a Church nor function as the head of a Church. Using the definition of a theocracy, America is not nor ever has been a Christian nation.
Ethnic Christian. "Christian" is often coupled with "Jews" as if the two terms are similar in application. However, Jews are Jews by bloodline and can trace their lineage back to the twelve sons of Jacob, whereas the term "Christian" has no ethnic application. By this definition America is not, nor ever has been, a Christian nation.
Cultural Christian. The concept of culture refers to unique customs, values and distinctive ways of living characteristic of a particular group of people. Yet, people from many nations and cultural backgrounds make profession of being Christian, so the term itself cannot have a uniquely cultural meaning. In addition, since the Protestant Reformation, disciples of Yeshua have separated themselves into many groups that cannot agree on doctrine and rules. Each one of these groups could claim to be "Christian" and thus automatically exclude all other groups that did not agree or conform to the same rules. Consequently, using the cultural definition would exclude America as a Christian nation.
Christian Profession. According to one survey 76.5% of Americans when asked their religious preference identified themselves as Christian. (See Composite U.S. Demographics.) The survey was conducted in 1990 with 113,000 people. A follow-up survey was done in 2001 of 50,000 people with similar results. Since most Americans are not church members, then survey respondents must be using a very indefinite definition. They may have been reared in a “Christian” home or they see themselves as good, law-abiding citizens. Yet, half of all marriages end in divorce, adultery and abortion are just as prevalent among church families as atheist families. The actual behavior of many, if not most, of those who profess to be Christian is contrary to the standards of the Bible.
America’s Founding Fathers
Although much has been written about the godly Christian leaders in early America, few perhaps know that 50 of the 54 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons or Rosicrucians (Harvey Day, Occult Illustrated Dictionary, p. 56). The Rosicrucians were a secret society with the same beliefs as the Freemasons. A cynic might theorize that the American Revolution was actually a conspiracy of Freemasons to assure their own independence from the British crown.
In fact, it was the dominance of the Freemasons that brought about the adoption of the Masonic emblem on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, proudly displayed on the back side of one-dollar bills. Both of these cults trace their lineage to the ancient pagan mystery religions. In addition to the Declaration signers, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were Freemasons and masters of their lodges. Benjamin Franklin was Grand Master of the first lodge in Pennsylvania (Albert G. Mackey, History of Freemasonry, Vol. 5, p. 1398). George Washington was Master of his lodge when he became the first President (The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown, Vol. 7, p. 954f).
For those not familiar with Freemasonry it is a cult religion patterned after the ancient mystery religions and essentially worships Lucifer, though members don’t learn the truth until initiation into the highest degree. The principal framer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, Rosicrucian and master astrologer — not a Christian. The deist believed in a god that created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation. There is not an ounce of biblical theology in the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson betrays his philosophy by referring to “Nature’s God.”
The fact that the foundational documents of colonial America use the term “God” does not define what god they were talking about and the reference to the date “in year of our Lord” or A.D. was the common way of referring to dates, a legacy of the Pope. Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution invokes the name of our Lord Yeshua by name. These few words do not make the founding documents Christian. Indeed, one could say with some justification that the opening statement of the Declaration of Independence is the spirit of antichrist, because it elevates man’s desire over submission to Yeshua and God’s commandments. Both Paul and Peter instructed disciples to honor the king and this was said in the days when the king exercised totalitarian rule and was far more ruthless and corrupt than the King of England of the 18th century. The Freemasons were not constrained with any belief to obey Scripture and thus became the ideal organizers of the Revolution. The Calvinists aided and abetted the Revolution based on their skewed theology that if the King wasn’t fulfilling his God-ordained duty then the people had the right to remove him, because the State should be subject to the Church as all other citizens.
Lack of Biblical Justice
The character of being a disciple of Yeshua is found in keeping God’s Law. Many seem to think American laws, the U.S. Constitution and American jurisprudence are based on the Bible in general and the Ten Commandments in particular. American leaders since the country’s founding have made similar claims. But, to be fair we really need to evaluate the truthfulness of this belief. Consider how the following subjects are treated in the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures and apostolic writings) and how they are treated in American law and court decisions. This list is not exhaustive.
Definitions of morality, bankruptcy, capital punishment, care of the aged, definition of marriage, divorce, employer rights, freedom of commerce, immigration, inheritance, justice for the poor, lawsuits between believers, private property rights, punishments for crimes, punitive damage awards, responsibility of individuals vs. corporations, responsibility of and restrictions on government, right to privacy, sabbath observance, slavery, status of animals, status of other religions, stewardship of the environment, taxation, tort liability, use of prisons, and worker rights.
When a subject-by-subject comparison is conducted one can only conclude that any resemblance between American law and the moral and justice standards of the Bible is purely coincidental. It is true that Christianity as a religion had a significant influence on early American culture and well into the 20th century. In many parts of the country Christians brought life, love, and compassion. Christians built universities, hospitals, and orphanages, brought food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, work to the destitute, and hope to the hopeless. In large measure Christianity was a conserving force for morality in American culture and an influence for justice in American government.
However, the fact that America tolerated slavery for profit and founding fathers even owned slaves indicates how far from Scripture they lived. Indeed, we had to fight a civil war to rid America of this obscenity, and the Bible belt for decades tolerated the Ku Klux Klan and elected its leaders to public office. American jurisprudence has not lived up to the name of "Christian" either (assuming a biblical definition). While decrees of colonial judges often cited Scripture, after the American Revolution this practice fell away. Indeed, those who claim that God is the basis for our law and government only need to produce the executive orders, legislative acts and judicial rulings that quote Scripture or include biblical principles as rationale for those decisions. The result of such a search would be very disappointing.
After careful consideration of American history, Scripture and the meaning of words, I can only conclude that the United States of America is not nor ever has been a truly Christian nation. There simply is no proof that the commandments of God have guided the ethics and morality of the majority of America’s families, leaders, legislatures and courts. Christians need to remember that we await a King from Heaven. When Yeshua rules His charter will not be the U.S. Constitution, but the commandments he gave to Moses (Isaiah 42:4; Micah 4:2; Luke 16:17), and his capitol will not be Washington, D.C., New York, Rome or Independence, Missouri, but Jerusalem.
Copyright © 2011 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.