Is the United States a Christian Nation? (Jul – Aug 2009)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jay Stephens
July – August, 2009

ChristiaNation?There is a heated debate going on in America, fueled in part by recent comments made by the President, as to whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. Exactly what is meant when someone says that we are a Christian nation? What is meant when someone says that we are not? Let me say upfront that I am an American citizen, I served in the military for over 10 years, I love my country, I cry during the playing of the national anthem, and I am a committed Christian and minister of the gospel, so this debate is important to me, and it should be to you.

As I thought through this question, I admit to having a bias towards a conclusion that we are a Christian nation. However, to be fair, we have to separate this “Christian nation” debate into at least four discussion tracks, which we now attempt within the constraints of this article:

Christian Principles? First, we must ask, “Was the United States founded on Christian principles?”

Certainly it can be shown that many, if not most of the founding fathers held to some form of Christianity as their faith. While they represented a variety of denominations, most of them held to the central tenets of Christianity.

As an aside, but in the struggle to come to an honest conclusion, it must be mentioned that Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and served as our third President, was not a Christian. He was a Deist — believing in the existence of a higher power — but not a follower of Jesus. That being said, it is undisputed that references to God, to Jesus Christ, and to Christianity abound in the letters, speeches, and opinions of our founding fathers. An appeal to the God of the Universe and His grace was a recurring theme in these letters and speeches — second only to their stated desire for freedom and independence.

From the historical perspective, you can make a strong case that our country was founded on Christian principles and that many of our initial leaders were guided by these principles and their faith in the God of the universe and His Son, the Christ.

Indeed, almost two centuries later, in the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War, the nation’s leaders exerted additional Christian influence as they inserted the words “under God” into our Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and on our currency when it began to have the words “In God We Trust” in 1956 (these words did not appear on our currency before then). Our citizenry embraced these words.

A Declared Preference. A second discussion track that would guide our conclusions on this matter would be based on the stated religious preferences of the citizens of our country.

A look at the most recent statistics from Christianity Today and The Barna Group indicates that there are approximately 224 million US citizens that claim to be Christian, which is about 75-80% of our population. At first glance, this is a significant number, and from a purely statistical basis, would indicate that we are a Christian nation based on a wide majority of our people claiming that they are Christians.

Two items of caution on this point, however:

    1. It is difficult to make a solid case for anything based only on a survey of what people say they believe. Without the context of the survey itself, we cannot be certain of the responses; and,

 

  • The survey results provide no indication at all as to their involvement or investment in Christianity.

 

Jesus Himself plainly stated that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually one: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22, 23).

From a numerical standpoint, you can make a case for the United States being a Christian nation, although the case is a weak one, since Jesus plainly stated our words do not settle the issue.

National Legislation. Another point of discussion would be an investigation into whether or not any specific federal law announces or declares this nation to be a Christian nation.

We begin with the Constitution, which is a secular document. It begins, “We the people,” and contains no mention of “God” or “Christianity.” Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust” (Art. VI), and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase “so help me God” or any requirement to swear on a Bible (Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 8).

There are no specific laws declaring that we are a Christian nation. In fact, in 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli (Libya, then and now, a Muslim nation), declaring that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This reassurance was written under Washington’s presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

Looking at the “four corners” of our Constitution, and at other, significant national documents, you would not be able to say that the United States is a Christian nation.

Our Lifestyles and Examples. Our fourth and final consideration for purposes of this article is an investigation into the following line of thinking: “Does our citizenry exhibit the qualities and characteristics of a Christian nation?”

Any examination of this question would have to look beyond the words of our people to the actions in their day-to-day lives. In this respect, I’m afraid we fall very short of being a Christian nation.

If you have done any reading on the condition of the church in America: church growth, statistics, giving, attendance, behavior, etc., it is becoming clear that we have been a secular nation – as opposed to a Christian one – for nearly three decades, at least behaviorally. The following statistics come from George Barna, who is perhaps the foremost expert on the “state of the church” in America:

    • Only 43% of the 76% of Americans who say that they are Christians attend worship with any regularity. That is, only around half of those who claim to be Christians are consistent participants in the organized worship of God.
  • Only 1/2 of adults who SAY they are Christian are 100% committed to the Christian faith — meaning they believe in the fundamental principles, message and sacrificial nature of Christianity.

 

  • Millions of people in America who say that they are Christians deny the sinless nature of Jesus Christ. Yes, you understand that correctly, and here is the breakdown: 25% of those saying they are Christians strongly agree with the statement that Jesus sinned while on earth. Another 19% somewhat agree with that statement. Nearly 45% of all Christians in our country deny the sinless nature of the Savior.

 

  • Less than 3% of those who say they are Christians give ten percent or more of their income to Christian-based works.

 

  • 25% of all Christians (who attend somewhere) admittedly DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING to their local church … nada … nothing … zilch … zero.

 

  • The divorce rate among Christians is the same or slightly higher than the normal population.

 

  • Nearly 50% of those who say they are Christians do NOT believe in the devil.

 

Having served in the ministry, I was not surprised to see these trends, but I was shocked at the scope of these bleak statistics. This is the state of Christianity in our land – the level to which we have sunk as Christians: we no longer even attempt to practice what we preach.

Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, and don’t do the things that I say?” (Luke 6:46). In the one area where it really counts: the way we live our lives and the examples that we set in the home, at work, at school, in the organizations, teams and clubs that we are a part of, far too many of us are indistinguishable from those who do not profess Christianity. We are no longer a light to those around us. We are no longer salt to a dying country and world: “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13).

I’m not saying that Christians will be perfect. It is clear from the Scriptures (and our experience), that we are not going to be perfect. If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need a Savior in order to appear before a holy and just God. But are we at least living in a way that demonstrates our whole-hearted belief in Christ? “The man who believes in what he says and fails short of practicing it all the time is merely human; the man who doesn’t even believe what he says is a hypocrite.” – Dr. Mike Adams

Our lives and our examples for the past three decades have exhibited a decidedly worldly / fleshly trend. The preaching that many Christians hear from week to week (if they attend at all) is decidedly worldly and unbalanced. We have been taught (explicitly or impliedly) that God is a kind of a Santa Claus type character, poised and ready to shower material blessings on us as if it were our heritage as Americans. This kind of teaching and preaching has taken a heavy toll on Christianity. Instead of influencing the world to live godly, honorable, humble lives on a daily basis by our example, so-called Christians have become “leaders” in the self-indulgent culture fostered over the past three decades.

“Get out and shop” has been our mantra for so long, we have forgotten – and our children know nothing – about the challenges and sacrifice that our forefather’s experienced in the struggle to help our nation achieve the greatness that it did in the middle of the last century. Moreover, it appears that God certainly honored their sacrificial attitudes in blessing the United States in many ways. In contrast, look at the result of the last 20-30 years of self-indulgence: we have allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate, our savings to disappear, our debt to explode, and our morals to tank. These are the facts. This is why this debate and discussion should be of extreme importance to all of us.

Conclusion. It is my sad conclusion is that America is NOT a Christian nation anymore; at least as the Scriptures define it. We may have been founded on Christian principles, and exhibited Christian behavior to a large extent years ago, but far too many of us don’t abide by those principles any more. In the way that it matters – our actions – we have not lived in accordance with Biblical principles for many years – and the statistics document it.

Calling ourselves a Christian nation – when we are not – does nothing more than pacify our consciences and place our reliance and faith on the country itself for our justification. This is a grave mistake, because our faith is to be only in Christ. When we trust in the flag, the military, our technology, our “prosperity”, or the government, we are trusting in the wrong things. The Jews claimed salvation based only on their heritage and they were condemned by John the Baptist. To paraphrase this prophet to address our day and age: “I tell you that God is able to make US citizens out of these stones” (Matt. 3:9). To be an American is not synonymous with being a Christian and does not provide anyone with an inalienable right or key for entrance into heaven.

Questions and Lessons. I’ve drawn a conclusion – one that I’m not pleased with, but that I must respond to. Here are questions for all of us:

    1. Are we living a life that is consistent with Scripture – with our profession of Christianity? Are we living in accordance with the Bible teachings of:

 

    • Purity and holiness of life (Lev. 19:2; 1 Tim. 5:22);

 

  • An “all in” commitment to Christ and ALL of His teachings (Matt. 7);

 

 

  • A straight gate and narrow pathway approach to life (Matt. 7);

 

 

  • A respect and fear of God and a love of the brotherhood of believers above all things (Heb. 10; 1 Pet. 2:17: Eph. 5:21).

 

  • If you were to sit down with others and share with them that Christ is the only answer, how would they react to you? WOULD THEY SEE YOU AS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT YOU ARE SHARING? Would your day-to-day behavior be consistent with what you were teaching? Or are you a hypocrite? One that says one thing and does another?

 

Here’s the lesson: “We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). We plainly need to sow a different crop: our preaching needs to call us back to Biblical principles of living; our elders and leaders need to challenge and truly lead us; and our peers need to hold us accountable so that we will live in a fashion that makes us distinctive from our culture. Christians need to become “countercultural” again! Our behaviors need to honor God and His Son, and position us to call on our Creator for wisdom, mercy, and healing.”New Wineskins

Jay StephensJay Stephens has taught, preached and led in restoration movement congregations from coast to coast, while serving in the military, in full-time ministry, and also while serving in the corporate world in positions as an attorney and executive. He now offers business consulting and estate planning services in eastern Oklahoma and speaks to churches and organizations, which facilitates his desire to write. Currently, he is working on a book entitled, “The Denominational Dilemma”, which is an outgrowth of a workshop that he has conducted. This workshop (and the book) explores the palpable and historical dangers of denominationalism to the kingdom of Christ; as well as the current restoration trends going on outside of “traditional” restoration congregations. He and his wife are planting a non-denominational congregation in their community.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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