Why America Was Never a Christian Nation

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.