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.

Why God Had Obama Win

“for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” Romans 13:1

If Romans 13:1 is right, then Barack Obama won the election because God established it to be that way. If that is true then there are many Christians today who did not want Obama to win, who must be asking themselves what is going on and why God let this happen. There are two basic reasons why God has someone in authority as it relates to His people, the Church. One reason is to give us a time of peace and blessing and freedom to do what He has called us to. Think of David and the golden age of Israel. But another reason God puts a governmental leader in place is to teach His people a lesson regarding their failure to fulfill the mission He has given them. Think of the Babylonian rulers conquering Israel. It is the second of these two reasons that I want to focus on as why God had Obama win.

First, Obama has offered people hope. From his book, “The Audacity of Hope”, to his constant message of a better future, he has spoken of hope. I am convinced that the hope he offers is incomplete at best and counterfeit at worst. It is a hope built on wishful thinking and not built on the assurance of a relationship with Christ. True biblical hope is founded on the character of God and the salvation we have in Christ. The fact that people have so embraced the nebulous hope that the president elect offers is an indictment on Christians. We have not lived with Provocative Hope. We have not demonstrated a biblical hope that reaches out and grabs people. People who do not know Jesus need hope. They know they need hope, they want that hope, and they will take it where they can find it. Maybe God is saying to the Church, “You have not lived in the hope of the Gospel and now people are clinging to what little hope they can find”. When Christians live in fear, proclaim doom at every turn, and seem anxious and angry, then we have failed to show the hope we have in Christ. So our first lesson must be that we have failed to live a provocative hope.

Second, Obama offers to have the government alleviate the economic suffering that so many are facing. There is a promise of better financial times for the poor and the middle class. It is a promise that the government would step in and make sure that people who have more, will share with people who have less. It is a message with great appeal to people who are nervous about their finances or who are currently in crisis. Again this is an indictment on the church. If the Body of Christ had been taking care of the poor and people in crisis in the way that Acts 2 demonstrates then people would not be looking to the government to meet their needs. The failure of Christians to live out the generosity of Jesus means that people are turning to the government to force what the Body of Christ should have been doing willingly.

Third, many Christians are understandably concerned about what an Obama presidency will mean for moral issues like abortion. The problem is, we have been relying on political power, in the hands of the president, to appoint the right judges to interpret laws in a way that forces certain moral behavior. Clearly the government is supposed to pass laws that promote moral behavior. But that is the last resort as far as Christians should be concerned. The problem is, we have abdicated our responsibility to make disciples who honor and follow Jesus. That is change we can believe in. It is a change in the hearts and souls of people that will result in moral change from the heart. We can never put our confidence for change in the hands of the secular government. The command that we have been given to make disciples is how real change will come about. Our failure to do that in reliance on the Holy Spirit is what has led to trusting in earthly powers for heavenly results.

So why did God have Obama win? One very real possibility is that there is a lesson to the church. That lesson is that we must be about the task of living out a provocative faith that is filled with hope in Christ, cares for those in need, and makes disciples who obey all the He has commanded. If we had been doing that all along, the world and even the White House, would be very different places today.