There is a concerted effort in modern times to downplay the role that Christianity played in the founding of our nation and in the constitutional republic established thereafter.
One need look no further than the Declaration of Independence, with its four references to God, to see just what a central place religious faith held in the founders’ worldview.
They justified their decision to separate from the King of Great Britain and launch an entirely new nation because the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitled them to do so.
The 54 signers concluded their Declaration with an “appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions” and with a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
“The Bible could really be called, next to the Declaration and the Constitution, it could be called America’s third founding document, so pervasive was its influence in the colonial period,” said Loconte, who also serves as a senior fellow in Christianity and culture at The King’s College in New York City.
Their basic argument contained in the Declaration was steeped in the thinking of the Protestant Reformation, which had swept over Europe starting in the 1500s. A central tenet was that kings who violate God’s laws have stepped outside their authority and can rightly be opposed.
Through a “long train of abuses and usurpations,” King George III had established a tyranny over the colonies, the founders argued, so they had every right to replace him.
Just months before the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, the wildly popular pamphleteer Thomas Paine boldly proclaimed in “Common Sense,” “But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain.”
“Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING,” he added.
Paine drew heavily from the “word of God” (i.e. the Bible) in the arguments he made for independence in “Common Sense.” Colonists supported its message, purchasing an astounding 120,000 copies in the first three months following its publication in January 1776.
By the end of the Revolution, a half-million had been sold. To give a sense just how widely “Common Sense” circulated, the entire population of the 13 colonies was about 2.5 million.
“As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by Kings,” Paine wrote.
He noted that Gideon refused to allow the people to make him and his heirs king over Israel after he led the nation to a great battlefield victory.
“I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. THE LORD SHALL RULE OVER YOU,” Paine quoted Gideon from the Bible’s account, adding the all-caps for emphasis.
The writer then offered the example of the prophet Samuel, who lamented when the people called for him to appoint a king, so they “could be like other nations.” Samuel knew this was against God’s will and warned that a king would become an oppressive force, requiring high taxes and impressing their sons into military service.
Paine wrote, again quoting Scripture, that when Samuel prayed to God about the matter, the Almighty told him to give the people what they wanted because “they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM.”
Samuel appointed Saul as the nation’s first king.
For hundreds of years prior that, Israel had been ruled by judges instructed by God’s laws that had come down through Moses. In a very real sense, the law was king.
Tim Barton — president of WallBuilders, an organization that teaches about the Christian heritage of the United States — said Americans looked back to this period in Israel’s history for guidance.
“And the biblical model they kept seeing and they kept going back and referring to was this republican system, a republic that you would choose that leadership from among you, to represent the people: leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands,” Barton said.
The Reformation worldview of God’s law being the ultimate authority in organizing society came to America’s shores first through the Pilgrims and later the Puritans, he explained.
Recognizing they had inadvertently landed far to the north of the British crown colony of Virginia, the Pilgrims adopted the Mayflower Compact in order to “covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.”
“And so this notion of a republican form of government, which is what America is certainly known to be, is going back, its roots go all the way back to the Pilgrims who were following the Bible, following the biblical code, and from the Pilgrims you have colonies spreading. You have Rhode Island, you have Connecticut, you have expansion of even some other values and ideology as people are pursuing the Bible,” Barton said.
Multitudes who came to the colonies were escaping religious persecution, which was often at the hand of or endorsed by the king, he noted.
“So many Americans were ready to get out from under the king and they were ready to do something different,” Barton said.
William Federer, author of “Who Is the King in America?” concurs.
“The Puritans and the Pilgrims were the pre-King Saul period, figuring that was God’s original plan to Israel,” Federer told The Western Journal.
“So God’s original plan for ancient Israel was to not have a king and everybody be equal. Everybody own private property, everybody be armed. Everybody could read. Everybody personally accountable to God to follow the law. It was a bottom-up form of government,” he added.
“And that’s what the founders did here, they were breaking away from the king of England. And their attitude was, ‘We’ve tried that road of concentrated power and we see where it leads. There’s no freedom of conscience. Let’s go the other route. It may be a little bit messy. We may make mistakes from time to time, but let’s trust the many rather than the few.”
Randy DeSoto is the author of “We Hold These Truths,” which examines how a belief in divine providence and the God-given right to liberty has shaped the United States throughout its history.
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