By Bill Patterson
Shortly before the Soviet Union broke apart, a missionary obtained permission to distribute Bibles in a public high school in Moscow. He chose to distribute copies labeled The Book. A stocky, squared-jawed man (who turned out to be the principal) met him at the door. The missionary thought the man looked like a KGB agent, so he was surprised when the principal wanted a copy and said that he had planned to teach a course on world religions at the school.
“You may not understand,” the missionary said. “This is not a book about religions; this is the Bible.”
“Oh,” said the principal, clutching the Bible to his chest. “This is exactly what my students need.” He paused for a moment and then, with tears in his eyes, continued. “Russia used to be a nation filled with Christians. We turned our backs on God, and now—just look what’s happened to us!”
America began as a Christian nation. We must reclaim our Christian heritage or face continued moral, financial, and spiritual deterioration. The early founders repeatedly quoted Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” They also frequently quoted Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Those words, written for Israel, apply to any nation whose people will serve the Lord.
Our Christian Heritage
America is rooted in Christianity. Christopher Columbus stated in his journal that he felt he had been chosen by God to be a light bearer for Jesus. The Pilgrims were Christians. The Puritans claimed faith in the Lord Jesus. Many of the groups of people coming from Europe entered the New World in order to escape religious persecution and to have the freedom to freely practice their faith in Christ.
Each of the 13 original colonies claimed in their charters that they were established for the glory of God and the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of the states that later entered the Union included similar wording in their constitutions. In fact, the Northwest Ordinance (the document that allowed for the expansion of the United States and the addition of new states to the Union) required that religion and morality be taught in all schools.
The major universities of the early colonies were established for the spreading of the gospel. Of the first 108 colleges in America, 106 were founded on the principles of Christianity. The colleges required serious study of the Bible by every student.
The policy of Harvard University, for instance, stated that “every student should be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only solid foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” Furthermore, every student “shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein.” The founding statements of Princeton include the following: “Cursed is all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
Our Continuing Christian Heritage
In one of its first official acts, the Continental Congress appropriated money for the purchase of Bibles. Another early act of the Continental Congress was the appointing of missionaries for spreading the gospel among Native Americans. The largest church in America held services each Sunday inside the House of Representatives chamber for many years.
When the members of the Continental Congress battled with one another to the verge of breaking up, an impassioned plea from Benjamin Franklin on June 28, 1787, saved the day. Franklin rose on the floor to request prayer to open each day of Congress, stating, “I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’”
Our nation has gone to war with slogans like “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Pearl Harbor.” The battle cry of the Revolutionary War speaks volumes about the spiritual fervor of the people: “We have no king but Jesus.”
Quotes from Founders and Leaders
George Washington wrote his Circular Letter to the States in 1783 to resign as commander in chief of the Continental Army. In this letter to the governors, Washington wrote, “I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection.” He went on to recommend to the governors and their citizens to follow Christ, for without a “humble imitation of [God] we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”
Our second president, John Adams, wrote, “Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” On April 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. . . Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Restoring America’s Christian Heritage
What can we do to restore our nation’s spiritual heritage? The first thing we must do is pray. Second Chronicles 7:14 was quoted often by our founding fathers: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We must pray for public officials (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4), for elections, for spiritual revival, for economic renewal, and for a moral awakening. Pray for your schools and your church. Pray for your minister.
We must also obey our Lord’s Great Commission (see Matthew 28:18-20) to make disciples. I often ask myself if I have shared Jesus with anyone this month. If each year each Christian would lead one person to Christ and disciple that person, it wouldn’t be long until Christian values would hold higher importance in our land.
I’m not suggesting that we lead people to Christ in order to make America Christian. We should lead people to Christ out of our obedience to him and out of our love and concern for others. One benefit, however, would be a return of Christian values.
In 1776, 98 percent of Americans professed to be Protestant Christians, 1.8 percent professed to be Roman Catholics, and .2 percent professed to be Jewish. When far fewer today think of themselves as Christians, is it any wonder that the morality of the nation is slipping or that the policies of the nation are not what would please our Lord?
In addition to prayer and obedience to the Great Commission, Christians in America must become salt and light in a flavorless and darkened world.
• Join the leadership of your PTA and local school.
• Connect with civic organizations that strengthen your community, county, and city.
• Cast your vote. Our nation is a democracy. Christians should flood the polls in order to vote our convictions—not to get our way but because God’s ways are better for everybody. The first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
• Run for office. Have you asked the Lord if he would have you run for public office? We cannot vote for Christians if Christians do not offer themselves for election.
America began as a Christian nation and it can become one again. What will you do to preserve and perpetuate America’s Christian heritage?
Bill Patterson is a freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
Faith in the Face of Falsehood
While we’re all familiar with the footprints of faith in our country’s history, most of us have also heard challenges to the Christian perspective on our history and forefathers. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. The early settlers murdered and exploited Native Americans. And it seems like every single founding father owned slaves. What do we do with these challenges to the image of faith in America?
• Remember that the faults of humans should not shake your faith in an Almighty God.
• Know that challenges to Christianity do not negate the real elements of faith that are woven into our history.
• Use these testaments to human frailty as an opportunity to point to God’s grace and provision.
Additional Quotes Regarding America’s Christian Heritage
The Mayflower Compact of 1620 cites a solemn dedication to the “glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith.”
George Washington, in his Farewell Address of 1796, said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports.”
John Adams, in his diary dated August 14, 1796, wrote, “One great advantage of the Christian religion is that it brings the great principle of the law of nature and nations—Love your neighbor as yourself and do to others as you would that others should do to you—to the knowledge, belief, and veneration of the whole people.”
John Adams in a letter to Benjamin Rush, February 2, 1807, wrote, “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that ever was conceived upon earth. It is the most republican book in the world, and therefore I will still revere it.”
Benjamin Rush, in his article “Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic” (1798), wrote, “A Christian cannot fail of being useful to the republic, for his religion teacheth him that no man ‘liveth unto himself’. . . his religion teacheth him, in all things to do to others what he would wish, in like circumstances, they should do to him.”
Last year, on his 94th birthday, Billy Graham wrote, “The Bible says, ‘Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3:19, 20, ESV). Only the Gospel, God’s Good News, has the power to change lives, heal hearts, and restore a nation.”