Filipinos are proud of being “the only Christian nation in Asia.” American politicians always end their speeches with “God bless America!” and a great majority believe that America is a “Christian nation.” But is there any “Christian” nation today? If there is, what is this Christian nation?
On this presidential election eve, Scott Clark reflects on these notions in “The Myth of ‘Christian America’”:
Every four years (and in the interim) the question of whether we should regard the USA as a “Christian” nation re-emerges. There are three ways in which this question might be considered, sociologically, historically, and biblically-theologically. Under each rubric the case for “Christian America” falls short.
Between 10-25% of Americans attend church regularly. If this is true it is difficult to see how America is presently to be regarded as a “Christian” nation.
[The Enlightenment] tended to marginalize the authority of Scripture, supernaturalism, and Christian orthodoxy and tended to replace them with Deism and rationalism. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among others were deeply influenced by the enlightenment critique of Christian orthodoxy … American evangelicals have been sold a series of myths about the founding fathers, that Washington was not an orthodox evangelical and neither was John Adams. The latter was raised a Calvinistic congregationalist but repudiated that heritage. The faith of others of the founders was ambiguous at best and the list of orthodox Christians among the founders is fairly short. Witherspoon comes to mind but even he was not untouched by the Enlightenment.
If ever America was a “Christian nation” as determined by church attendance and religious enthusiasm it might have been during this period but even that enthusiasm faded by the end of the 19th century … In short, from historical point of view, the claims of some popular Evangelical organizations notwithstanding, talk about America as a Christian nation is at best questionable.
God had a nation, with whom he entered into a special relation and even a national covenant. That covenant was inaugurated in blood at Sinai (Exodus 24). It lasted about 16 centuries and expired on across outside the city walls of Jerusalem early in the first century A.D. In Mark 7, Acts 10, 1Corinthians 8, and Romans 14 our Lord declares all food clean. Those passages tell us that the old covenant has expired. It has been abrogated and fulfilled. (2Cor 3; Heb 7–10).
Where the old inferior, fading covenant was national and temporary the new color that is eternal, unfading, superior, and international. There is no covenant with any nation as such. Jesus is King David’s greater son. He rules over all nations in the same way. No nation has any Special status before God (Acts 15). One of the great differences between the old (Mosaic) and new covenants is that the latter is international in character (Acts 2:39). In the new covenant the Lord is fulfilling the promises made to Abraham to bring all the nations (considered as ethnic groups not as political entities) under Christ’s Lordship by grace alone, through faith alone.
Magistrates, wherever they may be, are ministers (Romans 13). We are to pray for all rulers (1Peter 2). We are to submit to them all. Their legitimacy is not, in the New Testament, conditioned upon their theological orthodoxy or fidelity to God. At age 20 Nero is described as God’s minister (Rom 13). … He was a rank pagan. His morality was regarded as scandalous even to other pagan Romans. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, described him as God’s minister. According to the New Testament we are to obey rulers, even pagan rulers such as Nero, because they have been instituted by God.
If we pay close attention to the Scriptures, however, if we read God’s inerrant Word in context, according to the original intent of the divine and human authors, it seems virtually impossible to speak about any civil-political entity after the crucifixion of Christ as a “Christian” nation.
How then are we to vote?
As we reckon our civil duties and privileges tomorrow let us do so soberly, prayerfully, and thoughtfully—with an understanding of where we are in the history of redemption. We are in the in-between time, between the ascension of Lord and his glorious, visible return. Presently we live under his sovereign rule in providence over all nations and rulers and under his special exercise of sovereignty in his redemptive kingdom expressed principally in the visible, institutional church. With the apostles Paul and Peter, and with Epistle to Diognetus, we should pray for peace, for the freedom to preach the gospel and practice our faith. We should pray and seek to be left alone by civil authorities. We should not expect or ask for special status nor should we exercise our earthly citizenship with the expectation of returning to a myth, to time that never existed.