September 26, 2010

A Historical Look At The Impact Of Christianity On American Politics

By Chris Dumford:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here…" Patrick Henry

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God…” Romans 13:1

“Whatever America once was, we are no longer just a Christian nation…” Barack Obama

One of the most disconcerting things that I have recently noted in modern revisionist history, is the open denial by most secular writers of the impact of Christianity on American politics. This is mostly because secular writers do not understand theology and the underlying impact of theology on ideas and philosophies that drove past generations. 

The root theology that has driven the foundation of America is the escatological view that came out of the Reformation. This eschatological view was Post Millennialism.

I. Tenets of Post Millennialism.

Post Millennialism is based on a concept of Preterism. Preterism teaches that the events of the 70th week of Daniel were fulfilled during the New Testament period. Notice Daniel 9:24-27,

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate…”

According to the Preterist view, the seventieth week constituted a 7-year period fulfilled between 66 and 73AD during the Jewish revolt. The abomination of desolation occurred in 70 AD when General Titus captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. According to the Preterist view, The Kingdom of God was both inaugurated and consummated when Jesus entered Jerusalem in His triumphal entry. Post Millennialism is largely a view based on allegorical interpretation of the Bible. According to this method of interpretation, Biblical phraseology is not literal but is representative of broader truths. Post millennialism teaches the following tenets:

1. The 1000 year millennial reign is representative of a long period of time that began in 33 AD and extends to today.

2. The promises of the Kingdom were removed from Israel and were transported to the Gentiles.

3. The church will usher in the return of Christ by evangelizing the entire world thus bringing in a spiritual utopia.

These tenets were the predominate view of the reformation church and the preachers of the Great Awakening that occurred in America in the 1740’s.

II. Post Millennialism and Its Impact on The American Revolution.

“Prior to the founding of the U.S., English Puritans believed that England was to be a ‘new Israel.’ They practiced a form of post-millennialism that caused them to be optimistic about England’s role as a force for righteousness in the world…” Major Brian L. Stuckert, US Army

A. In the 1740’s, a great revival broke out in the American Colonies. This revival was in reaction to what was perceived as dead spirituality in the Church of England. Men such as Jonathan Edwards, who preached to literally thousands taught that the Church of England was dead and that Christ desired to evangelize the world through a new nation of believers in order to usher in His earthly kingdom. Notice what Jonathan Edwards preached:

“ We may observe who they are that shall be united in thus seeking the Lord of hosts: the inhabitants of many cities, and of many countries, yea, many people, and strong nations, great multitudes in different parts of the world shall conspire in this business. From the representation made in the prophecy, it appears rational to suppose, that it will be fulfilled something after this manner:-There shall be given much of a spirit of prayer to God’s people, in many places, disposing them to come into an express agreement, unitedly to pray to God in an extraordinary manner, that he would appear for the help of his church, and in mercy to mankind, and pour out his Spirit, revive his work, and advance his spiritual kingdom in the world, as he promised. This disposition to prayer, and union in it, will gradually spread more and more, and increase to greater degrees; with which at length will gradually be introduced a revival of religion, and a disposition to greater engagedness in the worship and service of God, amongst his professing people. This being observed, will be the means of awakening others, making them sensible of the wants of their souls, and exciting in them a great concern for their spiritual and everlasting good, and putting them upon earnestly crying to God for spiritual mercies, and disposing them to join in that extraordinary seeking and serving of God…”

“In this manner religion shall be propagated, till the awakening reaches those that are in the highest stations, and till whole nations be awakened, and there be at length an accession of many of the chief nations of the world to the church of God. Thus after the inhabitants of many cities of Israel, or of God’s professing people, have taken up and pursued a joint resolution, to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts, others shall be drawn to worship and serve him with them; till at length many people and strong nations shall join themselves to them; and there shall, in process of time, be a vast accession to the church, so that it shall be ten times as large as it was before; yea, at length, all nations shall be converted unto God. Thus (Zechariah 8:23.) “ten men shall take hold, out of all languages of the nations, of the skirt of him that is a Jew,” (in the sense of the apostle, Romans 2:28, 29.) “saying, We will go with you; for we have heard, that God is with you.” And thus shall be fulfilled…”

Edwards did not believe that America should rebel against England, he rather saw post millennialism as a view toward all nations, in that a revival in America would spread to England. The New England ministers took his views and narrowed them to America being the nation that would establish the evangelic light to the rest of the world. This theonomy led to the American Revolution being as much an evangelistic crusade as a fight for a new nation.

In a paper titled, “Uncertain Dawn: Millennialism and Revolutionary Ideology in the Critical Period, 1783-1792” by Stephen Marini of Wellesley College, Marini writes about the usurping of Edward’s Post Millennialism by New England Preachers that fomented the American Revolution,

“Up to 1775, Edwardsean postmillennialism sustained a moderate, gradualist political stance. Emphatically colonial, the Edwardsean strand continued to voice John Winthrop’s Puritan hope that New England, and by extension America, would complete Britain’s political perfection, not challenge it. With the outbreak of revolutionary war in 1775, however, millennial categories took another form, pressed into service as eschatological justifications for a rebellion judged "unnatural" only months before.

Samuel Sherwood’s now-famous sermon identifying the woman in the wilderness of Revelation 13 as the saved American remnant overshadowed by God’s righteous power has become, by Nathan Hatch’s analysis, the classic exposition of Patriot identification with millennial imagery. While such millennial enthusiasm undoubtedly propelled the Patriot cause, it is important to note that Sherwood consistently named the church, and not the rebels, as the object of God’s providential protection. In this ecclesial definition of the millennial kingdom, Sherwood followed Edwards, who quite deliberately refused to secularize his millennial vision.

For Edwards and his followers of the Revolutionary generation, preeminently Samuel Hopkins, the millennial reign was exclusively an ecclesiastical affair and not to be confused with American national aspirations. In this Edwardsean tradition, from which most alleged examples of political millennialism have been drawn, God saved the church, not the state, from the perfidious threats of Satan. Given the Reformed doctrine of the two kingdoms linking an elect church with a theonomous commonwealth, it was natural enough for New England ministers to conflate God’s church and the American cause, as they regularly did in Thanksgiving and Fast sermons during the war. But it is worth noting that this move secularized and contradicted Edwards’s own teaching, which insisted that God’s salvific action in history was directed solely to the elect saints…”

B. Post Millennial expressions in the writings of the early patriots:

1. Congressional Resolution October 1780: “It is therefore recommended to the several states to set apart Thursday, the seventh day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favors, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace; that it may please him to pardon our heinous transgressions and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws that it may please him still to afford us the blessing of health; to comfort and relieve our brethren who are any wise afflicted or distressed; to smile upon our husbandry and trade and establish the work of our hands; to direct our public councils, and lead our forces, by land and sea, to victory; to take our illustrious ally under his special protection, and favor our joint councils and exertions for the establishment of speedy and permanent peace; to cherish all schools and seminaries of education, build up his churches in their most holy faith and to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth..”

2. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College preached the following before Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut, on May 8th, 1783.

“I shall enlarge no further upon the primary sense and Eternal accomplishment of this and numerous other prophecies respecting both Jews and Gentiles, in the latter day glory of the church. For I have assumed the text, only as introductory to a discourse upon the political welfare of God’s American Israel; and as allusively prophetic of the future prosperity and splendor of the United States. We may then consider.What reason we have to expect that, by the blessing of God, these States may prosper and flourish into a great American Republic; and ascend into high and distinguished honor among the nations of the earth. To make thee high above all nations, which he hath made in praise, and in name, and in honor…”

III. Post Millennialism and The View of Christians Toward Politics.

"We have reason to hope that the time is at hand when the kingdom of God shall come with power, and all the people of this poor heathen land shall know Him, from the least unto the greatest…” John Wesley

A. 21st century American Christians fall into three camps regarding politics. The first camp believes that Christians should stay out of politics altogether. This is the view of the Amish. The second camp believes that America should be changed from an evangelistic point of view by measured involvement within society and the political realm. This is the view of the fundamentalist churches. The third view believes that America should be changed from a largely political and social point of view. This view stretches across the fundamentalist churches and includes many denominations. This tension between groups has at its root the collapse of postmillennialism and its impact on American politics.

B. Progressive Post Millennialism was the belief system of Woodrow Wilson who founded the league of nations. Woodrow Wilson’s views on government mark a turn in which postmillennialism marched toward progressivism. Wilson believed that the Constitution of the United States and its system of checks and balances hindered the march toward the transformation of society. He wrote regarding the forefather’s ideas that the Constitution should be viewed as a structured document, and applied a Darwinian framework of evolution to government in which government must be free to change without the constraints of archaic documents:

“The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day of specialization, but with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without leadership or without the intimate, almost instinctive, coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice…”

Woodrow Wilson represented a new kind of Postmillennialism which embodied ideas borrowed from philosophers such as Georg Hegel, a German philosopher in the early 19th century who taught that governments evolved for the purpose of improving society. This evolutionary process could only come about by being freed from the constraints of traditional views of governmental structure. Thus, governing documents need not be embraced if the constraints of the documents prevent the evolution of the government into a higher form.

IV. Collapse of Post Millennialism and the Rise of Progressivism.

A. With the end of World War I, postmillennialism gave way to pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialism is much more pessimistic in its eschatology and emphasizes evangelism over social order. The tenets of postmillennialism survived as secular progressivism and communism/socialism. This was the utopian views of postmillennialism freed from the shackles of religion and tied to the philosophical ideas of the advancement of mankind on a social economic order freed from classes. Much of the tenets of Marxist socialism can be found within the views of early 20th century postmillennial theologians.

B. The collapse of postmillennialism and the rise of premillennialism resulted in large groups of Christian denominations retreating from the political realm. Their view is that the world will regress until Christ’s coming inaugurates the kingdom. Thus, the role of the church is not the improvement of society with a view of the church ushering in the earthly reign of Christ, but rather that of the church evangelizing the world with a view of rescuing the lost from the coming tribulational cataclysm which is soon to come. Since the world is only going to regress, and Satan will assume the role of world leader in the form of the Anti-Christ, then government by and large is destined to usher in the one world government of Satan. Therefore the church cannot influence God’s eschatological plan for the world through government.

Thus, the church is not responsible for the ushering in of the kingdom, but rather is responsible for fulfilling the great commission.

V. Modern Fundementalism, Progressivism and Christian Reconstructionism.

A. Christian Reconstructionism: There is a modern trend which has developed in Christianity known as Christian reconstructionism. This form of theology is a throwback to traditional postmillennialism in which reconstructionists believe that Christians and government should be intimately linked together in the establishment of a Theonomy. Their view is that world governments are under the dominion of God and therefore should be subject to God’s laws (i.e. a Theonomy). This view sees the concept of separation of church and state being non-existent. Thus, they view the role of Christians being one of direct involvement in all levels of government. This is manifested in such organizations as the Moral Majority and writers such as Gary North and in some forms by the late Jerry Falwell. This is a sort of proactive theology to the rise of progressivism. An example of this kind of thinking is found in the writings of Christian economist Gary North:

“The concept of the rule of law was Mosaic, not Greek (Ex. 12:49). The concept of private property is supported in the Decalogue's laws against theft and covetousness. The Mosaic economic law as a whole was pro-market, pro-private ownership, pro-foreign trade, pro-money-lending (Deut. 28:12). The New Testament did not break with most of these laws, and the few that it did break with, such as slavery and the jubilee land law, made the resulting position even more market favorable…” Gary North, Authentic Libertarianism

B. Progressivism: Progressivism believes that Christians should not be involved at all in Government. Their view is one of pure humanism and relativism freed from the constraints of traditional Biblical values. Their overarching ideology is the so-called improvement of human society through forced economic redistribution, removal of sociological class, removal of private rights and private property ownership, all for the good of the state and with all power concentrated within the state to enforce this end. Progressivism is a psudo-postmillennialism without the constraints of Biblical law.

C. Fundementalism: Fundementalism by and large tends to de-emphasize the role of the church in relation to society on a governmental level. The trend of fundamentalism is to change society one soul at a time. Fundementalism sees government as being secular in its views and practices and in essence as an enemy of the church. Most Fundementalists tend to participate in politics from a reactionary position. That is, instead of being pro-active, they tend to react to laws and policies that effect them and then either privately or publicly lobby against those policies.

John McArthur writes from the fundamentalist perspective when he states:

“One of the worst fallouts of the new preoccupation with political issues is that ultimately the ministry of the church is prostituted. People are selling themselves for something short of what the church is called to do. It cannot afford to become a flag-waving, protest voice for governmental change. That's not its calling. I am appalled to see that many pastors have turned from an emphasis on the gospel to an emphasis on politics--from an emphasis on teaching the Bible to an emphasis on coalitions that support particular kinds of legislation. Worst of all, their emphasis is based on the ridiculous premise that the growth and impact of Christianity is somehow related to government policy in America… “ John McArthur, The Christian and Government.

Conclusion: Our involvement in politics and the level of our involvement depends on our understanding of the role of government and our view as to what result we hope to gain.

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