Authentic Christianity in America: Wheat and Chaff

Much has been made recently about a Pew Research poll released in May which indicated the number of Christians in America is falling.

But while this was met with great glee by the secularist Left and other God-haters, it bears noting that even after over half a century of lies and vilification of Christianity from the Left, still more than 70% of Americans identify with Christianity.

In a recent discussion of these findings on Fox News, Dr. Richard Land of Southern Evangelical Seminary pointed out that vibrant, living Christian groups have actually grown during this time; the decline was seen more in the “stiff” Christian groups that rely more on rote and ritual rather than living relationship with Christ, and in liberal “mainline” groups that have demonstrated that they are more interested in following flawed pagan ideology than in teaching God’s truth to pagans.  The decline, as Land put it, has not been in authentic Christianity, but in “cultural Christianity: Christianity by habit, Christianity by habit, Christianity by inheritance, Christianity by ‘preference'”.

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And really, why should a person waste their time on groups that are dedicated to little more than ritual and habit?  Why should a person waste their time hanging out with a bunch of fakes and hypocrites who on one hand claim to believe in a God…that on the other hand they refuse to obey?

For someone who isn’t meaningfully connected to their God in the first place (i.e. an authentic Christian), there are much better distractions out there (Facebook, Netflix, sports, etc.) than hanging around with a bunch of fossils or hypocrites.

But thankfully, it wasn’t this kind of “Christian” who founded the nation that became America.

The first Europeans who came here were mostly Christians who wanted to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and have the religious freedom they did not enjoy back in Europe.

The pilgrims said in the Mayflower Compact–what was probably the first governmental document crafted in the New World–that they had come across the ocean “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith.” Indeed. Most of the colonial charters spoke of the Christian faith, the glory of God, and taking the truth of Christianity to the ends of the earth.

When the colonists came together to formulate a response to the oppression of the British Crown–an action that would culminate in the birth of a new nation–one of the first things they did was pray together.

Later, after our new nation’s independence was won, having set out on that course “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” one of the least religious of the founders reminded the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that they owed their independence to God:

In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.

Indeed, Benjamin Franklin was so impressed by the power of prayer to the Christian God that he made a motion at the Constitutional Convention “that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”

Our nation’s first president, George Washington, also realized from whence national greatness comes. He told us in his farewell address after serving two terms as president:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Our nation’s second president, John Adams (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) also recognized that our nation was designed to be a moral and religious one, and that if we ever spurned that foundation, we could not expect to retain our free constitutional republic:

we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

A hundred years later, the U.S. Supreme Court did a review and found in the 1892 Holy Trinity Church v. United States case that America was indeed a Christian nation:

If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find every where a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters, note the following: the form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, “In the name of God, amen;” the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing every where under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe. These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.

Does the fact that America was founded by Christians on Christian principles mean that every American is or was a Christian? Of course not. That wasn’t true at our nation’s founding (though almost all identified with it at that time), and it isn’t true now. But as historian Alexis de Tocqueville found in the early 1800s, America was Christian because of the Christian character of the overwhelming majority of her people. As the Bible indicates, it doesn’t take much of something powerful to affect a body much larger than itself. The serious faith of a smaller body of authentic Christians at American’s beginning seasoned the larger, less serious body to have a Christian flavor through and through–and it lasted for about 200 years.

Even Jesus admitted 2,000 years ago that most people aren’t going to be authentic Christians (narrow is the way, and few who find it).

As the American people have been conned into relinquishing their Christian heritage–and their heritage of freedom along with it–the number of people who identify with Christianity is falling. Even after over 50 years of lies, propaganda and all-out war against our Christian heritage by the secularist Left, the overhwelming majority of Americans still identify with Christianity. But it is falling (for now, if we let it).

As Land pointed out “cultural Christianity: Christianity by habit, Christianity by habit, Christianity by inheritance, Christianity by ‘preference'” is on the decline, and that will mean a less altruistic (i.e. a less kind and civilized) society, for Christianity has been producing better societies since its early days of starting the widespread practices of child adoption and caring for the sick and injured in the Roman Empire.

The silver lining is that society will begin to be able to see authentic Christianity more clearly. The sheep will be separated from the goats, or the wheat from the chaff. Right now, the body of people who call themselves “Christians” in America contains a LOT of people who really aren’t. That body of people is full of people who genuinely think they are, but aren’t, as well as some who know they aren’t, but consider it more advantageous to fake it. In other words, the group of “Christian Americans” is riddled with frauds whose inconsistent actions confuse and mislead bystanders into thinking Christianity is something it isn’t, and holds to principles it doesn’t. That deception hurts people…and has a lot to do with why many in society reject Christianity out of ignorance.

And while the rejection of Christian influence over society as a whole will be bad for society, it could end up creating a resurgence down the road. As America continues its rejection of authentic Christianity, the difference between the real ones and the fake ones will become greater, and as life becomes more difficult for authentic Christians in a Christian-hating culture, the fake ones won’t be masquerading as Christians anymore. Then, as people get a look at what a society is like that rejects the enlightened principles of Christianity (the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc got to see this up close and personal, and loathed it), they may just start to realize that for all its calls to self-discipline and self-restraint, Christianity was way, way better than the alternative. It is no coincidence that the deliberate rejection of Christian principles in the political world creates some of the greatest privation and oppression ever seen, and the deliberate embrace of Christian principles in government (as happened most fully in the creation of America) produced the greatest, most free and prosperous nation in history.

After all, the men who founded this nation pointed out that you can’t reject the foundation that produced a unique recognition of human dignity and rights as coming from God, then reject God, and still expect to retain the freedom and prosperity that came from acknowledging God as the source of liberty.

One of the least religious of the founders recognized this:

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.

As did Daniel Webster, one of those early “authentic Christians” in our nation’s history:

To preserve the government we must also preserve morals. Morality rests on religion; if you destroy the foundation, the superstructure must fall. When the public mind becomes vitiated and corrupt, laws are a nullity and constitutions are waste paper.

We have forgotten these foundational truths amidst our freedom and plenty.  It may take losing that freedom and plenty to make us once again learn their true source.


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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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