In a 2007 interview with beliefnet.com, then presidential candidate, John McCain stated that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” Some Americans take heart in this statement, while others take offense. Some claim that since at least 50 of the 55 men who signed the Constitution were members of Christian churches, therefore we were founded as a Christian nation. Others claim that since the United States Constitution never mentions the name of God except one time “in the year of our Lord 1787,” that this shows America was founded as a purely secular nation.
The Rule of Law vs. the Rule of Man
America is a Christian nation because we were the first nation in modern times that was founded on a Constitution – a nation ruled by law not by man.
From where did our founders derive this concept?
First, they based almost all the language of the Declaration and the Constitution on the various colonial charters, orders, compacts, covenants and constitutions. All of these documents (with the notable exception of the United States Constitution) mention the God of the Bible in their preambles.
Second, the source of the idea of constitutional government in the foundation of the colonies was the Bible itself. Israel was the only nation in ancient times that was ruled by a covenant had come from God himself through the prophet Moses. The Book of the Law, the Torah, described a nation to be ruled by God and God’s law. The elders and judges (and later the kings and prophets) of Israel were charged to uphold God’s law. They were not charged to make new laws or to enforce their own will.
Our Constitution describes no specific laws, as many foreign constitutions do, but describes a representational system of government. This is a biblical concept. We are a Christian nation, therefore, because we are a nation based on the rule of law – a self-consciously biblical principle. We are a nation of states, not a nation-state. The various states were previously founded on the Lordship of King Jesus.
According to 19th century Harvard historian John Fiske: “The spirit in which the Hebrew prophet rebuked and humbled an idolatrous king was a spirit they could comprehend. Such a spirit was sure to manifest itself in cramping measures and in ugly acts of persecution; but it is none the less the fortunate alliance of that fervid religious enthusiasm with the Englishman’s love of self government that our modern freedom owes its existence.”
The United States Constitution owes allegiance to Thomas Hooker, more than any other man, for providing a working model of decentralized government, one which had not appeared on the face of the earth since the time of the ancient Hebrews.
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was the first biblical covenant in modern times which founded a federal government. The Mayflower Compact was not a constitution, in that it did not define and limit the functions of government. The Magna Charta had the nature of a written constitution because it described the rights of the people, but it did not create a civil government.
This constitution states that Connecticut is submitted to the “Savior and Lord.” There are none of the patronizing references to a “dread sovereign” or a “gracious king” nor the slightest allusion to the authority of British government or any other government over the colony. It presumes Connecticut to be self-governing. It does not describe church membership as a condition for suffrage. In this federation, all powers not granted to the General Court remained in the towns. Each township had equal representation in the General Court. The governor and the council were chosen by a majority vote of the people with almost universal suffrage.
In his sermon to the General Court, May 31, 1638, Hooker said, “The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people … the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance … they who have power to appoint officers and magistrates have the right also to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them.”
John Fiske writes: “It was the first written constitution known to history, that created a government, and it marked the beginnings of the American republic, of which Thomas Hooker deserves more than any other man to be called the father. The government of the United States today is in lineal descent more nearly related to that of Connecticut than to that of any of the other thirteen colonies.”
Source: John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England or The Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil Law and Religious Liberty, illustrated edition (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1889), pp. 274, 137, 140.