How many times have you heard it? “We are a country founded on Christian values!” People fight over the constitution and how “Christian” our founders really were.
I’m not here to argue Thomas Jefferson’s theological ideology.
But I did just spend ten days with Missionaries from all over Europe. Europe is the birthplace of the protestant reformation, and the home of the Catholic church. There are churches every ten feet, and monuments to Christian faith throughout. Many of these countries, if they don’t have an “official” state religion, they do have concessions for Christian religions in their constitutions and governmental accommodations for church operations. In Italy, it’s Catholicism, as in Spain. In Germany, it’s Lutheranism. In all cases, atheism is reigning supreme.
Nations in Europe have been moving away from “official state religion” status, but that has not separated the church from the state. And the result is that a mockery has been made of the church. There are religion classes taught in schools in Italy. But they are not taught by Christians. And they are ecumenical in teaching other religions alongside Christianity. Most people identify as “Catholic,” but have been to mass only a handful of times in their life. They openly admit they don’t believe it. But they’re still “Catholic.”
In Spain the Protestant Reformation never “took.” That means that neither did all it’s teachings of “Sola Scriptura,” or “Sola Fidei” (“Scripture alone” as our only rule for faith, and “Faith alone” as the way we are saved, in response to Catholicism’s teachings that one must obey certain “rites” to obtain the grace of salvation). So until 35 years ago, it was illegal to own a Bible. That means in the late 1970s, in an officially Christian (Catholic) state, owning the Bible was a crime. Thanks, state religion.
In Germany, the official church is Lutheran, and Priests are state employees. The priesthood is seen as a “civil servant” job, like a meter maid, or a social worker. Lutheran priests in Germany do not have any requirements on them to agree to any set of doctrine or beliefs. In many cases, they are openly atheistic, but found a job doing this church gig. One woman—a new Christian—told me of her struggle with not wanting to be seen as an “extremist” for being a part of a biblical church. And in order to join she had to go to the town hall to “de-register” with the Lutheran Church. How do you say “Big Brother” in German? To make matters worse, those churches are funded by the government, so no attendees need to give an offering (contrasted by non-Lutheran “free” churches, which operate on member giving). That sounds great until you consider Jesus’ teaching that our heart follows our wallet (Matthew 6:21), or Paul’s teaching about the “joy of giving” that was a commendable trait in many of the churches he founded (2 Cor 8:1 ff). These churches are being robbed of the joy of giving by being told there is no reason to give.
Many churches in Germany have over 3,000 on their register, yet average about 12 in attendance.
That is not hyperbole (It’s not scientifically accurate, either. It is simply an observation). That is the stark reality of faith in Europe. A “Christian” continent.
This is the background for my skepticism about calling America “a Christian Nation.” First of all, it’s not. Not in the way that “Christian” nations have always been defined. There is a separation of church and state that was intended more to protect churches’ interests than anything else. We don’t have state-run churches that have no regard for what is taught, or who determine doctrine based on political benefits (we still have those denominations, they just aren’t run by the state). We don’t have churches that are under-funded because the message has been sent that the church will cover the bills. We don’t have to register as Christian at the Religious DMV.
But second—and perhaps more importantly—I have to question whether we should even desire for this to be a “Christian Nation.” I must imagine that this is a case where we should be careful what we wish for. State religion brings religious classes back in the schools, but those classes don’t need to be taught by Christians. And I would much rather my son or daughter learn to pray from myself, my wife, or our pastors, elders and friends, than some teacher who is covering it as a part of a public school curriculum. Sure, there are cultural Christians in America, who claim the name, Christian, but nothing else. But it is far less wide-spread than in Europe. Our government does not interfere with what churches can and cannot teach (not yet, anyway, regardless of what FoxNews says on the issue). State religion would mean that churches would be predominately one denomination and that statements of faith would largely be compulsively homogenous.
What we have is better than having a “Christian Nation.” I keep putting that in quotes because I think it is a misnomer. A nation cannot be Christian. There is nothing biblical (at least in the New Testament) about being a God’s People simply by citizenship in a nation. There is no such thing as a “Christian” nation, but rather there can be nations with high number of Christians. And that is the opportunity we have in America.
As a nation of Christians, we have the right to teach our own children biblical truths.
As a nation of Christians, we have the right to pray openly, even if we don’t get to compel others to pray with us.
As a nation of Christians, we have the opportunity to support churches and ministries without a large portion of that going to cover administrative costs for the “Department of Church” somewhere in our capitals.
As a nation of Christians, we have the right to raise our kids the way Deuteronomy 6 describes, rather than outsourcing spiritual growth to bureaucrats.
I am skeptical of America ever being labeled a “Christian” nation, but I am not against Christians taking a more fervent stand for what they believe in within its borders. Consider that the places where the church is growing the most are the nations most hostile to Christianity. Maybe that persecution acts as a refining fire that identifies who truly believes, when there is no worldly benefit for such a confession. Perhaps it is time that we spend less energy trying to establish a “Christian America,” and more energy being Christians in America.
Thanks for listening.