Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – A CHRISTIAN NATION?
The question is often asked whether England or America either have been, or are now, a Christian nation. To answer this, it must first be determined, “What is a Christian nation?” Such an inquiry necessarily involves consideration of a variety of legal factors, for behind the religious question lurks a jurisprudential issue: “To what extent, and in what sense, should the laws of any nation reflect Christian values?” These are the questions to be explored in this study.
The Bible contains various admonitions for the people of a nation to turn toward God and remain faithful to Him. But, how are nations supposed to indicate faithfulness toward God? Is it enough for Christians in a nation to be faithful toward God to enjoy His blessings, or must the civil government formally evidence a faithfulness toward God? If the latter, what form does this national faithfulness take? Can a “Christian nation” openly tolerate non-Christians or non-Christian religions?
In the history of the common law, various people have at times claimed that England and America each are, or were, a Christian nation. However, there is little in these assertions which define the form or substance of what it means to have a Christian government, or to be a religious nation. Let’s see what lonang suggests.
One way to define a Christian nation is in statistical terms, that is, a nation where a majority of people are Christians. We might term this a Christian democracy, but not as a description of its form of government. What is meant is simply that the religious character of the nation is determined by whatever religious faith a majority of the population professes. Certainly, there was a time in America, as well as England, when a majority of the population professed to be Christians.
However, this does not necessarily mean that in a Christian democracy the religion of the people would be reflected in the nation’s laws. Christians have often taken the position that their religious preferences should not be reflected in the civil law. And today, certainly, it would be difficult for U.S. Christians to agree on what laws ought to be passed or repealed. The mere fact that people are Christians is no guarantee that they will have the same, or any particular, legal views.
Accordingly, a Christian nation which depends on the existence of popular consensus alone is an elusive thing. Such a definition of “Christian nation” is entirely a matter of popular opinion, not legal prescription. There is little or no legal stability or security because popular consensus can change at any time. That is why the question for any “Christian nation” is whether a religious democracy is enough.
1. Read 2 Chr. 7:14. What does it mean for a “people” to be called by God’s name? Does a national identification with God depend on the percentage of the population who identify themselves as Christians? Does 2 Chr. 7:14 apply to any nation other than Israel?
2. Read Ps. 33:12. Does the fact that a majority of people in a nation profess to be Christian make that nation one “whose God is the Lord”? To what extent does this verse apply to nations other than Israel? What nations can rightfully claim to be the people whom God has chosen for His own inheritance?
3. If a Christian nation is defined in statistical terms, are either England or the United States good candidates for “Christian nation” status at present? Can you think of any nation today where most of the people claim to be Christian?
4. What is the jurisprudential legacy of a merely democratic Christian nation? In other words, what legal heritage, if any, can be passed down to the next generation which would assure continuation of the nation’s Christian character?
As an alternative to a Christian democracy, some people have suggested that America should follow the pattern of ancient Israel in becoming a theocracy. They believe that ancient Israel’s theocratic form of government is the model for all modern nations. Indeed, historically, some early settlers viewed America as God’s “new Israel,” suggesting that it was intended to be a Christian nation in this sense.
However, before we can assess whether ancient Israel serves as the pattern for modern nations, we need to determine what it is that made Israel a theocracy in the first place. For one thing, is theocracy a legal term defined by legal precepts? We will also want to consider whether the theocratic nature of ancient Israel was unique to that nation, or whether other nations have been, or can become, theocratic to the same extent as Israel.
1. Read Ex. 24:8 and Ps. 105:8-10. To what extent, if any, did God participate in the formation of Israel’s national covenant? Was He a witness, a party, a testator, or did He act in some other capacity?
2. Read 1 Sam. 8:7. Who was king and/or the supreme civil head of state over ancient Israel prior to the monarchy?
3. Read 1 Sam 10:20-25, 2 Sam. 7:16 and Isa. 33:22. How did the institution of the monarchy affect the theocratic nature of Israel? To what extent did God exercise civil rule over Israel after the monarchy was instituted? Did the institution of the monarchy change the Ten Commandments, Israel’s covenant relationship with God, or any of the nation’s organic laws? If so, how?
4. Read Lu. 1:31-33. Who has the present right to rule as king over Israel as its personal, national civil head? Does the authority to rule as king of Israel carry with it the authority to rule over any other nation as its king?
5. Read Ps. 147:19-20 and Deut. 7:6. See also Deut. 14:2. In what ways was ancient Israel unique among all the nations? Is this uniqueness still true today? Is Israel’s theocratic nature part of its uniqueness? Why or why not?
6. Can any nation in the history of the world, other than Israel, claim to have its national affairs ruled by God as its personal civil head of state? Can any nation other than Israel claim to have a covenantal relationship with God? What is the legal definition of a theocracy, if not these two things?
Both England and America have a history of religious establishments. But, what is an “establishment” of religion? For present purposes, let us use the definition of an establishment as where a nation legally prescribes matters of redemption law. This legal prescription is often referred to as making a particular religion the official national religion, but in fact, it may take a variety of forms, any number of which may be used in combination with each other.
Some examples of religious establishments used in England and America include the following: 1) the nation has a legally prescribed religious faith, that is, civil law prescribes what people must believe about God; 2) the national welfare is said to depend on the maintenance and preservation, or avoidance, of a particular religious faith (in the case of England, the denial of papism); 3) civil privileges (such as voting or holding public office) are accorded to citizens professing a specific religious faith, but denied to others; or 4) there is a jurisdictional merging of church and civil spheres (that is, civil punishments are meted out for religious offenses).
Of course, the main problem with legal establishments of religion in America is that they have been utterly rejected as a means of promoting public virtue. All of the states which formerly had established religions abandoned them by the 1830’s. Further, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly denies that Congress may make any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” But, what does lonang say?
1. Read Ex. 20:3-6. To what extent did ancient Israel legally prescribe what people must believe about God?
- Read Deut. 28:1-2,15. To what extent did ancient Israel’s national welfare depend on the maintenance and preservation of a particular religious faith?
- Read Lev. 7:25. To what extent did ancient Israel grant or deny civil privileges according to a person’s profession of religious faith?
- Read Lev. 20:27, Lev. 24:16 and Deut. 17:2-5. To what extent did ancient Israel impose civil punishments for religious offenses?
2. To what extent does ancient Israel serve as a model for modern nations to promote the legal establishment of religion? Is there anything in the text of ancient Israel’s constitution (Exodus 19-20) which expressly provides, or implies, it is supposed to serve as a model for other nations?
3. Recall our examination of covenant law in a prior study. Is the Mosaic law covenantally binding on any other nation? Why or why not?
4. Is the First Amendment unbiblical? Is an assertion that U.S. laws are based upon the Ten Commandments consistent or inconsistent with the idea that establishments of religion are improper and are to be avoided?
5. What is the link (if any) between established religion and a theocracy? That is, can you have one without the other? What are the inherent assumptions, if any, which the institution of a religious establishment makes concerning the ability of civil rulers to govern in the place of God?
A republic may be defined in both political and legal terms. Politically, a republic is defined in terms of representative government. But legally, a republic is a consensual form of government in which there is “a government of laws, and not of men.” This latter phrase is intended to denote a government in which law itself rules the nation, every person is under the law, and the law is that which conforms to the objective legal order.
In a sense, a Christian republic is a form of government which is intended to institute the rule of God’s law by virtue of the consent of the governed. However, we should be careful to note that a Christian republic does not necessarily mean that the provisions of Old Testament law are to be imported verbatim into modern statutory codes.
Let’s consider this matter in the specific context of the founding of the United States. We commonly refer to the U.S. as a republic, but even so, was it ever intended to be a Christian republic? If so, was that a proper intention, and is the U.S. a Christian republic now?
1. Read Mat. 21:43. What does it mean for a nation to “produce the fruit” of the kingdom of God? How does a nation know when it has achieved this goal? Is it an inherently religious goal?
2. Does God have a set of laws for all nations which are distinguishable from His laws for ancient Israel? Where would you find these laws, and how would you know them when you see them?
3. According to the Declaration of Independence, the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God “entitled” the United States to assume a “separate and equal station” among the nations of the world. Did the Declaration purport to be consistent with the laws of God? To what extent did the Declaration establish God’s law as the legal basis for the founding of our nation? To what extent have we lived up to the legal legacy of the Declaration?
4. The Declaration of Independence also contained the following language: We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.
- To what extent does the Declaration: 1) acknowledge the Creator and His laws of creation; 2) affirm the existence of God-given rights that society should recognize and protect; and 3) recognize that the form of government is a function of the consent of the governed via a binding covenant?
- The words “republic” and “republican” nowhere appear in the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, did the Declaration form a new republic in substance? Was it a Christian republic?
5. According to John Quincy Adams, in 1821, the “highest glory” of the American Revolution was that it connected the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. “From the day of the Declaration … [the American people] were bound by the laws of God.” To what extent was Adams correct or incorrect?
6. To what extent may one nation have a religious democracy, theocracy, establishment of religion, and a republic, all at the same time? Are any of these categories mutually exclusive? How many of these did ancient Israel exhibit at any one time? How about the United States?
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.