“Your assumptions can’t be validated. Not everyone at the founding of this nation had a biblical worldview, many popular men were at best deists; Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are just a couple names that illustrate this point.” That’s what the email said that I had been waiting for. Those weren’t the exact words of the sender, but they are his generalized convictions being expressed to me.
A few weeks prior I had submitted the first chapter of something I was working on, and that was the response I got. Let’s be honest, criticism stings. Especially, when you have worked really hard on something…put a lot of passion into it, only to find out that what you’d written was not the precious gem you suspected it to be.
The problem was that my advisor and I saw things differently. We looked at the same period of time (the event you might say) from two different angles. Like others that I have read, I have become convinced that the founding of this nation was rooted in the Christian worldview. An idea that, lets face it, has come under extreme scrutiny in the last few decades.
Why the two different perspectives? We are, as far as I know, both Christian men. We share the same affection, I would assume, for Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible and all that is contained therein. So, why the discrepancy? How can two people share the same standard (ultimate authority?) and yet come to opposing sides about the same issue?
**Last week, I began a discussion pertaining to worldviews and in so doing I asked, what I believe, are five important questions that ought to be answered regarding them. I won’t repeat those questions or how I responded to them here, but if you’re interested you can check out the following articles in sequential order: 1)Uhm…What’s a Worldview? , 2)Two Sorts of Stone: Fashioned by Man or Fashioned by God
Ultimately, when you whittle all worldviews down to their base (i.e. foundation) you are left with two options—God’s Word or Man’s Word. I realize that is not something that many people might agree with. Why? Well, when we look at the world around us what do we see? We see a wide array of religious/spiritual/professed agnostic or atheistic forms of belief, so it is only natural that we conclude there has to be more than just two. The problem is not with what we are seeing, but with how we understand what we are seeing.
Normally, when you look at a structure that someone has built, what do you notice? Well, we tend to fixate on the visible attributes of the structure in question. Those aspects of the building that we find aesthetically pleasing; such as, the type of crafting material (metal, stone or wood), or the sweep and slanting nature of the roof(s), various lighting ascents, even the size of the structure may tantalize us, whether it is majestically robust or quaintly petite. The point being we make much ado about the above ground nature of the structure we are admiring, but we more than likely give little thought to that which holds it up.
Interesting isn’t it that we can be so fussy about superficial things, but give little consideration to truly weightier matters? For, it makes little difference what materials a building is fashioned from—not to mention how well it is put together—if the foundation upon which it is built is shoddy.
So, why did my prof and I not see this nation’s founding in the same light? What was the real issue? More importantly, how does this relate to the Christian worldview as a whole? As I mentioned in my last article, how can Christianity be based upon one book (the Bible), and in particular Jesus Christ, if there are such divergent views within this supposed singular faith-system (worldview).
A Nation Founded on a Biblical Worldview? Where’s the proof?
There are various markers (evidences if you will), which attest to previous generations saturated with a Christian view of life; such as, government buildings, national monuments, legal documents, statements found on currency, and even oaths sworn before taking office. As Gary DeMar explains, “An honest study of America’s past will show that a majority of Americans shared a common religion and ethic. America’s earliest founders were self-professing Christians and their founding documents expressed belief in a Christian worldview.”1
Take for example, an honest examination of the legal documents of the thirteen colonies of what would later be called the United States2:
- Massachusetts—“In the charter granted to Massachusetts, in 1640, by Charles I., the Colonies are enjoined by ‘their good life and orderly conversations to win and invite the natives of the country to a knowledge of the only true God and Savior of mankind, and the Christian faith which, in our royal intention and adventurer’s free possession, is the principal end of this plantation.” (p.56)
- Connecticut, in 1639 had several articles in their constitution that upheld the Bible, “hold[ing] forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men, as well as families and commonwealths as in matters of the church….” They went so far as to limit civil government “by those rules which the Scripture held forth to them.” (p. 68)
- Pennsylvania—“The frame of government which [William] Penn completed in 1682 for the government of Pennsylvania was derived from the Bible. He deduced from various passages ‘the origination and descent of all human power from God; the divine right of government, and that for two ends,—first to terrify evil doers; secondly, to cherish those who do well…Whereas the glory of Almighty God and the good of mankind is the reason and end of government, and, therefore, government in itself is a venerable ordinance of God….” (p. 82, 83).
Even men like Ben Franklin who were not orthodox Christians, admitting at one point in his life he was “a thorough Deist,”3 held many teachings of the Holy Bible and Jesus as amicable.4 He even went so far as to being drawn to the itinerant preacher George Whitefield’s preaching, “notwithstanding,” what Franklin called, “his common abuse of [his audience], by assuring them that they were naturally half beasts and half devils.” And he even credited the gospel’s proclamation as changing the hearts of its hearers to the point that “it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”5
Now such information is not hidden, but is available to all who desire to learn it. Most people just assume what they are told, and refuse to do the research themselves. However, that does not seem to be the problem I was having with my advisor. The discrepancy was in light of what he assumed to be true.
“If the people who founded this country really had a biblical worldview (a predominantly Christian one) like I was proposing, then why are the divergent beliefs? Surely, one cannot deny that the people of that period were influenced by Scriptural teaching, but they did not all believe the same thing!”
There were deists (children of the Enlightenment), there were various Christian denominations (i.e. Congregationalists, Anglicans, Baptists, etc.), various theological traditions (i.e. Calvinists, Quakers, Arminians, and even Roman Catholics), not to mention various modes of worship expressed in each system of Christian thought. Even today, we have similar expressions of diverging thought within Christian circles.
One group practices “believer’s” Baptism, others paedo (infant/child) Baptism; of course, then there’s the question of submersion versus sprinkling or pouring of water. Communion/Eucharist divisions occur in the use of wine or juice, unleavened or leavened bread, and even times of remembrance (once a month, every week, once a quarter, etc.). How about style of music? Do we have it or leave it out? Do we use Psalms, hymns, or various other “spiritual” songs? What sort of facility do we meet in: a home, a renovated storefront, a cathedral or a community center, or perhaps no building at all instead preferring the outdoors or tents when the weather is unsatisfactory? Should witnessing be a biblical-first approach or an evidence-based appeal eventually leading to the Bible?
There is no end to differences with the expression of the Christian faith. Do those differences then make the Christian faith null and void? Do they mean that Christians are not people of the book? It does seem that is how some want to pit the argument, but the fact remains that there is no institution that does not demonstrate diversity. Does that mean that all expressions or interpretations or applications of the truth are invalid? No, it does not. The problem is not with the standard, the problem is with our use of the standard.
One Foundation—Christ’s Word
Let’s turn to the Bible for some guidance. The apostle Paul explains to his Corinthian audience that they are “…co-workers belonging to God” (1Cor 3.9a; NET).6 The stress is laid on the fact that these believers are God’s possession: He is the planter, they are the plant (vv. 7-8); He is the husbandman, they are the field (v. 9b); He is the builder, they are the building (v. 9c). Paul explains to them that when he came to them “according to the grace of God” (1Cor 3.10a) preaching the gospel of Christ crucified (cf. 1Cor 1.18-21; 2.1-4) “like a skilled master-builder [he] laid a foundation, but someone else builds on it;” therefore, “each one must be careful how he builds [on it]” (1Cor 3.10b).
Well, what foundation did Paul lay? The answer is Jesus Christ, His Word.
- “For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3.11).
He then offers his readers the following warning in regards to the building material that they chose to lay on this foundation; this cornerstone.
- “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1Cor 3.12-15).
What the issue is really about…
The foundation is Christ’s Word, for there is nothing else that a person who bears the Name of Christ might be established upon. Moreover, diligent care must be used with what one puts upon this precious, trusted cornerstone. That which is pure and un-defiled is from God, and is found in agreement with Jesus Christ in whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” lie (Col 2.3). Therefore, the believer must discern the material being used to build on Christ.
What should Christians use? In short, only that which honors and glorifies God. How then are they to know what is right and true, right and wrong, good and evil, pure and impure, righteous and unrighteous? By appealing to what God has declared clean (cf. Acts 10.15), refusing to lean on our own understanding but on His (cf. Prov 3.5-7) so that we might bring “every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2Cor 10.5). For if Christ Jesus is truly the “Light of the world” (John 8.12) as He says, then it is only in “his light that we will see light” (Psa 36.9).
The issue about building materials is doctrinal standards. It is about properly grafting biblical teaching into one’s life, and living that life in light of it. You see, Paul has been dealing with a ton of issues in the Corinth church, and the reason that this is the case is because they desire to live according to their own standards, not God’s. Which is why in just a few short verses he will plead with these people to “learn ‘not to go beyond what is written’” (1Cor 4.6). Why? Because, worldly wisdom is foolishness to God (1Cor 3.19), and Christians having the mind of Christ should not be so (1Cor 2.16). Christians are told repeatedly to be conformed to the image of Jesus, to be renewed in their minds so as not to defame the Name that they represent.
What does this have to do with ultimate standards and the differences we see within the Christian worldview (and all others)?
There are only Two…
Two Ultimate Standards, two stones, one formed by God the other by man. According to the Bible when a person is saved, they are delivered from the former standard to another; from one rock (an idol) to the other (the One True God). The problem is that our minds have attachments to the former rock (man’s opinion). In our sinful state we were in open rebellion to God (cf. Rom 8.7-8), but now in our redeemed state we still struggle with casting off the old man (cf. Eph 4.20-24). In short, we struggle with winds and waves of doctrine (cf. Eph 4.12-15), seeking teachers that teach beliefs that scratch our own egos (2Tim 4.1-4).
Why do some Christians believe in a biblical creation allowing the text to speak authoritatively in their lives, where others seek to bend the language to fit preconceived ideas that are popular with the surrounding culture? Why do some Christians attempt to whittle the faith down to the “minimal facts approach” rather than following the model of Christ or the apostles when proclaiming the gospel? What causes Christians to balk in our culture on issues of justice/righteousness in various sectors, refusing to stand up and speak out for fear of losing personal prosperity? What is the root of such things? Why the deviation from clear biblical precepts, statutes, commands, laws, etc.? A refusal to bow the knee before Christ’s Word. A purposeful appeal to standards/teachings/doctrines that deny what the Bible has taught, but invites the individual or the group to decide for themselves truth.
It really comes down to an issue of authority. Who really has it? Who really wants to submit to it? That is the cause of mingled belief in what is pure as gold, silver and precious stone, with hay, stubble and straw. When Christians refuse to submit to what God has spoken, preferring their own intellect over the mind of God as more reasonable, that is when we step into error. We call things sinful that God has not. We call things true that God has not. And we are left looking like the fool.
Am I saying that all believers are purposefully malicious in this regard? No. I think much of it has to do with ignorance (not knowing), but it does become malicious when the truth is taught and we refuse to adopt it as good.
The Answer for Divergence, when People Share the same Standard?
It is the same as the lady I spoke to before. We want our thoughts to be the final arbitrator of truth. Being a Christian is a lifelong process of learning to submit to God’s thoughts over and above our own. Next time, we’ll look at how God tells us to do that.
1 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, 2nd ed. (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1995), 5.
2 The following excerpts are taken from B. F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (1863), quoted in Gary DeMar, God and Government: A Biblical and History Study, Vol 1, 2nd ed. (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1997), 122-124. DeMar points out that this was normative for all the colonies. He writes, “The study of the history of each colony will result in the same conclusion: The Christian religion was the foundation that gave meaning, direction, and stability to the young colonies. Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia exhibit the same religious commitment” (126).
3 Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Public Domain Books), p. 50, Kindle Edition, loc 820.
4 Ibid, 72. However, I’d be remised if I didn’t point out that Franklin treated Holy Writ as something that may be sampled from, but not submitted to in humility. He went so far as to writing his own “commandments” which were virtuous truths that he had fashioned and worded in such a way that he found pleasing (cf. p. 70-72). Of course, even these attest to how greatly his thinking was shaped by biblical thought (i.e. worldview) as many of his “commandments” were borrowed from the Christian faith
5 Ibid, 91.
6 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New English Translation (NET).