How Biblical Christianity Creates a Framework for Selecting Leaders
Decision Making in the Voting Booth Lesson #01
October 19, 2008
“Our Father, we are thankful today that we can come together as a body of believers and let our thinking be refreshed by a focus upon Your Word and the implications derived from Your Word as we learn how to apply these eternal truths to thinking, to our thinking, to our values, to our decisions, that we may come to understand how we may glorify You in a greater way by the things that we do and the things that we say.
Father, we recognize Your Word addresses for us ever issue in life, every category, thought, every category of intellection can find its root in Your Word for You are the God that created all things, and in Your revelation, You address all things, so that by studying Your Word diligently we can come to understand the foundation of Your thinking in relation to every area of our experience.
Now Father, we pray that might be objective this morning as we focus on Your Word that we might come to have a better and clearer understanding of how to think, especially in terms of how we as individual believers relate to the nation in which we live.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.”
This morning I’m going to begin a new series, a timely series related to the election that is coming up. This morning what I want to do is lay the foundation for this series. We will continue on Tuesday night and Thursday night and probably even into next Sunday.
I’d initially planned to do this in two or three shots, but last night at 11:00, when I sat down, I had 19 pages of notes and 70 slides for this morning, and I realized that it was going to take more than two or three sessions to cover the appropriate material.
Now one thing is going to be a little different this morning. Since I only see one or two visitors here this morning, I’m putting this in as a little caveat for you. Normally on Sunday morning our time is spent on the verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture, and we go through the Scripture detail-by-detail.
As we have done this over many years, we come to various conclusions about what the Word of God teaches. It is on the basis of those conclusions that we develop what we refer to as “application.” This series is really an application-oriented series for those of you who think sometimes that I just get too academic or detailed, and you want a little more application. Well, this is an application-oriented series, but if you really aren’t a detailed student of the Word, then there may be a few things that we hit that you might not quite fully understand, and I’ll try make some of those things clear as we go along.
So as opposed to our normal procedure, we’re not going to open our Bibles and begin a verse-by-verse exegesis, but we are going to deal with the implications of what we know from the Scripture as it relates to our role and responsibilities as believers and as citizens of the United States of America.
It is no new revelation to most of you that we live in momentous times. I think there’s an ancient Chinese curse that “you wish someone to live in interesting times.” We certainly live in interesting times. I don’t think any of us remember either in our own lifetimes or from what we have read in history books an election in the history of this nation quite so loaded with implications of radical change. And as these hurricane-force winds of change appear on our radar, we must answer the question, “Is this change a good thing or not? What does this change consist of?” Change is not always good. Change can often be bad.
So we have to address the issues here. What we hear from people in this question is change is good. I want you to think about that statement just a moment. When you make a value judgment statement that change is good, you’ve used that word “good” that implies that there is some external, objective standard that can be applied to the situation, and on the basis of that standard, you can determine whether something is good or bad. So by making those kinds of statements, you are implying that there is some sort of standard by which you can evaluate political positions and political candidates.
So what is your standard? What is the basis that you use in order to evaluate those whom you select to be leaders, whether they’re at a local level or at a national level? The question we are going to address is how we as Bible-believing Christians should take the Bible and apply the teachings of Scripture to the decisions that we make in the voting booth.
The assumption here is an assumption that was a common assumption at the time of the founding of this nation. That is, because God is the Creator of all things, God in His Word has addressed all things. So we can go to God’s Word to find guidance as to how to make decisions on every area of life and how to evaluate every kind of situation that we run into.
Well, the situation that we are all facing now is a national situation related to the election of a president and election of many national leaders. As we approach this topic of how we make a decision to vote, there are several questions that should occur to us.
One is why should we as Christians even care about voting? Shouldn’t we just stay home and pray and let things take their natural course? If God is sovereign and God controls history, then let’s just go home and pray about it.
We should also ask questions such as shouldn’t we just vote for the person who we like the most and who fits our own personal preferences? What about character? What role does character have to play in making a voting decision? What about the integrity of the person that we are putting in office?
We all know of stories and anecdotes about various leaders who have had mild to serious personal peccadillos that were unknown at the time they were serving in office and became known later. And in more recent history, those same kinds of things became known about serving officials and became serious issues. So what is the role of character and integrity?
What about the religious beliefs of the candidates or the lack thereof? And how do we prioritize issues related to the things that are so often talked about in elections? For example, how do we prioritize economics?
We talk about many issues related to economics in this current election: Marxism, socialism, taxation, social security, minimum wage, bailouts for the banking industry, views on wealth and the wealthy, and views on the poor and poverty reverberate in every decision.
And there are social issues that are very important to this election. Views on marriage and homosexual marriage, feminism, abortion, racism, immigration.
Then there is the whole area of foreign policy and national defense. We have the war on terrorism, the threat of Islam, the nuclear threat of Iran and N. Korea and other rogue nations, plus the rise of the neo-Russian Empire, as well as support for Israel. How do we prioritize all of these different issues?
Then we have the issue of government itself. This involves areas such as the interpretation of the Constitution, interpretation of law, the appointment of judges, issues related to internationalism and globalism.
And then last but not least, we are faced with issues related to morality and spirituality. So how are we to prioritize these particular issues?
Well, before we begin, we ought to at least reflect upon one passage in Scripture that gives us a clue as to the priority. Proverbs 14:34 states “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 39:2 says “When the righteous rule the people rejoice.”
I could go on. We’ll hit some other passages from Proverbs related to ruling and kings and leadership as we go through the series, but the emphasis that we discover is an emphasis on an ethical standard as a priority and that ethical standard is related to righteousness.
If we think about the Mosaic Law, and we think about how God related that to Israel, He told them that if they obeyed the Law, then He would provide for their national defense, and He would take care of their economic prosperity. But if they failed in the arena of righteousness, which we’re going to have to define, then God would bring enemies against them, on the one hand He would, no matter what their defense was they would be defeated, and He would also wipe out their economy.
So that there is a priority relationship in Scripture between righteousness and ethics on the one hand and economics and national defence on the other hand.
Jesus articulates the same principle in Matthew 6:33 where He says, “… seek ye first the kingdom of God … and all these things will be added unto you.” The “all these things” are related to the details of life in terms of economic prosperity and security. There are clearly priorities expressed in the Scripture.
Another thing that we should focus on is that in the giving of the Mosaic Law to Israel, there were 613 commandments, and those commandments related to every area of life. You had commandments related to safety—that if you have a roof, you should put a certain type of parapet around the edge of the roof in order to provide safety for people so they don’t fall off. You had other laws related to diet, you had laws related to slavery. You had laws related to economics.
But when God synthesized those 603 commandments down to ten (which is where you come up with 613), there were many of those areas of law related to health, the poor, economics that were not included within the 10 commandments. So God clearly shows a priority in terms of what commandments are more important and what commandments have lesser importance.
So when we come to evaluate a candidate, we have to come to understand what the priority issues are. How are we going to weigh all of these different issues?
Before we get started, let me give you a list of eight things that should not characterize your voting, that should not shape your decision making. And it’s amazing how many people fall into one of these categories.
First of all, you should not choose somebody simply because of their political party affiliation.
Just because they are in one party or another does not mean that they are necessarily the best person in that individual race. The other person may have greater integrity, may have better positions, and may be more correct in their views.
Second reason you should not have as a primary reason for selecting someone as a leader is their physical appearance.
Now that almost seems obvious, but back in the ’20s when they had their first presidential election after women were given the right to vote, Warren G. Harding was chosen—and his particular administration was marked by some of the greatest corruption in all of history—but he was chosen because he looked presidential, and he would appeal to the ladies. That was their view, and many people voted for him by personal appearance.
We can think of other things that have affected that in modern times, such as that deep 5 o’clock shadow that Richard Nixon had on television when he was debating with John F. Kennedy. Appearance affects people, but that is a superficial thing to do.
Third is speaking ability.
How articulate a person is or inarticulate should not be the basis for choosing them. It is their ideas and positions.
Fourth is what he promises he will do for you or your special interest group.
Just because you’re a teacher and he’s going to give teachers a pay raise, or you’re in the military and he is going to give the military a pay raise, or you are in a union and he is going to do certain things for the union does not mean he is the kind of person you should vote for. That should not affect it.
You should not vote for someone just because they are female or male. That is not an issue. The ideas are the issue.
You should not vote for someone simply because they are of a certain race or because of their ethnic background. You should vote for them because of their ideas, their positions, their beliefs, and their character.
[Seventh] You should not vote for someone because you think it’s now their side’s turn to have a go at the leadership.
You would be amazed at how many people do that. “Well, you know, Republicans have had their eight years; let’s give the Democrats a shot and see what they can do.”
[Eighth] Don’t vote for someone simply because you desire a change in reaction to the current administration.
That’s a big issue in this election. A lot of people think that one side offers change because that’s their major slogan. The problem with that is, is it a change in kind or a change in degree? And I would argue, and we’ll see in this study, that all he offers is a change in degree.
We’ve been operating on a trajectory of “socialism-light” for the last 40 years in this nation, and we have a choice between basically a Marxist and a light socialist. But that is nothing new in this nation.
So the change that one offers is just a change in degree. He is going to ratchet things up a few notches, as opposed to his opponent who’s going to keep the downward slide going at the same rate that it has been headed.
Now as I address these issues from the pulpit as a pastor, I’m sure you are aware of the fact that there has been a certain amount of press lately regarding the fact that about a month ago, there was a Sunday designated as a “Free the Pulpit Sunday,” and there were a number of churches—some megachurches, some not so megachurches—where the pastors got in the pulpit and named names and cited specifics in relationship of who they thought people should vote for and who they thought they should not vote for. There has been a certain amount of disinformation and misinformation about that in the press.
Yesterday, or about a week ago rather, the date here if for the 6th of October, there was an informed letter to the editor written by Dave Welch, who is the executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council. And this is his response, and I thought this was a fitting introduction to our study today:
“The ‘Free the Pulpit Sunday,’ [he writes] promoted by the Alliance Defence Fund and participated in by many churches across America on September 28, was a stand for some foundational, historic and constitutional freedoms. The Chronicle editorial bully-pulpits on Wednesday missed the point entirely [not a surprise, that’s my editorial] and applied a perspective that is misinformed at best.
“Very simply, the question is not whether it’s a blessing to a candidate for a church to endorse him or her, or even whether it’s effective. Frankly, a pastor’s and/or church’s endorsement may have no effect at all if it does not influence the parishioners to cast an informed vote. Before principle is that theologically, historically, and legally, the federal government has no authority to dictate what a pastor preaches from his pulpit.
“Oppressive interference by the state, which began only as recently as 1954 [It was snuck through in the dead of night as a rider on an appropriations bill by Senator Lyndon Johnson] has no precedence in our nation’s history and has nothing whatsoever to do with the first amendment. [Incidentally, there was a non-profit organization that was taking pot shots at him, so he just put this rider in that prohibited non-profits from taking a political stand. He was not targeting churches. Someone woke up a few years later, and said ‘Oh, we can apply this to churches and shut down the pastors.’ Dave goes on to write,] The church as an institution was uniformly recognized by the framers of the Constitution to not only precede the institution of government but as fundamental to its survival.
“Taxing the church was a basic violation of the very separation of the institutions that would grant the government, as stated in McCullough vs. Maryland, the power to destroy the church. [A great phrase came out of that decision: that taxing is the power or the power to tax is the power to destroy. Remember that.] No such power was ever given until the Johnson gag rule was adopted by Congress, in which most did not even know this provision was included.
“The fact is that these are clear, unconstitutional restrictions of freedom of religion and freedom of speech levied upon churches that have been improperly counselled that advance recognition of their non-profit status through section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code was necessary. [It is not.] Most importantly, the power of the federal government or government at any level once used to silence one group of citizens can and has been used to silence others.
“Clergy who sell their duty to God and their congregants to preach as truth on every subject for the sake of an insignificant, largely perceived financial benefit deserve to lose their freedoms and their pulpits. We honor and celebrate the pastors who joined thousands of years of their predecessors in declaring that duty and freedom are more precious than a few dollars and that governing authority, which only exists by the authority of our Creator and the consent of the governed, must be constrained and shackled, not the church.”
So, we begin our study. How is it that we are to make decisions when we go into the voting booth? Well, let’s begin by listening to the counsel of two of the founding fathers of the American Republic.
First of all, from John Jay, who was president of the Continental Congress, and also first Chief Justice, and a contributor to The Federalist Papers. He stated, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
Benjamin Rush, another one of the founders, signer of the Declaration of Independence, also served in three early presidential administrations, stated, “Every citizen of a republic must watch for the State as if its liberties depended upon his vigilance alone.”
It is our responsibility to be informed, it is our responsibility to study, it is our responsibility to vote in an informed, an intelligent manner.
The founders understood tyranny. They had lived under the tyranny of George III. They understood the value of freedom and that freedom was liberty from the constraints of government. And they realized the nature of the government that they formed and that they established in the Constitution, and they also understood the tenuous foundation on which it rested, that is, the vote of the individual citizen. That each generation would have to fight in numerous ways to preserve their liberties from tyrannical government, which had been earned by these men.
Unfortunately today, very few have taken the time to truly understand the context of the formation of our republic or the origin of the ideas that shaped it. This is unfortunate because it was those ideas that dominated and controlled this nation for over 150 years and that made it the great nation that it is.
The blessings, the freedom, the prosperity that we enjoy is not the result of 19th and 20th century ideas; it is the product of 17th and 18th century ideas. And if we do not understand those ideas and continue those ideas, we will lose the freedoms, the blessings, and the prosperity that we have.
It’s my thesis this morning that if we are going to choose wisely in the election process, then we must choose leaders that understand our historical roots. They understand our heritage. They believe and are committed to the ideas which energized our founders, and they should be dedicated to promote a government and legislation which is in keeping with those ideas.
In a message at a rally in Denver in 1911, Woodrow Wilson made the following observation, “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we are about.”
It is sad to say that most people in America do not understand our foundational documents. They do not understand the history. They do not understand the context out of which our government was formed.
We must choose the kind of leaders that listen to the words of the founding fathers, who understand where their ideas came from, and who understand the kind of leaders that the founders thought that we should have.
Many of them wrote about this topic. They were incredibly concerned about how subsequent generations would vote, the kind of leaders they would choose, and their tendency to squander the liberties that were so dearly bought on the field of battle.
One of the founders, Elias Boudinot, who was a President of the Continental Congress, wrote, “If the moral character of a people once degenerates, their political character must follow … These considerations should lead to an attentive solicitude to be religiously careful...”
See, don’t get caught in that modern trap of thinking that religion doesn’t have anything to do with politics. That is just the Devil’s lie. Our founders all understood that. You will see that this morning and Tuesday night that they did not subscribe to this modern view of the so-called separation of church and state.
Boudinot went on to say, “These considerations should lead to an attentive solicitude to be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers … and judge of the tree by its fruits.”
It’s important, they believed, to know the religious convictions, the beliefs that would shape the character and would shape the policies of elected officials.
Now by taking this approach, with this emphasis on history, I am already demonstrating one of the core principles which we should use in evaluating a leader. This is one of those more abstract principles, one of those hidden principles that deals with assumptions or presuppositions. Nevertheless, I think it is the most important criterion we can use in evaluating a leader. The principle deals with the underlying assumptions or presuppositions related to interpretation of law, which relates to the interpretation of the Constitution and the foundation of this nation.
For in order to interpret the Constitution, in my view, or to interpret law, we have to have an understanding and appreciation of two things: history and precedence. Today we live in a world where those two things are denied by a certain segment of our elected political officials. They do not place a value on the thinking of the founders for understanding the system of government that we have and which has been bequeathed to us. And so there is a battle over interpretation.
There are two views when it comes to interpretation of the law:
The first view is that interpretation is determined by the intent and purpose of the original writer. This means that you have to understand its context, its history, the things that shaped that particular law.
The second opposing view is that interpretation is determined by the needs and desires of the interpreter for the present time.
In the first case, the case of original intent, interpretation can be fairly objective and certain and should be consistent down through the decades.
In the second case, the original context and the author’s intent are irrelevant, which means that history related to the document is no longer relevant, and the study of history is no longer important. The only thing that really matters is the current context and how it is going to affect people today.
So understanding this debate between the literal interpretation view and the non-literal interpretation view is fundamental.
This whole idea of interpretation is foundational to Scripture. We have to start there as believers. If we are going to develop any grid for evaluation of critical thinking, we always start with the Scriptures.
When we come to the Scriptures, we understand that the Scriptures must be interpreted a certain way. This is known as the literal, historical, grammatical view of interpretation. We take the Word of God in terms of its plain, normal meaning, recognizing that there are certain figures of speech that are used in the Scripture, but that we take it in terms of its historical context (so we have to study the history), the context, the cultures in which the Bible was written. We have to understand the grammar, the syntax of the construction of what the writer said, and we have to understand the meaning of the words, especially in light of the times in which it was written. As a result of that, a study of the Word of God is going to develop certain doctrines.
In opposition to this, there developed in the 19th century as the fruit of Enlightenment rationalist thinking, an emphasis that rejected the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of Scripture and emphasized a non-literal, allegorical, idealistic rationalist, or Marxist interpretation.
See these are four different approaches to interpretation, and I could list a lot more because once you slip your anchor from the historical, grammatical, literal interpretation, then the door is opened to any interpretation, and anybody can make the Bible mean whatever they want it to mean.
When we as Bible-believing Christians study the Bible, we emphasize the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of Scripture. We believe that the meaning of Scripture is based on the intent of the original author. On the case of Scripture, its author is God the Holy Spirit plus the human writer. That is what matters.
So to understand the Bible, we investigate history. We investigate words, and we investigate grammar. We investigate the circumstances that gave rise to the writing, the author, and his recipients. Those who are consistent Bible believers uphold this principle of the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation based on the intent of the author. But this has been rejected by so many today.
Now when you hold to a literal, grammatical interpretation of Scripture, you come out with a certain set of doctrines that come out of the Scripture: creation, that man is a sinner, you believe in the virgin birth of Christ, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the reality of miracles, and the literal Second Coming.
Coming out of the 19th century and the infusion of rationalist thinking on the ideas of interpretation, these historical truths of Christianity were rejected, and they were replaced by evolution, the idea that man was basically good, that the virgin birth was a myth, that Jesus was just human, that the atonement was not substitutionary but was just an example, there were no literal miracles, there’s no literal Second Coming, and that it is up to man to bring in the kingdom. Because he is basically good, he can, and man can bring in a utopia.
So, these ideas changed in other areas as well. Not only did this shift in interpretation affect the interpretation of the Bible, but it also affected interpretation in other areas: In history, in poetry, in drama, in philosophy, in legal literature.
You see, if you believe in a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation, then that is going to be consistent in anything that you read or anything you interpret. And that’s clear on how you interpret the instructions to fill out your tax return or whether it’s just the instructions on how you pay your bills. You can’t just assign whatever meaning you want to those instructions. We all normally interpret things of that nature on the basis of a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation.
But when it came to law, this had a devastating effect. And we saw a similar battle develop. On the one hand, we have those who believe, just like conservative Christians, that the documents of the founding fathers should be understood in terms of their original intent. Words that are used to describe them are originalists, strict constructionists, textualists. And this is the view of conservatives. These three terms are not necessarily identical, but they are similar and frequently go together.
In line with Enlightenment rationalism, law began to be interpreted in a different way. This is known as loose constructionist, revisionist. And this is standard view of liberal views of politics.
Now when we come to evaluate the candidates, this has specific implications. I have attempted to show here—I want to make sure you understand the point—that no Bible-believing Christian can support a view of interpretation of anything that is inconsistent with the way he interprets his Bible. And if you are a Bible-believing Christian, you interpret the Bible literally, and, to be consistent, you must support those who interpret legal literature in this same manner.
Only when a person rejects literal interpretation of the Bible is it possible to come up with all these strange interpretations, especially Marxist interpretations that characterize liberation theology and the black liberation theology of James Cones and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of whom we’ve heard so much.
Jeremiah Wright, if you don’t know, was Barack Obama’s pastor. What this shows is that in the 20 years that Obama sat under his ministry, he was not uncomfortable with the man who did not apply a literal interpretation to the Scriptures. So this works itself out consistently in Obama’s views of history and the interpretation of law. He may say that he honors history and all these others things, but that is just giving lip service to it. When you shift away from a literal hermeneutic, then you shift away from these things. And it’s related fundamentally to religious presuppositions.
McCain’s church is the North Phoenix Baptist Church, and it’s a typical modern church-growth type of church. It is a Southern Baptist church, and it likely has a weakness in the area of literal interpretation. They probably affirm literal interpretation, but like many churches of that type, they inconsistently apply the principle, and that is also reflected in John McCain’s inconsistent application in the realm of an originalist Constitutional law.
So what we see is that on the one side we have Barack Obama, who is a consistent revisionist when it comes to the law, and he also affirms judicial activism. On the other hand, we have John McCain who is an inconsistent originalist, but he does reject judicial activism.
Now judicial activism is when judges on the bench attempt to legislate through their decisions instead of interpreting and simply applying the law. In judicial activism, judges today can create policies and add meanings to the Constitution which have no precedent and are not established by any elected body of the legislature.
This is what happened last May when the State Supreme Court of California overturned the decision of the voters to protect marriage as between one man and one woman. They are applying this idea that the law and the Constitution is a living, changing document.
There also are instances where judges have overturned many other cases. For example, 82% of Americans support school prayers. These living document revisionist judges declare that to be illegal, going against the wishes of the people. Activist judges have also overturned elections in New York and Washington that banned physician-assisted suicides. In Arkansas and Washington state, elections that enacted term limits and a Missouri election that rejected a tax increase were also overturned by revisionist judges.
So in order to be a consistent Christian, we have to choose leaders that hold to a strict interpretation of the Constitution until the voters vote to change through the proper procedures of amending the Constitution. Until voters vote to change the Constitution, Judges should not be involved in changing it just because it does not fit their political or social agenda. This is a major issue today and I think this is one of the most significant points in relation to the presidential election.
Two recent Supreme Court nominees and appointments were men who held to a literal interpretation of the Constitution: John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Obama voted against both of these men, whereas McCain voted for both of them.
Now presupposition here is that the Bible teaches that history is important. The Bible, when it interprets itself, always interprets itself on the basis of a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation. This is how we interpret everything in life. We do not assign it whatever meaning we wish to.
So when we look at this in summary in terms of this first point, I started off by saying that we must understand the kind of government that we have. And to understand that, we must get into the history of the founders to understand our Constitution and the political philosophy that they built into this.
From that point, I moved on to looking at the foundational issue of our assumptions and presuppositions in relationship to history and interpretation. Those who minimize history and precedence also do that consistently in the area of the interpretation of the Bible and the interpretation of the law. And this works itself out in the belief system of the candidates.
In fact, a lot of the issues that I hear pundits talk about that they identify as character issues really aren’t character issues at all. They are more properly termed belief issues. They associate with certain people because they believe the same things. Senator Obama does not hang around with former terrorists. Now that’s not a character problem; it is a belief system problem because he does not see a difference in what he believes and what the former terrorist believes, what Bill Ayers believes. It is improperly labelled. So that is a foundational or presuppositional issue.
Now let’s go on … How should we make decisions in regard to our leaders? Well, we have to understand something, as I’ve pointed out, about the nature of the American form of government and American history. In studying the history of the U.S. Constitution and the ideas in it, we can have a better idea of how we should vote in a way that will protect our freedoms and our liberties. So the question is what was the most determinative influence on the founding fathers and on the documents that they wrote?
When John Adams was asked this question in 1816, his response may surprise you. John Adams’ response was “the pastors in the pulpit” was the most determinative influence on the founding fathers.
John Adams said in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. Now I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
The founding fathers again and again emphasized the fact that they got their ideas from the Bible and from the Word of God.
In answering the question about the most influential element on the founders, Adams not only said “the pastors in the pulpit” but went on to name some, like Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel Cooper, who were among some of the leading preachers during the First Great Awakening. Adams said, “These were the most conspicuous, the most ardent and influential in the awakening and revival of American principles and feelings that led to our independence.”
Other ministers which we could mention would be George Whitfield, James Caldwell, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, and his brother Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, which I’ll talk about later.
So John Adams believed that the foundational and most significant influence on the founding of this nation were the pastors, and he was right. The pastors did not back off from preaching about the political issues of the day. In fact, one scholar, who published her findings in the early 1960s, read every published sermon from New England preachers from 1600 to 1776 and said that there was no idea found in the founding documents of this nation that had not been preached consistently from the pulpits of America for 150 years.
A study was developed, a 10-year project was developed in the beginning in the ’90s analyzing 15,000 writings from the era of the founding of the United States. Their goal was to try to isolate the key ideas in the founding documents and the sources of quotes in the founding documents. From these 15,000 writings, the researchers isolated 3,154 quotations. Thirty-four percent of them came from the Bible, which was the single most-frequently cited source. There were certain individuals who were also influential and whose various writings were also cited.
Among the most prominent was John Locke. Although many have been taught that John Locke was a deist or an atheist, he was not. I was surprised to learn that in his generation, there were many who classified him not as a philosopher, as he is today, but as a theologian. He wrote a verse-by-verse commentary on the Pauline epistles, and he compiled a topical index of the Bible, as well as defending Christianity in three different books.
His most influential work on politics was entitled The Two Treatises of Government—Richard Henry Lee thought that the Declaration of Independence was plagiarized from it, by the way.
But in his work The Two Treatises of Government, a 400-page book, John Locke referred to the Bible over 1,500 times. In fact, when he developed his whole principle related to the importance of private property, he started in Genesis 1. This was standard in that era. You did not go to some sort of evolutionary theory; you went to the Bible.
The importance of the Bible was also seen in the writings of the founders—and I want you to pay attention to this because this is one of the most profound things that I have run across. In his will, Samuel Adams wrote, “I…recommend my Soul to that Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.” He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Charles Carroll, another signer of the Declaration of Independence and probably the wealthiest of all the signers, and the last of the signers to die, wrote in his autobiography, “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.”
John Dickinson, another signer of the Constitution, wrote in his will, “Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in his goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.”
John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in his will, “I John Hancock, … being advanced in years and being of perfect mind and memory—thanks be given to God—therefore calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all men once to die [Hebrews 9:27], do make and ordain this my last will and testament … Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it: and my body I recommend to the earth … nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mercy and power of God …”
John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote in his will. “Unto Him who is the author and giver of all good, I render sincere and humble thanks for His manifold and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by His beloved son. He has been pleased to bless me with excellent parents, with a virtuous wife, and with worthy children. His protection has companied me through many eventful years, faithfully employed in the service of my country; His providence has not only conducted me to this tranquil situation but also given me abundant reason to be contented and thankful. Blessed be His holy name!”
Robert Treat Paine, was a delegate from Connecticut and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In his published papers, he wrote, “I desire to bless and praise the name of God most high for appointing me my birth in a land of Gospel Light where the glorious tidings of a Savior and of pardon and salvation through Him have been continually sounding in mine ears.”
In his will, he writes, “When I consider that this instrument contemplates my departure from this life and all earthly enjoyments and my entrance on another state of existence, I am constrained to express my adoration of the Supreme Being, the Author of my existence, in full belief of his providential goodness and his forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state, acknowledging with grateful remembrance the happiness I have enjoyed in my passage through a long life …”
Then Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in his autobiography, “My only hope of salvation is in the infinite, transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!”
Now what we see from these, and there are numerous, numerous other statements of that kind that I could quote from one father after another, is that their relationship with God through a belief in Jesus Christ was foundational to the way they thought. We can summarize from reading their writings that they had a belief in the literal interpretation of Scripture. We can also see that they had an understanding that man was totally depraved, and man was a sinner. In fact, both Washington and Hamilton said that they formed the whole concept of the separation of powers on the basis of Jeremiah 17, “That the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things,; who can know it?”
These men understood that Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God, who died on the Cross as a substitute for our sins, and those beliefs are implicit in what they wrote in both the Declaration and in the Constitution, as well as the Bill of Rights.
Those who do not understand these principles, those who do not understand the thinking that informed our founding fathers when they established this form of government cannot preserve and protect this nation.
When we look at this important issue of interpretation, I am reminded that in the presidential oath, the president swears that he is going to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. But if you do not believe in the literal interpretation of that document, then what he means by the Constitution this year is not what he might mean by the Constitution next year. There is no stability, there is no certainty, there is no integrity in this approach to interpretation.
What we are reminded of as we come to our close today is that we must take our views of Scripture, and we must use those to shape how we interpret the world around us and that is how we make decisions in the world around us, whether it is in business, whether it’s in our personal life, or whether it’s in our political life. For every single one of us is born as a citizen of this nation, and as part of that citizenship we have the responsibility to participate in politics in a knowledgeable fashion. As believers, that means that what we bring to the table is our understanding of what the Word of God says. Without that, we have no basis for really making a decision in the voting booth.
We’ll come back on Tuesday night, and we’ll continue to look at the founding fathers and how their beliefs shaped the Constitution and their view on the Bill of Rights, and we’ll move from there to see how our beliefs should then shape the way in which we vote.
Let’s bow our heads and close in prayer.
“Father, we are thankful for the opportunity to reflect upon these things today in terms of application, applying the outworking of our studies of Your Word to the practical areas of our political life, our civil life, the decisions we make in the voting booth and the selection of our leaders. We are reminded that righteousness exalts a nation, and where righteousness reigns the people rejoice. But where there is unrighteousness and when there is a rejection of truth, then the result is calamity, chaos, instability, and collapse of a nation.
Father, we pray for our nation, we pray for our leaders, we pray that they will be responsive to Your Word. We pray that You would give wisdom to our leaders, and we pray that as we go into this election, we know your sovereign will will be done, it is our prayer that those candidates who are more righteous, who are more aligned with the truth will be victorious in their election.
For we pray that our freedoms might be preserved, that the gospel may be preached in an unhindered manner from the pulpits of this nation, and that missionaries may go forth proclaiming the gospel throughout the world, and that this nation may continue to support Israel in the midst of the various threats made against the people who are still called by Your Name, and we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.”