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Nature’s God: The god of The Founding Fathers

May 12, 2008

The Declaration of Independence presents ideals that Americans hold sacred, it is a foundation stone in the cathedral of American Civil Religion. It represents the definitive moment where we gained our freedoms and the rights and privileges we cherish and defend. There is a problem though. As a Christian, it is impossible for me to accept that the founding fathers were warranted by God in signing this document.

The Declaration opens:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Now, compare with the following:

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Romans 13:1-2

As Paul writes these words, he exhorts Christians (suffering under the godless state of Rome) to obey and trust God. Paul’s commanded response to Roman rule is humble submission; however the founding fathers weren’t playing by Paul’s rules.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were not condoned by Scripture in rebelling against England. Instead, they invoked “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The key word in these opening sentences of our Declaration of Independence is the word entitle. Nature’s god has entitled them to independence.

This god of whom Thomas Jefferson writes does share some basic qualities with the God of the Bible: a type of omnipotence, a benevolence towards mankind, and an interest in human affairs. However, Jefferson’s god is a foreign god to me. He is the god of American Civil Religion, the god of the Declaration of Independence, but he is not the God revealed in the Bible. We’ll call him the “American god.” Washington referred to him by such titles as, “All-Wise Disposer of Events, Grand Architect of the Universe, or Beneficient Being.”[1]

As my series of posts unfolds, we will see that this American god is almost universally the deity whom the founding fathers invoked, and perhaps worshipped. We will also see that the American god is fundamentally at odds with the God of the Bible.

The Declaration of Independence baptizes our nation into the name of a foreign god,and the founding fathers consciously dismiss the God revealed in the Bible. In the act of American independence, they defy a clear exhortation of the apostle Paul. Paul’s God does not impel revolutions. Paul’s God does not encourage His people to willfully rebel against appointed governors; even if those governors do not fear God. The god of Nature, however, does impel such actions. The fathers are entitled by Nature’s god to throw off English authority. How can we conclude that the founding fathers were following the same God as Paul?


[1] p. 75, Revolutionary Spirits, The Enlightened Faith of America’s Founding Fathers. Kowalski, Gary.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    May 13, 2008 3:34 am

    Kyle, was looking forward to this post, and I enjoyed it.

    Here are a couple of thoughts:

    1 – Your principal argument is that God requires that “every soul be subject to the governing authorities…”. Is that meant to apply 100% of the time – in every circumstance in every age? Taking Romans 13: 1-2 by itself it would seem that the answer is “yes”. I’d like to ask whether there could be a time when civil disobedience is permissible in God’s eyes?

    2 – Your secondary argument is many of the founding fathers had, to put it charitably, some loopy theology. Some of them were perhaps not even Christians, as we understand it. Does that disqualify them from any possibility of being used in a work of God? Does that mean that their life’s work could not even possibly have been a part of God’s plan for their time?

    If I’m not mistaken, Martin Luther was an anti-semite and a rebel. What of him (for example)?

    • macatac permalink
      November 5, 2010 8:04 pm

      Yes, indeed. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and ALL the other reformers of religion rebelled against their earthly and spiritual authorities (catholics), thus “protest”antism is founded in rebellion and sin. They even fought and killed to maintain their freedom from their human masters. They are no better than our founders, aint that something? Info on the laws of nature and natures God? go to http://www.lonang.com

  2. May 13, 2008 4:33 am

    I love these kinds of discussions 🙂

    One thing I found helpful in understanding the reasoning behind the revolution was Jonathan Mayhew’s 1750 sermon on resisting authority. He deals with Romans 13, plus some of their own historical precedent. It’s not short, but pretty easy to find if you google it.
    I would say more, but it’s late and I’m sleepy…

  3. ortho permalink
    May 13, 2008 10:44 am

    -Washington referred to him by such titles as, “All-Wise Disposer of Events, Grand Architect of the Universe, or Beneficient Being.”

    have you done any research on free-masonry?

  4. standonthewall permalink
    May 13, 2008 3:45 pm

    Wow. That is frightening!

  5. Greg Comiskey permalink
    May 13, 2008 10:01 pm

    Kyle, if the premise of your argument decrying the evil American Revolution is that Christians are called to submit to the government in every circumstance, that is a biblically flawed premise.

    Our first allegience is to God, not to state, and if government forbids or requires of Christians what is contrary to God’s word, then civil disobedience is the only option. In Acts 4, Peter and John are before the Sanhedrin and the council orders them not to speak about Jesus. There response: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Both our God and the “god of nature” permit civil rebellion in some narrow circumstances.

    The fact is, you can’t say that the founders of our nation were acting in sin in revolting against England: you simply don’t know that. And just because many of the founders didn’t worship the Christian God (which does seem to be the case) does not mean that the American Revolution was against God’s will. People who forsake the Christian God are still capable positive things, even things “warranted by God.”

    Finally, it seems odd that someone like yourself who has willingly partook of the many benefits of living in America is so upset about the Declaration of Independence and our seperation from England. Unlike you, I don’t believe there was an integral connection between the unfortunate theology of the founders and the moral standing of the revolution led to our freedom. I’m happy not to be an English citizen.

    • macatac permalink
      November 5, 2010 8:15 pm

      Truth be known, Greg, we areto submit to every lawful authority, period. A lawful authority is one tht is in line with Gods law. Depending on their place, that would either be the laws of nature(Gods law revealed in nature, and natures God (the laws of natures God, are divine law as revealed in scripture.) Keep in mind that not all law in scripture is eternal divine law, there were commands given for undividuals, and for temporary situations. But you can also see in scripture those timeless laws for all people in all places for all time. These are the laws of natures God.

  6. May 13, 2008 10:13 pm

    @ ortho: more on Washington (and other founding father’s) connection to Free-Masonry in upcoming posts.

  7. May 13, 2008 10:14 pm

    @ greg: that is not my premise.

  8. May 13, 2008 10:27 pm

    @ scott and greg: in the broadest sense of God’s sovereignty, I agree with you God brought about the circumstances of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, WWI, WWII, etc, etc. He is God, whatever he pleases He does. I’ll leave Martin Luther alone too.

    My premise is NOT that God is not involved, my premise is that the actions of the founding fathers reveal that their primary worldview had little interest in creating a nation that reflected truly biblical foundations.

    Many refer to the US as a Christian nation, using the phrase to refer to the founding fathers’ as examples of Christian piety. My premise is they are not good representatives of Christian piety.

    Finally, on civil disobedience: I believe that the only ‘disobedience’ justified by the NT is when it affects the Christians’ ability to worship, preach the Gospel, or obey the clear moral laws of the Bible. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence the colonies were NOT facing any of these circumstances in a significant way. The English crown was not preventing them from worshipping God, preaching the Gospel or following the moral code of the Bible.

    Even then, however, ‘civil disobedience’ (a term which I dislike) should be clothed with a spirit of humility. I’ll probably devote an entire post to this at some point.

  9. Greg Comiskey permalink
    May 13, 2008 11:06 pm

    This topic of civil obedience is interesting.

    Kyle, do you think that we should submit to the govt. to the point of death? What if a govt. chose to execute and torture its citizens for no rational reason, w/o due process, and did so without preventing them from worshipping God, preaching the Gospel or living morally?

    If I knew a govt. officer was coming to my house to bludgeon me to death, would I not be justified in running away as a means of civil disobedience?

  10. Scott permalink
    May 14, 2008 12:12 am

    Kyle,
    I think you have a great point to make, which is this, to quote you: “The first premise is that many Christians are unaware of the power of nationalism over their worldview.”

    Thus far you haven’t really made a good argument for the above premise.

    Now, Greg Comiskey said, on May 13th, 2008 at 10:01 pm:
    “Kyle, if the premise of your argument decrying the evil American Revolution is that Christians are called to submit to the government in every circumstance, that is a biblically flawed premise.”

    I agree with Greg that the premise you’ve actually argued so far is as he stated; and we probably all agree that that premise is biblically flawed. You’ve also argued that many of the founding fathers were not theologically sound, which is important and true, but still doesn’t directly address YOUR premise.

    So: Tell us! Argue, prove and enlighten on the subject… “many Christians are unaware of the power of nationalism over their worldview.” It’s a great point and I want to hear it expounded clearly. Sharpen your case!

  11. May 14, 2008 8:53 pm

    @ greg – I think your example is too theoretical for me to give a clear response, I’ll tackle civil disobedience in a post in the future and we can examine a few sides of it. PS – love your comments, thanks for taking the time.

    @ scott – that is not my premise for one key reason, the word “every” – I’ve outlined the basic circumstances where I think there is clear biblical justification for disobeying the state’s decrees.

    finally, the whole series of posts, in due course, will put the spotlight on xian nationalism and its risks. it may take me awhile to build the case, simply because i’m trying to not do these posts in blog-speak, but writing, revising and rewriting them before i post them. please be patient with me 🙂

  12. Greg Comiskey permalink
    May 14, 2008 9:45 pm

    Kyle – I’m glad you’re tackling this complex issue of faith and nationalism. It’s an important one for Chrisitians to reflect on – Christian nationalism is a dangerous beast because it hinders us from soberly discerning both the evils of the United States as well as its positive contributions to the world. Not to mention distorting our theology. Peace.

  13. May 21, 2008 1:21 am

    Good stuff here; my blog(s) deal with this stuff on a daily basis.

    Someone mentioned Mayhew. A note of caution: He was a theological unitarian who had a rationalist based approach to scripture. Many ministers of the Founding era, preaching from the pulpit DID attempt to deal with Romans 13, but used a very cafeteria liked, rationalistic hermeneutic to try and explain away that text. In short, many of the pro-revolutionary preachers were really preaching Enlightenment, not Christian principles from the pulpit and many of them were unitarians and universalists (thus heretics) to boot.

  14. Scott permalink
    May 22, 2008 3:44 am

    Hi Kyle – I just want to encourage you for your next post. Checking everyday and looking forward to what you have to say on the subject.

  15. tduffie permalink
    May 23, 2008 1:34 pm

    Romans 13 certainly makes the case for civil obedience, and Paul distinguishes between Church and state. However, they are not separated or isolated from one another. Looking at the big picture, too, whenever a government upholds evil (such as was perceived by the founders to be the case with King George), then ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29). The founders were drawing from generations of frustration brought about by the Puritan/Anglican/Roman Catholic ideological battles that manifested into civil unrest.
    The personal faith of the founders may be interesting and may have played a significant role in the rebellion to tyranny and the formation of the Constitutional compact, but they were in no way establishing an ecumenical church-state. The US has never been that, and it’s foolish to think it ever could be.
    It’s my view that there should always be synergy between both entities of church and state, but neither submitting in blind obedience to the other.

    td

  16. May 24, 2008 10:33 am

    @ jon, thanks for the link

    @ scott and all: bad writing week last week, working something up for the next day or two to post.

  17. May 24, 2008 2:58 pm

    “Looking at the big picture, too, whenever a government upholds evil (such as was perceived by the founders to be the case with King George), then ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29).”

    I think that’s a pretty big stretch. Rome certainly upheld evil and Paul instructed believers to submit to that government. Acts 5:29 applies to a believer’s duty to spread the Gospel and holds if government tries to prevent you from so doing, obey God and not men. It is not an applicable verse for trying to justifying revolt against tyranny as well or the notion that government must uphold some kind of “godly” standard in order to be legitimately ordained by God. As one evangelical professor put it on my blog:

    “In Acts 5:29, Peter and the apostles refuse to quit preaching the Gospel (as they did previously in 4:19-20); but they make no claims of political liberty and organize no rebellion. In fact, they make it clear that they are under the authority of the Council by affirming its authority to judge their actions (4:19) and by submitting to the punishment prescribed (flogging) in 5:40. No one demands any rights or appeals to political liberty or calls for rebellion – quite the contrary.”

    http://positiveliberty.com/2006/08/frazer-replies-to-babka.html

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