Our nation is currently undergoing a very peculiar transformation. More so than in any other time in our history, we are now seeing the emergence of a desire in many Americans to become radically dependent on government. In a country that is already divided, strangled with monumental debt, and over-regulated, we now hear candidates running for the top executive position in the land freely using the term “socialism” as a serious policy platform in their stump speeches…as if a socialistic ideology is a positive for our nation? It’s an ideology that we have fought in the past, and it's one we are now trying to embrace.
Where did the America go that was so optimistically bequeathed to us by the “greatest generation?” Maybe a better question is this…”where are the real thinkers and the genuine students of legitimate history?” Even a superficial examination of real history will reveal the ugly truth behind socialism…over-regulation, rationing, and starvation. What we’re seeing now in America is a carelessness with the stewardship of common sense brought about by an out of control greed, self-serving attitudes, and entitlement mentality. Historically speaking, socialism has been a profound failure by any measure. Yet, it appears that many think socialism and its track record of historic failure, and its total lack of virtue, would be a great thing for the United States…in itself, a country of diminishing virtue.
As I watch all of this unfold, I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture found in Revelation…a warning given to the church in Ephesus:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” – Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV)
Established by Paul on his third missionary journey, the church at Ephesus was successful in many different areas. They had some tremendous men of God fill their pulpit through the years, men like Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John. I won’t go into their history here, but let’s just say that they had above average ministries, they helped people, they were resilient and showed great discernment and patient endurance. However, they were based in a city of some wealth, a city of abundant commerce, and a city rife with sin. The city of Ephesus proudly boasted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Diana. This was a monument to satanic idolatry, sexual perversion, and cultic mysticism the likes of which had few rivals.
Christ’s charge against the church at Ephesus is voiced in Revelation 2:4, which states: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned that love you had at first.” The word “abandoned” here is the Greek word “afihmi” which means “to leave, forsake, or depart.” Many incorrectly describe this church as having “lost” their first love. Consequently, the Greek here is indicative of a church that had not “lost their first love,” but instead, a church that had, in fact, “left their first love.” There’s a profound difference.
In the middle of their good works and prosperity, they began to compromise their love for God and replace it with a love for selfish desires. In an odd contrast, they also had great discernment concerning false teachers, no tolerance for wicked people, and they endured persecution for simply being a church. You wouldn’t think that these two ideologies would mix, but apparently, they combine together with such an ease that it diminished their attentive focus on both. Again, in the middle of doing things that Christ approved of, they still managed to leave their love of Him. Possibly, they loved the ministries more than God. Maybe they loved their knowledge of God’s will more the practical application of it in their own life. Consequently, it appears from Scripture that they were adept at discerning when God’s will wasn’t being played out in the life of others, and they were intolerant of it…judgmental of others, but not of themselves.
America is a lot like the church at Ephesus. We love to call ourselves a Christian nation, and at one time, we were. We pride ourselves in great humanitarian undertakings across the globe. We give more money, material, and manpower to feeding the poor and helping the needy than any other country on the globe, and we revel in proclaiming that to the nations. We police injustice throughout the world, and to some degree, try to impose democracy in place of tyranny. However, today we find ourselves far removed from a country that honors God. We are no longer a Christian nation. We have left our first love, and we have replaced that love (of God) with good works and humanitarianism. And, our “first love” is also being displaced with secularism.
The virtues of our country were established many years ago by a generation of men and women who undoubtedly possessed a much greater character than we as a nation have seen displayed in more recent decades. These men would certainly include the founding fathers of our nation who, by sheer will and determination, broke ties with their homeland, and a power-hungry monarch, to establish a new nation…not a small endeavor by any measure. The resilience and ingenuity of early Americans brought about quick growth, tremendous wealth, and positive change in our developing nation. From the Industrial Revolution to the men and women who successfully defended our freedoms through two world wars, the current American populous is distinctively different from those who preceded us in history. It’s as if we’ve lost our mind.
And so, the United States of America was built on the backs of men and women who were achievers, and men and women who were willing to work hard to build and grow. It was defended by men and women who were willing to sacrifice, even their lives, on the altar of freedom…not just for the day, but for the future…not just for their families, but for the families of others. America, as a nation, was won through diligence, perseverance, and character. It was a nation established by men who feared God and sought freedom and independence from the tyrannies so often associated with the ‘ruling class’ of those who govern. Yet, today, we see a giant step backwards.
Today, we see a culture of materialism and greed fed by an entitlement mentality that is too big to comprehend. The call of America is no longer Kennedy’s “what can you do for you country,” but instead, it is “this is what my country better do for me.” It’s a sad time for the American patriot, because patriotism is on the decline. It’s also a sad time for the American Christian, because the impact and relevance of the truth of Scripture is being diluted in our nation every day. The love of God and country has been diminished down to a socialistic entitlement, love of self and self-indulgence, and a devotion to secularism that leads the charge.
Let’s define the word secularist. I would define it this way…”a person who strongly advocates for the separation of church and religious institutions from the operations and decisions of the state.” It would be profoundly safe to assume that secularists believe that they hold the correct view of where America should be headed as a nation. But then, don’t we all feel like we know the right course? Those with a secularist ideology would advocate that our nation should become a “secular state.” Although the terminology of “secular state” may not sound that bad, we must define it for what it is…secularism is a “God-less state.” Consequently, it’s not completely godless, because the true god of secularism is man, himself, and the true god of a secular state is the government. If the government will promise to feed the entitlement mentality of the followers of socialism, then the god of secularism really becomes self-absorbed entitlement and unaccountable consumption…the battle cry of the socialist.
Secularism and the Framers of Our Constitution
Secular ideology (Secularism) dictates to its followers that religion, or God, was not a decisive factor in the formation of the United States. They espouse the belief that our Constitution was written in such a way as to prohibit the influence of religion, or God, from having any effect on the operations and functions of governance in our land. They believe that religion, or God, should be kept as far away from government as possible…with the rather bold exception that government should be able to influence religion at the sole discretion of the ruling class; however, religion, or God, should never be allowed to influence government at all. It’s certainly an indirectly proportional relationship between God and government…or so thinks the secularist.
Among their rationale, secularists tightly grasp onto several historical “facts” that they feel give foundation and credence to their viewpoint of an intentional God-less and secularized government. One of these facts is the absence of the word “God” from the text of the Constitution. Secularists find this extraordinarily significant, and they relish the chance to point out the existence of a “Godless Constitution” that they feel should lead to a nation managed without the oversight of Biblical truth. They view this as proof that the framers of our founding document had very little interest in God or religion having a part in the governance of our country, and so the separation of church and state was their original intent. However, there’s always more than one side to every story, and I feel that another side should be discussed here.
I would argue that the conclusions reached by secularists today go far beyond what the historical evidence will legitimately allow. What was the framers original and hearfelt intent concerning secularism, God and governance? Let’s start with Charles Darwin. Yeah, you didn’t see that coming, did you?
The U.S. Constitution, the Framers and Charles Darwin
The vast majority of Americans would not consider Charles Darwin to be someone of significance in the quest to understand issues regarding our Constitution. I would disagree. He’s as important as any public figure in his day…possibly the most important where this is concerned. If we consider the writings of great patriots like James Madison and John Locke, then we might want to take a moment and consider the eloquent and influential writings of Charles Darwin and the effect that his writings have on our Constitution today.
In 1859, Darwin authored a compelling book entitled “The Origin of Species.” This book had an impact on many, and it certainly had an impact on the current view of the U.S. Constitution. I would call Darwin the “father of secularism” simply because it is his writings that give birth to the mindset of secular government itself. Secularists believe that only scientific evolution is valid. If it can’t be measured or quantified, then it doesn’t exist. It is a philosophy based on the hope of alternative explanations for the existence of mankind and the universe, not as an intelligent and purposed design, but as something else entirely…anything else.
It is Darwin who changed the way that many see the Constitution today. In 2016, our most important founding document is viewed as a “secular document” by many Americans. However, let’s be clear and understand that secularists today are not necessarily atheists. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, but rather, their belief is grounded in the mentality that where issues of government are concerned, it matters not whether God does or does not exist. God is to have no part in governance.
The impact of secularism on the Constitution is revolutionary. Secularists read the Constitution in a way that would be totally foreign to its framers. Again, because of the lack of the word “God” in the document, secularists think that religion was not important to the framers, and they could not be more incorrect.
The U.S. Constitution Pre-Darwin
To the framers of the Constitution, the idea of having a government not based on God would have been ludicrous. Let’s understand the period in which the Constitution was written. At that time, the only possible explanation for the existence of anything, specifically the universe and man, was Almighty God. Therefore, every one of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention were “creationists.” Although there were atheists among the delegation, at that time, most of these men practiced Deism. No one believed that the universe, the earth, and human life was the product of chance from an explosion. There were some who did not believe in the God of the Bible, but they all believed in an intelligent creator. It is for this reason that these framers did not create a truly “secularist document” in the Constitution. Having a “secular state,” one devoid of Godly influence, would have never been in their mind. Never. The modern day concept of secularism didn’t exist in 1787.
Since the framers of our Constitution predated Darwin and the theory of evolution, the desire to have a "secular" state would have made about as much sense to them as the Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is only with the advent of Darwin, and an alternative explanation for the existence of the universe, that a secular state becomes conceivable and desirable. Again, there were atheists in 1787 to be sure, but they lacked a coherent scientific explanation for the existence of the universe. The default was intelligent design by God.
At the same time, the framers of our Constitution did not want America to become a theocracy, or a theocratic state. It was never their intention for clergymen to pick presidents and establish government policy; however, this is not to say that they saw no role for religion in government. In fact, the framers most certainly did believe that religion and religious values should influence the government and the policies it created on behalf of the American people. George Washington’s very first proclamation as president made this point abundantly clear. On the very day that Congress finished its work on the First Amendment, it called upon President George Washington to issue a proclamation to the people of the United States to “thank God for the freedoms we enjoy.” A week and a day later, the president's opening paragraph in his proclamation said:
"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . ."
The words "to obey His will" are decisively fatal to any suggestion that George Washington and the framers of our Constitution believed in "secularism." In America, religious values influence government policy through the vote of the people, although, and quite unfortunately, our vote and our will is not always carried forth in the formation of public policy.
The U.S. Constitution After Darwin
The rise of modern day secularism has made the debate about the word "God" in the Constitution one that is passionate and very heated. It was not until the legal community in the United States adopted secularism that the absence of the word "God" embodied the kind of significance it represents in our country today. It is true that before the rise of modern secularism some Americans objected to the fact that the word "God" was not in the Constitution. There were suggestions to amend the Constitution to add it. For example, there were even efforts to add the words "Almighty God" and "Jesus Christ" to the Preamble. Some members of Congress suggested that "In the Name of God" should be inserted before the Preamble. Again, this took place in a different time on the American political scene…a time of more substantial character and sanity. As early as the time of the Civil War, Americans have been trying to amend the Constitution to add some sort of reference to God; however, these efforts did not get very far with the increasingly secularized public. In all of these early debates about whether the word "God" should be added to the Constitution, the debate was between one group of creationists verses another. Almost no one believed that the United States was a godless country just because the word "God" was not present in the Constitution. Today, this is no longer true. Today the fight continues, but it is between the creationist and the evolutionist. Secularists insist that the absence of the word "God" means that the Constitution created a godless government in America. And so the fight continues…
Where is "God" in the Preamble to the Constitution?
Secularists have always been quick to point out that the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. They claim that this is highly significant, and it proves that the United States should not be a country 'under God.’ Of course, they are correct in one point. The word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution or anywhere else; however, it is doubtful that this fact has the kind of significance they claim it holds.
Generally, the word "God" will appear in two places in most constitutions. The first place is in the preamble to the constitution. The second place is in the religion clauses in the bill of rights. For example, the word "God" appears in the preamble in eight state constitutions. In four states, the "Supreme Ruler of the Universe" is used instead. By far, the most popular divine reference in a preamble is "Almighty God." This appears in the preamble of 30 state constitutions. In some states, the state constitution does not have a preamble; however, a divine reference can be found in the religion clauses in the bill of rights in each instance. There is only one state constitution which has a preamble that does not have a divine reference of any kind…this is the Constitution of the state of Oregon. But here the words "Almighty God" appear in the state religion clauses. In the case of the U.S. Constitution, however, no divine reference appears in either the Preamble or in the religion clauses in the First Amendment.
Why is this true?
This might get a little dry, but hang with me… The most likely reason why the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is textual. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is modeled after the Preamble in the Articles of Confederation. Since the Articles of Confederation did not use the word "God" in the Preamble, this is the most likely reason it does not appear in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The Preamble in the Articles of Confederation began by listing all 13 states. It began as follows: "Articles of Confederation and perpetual union between New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, etc. . . . and Georgia." When the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution was first drafted, this was the model that was used. Later, as the Constitutional Convention was coming to a close, a short form was agreed to. The 13 states were dropped in favor of the much simpler form “We the People.” Thus, rather than trying to establish a radical godless state, the most likely reason the word "God" does not appear in the Preamble was because the Articles of Confederation did not have it. It is doubtful that anyone in 1787 could have foreseen the development of radical secularist groups like the ACLU and their "spin" on the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Where is "God" in the First Amendment?
The most likely reason why the word "God" does not appear in the First Amendment is textual as well. Here, however, the textual reason is due to the subject matter of the First Amendment. The religion clauses in the First Amendment are very different from the religion clauses in most state constitutions. The subject of the religion clauses in the First Amendment is the “government” or "Congress." This is not the case with most state constitutions. In most state constitutions the subject is the “individual.” This difference in the subject matter is the reason the word "God" does not appear in the First Amendment's religion clauses.
Where is "God" in the Constitution?
The mistake modern secularists make is painfully obvious…period context. They take a twentieth century concept like "secularism" and read it backwards into the Constitution. They take a concept that didn't even exist in the eighteenth century and attribute it to the framers of the Constitution. Unfortunately, this is a very common mistake. The fact that the word "God" does not appear in the Constitution means little. It is actually a rather shallow observation touted for the speculative enjoyment of the small minded. The reality is "God" is in every word of the Constitution, including the punctuation. Below the surface of the words in the Constitution, there are a mountain of ideas that made its formation possible. The belief that God exists and that all nations of the world are subject to Him sits on the summit of that mountain.
As the Supreme Court of Florida said in 1950:
"Different species of democracy have existed for more than 2,000 years, but democracy as we know it has never existed among the unchurched. A people unschooled about the sovereignty of God, the ten commandments and the ethics of Jesus, could never have evolved the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is not one solitary fundamental principle of our democratic policy that did not stem directly from the basic moral concepts as embodied in the Decalog and the ethics of Jesus . . . No one knew this better than the Founding Fathers."
Consequently, even if the word "God" was in the Constitution it would probably make little, if any, difference to the secularist. Secularist groups like the ACLU would probably dismiss it as a mere formality. There are 50 reasons to believe that this is true. Since secularists dismiss all references to God in the state constitutions, there is no reason to believe that they would behave any differently with the federal Constitution. Their commitment to secularism will not allow for the possibility that they might be wrong. Interestingly, in 1915, there was one state supreme court which said that the reference to "in the year of our Lord" in the U.S. Constitution was a reference to Jesus Christ!
I’m quite positive that all of the above has birthed some boredom into your online life, but it’s all well worth understanding. Secularism attempts to diminish the influence of God in our government. Socialism attempts to catalyze a thought process that the government should become the god, the great provider for its people. Lost in the middle of these two ideologies is the distinctive significance of God’s role in government, the relevant role Scripture should play in the life of every American, and the common sense that should be passed down to every citizen based on the context of history.
As a nation, we are stepping away from God on purpose, making a deliberate choice to leave the “first love” that established the character of early America, and recreating a fictional intent of our founding fathers that makes us feel good about our selfish, greedy and entitled nature. There will be a day when we look around and do not recognize the America we are living in. For me, that day has already arrived. As sad as it is, all of this must come to pass as our nation and our world speed toward the events of Revelation. To the careful and observant student of Scripture, it’s not all falling apart; instead, it is all, very much, falling into place. Be prepared…Jesus is coming!
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!