What Makes America Exceptional?
Independence Day is a day of commemoration. All across America, people from all walks of life are gathering to celebrate the birthday of our nation.
To commemorate is to call to remembrance by a solemn act; to celebrate with honor and solemnity; to honor, as a person or event, by some act of respect or affection, intended to preserve the remembrance of that person or event.
The Signing of the Declaration of Independence
240 years ago, members of the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. That document embodies the very essence of the American dream. In fact, it could be called the first preamble to the US Constitution. The Declaration of Independence officially dissolved the political bands that had tied the American Colonies to Great Britain, the most powerful empire on the planet at that time. It has been called the promise, and the Constitution, the fulfillment. The Declaration sets forth the principles and ideas behind a just and fair government, while the Constitution presents how to run the government.
Of course, the signing of the Declaration was a really big deal and was not entered upon without exhausting all avenues of reconciliation. More than once, the colonists tried to appeal to King George III for due consideration of their rights as Englishmen. In the end, once the die had been cast, a spirit of unity spread across the Colonies. Significant, also, was the spirit of appeal and gratitude expressed to God.
Samuel Adams, Father of the American Revolution, declared:
“We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and from the rising to the setting sun may His kingdom come.”
Referring to this momentous occasion, Declaration signer and future second president of the US John Adams wrote to Abigail, his wife:
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
Truly, the rise of America among the nations of the world was exceptional, as any astute student of history would see. Adams wrote of the Toil and Blood and Treasure that it would cost to maintain the Declaration, and to support and defend these States. Adams was correct and that reality hasn’t changed in the 240 years that have elapsed since his time. In fact, I would submit that now, as much as ever, the current generation must be equally as vigilant and courageous as were the Founders, to support and defend our nation and the ideals upon which it was based.
America is Still the Most Sought Destination
So let’s talk about America. Just the name has evoked deep emotion and highest aspirations in countless millions in the relatively short while that this nation has existed as the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. For most who call this country their home, a deep pride swells the chest as we reflect upon the majesty and the far-reaching influence of America. Any who have left these shores for an excursion or missions work quickly realize the extent of liberty and blessings that American citizens enjoy. Notably, America is still the most sought after destination for the beleaguered and oppressed around the world.
And why would that be? I believe it is tied to this idea of exceptionalism. In fact, in recent times, there has been a resurgence of interest and use of the term, American Exceptionalism. To some, it may seem arrogant and against the rules of political correctness. To others, it is a way of identifying the virtues of our nation. If such a thing does exist, just what does it mean? And, to what or whom is this exceptionalism to be attributed? Answering these questions requires deep research and unbiased analysis to discover and understand all aspects of our history—the good, the bad, and the ugly (and all three do exist). Beyond that, we must faithfully remember and rehearse our history lest we forget who we are as a people and what God purposed our nation to be. If we drift from our founding principles—the very ideas and ideals that made us great, we will become easy prey to philosophies and agendas that would have been anathema to those who secured the moorings of our nation with their blood, sweat, and tears.
The Christian Faith is Tied to the Founding of America
It is no fantasy that our earliest foreparents tied their hopes, aspirations, and dreams as well as expended their efforts to the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith. This is clearly evident in the 1606 First Virginia Charter and in the copious documents, letters, and journals that followed. The early visionaries took this seriously as evidenced by the sober words pronounced by John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1630:
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”
In the wake of the politically correct, postmodern, multicultural tidal wave that has swept through our political institutions and government schools in recent years, ordinary Americans are beginning to awaken to threats that could forever alter the outcome of the great America Experiment, as it was called. Now, more than ever, we must search for the meaning of America.
We must fearlessly ask pointed questions about the foundations of this nation and be prepared to search diligently for honest and verifiable answers. Was our nation simply the offspring of the European Enlightenment- the result of political evolution? Was the American Dream merely a wealth scheme perpetrated by greedy colonists seeking a means to their own personal aggrandizement? Or, was there a central, noble, and God-breathed purpose behind the establishment of the United States of America? Tough questions, but vitally important to answer for our survival.
Is There a God-Breathed Purpose for America?
Using contemporary sources, one would find ready answers and opinions regarding these questions. Current textbooks and histories are rife with politically correct rationales and unfounded scenarios explaining the rise of America. It is no secret that our history as a nation has been largely re-written and reshaped for the political purposes of social engineers and the power-elite. Over the years, the superficial and misleading treatment of America’s founding story has taken its toll, producing apathy and even disdain among some of its citizens. With no anchor to the past, no mooring to the secure bedrock of authoritative history, there is little to give authentic meaning or direction regarding our presence in today’s world. Sadly, recent generations have not been given the tools of research and logic to mine the gold of America’s genesis and purpose.
As stated earlier, from time to time, the idea, the phrase, “American Exceptionalism” rises to the surface of the American consciousness only to be summarily dismissed as propaganda or worse. We are currently in one of those cycles. An early exposition on America’s uniqueness came from Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian-writer who visited America in the mid-1800’s, remarking that Americans were exceptional because of their “devotion to practicality over the arts and science.”
However, astounding as it may seem, the term American Exceptionalism was coined by 20th-century Communist-dictator Joseph Stalin as a rebuke for the lack of interest in the American working class in demanding revolution as a path to social equality. Evidently, Stalin noted something different about the American character that set it apart and was not to his liking.
As with everything, we must define what we mean by our terms if we want others to understand our position. Often, it is helpful to begin by explaining what something is not. From a conservative, Christian perspective, American Exceptionalism is not a claim to perfection, nor is it about power or wealth or superiority, for as Jesus said, “Unto whom much is given, much is required.” American exceptionalism – that which truly sets it apart from other nations–arose out the seedbed of biblical principles that were studied and embraced by our founders. The application of those principles resulted in a harvest of individual and civil liberty, which has yet to meet its rival.
Indeed, the dawn of America did not occur in a vacuum. God had providentially prepared not only a land, but also a generation of men and women who could reason from the principles of truth contained in the Bible and apply them to every area of life, including civil government. Noted historian Richard Frothingham wrote in his, The Rise of the American Republic (1910), that a
“…fresh impetus was given to that transformation of society, which began when Christianity—the basis of the good, permanent, and progressive in modern civilization—first appeared in the world. At that time, social order rested on the assumed natural inequality of men. The individual was regarded as of value only as he formed a part of the political fabric, and was able to contribute to its uses, as though it were the end of his being to aggrandize the State. This was the pagan idea of man.
The wisest philosophers of antiquity could not rise above it…The State regarded as of paramount importance, not the man, but the citizen whose physical and intellectual forces it absorbed….It bore hard on those whom the State virtually ignored—on laboring men, mechanics, the poor, captives in war, slaves, and women….
Christianity then appeared with its central doctrine, that man was created in the Divine image, and destined for immortality; pronouncing, that, in the eye of God, all men are equal. This asserted for the individual an independent value. It occasioned the great inference, that man is superior to the State, which ought to be fashioned for his use. This was the advent of a new spirit and a new power in the world.”
America Built on Biblical Christian Principles
I submit that this—Christianity—was the beginning of American exceptionalism for it was upon these principles of biblical Christianity that the Great Experiment, America, was forged.
Samuel Adams eloquently addressed the significance of Christianity in both the establishment of this nation and in the education of its children to preserve and sustain the new biblical, civil order that was being established by God. He wrote:
“Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.”
So, why was John Adams so emphatic in his exhortation to his wife about memorializing the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Did he just like a good party? Certainly there was more to it than that! Adams recognized the importance and necessity of remembering.
One hundred years after John Adams penned that letter, the Rev. Samuel W. Foljambe preached an election sermon in which he stated:
“The more thoroughly a nation deals with its history, the more decidedly will it recognize and own an overruling Providence therein, and the more religious a nation will it become; while the more superficially it deals with its history, seeing only secondary causes and human agencies, the more irreligious will it be.”
Why should this concern us, today? Let us examine what John Adams wrote at our founding:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Furthermore, George Washington, believing that religion must be foundational in the successful planting and growth of the nation, insisted: Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim true patriotism, who should labor to subvert these two great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the destinies of men and citizens.”
Relating Our Founding to Modern American Issues
Some years ago I began a radio program, “Remember, America.” Later, I wrote a book based on the radio spots, in which I compiled quotes of our founders on a variety of subjects and related them to contemporary issues we face as modern Americans. At the conclusion of each topic, I exhorted: “It’s time to remember, America!”
My purpose in both the radio program and the book closely align with Rev. Foljambe’s sentiments about history. Foljambe went on in his sermon to say:
“History is not a string of striking episodes, with no other connection but that of time. It is rather the working out of a mighty system, by means of regularly defined principles as old as creation, and as infallible as divine wisdom.”
This is why Dayspring Christian Academy in Lancaster County, PA launched the Remember America initiative, with the tagline: “In order to restore America, we must remember.” The purpose of the unfolding the Remember America initiative is to preserve and proclaim the truth about America’s founding; to remind Americans –and the world—of the source of American exceptionalism: the principles of Christianity. These principles gave rise to the liberty Americans still enjoy after 240 years. If we distance ourselves from them or abandon them altogether, we cut off the very lifeblood that sustains that liberty.
Nowadays, many are concerned or even alarmed at the thought of acknowledging the Christian basis of America’s history. I would counter that it is Christianity that enjoins it followers to “show consideration for all men” (Titus 3:2) and to demonstrate God’s love through the good works that they do unto others (Matt. 5:16). Christianity does not require or force anyone to believe in Christ and accept His precepts. In truth, the moral and ethical standards of Christianity—those principles upon which the American system of jurisprudence is based—provide safety and security to all, regardless of their belief system. It is this union of liberty and law that undergirds the idea of American exceptionalism. As the late Rosalie Slater, co-founder of the Foundation for America Christian Education wrote:
“There would be no America if there were no Christianity.”
Our Founders Held a Biblical Worldview
The crux of the matter is this: Foljambe, and Adams, and nearly every one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration held a biblical worldview. They understood that there is a sovereign God—the God of the Bible—“who governs in the affairs of men,” as stated by Benjamin Franklin just before the U.S. Constitution was completed.
Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration wrote:
“The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty. A student’s perusal of the sacred volume will make him a better citizen, a better father, a better husband.”
As inferred by Jefferson, a worldview, with its assumptions and presuppositions, makes all the difference in the real stuff of life. It affects what one means and how one interprets what others mean. It sets in motion policies and programs that will affect the generations yet to be born.
It is essential that 21st century Americans understand what the founders meant when they penned the words of the Declaration and the Constitution. Without the solid foundation of a biblical worldview — their worldview at the time of writing these documents — the meaning can be twisted and perverted into anything one wants them to mean in order to support some agenda that is contrary to the founding principles so many purchased with their lives.
The American Experiment Continues Today
The American Experiment was not just a moment in history; it continues today and depends on us to remember, proclaim, and preserve the principles that birthed it. The power of the civil government in America rests not in a king, or a dictator; not in the military or a panel of judges; the power of government rests in the people. What will we do with that power? Do we have the character necessary to restrain it by Godly principles and apply it properly at every level of society?
James Madison, chief architect of the US Constitution wrote:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
I close by sharing one of my favorite passages from Verna Hall’s Christian History of the Constitution, where she presents the preface to an 1844 book about the history of America:
“The glories of Christianity in England are to be traced in the sufferings of confessors and martyrs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and it was under the influence of Christian principles, imbibed at this very period, that the Mayflower brought over the band of Pilgrims to Plymouth…
We should never forget that the prison, the scaffold, and the stake were stages in the march of civil and religious liberty which our forefathers had to travel, in order that we might attain our present freedom…
Before our children remove their religious connections… before they leave the old paths of God’s Word …before they barter their birthright for a mess of pottage… let them know that they are the sons of the men ‘of whom the world was not worthy,’ and whose sufferings for conscience’ sake are here … recorded.”
A Biblical Perspective of the Importance of Remembering
Why commemorate—why remember? It is certainly not just to take a stroll down memory lane or to engage in some nostalgia kick. It is not clinging to the past. The word remember appears some 227 times in the Bible and that is significant! In those Scriptures, remembering was always for some purpose and was intended to elicit some kind of action. Remembering (or not remembering) always had consequences –like preserving a nation on the one hand or losing a nation on the other. Remembering compels us forward with fresh vigor to recognize the importance of what is being commemorated so that the value and lessons associated with it are not lost.
May we never shrink back in our noble cause to restore America and Americans to her godly principles. Let us resolve anew to valiantly proclaim America’s sacred story, and with God’s help, preserve and protect its light for many generations to come. May God bless America, and may America bless God!
To learn more about our Remember America initiative, click the button below.