Is there a Christian form of government?
Is there a Christian form of government? Does the Bible speak to the issue of government? The answer to these questions is “Yes.”
However, to answer these questions in the affirmative requires more than just a simple “yes.” The issue is certainly debatable, so the determination of whether or not these questions can be answered in the affirmative comes down to whether there is evidence to support that America’s Constitutional Republic is a Biblical form of government.
As Rosalie Slater said in Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History, (1965), many people “doubt that the Constitution was formed as a Christian document because they believe that the Founding Fathers were not all Christians” (p. 240). However, what determines whether or not our government is Christian is not whether the people who formed the government were Christians, but rather that the very nature of the government is Christian. At Dayspring Christian Academy, when we teach our students that America has a Christian form of government, we are careful to point out that the word form is a crucial part of that phrase.
In the Principle Approach®, it is important to understand that some things are found in the Bible that reveal a principle of God’s design without overtly stating it as a mandate or edict. For example, what Lockean (John Locke) Enlightenment philosophers called “Natural Law” is a very biblical principle, but not one in which you would find overt Scriptural direction. As an example: why was it wrong for Cain to kill his brother Abel? The Ten Commandments had not yet been given and would not be given for another several thousand years. “Natural Law” philosophers would state that the sin Cain committed was depriving Abel of something that was Abel’s natural right, his right to life. Because Abel was made in God’s image, by taking Abel’s life, Cain had sinned against his brother and against God. Before the Law, murder was sin because of the biblical principle of the individual right to life and that right is based on the individual having value as an image-bearer of God.
In the same way, there are numerous biblical principles that speak to the sphere of government and give us biblical direction on how a biblical government might be established. Ideas that come directly from Scripture, either by direct edict from God or by principles extrapolated are as follows (not exhaustive):
* Humans, as image bearers of God, have a right to life
* Humans have a right to property: if stealing is wrong, that implies that people have a right to have sole possession of certain goods.
* Humans have a right to self-defense to protect said rights to life and property
* Government is a God-ordained entity which has been given authority by God to punish evil and promote good (1 Peter 2:13-14).
The Enlightenment philosophers who were so widely read by the founders of America wrote at length about these ideas that we believe are distinctly Christian ideas. In Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, Republic is defined as “A commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people. In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state, in which the people exercise the powers of the sovereignty in person.” So, while many today call America a Democracy, we are more accurately a Constitutional Republic.
So, what are some distinctly biblical ideas we see woven into America’s Constitutional Republic? Three will be highlighted here:
America’s founders were well-versed in Enlightenment Philosophers. One of the Christian philosophers from this era who was widely read by our founders was William Blackstone. In his Commentaries on Law, he writes about Natural Law, Revealed Law, and Manmade Law (in that order).
Blackstone defines Natural Law as: “Thus, when the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, He impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be…so that when He created man, and endued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free will is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws. These are the eternal and immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all his Dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions…that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due.” (Christian History of the Constitution, 1960, p. 142)
This is supported by Scripture in Romans 1-2. Paul writes this passage about Gentiles having the law of God written on their hearts. He claims that all people have a fundamental knowledge of the existence of certain transcendent laws that we should obey, yet we do not. We know intuitively that certain things are outside the moral order: homosexuality, hating God, spitefulness, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobeying parental authority, breaking covenants, unnatural affections, and lack of mercy (Noebel, 2006). Humans know intuitively that certain things are right and wrong. What Paul called the law of God written on their hearts, William Blackstone called “Natural Law” (Noebel, 2006).
Blackstone said “This Law of Nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” (Christian History…, 1960, p. 142). He goes on to define Revealed Law as law given to us by God in Scripture. Then, he makes it clear that because law was given in that order (Natural, Revealed, man-made), all manmade laws must be in right relationship with the previous 2. Scripture clearly supports the order of the way law was given by God to humans, first natural, then revealed, then governmental.
The American Revolution’s very foundational elements came in part from this understanding of Natural Law. In the Declaration of Independence, rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were declared to be God-given rights that are self-evident. While the Declaration has no legal standing, it clearly laid out the philosophy governance to which the Founders ascribed. Once the revolution was over, the framers of the US Constitution were the first to frame a government which put many of these things into practice. In the Constitution and Amendments, many of these God-ordained rights were codified. The connection between these legal pillars and Christian thought and Biblical truth cannot be denied.
The Second Biblical Principle we see in American Republicanism is Representative Government. In the Scriptures, we read about the travels of the nation of Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy. In Exodus chapter 18, Moses was speaking to his father-in-law and it became apparent that Moses was being worn out by all the needs of the people. Jethro gave Moses advice (which is then reiterated in Deuteronomy 1) which, when implemented, turned the Hebrew nation into a representative government of sorts. Jethro told Moses to “select out of all the people, able men who fear God, men of truth, those hating dishonest gain; and you shall place them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let them judge the people at alltimes; and let it be that every major dispute, they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their place in peace.” The passage goes on to say that Moses implemented this plan. Ancient Hebrew historical texts shed further light on the system which was established what could be called the Hebrew Republic.
We also see in the New Testament that churches were established as elder-led communities. While the Apostles clearly had much authority over church affairs, they also allowed for much republican rule. Edwin Hall, 19th Century historian, wrote about the Apostles “striking illustrations of their regard for popular rights” (Teaching and Learning, 1965, p. 246). The replacement of Judas Iscariot (Matthias, Acts 1) as a disciple came from an election of over 120 people. Many decisions in the early church were made by the body of people and eventually, the First Century Churches were set up as self-governing independent congregations which were elder-led. Elder led congregations are very representative in nature as the elders represent the needs and best interests of the constituent body of people.
A historical example in America is the founding of the colony of Connecticut by Pastor Thomas Hooker. Connecticut’s Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, America’s first written Constitution, outlined what Hooker had preached from the pulpit: “That the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance; the privilege of election which belongs unto the people, therefore, must not be exercised according to their humors, but according to the blessed will and law of God.” This all came from his sermon on Deuteronomy 1. (Christian History 1965, p. 251). Throughout New England and even in the other colonies, founding charters and colonial governments were made up of local officials which were selected by the townspeople. Many of the churches too were congregational in governmental structure. The American colonialists had for generations been accustomed to self-government in church and society and often saw them as being one in the same. It can be seen biblically and historically that God gives approval to a government that is representative (or a republic) in nature.
Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
Charles de Montesquieu was a French philosopher who was a Christian. He wrote the Spirit of Laws which was widely read by our Founding Fathers. He was one of the first to use phrases like “Separation of Powers” and “Checks and Balances.” The use of the phrase Natural Law was also common to him. He opined that even in the very essence of the way God created the universe, He created three basic types of power: executive, legislative, and judicial. He linked these to the very nature of our Trinitarian God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the executive of the God-head, who has a perfect will. The Son became the great law-giver and summed up all the Decalogue into the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord Your God and love your neighbor as yourself. And, the Holy Spirit is the judicial branch of the God-head, giving counsel, conviction, encouragement and affirmation of right and wrong to the believer. We see this in Isaiah 33:22 that “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us.”
Montesquieu said, “God is related to the universe, as Creator and Preserver; the laws by which He created all things are those by which He preserves them. He acts according to these rules, because He knows them; He knows them, because He made them; and He made them, because they are in relation of His wisdom and power” (Christian History, 1965, p. 134).
Colonialists, from the beginning, recognized the importance of self-government.
Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitfully wicked above all else, who can know it” was a common subject of colonial sermons. Governmental authority was paramount to protect people from the wickedness of man. So too was holding government officials accountable for the same reason. History and a biblical understanding of natural law provided an opportunity for the founders to establish a government that was made up of the citizens and accountable to the citizens. Members of a local community took turns being the lawmaking body and taking an active part in making decisions which affected all the other non-present individuals. Other examples of Biblical ideas which found their way into the US Constitution include: the President being a Natural Born Citizen (Article 2 Section 1, Deuteronomy 17:15), treason needing two witnesses for conviction (Article 3 Section 3, Deuteronomy 17:6), and uniform immigration laws (Article 1 Section 8, Leviticus 19:4). Again, it is not to say that the framers cited chapter and verse when crafting the Constitution. However, the influence of Christian doctrine and thought on some of the core principles of the American Republic’s formation cannot be denied.
Founding generation pastors and statesmen understood fully the influence the Bible and Judeo-Christian morality had on the framing of our Constitution. The founders’ writings on the necessity of religion and morality being requisite to the governing of a free people are prolific. After the exodus of the Israelites, Moses’ commands to them in Deuteronomy were to remember what God had done for them and follow His law. Blessings would continue to follow obedience, but consequences would result from any falling away from the statutes which were clearly laid out. In a very similar way, the success of a Constitutional Republic rests heavily on the virtue and morality of the populace. America’s Constitution never was and never will be perfect. But, the biblical and Judeo-Christian underpinnings are evident. As Benjamin Franklin said after the signing of the Constitution in 1787, he and his colleagues gave us a republic, but it is up to us to keep it.
At Dayspring Christian Academy, we are committed to raising up the next generation of Christian leaders who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life, demonstrate a biblical worldview, become citizens of excellence in Christian character and scholarship, and aid in the restoration of America’s biblical foundation. If you would like to learn more about Dayspring Christian Academy, please contact Karol Hasting at 717-285-2000 or schedule a private tour using the button below.
Hall, V. Christian History of the Constitution of the United States. 1960. Foundation for American
Christian Education. Chesapeake, VA.
Slater, Rosalie J. Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History, 1965. Foundation for
American Christian Education. Chesapeake, VA.
Noebel, D. 2006. Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed),
Summit Press, Manitou Spring, CO