America’s Biblical Roots

It's a bittersweet day in the ancient Near East thousands of years ago: The thrill of being home again after years of exile is tempered by the humiliation of still being vassals of Persia. A tattered band of Hebrews gathers for several days of prayer, worship, and teaching. Nehemiah leads the former exiles in a time of national confession and repentance. Then they pledge themselves in a binding agreement to live for God and obey His commandments. Nehemiah draws up a new governing charter for Israel, drafted in accord with God's laws. It would be a pattern for generations to come. Thousands of years later, in 1620, the Pilgrims draft another governing charter--the Mayflower Compact. They open their Bibles and read the account of Nehemiah. In imitation of the covenant pattern described there, they draw up their own set of mutual obligations. The Mayflower Pilgrims saw themselves as the New Israelites building a New Jerusalem in the American wilderness. So the Old Testament pattern of government by charter seemed only fitting. The tradition started by Nehemiah continued throughout the settlement of the New World. Every Puritan colony drew up its own constitutional charter following the pattern of the Mayflower Compact. It began in 1639, when the great Puritan evangelist Thomas Hooker directed the drafting of Connecticut's constitution. The Reverend Hooker required that each article in the constitution be justified by references to Scripture. This document became the blueprint for the constitution of every other colony in the New World. When it was time to construct a national constitution, the drafters imitated the pattern already set in the colonies. So we can trace a straight line from Nehemiah, dedicating himself and the people to God in ancient Israel, to the founding of our own nation and form of government. Today, on the National Day of Prayer, it's good to remind ourselves that the constitutional freedoms we enjoy did not come out of nowhere. They did not come from the ancient Greeks, who contributed in many other ways to our Western heritage. Nor did they derive from secular philosophies, though these, too, have contributed to our heritage. No, America's most fundamental ideas about law and freedom stem from the biblical idea of a covenant, an agreement freely entered into between God and His people, outlining their mutual duties and privileges. The great statesman Daniel Webster, on the 200th anniversary of the Pilgrim's landing, noted that the American Founders sought to base all our institutions, civil and political, on the truths of the Christian religion. History textbooks often ignore the biblical roots of the American system of government. Under the banner of separation of church and state, our school books are silent about the religious influences that shaped our nation's history--to the point where many Christians do not realize the enormous impact our faith has had on the American heritage. So on this National Day of Prayer let us commit ourselves to two things: to educating ourselves and our children on the impact Christian faith has had on America's constitutional form of government. And, more important, let us commit ourselves, like Nehemiah and the ancient Hebrews, to the practice of confession and prayer for our nation. Let's look beyond our own personal needs, important though they are, to pray for our country.


Chuck Colson


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