Celebrating the Godless Constitution

On this 225th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States of America, I am thankful for the Constitution.  As a Bible-believing Christian, I am grateful that the Constitution lays the foundation of a government that is secular in nature and not religious – one of the first of its kind in history.

One of my favorite books on the history of religion and the Constitution, The Godless Constitution, details how controversial the new Constitution was to many religious people of the time.  For example, it was argued by many that leaving God out of the Constitution would cause God to forget this nation and that we would soon perish.  Consequently, proposals were made to include a mandate in the Constitution that government sponsored schools be established throughout the United States where young people would learn “the principles of the Christian religion.”  Also, William Williams, the Connecticut delegate, formally proposed that the Constitution’s one-sentence preamble be enlarged to include a statement mentioning God and acknowledging the Nation’s dependence upon Him.  Others wanted only Christians to be able to hold office in the new government.

All of these proposals were rejected.  Instead, God is not mentioned even once in our Constitution.  This omission was not a mere oversight; it was intentional.  In another radical twist, the Constitution specifically stated that no religious test would be required to hold office in the new United States’ federal government.  That was revolutionary at the time.  The Bill of Rights, later adopted, additionally guaranteed that no religion would be established by the government and that an individual’s free exercise of their religion would not be prohibited.

Why do I, a Bible-believing Christian, celebrate the “godless” Constitution?  For three reasons:

1)   Since the time of the theocracy of ancient Israel, God has not reigned directly through earthly governments.  As a result, when Jesus sojourned on earth He announced the advent of His heavenly kingdom and spent the rest of His ministry contrasting that heavenly kingdom with the political kingdoms of this world.  In fact, He showed that Caesar’s government and His kingdom were distinct (Matt. 22:21); that His kingdom was not of the earthly, political kind (John 18:36); and that the methods of advancing His heavenly kingdom on earth were distinct from the way of the sword used by earthly, political governments (Matt. 26:52; Rom. 13:4).

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus I am highly skeptical whenever I hear a government claim that it is building God’s kingdom on earth or that they know His will and are qualified to impose that will through the power of the sword.

2)   I also know that God does work through earthly governments, even though they are not His kingdom, and even though He no longer necessarily favors one nation on earth over another.  God has an interest in using and appointing kings and government leaders (Dan. 4:32; Rom. 13:1).  God also has an interest in kings and governments being moral, just and equitable (Rom. 13:4-5; Dan. 4:27).  One of the foundational aspects of God’s just and moral character is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17).  Freedom of conscience is essential to God’s understanding of justice and freedom, since God has granted it to all of His creatures.  As such, freedom of conscience must be a part of any moral and just earthly government.

The fact that the Constitution does not “take sides” in matters of conscience but is completely silent about God or religion is a reason for Christians to celebrate this document.  The Constitution recognizes the sacred freedom of individual conscience – a value that is part of the very essence of God’s character.

3)   Finally, God does not need earthly governments to explicitly promote Him.  In fact, when they do, His kingdom is often harmed and His character is distorted in the eyes of non-believers.

The fact that our Constitution does not endorse any deity or particular religion, while still protecting my right to religious belief and expression, leaves me as a Christian the freedom to represent God’s character to the world as His Spirit impresses me.  Jesus did not give the job of making disciples or being “salt” or letting their “light shine” to governments, but instead He gave that job to the church.  The Church is His body on earth.  The Church is the embodiment of His kingdom to come.  Jesus made it clear that His kingdom is distinct and separate from the kingdoms of this earth and that His Church would not be employing the power of the sword to win people over to His heavenly kingdom.

When Christians participate in forcing people to accept God’s salvation or to participate in building up His kingdom against their will, they misrepresent God to the world.  God does not force but has given human beings freedom of choice.  This being the case, Christ’s followers ought to celebrate a Constitution that recognizes freedom of conscience for Christians as well as for others who do not believe.  This allows Christians to be free to promote God so that He is rightly represented to the world and not misrepresented by force.

For these reasons and many more I am thankful today for the Constitution.

Read reflections from others on the importance of the Constitution here: http://religiousliberty.tv/225th-anniversary-of-us-constitution.html

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