This Fourth of July may be a somber time for Christians as they reflect upon the demise of traditional marriage, the waning influence of common sense and the rise of raw paganism.
But it is, in fact, a time to praise God for His goodness to America. In particular, is also a time to reflect upon the historical roots of kind Providence that has established our earthly freedoms today.
Some of those roots were the many expectations and ideas that greatly shaped early America. Although not monolithic in such expectations and ideas, there was enough commonality that one can write of the "Christian influence" upon the formation of this nation as an historical fact.
For instance, over the last few decades, key books on legal history have highlighted the significant influence of Christianity upon politics and law theory: The Reformation of Rights (Witte Jr.), Law and Revolution II (Berman) and The Covenant Connection(Elazar).
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, respected intellectual, historian and National Review contributor, asserted:
“If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather…the prevailing spirit of Americans before and after the War of Independence was essentially Calvinistic in both its brighter and uglier aspects."
Culturally, religious language was*widespread in magazines, newspapers and public events. There were declared days of public prayers, fasting and thanksgiving, even by the Continental Congress. Legally, laws prohibited blasphemy and protected Sunday rest. God or Christianity were explicitly stated in various state constitutions.
Ecclesiastically, there were three main churches: the Congregationalists of New England and the Presbyterians and Anglicans of the Middle and Southern colonies. All three confessed that God was sovereign and man was depraved. Such fundamental beliefs, embedded in early American society, were the intellectual tools undergirding political ideals.
The churches--especially the first two denominations--possessed a common theology of politics as well. The most well-known common element was the right to resist tyrants--both political and spiritual.
As John Adams himself explained in an 1815 letter to Dr. Morse, ecclesiastical tyranny was a real concern fueling the war. One political cartoon of 1769, "An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America," shows a crowd of colonists harrying a Bishop back to England, throwing books entitled Locke, Sydney on Government and Calvin's Works, shouting "no lords spiritual or temporal."
Even as the pastors preached submission to lawful authority, they taught the natural right for people to defend themselves. The right to resist tyranny was a belief deeply seated in the Calvinist tradition from Beza to Witherspoon.
Christianity was not the only influence in the formation of America. But it was a significant influence. During celebrations of this Fourth of July, Christians need not be dour. But they should reflect upon these historical facts. And they should joyously praise God for the Christian roots that helped produced the fruits of the Fourth of July.