Faith & Family

Looking back to look ahead

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Justin Bohner

“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Alexis de Tocqueville

Many years ago, faithful English believers packed up and left their homes, families, culture, and all familiarity in search of a place where they could worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The oppressive state church had boxed them in to the point where the man-made Book of Common Prayer was to be adhered to, not solely the Word of God. These courageous men and women had such strong conviction concerning the Word that they quite literally left their homeland and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in search of liberty.

One of the most well-known addresses by one of these heroic dissenters is John Winthrop’s sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity,” which is incredibly representative of the expectation they had in settling at this new land. In the year 1630, while aboard the Arbella carrying Puritan pilgrims to the New World, Winthrop composed this sermon to spur his fellow settlers on to community-wide discipline and godliness.

In this sermon, Winthrop stated, “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.” This was the mentality of these early settlers; with the world watching along: will we be doers and not only hearers (James 1:22)?

My beloved fellow saints, I ask that we pause and give reflection to Winthrop’s words. Have we been that “city on a hill,” a light for all the world to see (Matt. 5:14)? Have we sought to be a model of charity and the gospel for all who would look on? One of the decisive factors in this strategy to be a “city on a hill” was the firm belief that this New World must be built upon the foundation of a Christian worldview. This was central to the mission of the early settlers. From the form of government all the way down to the laws put in place to protect citizens, all must be shaped by biblical teaching, or so the pilgrims believed. This was the mindset that fueled these men and women who began the good work in this country.

De Tocqueville’s quote at the beginning of this article summarizes the centrality of Christianity in this nation well. The defining quality that set this country apart from all others, that made it a “city on a hill” that had the attention of the entire world, was the fact that it was based upon an objective moral goodness not given to change with the fickleness of fallen humanity. American greatness was predicated on the unchanging goodness of an unchanging God and His perfect Law.

The only thing special about this nation is that key fact: America’s greatness stands only insofar as America’s morality is objectively good, and the only objectively good morality is found in the God of Christianity. No other worldview, be it secular or some other official religion, has any hard standard by which to judge what is morally good and bad. Christianity is the only system of belief that offers black and white. America is now the land of grey, and we have covered that light that we were supposed to be shining into the world.

The purpose of this article is not to fuel some sort of ultra-patriotic worldview or a type of Kinism that is detrimental to the advancement of the gospel and kingdom of God. I simply want to sound an alarm to those who hope and pray for “the America they used to know and love.” I am asking us to go back to the very foundations and look at what this country was always meant to be, namely, a beacon of gospel hope and truth for the entire world to gaze upon. The country itself is not the end but rather the means to the end. America is not the point; rather, God is the point.

It is like the Ten Commandments. The purpose of them is not to be a collection of rules to shackle you and make your life unbearable. They are a picture of what the world should be like, a mirror that shows why it isn’t that way, and an arrow that points to Jesus, the One who fulfilled that Law and made a way for us to be made right with God.

The Ten Commandments aren’t the point; God is.

America is not the point; God is.

When we as men and women begin to believe in and act in accordance with that truth, perhaps the light will again shine into this dark world.

Soli Deo Gloria.