USA and the Reformation

Having spent the last couple of weeks in Europe following the footsteps of Christians who found themselves in their conscience in opposition to political powers, I am more and more impressed with the need to appreciate and fight for the freedoms that they struggled for.

Many have tried to make a case that our nation was founded upon the “Christian Religion”.  The truth is that the USA was founded more specifically on Protestant principles and most specifically on the protestant principal of freedom of conscience in respect to worship.  This was clearly understood by the framers of our nation. Listen to the words of our second president John Adams:

“I love and revere the memories of Huss, Wickliff, Luther, Calvin, Zwinglius, Melancton and all the other reformers; how muchsoever I may differ from them all in many theological metaphysics & philosophical points.  As you justly observe, without their great exertions & severe sufferings the United States of America had never existed.”  (John Adams, 1821; quoted in The Founders on Religion: A book of Quotations page 15)

I’m afraid that the more our nation moves away from this core principal and towards a socialist form of society, the more likely we are going to lose our individual freedoms and return to the medieval form of society against which the Protestant reformers struggled with their lives.

20 Responses to “USA and the Reformation”

  1. Ralph Says:

    Excellent, Owen! I just read this morning about the French Revolution. Because of their rejection of the truth in God’s word as promulgated by the reformers and then later their rejection of religion of any kind, they elevated “reason”, the forerunner of humanistic thinking, above all deistic thinking. This, in turn led to anarchy, immorality, indolence, frivolity, and selfishness. The USA is at a crossroads. One road (not all roads) leads to Rome. I’m afraid the other leads to Paris. Neither destination is on the road to heaven.

  2. Owen Says:

    Yes Ralph, it is very enlightening to observe the results of throwing off the truth. It brings a total breakdown of society. As you say we are watching that happen before our very eyes in our society. We’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater or cutting off our nose to spite our face, just like the French.

  3. Van Says:

    Three points (truths?):
    1. Thomas Jefferson was neither Christian, protestant, or of any other religious persuasion.
    2. The name is “Liberty Enlightening the World”,* not “The Statue of Liberty”.
    3. The United States of America used pagan principles in the formation of its government.
    My conclusion: The USA was founded on the principle of “freedom from relgious oppression and tyranny”. The French Revolution was an attempt to abolish religion. That didn’t work. Instead, she passed the torch (*LEW) to the USA, not to abolish religion, but to allow for the free exercise “to believe whatever or not to believe”. Result: The USA has become a melting pot alright, a melting pot of (non)religious beliefs. Therefore, our country is a “pagan” nation, i.e., one composed of the worship of many “gods”. :)

  4. Owen Bandy Says:

    Hi Van, I would be interested in hearing more. How can we document the truth about the religious persuasion of Thomas Jefferson?
    Also wouldn’t we say that the USA’s principle of “freedom from religious oppression and tyranny” was as well Protestant principal if not Christian principal? It seems to me that it is a Christian ideal to give freedom to all ideologies. It might be argued that the USA would never have thought of freedom if it weren’t for the Protestant revolution. It is when Christianity quits giving freedom that it stops being Christian. (Much of “Christianity” is not Christian because like Radical Islam, and Socialism, it does not grant freedom.

  5. Van Says:

    Its a “red flag” for me if Jefferson does not agree with “many of the theological metaphysics and philosophical points” of the reformers. Was he Catholic or other? I think other, perhaps no religious persuasion, or a Deist at best.

    Freedom stands as a principle on its own. Christianity and protestantism don’t have a corner on that market. Even an atheist would be in favor of freedom.

    I agree that the protestant movement paved the way for the USA. And freedom, certainly was the major component in the establishment of its government. However, the wording of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even though hinting at the existence of God, use language that is careful to not identify who that god is.

    So, I will maintain that the US government is not protestant or Christian or Jewish (or any other religion). That’s the beauty of it. Citizens of the USA are free to worship whatever god they choose. Maybe its government is more Theistic than anything else.

  6. Van Says:

    Check this webpage for info on Thomas Jefferson:

  7. Owen Bandy Says:

    I agree that Jefferson was probably a Deist. I hesitate saying that without knowing the TRUTH. Obviously he doesn’t see himself as a Protestant Reformer yet he sees the major contribution that the Reformation gave to the cause of Freedom. It seems that the framers did however see Freedom as a “God given” right not just a right by itself. (As did the Reformers) That comes through clearly in the Constitution. Like you I wouldn’t say that we are a protestant nation but I would say that the Protestant Reformation laid the groundwork for the principle of freedom that we enjoy. Like you I believe our government was established to protect individual rights to religious belief and actions. That freedom however (like the freedom that God gives us) is not without responsibility and or consequence to our actions.

  8. Owen Bandy Says:

    I’m going to see if I can find out a little more about Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs.

  9. Van Says:

    Agreed. We are responsible for how we practice our freedom. It is good to see that Jefferson did acknowledge the source of the freedom we enjoy in this country, i.e., the reformers.

    You are correct. We really don’t know the truth regarding Jefferson’s religion. Deism is a belief, not a religion. So, I feel it was the smart thing for him to do, and I suppose others as well, to leave religious wording out of the constitution as much as possible.

    Truthfully, I think I appreciate the constitution more now than even before.

  10. Owen Bandy Says:

    From some of the things I have been reading about Jefferson it seems clear that he was a Deist. He had some pretty harsh things to say about the Bible and Christianity as he knew it. Context is everything. The Christianity that he was familiar with was the Papal brand and that would be hard for anyone to stomach.

    It seems to me that some of his statements were throwing out the baby with the bathwater but who can blame him. Even the Reformers were not distanced enough from Popery to suit him it seems. As we understand history the Reformation only began with them and indeed has continued to progress and is still progressing with those who are searching for truth. Freedom was the first and essential truth to be unveiled in the Reformation so that all other truths could be accessed.

  11. David Moon-Wainwright Says:


    I agree with you on the founding of our nation on the reformist principle of “freedom of conscious” but we seem to understand that concept differently. I believe this refers to the ability of any person to interpret who God is and what God has revealed without the direction of church authorities.

    As a foundation for our nation it speaks to me of the equality of every person and that each person has the right to vote/speak to how the nation is governed.

    I would be hesitant to push this any further in terms of how the founders specifically applied the reformist principles. Great discussion!

    Peace, David

  12. Owen Says:

    I would agree with you Dave when you say “I believe this refers to the ability of any person to interpret who God is and what God has revealed without the direction of church authorities.” I would take it a step farther though and add “without the direction of civil authorities” as well. Do we disagree on that?

    On your other comment, what exactly do you mean by “how the nation is governed.” I would say that the constitution already tells us how the nation is to be governed, that I would say is not up for vote. What do you think? Maybe I’m not understanding what you mean by “how the nation is governed.”

  13. David Moon-Wainwright Says:

    ” I would take it a step farther though and add “without the direction of civil authorities” as well. Do we disagree on that?”

    Hi Owen, I completely agree with that as a principle, but I don’t think the reformers would put that “spin” on it. Indeed, in reformation times the battle was to get the local monarchs to become followers of Luther or Calvin, because as the Monarch went, so went the entire kingdom.

    In the context of US History, I fully agree that this understanding was central to Founders thinking…just not the reformers. I don’t believe I’m being radical to argue that the founders took a central tenant of the Protestant faith and adapted it to address a central issue of freedom of religion in their political context. I’m not sure the reformers would have understood or agreed with the concept that multiple faith practices could be tolerated in one particular area or city. That required a few hundred years of social/political/religious evolution to get to perspective of the Founders.

    On your other comment, what exactly do you mean by “how the nation is governed.”

    I’m referring to the democratic principal of “one person one vote.” That each individual is a citizen and has not only the right but the responsibility to speak, vote, and work toward “a more peaceful and democratic union.” (Preamble: US Constitution.) The structure is set in the constitution, but specific laws that best interpret and execute the vision of the constitution is always, to a great degree, (much too much in my opinion) up for grabs. (Are my libertarian views showing?)

    Peace, David

  14. Owen Bandy Says:

    True, the reformers were in desperate need of the support of the civil authorities but only because if the civil authorities weren’t on their side those same civil authorities would likely be used by the Roman Church to crush them out. So you are right in saying that “as the Monarch went so the entire kingdom”.

    I do see the distinction of the American context and the reformers context. It is true that the American experience is a step farther down the road of time and context from the Reformers. It would surely have been an unexpected breath of fresh air to the reformers to conceive of a government that didn’t take a side but protected the freedom of all sides.

    I guess for me when it comes to “governance” it’s not the “people” who govern but those whom they elect to govern. If they don’t like how they govern then the people can elect someone else. Those who are elected to govern vow to do so according to the constitution. If they do this then individual liberty will not be violated. It’s true that it is in the “law making” that things usually break down. Too many Americans don’t understand what’s at stake and aren’t paying attention to how they are being governed let alone what the constitution says.

  15. David Moon-Wainwright Says:

    I perhaps take the preamble to the constitution too seriously, “We the people.” I would argue that while we live in a democratic republic, the emphasis must remain on the democratic, i.e. “we the people.”
    The main reason I argue this comes from the most seditious document in the world, the Declaration of Independence. It’s central argument is that the people have the power to rise up and stand against oppressive governments.
    I fully agree that “Too many Americans don’t understand what’s at stake and aren’t paying attention to how they are being governed let alone what the constitution says.” But I would, and have, further argued that the Declaration supersedes the constitution and that perhaps we need to consider it time to have a Third Continental Congress to redraft a constitution that better addresses the world in which we live.
    Against that, any who I have uttered this too appear aghast and bring up the very good argument of ‘what better system of government has ever been developed?’ and ‘are you willing to risk all the safeguards and securities we enjoy to correct some small [in comparison] problems?’ Personally I think something has to give.
    Are we capitalists? Are we socialists? In between? What guides those decisions? Right now the constitution says nothing about economic policy. Is it legal for the government to tax citizens, some say no. Can we create a different system of taxation that bypasses the politics of congress and the president? Would we add new rights to the bill of rights? Women? Gays? Children? Unborn? Should corporations really have the same rights as citizens? Or Unions?
    I could go on…don’t even get me started on the electoral college. And how do the Democrats and Republicans get to call all the shots? Is that constitutional? Is it right? (I told you not to get me started!)
    Some things are better left unsaid, especially at church!
    Peace, David

  16. Owen Says:

    David I sense that you are passionate about this. That’s good. I agree with some of your concerns. The problem I see with placing the emphasis on “we the people” over against the constitution however is that eventually then the majority will rule in every way and the minority will lose the rights afforded them by the constitution. The constitution not only protects us from the tyranny of rulers but the tyranny of the majority.

    With respect to creating a new constitution I can only think of Thomas Jefferson’s comment, “It can never be too often repeated that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united.” I am afraid we are beyond the honest rulers stage and as far as the leaders being united well . . . . Were we to open up the constitution I’m afraid it would be chaos.

    We have already drifted so far from the ideals of the constitution that I don’t think there is a chance of turning it around. I am afraid that at some point every aspect of our freedoms will be turned upside down and we will be plunged back into the dark ages where the masses exist for the elite.

  17. Van Says:

    That’s a scary thought, Owen . . . a return to the Dark Ages. Coupled withthe pervasiveness of the government into so many aspects of our lives, it does seem a possibility.

    It is obvious that humans are incapable of governing themselves. Pakistan and Thailand, two of the most recent examples, remind us that all forms of government, with or without religious ties, are tenuous at best and can come apart quickly with little warning.

    The governments that last the longest seem to be those that rule with an iron hand. Is the United States leaning that direction? The truth, no doubt, will one day come out.

  18. Owen Bandy Says:

    Yes Ralph - Like Paul Harvey used to say “Self government without self discipline doesn’t work”.

    So the only two options are one, as you say, a few rulers that rule with an iron hand which is what the socialists want to do (and hopefully they have self discipline but I’ve not seen an example of that), or two, A nation of self disciplined people, who live civil lives themselves and elect governors who govern with a softer touch counting on the self discipline of the people. It seems that’s what the USA has tried to do.

    The problem is that we as a people are becoming less and less self disciplined and it may as you say be causing us to lean towards an iron hand rule. The question I have is who’s iron hand will it be? The Muslims? The Socialists? The Christians? I don’t have much confidence in any of those to respect my God given freedom.

  19. Van Says:

    This thread of discussion takes me to the bigger picture. The Bible says to not put your confidence in man. Self-discipline, or self-control, suggests that we are putting our confidence in man, each to his own self. A spirit-controlled life is the other option. The question is, what kind of spirit should discipline (control) us?

    The Bible outlines all of our human existence, including the rise and fall of nations/empires. The Reformation did indeed contribute to the fall of one and the rise of another, The latter is prophecied to one day reflect the nature of the former. I believe it is happening before our very eyes in the events, political and religious, that we see taking place in the world today.

    Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world. In prophecy, that kingdom will soon destroy and supercede all others. Will the masses of Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Evangelical, and all others in between, ever recognize this and really, in truth, prepare for the kingdom of God? The “talk” is there, but I’m not so sure of the “walk”. Which takes me back to discipline.

    It sure looks like many in the Christian community, recognizing the erosion of self-discpline in this country, have fallen into the very trap the constitution was meant to help avoid. So, will the constitution stand, or will it fade away as the “wisdom” of man becomes more “enlightened?”

  20. Owen Bandy Says:

    I don’t mind using the term “self control” as long as I use it in the context of Galatians 5:23. There it is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. I think this would be in harmony with what you are saying. If the spirit isn’t involved then it is just putting your confidence in the flesh.

    I agree that the Lamb-”like” beast (USA) is moving more and more toward speaking like the dragon. I’m afraid that most people are being tricked by the lamb-”likeness”, believing that God is going to use this nation to set up his kingdom here on earth. I think it won’t be until world conditions get so bad that people are forced to see that man’s “self” induced Spirit-”less” plans aren’t working. Then they will start looking around to see what’s really going on. I think only the honest in heart will ever see it though.

    I think the more the people see that things aren’t working the more likely it will be that the constitution will be changed in an effort to make things better. Things will just get worse.

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