If you’re an American Christian, chances are you’ve heard at least a couple of times people lamenting about how our country has seemingly “moved on” from godly principles, no longer seeking to be the spiritually-minded and morally-sound nation that we were once upon a time. I often hear men during worship pray for political leaders who will seek God’s will and bring us—the U.S.—back on the right track spiritually.
Indeed, the Bible tells us to pray for those in position of authority (1 Tim. 2:1-3), and I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest we should pray not only for the spiritual well-being of our nation, but for all nations. As I’ve grown older, though, and I study and learn, I’ve come to wonder—how much of our spiritual past is legitimate, and how much of it is nostalgia? Are we truly in the darkest of times, spiritually speaking? If our country has changed drastically, then how does the modern church reach out to the modern America? I can’t truly answer these questions because of my age, but we can make judgments based on history.
A cursory study of American history will show a large Christian influence in politics, media and everyday life, from spiritually-minded presidents to the practice of prayer and Bible study in schools. Most, if not all, of the founders of the United States held scripture in high esteem—this is evident by their writings from the time. For a very long time, Christian values were the norm in much of America. That being said, the history of America taken as a whole does not reflect a people’s consistent adherence to godly living as a whole—the abuses of the Industrial Revolution, the raucous living of the 1920s and the promiscuous and drug-filled 1960s could be taken as a couple of examples.
So, is America a Christian nation or not? Or, has it ever been? It seems to me that our country was founded on principles found in the scriptures, and this led to a nation that I would call “culturally Christian.” That is, America has been Christian in name for a very long time—for decades we’ve mentioned God on our money, in our songs, and in our Pledge of Allegiance. It is only relatively recently that this “cultural Christianity” has begun to devolve into what we see around us today. I would suggest, though, that this “cultural Christianity” is what we often view through the eyes of nostalgia, imagining a nation-wide church of God’s people.
The truth is that many people throughout our country’s history have lived outside of God’s grace, and many people have lived contrary to His will. That hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that acknowledging Christ is now no longer culturally trendy. I would argue that the percentage of faithful, dedicated Christians in America has not decreased, or at least not by much. It’s simply that the large majority of people who casually adopted Christianity as a cultural norm now no longer see it as necessary. This has led to Christianity no longer being in the public favor as much as it used to, making that feeling of nostalgia that much stronger.
The history of the Lord’s church is a long history of persecution and challenging circumstances in unfriendly territory, and modern America is no different. The good thing is that God has already told us this will be the case! Our country’s perception of Christianity, though, has no bearing on the truth of the Bible or God’s faithfulness. It simply means that we have more work to do.