Sunday, July 19, 2015

What was the faith of our founding fathers?

I always hear that we need to return to the faith of our founding fathers. I’ve always wondered what their faith was. What did they believe in? And was it what we think it was? In my research, I used the criteria for an individual to be counted as a Founding Father, he must have done one or more of the following: 1) signed the Declaration of Independence, 2) signed the Articles of Confederation, 3) attended the Constitution Convention of 1787, 4) signed the U.S. Constitution, and 5) served as a senator or a representative in the first Federal Congress, 1789-1791. I also focused on the very basic teachings and beliefs that were available at the time. The majority of the Founding Fathers fell into one of four categories: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational and Unitarianism/Deism.

The Episcopal has its origins with the Church of England (aka Anglican). Benjamin Harrison and Samuel Chase are two examples of members of the Episcopal Church. It would make sense that the majority of the founding fathers were of this faith as many of them had English backgrounds. The church’s teachings were pretty straight forward and standard what modern Christians believe today. The basic teachings were that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. They fully believed in His birth, life and resurrection. They believed in the Holy Trinity and that the Bible was the inspired Word of God.  The Episcopal Church appears to be between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches. They focus on two sacraments: baptism and communion with the other sacraments as optional.

The Presbyterian Church has its roots in Martin Luther and the 95 thesis and was refined by John Calvin and the Reformation theologians. Benjamin Rush was a famous member of the Presbyterian Church. They believed what most Christians would. They believe that knowledge of God comes from God, that Christ is the only way to God. They believe that the Word of God comes in several forms: the life and words of Jesus, prophesies of the Old Testament, the ministry of the apostles and from the preaching of ministers. Sounds the same as all churches right? Where the Presbyterian Church and Calvinism differs is in its five points. First, total depravity is the total inability as a consequence of sin. A person is a slave to sin and naturally not inclined to love God. Second, unconditional election is that God has chosen for eternity those whom he will bring to Himself based on His mercy alone. Third, limited atonement is that only the sins of the elect are atoned by the blood of Jesus. Fourth, irresistible grace is that God’s grace is applied to those He chooses to save, “the elect” and the elect cannot resist the Holy Spirit. It is God’s choice not the individual’s to accept the Holy Spirit. Lastly, the perseverance of the saints refers to the elect who will preserve in the faith because God chose them to do so.

Congregationalism is another Protestant/Reformed movement which originated with Robert Browne in 1592. The founding fathers were considered themselves among the Congregationalists were John Adams and John Hancock. Congregationalism is associated with the Puritans and John Cotton. They have the same fundamental beliefs as most Protestant churches. However, they believe in universal salvation which is direct conflict with Presbyterian Calvinism. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a famous Congregational minister who had the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (July 8, 1741) which I actually read in my 10th grade English class. In his sermon, he emphasized that hell is a real place and he portrayed a horrific reality that awaited people should they continue without Christ. He taught that the will of God gives wicked men the chance to rectify their sins.

Lastly, the movement which featured prominently among the founding father is Unitarianism/deism. Unitarianism is a theological movement which teaches that God is one entity and rejects the Holy Trinity. It also teaches that Jesus is the son of God as all humans are the children of God and reject the claim of His divinity. Deism is the rejection of revelation of authority of religious knowledge. Deists like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, believe that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a Creator. Deism gained prominence during the Age of Enlightenment (1620s-1780s) which believed in one God but were disenchanted with organized religion and the notions of the Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible and supernatural events (i.e. miracles). Unitarianists and deists reject religions based on book which claimed to contain the world of God, they reject all religious dogma and are skeptical of miracles, prophesies and religious mysteries.

It is amazing to me that men from very different religious faiths could come together and make the U.S. Constitution as great and stable as it is. From different ideologies, different religions and different ideas about what the United States should be these men came together and built the foundation of this country which has survived for 239 years. In recent years, I’ve heard the call to return to the faith of our founding fathers. While each denomination had the basics of Christian beliefs, there are some big differences when it comes to doctrine. As well as the theological movement of Unitarianism/deism seems out of place. My question is what faith should we return to? Do we return to the faith of Thomas Jefferson, who had a complex belief system, was known to be a deist? Why must we follow the faith of these men? I didn’t even discuss every religious faith that was represented by the founding fathers. Have I been clear? Faith is believing in something without seeing. Every Christian doesn’t have the same faith. My faith in Christ is different from my family and friends. Our belief in Christ and His teachings, the word of God in the Bible may be similar. But faith is very personal and unique for each believer. I ask again: do we go back to our founding fathers’ beliefs and if we do, which belief system do we follow?