America’s Founding Fathers gave us the country’s founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and others.
In order for them to form such documents, they had to lean upon some common understanding of law, government, social order and a basic moral code. These understandings sprang from a common acceptance of what has come to be known as the Judeo-Christian Ethic. The term "Judeo-Christian" refers to "the influence of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament on one's system of values, laws and ethical code." It is not just a system of theological thought, but a culture of values as seen in one's individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Some would argue that a few of our nation's Founding Fathers were not Christians; some were Deists. Whether they were Christians or not, their writings, words and votes indicate that the vast majority of them embraced the Judeo-Christian Bible as the basis for a civilized society and social order. It is especially important during these days of rampant pluralism and situation ethics that we pastors (and our people) remember these same anchors of faith and values that are brought to us through the Word of God.
Although there are many biblical principles from which our Judeo-Christian values spring, I have selected seven that seem to have the greatest relevance in America's past and present. These "common sense" values provide moral balance in a seemingly unbalanced world.
Principle #1- The Dignity of Human Life
Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder."
Matt 22:39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
The Scriptures emphatically teach the great importance of the respect and preservation of human life. In the Declaration of Independence, our nation's Founding Fathers wrote that every man, woman and child has the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We Americans not only believe this for our land, but we also send our brave men and women in our military forces across the world to defend the rights of those whose lives are threatened.
If people and nations do not grant this respect and protection for the born and unborn, all other professed morals and values are meaningless, because they are no longer undergirded by the most basic of human needs—the need to exist. The dignity of human life is not just a principle of the Bible—it is the beginning principle of any civilized society.
Principle #2 - The Traditional Family
Genesis 2:21-24 "And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."
The biblical view of marriage and family is the basis of our society and serves as the backbone of a healthy social order. The clear plan of God involves a man and a woman producing children within the institution of marriage. Since the joining together of Adam and Eve, marriage has been defined as a holy union between one man and one woman, and out of that union comes children born into a loving home with a father and a mother to nurture them and teach them how to become healthy, productive and responsible citizens.
When God’s definition of "marriage" and "family" are no longer respected, these institutions become meaningless. World history has proven over and again that preserving the traditional family is vital to the future of any great nation.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."
Ingrained deep within the American spirit is the willingness and desire to give an honest day’s work for an honest day's pay. This independent spirit has no desire to exist on handouts from the government or siphon off a living from benevolence or friendships. And it is this independent spirit that has allowed America to create the greatest and strongest economy in the history of the world.
True, Americans have had their challenges. The Great Depression of the 1930s knocked us to our knees, but it did not beat us. Americans, hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart, helped one another and lifted our nation back to economic might.
The powers of the world may look at our nation and ask where this spirit of honest labor came from. Where did this work ethic originate in the American psyche? It came from the men and women before us who were raised to believe the principles of honest work found throughout the Word of God.
Principle #4 - The Right to a God-Centered Education
Deuteronomy 6:7 "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
Ephesians 6:4 "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."
We read in Proverbs 1:7 that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." One cannot possibly understand the creation without first knowing its Creator.
Our forefathers certainly understood this. For example, did you know that most of America's oldest and most respected universities—such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth—were founded by Christian preachers or churches? Harvard University, founded in 1636, adopted "Rules and Precepts" which included the following: "Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life." The university’s original seal has upon it these words: "Truth for Christ and the Church." In addition, the first textbook for school children, The New England Primer, taught the ABCs to children by instructing them to memorize: "A—In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. B—Heaven to find, the Bible mind."
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s future. Our nation’s first president, George Washington, reminded us of the importance of a God-centered education when he said, "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle…it is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."
Principle # 5- The Abrahamic Covenant
Genesis 12:1-4 "Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran."
Galatians 3:7 "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham."
The book of Genesis records the story of God coming to Abraham and making a covenant with him. The basis of this covenant was that, if Abraham would follow God in obedience to His laws and commandments, God would bless Abraham with generations of children that would outnumber the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5). Abraham believed God and obeyed His Word, and God rewarded him with a nation of people known as the Jews.
The Abrahamic Covenant states that if a person or a nation obeys God, observing the moral truths found in the Bible, that person or nation will be blessed. If they disobey, they will bring punishment upon themselves. For most of our nation’s history, Americans have accepted as fact that good deeds produced good results, that people who were "God-fearing" and respectable in language and lifestyle would be blessed by God. This fact has been proven to be true time and again. The writer of Proverbs tells it plainly,"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (14:34).
Principle #6 - Common Decency
Matthew 22:39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Simply put, decent nations are made up of decent people who, when faced with a situation, would do the decent and honest thing. For the most part, this has been the experience of our national history. For example, Americans have given their lives in wars on foreign soil so that others might taste freedom. Americans have worked to feed the world’s poor and hungry, to clothe the naked and aid the crippled. Americans have opened their arms to many of the world’s oppressed peoples and allowed them safe harbor upon our shores.
Engraved on the pedestal on which stands the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor are these words by Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" A world-renowned symbol of freedom, this Statue reminds us all that America has indeed been, and continues to be today, a nation of common decency.
Hebrews 9:27 "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."
Perhaps the greatest restraint for acts of evil against one's fellow man is the realization that every person and every nation of people will one day give an account for their actions to Almighty God. Certainly the Bible tells that we are responsible for our actions, and we will be held accountable for what we do or don’t do. Also, there is a penalty for doing wrong to our fellow man, and there is a blessing when we do that which is right, noble and just.
The story is told of Daniel Webster, the great American statesman who was once asked, "What is the most sobering thought that ever entered your mind?" He quickly responded, "My personal accountability to God." Daniel Webster knew that one day he would stand before God in eternity and give an account for his actions. The same applies to every man, woman and nation.
America has been blessed as a nation in a particular way. We are not a special people above all other nations—not at all—but God's blessings have certainly been given to us, because for the greater part of our history, a greater part of our people have honored and obeyed the teachings of the Bible. What is true for us is true for all others who choose it, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12).
Dr. Richard Lee is the founding pastor of First Redeemer Church in Atlanta. He served as general editor of The American Patriot’s Bible (Thomas Nelson) and has contributed to numerous other publications and books. Pastor Lee holds doctorates in theology, pastoral ministry, literature and law and continues his postdoctoral studies at the University of Oxford. Dr. Lee’s television broadcast, There’s Hope, has received the prestigious Ministry of the Year award from the National Religious Broadcasters. He has served as President of the Pastor's Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention, is a member of the Oxford Roundtable, a Trustee of Liberty University and Liberty School of Law and a Board member of the National Religious Broadcasters. Find out more about Dr. Lee’s ministries at www.thereshope.org.