Was America Founded as a Theocracy?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, October 3, 2017 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

I don’t know about you, but whenever I make the claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, I invariably receive responses from individuals accusing me of wanting to establish a theocracy. Now, I know what these people mean when they make this accusation. They are accusing me of desiring to have the government administered by a state church. That’s why they always quote the First Amendment as proof that the founders did not want a theocracy. The question that I always have, however, is: Does the word “theocracy” really mean “a government administered by a state church”?

The answer to that question is, quite simply, no. The claim that a theocracy is a government administered by a state church betrays an ignorance of the history of the word “theocracy.”

The word theocracy was coined by the famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus as a means of distinguishing the government of the Jewish people from the three forms of government recognized by the Greek philosophers – monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Josephus wrote that the Hebrew government contained elements of all three of these forms, but he also noted that their government had an extra quality which prevented it from being properly described in the same manner as the governments of the Greeks and Romans. That extra quality was the recognition that all authority and power is ultimately derived from God and not from men.

Here is an excerpt from Josephus’ book Against Apion, in which he coined the word theocracy:

Some peoples have entrusted the supreme political power to monarchies, others to oligarchies, yet others to the masses. Our lawgiver, however, was attracted by none of these forms of polity, but gave to his constitution the form of what -- if a forced expression be permitted -- may be termed a "theocracy," placing all sovereignty and authority in the hands God. To Him he persuaded all to look, as the author of all blessings, both those which are common to all mankind, and those which they had won for themselves by prayer in the crises of their history. He convinced them that no single action, no secret thought, could be hid from Him. He represented Him as One, uncreated and immutable to all eternity; in beauty surpassing all mortal thought, made known to us by His power, although the nature of His real being passes knowledge.

Thus, according to the man who actually created the word theocracy, it is a reference to a form of government in which “the supreme political power” is placed in God Himself. In a theocracy, “all sovereignty and authority” is recognized as coming from the hand of God, and He is seen to be “the author of all blessings.” Is this the form of government under which America was founded? Did America at that time recognize God as the ultimate source of all power and authority?

To answer this question, let us consider that when America declared herself to be independent of the British government, she did so by claiming “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God” entitled her. She recognized that the rights of her citizens were not derived from the good will of their government, but rather were blessings endowed upon them by their Creator. And she submitted her actions not to the judgment of her peers, but rather to the approval of the “Supreme Judge of the world.”

This recognition that God is the ultimate source of all power and authority was admitted by nearly all our nation’s founders. James Wilson, who served as one of our first Supreme Court Justices and was one of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, wrote the following about the relationship between the laws of America and those of her God:

What we do, indeed, must be founded on what he has done; and the deficiencies of our laws must be supplied by the perfection of his. Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine.

James Madison, often referred to as the Father of the Constitution, likewise wrote:

The belief in a God, all powerful, wise, and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world, and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources, nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.

Benjamin Franklin resolved a heated and lengthy debate during the Constitutional Convention by reminding the delegates of their responsibility to conform the laws of America to the Law of God. On the question of whether we should have a property requirement for those seeking political office, Franklin said:

We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness.

Gouverneur Morris, the penman of the Constitution, cautioned the young men of his day with these words of wisdom:

This hour of distress will come. It comes to all, and the moment of affliction is known to Him alone, whose divine providence exalts or depresses states and kingdoms. Not by the blind dictates of arbitrary will. Not by a tyrannous and despotic mandate. But in proportion to their obedience or disobedience of his just and holy laws. It is he who commands us that we abstain from wrong. It is he who tells us, ‘do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you.'

This submission to the authority of God and the Bible was the general opinion of the nation at our founding, and it has been the constant thread of truth to which our nation has returned many times throughout her history. Was America founded as a theocracy? Yes. Yes indeed she was, and it is high time that we return to that great principle by once again submitting our laws to the authority of that Law which is divine.

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