In our last discussion of “Christian citizenship” we examined the notion of the United States of America being a “Christian nation”. We saw how the argument can be positively made based upon a number of things, perhaps chiefly the Christian consensus of both colonial and subsequent times. We also saw how the argument can be negatively framed given the intentional lack of a formal religious identity at the national level.
While in principle the concept of a national church (denomination) causes no problems for the author, as a practical matter a national church can indeed be problematic. There were numerous national churches established in Europe during and after the Reformation, and they were very good churches- for awhile. Eventually, the liberalization of their theology resulted in their becoming merely religious institutions of the Left, but ones that have the distinct advantage of receiving government funding.
But the establishment of a national religion doesn’t of necessity contemplate the establishment of a national church. Could there not be an formal establishment of religion in the land with the institution of the church as a separate entity? It is true that there could be many considerations in relation to such a matter: Would a confession of faith have to be adopted? If so, how much theological detail would be involved? If there is a high degree of theological diversity among the populace, whose views on these questions would prevail? These aren’t easy questions to answer, and in some situations the answers would likely be different from that of another situation.
In the case of the founding of the United States, an establishment of the Christian religion in even a very minimal way would have been extremely helpful, and would likely have caused little fuss even among those who had more Deistic leanings. By simply recognizing the Triune God in the Establishment Clause, the Framers of the Constitution could have established the Christian religion on the one hand, while prohibiting a national denomination on the other.
To be sure, an established religion is no panacea. Just ask Evangelical Christians in the United Kingdom, where, in spite of the establishment of the Christian religion, their religious speech is threatened while at the same time Sharia law is being promoted. Nonetheless, there are clear benefits to such an establishment. For example, the silly fights we routinely have in the U.S. with regard to the role of religion in public life would be dramatically different. There would be no grounds for militant secularism to demand displays of the Ten Commandments and such like to be removed from public buildings.
There is, of course, a much more important matter involved here than just debates about speech and public displays. It is the principle of the “crown rights” of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the principle that individuals, Kings, and nations are obliged to recognize the King of Kings. Dr. William Young says this: “The Psalms contain abundant evidence as to the rights and duties of the magistrate in a Christian state. This is a prominent feature of the messianic Psalms. Kings and judges of the earth are instructed not only to serve the Lord with fear, but also to kiss the Son, lest he be angry, Psalm 2:10‑12.”
This idea is rather foreign to our generation, having had the “virtues” of Pluralism spoon fed to it for so long. And the implementation of such an idea in our present circumstance is a moot point, as Young would concede. It presupposes a substantially Christian people. But while our present circumstances would prohibit its implementation, the circumstances in the late 18th century were far different. And an opportunity was lost.