Recently, our country celebrated its 234th birthday, acknowledging its birth not with the ratification of our Constitution in 1787 but with the penning and signing of the Declaration of Independence. As you read through this latter document, we find some high and lofty rhetoric regarding the equality of all men who have “been endowed by their Creator the inalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Three other times, a reference to ‘God.’
Repeatedly, one reads of how the Founding Fathers embraced the principles of Christianity. Yet, some questioned the Bible’s revelation on the nature of Christ. Look at Benjamin’s Franklin’s thoughts in a letter to Ezra Stiles:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of who you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts as to his divinity (The Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. L. Jesse Lemisch, New York: Signet Classic, 1961; quoted in Jesus Made in America by Stephen Nichols, Downers Grove: IVP, 2008).
John Adams, the second President of the United States, was a Unitarian.
Adams was raised a Congregationalist, but ultimately rejected many fundamental doctrines of conventional Christianity, such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, becoming a Unitarian. In his youth, Adams’ father urged him to become a minister, but Adams refused, considering the practice of law to be a more noble calling. Although he once referred to himself as a "church going animal," Adams’ view of religion overall was rather ambivalent: He recognized the abuses, large and small, that religious belief lends itself to, but he also believed that religion could be a force for good in individual lives and in society at large. His extensive reading (especially in the classics), led him to believe that this view applied not only to Christianity, but to all religions [source].
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was an interesting character. Jon Butler describes Jefferson:
Jefferson rejected the divinity of Christ, but he believed that Christ was a deeply interesting and profoundly important moral or ethical teacher and it was in Christ’s moral and ethical teachings that Jefferson was particularly interested. And so that’s what attracted him to the figure of Christ was the moral and ethical teachings as described in the New Testament. But he was not an evangelical and he was not a deeply pious individual.
You see, there is a difference between holding to the principles of Christianity and surrendering to Christ! As we have addressed in an earlier post, you cannot separate Christ from true, biblical Christianity! We must differentiate and distinguish (and yes, discern) between the great American civil religion which permits religious freedom and true, subversive biblical Christianity which surrenders all personal rights to Christ alone.