The following is from Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution:
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
This is the only place in the Constitution where “good behavior” is found. Government is always about authority (Who’s in charge?) and ethics (What are the rules/laws?). According to Romans 13, “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior … for it is a minister of God to you for good” (vv. 3-4). What’s true for those who are under rulers—“good behavior”—rulers are also bound to do what is “good.” And what is the standard to determine what is “good behavior”? Paul quotes the law (vv. 8-11). Civil rulers are bound by God’s law.
An argument for the Constitution’s absence of specific references to God, the Christian religion, and the law of God is, according to Jasper Adams in his The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States, that the “Constitution of the United States was formed directly for political, and not for religious objects.” Of course, this contention is plausible considering the existence of state constitutions and an acknowledgment of only delegated powers granted to the newly formulated Federal Constitution (see the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution). Philip Schaff offers the following apologetic for the absence of reference to “Providence,” to the Creator, to nature and nature’s God, and to the Supreme Being:
The absence of the names of God and Christ, in a purely political and legal document, no more proves denial or irreverence than the absence of those names in a mathematical treatise, or the statutes of a bank or railroad corporation. The title “Holiness” does not make the Pope of Rome any holier than he is…. The book of Esther and the Song of Solomon are undoubtedly productions of devout worshippers of Jehovah; and yet the name of God does not occur once in them.
The argument is that theology did not draw the delegates to Philadelphia in 1787. Instead, they came to debate the best practical form of civil government. While the argument might seem plausible, it does not stand up under scrutiny since, as William Lee Miller notes, existing “formal legal instruments—state constitutions—often included substantive statements reflecting a collective piety: ‘The people of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good providence of God in permitting them to enjoy a free government, do’ (Connecticut, 1818). ‘We the people of the state of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government (1874).’”
The Federal Constitution purports to be neutral toward religion. But neutrality toward religion is impossible as the Supreme Court and Congress have shown, ruling against religion in general and Christianity in particular numerous times even though the state constitutions were specific when it came to religion in general and Christianity in particular.
The absence of any direct reference to God in the national Constitution is one of its biggest flaws. Its failure to condemn slavery is its second major defect, even though there were attempts to abolish it through legislative means. Daniel Dorchester, in his comprehensive work on Christianity in the United States, makes this observation:
It seems unpardonable in a great constitutional compact, intended to bind together a people among whom the religious element had been so prominent, and whose history had been marked by religious heroism and remarkable providential interpositions, that the Almighty Ruler of the universe should not be acknowledged, not even directly alluded to, except in the date (Anno Domini) of the instrument. But this was in keeping with other acts of that convention, in which, during the entire session of about four months, prayer was not once offered; in the manifold perplexities of their deliberations never seeking wisdom from God. This was chiefly owing to the influence of French infidelity then tainting many of the leading minds of the nation. The unreligious mind of that time was misled by atheistical abstractions, discarding moral ideas and moral obligations in civil government, regarding it as a human composition, deriving its authority from the people and not from God. They followed the theory of Rousseau, according to which the foundation of all government is in a “social compact,” and “the consent of the governed” was regarded as the source of civil obligation. They failed to see that such government must necessarily be weak and imperfect. Founded on the shifting sands of human caprice and passion, it could possess only a fluctuating authority, not ruling by the enduring power of moral obligations which press upon the conscience, and touch “a throne of order and law above the range of mere humanity.”
Christianity in the United States
Deep in the recesses of long-forgotten dusty library shelves, you can find books that clobber the liars of history. Most of these books have been removed from library shelves. Today’s Christian critics rarely, if ever, make mention of them. Of course they don’t. They play the odds. They know that millions of Americans have never heard of these once prominent history books. Who’s going to question a representative from the ACLU with Daniel Dorchester’s nearly 800-page Christianity in the United States since there are few people who even know it exists?Buy Now
Dorchester was not alone in his assessment of the secularization of the Constitution. At the time of the Constitution’s ratification, several Christian organizations noticed that a reference to God in the Preamble was omitted:
Two small Presbyterian bodies, the Associated Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, decided to abstain from voting [to ratify the Constitution] until the Constitution was so amended as to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and the subserviency of the state to the kingdom of Christ.
The absence of a direct reference to God in the Constitution, even though it borrowed several biblical norms as noted in my book The Case for America’s Christian Heritage (forthcoming) and America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, has impacted American politics and law. Only time will tell what further damage will be brought upon our Republic as we continue to rule independently of God’s law and claim the final authority is either “we the people” (50% of the votes + 1) or the decision of five unelected members of the Supreme Court.
In 1763, John Adams understood and described the problem in his “An Essay on Man’s Lust for Power”:
No simple Form of Government, can possibly secure Men against the Violences of Power. Simply Monarchy will soon mould itself into Depotism. Aristocracy will soon commence an Oligarchy, and Democracy, will soon degenerate into an Anarchy, such an Anarchy that every man will do what is right in His own Eyes [Judges 17:6], and no Man’s life or Property or Reputation or Liberty will be secure and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral Virtues, and Intellectual Abilities, all the Powers of Wealth, Beauty, Wit, and Science, to the wanton Pleasures, the capricious Will, and the execrable Cruelty of one or a very few.
In the final analysis, no matter what the Constitution states, ultimately “We the people” are the ones who decide. Keep in mind, however, that the Constitution could declare that God is sovereign over our nation’s civil governments, and the people could ignore this truth. All 50 states mention God in some way or another—“Almighty God” is the most used phrase—and yet these states do not rule in terms of God’s sovereignty today. For example, Colorado’s constitution declares “profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” and yet it supports homosexual marriage and the right to kill unborn children.
Israel received God’s law directly from on high, and yet the religious and civil leaders, along with the people generally, repeatedly acted contrary to the divine demands. Even so, it was God’s law-word that served as the standard for judgment that sent the nation into captivity and brought them back full of repentance.
America’s original founding was rooted deeply in the things of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. The original charter that was given to Sir Walter Raleigh by Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century was to establish “the true Christian faith.” John Rolfe at Jamestown sought to “advance the Honor of God and to propagate his Gospel.” The faithful Christians who drafted the Mayflower Compact stated that their mission was “for the Glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith.” Supreme Court Justice Brewer (1837-1910) confirmed these facts and many more that were gleaned from our nation’s original documents and referenced in his 1905 book The United States: A Christian Nation.
In no charter or constitution is there anything to even suggest that any other than the Christian is the religion of this country.… In short, there is no charter or constitution that is either infidel, agnostic, or anti-Christian. Wherever there is a declaration in favor of any religion it is of the Christian.
The United States: A Christian Nation
Drawing from a wealth of original sources, such as the colonial charters, state constitutions, and legal statutes of early American history, Justice Brewer makes the undeniable case for the Christian character of this nation, and encourages his listeners to preserve and contribute to America’s Christianity in the face of adversity. Brewer's landmark work studies declarations of the court, the recognition of Sunday, Chaplains, colonial charters, civil liberty, charitable organizations, and much more.Buy Now
Even some of our nation’s Founders who did not identify as Christians could not escape the impact the Bible had on our nation’s founding and the moral precepts that held the fledgling nation together. America’s Christian heritage is writ large in its state Constitutions, its charters, laws, symbols, and repeated reliance on the overruling providence of God. This is why Justice James Kent (1763-1847) could state that people need religion and morality “to bind society together” so self-government could prevail: “The people of this State [New York], in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity as the rule of their faith and practice…. We are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].”
It’s not enough, however, to relive history. There’s much work before us to reset the foundation stones with a firm reliance on Divine Providence. We need to heed the words of Benjamin Franklin who quoted Psalm 127:1 during the drafting process of the Constitution: “[E]xcept the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it,” and “that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.”
The principles that were true and necessary centuries ago for building nations are equally true and necessary today.
A Sermon, Preached in St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, February 13th, 1833, before the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of South Carolina. 2nd ed. (Charleston, SC: A.E. Miller, 1833), 14 note. Daniel L. Dreisbach, “God and the Constitution: Reflections on Selected Nineteenth-Century Commentaries on References to the Deity and the Christian Religion in the States Constitution,” 28. This paper is unpublished.
Philip Schaff, Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religious Liberty and Its Practical Effects (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 40.
William Lee Miller, The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), 109.
Quoted in R. Kemp Morton in God in the Constitution (Nashville, TN: Cokesbury Press, 1933), 72.
 People v. Ruggles (N.Y.) (1811).