Liberating the Nations: Biblical Principles of Government, Education, Economics, & Politics by Stephen K. McDowell & Mark A. Beliles
“To the degree that nations have applied the principles of the Bible, is the degree to which those nations have prospered, been free, and acted justly.”
With all that has been happening in our country and local communities in 2020, one of the questions being asked is: which is of greater value to us as a society – freedom or safety/security? Can we have both, or must one be sacrificed for the sake of the other? One of my favorite books for youth that I’ve written about is The Giver by Lois Lowy, a book that explores this dilemma.
Liberating the Nations is another book that I believe is relevant and helpful in today’s climate. The questions explored and discussed in this book are essentially:
- Is it possible for a nation to be really free?
- What is a Christian Nation?
- Can such a thing ever exist, and if so, how is one to be built?
It has long been debated whether the United States is a Christian nation. What does this term even mean? The writers of this book explain what it means to be a Christian nation. First, a Christian Nation is not one in which Christianity is the state or majority religion, nor does it mean that the majority of the population are necessarily Christians, nor does it mean a nation that is governed by a church or ecclesiastical body. A Christian Nation is one that is founded on Biblical truths and Christian principles, and in which the laws and institutions reflect a Christian worldview.
Most of the nations of the world have certain desires in common, those being: Liberty/Freedom, Peace and Justice, and Prosperity. Of course how these terms are defined and how each individual country goes about achieving these goals varies. The authors identify the fact that, “Every nation is built upon some religion or philosophy of life.” How the leaders and people in a society view God and man will determine how they go about pursuing these goals, and to what extent they will succeed.
Logic would say that good men will make good laws, and evil men will make evil laws. With that in mind, “Governments depend upon men more than men depend upon governments. If men are good, the government cannot be bad…[on the other hand] the best government in ill hands can do nothing great or good.” While some people would like to believe that man is inherently good, the Bible teaches that the heart of man is “deceitful and desperately wicked,” and that “there is no one righteous, no not one.” The internal is causative to the external, so “the external affairs of a nation are a reflection of the condition of the hearts of the people.” If this is the case, where are we to find good law-makers and how can good governments be established? Government and laws do not change men or make them “good”, they can only dictate behavior externally. Only the gospel of Christ can truly change the hearts of men, therefore it is also able to change a society or a nation, because societies are made up of men. The authors observe that,
“The Bible teaches and history confirms that to the degree that a nation applies the principles of the Word of God to all aspects of the society is the degree to which that nation obtains freedom and prosperity.”
More government, rules, restrictions, or penalties will not create a freer, happier, more prosperous nation. What is required is prayer, repentance, and the inward change of the hearts of individual citizens through the working of God by His Word. God works in individuals, changing lives from the inside out. The Gospel message and the truths of Scripture apply in all spheres of life, not just one’s personal spiritual or even church life, but to the social/civil spheres as well. Reform that occurs with one man or woman will affect change in his or her family. As families are affected positively, changes will take place in the local community establishments such as the churches, schools, and businesses. As these experience change, it will extend out to the city and state, and eventually the national level.
As we have seen in history and even at the present time, many things can occur that can threaten the well-being and stability of a country, from natural disasters, to threats of war and acts of terrorism, to disease pandemics. A society or nation cannot stand up under pressure without a strong, solid foundation of thought and character. Sadly, I think we can see that the foundation that was once solid in the United States of America, has gradually been weakened over the past several generations. The authors of Liberating the Nations begin by presenting seven foundational principles that form a Christian nation, and which were key ideas in the founding of the United States of America. Bear with me as I provide a brief explanation of each, as many readers are likely not familiar with how these ideas are related to the founding of our country:
- Self-Government. You must be able to rule yourself before you can properly and effectively rule others. The more internally self-governed an individual is, the less external government he needs. For example, if a child is taught that he should be kind, and that yelling at or hitting his brother is unkind, if he takes that to heart and holds himself to that principle, then he will resist treating his brother unkindly and will not need to be disciplined or punished for unkind behavior. The basis of self-government cannot simply be Self, because as we stated above, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. The standard for right and wrong used to govern one’s behavior must be one that is always perfect, is not arbitrary or subject to opinion, and never changes – the Word of God.
- Voluntary Union or Covenant. A community of people becomes united by common interests, goals, and desires. Individuals should not be compelled to join or unite for a cause or purpose by force or fear. Strong bonds begin and are demonstrated in the home, with the commitment of a man and woman to the marriage covenant. Voluntarily uniting with others can also occur in schools, churches, clubs, businesses and other organizations, as well as levels of government. It is good and healthy for people to find others they can join with for a common goal or purpose. There’s a saying that goes, “If you are not committed to anyone, then no one is committed to you.” The authors state, “Stronger internal bonds within a people will produce a stronger union. A people working together in union will bring a great increase to the strength of a country.”
- Individuality. The principle of individuality acknowledges that every person has value and worth as an image-bearer of God. While “all men are created equal” with regard to their right to life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness, this is not to say that everyone is or should be the same. We see diversity in God’s creation – He made no two snowflakes alike! In the same way, every person is born with a unique set of features, qualities, skills, talents, and character traits that set us apart, and that make our life meaningful. Likewise, each of us has individual responsibility for our choices and actions, both before God and our fellow man. We live in a time where individuals tend to look outside of themselves for someone or something to blame for their misfortunes or even immoral behavior. People want the freedom to do what they wish, but no one wants to be held accountable for their actions and the effects they have on others.
- Property or Conscience. Each person has certain personal property that he has exclusive rights to and control of. Physical/material property includes things such as money, goods, land, work, or even your physical body. But property is not merely external; it is (and more importantly) internal as well. These include things like your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, ideas. Everything we possess comes from God, and we are required to be good stewards of them. James Madison said our natural, God-given rights are just as much our property as our material possessions, and that a just government should protect these rights. He also stated that “Conscience is the most sacred of all property,” that we should protect our conscience and should never be forced to violate it. Just as our government should protect our physical property (the possession, use, and disposal of it), it should also protect our rights to our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas. He said, “Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.”
- Education. In order to be free, happy and prosperous, a society must be well-educated. An ignorant people will quickly become an enslaved people. We can see many examples throughout history of society and life improving as people had greater access to education, became literate, and were able to think for themselves. But education is about more than merely information. It involves morals and principles. It includes teaching Christian character. It’s about knowing how to use information for good and not evil. Every government has a view or philosophy of education. The philosophy of the government is what will be taught in a government-run (ie. public) school system. If the government does not uphold Christian values, we cannot expect our children to be taught them in the public schools.
- Morality or Christian Character. As stated above, essential to a proper, good education is the instruction of character. Of what benefit is it to a society to have intelligent, knowledgeable individuals if their moral character is defective? We have all heard of the psychopathic killer who is a textbook genius. An evil genius is more dangerous than an evil moron. It has been said that a person’s character is known by how they act when no one is looking. The writers observe, “No nation can long endure without virtue or morality in the people…Everyone’s fundamental rights are threatened by a lack of morality in the people.” And Ben Franklin stated, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” The authors go on to give examples of how a moral citizenry ensures the freedom and prosperity of its society. In a moral society, there is greater freedom, less fear, fewer laws needed, and greater prosperity.
- Faith in God and His Word. If morality is to be taught, what are the standards of right and wrong to be based upon? What is to be the source or foundation for the laws of the land? Character traits that are fundamental to a thriving nation such as kindness, honesty, diligence, justice, mercy, and loyalty are Godly traits that derive from our Creator. Likewise, our fundamental rights are given to us by our Creator, not by a man or government. Every nation is based upon some religion, even if it doesn’t have a state religion. “Christianity brings not only individual, but also civil, liberty.”
As Biblical ideas and principles in American civil life and education were replaced with unbiblical views of evolution and secular humanism, our society began to adopt pagan ideas of man, government, and welfare. In contrast to the seven Biblical principles listed above, we can identify certain problems that are evident in our nation today:
- Lack of Self-Government: People don’t want to take responsibility for their life or be held accountable for their actions. They depend on the government to provide for them, and to control them, look to the media to tell them how to think or behave, and are certainly not governed by God’s Word.
- Lack of Unity: There is no common ground, beliefs, faith, values, or goals. We are a nation divided by so many issues, many of which are not worth dividing over.
- Sameness: There is a lack of tolerance, recognition and appreciation for the uniqueness of individuals with regard to differences in roles, views, opinions, preferences, and beliefs.
- Violation of rights: Little by little, our freedoms and property rights are being threatened and infringed upon, including our freedom of speech, expression, and worship, our rights to provide for and protect ourselves and our property.
- Degradation of education: The public school system has turned schools into institutes of indoctrination of ungodly principles, secular thought, and political agendas.
- Decline of religion; rejection of God and His Word: In many churches, solid Biblical doctrine has been replaced with moralizing and self-help advice, while the true gospel of Christ which leads to repentance has been rejected in favor of a social or prosperity gospel.
- Lack of Moral Standards: Every man has become a law unto himself, without regard to how his or her behavior affects others.
In an Election Sermon in 1799, Dr. Jedidiah Morse observed:
“In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief or the corruption of its doctrine, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism…Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”
In the chapters that follow, the authors take us through a brief historical overview of how Christianity influenced cultures and brought more freedom, from the Protestant Reformation, to the westward movement, the discovery and settlement of the New World, and the founding of the United States. They then discuss how positive change can be brought about by applying Biblical principles in family life, the church, education, government, economics, the media and press, and extending even to foreign policies.
The authors propose that in Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, the idea is that, as the gospel went forth, it would change individuals, making them Christ’s disciples, and as a result, nations would become Christian as well. While worldwide missionary efforts from America have taken Christianity to other parts of the world such as Asia and Africa, why has the growth of Christianity not changed those governments and brought more liberty in many of these countries? There are three God-ordained institutions: the Family, the Church, and Civil Government. Christians believe they should govern their families and churches according to God’s Word, and honor him in those spheres, so why doesn’t this extend to the local government? God gave us civil government for our benefit. Shouldn’t we desire for it then to be the best reflection of God that it can be? Only as biblically self-governed individuals take on civil roles will this be possible. But a dualistic mindset that separates church and state keeps Christians out of public leadership and influence. As a result I fear that the church has abandoned its responsibility to influence and have a positive effect in the sphere of civil government.
The authors conclude by offering some practical steps with suggested social and political action for bringing about positive social change in our nation. I don’t know that I agree with all of these recommendations, and some of them may seem extreme or even impossible, but it has been said that, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” However, change cannot be imposed from the top down; it has been attempted many times throughout history but never results in a free and happy people. If any real effective change for the good is to take place, it must begin with the individual.
I recommend Liberating the Nations to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the foundations of the United States of America, a perspective on where we are today and how we got here, and a rekindled hope for its future.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” – Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911–2004)
What do you think? Is the United States a Christian Nation? Can we restore it to what it was intended to be? Or should the original plan be abandoned as irrelevant and unfeasible for the 21st century?
Other resources about America’s Christian history, founders, and government:
- Providence Foundation
- The Foundation for American Christian Education (F.A.C.E.)
- WallBuilders – an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes (wallbuilders.com)
- Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org)
- God at Work: The Story of Liberty
- America’s Providential History by Mark Beliles
- The Making of American California: A Providential Approach by Dorothy Dimmick