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The Rushmore Report: The Faith of George Washington

Excerpt from Church and State: Religion and Politics

By Dr. Jim Denison

George Washington became president of a nation still bitterly divided by its War for Independence. When the Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775 with “the shot heard round the world,” at least a fourth of the colonists supported England. Patriots and Loyalists maintained tensions and bitterness for years after the conflict was ended.

One nation?

It is a surprise to many to learn that Washington became president of a nation which was still not sure it was a nation. In April, 1507, Martin Waldseemuller, professor of cosmography at the University of Saint-Die, produced the first map showing the Western Hemisphere. He called it “America,” after Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine merchant. But from the very beginning, it was a question much argued whether the country which emerged on these shores would be one nation or many.

The Declaration of Independence dropped the word “nation” from its text, with all references made to the separate states instead. Its final heading reads: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The resolution which adopted the declaration states, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Many felt that independence did not create one nation, but thirteen. Interestingly, the word “nation” or “national” appears nowhere in the Constitution. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson warned soberly that “a single consolidated government would become the most corrupt government on earth.” New England threatened secession at the end of Jefferson’s first term over his economic and political stances. His response: “Whether we remain in our confederacy, or break into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I do not believe very important to the happiness of either part.” And he added, “Separate them if it be better.”

Under God?

Washington also became president during a time of enormous conflict regarding the role of the church in the state. Protestant ministers cried out against “foreign Catholics” and warned of the dangers of electing “papal loyalists” to public office. “No Popery” banners flew in parts of New England. Following the constitutional decision to avoid any state supported church, many were concerned that the nation’s new leadership not endorse a particular denomination or faith tradition.

Despite such concerns, our first president made his personal faith commitment clear. He was a lifelong Episcopalian, worshiping regularly at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. He rode ten miles to church (two or three hours on horseback) whenever weather permitted, an example which both shames and encourages us today. John Marshall (Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Washington’s biographer) described his as a “sincere believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout man.” He believed in God the creator, arguing that “it is impossible to account for the creation of the universe, without the agency of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. If there had been no God, mankind would have been obliged to imagine one.”

He trusted God as his helper. Washington encouraged his troops during the Revolutionary War: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own . . . The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army . . . Let us therefore rely on the goodness of the cause and aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”

Immediately following his first inauguration, President Washington and other officials rode to St. Paul’s Chapel on Fulton Street and Broadway for a religious service. However, since most of the crowd could not fit into the sanctuary, the president suggested that they walk seven blocks to hear prayers offered by Episcopal Bishop Samuel Provoost, just named Chaplain of the Senate. This was the only time a religious service has been an official part of a presidential inauguration.

On October 3, 1789, General Washington issued the first thanksgiving proclamation in national history:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . . Now, therefore, I do recommend . . . that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are now blessed . . . And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . to promote the knowledge and practice of one true religion and virtue.

On March 11, 1792, he wrote: “I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that Agency which was so often manifested during our revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”

In his farewell address (September 19, 1796), President Washington made clear his belief that religion is indispensable for the morality essential to America:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and cherish them . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.

And yet our first president was a firm supporter of religious freedom. Writing to a general convention of the Episcopal Church in 1789, he stated, “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshiping Almighty God agreeably to their experiences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”

About the Author

James C. Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on culture and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian “think tank” designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009. Dr. Denison writes a cultural commentary available at www.denisonforum.org/subscribe. His free daily commentary is distributed around the world to 85,000 subscribers in over 200 countries.

Total Surrender

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘See,
we have left all and followed You.’”
– Mark 10:28

Excerpt from My Utmost for His Highest – By Oswald Chambers</em>Our Lord replies to this statement of Peter by saying that this surrender is “for My sake and the gospel’s” (10:29). It was not for the purpose of what the disciples themselves would get out of it. Beware of surrender that is motivated by personal benefits that may result. For example, “I’m going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.” Being delivered from sin and being made holy are the result of being right with God, but surrender resulting from this kind of thinking is certainly not the true nature of Christianity. Our motive for surrender should not be for any personal gain at all. We have become so self-centered that we go to God only for something from Him, and not for God Himself. It is like saying, “No, Lord, I don’t want You; I want myself. But I do want You to clean me and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I want to be on display in Your showcase so I can say, ‘This is what God has done for me.’” Gaining heaven, being delivered from sin, and being made useful to God are things that should never even be a consideration in real surrender. Genuine total surrender is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.

Where does Jesus Christ figure in when we have a concern about our natural relationships? Most of us will desert Him with this excuse – “Yes, Lord, I heard you call me, but my family needs me and I have my own interests. I just can’t go any further” (see Luke 9:57-62). “Then,” Jesus says, “you cannot be My disciple” (see Luke 14:26-33).

True surrender will always go beyond natural devotion. If we will only give up, God will surrender Himself to embrace all those around us and will meet their needs, which were created by our surrender. Beware of stopping anywhere short of total surrender to God. Most of us have only a vision of what this really means, but have never truly experienced it.

What God Would Say to Rafael Robello

On March 24, Germanwings flight 4U9525 went down in the French Alps, taking the lives of 150 passengers and crew members. As of this writing, details are still emerging about the 28-year-old co-pilot who took the plane down. The flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf took the lives of 72 Germans, 35 Spaniards, and other passengers from The United States, Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico. It is hard to imagine the horrific fear that must have gripped the hearts of each person on board as they saw their pending deaths before them. It is hard to imagine a more senseless and tragic loss. And it is hard to imagine a man who was more fortunate than Rafael Robello.

Mr. Robello is a Brazilian who lives in Barcelona. He was due in Germany for business that fateful day. But the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that because Robello waited too long to purchase his airline ticket, the price jumped to a level that was more than he wanted to pay. So he changed flights. An export manager at a tea company, Rafael learned of the crash when a client who knew he had planned the trip to Germany called him on the phone. “He said he wanted to know if I was alive,” he told O Globo. “I started shaking. I’m still shaking,” said the grateful Brazilian.

Just a few hours earlier, the tea trader had called his German client and requested to move the meeting to a later date. The client agreed to the postponement. “You saved my life,” Robello told him later by email. “That was the only flight option and it was all confirmed, but when I went back on the internet to buy the ticket, the price had gone up and, also, I realized that I would be rushing to be on time for the meeting,” he continued. “So I decided to change the date and go with another company.” Robello’s mother was with him at the time, celebrating her birthday. Hearing of her son’s “luck,” she told the paper, “It was a great gift.”

There are about seven billion people in the world, but none was as thankful for something he didn’t do that fateful day than Rafael Robello. So what would God say to Mr. Robello? I think he would say at least four things. “First, I’m obviously not through with you yet. Find your purpose. Second, view each day as a gift from me. Third, learn to value life as you never have before. And fourth, capture every moment you can and make them count.”

If you’re like me, you thank God for the blessings he has given you. But do you also thank him for the dangers, temptations, and attacks you never even knew were there? What God would say to Rafael Robello, God would say to you. “I’m not through with you yet. View each day as a gift from me. Learn to value life as you never have before. Capture every moment and make it count.”

Don’t wait until you barely miss a flight that goes down in the French Alps to appreciate life. Cherish every day and every breath. One day you will be booked on a flight that lands in eternity. Until then, seek God, love God, follow God, and treasure every moment. Rafael Robello is blessed to still be alive. But so are you.

Reaching Kids God’s Way

Where Barna and Dobson Agree – Dr. James Dobson is perhaps the most well-known expert on family matters, from a Christian, conservative perspective. George Barna is perhaps the most well-known expert on data concerning virtually everything that matters in the modern church and Christianity as a whole. Together, they address the issue of reaching our children for Christ. And together, they come to a clear and unwavering conclusion: reach them as soon as possible. The Bible famously says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “When you construct a plan for introducing your children to Jesus,” Dobson says, “you may want to make your motto ‘the earlier the better.’” Barna has produced data that concludes that children ages five to 13 have a 32 percent probability of accepting Christ as their Savior. That rate drops to just four percent for kids ages 14 to 18. And for those who are not yet believers by 18, their chance of conversion as an adult at any age is just six percent.

We must provide spiritual training for our children at the earliest opportunities. Dobson claims the most important age may be five. Yes, five. That is the age, he says, when children’s hearts become fertile soil for the seeds of the gospel to be planted. Do you have young children or grandchildren? It is never too early to make a difference in a child’s life. But it can become too late too soon. That is why the Bible tells us to “train a child in the way he should go.” Pray for your child or grandchild today. Take their eternal choices as children very seriously. That is the only way to reach kids God’s way.

Lessons from the First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening began in the 1730s and lasted to about 1743. Though fueled by the preaching of such men as Jonathan Edwards, historian Sydney Ahlstrom said the Great Awakening “was still to come ushered in by the Grand Itinerant, George Whitefield.” Whitefield arrived in Georgia in 1738 and returned in 1739 for a second visit to the Colonies, from Philadelphia and New York and back to the South. In 1740 he visited New England, and Ahlstrom said, “At every place he visited, the consequences were large and tumultuous.”

Pastoral styles began to change. In the late colonial period, pastors read their sermons, mostly theologically dense, but lacking application. Men such as Whitefield and Edwards had little interest in merely engaging parishioners’ intellects. They sought an emotional response. The Awakening became the first revival among African Americans.

The First Great Awakening was a response to the national religion of England. In late seventeen century England, fighting between religious and political groups came to a halt with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, an event which established the Church of England as the reigning church of the country. Other religions, such as Catholicism, Judaism, and Puritanism, were suppressed. This led to stability, stability led to complacency, and complacency led to a dry religion.

That is the lesson of the First Great Awakening. Stability, complacency, and dryness are the enemies of revival. Colonists came to realize that religious power resided in their own hands rather than in the hands of the Church of England. Let this be a warning to us. We live in a day when many evangelicals think the key to revival is in the White House. But that has never been the seed to national revival. The problem (and solution) has never resided in the White House, but in God’s House. What if we could get everyone in government to go along with our views (pro-life among them)? What if church attendance rose from under 30 percent to 90 percent across the land? What if everyone was in church on Sundays? That would give us three unintended consequences: stability, complacency, and a dry religion.

The lesson of the First Great Awakening is not to get everyone to go along with our religion. The lesson is for true believers to return to a revivalist, heart-faith. Would that result in more people filling the pews on Sundays? Sure, it would. But don’t get the result confused with the solution. If America is to have any hope, if she is to experience another Great Awakening, it will not come because we got more people into our churches through clever strategies and pyrotechnics that compete with a secular rock concert. Revival will come the same way it always has. It is not a matter of the brain, but of the heart. It is not a matter of mind change, but life change. It won’t begin in the White House, so quit praying that way. It might start in God’s House, so start praying that way. But more likely, it will begin in your house.

A Life Worthy of our Calling

By Steve Long, M.S., M.A., LPC – In his letter to the church of Ephesus, Paul writes about how new believers can live a life worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Part of the conduct to which we are to adhere is walking in unity, truth, holiness, and love, as we walk as the wise (Eph. 5). Paul then describes how families should conduct themselves, broaching the controversial subject of submission. This is couched in his treatise on the responsibilities of wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants, and masters (5:22-6:9).

In order for us to walk in such a way as to display God’s wisdom, we are required to submit our will to others, as illustrated by Jesus and described in various texts of the New Testament. Paul says we are to submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God (5:2-11). He uses the word hupakas, a military term that means to “rank under.” What a great illustration of how we should live out our lives with others! Many sermons have been preached on the subject of submission, generally from the text, “Wives submit to your husbands” (5:22). This has led to much debate among scholars and believers, but if we walk in wisdom and live lives worthy of our calling, the most practical way to do this is through our most intimate relationships, which are with immediate family. It is with our families that others see how we love one another, and in the setting of the church unbelievers observe how believers deal with crises, love one another, and relate to difficult situations. There is so much potential to demonstrate wisdom through submission and to follow other principles of the gospel, such as love, sacrifice, honesty, and fairness.

So what are some practical ways in which we can walk in Christ fearfully, while submitting to others? Paul gives us multiple examples (Philippians 2:1-8). Become servants to others as Christ did. Be like minded with Christ Jesus and look after the interests of others. But we must first submit to the Holy Spirit. It is easier to submit to others when we have already submitted our own will to the Spirit and aligned our lives with God’s purpose and plans. Then we must not demand our own way, doing things out of selfish ambition or hold tightly to our rights and privileges. Finally, we are to speak the truth with one another, always humbling ourselves so we can be straight with one another while being mature enough to handle criticism and correction without taking offense.

Submission is not surrender, withdrawal, or lack of intimacy. Rather, submission is a mutual commitment filled with compassion and cooperation with others. This is what allows believers to live lives worthy of our calling.

Bible Verse for July

PSALM 33:12-14, 16 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man . . . The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.”

Life in the Slow Lane

By Dr. Mark Denison — Some amazing things happened on this day in history – May 20. In 2013 an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 people. In 1989 Chinese authorities declared martial law, setting off the Tiananmen Square massacre. In 1983 the U.S. had its first AIDS diagnosis. In 1932 Amelia Earhart took off from Newfoundland on the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic by a female pilot. In 1920 a radio station in Montreal produced the first broadcast in North America. In 1916, 1917, and 1918 the town of Codell, Kansas was hit by tornados. In 1902 Cuba gained independence from the U.S. But all of that pales in comparison to the event of May 20, 1899. The place was New York City. Taxi driver Jacob German was arrested. The crime? Speeding. Mr. German was ticketed for racing down Lexington Street at an amazing 12 miles per hour. Yes, you read that right. He was driving 12 miles per hour.

I’ll say it for you. Times have changed! I can’t imagine a world that moves so slowly that 12 miles per hour would be considered illegal. But maybe that wasn’t so bad. Think about it like this. At the legal speed limit of 5 miles per hour, it would take 50 days to drive from New York to Los Angeles, driving 10 hours a day. So guess what happened in 1899? People didn’t drive across the country, or even the state. Eighty percent of the people never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born. So guess what that meant? Neighbors knew each other. People watched after each other. Crime was low, people stayed married, folks went to church, and they did life together. In 1899 everyone knew his neighbor. The other day, I was walking my dog. Passing a neighbor, I waved and said “Good morning.” He snarled at me and just kept walking. We live life too fast. We cook in a microwave, drive in the fast lane, and eat fast food. I take you back to the words of Scripture. The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It never says “Speed up and know that I am God.” You and I have a choice. We can speed along life like the taxi drive of 1899. Or we can slow down, experience God, and experience life. May 20 is an interesting date in history. Make it your day in history – today. Slow down. Be still. Experience God.

The War Within

By Dr. Mark Denison — In his book of philosophical and satirical stories titled Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. But then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons. But then the karate instructor said I had to start paying him five dollars a lesson. So I just went back to paying the bully.” Isn’t that like most of us? We figure it’s easier to pay the bully than learn how to fight. Tony Campolo said, “Each of us comes into the world with a predisposition to live in such a way as to inflict pain on those who love us most, and to offend the God who cares for us infinitely.” The Apostle Paul said it like this: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

There is a war raging in all of us. To deny that is to surrender to the enemy. It is not a bad thing to admit your daily battles, but a good thing. Can you imagine an army winning a war that it claims does not exist? How do you win the war within? I love the story of the man who had two dogs, one black and the other white. Other than their colors, nothing separated them. They were the same breed, size, build, and age. And they liked to fight. Each dog won half the battles. They were complete equals. The dogs’ owners starting taking bets with the townsmen on which dog would win the next fight. Every time, the dogs’ owner picked the right dog. Someone finally asked him, “Since both dogs win half the time, how do you always know which one will win the next fight?” The man confessed his secret. “The dog that wins the next fight will be the one I fed that morning.” That is the key to winning the war within. I don’t know your battles and you don’t know mine. But I do know this. The victory doesn’t come by will power or sheer determination. The winner with be the one you feed the most. If you feed your addictions and temptations, they will win. But if you feast on the Word of God, prayer, and encouraging fellowship, you will discover the power you need to win. You are in a battle. There is a war within. You have two choices. You can either pay the bully or learn how to fight.

Bible Verse for June

PSALM 33:12-14, 16 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man . . . The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.”