Today, in the United States, it is Independence Day – July 4, 2010 – which is the 234th anniversary of the ratification and signing of the Declaration of Independence. I’ve been sharing with you some thoughts on the leadership of three of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
A word of caution: it has been vogue in the last couple of years to point out the anti-Christian nature of the Founding Fathers. Many contend that the Founding Fathers were, at best, Deists, and most certainly not Christians. The only proof given for these statements – from what I could find in my research – has been opinions and writings from the early 20th Century onward.
I’ll be using the words of the Founding Fathers themselves to show how their faith in Jesus Christ shaped their lives and leadership qualities.
Born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1735, John Adams later attended Harvard and began his career as a lawyer in the American colonies (ironically, he defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre). Early on he identified with the patriot cause and was elected as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. He helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence.
During the Revolutionary War he served in France and Holland in diplomatic roles, and helped negotiate the treaty of peace. From 1785 to 1788 he was minister to the Court of St. James's (England) before returning home and being elected Vice President under George Washington.
He was the son of a Congregationalist (Puritan) deacon and the grandson of a minister. He grew up in the Christian faith and did not depart from it (in spite of what some have tried to convince us in the early 20th Century).
His Christian faith is evident in his numerous writings and is clearly the foundation of his leadership in the founding of the United States.
1. The Holy Ghost Instrumental in the Founding of the United States
The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation. [Letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush, from Quincy, Massachusetts, dated December 21, 1809, from the original in our possession.]
It is rare to hear a non-clergyman expound on the virtues of the Holy Ghost. The reasons why are not apparent other than that I think the Holy Ghost tends to get left out of discussions of Christianity while God the Father and Jesus Christ draw all the attention. I suspect that this is intentional on the Holy Ghost’s part. He seems content to remain in the background, moving, prompting, and inspiring the faithful to carry out their callings.
John Adams was the Founding Father who recognized this like no other. In his letter to Benjamin Rush he reiterates that the founding of the United States was inspired and moved by the Holy Spirit. This is true because so many of the founders, along with the vast majority (in my opinion) of citizens were believers of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
2. Religion is Important to this World
Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company: I mean hell. [John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), Vol. X, p. 254, to Thomas Jefferson on April 19, 1817.]
This is not as strange as it sounds. In fact, the reason it may sound strange today is because, I believe, there has been a deliberate effort by some in the United States to remove religion – and Christianity in particular – from the mainstream of American culture.
In the 20th Century there has been a full-blown effort to shrug off the perceived trappings and weight of religion. This was sold to the American people as “liberty,” a word that resonates in the collective conscious of the American people.
But without religion, the path of American history loses its way. The United States of America was founded by men and women who believed in God – many of them believers in Jesus Christ. The founding documents and the letters and diary entries from the late 18th Century and into the 19th Century testify to this. They are replete with references to God and Jesus Christ.
To John Adams, religion was a way of life, not a philosophy to be followed. And to John Adams, the Christian religion was the standard by which all else is measured.
3. Christianity is the Standard
The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity. [John Adams, Works, Vol. III, p. 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.]
No other religion in the history of man ever had, as its basic principle, the death of God to save mankind. Sacrifice and love are the basic tenants of Christianity. And these tenants are clearly seen in the actions and words of the patriots who gave everything they had so that the United States could be born.
Most of the patriots had this in common – there was a Bible on their bookshelf that was taken down regularly and read.
4. The Bible Makes All the Difference
Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia (sic) – what a Paradise would this region be! [John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.]
I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world. [John Adams, Works, Vol. X, p. 85, to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813.]
The Bible was very important to John Adams. As a lawyer, John Adams had read many, many books. That the Bible was chief of all the books he read is a profound fact. It is clear from most, if not all, of John Adams writings that he read his Bible regularly. The Bible shaped who he was. It formed the bases for his leadership qualities.
And there is no doubt that John Adams was a great leader. He was the first Vice President of the United States, the second President of the United States, Ambassador to Great Britain and the Netherlands. He drafted the state constitution of Massachusetts, which was the most influential document of the Constitution of the United States.
John Adams is an example of what faith in Jesus Christ can do to a man in the area of leadership. In shapes his leadership skills in profound ways, especially in sacrifice, humbleness, and serving the great good of others.
There is also a lesson in what will happen to a Christian leader – you will be attacked for what you believe. Today, people say that Adams didn’t believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that he rejected the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and that he rejected the idea that God intervenes in the course of human events.
As I read what John Adams wrote, I see that these attacks are nothing more than false accusations of a great man who was instrumental in the founding of the United States of America. Like the Founding Fathers George Washington, Samuel Adams (a distant cousin) and others, John Adams’ leadership was shaped by his faith in Jesus Christ.
Men and women today do well to learn this lesson as they become the much-needed leaders the United States – and the world – needs today, 234 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
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