As we celebrate Thanksgiving-- a holiday for giving thanks to God for his many blessings-- it's also a time to remember America's Christian heritage.
Four hundred years ago, European settlers arrived in the new world with a revolutionary idea: to create a new nation based on the Bible.
The early colonists made a covenant with God and with one another and it's a covenant that America may have forgotten, but God has not.
Saints and Strangers
April, 1607-- English settlers land at Cape Henry, in what is today Virginia Beach, Va. They plant a cross and dedicate the new world to God.
Thirteen years later, the Pilgrims arrive in Plymouth, Mass., and establish a base for missions. Christian settlers up and down the Atlantic coast, whether Moravians in the Carolinas or Quakers in Pennsylvania, made a covenant with God and with one another, and began to plant the Bible into American soil.
The first settlers were a mixed bunch, they called themselves "Saints and Strangers." Some were committed Christians and some were not. But they were all thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures, and they dedicated this new wilderness to Christ.
And they set about building a new nation based on the law of God.
"In Connecticut in 1639, the general court of Connecticut said that 'God's Word shall be the only rule for ordering the affairs of government in this Commonwealth.' That's an incredible statement," author and historian Peter Marshall said. "The original American vision was that these people would put the Bible into practice in the new world."
"All of these early Christians believed what they were doing here was that they had been led here by Christ Himself to form a Bible commonwealth, based on the covenant relationship with God and with one another in Christ that would produce a society that would have liberty and justice for every soul," Mashall said. "That's why they came in the first place. "
A Biblical Government
What they wanted was biblical government.
"The early settlers of America are thoroughly familiar with the teachings of the Scripture about government," Marshall explained. "In fact, it's the most often quoted book in colonial America."
They also determined that God -- and not King James I -- was to be their judge, lawgiver, and king after reading Bible passages like this one: "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is He who will save us."
More than 100 years before "The Declaration of Independence," the colonists rejected the absolute authority of the English crown. Pastors preached it from the pulpit.
"They were thoroughly conversant with all the biblical teaching about government and knew that what God had decreed was that kings were a lousy idea," Marshall said.
Historian David Barton holds one of the most influential political books in colonial America: the sermons of the Rev. John Wise on biblical government.
"It's in here that you find key phrases that we later find in The Declaration of Independence," Barton said, pointing at Wise's book. "And you find them first in these sermons. This is some of the first appearance of those phrases in American writing and American language -- here."
Ideas such as "The consent of the governed," "Taxation without representation," and "All men are created equal" are ideas and phrases found in Wise's book.
"All the issues listed in The Declaration of Independence had already been preached from the pulpit before 1763," Barton said.
"So the Declaration literally was a listing of what we'd been preaching out of the pulpit 30, 40, 50 years earlier -- pretty easy to document that the Bible influenced the preachers who influenced the political leaders" he said.
It was the reason that Thomas Jefferson would later say, "The Bible is the cornerstone of Liberty."
This new experiment in Bible-based government began with a covenant with God and one another. it's a covenant that Marshall says is still in force today.
"It is literally impossible to properly understand American history if you do not understand this word: Covenant," Marshall said.
"America was and is a covenant nation. God has not chucked that out," he said. "The symbolism of the cross at Cape Henry and the prayer of dedication -- I mean, God takes that kind of thing seriously. It is desperately important, it is of paramount importance to the future of this nation, that we recover the original American covenant."