George Washington: A True Christian?

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Debate continues about the man known as the father of our nation, including his religious beliefs.

Was George Washington a Deist, who believed that God had no real involvement in the world? Or was he a devout Christian who believed that God revealed Himself in scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ?

"Up until the bicentennial of his birth almost everybody thought he was a Christian," explained Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary. "But then kind of post-1932, it went the other way, that everybody thought he wasn't a religious man.".

Lillback has spent the last 15 years researching Washington's faith.

His 1,100-page book, George Washington's Sacred Fire, includes the founding father's own words and the testimony of his family.

Lillback's conclusion?

"Basically what we see Washington as is a creedal Christian from the Reformational Era," he said. "He held to the 39 articles of the Anglican church, he was a vestryman, he was a warden, he was a parishioner, he held a pew in two different churches and he was on the building committee of churches."

Lillback says it's wrong to compare Washington to a modern day evangelical.

He says Anglicans in Virginia didn't express their faith in the way many Christians do today. But to say our first president paid lip-service to Christianity is to ignore the facts.

"Washington's grandchildren said as they grew in his family that Washington often spent an afternoon with Martha reading a sermon to her," Lillback continued. "I've read those sermons. They could be preached in a biblical pulpit today. They're filled with Christian truth."

But what about historians who say Washington was never confirmed in the church?

"Washington was never confirmed in the Anglican church because you need a bishop to do it and there were no bishops in America," Lillback said.

As for the claim that Washington avoided Communion?

"All the evidence shows that he communed regularly before the war. After the war, he was now at war with the head of the church," he added. "How could you be communing with the king of England when you're trying to fight him?"

Lillback points out that some of Washington's closest friends were clergymen and he entertained many of them at Mt. Vernon-- something a Deist wouldn't have done.

Lillback also counters the modern-day notion that Washington avoided using the name of Jesus Christ.

"For him, Jesus' name was very sacred," he said. "He used that in worship or only when necessary in a special sense."

But he did use it. Washington told the Delaware indians in 1779, "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are."

And Lillback says Washington's family had no doubt about his firm belief in Christ.

*Original broadcast February 2010.

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Lee Webb serves as news anchor for The 700 Club, the flagship program of The Christian Broadcasting Network. He also anchors Newswatch, CBN News' 30-minute daily news program. As a 31-year veteran in the television news business, Lee brings a wealth of expertise and credibility to CBN News.  Follow Lee on Twitter @LeeVWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/LeeWebbCBN.