Deism-a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.
Age of Enlightenment- Primary themes of Enlightenment thought on religion centered on the notions of anti-supernaturalism, deism, and, as it relates to Christianity, biblical criticism. Deism was embraced by many who held Enlightenment beliefs.
Unitarianism-Whereas Trinitarianism teaches that God is three in one (triune), Unitarianism teaches that God is simply one (unity). Unitarianism rejects the doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.
A couple of years ago, I was reading the Declaration of Independence and began to wonder about the beliefs of its authors. Questions started to plague me. If declaration committee members believed in the God of the Bible, then why is Christ Jesus not referred to in the document? The authors seemed very comfortable pointing to a creator, but why did they not identify the Creator by name? After all, to believe in Christ is to acknowledge Him and to present Him as Lord of all. This truth has nothing to do with the separation of church and state.
Furthermore, many people across the earth identify with a god or gods, but the one true God is identified through Jesus. For instance, Muslims and Mormons believe in a god, but they dismiss Jesus as God. Did some of the prime Founders align more with false religions?
So, what did the authors actually believe? Did each believe that Jesus is God? Did they believe in the Trinity? Let’s take a few moments to analyze these questions.
Thomas Jefferson is considered the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence. The other four committee members (Franklin, Adams, Livingston, and Sherman) provided edits to his draft. As documented by Monticello.org (an official museum and archive), he plainly rejected the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, and for a time, he dabbled in deism. Jefferson called himself a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, but he did not view Christ as the way to the Father.
Jefferson stated, “It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus Christ) in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it.”
In his retirement, Jefferson eliminated the miracles and resurrection of Jesus In his Bible. He named his compilation The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Like many people and religions of the world, Jefferson acknowledged Jesus as a great moral teacher. Unfortunately, in his own wisdom, Jefferson rejected parts of the Bible to which he did not subscribe. While he labeled himself a Christian at times, he did not believe in the God of the Bible or God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. To reject Jesus is to reject the Yahweh of Scripture. Jefferson tried to straddle the fence during his public career, and within his own intellect, he dismissed Jesus’ deity.
Consequently, based on his statements and actions, he seemed confused about his beliefs while serving as one of the nation’s leaders. While calling himself a deist, he proposed that meetings should start with prayer. In speech, he was tethered to his Christian upbringing and vocabulary, but this does not equate to belief in Jesus Christ.
Like Jefferson, Franklin’s beliefs are usually described as complicated. However, born again believers know that faith in the Lord and confidence in the Word of God are not convoluted. While we cannot possibly comprehend our Sovereign God to the fullest extent, we know the truth of Jesus’ divinity. Sadly, Franklin denied Christ as Lord and Savior during his time in office.
Similar to Jefferson and Franklin, John Adams rejected the Trinity and the Resurrection. Although he was of Puritan descent, he converted to Unitarianism in his adult life. Unitarianism subscribes to the belief that Jesus is not equal to God.
While history records many famous religious quotes attributed to John Adams, we must remember that he inherently had issues with a large swath of Scripture. Rejecting the Trinity and Jesus’ oneness with the Father are not light matters.
Robert Livingston is a lesser-known founder to the general public. He was described as a shrewd businessman, and he brokered the Louisiana Purchase. As with Benjamin Franklin, he was an active Freemason. Although he was associated with Protestant Christianity, his Freemason status and its rituals should be considered a direct conflict to Christ followership. Many aspects of Freemasonry are opposed to the Word of God.
Like Livingston, Roger Sherman is not a well known founder In today’s culture. Based on public statements and writings, he confessed faith in the biblical Jesus. Sherman declared Jesus as Lord and acknowledged the Trinity. He viewed Scripture as God’s absolute word. In his Confessions of Faith, he wrote, “I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”
Of the five declaration committee members, it appears that Sherman was the only one who confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior. He did not deny Christ’s miracles or His resurrection. He was described as a devout Christian.
A Mixed Bag of Influences
Ultimately, the declaration committee members devised a good secular document, and the signatories (many of whom were pastors) embarked upon the birth of a new nation. Freedom of men can be used for God’s purposes, and as acknowledged by John Adams, only moral people can maintain a free society. But we must realize that a mixture of influence was injected into the thoughts of the dominant architects of the Declaration and later the U.S. Constitution.
In their individual journeys here on earth, some of the nation’s key founders viewed the world’s wisdom as appealing. The somber commentary is that at least two of these men seemed to outgrow their Puritan roots. While researching, I found myself extremely bothered for Franklin and Adams. They were swept away by admiration for man’s reasoning ability, and they highly valued products of the Age of Enlightenment.
In parallel, the nation‘s founders properly ascertained that Judeo-Christian values bring order to society. But while publically articulating their beliefs in a higher power, many of the lead architects used terms like “religious” or “religion” and failed to point to a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
To be clear, we don’t know what conclusions Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Livingston came to on their deathbeds. Maybe in God’s sovereignty, the Holy Spirit generated a belief in Christ Jesus before their final breaths. Only the Lord knows.
Only Biblical History is Non-Biased
Founders such as Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams are often evaluated to an admiration even King David does not enjoy within American cultural Christianity. Nationalism blurs lines. To many, these men were perfect arbiters of God’s will even though they did not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, King David was a man after God’s heart, yet biblical history records his failures and sin.
Through my research of the five Declaration of Independence authors, I was reminded that only the Bible provides non-biased perspectives. God did not spare Israel’s leadership by overlooking unfaithfulness in recorded history. All of the blemishes and warts are in Scripture. The Spirit of God is quite different than the flesh of men. Men attempt to glorify their nations and patriarchs, but our Holy God understands that all things come to an end in the current corrupt, sinful world. Scripture is 100% true and reliable.
America enjoyed years of peace and prosperity in the past, and it was due to the nation’s promotion of Judeo-Christian values. The authors of the Declaration of Independence understood the necessity for such precepts. Even though many rejected Christ as Lord, they still held on to some biblical truth.
However, this disposition is quite different from placing trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. We must never forget the disparity. I am also reminded that one day Jesus will not be marginalized, and everyone will see Him for who He is. He is God, and His kingdom will last forever.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
“Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.“
“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for“ WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.