While many evangelical Christians seek to make the founding fathers of America Christian, a simple reading of what they said and what they did will show that some of the more famous ones were Deist and in fact disagreed with many foundation truths of Christianity. In fact, the only reason that some of these men held to "religion" was that they thought it was needed to help the people of the country live moral lives, which was necessary for the American experiment to succeed. Stephen Nichols brings this out in Chapter 2 of his book, Jesus Made in America. Read some of the quotes and actions of two of our leading founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Benjamin Franklin, as a young adult, wrote the following words in a letter to his parents who were worried about some of his theological views. He wrote concerning the doctrines a person holds to by saying that if these doctrines do not
tend to make him less Virtuous, he holds none that is dangerous. . . . My Mother grieves that one of her Sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little to my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffered when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue.
Later on in his life, five weeks before his death, Franklin wrote the following to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale and grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who wanted to know that truth of Franklin's faith. Franklin wrote:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of who you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts to his divinity.
So in these two quotations, we seen Franklin admit that he thinks virtue is more important than the orthodox truth of the gospel and we see him deny the divinity of Christ. Franklin has denied the very hope of the Christian religion. If he really believed this, according to Scripture, we must ask if Franklin was truly a Christian.
On the other hand, the liberals of the 20th century have nothing on Thomas Jefferson. During his time as president and again later in life, Jefferson cut and pasted his own version of the New Testament. Since he denied that God acts in the world today, he removed all miracles from the Jefferson Version. His New Testament ended as such:
There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed. Finis
Jefferson ends his "gospel" with Jesus forever in the grave. It is really no gospel at all and offers no hope than any other religion. The apostle Paul even tells us that if Christ is not raised, we are fools and of all men, the most to be pitied. But Jefferson denies the resurrection and in essence the Christian faith. Jefferson also writes:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.
Nichols writes, "Jefferson's self-claim to being a Christian, which often gets quoted by evangelicals, comes in the very sentence he denies the deity of Christ. In fact, Jefferson goes so far as to claim that being a Christian demands that one see Jesus as Jesus sees himself, which, according to Jefferson, was as human, never claiming divinity." Again, we see a founding father denying the very claims of Christ Himself as divine and still claiming to be Christian.
Why would Jefferson hold to Christianity while denying the foundational truths that makes it what it is? Again Nichols gives us the answer. "What he (Jefferson) liked best about Unitarianism, however, was not its doctrine, but that it presented a simple and clear morality. What mattered most to Jefferson, especially for the new republic, was that Jesus was a virtuous man." Like Franklin, Jefferson clinged to Christianity for its morals.
I write not to criticize these two men. I believed that if they believed what they wrote, they were not Christians from a Biblical standpoint. But the main purpose of this writing it to warn you that the thoughts of these two men are still rampant today. It is moralism. The belief that man can be saved and made right with God by his morality or good works. A belief that Scripture denies (Isaiah 64:6), but one that will continue until the end of time. We are conceived in sin and our works can never justify us before God. But God sent Jesus Christ. Unlike Franklin and Jefferson, the Jesus of the Bible is the God-Man who never sinned, yet died a sinner's death as a substitute for all those who would put their trust in Him. Our ONLY HOPE is to trust in His work. If we do, God credits the wrath our sins deserve on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ to us. We therefore stand forgiven and are declared to be righteousness in Christ. Do not be deceived, your morality will not save you, only Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the only way to God (John 14:6), can save you.