This week I'm writing from colonial Williamsburg, the old capital of historic Virginia. The city center has been beautifully preserved in the colonial era, with special emphasis on the banner year of 1776. They have faithfully kept the era of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and that other famous Virginian, George Washington, alive and within reach of the average American. Not only are the buildings and landscape maintained in genuine colonial fashion, the town features period actors in full costume giving impassioned speeches in the street and interacting with the crowd on the events leading up to the revolution. I think it's as close as one can possibly come to experiencing the fervor and excitement of those auspicious years of America's founding.
One of the aspects I love about foreign cultures is that they give us a unique insight into our own. A trip to colonial Williamsburg goes beyond that. It gives us a look at ourselves from a photo album 230 years into the past: what we were and what we thought this experiment in self-government would accomplish. Reading and listening to the speeches of Virginia's colonial leaders is as awe-inspiring as it is eye-opening, as you realize that our intrinsic freedoms today were new and untested in the 18th century. These ideas of human liberty and equality that we accept and even demand so instinctively in modern America were literally revolutionary at the time.
More poignantly for the Christian, these nascent ideologies were simply the political expressions of men dedicated to Biblical truth. Unthinkable in our 21st century secularization, the House of Burgesses (the state legislature) actually read the Bible while in session and mandated that its members attend church regularly. As we toured the restored upper chamber of the historic capital building, we saw, among the legislator's declarations and documents, the Bible laid open and apparent in the middle of the table. It was an unmistakable piece of evidence that the Bible was at the heart of colonial Virginia's government, as well as the establishment of these United States. Although certainly influenced by Locke, Cicero, and Socrates, it was the lawmakers' consistent study and exposure to the Holy Scriptures that most readily guided their thoughts, convictions, and actions.
And they knew well the Apostle Paul's, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28) and, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him" (Rom. 10:12). Is it really any philosophical surprise that the founding fathers wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?" Where did that notion find its germinating seed? Clearly, it came from the Bible.
They dug their foundational understanding and commitment to equality from the soil of scripture. What other faith system could produce a similar declaration of an individual's inherent worth and equality? Pantheism, polytheism, and atheism all have innate inequalities, even as Hinduism supports and sustains a very stubborn and entrenched caste system. Quite simply, if you believe that the same Lord is over all and created all, and that he created us in His image, then ultimately, you will see mankind in terms of equality. And as the Apostle Paul intimates, that equality is fully realized in God's salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Biblical Christianity gave us the bedrock that supports and sustains the ideologies of life, liberty, and justice for all that we so casually accept today. The signs of Jesus' influence over colonial America were quite evident in old Williamsburg. The church was at the center of town and in a very prominent building. Children were educated and taught to read from the Bible, and scripture is found regularly in the writings and speeches of those patriotic revolutionaries.
The secular humanist will be the first to point out that the southern colonies kept slaves, that they discriminated against Roman Catholics, and that women were not allowed to participate officially anywhere in the new nation. That charge is certainly true, but can we not see the brilliance of their convictions and the tremendous fruit that it eventually produced? The slaves were freed, Roman Catholics and every other religion gained unmitigated participation, and across the entire nation in millions of professions and positions, women are now only prevented from serving on submarines, in the infantry, and as Calvary Chapel pastors. Islam and Sharia Law on the other hand, still enslave people, discriminate against all other religions, and subjugate women at every level of culture and society. Is there any real comparison?
The closer we move to Christ, the more we realize the cherished liberty and equality that the fiery orator Patrick Henry demanded in his political speeches. But the further we move from Christ, the more we realize the tyranny and enslavement needed to hold our sin nature in check. Colonial Williamsburg was not only a window into the past, it was a telescope into the future. Jesus makes a difference, in fact, He revolutionizes nations.