What one individual would you identify as the virtual founder of America? Would it be George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Paine? Benjamin Franklin?
I believe that the man history clearly gives this designation to is a humble reformer from Geneva, Switzerland, who died in 1564. His name is John Calvin.
The great American historian, George Bancroft, who was far from a Calvinist, calls John Calvin "the father of America." According to Bancroft, "He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty."
If we are to get back to the principles that made America great, I believe we must get back to the principles of John Calvin, because it was precisely his principles that made this nation great.
For Calvin and the Colonists, the starting point was the sovereignty of God and the final authority of Scripture. Calvin taught that Scripture is applicable not just to matters of sin and salvation, but to all of life. His exposition of the Bible formed, in the main, the whole political, economic, and religious life of America in her infancy. When his biblically-based Christian worldview ran up against prevailing ecclesiastical and political authorities, it held firm.
This was demonstrated during America's founding, as Presbyterians, who were Calvinists in theology, formed the backbone of the American Revolution. More than half of the soldiers and officers in America's Revolutionary army were Presbyterians; all but one of the colonels were Presbyterian elders. In fact, the War for Independence was referred to in Britain as the "Presbyterian rebellion."
According to Bancroft, "The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure." One ardent colonial supporter wrote to King George III the following words: "I fix all of the blame for these extraordinary proceedings upon the Presbyterians. They have been the chief and principal instruments in all these flaming measures."
Afterwards, when Independence had been won and the battlefield smoke had cleared, the government that took shape also deserves to be attributed to Calvin. The form of government that existed in the Presbyterian church, which was the only "republic" existing on this continent for 75 years before 1776, was one which the American government, to a great extent, simply mirrored.
In fact, Calvinism and republican self-government are related to each other as cause and effect. One of the great contributions Calvin gave to the world has been the representative system of government.
Calvin is also credited with the rise of capitalism, the economic system that has made America the envy of the whole world.
Finally, Calvinism gave rise to American education. Almost all of America's first colleges and universities—including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton—were founded by Calvinists.
Calvin's contribution to America is monumental, but no monument marks his gravesite—a terse J.C. adorns his small gravestone in Geneva. It is a reminder of the One he served, the One whose principles he gave to this world. Those principles stirred the blood, thrilled the heart and gave birth to the freest nation in history. Jesus Christ, the sovereign Lord of all, was the One he glorified, and if this country is to have any hope of sustaining that freedom, it will be found in a return to Him.
D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., is senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, and president of Coral Ridge Ministries, an international Christian broadcast outreach.