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Christianity and Democracy

How has Christianity helped the development of Democracy?

"There is not a land beneath the sun where there is an open Bible and a preached gospel, where a tyrant long can hold his place," preached Charles Spurgeon... "Let the Bible be opened to be read by all men, and no tyrant can long rule in peace. England owes her freedom to the Bible."

The word democracy was coined in ancient Greece; Athenian democracy was a classical democratic system developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, but it did not last. In the modern age, the story of the democratic state was founded on the cornerstone of Western Christian civilisation with the belief that if God made all equal, then some are not more equal than others. The development of democracy in England and the U.S. was a slow process of the gradual transition of power from the crown or state to the people.

The cornerstone of all freedom in the English speaking world began with Magna Carta in 1215, the great Charter of freedom. The author was a Christian inspired by the Bible. This was not democracy, but it is the foundation of liberty in the free world.

The first great peoples' uprising was the 1381 Peasants' Revolt, with the preacher Rev. John Ball as their leader. He preached from the Bible that all are made equal in the sight of God, and therefore people called for this equality to be recognised by their government.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, two major doctrines were pulling at the heart of believers as they dealt with corrupt governments. One of these doctrines was the Divine Right of the king, who it was taught by the established churches, was ordained by God. John Calvin and other Reformers, helped set the scene for another doctrine, where one with the blessing of God and under proper authority can oppose tyranny. This was the beginning of the Theology of Liberty which spread and evolved, leading to John Knox and many others like him, confronting the government with the claims of the people. These Christian leaders and thinkers helped shaped the modern expression of democracy within the mind of the masses.

In Britain it was Christian statesman Cromwell and his puritan Christian politicians that helped finally limit the power of the King, setting the scene for the creation of the sub-structure of all modern democracies, which began with the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights. Also during this era, the first great writers of the English age, called forth for freedom of speech and assembly etc. Finally Christian leaders like William Wilberforce and Gladstone began to speak up for the common man, attempting to give them the right to take their place in a democratic nation.

American Journalist Horace Greeley wrote: ‘It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.’

In the U.S. the first colonists arrived in North America and held their first democratic assembly in a church. As time went on, Americans found more and more religious freedom and as they discovered Christian freedom, they wanted their political freedom too. Preachers began to speak on self-determination as well as spiritual redemption. The Declaration of Independence of July 4 1776, which birthed American democracy, clearly expressed that God made all equal and gives freedom to all men - ‘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.’ In other words, God is the author of liberty, not man.

Noah Webster wrote: ‘Our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.’ In 1851, Alexis de Tocqueville a French political commentator wrote: ‘The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditional faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.’

The story of the influence of Christianity in shaping modern democracy can be found (amongst many other subjects) in the book, ‘How Christianity Made the Modern World.’

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