New Zealand Christianity

I happen to be in New Zealand now, and it just happens to be the bicentenary of its Christian beginnings. That story will be outlined shortly, but the sad thing is to see the contrasts with then and now. While New Zealand has had lengthy periods of a vibrant Christian faith, today the country seems as much of a secular stronghold as most other Western nations.

new zealand 1If one indication of how the faith is in decline while secularism is on the rise is the legalisation of homosexual marriage, then New Zealand is even worse than Australia. Last year New Zealand went down that path, while Australia has thus far held firm.

But of course there are other indicators of the spiritual health of a nation. Radical secular leftism seems to predominate in this nation, with other problematic trends, such as anti-smacking laws, becoming the norm. Some conservative groups and think tanks exist, but their influence seems to be minimal.

Just a few short decades ago I was impressed with numerous powerful and influential Christian leaders, pastors, politicians and teachers from New Zealand who often had dynamic international ministries. There seem to be very few such folks today. Perhaps this is a reflection of steadily dwindling numbers. Only around half of the nation’s population claims to be Christian today.

Twenty years ago it was around 64 per cent, and it was around 75 per cent in 1991. Nations can rise and decline spiritually speaking, and that certainly seems to be the case with New Zealand. Thus the great gains of the past two centuries now seem to be fading quickly. Therefore it is important to recall the past, in the hopes of redirecting the course of the future.

The story of Christianity in New Zealand begins with the work of Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden. One discussion of the 200-year history says this in part:

Samuel Marsden was Anglican chaplain in the colony of New South Wales. Alongside his ministerial responsibilities, Marsden was a very successful farmer developing his land holding at Parramatta. He also gained a dubious reputation for his harshness as a magistrate. An Evangelical, Marsden was sympathetic towards the early pioneering missionary work in the Pacific undertaken by the inter-denominational London Missionary Society (LMS). He became the LMS agent in Sydney. He also developed friendly relationships with some of the first M?ori visitors to Australia. These included Te Pahi (?-1810), the Ng?puhi leader who met Marsden in 1805.
While Marsden was on leave in England in 1808 he approached the Church Missionary Society (CMS) about the possibility of them beginning missionary work in New Zealand. The CMS was a voluntary Anglican missionary society established in 1799 to encourage and support evangelistic outreach around the world. The Society was strongly supported by leading lay Evangelical humanitarians such as William Wilberforce and others who were in working for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery….
In 1814 Marsden gained approval from the New South Wales Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, to open up contact with New Zealand. Marsden bought his own ship, the Active. William Hall and Thomas Kendall were despatched on an exploratory voyage to discover whether it was possible to inaugurate a mission. During their time in New Zealand they read prayers on board ship, sometimes in the presence of M?ori. They were welcomed by Ruatara and other chiefs and developed a favourable impression of the local people.

This was the beginning of the spread of the gospel in New Zealand. The faith grew and expanded rapidly, and eventually the majority of the population was Christian. But as noted, the faith is in real decline today. Unless things change radically, this Christian decline will simply continue.

I am only here for a few days, and in just one spot, so I cannot get a full feel of the condition of Christianity in this country. But it is clear that heaven-sent revival is desperately needed to turn around the decline. It is hoped that this is being earnestly sought and prayed for by the churches here.

I have been in this country a number of times previously. To see so many impressive spiritual gains so quickly lost is frightening indeed. God have mercy on this land. But I look forward to some feedback here by New Zealand Christians.

[717 words]

12 Replies to “New Zealand Christianity”

  1. Its not only this but hyper-grace rhetoric has swept away the faith of many, having churches on every corner the majority without the lampstand and devoid of anything Biblical.
    There is one group fighting to turn the tide and doing that which the Bible commands, AHKM.

  2. Hi Bill.

    I suspect the spiritual malaise in New Zealand began some time ago, particularly in the Anglican Church (Aotearoa) as this extract from Wikipedia makes clear (although, not intentionally for that reason):

    “Consecration of a woman bishop

    In 1989, St Paul’s received attention when Penny Jamieson was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop of Dunedin. Bishop Jamieson was only the second woman bishop in the Anglican Communion and the communion’s first woman diocesan bishop. Her appointment had been paved by the work of two cathedral women; Claire Brown, assistant priest at St Paul’s from 1985 to 1989 and again from 2006 to the present, and Barbara Nicholas, honorary priest assistant.”'s_Cathedral,_Dunedin

    The election of women priests, bishops, etc is a sure sign of theological liberalism taking hold of a congregation and of worldly compromise (not to mention willfully ignoring clear scriptural teaching on gender-roles).

    Mick Koster.

  3. Because NZ is so small, I expect that the general malaise is very easy to see. However there are still some very good bible based churches which are well attended;( Papakura Baptist being one such). We also have some excellent apologists here too, M & M come to mind. Overall, the church here is affected by the influence of poor liberal theology destroying a strong and vibrant foundation, leading to worldly thinking, along with political oppression through various law changes and lack of courage; same problems throughout the world really. Hope that you enjoy your visit to NZ all the same.

  4. Dell Cook is quite right regarding the prevalence of liberal theology. At the extreme end of this is the publicity loving and thoroughly godless St Matthews In The City church in central Auckland. Not quite so calamitous is the rise of the mega church. Cookie cutter copies of Hillsong with lots of flash and pizazz but with little meat in the sandwich.
    Great to hear there are some shining lights though.

  5. Bill
    I last lived in NZ ten years ago and liberalism was well entrenched in most churches. Baptists were ordaining women since the 70s and even if a baptist church doesn’t have a female pastor most of them have no objection to them being elders, and even raising the idea of the pulpit being reserved for men is considered unusual even in relatively conservative circles. Ditto for the brethren.
    Presbyterians lost the plot when they refused to throw out Lloyd Geering for denying the resurrection in 1967. They haven’t gone much better since then.
    Anglicans are in the thick of working out how to have blessing services for gay marriages that are conducted in their churches.
    Most charismatic churches are prosperity driven.
    I don’t know of any denominations I’d recommend in NZ. Even if we moved back it would be hard to find a solid congregation based on what I know of what things are like back there. There are a remnant, but they’re not prominent.

  6. Baptists have been ordaining women in NZ for decades. Most baptist churches have at least some women in the eldership even if they don’t have a woman pastor.

    Anglicans are in the thick of sorting out a blessing ceremony for gay marriages.

    Presbyterians lost the plot in NZ in the 60s and are largely liberal.

    I can’t think of a church body in NZ that I’d wholeheartedly endorse based on my time in NZ.

  7. Bill, I always welcome your “Culture Watch” observations as they are always so accurate and incisive! Your evaluation of contemporary Christian witness in New Zealand is certainly no exception! Even in but a few days here, you have already discovered correctly just how secular this country has become.The NZ religious scenario is hideously dismal! I speak as a fifth generation Kiwi of British origins, and as a Bible-loving Roman Catholic convert of 44 years standing (having emerged
    from an Anglican background by querying the basis of my Confirmation therein in 1964 as a teenager). Yes, NZ Anglicans first accepted open Communion, then women presbyters, then a woman bishop, then gay behaviour, and (with so little united resistance to State “redefinition” of Marriage last year), are now winking at the idea of the “Blessing of Gay Unions” – if not actually “Gay Marriage”. Actually 2013 Census results show that Anglicans are no longer the main established religion in name or practice, but rather that Catholics now surpass them on both accounts – even as Catholic practice itself is a rapidly plunging statistic. To look-back at the state of NZ Society 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, salutary: now we find fewer marriages, licensed brothels, escalating divorce, prolific recourse to contraception and with abortion as a horrific growth industry surely inviting Divine retribution… However, the remnant Traditional RC group to which I belong has as its motto: 1 Cor.1:17 : Crux Christi Numquam Evacuabitur = The Cross of Christ will never be emptied of its power ! So, Spes Salvi – we yet live in hope…

  8. Hi Bill, NZ media are reporting that two Anglicans have recently resigned and moved 90% of their parishoners away from the Anglican Church over gay marriage, and are now looking for new premises.

  9. Moving on from the fortunes of the Anglican Church in NZ (which has customarily assumed the role of being de facto the “Established Church” here in the colonies – as if still in Mother England), may I point to the increasing sway of social secularism.
    A Radio programme this morning highlighted the situation of the “Bible in Schools” programmes in attempting to present a counter-culture within a State Education situation which itself is defined as both “free and secular”. I agree with the opinion of my old Vicar that a semantic mistake occurred at the outset viz. that NZ State education should have been defined as really being intended to be “non-sectarian” (rather than “secular” = unfortunately quite the wrong word !!!) Thus consider NZ’s National Anthem (=”God defend NZ”) which really gets it right :”Men of every Creed and race , Gather here before (God’s) face…..
    Anyway it was claimed on radio that 47% NZers want Christian Bible teaching to be banned from State Schools,and only 27% of surveyed citizens wish to retain it. That also leaves nearly a quarter of the citizens undecided and “going with the flow”…
    Meanwhile, I also detect a phenomenon which I dub the “Secular snort”: a strange gutteral sound – perhaps demonic”- signifying disgust at the phenomenon of professing Christian faith – particularly in real “Resurrection faith” which claims the Triumph over death by “Eternal Life”, thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ. (Of course, St Paul boldly wrote of this 2 millennia ago
    (1 Cor.14) pointing-out the audacity of our Christian Faith and the contrasting ultimate destinies of believers and unbelievers as a consequence). However, obviously increasing numbers of our neighbours will not gamble on Blaise Pascal’s “Ultimate Wager” and so, sadly, must reap the consequences. Thus I well recall my former work Superior’s”Secular snort” on one memorable occasion last year as she first looked-out the window towards the adjacent Churchyard, before pulling rank to intervene by abruptly terminating a personal telephone conversation (that was obviously drawing-to-a -close anyway ! ) by reaching-over to cut-off the phone call when she overheard me make a topical allusion to the recent election of the new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis….
    Her behaviour, of course, was rude, unprofessional and non-PC, but that doesn’t seem to count for the growing number of our secularist peers, who have long-developed and now insist on promoting their negative agenda of unbelief, nihilism, and indeed social anomie.

  10. Without faith people are poor indeed, with no resources to deal with what life dishes out. My agnostic New age sister was on that Malaysian airline plane, on the same route, a week before it was shot down, and now she’s a mess. A believer would be praising God for her deliverance.
    St Mechtilde said “Look how they suffer who have lived long without God”. It’s not gloating, it’s the truth.

  11. NEW ZEALAND: The Slow Train Wreck of Schism Comes to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa
    News Analysis
    By David W. Virtue DD
    I was born in Wellington, NZ, more decades ago than I care to remember and grew up attending a Plymouth Brethren Assembly Church while attending a private, very liberal Presbyterian Boys College (school). It wasn’t until years later, when I fled to England to study theology, that I came under the influence of men like H.D. McDonald, John Stott, Martin Lloyd Jones and many others, thus working my way out of fundamentalism on the one hand and liberal Presbyterianism on the other. It’s been a long journey and apparently, it is not over. . . . The Anglican Church in New Zealand will go the way of all flesh, following The Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Church of Canada. There is nothing now to hold it back, not even a hopeful but lost Anglican blogger.

    See the rest of the article here:

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