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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On the Decline of Nations – And Their Possible Restoration

Jan 17, 2019

Hmm, there have likely been many thousands of books penned on the topic found in my overly-ambitious title. But sometimes thinking of a descriptive, accurate, yet catchy title can be the hardest part in writing an article! But there is a reason for all this.

Let me take you back some twenty years or so, when I was getting almost daily media interviews on family related issues. A guy from a homosexual newspaper – I think it was the Sydney Star Observer – called to do an interview, and I think his first question was this: “Do you believe Australia is a Christian nation?”

So how would you have responded? Let me offer a bit of advice first before telling you how I replied. If you find yourself in the public arena a lot and/or dealing with the secular media a lot, there are certain basics you will need if you want any hope of succeeding:

-You will need to be well-versed in the particular subjects being dealt with – you will need to know your stuff, and know it well, in other words.
-You will need to be quick on your feet, especially if and when surprise, curly or trick questions are thrown your way.
-You will need to be able to do some lateral thinking as those tough questions come at you.
-You will need to be aware that often the secular media does not care about your beliefs, and in fact dislikes what you believe, but they really just want to trap you, to catch you out, or to trip you up.

So you will need a lot of knowledge, a lot of wisdom, and a lot of discernment when dealing with a hostile press. You need to anticipate what they might ask you, and you need to be able to deal with their attempts to push you in a corner and get you to stumble or mess up.

As to my response, it went something like this:

Well, it depends on what you mean by a “Christian nation.” If you mean that most Australians happen to be Christian and most would support the normal understanding of sexuality and marriage, then in that sense you might say that it is. But Australia is not a theocracy, and I am not trying to make it become one. I am just seeking to uphold the values that most Australians adhere to. And the truth is, the case against the homosexual agenda can quite ably and successfully be made on purely secular grounds, which I have long sought to do…

We went on from there. Of course he was trying to trap me, seeking to paint me as just some religious nutter, and an intolerant theocrat who wanted to drag all of Australia under ‘harsh church laws’ or some such thing. So I knew where he was heading with his question, and I sought to deflect it, steering it into a direction I wanted to take.

I raise all this because yesterday a keen commentator to my site asked me similar sorts of things. She was wondering why we were losing so much territory, and if we are a ‘Christianised country that was self-destructing’. So I gave her a rather lengthy reply, and what follows is a slightly expanded version of that answer, for those who might be interested:

Thanks for that. Yes I am mostly with you, although the issues can be rather complex. While countries can in a sense be Christianised, most folks would agree that only individuals can become Christians, not nations. But certainly a country can seek to order itself socially and legally around biblical beliefs and values, and maybe even biblical law.

Throughout church history we can find examples of that in various places, including Calvin’s Geneva and Knox’s Scotland. Of course critics – including some Christian critics – can argue about how successful they were in such endeavours, and whether they were right – or biblical – to seek to go in this direction in the first place.

And then of course the whole discussion about Theonomy can arise here. Should we be seeking to bring in and apply all the civil laws of Ancient Israel to modern secular nations? That too is a big discussion, and the Theonomy versus non- or anti-Theonomy debate has been raging for a while now. For a quick introduction to Christian Reconstructionism, see here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/01/09/on-theonomy-part-one/

As to America, there is no question that many folks came there originally to establish a Christian Commonwealth. Many spoke of God leading them to set up a new nation based on godly principles. They spoke of ‘a light set on the hill,’ and so on.

And this too can be debated. While we can rightly speak of America’s Christian beginnings, this was not uniformly the case. There was a real religious mix among the Founding Fathers, with some being biblical Christians while others were deists and the like.

While this debate is ongoing, we can nonetheless rightly speak about some nations that have had decidedly Christian beginnings, and even a country like Australia can be included here at least to a certain extent. See for example the excellent material found on sites like this: www.chr.org.au/

And in a few days I hope to have up here my review of the new book by Stuart Piggin and Robert Linder: The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740-1914. So stay tuned for that as well.

However, even if many nations did have some sort of Christian origins, for most – if not all – it was slowly lost along the way. The whys and wherefores of this is another big discussion. But briefly and in part we can say that this is because each new generation needs to be evangelised afresh. And the Reformers and others spoke about ‘ecclesia reformata semper reformanda,’ a Latin phrase for ‘a reformed church always reforming’.

So a nation with a great Christian beginning will not necessarily stay that way, and corruption and decay from within and without will always take place. There are both internal and external forces that will be working overtime to wear down and destroy any such Christian presence and influence. So keeping a people somewhat Christianised is always an ongoing effort.

And then there is the issue of Christendom – the concept of entire cultures that more or less see themselves as being Christian. Indeed, for much of history to speak of the West was to speak of Christianity – so intertwined were they. But again, you can have many people within such cultures who are not at all actual Christians but are just nominal believers.

Today therefore we can argue that although much of the West sprang out of the Judeo-Christian worldview, most of it today is non-Christian, post-Christian, and even anti-Christian. In this sense we find parallels in Scripture. Think of Israel in the Old Testament. Think specifically of the book of Judges where we find cycles of decline, oppression, calling out to God, and deliverance, followed by more such cycles.

It becomes like a broken record. Israel had such a great beginning with God, especially demonstrated in the miraculous exodus from Egypt. But over time the people forgot about God and went back to their old sinful ways, getting into all sorts of trouble as a result. And this happens elsewhere of course.

For example, it is similar to how quite successful things like the free market can contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction. People can get wealthy through hard work and personal responsibility, but then they can become apathetic, lazy and far-too focused on materialism alone, and then they impoverish themselves, so the original hard work and discipline needs to be entered into once again.

It is the same with democracy. As was said some 150 years ago about democracies, each tends to go through the following sequence:

• From bondage to spiritual faith.
• From faith to great courage.
• From courage to liberty.
• From liberty to abundance.
• From abundance to complacency.
• From complacency to selfishness.
• From selfishness to apathy.
• From apathy to dependency.
• And from dependency back again into bondage.

So we can say that places like America today are now living off the borrowed spiritual capital from their own past. What made them great is now almost gone. That situation cannot last long. Social, cultural, political and even economic decay will of necessity be the result.

Of course from a Christian point of view the only way forward is large-scale repentance and revival and reformation (probably in that order!). That at least is how we might look at the West. Elsewhere we find Christianity really taking off – for example in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. But that is the stuff of a different discussion.

Sorry for a lengthy reply, but you have asked some good questions here which required somewhat detailed answers.

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10 Responses to On the Decline of Nations – And Their Possible Restoration

  • “Of course from a Christian point of view the only way forward is large-scale repentance and revival and reformation” (probably in that order!).

    I like that you said “reformation,” as real repentance will only come when real, Biblical Christianity is presented. Without that, a revival would be a disaster due to all the cultic and heretical versions of ‘the gospel’ being presented at this time. Just look at WOF and NAR. The moment Russia was sort of liberated, apostles of the false gospel descended upon them leaving many with a warped and twisted understanding of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. People with Brother Andrew’s ministry have been shocked to learn that, while very sincere, many underground ‘Christians’ in China have a corrupted view of the Gospel. So, I think your call for actual reformation is of the utmost importance.

    I like that your response to the previous article is to emphasize the importance of “rightly dividing the word of Truth.” You may not have quoted that verse specifically, but when tackling a topic like this, that is of the utmost importance. I’m so glad to see you have endeavored to do so.

    I look forward to future articles you have promised to write on this issue. Thanks, Bill. It can be tough trying to figure these things out, but you have a knack for putting it out there in an order that goes with the “line upon line, precept upon precept” approach. I’m not too lazy to try following your path and methods, but my health is failing. I want my husband to be able to understand the gospel more fully and how God has worked all things out for His good and glory. With your thorough articles, I am finding it easier to help him better be able to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” Thank you.

  • If I am asked ‘is Australia a Christian Country’, my reply is:
    Australia is not a Country but a Political Union of Countries which includes 6 States and two Territories. So the Question should be: ‘Is Australia born of Christianity? The answer is a resounding YES. The facts to support are as follows:
    1. Our National Flag has 4 crosses: Saint Andrews; Saint George; Saint Patrick; the Southern Cross. Only Christianity recognize the Holy Cross;
    2. Our Constitution places Australia under the ‘Blessings of Almighty God (preamble which cannot be altered by vote);
    3, Most Holidays have Christian religious calendar purpose such as Christmas, Easter, Sundays;
    4. The Christian churches outnumber all other places of prayer;
    5. Our Sovereign Queen (Monarch) is sworn to uphold and protect the faith and the cross on her crown gives credence that the faith she protects is Christianity.
    The time has come when we stand proudly and express our faith and not be wishy washy or shy about it. After all, the Christ said ‘blessed are the meek’ NOT blessed are the weak.
    John Abbott

  • Just before I read your article, I was talking about this very issue!
    Along with “is Australia a Christian country”, I have been told “Australiais secular nation” – the second question was harder to answer until recently.
    I discovered the following: “The word tyrant, from the Greek tyranos, means a secular ruler, one who rules without the sanction of religious law…. Instead of a higher law, the tyrant sees his mandate in the will of the people….”
    My answer would be like John’s
    1. Blessings of Almighty God mentioned in first sentence of the Constitution
    2. Our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth is by Coronation Oath Defender of the Faith
    3. Our MP’s take an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and therefore have a DUTY to UPHOLD and DEFEND the FAITH of our QUEEN
    4. The signatories to the Constitution willingly came into the Commonwealth and formerly adopted the Westminster System of Government which has the Magna Carta (based on Biblical Law) as a foundation of British Law and Governance – formerly recognizing God’s Sovereignty over man’s will.
    5. Those who formulated the Australian Constitution recognized God’s Authority not secular / tyrannical rule
    6. Australian flag with the crosses
    7. Our Calendar – based on before and after Christ
    I totally agree with John’s comment “The time has come when we stand proudly and express our faith and not be wishy washy or shy about it”
    Thank God He emboldens us too!!!

    P.S. An off the topic point of interest there is a petition that needs to be signed before 22nd January – here’s the link:
    Sharia Law is Incompatible with Human Rights
    https://eclj.org/religious-autonomy/coe/la-charia-est-incompatible-avec-les-droits-de-lhomme?lng=en

  • Hi, Mr M,

    I feel I have caused you much work here, however, that seems to be my failing and as such, I am used to getting told off for my failing in this area so do not feel you can’t tell me off or correct me in a way that vents any frustration I may create.

    It isn’t easy for me to express what I see and experience in this regard (the perceived failings of the kingdom), however, I do now know it’s not of the king’s design, but of his subjects’ actions or non-actions. It seems our sinfulness is so pervasive it even penetrates the heart of what we hold dear, the very institution I was baptised into. I do not know why this surprises me as when there were only two Christians in paradise they messed up. It’s the continual repeating of history that I find so disappointing I think. We will in years to come wonder how a mother could have such disregard for her little baby and yet so much regard for her own wellbeing, we will wonder how that generation stood outside the extermination camp and did nothing about it, other than renaming the victims of yet another holocaust with a Latin word so we could hide from our evil indifference. Will, we really want to celebrate gay pride marches when we are a minority in our own country since motherhood was an inconvenience and fatherhood meant growing up, will we not ask the simplest of questions, like what pride is there in one man putting his penis into another man’s rectum. Why are those things so hard to see now, why do we have to wait until they become the new thing to criticise? Why can’t we just love little babies and want to mother and father them? Why can’t we have families, as our pride to march for? The majority can’t be what is needed for tomorrow, but be treated like the minority so becomes what a minority offers, a limited impact on the flourishing and growth in society.

    If nothing else it testifies our need for a saviour, not to mention a new earth. I think we are supposed to fight on as though we can make a difference, not that we can, but that we in doing so point people to Jesus, so we may live our paradise in the knowledge of him, after all, I am not the one being aborted, I am loved in a way many girls in my school envy. I am not the one fearing motherhood, I can hardly wait. My husband will not be the mirror of me, but my perfect fit. I am blessed beyond blessed that my failings were placed on Jesus to suffer so I may be part of those who have been promoted to the kingdom, where my mum is, and where it will not be necessary to ask about failing, but live in what we were created for, an eternity with our creator.

    I am a little late posting as I had homework to do yesterday and I’m not allowed online unless my homework is finished, but mostly I wanted to re-read, the book of Judges. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something, the missing something was the book of judges wasn’t just talking about history, but today, and yes tomorrow too.

    Thank you so much for your wisdom and time, Mr M, it was very much appreciated. My friend Katie and I often read your articles as we are doing a joint eotp on politics and Christianity and you are a good source of information for us, not to mention, a godly man who could advise us as you have done here. I suspect those contributing to the comments would also be godly men and women so its a little like being in the safety of the church where you can make a mistake without getting a “D”.

    Sarah xx.

  • Dear Barbara & John,

    I wish what you wrote was true but Her Majesty the Queen is NOT Defender of the Faith under Australian law.

    That title was removed in 1973 by that faithless Socialist Comrade Gough Whitlam, and no God-fearing Prime Minister since then has tried to reinstate it. I pray our confessing Christian Prime Minister Mr Morrison will restore this rightful title to Her Majesty.

    All Australians should remember and acknowledge the title of Defender of the Faith was given to King Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521. An earthly monarch cannot make themselves Defender of the Faith, only the Vicar of Jesus Christ (the Pope) can, and no earthly power or parliament can remove it.

    This is a warning to all of us that the Christian faith is not as firmly embedded in Constitutional Law as we might think. It’s unbelievable but in England there is talk that Charles will take a Coronation Oath to be the “Defender of Faith” (all including Islam) instead of “Defender of THE Faith” (Christianity).

  • Barbara, just a thought our MPs have always had the option of not swearing an oath. The alternative is an Äffirmation” taken by some Christians who consider that the scriptures mean they should not take oaths and by others, some of no religious belief. To suggest Jewish, Islamic, agnostic, atheist members are required to defend the faith of the Queen is bizarre.
    The Australian Constitution is secular and deliberately does not mention any ‘higher power’.

  • Travis Mc Harg:
    “The Australian Constitution is secular and deliberately does not mention any ‘higher power’.”

    Perhaps technically true, perhaps not.
    Nevertheless my copies of the Australian Constitution, one of which will fit in my shirt pocket, says, quoting in full from page 5 (which is Page 1 on many versions of the Constitution):-

    “THE CONSTITUTION
    (63 & 64, VICTORIA, CHAPTER 12)
    [9th July 1960]
    “WHEREAS the people of New South Wales , Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:”

    and the Constitution ends with:-
    “OATH
    1. … SO HELP ME GOD”
    followed by a secular AFFIRMATION.

  • Peter Newland, thanks.
    The “humbly relying” bit is in the British Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia. It is not in the Constitution. It is reasonable that as we have no official religion in Australia that reference to a specific deity is excluded. Some of the founding fathers were not Christians in any realistic sense and for instance the Rabbi of Isaac Isaacs may have been surprised if he thought Isaac was helping write a “Christian” constitution. The oath at the end was the standard British legal wording we inherited, and still use, but an alternative was provided in the Affirmation.
    It is best not to overstate our case, some of the deistic founding fathers favoured “divine providence” as our trust.

  • Hi Bill.
    Just reading all of the above comments, plus your mention of the latest Piggin/Linder book (which I have read) and the CHR website, made me wonder if your readers are aware of my book “One People, One Destiny: A Christian History of Australia,” which was published back in 2014. It is still a landmark book, as it covers the whole sweep of Australian history from a Christian perspective. It is easy to read and is in full colour, with hundreds of illustrations. I still have quite a few copies that I am selling at a reduced price through my website http://www.mikespencer.com.au. Perhaps you might like to do a review of this book one day!? Blessings.

  • No-one mentioned that when you go to Court, you have to swear on the Bible, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth, so help me God.

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