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.