“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people". (Proverbs 14:34)
In recent days, our prime minister and certain others, have been referring to Britain as a 'Christian country'. Whatever their motives, perhaps seeking to redeem themselves in the eyes of the electorate in view of some of the very anti-Christian laws they have put on the statute book, can we ever speak of a ‘Christian country’ or ‘State’? The very idea will seem an unlikely even impossible presumption to some. The question as to whether there ever can be such a State or whether there ever will be such a State ought to be considered quite separately from each other. Certainly, it is perfectly conceivable for a State to be governed by godly men who seek to follow the Scriptures and carry their people with them and this has been the case in England in the past. Surely this is what any Christian believer would want for the land in which they live? By what other standard can anyone live, if not by the Word of God? Indeed, it is the only way acceptable to God – by what standard if not the Scriptures? Rulers who reject God, who rebel against Him, will bring disaster and misery to their people and brought to account by God, but then The question now remains, will such a circumstance arrive? One thing is sure, when Christ returns He will rule the Kingdom given to Him by His Father, as yet an unfulfilled prophecy. "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).
Neo-orthodoxy rejects any suggestion that a State can be Christian. In The Divine Imperative, Emil Brunner writes most clearly, “A Christian State never existed and never will”. According to Brunner the State was instituted as a direct result of the Fall and consequently cannot belong to the Kingdom of Christ but rather to natural secular ordinances. A Christian concept of culture, learning and education, economics, art or music is by definition impossible. None of these things can have anything whatever to do with Christian faith but are part of the temporal world that is permeated by sin; they belong to nature where purely worldly ordinances are valid. Nature is the realm of the temporal world outside that of faith, completely distinct from it and subject to totally inflexible ordinances. It is a realm of law, rule without love. The Christian is liberated from this world by an inner life of grace and is thus enabled to act in accordance with Christ’s command of love of the moment. Grace is the realm of faith, the supra-temporal Kingdom of God subject to the commandment of love.
Humanists decry the idea of a Christian State because they fear its appearance. Many evangelicals hold that the very idea of a Christian State is both erroneous and impossible. No State was ever, can ever, nor ever will be Christian. Without any reference to Scripture many assert the Gospel can do nothing to change any culture. Humanists have killed all idea of there being a Christian State or culture and are trying desperately to cover up the corpse. Religion will be tolerated among us by godless men only for as long as the State remains sovereign. These are the sentiments of Rousseau. He would tolerate all religions, but none that teaches absolute truths, principles and moral standards. Those who teach a transcendent view of God and the importance of salvation are seen as heretics and a threat to the modern State and must be silenced. They will advance their pluralism by force.
The understanding of godless men is governed not by truth and reality but mythology. All that they think, say, and do takes place within this framework existing only in their fevered minds. To suggest that the Scriptures could have anything to say about the State runs counter to all they believe. The Church is looked upon largely as a religious institution and the State as being responsible for political order and never the twain shall meet. Down through the centuries, like it or not, the State has been at the centre of national religious life.
In ancient Greece, the polis or city-state was always a religious entity, responsible for religious as well as political life. The ruler was seen as ‘holy’, a civic ‘priest’. Our word liturgy comes directly from the Greek word λειτουργια (leitourgia). In ancient times it referred to a public office undertaken by the citizen at his own expense – politicians were not paid in those days! It also referred to any public service such as that done by soldiers or workmen. Even here it had religious connotations in promoting social and natural good.
The word is used in the New Testament describing the ministry of priests with respect to their prayers and sacrifices offered to God (cf. Luke 1:23; Hebrews 8:6; 9:21) but it is also used of gifts given for the relief of the poor (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2:30). A λειτουργος (leitourgos) was a public minister of the State. In ancient Greece and Rome, the religious order in the nation came from the State. The State was essentially itself a quasi-religious body. No religious cult could gain any kind of recognition and operate lawfully without the permission of the State. A god was only a god if the State said it was.
Essentially the State or its ruler was to be cognized as mediator and lord. Had the early Christians been prepared to acquiesce to this demand, they would have as likely as not been recognized and saved themselves much persecution. Their refusal was viewed as a political offence punishable by law. The worship of other gods was treasonous and synonymous with subversion of the State. The appearance of the Church caused enormous difficulty and was seen as a rent in the pagan order of society. Worship was a public act of the State.
Whenever the State assumes for itself a quasi-religious status, dispensing permissions and giving recognition to other belief systems than its own, it cannot do so without destroying or absorbing the Church. Today most western democracies are doing exactly this and as a result we must expect genuine Christian believers living according to the Bible will come under increasing pressure and even persecution.
Modern States have reverted to the pagan idea of a total State, claiming total order and sovereignty over all of life. Yet the Scriptures are clear, only God rules over all things absolutely. Men are seen as creatures of the group, of society, placed within the social order. Where this happens, the State makes a prior claim becoming the sole sovereign and sole source of law. It claims a total right to legislate for all things. The State has become god. Our modern States have revived the pagan divinity of the social order, taking divinity upon themselves. They have assumed the attributes and roles of God. God’s eternal decrees have been replaced by human dictat. God’s predestination has been replaced by that of the State.
We live in a secular age within a secular State. It is secular in the sense that it denies any transcendental claims upon itself. It may deny the eternal but crown its monarch before God. It may participate in all kinds of religious ceremonies, but it reserves to itself approval of all gods and will determine what they are like. What happens in history is determined from within time not outside it. Time controls eternity. There is no place for God’ eternal decree. To make itself god the State must deny any transcendent God. God is perceived as being impotent. Once more men believe in ‘magic’ in that acts performed in time move eternity.
Consequently, the modern State will inevitably persecute and seek to eradicate all biblical Christian belief. It has no other option, although it will seek peace with all forms of religion. This will often, as an example, take the form of tax-breaks or subsidies made to charities or Christian schools. Its intentions are destructive. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. They speak peace, but wage war.
Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God is not so easily disposed of. Those of us who see from Scripture that the only way for anyone to live is according to the Word of God can be confident that all our labour is not in vain in the Lord and must ultimately triumph. A call to individual repentance and faith in Christ accompanied by a work of God’s Spirit is but the first step in national spiritual recovery.