This question has been on my mind for some time now. Much of what I read comes from the Anglican world, so the response is in some measure to much of that, but I see the same kind of thing in Evangelical circles also. The difference between the two is that the Anglicans usually have some idea of where their idea comes from while Evangelicals aren’t much on stopping and examining the origins of things other than to appeal to “It is written…” That’s fine if it really is written, but in many cases it is not, we only impose our idea on what we read.
The question has additional urgency because of the massacre of the Labour Party Norwegians by their own countryman Anders Behring Breivik. The media are characteristically quick to emphasise the fact that Breivik was a “Christian” although he had disaffiliated himself with a church some time back. The same cannot be said for the Masonic lodge; the Lodge had to disaffiliate him after the slaughter. It’s another good reason to keep church and lodge separate. In his online presentations, he used crusading and anti-immigrant imagery, both of which have a religious cast to them.
The problem Christians in the West face is the simple fact that we are to a large extent the victims of our own success. Western civilisation owes a great deal to its Christian roots, so it’s easy to turn to Christian imagery when we rise to defend our civilisation. But there are several facts we must face:
- Christianity wasn’t founded as either a civilisation or a political system. In this it’s different from Islam. It’s easier to make the argument that Christianity was founded in opposition to the whole idea that our happiness in this life and the next is dependent upon something other than political considerations, which puts it in opposition to liberalism as understood in the West these days.
- Christianity was designed to transcend ethnicity. That’s underscored by this “new” understanding of the Apostle Paul:
- The problem in the early church, therefore, was not the temptation toward legalistic works righteousness. They faced the communal challenge of incorporating non-Jewish converts into the historically Jewish people of God. First-century Judaism didn’t have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism. This is the issue in Acts 15, when Christian Jews from Judea urged the Gentiles in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
- The blood of the pagan was his life; to achieve a life outside of the blood of his tribe, the pagan had to acquire a new blood. It is meaningless to promise men life in the Kingdom of Heaven without a corresponding life in this world; Christianity represents a new people of God, with an existence in this life. That is why Christianity requires that the individual undergo a new birth. To become a Christian, every child who comes into the world must undergo a second birth, to become by blood a new member of the Tribe of Abraham. Protestants who practice baptism through total immersion in water simply reproduce the ancient Jewish ritual of conversion, which requires that the convert pass through water, just as he did in leaving his mother’s womb, to undergo a new birth that makes him a physical descendant of Abraham. Through baptism, Christians believe that they become Abraham’s progeny.
It’s not going to be pretty and it’s not going to be fun, but if we keep “defending a civilisation” that doesn’t want us any more, we’ll end up losing both the faith and the civilisation.