15 November 2012

New Zealand a Christian Country?

by Dr Mark Keown

I have been pondering whether NZ is a Christian country or not. This is drawn from observations from news that many from outside of the west, especially those in Islamic contexts, consider NZ and other western nations Christian. The first and most obvious answer to the question is that NZ is not a Christian country. In fact, such a country has never existed. A Christian country is not a category in fact. The only truly Christian country is the heavenly politeuma (commonwealth, republic, state, Philippians 3:20), the heavenly Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem above (Gal 4:26;Heb 12:22?). Only in the heavenly politeuma is Christ king and his kingship unchallenged. So, all countries on earth, no matter how many people believe in Jesus, cannot be called Christian countries. The closest we have to a Christian people is the church—but Christian churches are all mixed multitudes.

Perhaps a better question is, “how Christianised is NZ?” This is a more interesting question and one I ponder a lot. Many Christians today would say NZ, like other western nations, is decreasingly a Christianised country, sliding toward idolatry and moral disaster. But is this correct?

If we analyse NZ from the perspective of commitment to the Christian God and the church, we can argue a good case that NZ is less Christianised. Census Christian adherence continues to decline, church attendance per population is declining, and alternative religions, agnosticism and atheism is on the rise. Christianity is marginalised from the public sphere. More insidiously perhaps, the cults of personality, charisma, consumerism, celebrity, materialism, hedonism and more are eroding the soul of the nation. One can argue that people are turning from the Christian God, even if at a nominal level in many cases, to other gods. However, in that nominalism was a huge issue when church attendance was higher, one has to ask whether there are more or less devoted Christians now than previously. Further, while Caucasians are turning away from the Christian God in many instances, people from other nations are making up the numbers. Still, one senses that we are drifting into idolatry more and more.

When we consider personal moral ethics, a good case can be made as well. Marriage, the fundamental unit of human society, is certainly being redefined away from Christian mores with adultery, divorce, remarriage, legitimised LBGT relationships and more. One can argue there is increasing violence, sexual sin, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, corruption and more. However, is it that there is more? Or is it that we are more aware and attuned to these? Are they being reported and noted more? My sense is that, aside from rejection of God, the breakdown of the family is the biggest problem we face. If unchecked, it will reap its “rewards.”
To this point, it would seem NZ is less and less Christianised. However, in some areas we are arguably more Christianised than, say, a century ago. One can argue our justice system is more compassionate and concerned for restoration than it once was; some would argue it is excessively so. We continue to reject the death penalty, and voices for restorative justice are louder.

Comparatively, our society remains very egalitarian, at least in theory. There are real efforts to confront racism in the areas of bi-culturalism, e.g. the Waitangi Tribunal. We advocate sexual equality. We are increasingly multi-cultural, although not everyone likes it. There is a desperate desire to limit discrimination in employment, over issues of sexual orientation and other differences. We still have a medical and social welfare system that provides for those in extreme need, so that, while NZ has relative poverty, we don’t have the extremes of other countries. While there is corruption of course, there always will be; comparatively, we are not a country riddled with corruption. We still allow all people over eighteen the vote. Many of these attributes have their roots in the Christian faith. We are still flavoured in our social and justice systems by Christian ideals. It is arguable in fact, that we are more Christianised in these areas than we were in the past.

To me, the comments above indicate that it is very difficult to argue whether or not we are becoming less Christianised. I suspect we are, more on the basis that less and less New Zealanders believe in Jesus, his death and resurrection, and confess him as Lord. In the NT, this was the mark of Christian faith. Yet, the Christian flavour remains and is strong, in some ways at least. We remain “salty,” at least to a degree. The great question none of us can answer for certain is this—if “faith in Christ” continues to decline in NZ, what will this lead to over time? I suspect it will lead to a further breakdown of the “Christianised” nature of NZ. This will likely manifest in increasing idolatry, social issues, corruption, and eventually our egalitarianism and freedoms. Another question is, if we become less salty, can NZ become salty again? And if so, what would it take? Only time will tell. What do you think?

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