An Overlooked Blessing

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Current Western “wisdom” includes the mantra: “Keep religion out of politics”. After all, running a government has nothing to do with religion. So, Christians, keep your beliefs at home when engaging in any policy or government matters.

Now much could be said about this issue, but let me only mention the following. Every government, whether it recognizes it or not, is ultimately responsible to God. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the capital city of Rome that “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And a little later, he added that the governing authorities are “God’s servant” (Rom 13:1-2, 4). As an agent of God, government is responsible in the first place to God and will one day have to give an account. This truth is especially telling in a nation like Canada where the Prime Minister and many parliamentarians profess to belong to a Christian church.

Furthermore, the watchword, “keep religion out of politics”, overlooks the fact that in God’s providence, Christianity has been an enormous blessing to the Western world. Its dominance and prosperity would have been unimaginable without the enormous cultural impact of the Bible and Christianity. Think, for example, of the concepts of limited government, the rule of law, high moral demands, the work ethic, and the concept of private property.

All of this came to mind when I was recently reminded of the fact that some Chinese academics have come to realize that Christianity is a major source of the West’s strength and influence. David Aikman, in his 2003 book, Jesus in Beijing, reported that in 2002 a scholar from China’s premier academic research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told astonished American tourists in China’s capital that:

One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world… We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focussed on your economic system. But in the last twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this. (p. 5)

Aikman even notes that early in 2002, China’s then-president and Communist Party leader, Jiang Zemin, was asked at a dinner party, “If before leaving office, you could make one decree that you knew would be obeyed in China, what would it be?” Jiang is reported to have replied with a smile: “I would make Christianity the official religion of China” (p. 17-18). Niall Ferguson in his Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011) gives other examples of prominent Chinese academics who have come to recognize the enormous historical blessing of Christianity (pp. 287-288).

Today, little of this appreciation for Christianity is evident. China’s current leadership is actively persecuting Christians. But, it is doing so to its own long tern hurt.

In Canada [and Australia! JN] there is little appreciation as a nation for the rich biblical heritage that has shaped so much of our country’s institutions and laws. As our country leaves its Christian moorings, we are increasingly living on borrowed capital. But that capital of lingering Christian influence could eventually run out. Where will we then get our direction from as a nation? May we all, along with organizations such as ARPA and others, work for a recognition of God’s rights and biblical principles in our nation. Our country desperately needs it.
by Cornelis Van Dam (Dr Van Dam is professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. This article is published here with his permission. It was also published in Clarion, April 7, 2017.)