A Christian Nation?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
18th September 2009

Tagged: government society tolerance

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Public holidays are a strange battlefield of belief.  But of recent time there have been considerable complaint about the Government of NSW upholding our traditional Easter and Christmas holidays.

An International Hindu organization has complained that other religions do not have their holidays recognized.  Keysar Trad the local Muslim spokesman has also complained.  He wants two Muslim holidays to be recognized as public holidays as well.  The retailers are not happy that shops must be shut.  And of course the secularists are unhappy that religion has any part in public life. 

It is not just NSW that is having this debate.  In the UK there is pressure to have a standard ‘Spring’ holiday rather than the continually moving Easter holiday. 

Furthermore, settling dates for holidays is not a new controversy.  The disagreement over the date of Easter was one of the great divides between Eastern and Western Christianity in Europe.

The debate raises thorny issues of State and Church.  Is Australia a Christian Nation?  Is that even possible?

The Bible does not promote a theocratic nation – where God rules the state.  In the Old Covenant Israel, it was a theocratic state that God chose to rule.  But in the New Covenant he chose individuals from every nation, tribe and people to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Entry into God’s kingdom is not by race or geography but by the persuasion of the truth and the inner working of the Spirit of God in the heart of the recipient.

This does not mean that Christians will have nothing to do with human governments.  God has appointed them to administer justice for the benefit of humanity (Romans 13).  We are to honour, obey and pay taxes to even evil and incompetent governments (1 Peter 2:13-17).  Nor does it mean that we will not influence nations and governments. We cannot lovingly live amongst people without seeking their welfare. The wisdom of God taught in his word is the clearest expression of justice available to humanity – inevitably we would want the nation in which we live to gain its benefit (Genesis18:17-19). 

So why should we make a fuss about this matter?  The selection of public holidays is just a presenting issue for an underlying struggle.  It is not too dramatic to call it a battle for the soul of our nation.

Over time many nations, tribes and societies have come to embrace Christianity as the basis for their constitutions or rule of law.  These are Christian nations.  Their morality and sense of justice, their organisation of family life and their cultural habits to varying degrees reflect Christian values.  They are not theocratic states (though some have mistakenly, disastrously and unchristianly tried to become so - to the shame of our name and reputation).

Thus Christian nations look different to nations, which have an Islamic, Buddhist or Marxist framework.  Christian nations do not seek to impose Christianity upon people by force of arms.  We welcome strangers and protect people of different beliefs, cultures and practices.  We have developed what is called tolerance.  By which we mean “a willingness to allow things that we do not necessarily agree with or even like without interference”.  Tolerance does not mean relativism – “the acceptance that all views are equally valid” – nor does it mean abandonment of your own position in favour of others.  Rather it is the refusal to impose your beliefs on other people as necessary for membership in society.

Public holidays are good for society.  As Christians we should oppose the rapacious greedy materialism that drives the retailers and traders to be open for business every day of the year and ignore the social wellbeing of workers and their families.  This is the end result of the individualism and social sterility of secular atheism where there are no holy days but just the continued monotony of work.

Public holidays are a time for celebration and commemoration of important cultural markers that have defined the historical making of a nation.  By them we are reminded of the history that has produced our distinctive national culture and are critical to maintain as the community develops.

As Christians we should not really be committed to dates and seasons (Colossians 2:16-17).  We should never have fought over that dating system of Easter.  And if it were set down for the same day of the year every year (like Christmas), it would not really matter.  Yet it is good for society’s self-awareness to be reminded of our Christian foundation through public holidays that celebrate the central concerns of Christianity, namely Easter and Christmas.

It is part of our tolerant society that not everybody has to observe or like public holidays.  We are not dragooned out for compulsory celebrations.  People can stay in bed or go fishing.  They can even complain about it.  Not everybody likes to celebrate our involvement in war on Anzac day, nor the European invasion on Australia day.  But these events were foundational to who we are as a nation.  In the same way there are Australians who do not like Christianity, but celebrating Easter and Christmas is an appropriate and Australian way to commemorate the foundational role that Christianity plays in our culture and nation.