Recently I was speaking with a relative and we eventually arrived at the subject of contemporary Christianity and what is happening not only in Australia, but around the world. We both agreed there were problems in the world that somehow Christianity should be able to address. And we both recognized that contemporary Christianity was largely irrelevant to the problems at large. We did not get time to explore why this is so, but this essay is my attempt to suggest some of the reasons for the inability of Christians to address contemporary social issues with a distinctively Christian answer to those problems. A distinctively Christian answer is one that comes from the Bible.
What is necessary to recognize is that the problems of today go well beyond same-sex marriage and abortion. While these are important they are not the only issues that Christians should be addressing. And perhaps it is the failure of Christians to address other social issues that has led to the impotence of Christians today. For too long, Christians have been silent. But their silence was the outcome of their own mistakes. See The Evangelical Influence in the Rise of the Welfare State.
In the 19th century, for example, came the introduction of Limited Liability laws. Now limited liability was not new. There was nothing in contract law that prohibited people limiting their liability and transferring it to another person or persons. What contract law required, however, was the voluntary agreement by that person or persons to accept the liability of another person. Thus, in business, for example, two partners, (A) and (B) could agree among themselves that (B) would not be fully accountable for his liabilities. (A) could voluntarily agree to accept those liabilities. But what (A) and (B) could not do was to transfer (B)’s liabilities to Dave on the other side of town without Dave’s express approval.
Writing in the 19th century, Henry Buckle put together a three-volume History of Civilization in England (1869). Buckle was no friend of Christianity, and was happy to witness its demise in his time. But his observation as to the cause of the decline of the influence of Christianity is rather revealing. Speaking of the decline of ecclesiastical power and the emergence of what he called “religious liberty”, Buckle made these comments:
Among the innumerable symptoms of this great movement, there were two of peculiar importance. These were the separation of theology, first from morals, and second from politics. The separation from morals was effected late in the seventeenth century; the separation from politics before the middle of the eighteenth century. And it is a striking instance of the decline of the old ecclesiastical spirit, that both of these great changes were begun by the clergy themselves. . . . Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, was the first who laid down that the state must consider religion in reference, not to revelation, but to expediency; and that it should favour any particular creed, not in proportion to its truth, but solely with a view to its general utility. . . .
Thus it was that, in England, theology was finally severed from the two great departments of ethics and of government. . . 
- Volume 1, pp.424-427.↵back
(From the archives. Originally published August, 1992.)
Rock music has received some publicity, both for and against, in recent articles in some of the religious press in Australia. This occurred because the head of the Unregistered Union of Churches in Russia has sent an “Urgent Message to the Churches in America from . . . the Persecuted Church in Russia.” The letter, from Peter Peters and Vasilij Ryzhuk, originally printed in Christian Info News, a monthly Christian newspaper from British Columbia, Canada, said in part:
For 30 years we have suffered intense persecution, and now freedom is bringing another great harm to our churches. This damage is coming from Christians in America who are sending rock music and evangelists accompanied by rock bands.
Our young people do not attend these meetings because we have all committed not to participate in secular entertainment.
This is a great burden on our hearts. Many come with the Bible in hand and rock music. We are embarrassed by this image of Christianity. We do not know what words to use in urging that this be stopped. We abhor all Christian rock music coming into our country.
Rock music has nothing in common with ministry or service to God. We are very, very against Christian Americans bringing to our country this false image of “ministry” to God. We need spiritual bread; please give us true bread, not false cakes. It is true that rock music attracts people to the church, but not to Godly living.
We were in prison for 15 years and 11 years for Christ’s sake. We were not allowed to have Christian music, but rock music was used as a weapon against us day and night to destroy our souls. We could only resist with much prayer and fasting.
Now, we have a time for more openness, and we are no longer in prison. However, now it is Christians from America who damage our souls. We do not allow this music in our church, but they rent big stadiums and infect teenagers and adults with their rock music.
We, the leadership and congregation of the Unregistered Union of Churches, and former Persecuted Church, have made an agreement not to allow rock music into our church. We urge you to join with us and we advise you to remove rock music from America.
Do not desecrate our teenagers with it. Even the unbelievers recognize it is unholy music and they cannot understand how American Christians can be so much like the world. We can give you the conclusion that after Russian unbelievers have attended rock concerts where Christ’s Word was preached, the people were very disappointed and disillusioned with Christianity.
We call this music from hell. We urge all Americans stop giving money for the organisation of such concerts in Russia. We want only traditional Christian music in our churches. This is the unanimous decision of all our leaders.
When this article was reprinted in Australian press, it was bound to create a reaction. It is an emotive topic. Many people just happen to like to rock music and can’t see anything wrong with it. A number of letters to New Life contributed to the debate, including one by myself. In nearly all instances, the authors were either against or in favor of rock music on merely subjective grounds. They happened to like it, and that was good enough for them. Naturally, if it is good enough for them, they thought it should be good enough for everyone else as well.
“The religious rights of the citizens of the United States consist in the enjoyment of his own conscientious choice, amongst all the forms of our common Christianity which were in existence at the time when the Constitution was established. This must be taken as the full limit of fair and legal presumption, as the two first chapters have sufficiently proved. Therefore I hold it preposterous to suppose that a band of Hindoos could settle in any part of our territories, and claim a right, under the Constitution, to set up the public worship of Brahma, Vishnu, or Juggernaut. Equally unconstitutional would it be for the Chinese to introduce the worship of Fo or Buddha, in California. Neither could a company of Turks assert a right to establish a Mosque for the religion of Mahomet. But there is one case, namely, that of the Jews, which forms an apparent exception, although it is in fact supported by the same principle. For, the meaning of the Constitution can only be derived from the reasonable intention of the people of the United States. Their language, religion, customs, laws, and modes of thought were all transported from the mother country; and we are bound to believe that whatever was tolerated publicly in England, was doubtless meant to be protected here. On this ground, there is no question about the constitutional right of our Jewish fellow-citizens, whose synagogues had long before been established in London. But with this single exception, I can find no right for the public exercise of any religious faith, under our great Federal Charter, which does not acknowledge the divine authority of the Christian Bible.”
John Henry Hopkins: The American Citizen: His Rights and Duties, According to the Spirit of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Pudney & Russell, 1857), p. 77 f., quoted in R.J. Rushdoony, The institutes of Biblical Law, volume one (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973) p. 581.
If a Thief Hands You Stolen Money, What Should You Do?
Returning to Australia from time to time, I was soon reminded of many of the issues that dropped out of sight while living in America.
At the top of the list is the Australian concept of socialism. Socialism is the idea that the government takes control of all resources within the nation and allocates them in some fashion. Frederick Hayek drew the distinction between communism and socialism when he observed that in communism, the government owns everything and allocates according to government plan. Under socialism, ownership remains in the hands of individuals, but the government determines the allocation of the privately-held resources. The Australian government pretends it is neither socialistic nor communistic. But as Ludwig von Mises argued so clearly, the middle-of-the-road policy is the road to full socialism. You cannot control part of the economy without controlling all of it.
The key issue here is one of ownership and the meaning of the idea of ownership. “Thou shalt not steal” establishes the right of private ownership, ownership being the right of dispossession. This is the key. If you cannot dispose the things you own in the manner in which you would like, you don’t own the thing. Whoever controls the dispossession is the real owner, even though there may be official papers giving title to the individual.
In the modern world it is taxation, perhaps more than anything else, that determines the biblical framework of ownership. The government not only takes for itself the right to tax, but it also allocates to itself the right to determine how much tax it might be entitled to. This is important because it raises the question of property ownership in money. It doesn’t exist any more. But it did exist at one time, when the Bible provided the prevailing philosophy.
When you speak of Christian culture, what do you mean? What do you understand by the idea of Christian culture?
There is a tendency by many to think of Christian culture in terms of things: movies, art, music, business, money, economy, property rights, and so forth.
In the past, however, when Christianity did influence the culture, it had an advantage. The key elements of Christianity were constantly a reminder to the people, not just through the implementation of music, art, literature, and law, but through a series of events that spread throughout the calendar year.
I’m referring to the Christian calendar. This created what Robert Webber calls “Christian-year spirituality”. According to Webber,
Through Christian-year spirituality we are enabled to experience the biblical mandate of conforming to Christ. The Christian year orders our formation with Christ incarnate in his ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and coming again through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In Christian-year spirituality we are spiritually formed by recalling and entering into his great saving events (Ancient-Future Time, p. 22).
Now when was the last time you had a Christian-year calendar that recalled the major events of God’s saving work through Christ, and participation in that and his future as King of kings, and Lord of lords?
Socialism is the enemy of the people. Thus argued Ludwig von Mises in his book by that name, Socialism. It is the enemy of the people for economic and political reasons. But it is also the enemy of the people when it comes to Church Planting. And this is the view of David Garrison in his book, Church Planting Movements: How God is Reclaiming a Lost World (2004).
The Church Planting Movement (hereafter, CPM) has literally become church planting on steroids in some parts of the world. When missionary David Watson was sent to India in about 1991, he asked God to give him five converts in the first year. That prayer was honored by God and David got his five workers. From there it was all a downhill run. Or so it seems. Fifteen years later, the results were 80,000 churches with an average membership of around 64 people, and about three million baptisms. Church growth may be dead in your neck of the woods, but in other places it is alive and well on planet earth.
The CPM movement developed a number of important ‘steps’ to successful church planting. One of them, for example, was the idea that church planting was a relative failure when the teaching carried with it cultural baggage. That is, trying to plant western-style churches with stain-glass windows into a culture such as India was a commitment to failure. In the words of Garrison, “When the gospel is perceived to be alien to a culture or is viewed as belonging to another people group or culture, Church Planting Movements face an uphill battle.” David Watson explained that it was necessary for them to strip western culture out of the Gospel in order for the Gospel to do its work. And it would be the Holy Spirit in the lives of the new believers that would eventually bring cultural change in India.
Sustainable church growth must learn to find its own resources.
This article, however, is not about CPM in general, but only about socialism and its identified impact on the CPM movement.
Socialism is a term that refers to ownership of the means of production. It is different from communism in one respect. Under communism, all property is owned by the state. It is therefore controlled by the state. Under socialism, property may well be ‘owned’ by individuals and corporations, but it is still controlled by the state. But there are two aspects to socialism that cause it to fail. First, it takes the decision-making away from those who should be making decisions. Second, it can turn finances into a perpetual state of subsidy.
- Garrison, Church Planting Movements, Kindle edition, Loc. 4090.↵back
From the archives. Originally published February, 1991.
Winston Smith: “I know that you will fail. There is something in the universe . . . some spirit, some principle — that you will never overcome.”
O’Brien: “What is it, this principle that will defeat us?”
Winston Smith: “I don’t know. The spirit of Man.”
O’Brien: “And do you consider yourself a man?”
Winston Smith: “Yes.”
O’Brien: “If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct: we are the inheritors.”
—George Orwell, 1984.
Critics of Keynesian economic theory have rightly centered on the many fallacies which Keynes portrayed as apparently sound economic theory. Not a great deal of attention, however, has been given to the relationship of Keynesianism and the meaning of being human.
In a general sense we can say that Keynesian theory and any concept of the freedom of the individual are at loggerheads. It is easy to see (for some of us at least) that if bureaucrats are given decision-making powers which take precedence over the decisions which individuals might make, then individual freedom has been seriously undermined.
For example, one of the great fallacies in Keynes’ argument is the concept of the circular flow of money, the idea that one person’s expenditure is another person’s income. From this Keynes concluded that there are some people in this world who deliberately create economic hardship for others by withholding expenditures. They actually have the audacity to hoard their money, thereby depriving someone else of income. (Hoarding here is used in contrast to saving. Savings is money invested and therefore still in the circular flow, whereas money hoarded is apparently taken out of the expenditure stream and hidden under the mattress, in cookie jars, buried in the back garden, or whatever it is that hoarders do with their money.)
Ethics of Hoarding
What Keynes and those after him failed to realize is that even hoarding has a positive affect on the economy. Money is an economic good and serves an economic function. An increased demand for any economic good has a tendency to lead to increased production of that good. Therefore money leaving the expenditure stream for hidden places will tend to create an increased demand for additional money to take its place. Today, money is pieces of paper printed on both sides, as well as token coinage made out of copper and zinc, and any increase in hoardings would have the following effect.
I was talking with someone about King David from the Bible. We talked about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, the “murder” of her husband and the death of the newborn. Then we went on to talk about the violence and deception that you find among David’s offspring. They were a wild bunch.
I have often talked about the Biblical curses being more about learned behavior and attitudes that are passed down than any actual “curse”. This discussion drove the point home even stronger to me.
God didn’t come down to David and say, “Because of what you did, I am now going to curse your children.” Nor, in all likelihood, was there a gene for violence that was passed down. What David demonstrated and did with his own life was passed down. It was something the children learned from the father’s behavior patterns.
We teach our children how to deal with situations not necessarily through our words but through our actions. An alcoholic has a much higher percentage of alcoholic children than a non-alcoholic. The visual evidence of the addiction is most of the time nothing more than how an addict deals with and avoids life, including emotions and feelings. This same avoidance behavior is what the children learn.
What we teach our children though our actions is important. Typically it is so subtle we don’t even realize we are doing it.
The good news is it works both ways, healthy and unhealthy behaviors. We can influence our children with good behavior just as much as we can influence them with bad behavior.
So what are you teaching your children?
My observation is not the fact that Johnny can’t sing — it’s that he doesn’t sing. Or if he does, he does not do it very well.
I‘m reading the book, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal. It’s a good read on the problem of religious music today, and offers some relevant suggestions.
But in my observation it is not the fact that Johnny can’t sing — it’s that he doesn’t sing. Or if he does, he does not do it very well.