The opening of the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 was conducted as a Christian Service. ‘Prayer and Praise’ was offered after “God save the King;” and before the singing of the “Hundredth Psalm”.
Yet today 'no religion' is the single largest 'religious' group in Australia. The Christian influence on our culture is waning. Should this passing be mourned or celebrated?
Our guest: Al Stewart. Al works as national communicator with City Bible Forum in Sydney and is a former Anglican bishop, an author, and he regularly speaks at conferences in Australia and around the world. His Twitter account is @baldypastor.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
To kick off Bigger Questions we like ask a couple of smaller questions - we do try to have a bit of fun on the show. Today we’re asking Al Stewart about the death or decline of Christianity in Australia. So Al, I thought we’d test you on how much you know about Christianity in Australia.
Christendom in Australia
So Al, there was a time, not so long ago, here in Australia where Christian hymns, and Christian prayers were an accepted part of Parliamentary practice and the Christian religion was an integral and fundamental part of the social order? How did it get so influential?
When did this start?
What did it bring?
And this has influenced Australia and our culture?
The death of Christianity in Australia
But things have changed - Christianity in Australia is on the decline - some would even suggest it’s dying. In 2017 journalist Greg Sheridan wrote a piece in The Australian asking ‘Is God dead?’ The number of people attending church regularly has gone from half to single digit percentages. In the 2016 census, ‘no religion’ was the largest religious status. Churches are being closed. If Christianity is not dead yet in Australia, it seems close - so what do you think has changed?
Is it that people are now more enlightened more scientific and less gullible?
So if we were to re-run the opening parliament of Australia now - do you think there will be Christian hymns? Or perhaps, Love to have a beer with Duncan, might be a more inclusive choice?
How do you react to that? You used to be a bishop - are you sad?
The Bible’s answer - Daniel ‘not for sale’
We’re asking Al Stewart today’s big question of whether the death of Christianity in Australia is a good thing?
So Al, do you think that the Bible expects that Christianity should form an integral and influential part of the social order?
Story of Daniel. What happens?
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
Now it says in verse 8, 8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. Why was that?
So Daniel co-operates with the Babylonian rulers.
Here Daniel lives in a world where he and the biblical faith is not in a strong or influential position? So does this mean that the Bible should or shouldn’t control political institutions?
The Bible’s reflection - Daniel suffers for his convictions
Then we wind the clock forward some time and Daniel is faced with a challenge. He’s made it to the top in the Babylonian Government. So much so that later in the book in Chapter 6 verse 3, we learn that
Daniel so distinguished himself among the chief ministers and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. So he’s done well, but he’s not popular. What’s happens?
In the end it’s only a religious charge that they can get Daniel on:
Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.'
So then in verse 10, Daniel, knowing full well that this decree had been published, went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
So Al, why didn’t he just shut the door?
So what happened to him?
So how is it could Daniel could stand firm amidst this challenge?
So how does Daniel’s story relate to the loss of Christian influence or the death of Christianity in Australia today?
The Bible’s reflection - New Testament and impact on Al
In the New Testament book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes in Chapter 3 verse 20,
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ
Is this a similar idea as expressed in the book of Daniel?
How does this impact your perspective on the loss of Christian influence in the world?
How has this story impacted you?
But the Christian faith isn’t completely dead in Australia - you’re a part of it. So what convinced you to believe the Christian message?
So what impact do you think Constantine had on genuine Christian faith?
The Big Question
So Al, is the death of Christianity in Australia a good thing?