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Our Christian Heritage

When it comes to Christian faithfulness in witnessing and work, it is often a case of — if you're not being criticized then you're not doing your job!

  • Peter Hammond,
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Editor's Note: This message was delivered at the Chalcedon Conference for Christian Culture in Lusaka, Zambia, June 28, 1997.

The Accusation
When it comes to Christian faithfulness in witnessing and work, it is often a case of — if you're not being criticized then you're not doing your job! Those who steadfastly seek to promote Biblical principles will inevitably find themselves accused of being "intolerant," "bigoted," "narrow-minded," "hypocritical," and of "seeking to force your own views upon others"! Zambia in particular has come under severe criticism for committing itself to being a Christian nation.

Are we being "intolerant"? No, it is the secular humanists who are intolerant of Christians. The real bigots are those atheists who are seeking to infringe on the religious liberties of Christians. We are not "narrow-minded"; we stand for freedom of religion. It is the proponents of the secular state who are restricting all public views — including the schools — to the narrow humanistic view. We believe in God's creation encompassing far more than we can ever see, understand and touch. It is the atheist who refuses to believe in anything other than what his narrow materialistic perspective can see, handle or understand.

Christians are not being "hypocritical" when we stand up for our sincerely held beliefs and seek to be consistent with the Biblical injunction to love our neighbours and protect their lives, liberties and property. Rather, it is those secular humanists, who claim to be democratic, who are being hypocritical by ignoring the clear opposition of the majority of citizens to abortion, pornography and the secular state.

Are we seeking to "force our views on others"? No, we believe that God has entrusted man with personal responsibility. We will never seek to force anyone to become a Christian. We use evangelism and education — not force. What we want is for the Christian convictions of the citizens of Zambia to be respected and recognized. It was a very small percentage of atheists who imposed their will on the rest of the nation during the decades of dictatorship.

Time and again we have heard the accusation that a state which recognizes Christian principles would result in "oppression." Some have tried to suggest that "more evil has been done in the name of religion." This accusation is completely unjustified by the record of history! The church has never been perfect, but its track record in history should be remembered for its achievements as well as its failures. The sins of the church should not be taken out of context, blown out of proportion and remembered forevermore as if this has been the only activity of the church. People have always done evil, and this has included many who have claimed to be Christians. However, such evil has never been done because of the Christian Faith, but in spite of it — in violation of God's Holy Laws.

The Pagan Record
Before the advent of Christianity almost every culture and religion practiced slavery and human sacrifice — even the highly esteemed Greek and Roman civilizations.

In the great Roman Empire, abortion was rampant and abandonment of unwanted babies was commonplace. In ancient Rome, unwanted infants were (legally) abandoned outside the city walls to die of starvation, exposure or from wild animals. Infanticide was not only legal; it was applauded. A father had the legal right to kill his children, to marry them to whomsoever he pleased or to sell them as slaves. The Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Socrates lived in and accepted a culture which practiced slavery and human sacrifice and glorified paedophilia (sexual abuse of children).

When missionaries went to nineteenth century China they discovered that baby girls were routinely disposed of by being put out as food for wild dogs and wolves. "Baby towers" were common, where unwanted babies were left out to die of exposure and starvation, or to be eaten alive by birds of prey. Some towns had "baby ponds" where unfortunate infants were thrown. Tragically this pagan practice of infanticide has made a comeback under Communism. In China today every family is restricted to one child. Abortions have been forced on women after they conceived any children after their quota of one. China also has had a record number of stillbirths. Often baby girls have been drowned in a bucket of water or strangled at birth by parents who would have preferred to have had a son.

Child sacrifice was common amongst the pagan religions. Fertility cults, such as those who worshipped Baal and Asherah, the Ammonites who worshipped Molech and the Phoenicians who worshipped Kronos all practiced child sacrifice.

The Aztec Empire in Mexico and the Inca Empire in Peru engaged in slavery, ritual rapes and mass sacrifice. Slaves were marched up the stairs of the pyramid-type Inca temples in the Aztec Empire. At the top a priest would rip out the beating hearts — one by one.

One writer from an unexpected quarter has expressed appreciation for the positive impact of the Judeo-Christian emphasis on the sanctity of life. Jerry Adler of Newsweek (November 6, 1995) wrote: "The Gods Must Be Hungry" in response to the uncovering by archaeologists of a 12-year-old girl sacrificed by the Incas five hundred years ago. He expressed outrage at the tendency among anthropologists to justify barbaric practices such as the ripping out of beating hearts from human offerings by Aztec priests. He quoted the following example of intellectual detachment: "A Tulane University anthropologist has written about ritual killings: `within the context of [Aztec] culture, it all made sense. The sacrifice of human blood, and particularly the heart, was necessary to make the sun go around every day. It ties in to their stories of creation and myth. It was part of the cultural tradition.'" Adler went on to note: "`The Highest Altar' writer Patrick Tierney documented the prevalence of human sacrifice in cultures from almost every part of the world." Adler's article concluded: "The religious tradition of the West begins with a great renunciation of blood offering, when Abraham put down the knife and unbound Isaac. And it proceeds through the glorious sacrifice on Calvary, when God himself offered up His Son to redeem the world. Modern people know better than to think that the sun needs a fresh heart to rise each day, or that natural disasters can be brought off with corpses. Funny, though, we keep on killing one another."

"Suttee" — the burning of widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands — was common when missionary William Carey arrived in India. Yet within a few years he had succeeded in India's outlawing that vile practice. It was the tireless work of Christian missionaries like Anna Bowden, Nan Mullins, Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael which saved tens of thousands of abandoned children. They raised them in their own homes or in orphanages. And it was the persistent work of Christians which outlawed abortion, abandonment and infanticide, first in the Roman Empire, then throughout Europe and America.

Similarly, slavery was eradicated as a result of the tireless efforts of Christians such as William Wilberforce, David Livingstone and General Charles Gordon. Respect for life and liberty is a fruit of Christianity. Those promoting abortion, euthanasia and pornography are not offering us progress but only a return to pre-Christian paganism.

The Christian Record
Most in our society do not seem to realize how much we owe to the Advent of Jesus Christ. Hospitals as we know them were an innovation of Christianity (hence the universal healing symbol of a cross to represent hospitals). The nursing profession was founded by Florence Nightingale out of devotion for Christ. One of history's greatest humanitarian movements, the International Red Cross, was founded by Christians in response to the Scriptural injunction to care for the sick and suffering. Christians, such as Dr. Louis Pasteur, have fueled some of the greatest practical advances in medicine. More hospitals and schools have been founded by Christians than by all other religions combined. The Christian church has been the supreme (and often the only) force restraining man's inhumanity towards man.

The whole concept of charity was a Christian innovation. The church of Christ has done more than any other institution in history to alleviate poverty and suffering. Before Christ, benevolence to strangers was unknown. Where the Bible became known, compassionate and unselfish sacrifice flourished. Dr. James Kennedy's book What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? documents a wide range of the unparalleled contributions of the Christian church.

Some time ago I led a march of over 20,000 South African Christians to the gates of our Parliament in Cape Town to protest the legalization of abortion and pornography and the establishment of a "secular state." I was invited to articulate our concerns before a select committee of our Constitutional Assembly and to answer their questions. Their main argument for the legalization of abortion seemed to be the street children. "Who will look after these unwanted street children?" they demanded.

To this I responded that every day and night some Christian is picking up the casualties of society and giving them a bath, a meal or a bed for the night. Christians have always been in the very forefront of relief aid, caring for widows, orphans and refugees.

"Sir," I declared "I have spent many accumulated months ministering on the streets to the victims of the laws you pass — those impoverished by gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction and prostitution. When Crossroads (a squatter camp) was burning, we were there the very next day with soup kitchens and blankets. When the refugees were fleeing from Marxist Mozambique, we took food, clothing and blankets to them. I've had drunkards vomit down my back while I carried them from the gutter to a place of shelter and a bath. I know that humanist politicians and socialists like to talk about caring for the poor — but it is we Christians who actually do the work. What I would like to know is this: What have any of you ladies and gentlemen ever done — personally — for the poor and needy?"

Even as I boldly challenged them, my heart leapt a beat and I felt that I had overstated my case. Surely one or two of them must have actually been involved in works of mercy? However, I was astounded that all 50 Members of Parliament present averted their eyes, looked down and started scratching the back of their head, shuffling the papers in front of them or squirming in their seats with discomfort. Not one answered my question!

The Christian church has made more positive changes on earth than any other force or movement in history. Most of the languages of the world were first codified and put into writing by Christian missionaries. More schools and universities have been started by Christians than by any other group. The elevation of women (from the second-class status they were kept in by other religions) was a Christian achievement, as was the abolition of slavery, cannibalism, child sacrifice and widow burning. Almost every civilization and culture practiced slavery and human sacrifice before Christian influence. Those countries which enjoy the most civil liberties are generally those lands where the Gospel of Christ has penetrated the most.

As Noah Webster, the statesman, educator and author of Webster's Dictionary, wrote: "The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil, in human society, the best book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the only book that can serve as an infallible guide . . . The principles of genuine liberty and of wise laws and administrations are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who [undermines] the divine authority of that Book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer."

Christianity gave birth to liberty. Constitutional republics, the separation of powers, limited government and freedom of conscience are a result of the Reformation.

It is the secular humanists who have a heritage of oppression. The 44 secular or atheistic states have caused the deaths of over 160 million people in this century alone. The abuse of human rights, atrocities and massacres in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Red China, North Korea, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba were an inevitable result of rejecting God's Law. Either men will be governed by God's Law or they will be ruled by tyrants.

"All the miseries and evils which men suffer from — vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war — proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible" (Webster).

We could also recount the unparalleled contributions made by Christians in the fields of science, art, education, economics, civil and human rights and in works of compassion and mercy. Only those ignorant of history could fail to acknowledge that Christianity has made more positive changes on earth than any other force or movement. The teachings and example of Jesus Christ have inspired the greatest acts of generosity, hospitality, self-sacrifice and service for the sick, poor and needy.

It's easy for opponents of Christianity to criticize, but what are our critics doing for the lonely, the widows, the orphans, the sick, the aged and the refugees?

  • Peter Hammond

Dr. Peter Hammond is a missionary who has pioneered evangelistic outreaches in the war zones of Angola, Mozambique and Sudan. Peter is the Founder and Director of Frontline Fellowship and the Director of United Christian Action. He has authored numerous publications, in particular he has written Holocaust in Rwanda, Faith Under Fire in Sudan, In the Killing Fields of Mozambique, Putting Feet to Your Faith and Renaissance or Reformation. He is the editor of both Frontline Fellowship News and UCANEWS. Peter is married to Lenora and they have been blessed with four children: Andrea, Daniela, Christopher, and Calvin.

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