Most American Christians will probably not hear or pay attention to today’s news from Europe. The news is disturbing: The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared the public display of crucifixes in schools in Italy illegal. This was in response to a complaint filed by a Finnish-born mother who sued the schools for displaying the crucifixes. Crucifixes in the classrooms of public schools in Italy are mandatory by law, and that law is approved by the majority of the population, whether they believe in Christ or not. But the Court in Strasbourg decided against the democratic opinion of the Italian people and declared the law illegal.
Italy is in uproar. All politicians, with the exception of the far left Communists, spoke against the decision of the Court. The Roman Catholic Church is also actively campaigning against the decision. Whether Italians believe in Christ or not, crucifixes are part of Italy’s identity and removing them will mean removing that identity.
This is nothing new for us here in America. Italians will have to fight the same battles that we fight. Both in Europe and America, covert or overt Communists will be working to destroy organized Christian religion. On both sides of the Atlantic the covert or overt Communists will try to subvert the will of the majorities through centralized court decisions. Italy doesn’t have too many active professing Christians, but as many as she has will have to go back to Italy’s historical identity to defend Christianity and uphold the laws that made Italy what she is today. Same here in America: We will defend America by going back to what made America great, the Christian faith of her Founding Fathers and the Christian character of her institutions as they were originally founded and designed.
Yes, both America and Italy have Christian roots, and Christianity is part of their traditional identity. You simply can’t define the United States of America apart from the words “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” And you can’t define Italy apart from its Roman Catholic tradition. Therefore restoring America will mean restoring Christian America, and restoring Italy will mean restoring Christian Italy.
There is only one little problem with this: Traditions, once lost, are nearly impossible to restore. That’s why the fight against the Court in Strasbourg may turn out to be a causa perduta, a lost cause. And that’s why for the last 60 years American Christianity has been losing one battle after another for the American culture. Appealing to traditions for the sake of traditions themselves is a lost cause. Traditions never won a culture, and cultural traditions invariably die when they become irrelevant to the problems of a culture.
Therefore, relying on the traditional Christian roots of a culture won’t do the work. We must do something more. We must build a new tradition that will last centuries so that our children and grandchildren won’t have to fight the battles we are fighting. A new Christian tradition that will restore America and Italy to what they were without the weaknesses that made them fall under the assault of secularism, communism, socialism, and Islam.
We need to ask ourselves the big question: What created the Christian culture in Italy in the first place? And about America: What created the Christian culture that created America?
And we need to ask ourselves the question of all questions: What is it that Christians in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries had that we don’t have? Why could they build a Christian civilization and we can’t even organize our churches?
And when we ask that question and honestly inquire, we will get the humbling and instructing answer:
Christianity of the ages past was a relevant Christianity. It was not limited to the private personal life of believers; it was not limited to their churches on Sunday morning. The Christianity of our ancestors had answers for every aspect of human life and activity; the Gospel talked not only about the eternal salvation of men’s souls, it addressed family and education, law and economics, international relations and scientific endeavors. It gave instruction about business relationships and architecture; it taught about banking, insurance, and sculpture. It sponsored Copernicus, and it condemned rebels and thugs. It researched maps and built roads, and cut marble for timeless art. It shamelessly proclaimed Jesus Christ as King over every single aspect of life, and in His name it tore down and built and rebuilt, and in His name it gave life.
Sure enough, it wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t always Scriptural. But it had in itself the seeds of its own perfection, and it created mighty traditions, and these traditions are still so prevailing today that the enemies of Christ spend vast amounts of resources to remove even the smallest vestiges of them—so frightened are they of what that Christianity could accomplish. (Why else would one of the highest courts of Europe make special sessions and decisions about crucifixes that are just pieces of wood?)
That Christianity, the relevant, comprehensive, shameless, ideologically militant Christianity, the Christianity that had as its goal to take the world and run it according to the Word of God, that Christianity created these traditions and the roots we can look back to. Remember this every time Sunday morning when in your prayer in the church you thank God for the freedom we have in this country to worship. We have it because there were Christians before us who in the name of Christ defended and established our freedom. When you thank God about your prosperity, it is because there were Christians before you who did not look down on the Biblical principles for economic and political action. You have what you have because there were Christians who were spiritual enough to apply God’s Law to the material world.
And that’s how we got the traditions and the roots that we are defending today.
And here’s the problem today: We cannot defend and sustain these traditions unless we have the same Christianity that created them. As long as we have limited, existentialist, passive, pessimistic, pietistic Christianity, we won’t be able to defend our ground. If our Christianity doesn’t have a plan and ideology for action for taking the planet for Christ, we won’t have any tool to defend our positions. As long as we believe the culture is irreparably ruined and given to Satan and his followers, we won’t be able to restore our Christian roots, and we won’t be able to build a lasting tradition. If our Christianity talks about our souls only and never about the culture, then we’ll lose the culture—and in the process of losing the culture we’ll lose our souls as well, and the souls of our children.
But we don’t have that same Christianity today. We have pastors and elders and missionaries and seminary professors who refuse to address the culture because it is “too political.” We have ministers and theologians who refuse to study the application of God’s Law to world problems because “you don’t polish the brass on a sinking ship.” We have millions of Christian parents today who deliver their children to the government schools because “our schools are different.”
Therefore both Italy and America need most of all a revival of Christianity. A revival of relevant, comprehensive, world-changing Christianity. This only can save their identity, and change the course of history. Relying on past traditions only is a lost cause, and it will never succeed.