Chesterton's Fence & The Way Forward
On Christian Nationalism and why we moderns are ill-equipped to rebuff the captains of our past
Though to some it may seem like an anachronism in our current state of cultural decay, there has been a lot of recent internet-buzz around the topic of Christian Nationalism. No doubt, the term carries a lot of baggage, so its incumbent upon to its proponents to define what is meant by Christian Nationalism in the first place. While maintaining a separation of church and state, most advocates generally posit that governments serve God by enacting just laws that are consistent with the revelation of His Word (think America past). Of course there is significant discourse around what each individual person means by Christian Nationalism, but either way, it seems that rumours of Christendom’s demise were somewhat exaggerated. And while some of this chatter has been less than fruitful, on the whole it has been an edifying experience to see this dusty, old concept re-enter the marketplace of ideas, airing it out to it all the public scrutiny that comes with the Twitterverse.
And so I wanted to join the fray, albeit from a different angle as its not worth rehashing in my own words what’s already being discussed by others. Giving grace that there are well-meaning Christians on either side of this topic, I thought that it may be beneficial to take a retrospective, shining some light on “Chesterton’s fence” to help discuss what value a Christian culture had brought to us in the first place.
Perhaps a good place to start is the Bible.
“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.”
— Proverbs 22:28
This oft overlooked and peculiar piece of wisdom beckons the modern reader to ask “why?” And thankfully, the late, great apologist G.K. Chesterton (that aforementioned fence’s namesake) has already weighed in on this particular proverb.
There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Though they may be ancient, those landmarks should not readily be disregarded as antiquated. We must first strive to understand why they were erected before we can see clearly enough to safely remove them. But our soundbite-culture has only helped to substitute the speck in our eyes for a log; we lazily opt for safe platitudes over true understanding, and we shade our eyes with the fogged lenses of Critical Theory, a filter which often presumes that everyone from the past was acting nefariously.
Given that we’re a full generation beyond the rejection of society’s building blocks (the sexual revolution began six decades ago!) even the average garden-variety Christian may lack the faculties to understand the reason the fences were their to begin with. This means that we moderns have become ill equipped to rebuff the captains of our past — especially those who were involved in the messy business of nation building.
Fence-sitting upon those ancient landmarks
As our world becomes increasingly hostile to devout Christ-followers, many will almost fondly remember a time when fence-sitting was more comfortable; in those days someone could grow up in the Church and feel quite comfortable never practicing any personal expressions of faith. This result was a failure of the Church which has led us to the mess that we’re in in the first place; while their should always be love and fellowship in the Church, it should not always be a comfortable place to be. The Church is for the equipping of the saints and is a hospital for spiritually sick people. It is certainly not a country club.
Accordingly, others would verbally respond with thankfulness that a line has finally been drawn in the sand; that Christianity is again finding its place outside the institutions of man, not unlike the early or pre-imperial Church. The separation of sheep and goats is more clearly visible as persecution intensifies, for what type of nominal Christian would endure ridicule or unemployment for something that isn’t truly precious to him?
Its as if the old, smooth-railed fence has been replaced with sharp pickets. Fence sitting is no longer comfortable; we’ve had to pick a side. Pick or be pricked, you could say.
Thus some well-meaning Christians welcome the demise of Christendom. But despite these granted points, I believe they are in error.
Connecting the dots
While its true that Christian-culture doesn’t directly save anyone, its rejection has indeed left a painful hole. Consider the cultural shift on abortion over the last thirty years as an example, and how it has gone from “safe, legal and rare” to a celebrated virtue. Or the damage caused from gender confusion being lobbed at innocent children by adults; a plague on reason warring against our most vulnerable. As any God-fearing parent in the decaying West can attest (by their own lived-experience), trying to raise children in the Lord is more difficult today than it was decades ago. The attack on the family is something we could all do without, and parenting has become much more of an intentional exercise accordingly.
But many will point to historical times of persecution as purifying the Church. After all, in John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, it was the persecuted church that wasn’t rebuked. No doubt this is true. But the plunge into moral ambiguity and despair should not be something that any Christian is rooting for, nor is it biblical to do so. Consider the words of Paul on this matter.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
— 1 Timothy 2:1-2
The purpose of our prayers for the government is so that we Christians can live peaceable, godly lives, so that the gospel may go forward. A Christian-culture facilitates that mission statement, and those who will still disregard the gospel are not betrayed by its cultural ubiquity. Rather, they will have had greater opportunity to respond to it! And as it turns out, false assurances of salvation aren’t restricted to cultural-Christianity. The “I’m a good person” path to salvation stubbornly persists, whether the culture is baptized or not.
At the very least, one should admit that our past Christian nation gave society the dots that preachers or evangelists could help the citizenry connect for themselves; those dots being the ancient landmarks. And I would rather see fewer abortions and fewer sterilized children than continue upon this march toward barren secularism, especially if we need not go there to be called a faithful remnant.
The Great Commission
All Christians should desire to see their nation Christianized, however the recent public discourse has brought a wide scope of viewpoints to the forefront. But before any professing Christian can throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, he must first reconcile any outright rejection of Christian Nationalism with the commands of Jesus Christ.
“Finally Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
— Matthew 28:19-20
Aside from the very name of the term, the crux of the Christian Nationalism discussion (at least between well-meaning Christians) seems to revolve around the question of whether we should have a top-down governmental approach or a bottom-up evangelical revival, as though they were a dichotomy. The first is an act of man, the latter an act of the Spirit which cannot be manufactured.
Appropriately, the institutions and laws that Chesterton points to are public, while salvation remains for individual believers. The way forward lies in both approaches.
Very well said!