[Cardinal Bea] asked [the author] not to forget what the Bible teaches about the sin and guilt not only of individual men, but of whole communities and nations, from the preaching of the prophets to the threatening words which Jesus spoke over Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Matt. 11:20ff), from the tears he shed over the Holy City (Luke 19:41ff) to the last “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (Matthew 23 [:37-39]). Almost every page of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation knows of what we may call with a modern term “collective guilt”…The church can never do without the concept of a collective guilt. Otherwise, we would deny the original sin. How can Adam’s sin, as even the Council of Trent teaches, be my own (unicuique poprium) sin if sin and guilt belong only to the individual?
-Hermann Sasse From Ten Years After the Council, Some Thoughts for Ecumenical Discussion, in the Reformed Theological Review (Melbourne), 35:2, May-August 1976.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
-1 Corinthians 7:12-14
The question to which we need to attend is whether or not nations or societies or other sort of collective entities are objects of redemption for God. No matter how realised our eschatologies maybe, I think most Christians are agreed that the first and foremost object of redemption for God is the individual’s soul. In this light, God is pleased to uphold and preserve a commonwealth, nation, society, or even an entire civilisation for the sole purpose of providing the necessary civic and temporal conditions for the advancement and spread of the Gospel. From this purely functional perspective there is nothing intrinsically special about Western civilisation, in the eyes of God at least, except in so far as their existence and nature facilitates the right propagation of the Gospel.
I have before articulated reasons why the existence of Europe is a deadweight and a burden to the spread of the Gospel and why it is rightly now an object of God’s wrath, fit to be obliterated from the face of this earth that others may get on with the preaching of the Word. However I am a contrarian, even to myself, and I wish in this post to articulate some reasons why God would still care to preserve and maybe even restore Western Christian nations.
Collective Guilt and Collective Blessings
I have intentionally began this post by citing first a passage from Hermann Sasse, speaking of the idea of collective guilt, against that of St Paul speaking of the cleansings which is passed on to the spouses and children of believers. If there is such a thing as collective guilt, then there ought also be such a thing as collective blessings.
Therefore the first reason why we have good cause to hope for the restoration of Christian Western nations is because of the promises of God. God has promised that the children and even the unbelieving spouses of believers would be sanctified. This promise would be devoid of any content if all the children and descendants of confessing Western Christians of old were all to become completely godless and annihilated. The promise, as St Peter preaches, is not only to those who first heard the Gospel but to their children as well (Acts 2:39).
We have a shining example in history of such divine preservation when God preserved the Christian character of many an Eastern European nations through the godlessness of their communist moment. While their turn away from the Gospel to apostasy richly warrants utter destruction, yet God remembers his promises to their fathers before and preserved the faith unto their children. Rightly are the promises of God claimed for now Western Christians going through a familiar eclipse or decline.
However this promise is not absolute but perilously conditional. The unbelieving spouse is only sanctified provided he remains with the believing other half. The unbelievers of a fallen Western nation would be sanctified only if they exercise the common grace known even to heathens and agree to live in civic peace with the believers, just as the unbelieving husband is sanctified provided he agrees to live in the peace of a civic marriage with his believing wife. But if he sends her away, he has cast off the last cloak which would shield him from the wrath of God.
In so far as a believing remnant remains in any locality or commonwealth, they would be the sanctification of the nation. And if they are afforded the civic peace and common grace which God has richly dispensed upon both the faithful and the faithless alike, then the hope of a sanctification of the whole is a shining one. But should a civic polity cast off and persecute even the believing remnant, then the hope darkens and the sheer mercies of God would be put to the test.
Zeal for the Name of the Gospel
It is the will of God that his name be glorified and honoured from the rising of the sun to its setting and that the Gospel of his Son be magnified everywhere. However should the Christian West fall the name of Christ might fall into disrepute and dishonour amongst the heathens. From our earthly point of view, the Christian faith is associated with the West. While God is entirely free to simply wipe out the memory of Western Christianity from the world, he however has a zeal for the name of his Son and his Gospel. The heathens would scoff and say, why speak to us of God’s blessings and promises to Christ when he cannot even be bothered to communicate it to the children of his own faithful? Why speak to us of spiritual regeneration and sanctification in the Gospel when peoples who once possess every such blessings in the Gospel now fall into notorious sins and corruptions?
Not only will the heathen be given cause to doubt the promises of the Gospel but likewise will the faith of Christians themselves be challenged. If even after granting such gracious gifts to his children it should fall and decay how then may we trust in the steadfast promises of God?
Therefore for the vindication of the Gospel and its promises, God has good cause and justification to restore once more the peoples who are the temporal heirs to the spiritual gifts of their fathers, that both the mouths of the heathen would be stopped and the faith of the Christian be vindicated.
In the end of course it is for God to judge how best he might bring about the salvation of the elect. But as a old saying of St Augustine goes, Christ was crucified between two thieves, do not presume, for one perished, yet do not despair, for the other was saved. Thus do we now find the West are a crossroads. Western Christians ought not to presume upon God’s mercies, for God has obliterated faithless nations before and should they persist in their disobedience God would blot them out from both human and divine memory that no more shall their presence offend him. Yet all of us, both Western and non-Western nations, ought not to despair, for the promises of God is sure and God is not slow to respond to the cries of his faithful.
Though the faithful would often times be eclipsed in nations which once bore the marks of manifold divine gifts and blessings, yet through charity and living peaceably with their unbelieving counterparts, God is pleased to use them to restore vitality back to the whole. For if God could resurrect the dead could he not also heal a sicken nation?