New Zealand Government Speaker Trevor Mallard changes the wording of the prayer before the daily sitting of Parliament.

New Zealand has always been regarded as a Christian country since the first sitting of its initial parliament in 1854. The gospel was first preached in New Zealand by the Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden, when he arrived at Hohi (Oihi) Bay in the Bay of Islands on the Lord’s Day 1814, which also happened to be the 25th of December.  The service started with the singing of Psalm 100. Marsden preached that day on the text Luke 2:10 ‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’ Although neither Marsden’s sermon, nor the Maori translation of Chief Ruatara given verbally following Marsden’s sermon in English, are extant, we can be sure that the good news about the way of salvation through Jesus Christ was central to his address. This is confirmed by analysing three extant sermons preached at other times by Marsden on the same text. His attentive Maori and European audience presaged the widespread conversion of the indigenous Maori in subsequent decades. Already by 1840, and therefore by the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Christian literary resources totalling 74,000 copies had been distributed among the population, including the New Testament in the Maori language.

            By 1845, 64,000 Maori, or two-thirds of the population, were attending the preaching of the gospel on the Lord’s Day. There were many conversions and a rejection of the old pagan practices of slavery and cannibalism, which had been rife when Marsden had arrived. As former Maori MP Mrs Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan reminds us ‘There was precious little aroha [or love] in New Zealand before the coming of the missionaries’.

CMS, The Church Missionary Society

Marsden had obtained both help and missionaries through the CMS to establish a mission outreach in New Zealand. The CMS had been founded primarily by those associated with the Clapham sect, including William Wilberforce, John Venn and John Newton.          Wilberforce, of course, is best known for bringing about the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, while Newton, an ex-slave trader himself, was now a minister of the gospel and the author of the well-known hymn Amazing Grace.

The Treaty or Covenant of Waitangi

The Missionary movement in New Zealand became the driving force behind the Treaty of Waitangi. They realised that the way other nations had been colonised through wars of conquest and oppression was wrong, and they sought to see a nation established which afforded equal rites to the indigenous people. The Christian connection to the Treaty is often ignored or forgotten. It was the missionary Henry Williams, and his son Edward, for example, who translated the English version of the Treaty into Maori.

The NZCMS reminds us: ‘On February 6th 43 Chiefs signed the treaty, in all over 500 would sign the treaty over the next 8 months. The majority of Treaty negotiators were either missionaries or closely associated with them. Missionaries with considerable mana [respect] with Māori – particularly Henry Williams – took the treaty throughout the country to be signed. On many occasions it is the credibility of the missionaries and their endorsement which gives the treaty its credibility.’

Although seldom acknowledged, the Maori called the Treaty of Waitangi ‘Te Kawenata O Waitangi’ – The Covenant of Waitangi. The only copy of the treaty entitled ‘Treaty of Waitangi’, was one sent to the colonial office in October 1840. The remaining extant copies have no title. The Maori had learned about the concept of the Covenant from the Missionaries and hence from the Bible, where the Hebrew and Greek words translated into the English words covenant and testament are uniformly translated Kawenata in the Maori translation of Bible. There can be little doubt that most Maori understood the Christian significance of the term. Historian Claudia Orange rather cynically suggests, ‘For British officials it’s fair to say the perception of covenant, and the missionaries emphasising the humanitarian protection of the British were simply part of securing sovereignty…’ Though imputing false motives to the British officials, she at least acknowledges that the context of the Treaty was,  for Maori, covenantal theology. Indeed when Maori signed the Treaty, they too signed it explicitly in ‘the year of our Lord’ or Ariki. This demonstrates that the majority of signatories embraced Christ as their Lord.

A Christian Nation

In the first sitting of Parliament  on Wednesday, 24 May 1854, as the MPs debated adopting a prayer before the sitting of Parliament, MP Gibbon Wakefield made the point that New Zealand was a Christian country. For those who might consider not opening in prayer Wakefield warned:

but he should be sorry, for the sake of decency, that New Zealand should be singular in this respect among the Christian countries of the earth. That which was sought for here was observed by England and Holland, Protestant countries; by Belgium and Sardinia, Catholic countries; and he might go on to mention many others.’

The minutes add: ‘He did not therefore wish that New Zealand should be the exception to what was considered everywhere decent and good to be observed’.

            Parliamentary prayer was adopted on the assumption that New Zealand was a Christian nation. And this was surely reflected in both the Maori and European communities.

The First Prayer

The first prayer also needs to be considered, because it was specifically a Christian prayer and a covenantal prayer to the God of the Old and New Testament. The prayer given by an Anglican Minister reads:

MOST Gracious God, we humbly beseech Thee, as for all rulers and Lawgivers, so especially for this Council here assembled, that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper all our consultations, to the advancement of Thy Glory, the good of Thy Church, the honour of our sovereign, and the welfare of this Colony, and of the inhabitants thereof; that all things may be so ordered and settled by our endeavours upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established amongst us for all generations. THESE and all other necessaries, for them, for us, and Thy whole Church, we humbly beg in the name and mediation of Jesus Christ, our Most Blessed Lord and Saviour. AMEN.

He acknowledges that he is seeking God’s grace ‘as for all rulers and lawgivers’ which is an allusion to 1 Timothy 2:1-2; he prays that Parliament firstly is to seek God’s glory, a covenantal obligation; similarly the good of the church, the honour of the rulers and the well-being of the population is sought. This is all premised on the belief that the Christian God controls all providence, and not any other god or gods, and that the ‘consultations’ of Parliament are to ensure the prosperity of the Christian church. The Parliament is to have its deliberations arising from ‘the best and surest foundations’, by which he means the teaching of the Bible. He also appeals to God to establish peace, happiness, truth and justice as well as religion and piety through the leadership of the Parliament. The religion and the piety can only be the Christian religion and Christian piety, because no faithful Minister of the gospel would believe for one moment that God would establish a false religion or an alternative piety than that described in the Christian Scriptures. Notice too that these blessings are called down upon ‘all generations’ and not just their generation. This too is a covenantal idea, whereby God covenants not only with the believers of the day, but lays obligations and duties upon succeeding generations also. Finally, the prayer is in the name of the Mediator Jesus Christ, called ‘our Most Blessed Lord and Saviour’.

            This was how the first Parliament also saw its obligations and duties as it met 163 years ago to govern a Christian nation.

            Later a set prayer was adopted which has been used up until this year. It also follows the original prayer and is equally expressed in covenantal terms:

Humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 The new prayer, now used by the Speaker Mallard (on his first day in Maori translation), guts all biblical and covenantal references so that all and every false god is to be understood as being addressed.

Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand. Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand. Amen.

This format has been adopted specifically to deny that the God of holy Scripture (and the only one and true God) is the One who gives ‘blessings’ to New Zealand. Christ’s name is pointedly excluded, as is the reference to ‘true religion’. It is likely too that Mallard will also drop all references to God.

            It is also true that the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, formerly a Mormon, was sworn into office in a secular ceremony, removing any reference to God from her oath of office.

            It is inevitable that when unbelievers become the government, unbelief will characterise their rule. Nonetheless, we must as Christians point out the consequence of such a state of affairs.

The consequences of unbelief in the government of a Christian covenanted nation

Another covenanted nation, Israel, had apostatised in the days of the prophet Ezekiel. God reminded the people through Ezekiel of His historic judgement on their fathers (Ez.20:24ff) that because the nation had failed to execute God’s judgements, but had despised God’s Sabbaths and chased after other gods, God gave them over to bad statutes, destructive laws which would destroy them spiritually and materially. One of these statutes was sacrifice by fire of their first born to a false God. In our own day one of these evil statutes is legalised abortion. It is notable that Trevor Mallard is on record opposing legislation which would require the parents of minors to be informed if their child was to have an abortion. This might be considered the modern version of offering the firstborn as a sacrifice to the god Molech.

            We cannot expect God’s blessing on the land when we elect politicians who are godless and eager to throw off all acknowledgement of the one true and living God, the God of our fathers. We are still a Christian nation by covenant and we can only expect God’s judgement when we turn our backs on Him. Now that the Parliament, the highest court of the land, has thrown off all pretence of acknowledging the covenant God, we are truly in great jeopardy as a nation. As Christians we can only warn and pray. But we must also not be surprised if some great calamity strikes us as a nation. God is real and thus our perilous state is equally real.

Dr. Garnet Milne,