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We Stand on Guard for Thee: Canada’s Christian Foundation

By: Justin Wishart
Another Canada Day is upon us, and amidst the celebrations going on from coast to coast to coast, I’d like to take time to contemplate Canada. Despite our issues as a nation, I honestly believe we live in one of the best countries on earth. But, what makes our country so great? Is it the pristine wilderness, diverse cultures, or Tim Horton’s? One of my answers for why I love my country is not usually one that is often given; I love Canada because of its Christian foundations. This will not garner me much in the way of ‘politically correct points’, however our great country is founded on Christian values. This is what I believe makes our country so attractive for the millions of immigrants who establish families here, with my own family moving here from Scotland in 1796.
I would like to highlight two surprising ways how Christianity has positively shaped Canadian culture.[1] This is an extremely brief sampling, and cannot even begin to demonstrate the massive contribution Christianity has had on our great nation. Due to space, I only picked these two examples, and they might seem to be rather odd examples. I picked them because they fly in the face of the tired old narrative people use in an attempt to slam Christians. I could have picked more obvious examples, such as the education system, hospitals (including the motivation for setting up universal healthcare), various influential charitable organizations, the foundation for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a host of other examples.
Before I begin however, it is important to recognize that many people, particularly Aboriginals/First Nations’ groups, have suffered greatly at the hands of various Christian organizations. Often professing Christians have done things which frankly are a glaring embarrassment to the overall Canadian Christian community. Christians should never downplay the horrors of these actions done in the not so distant past. On the other hand, we need not feel compelled to accept the overemphasis that many critics of Christianity place on these sad events. They make it sound like the only contribution Christianity gave Canada was Residential Schools and the destruction of First Nations’ culture. This is simply not true.
The Preservation of Native Culture
One surprising contribution Christianity has had on Canadian culture was the preservation and remembrance of First Nations’ cultures. One major motivation of settlers from the Old World, namely France, to come to Canada in the 1500/1600s was to be missionaries to the Aboriginal populations. Jesuits moved into these societies, learned their languages and customs, and often recorded what life was like. They wrote on their traditions and spiritual beliefs.
“In studying the Amerindian [Aboriginal] societies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the data obtained from artifacts and the written records of European observers is the supplemented by the oral traditions, the stories, legends, and myths passed down from one generation to the next among Amerindians.”[2]
And who were primarily these “European observers”?
“Much of our knowledge of Amerindian life and societies is drawn from the correspondence of Jesuit missionaries. The latter excel in providing detailed, oftentimes sympathetic and understanding descriptions…acknowledging the latter’s virtues and qualities, and frequently making comparisons with some of the less than admirable ways of the French coreligionists.”[3]
It seems that the common narrative that missionaries destroyed First Nations’ culture turns out to be a half-truth. It is equally true that it was missionaries who have preserved much of First Nations’ culture that would have been lost. As it turns out, it was the missionaries who viewed Christianity as equal to European culture, mistaking Western culture with Christianity, that cause the greatest damage and horror stories we hear. But, it was the missionaries who understood that the Gospel message is something different then European culture which has helped preserve First Nations’ culture for us today.
It is because of this Christian heritage that we can know and learn about our pre-euro mosaic. First Nations’ culture continues to play a major role in Canada’s self identity, an identity which would have been lost without these early Christian missionaries.
Separation of Church and State (Canadian Style)
This term is an American term but we have this concept at work in Canada. Secularists like to erroneously claim this concept somehow as their own. However, this is simply false in the Canadian context. It was Christians, particularly Evangelicals, who pushed this concept into law.
“In the eyes of nineteenth-century evangelical Christians, the diverse agreements between established churches and governments resulted in excessive and unacceptable restrictions on the freedom of the church to preach the Word of God. The established churches were perceived to be shackled, unable to criticize and denounce abuses or to proclaim the Gospel as they should. The solution was to free the Christian church from the clutches of the state by taking the required steps to ensure its autonomy… this meant that evangelicals opposed direct and indirect government subsidies… They stood for voluntarism… that churches and their activities should be supported by voluntary donations by their faithful, not by governments.”[4]
Evangelicals pushed the government to make this principal law. In an interesting twist of irony, when the Secularist says that a Christian cannot use his Christian convictions in politics because there needs to be a separation of Church and State, this turns out to have originated from a Christian conviction. When a Secularist point to this law in an attempt to quiet us, it seem contradictory since this legal principle was based on a push for a purer Christianity.
We should be thankful of Canadian Evangelicals in the past who used their religious convictions to set up this principle. It has been a great gift to us today.
The bottom line is that I love Canada because we have been greatly influenced by Christianity. The opening sentence of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God…”[5] Our great nation is founded on the recognition of the Christian God, and this has given us great strength.
It is because of this strength that Faith Beyond Belief fights for Christian values in the public square. Today, there is strong pressure to move away and ignore our Christian foundation. But, when we study how great Christianity has been for Canada why would we move away or ignore what makes us strong? Many of the very things that Canadians enjoy about Canada have Christianity to thank for it.
This Dominion Day, take some time to gratefully consider how God has blessed this nation. His Word truly has been a lamp to our feet. Also take time to learn about how Christianity has greatly contributed to our country. We lose much when we ignore our heritage and as memory slowly fades away from the collective Canadian consciousness, we now see the drastic results in our country. The good news is our heritage can also become our present reality: it just takes Canadians to realize this. I will leave you with a hymnal version of “O Canada” which is a beautiful poem and an inspiring vision for our beautiful country. Happy Dominion Day!
            Lord of the lands, beneath Thy bending skies,
On field and flood, where’er our banner flies,
Thy people lift their hearts to Thee,
Their grateful voices raise:
May our dominion ever be
A temple to Thy praise.
Thy will alone let all enthrone:
Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own:
Lord of the lands, make Canada Thine own!
Almighty Love, by Thy mysterious power,
In wisdom guide, with faith and freedom dower;
Be ours a nation evermore
That no oppression blights,
Where justice rules from shore to shore,
From lakes to northern lights.
May love alone for wrong atone;
Lord of the worlds, with strong eternal hand,
Hold us in honour, truth and self-command;
The loyal heart, the constant mind,
The courage to be true,
Our wide extending empire bind,
And all the earth renew.
Thy Name be known through every zone;
Albert D. Watson

[1] For one of the best accounting of Christianity’s influence on Canada: Robert Choquette, Canada’s Religions, University of Ottawa Press, 2004
[2] Robert Choquette, Canada’s Religions, University of Ottawa Press, 2004, pg. 11,12
[3] Ibin, pg. 61
[4] Ibin, pg. 230
  • I agree with this! The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. Thanks.

  • Great ! I am very thankful of your post. I believe that the Bible, consisting of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and only final authority in all matters of faith and conduct. The Bible, as originally written under the inspiration and supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit by human authors, is the Word of God, the supreme source of truth for Christian belief. The Bible reveals who God is, exposes who we are in light of His holiness, proclaims God’s merciful salvation and teaches and trains Christ’s followers how to grow in relationship with God and others.It has been a great gift to us today.
    School of Meditation