By Justin Wishart
Christianity played a major role in the formation of Canada. From Jacques Cartier planting a cross in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1534, to our national anthem containing a prayer to God, Christianity has had a central place. Even the things we take pride in—our compassion, freedom, and social values—find their root in Christianity. As Robert Choquette explains:
The Bible is shot through with statements highlighting the centrality of the love of God and neighbour in the Christian economy of salvation. Faith and love go hand-in-hand, are inseparable in Christian teaching. If a Christian does not love his or her neighbour, he or she is not a true Christian. . . .
Although Protestants and Catholics would argue over the precise theological relationship between faith and works, neither would deny the central importance of the love of neighbour in Christian life.[i]
There are many examples to show how these ideals have shaped us. We used to call ourselves the “Dominion of Canada” because of a biblical reference: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:8).[ii] Our coat of arms also contains the Latin phrase A Mari Usque Ad Mare, which is translated “From Sea to Sea,” taken from the same verse. In the same Psalm, we read:
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. . . . For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight. (Psa. 72: 3-4, 12-14)
This focus on loving others was the motivation for Thomas Douglas, a Baptist minister, to fight for universal health care. While the wisdom and moral results of socialistic policies in Canada should be debated, this social gospel has traditionally been rooted in the desire for God’s Kingdom to be realized in our nation. The things we tend to value most about ourselves often find their origins in Christianity and the Bible.
You would think that Canadians would be interested in reading the Bible since it has given us so much of our self-identity. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A report titled Confidence, Conversation and Community: Bible Engagement in Canada, 2013 concludes, “The majority of Canadians, including those who identify themselves as Christians, read the Bible either seldom or never.”[iii] Not only do Canadians rarely read the Bible, we rarely reflect on the meaning of the Bible or talk to others about it. According to this report, “[o]nly about one in ten Canadians . . . reflect on the meaning of the Bible,”[iv] and, “Only 6% of Canadians . . . talk to others about the Bible outside of religious services at least once a week.”[v] While in 1993 a low 35% of Canadians strongly agreed that the Bible is the word of God, the report found that our “confidence that the Bible is the Word of God has significantly declined”[vi] to only 18% in 2013. It seems strange that we rarely read, ponder, and talk about the very thing which gives us much of our self-identity.
While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God,”[vii] it seems as if our foundations are becoming increasingly secularized. As we move away from basing our nation on God, it seems natural that we will base it on man. As an example, God as a timeless, transcendent foundation for human rights grounds our rights in an immutable source. This, likewise, makes our basic rights immutable. Man, on the other hand, is fleeting and temporal. It follows that grounding our basic rights in man subjects them to the shifting sands of public opinion. What seems to be a sure principle today may end up being rejected tomorrow. The legalization of gay marriage provides a good example of this possibility. It is unclear what awaits us in the future as we “progress” down the secularist path. It is unlikely to look anything like the vision of the Fathers of Confederation, and even less likely to resemble Scripture. Our very foundation, which recognizes the supremacy of God, will likely be removed by the force of powerful lobby groups.
How is the Christian church to respond to this bleak future? The fundamental Christian disciplines of Scripture reading, prayer, and serving others must be encouraged and practised. However, we must also start thinking of theology in terms of worldview. Christianity must move from being a property we possess and toss away, to being the essence of what we are. Once we start thinking of Christianity as how we view every aspect of the world around us, Christ will predictably influence all our thoughts and actions. This will, in turn, naturally influence the culture around us.
For too long, Canadians have relegated Christianity to the realm of personal beliefs. We are expected to enter into our public life with a secularist mindset, and for the most part we have done so. This has created a split mind in the Canadian Christian. We have a mind for our personal beliefs, filled with thoughts on God; we also have another mind for the public world, devoid of any reference to God. How often does the secularist demand that we not invoke God in public discussions? It seems we are buying into this idea. Only 13% of Canadians think that “the Bible is relevant to modern life.”[viii] Yet, if God is Lord, he is Lord of both our private and public lives. When we understand that Christianity is a complete worldview, we see that the dichotomy between the private and public world is an illusion.
How can we act surprised when God is being systematically removed as the foundation of our society, when we ourselves oblige the secularists’ demands? It is to be expected. As a result, Christianity becomes marginalized in the collective Canadian consciousness. The idea that Christianity is relevant in our day-to-day lives becomes less accepted, as the data shows. It seems natural to conclude, then, that we should tackle this marginalization head on. We must regain the vision of our spiritual forefathers. Christianity was never an idea that should be relegated to our personal lives; instead, we should shine our light on the world around us. This transition would need to start in the church. We should teach the laity how Christianity applies to science, politics, ethics, philosophy, and other such areas normally relegated to the secularist domain. When regular Christians understand Christianity as a worldview, this will radically change how we interact with the culture. As a consequence, we will simply do as Christians have always done, and change our culture around us.
[i]. Robert Choquette, Canada’s Religions (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2004), 331-32.
[ii]. All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version.
[vii]. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.
[viii]. Hiemstra, Confidence, Conversation and Community.