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Entries in Canada (3)


The Catholic Presence Makes a Difference

One of the areas of study I am always in the process of engaging in is the history of the Church in Canada. I will be taking Church history in September, and I hope at that time to find more resources about the history of evangelicalism specifically. Evangelicalism in the U.S. is well documented, but there is much less with a specifically Canadian focus.  

For quite a few years now, I have had Mark Noll's A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada on my shelf. It's a large volume, and I've just never decided to sit down with it and pick away at it. As part of my reading of Canadian material this year (and reading books which sit on my shelf unread for a long time), I decided to take it out on the deck with me and my tea yesterday afternoon. I have always like Noll's writing. 

Noll begins right at the beginning, with the colonization of the New World, and the impact it had on the indigenous peoples. I was happy to see Noll's admission that what Columbus and his kind did was not always Christian. As he discusses these early years, he points out that in Canada, because of the French presence, had a Christian presence for a long time before Protestantism began making its mark.

One of the most famous French mission initiatives to Canada came through Jean de Brébuf, a Jesuit. He was a man reputed to be more sensitive to the people he was ministering to, although he is quoted as using the word "savage" to describe the native population. That said, he did believe in recognizing that the natives were to be viewed as  "ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our Brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives."

This presence of Roman Catholicism did not stay confined to what is now Québec. It spread throughout the country. The enduring element of French culture and language which remained even after the British were victorious at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, has left its mark on Canada. Noll says:

Whereas Roman Catholics in significant numbers came relatively late to what would be called the United States, they were present as the first permanent settlers of Canada and so provided foundational contribution to later Canadian civilization.

Through the succeeding centuries Quebec's French Catholic culture remained an important counterpoint to the Protestant societies of North America and even to the more pluralistic Catholicism that eventually came to play such a large role in the United States and elsewhere in Canada.

The dual nature of our country is still evident, of course. But more than than, the soil in which the seeds of evangelicalism were sown is not the same as the United States. Canada is a country defined also by its regionalism, and thus the environment of the Western provinces provides a different climate for evangelicalism to flourish. Those provinces have the further influence of large numbers of Mennonites settling, as well as American influences and large numbers of European immigrants. I confess to finding immigration history very interesting; not just the statistical aspects, but how that immigration worked itself out in society.

I don't imagine I'll finish Noll's book before school begins again, but hopefully I will get through much of it. I also recently picked up a copy of Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, by John Stackhouse. I am confident that Noll's book will provide more resources, as he ends every chapter of this book with suggested resources.


Canada and the US: the difference was Victoria

I've been reading a book by the Canadian biographer and historian, Charlotte Gray. Gray is British by birth, but has spent her career in Canada, writing about her adopted country. Her book The Promise of Canada, was written in anticipation of Canada's 150th birthday. It is filled with stories of people who have contributed to Canada's history. In the opening chapter, she talks about some of the prominent figures of Confederation.

I loved high school history. When I was in my last year of high school, I took Canadian history, and the year's study focused a great deal on the differences between Canada and the United States. The teacher, Mr. O'Hearn, was one of my favourite teachers. I think he would endorse Charlotte Gray's observations about Confederation.

Unlike Amrerican independence, Confederation in Canada was achieved apart from the blaze of revolution. Confederation was not meant to permanently sever the link between Canada and England. Gray makes an interesting observation about how Confederation would have affected the ordinary Canadian:

The truth was that the central government was almost irrelevant to most people's lives. Citizens expected little from the new federal government in Ottawa: municipalities provided most policing; provincial governments administered most laws; people looked to churches and service clubs for charity. There was only one national symbol in the Dominion, and that was a symbol that resided elsewhere. In parlours across Canada, you would likely find a picture of Queen Victoria -- dumpy, unsmiling, but a crucial part of Canadian federalism. Loyalty to the distant monarchy was a defining difference between Canadians and Americans (emphasis mine).

I believe that last sentiment is an important part of understanding the differences between Canada and the United States. I think it would be a fascinating study to track the implications of that loyalty to the crown and see how those differences influenced Canada over its last 150 years.


Please come home

I recently read an article in the magazine Convivium. In the September 2014 issue, a lawyer, Don Hutchinson, comments about the impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it relates to protection of religious rights for Christians here in Canada. In a nutshell, it's not great, but that's not what drew my attention. It was this:

In 2005, Canada was listed for the first time by the Voice of the Martyrs Canada as a nation displaying early signs of a general, government accepted persecution of Christians. The early signs are efforts to i) stereotoype, ii) vilify, and iii) marginalize Christians simply because of their faith. (The two remaining stages are iv) criminalizing the target group and/or its works and v) outright, open persecution.)

This country is indeed becoming increasingly intolerant of religious beliefs. I'm not an expert, so I'm not going make ignorant speculations as to why and how. However we arrived here, Canadian Christians recognize the need for faithful men and women. In short, we need solid, gospel preaching churches. We need people committed to this country, who desire to see the faith grow here.

Quite often, I hear about young Canadian men who seek seminary training in the well-known American seminaries. For some, it's not even a question: the place to go is Southern Seminary; or RTS; or Liberty; or Dallas. As I contemplate seminary in the future, my options are obvious: I stay close to home.

We don't have famous seminaries like Southern or Dallas. There are places to attend like Toronto Baptist Seminary or Tyndale. I don't know how they compare to those American schools, the ones with famous professors and presidents. For some young men, the thought of enjoying a church history class with the entertaining Dr. Trueman might be the thing that attracts him to Westminster. 

I have one thing to stay to young men (and women) who leave Canada to attend seminary: please come home. We need you. 

We have friends whose kids went to school in the U.S., and they stayed. It's understandable. They develop relationships, build lives, and put down roots. But for the men and women who are going away to be educated with the hopes of entering the ministry, consider coming back to your home and native land. This country needs you, too. As the cultural landscape becomes more and more diverse in Canada, there is a great need everywhere. 

In my small town, we have a few gospel preaching churches, but we could use more. Some people drive for an hour to be in a bible-preaching church. If my church was to disappear tomorrow, we would have to do the same. The options aren't huge here in this little town. You might not become a famous preacher here, but you might be the means of bringing the gospel here to someone who needs it. 

So, by all means, attend school with famous profs. Bask in their teaching. But, please don't forget that this country needs the gospel, too.