How to be a faithful Christian within Canada’s cultural and faith mosaic
Christians have often struggled with living in a society that has been consistently opposed to biblical ideals. The New Testament, particularly Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, is replete with examples of how the Christian message met with cultural resistance and the struggles that later ensued for local Christians.
Throughout Church history, in various times and places, similar stories have emerged that illustrate this unfortunate, yet undeniable reality.
Religious and cultural pluralism in Canada
As Canada continues to become a mosaic of cultural diversity, many new and varied challenges confront us as we learn to accommodate new religious ideas and a variety of secular philosophies that come with such diversity.
We are all required to learn the value of living in a peaceful co-existence, where a deep and profound respect for the rights of others is held in highest esteem. After all, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was founded on the principle that individuals and groups, regardless of cultural, ethnic, and religious background, will be given equality and value—attributes we can be proud of.
As a result of these various challenges, the question Jesus' followers need to consider is this – how should the church respond?
Longing for the golden age
A certain percentage of the Christian population has consistently claimed that Canada was, and to some extent still is, a Christian nation. They lament the societal decay around them, while longing for an “idyllic past age characterized by a glorious uniformity and the predominance of Christian principles.” (Stanley Grenz)
We soon realize, however, as Stanley Grenz has so aptly stated that,
"No such age was truly and universally ‘golden,’ for often the past that today’s utopians romanticize achieved uniformity at the expense of ignoring or even eliminating dissidents and prophetic voices speaking from the margins."
Canada may have indeed been founded on principles that had a direct Christian influence, but to conclude on this basis that we were somehow a Christian nation, where every single citizen claimed Jesus as Lord, and subsequently lived a life that reflected his Lordship, is to commit what logic would call a sweeping generalization.
We must never forget that Christianity never was and never will be a religion to be imposed upon another, but a faith centered in love, free will, and personal choice.
In fact, no degree of force, no matter how much holy fervor is behind it, will ever make Canada into a Christian nation. No amount of legislation and protest will ever compel others to the point where they willingly and wholly submit to any form of Christian idealism.No degree of force, protest, or legislation will ever make Canada into a Christian nation. Click To Tweet
While I understand how important it is to provide our various government officials with Christian alternatives to consider relative to the issues we all face provincially, nationally, and internationally, we should never believe that if we collude with the powers of empire enough we will perhaps make Canada a Christian nation. That we can somehow combine ecclesial power with governmental power to force our way of seeing the world onto the general public.
In a cultural and religious mosaic such as ours we should never be led to believe that we can force our way to the top by applying appropriate amounts of pressure on the powers to eventually see things our way and legislate our positions into law.Followers of Jesus have never been called to seek external change, but internal transformation. Click To Tweet
The Christian position and practice, if we want it to faithfully reflect the One we seek to follow, will always be deeply subversive in nature (like yeast in dough or seed in soil). Followers of Jesus have never been called to seek external change, but internal transformation. The first normally occurs through force, violence, and coercion - methods often employed by the empire. The latter through non-violent, prayerful, and thoughtful, Jesus-shaped love and justice.
The Kingdom of God is arranged in a completely different way than the empire. To paraphrase Jesus, 'the kingdoms of the world do it one way, through violence, but we will do things very differently, through sacrificial love and service.' (cf. Luke 22:24-27).
Simply stated, we can never make a person believe in and subscribe to Christianity through any form of governmental action, and any attempt to do so will lead us into a time of superficial Christianity, where people submit out of guilt or remorse brought on through manipulation, rather than genuine Spirit-inspired conviction.
A better response
It seems that a better response to the diverse cultural and religious landscape in the contemporary Canadian context is needed, and while I by no means claim the final word on this subject, I do submit this brief proposal.
First, I would love for every person I come in contact with to know the love of God personally and to witness first-hand the transforming power of Jesus Christ. But I also soon realize that I can never force them to accept and know this love.Christianity can never be enforced, but only freely accepted by faith. Click To Tweet
No matter how hard I try, I can never pass enough legislation to make them bow down and submit to Jesus. Why? Because Christianity can never be enforced, but only freely accepted by faith. Transformation will never be realized in Canada until we first understand this basic Christian creed.
Legitimate transformation will only come about when people are made new through a genuine encounter with God, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit within the context of a local Christian community.
Corporate change can only come through individual change.
Canada will be touched, not through legislation, but by one heart at a time, as Christians of all ages and denominational affiliations become Christ’s ambassadors and commit to proclaiming and living the Good News message of reconciliation in ways that center on Jesus the King.
As Brian Zahnd wrote in his latest book, Water to Wine,
"Jesus never intended to change the world through battlefields or voting booths. Jesus has always intended to transform the world one life at a time at a shared table." (p. 134)
The church is primarily missional in nature and has been sent to proclaim in word, deed, and sacrament, the deeply subversive, kingdom-shaping, Jesus-centered message of love and grace. And, we must realize that true, genuine transformation will only come about through...
love, not legislation;
proclamation, not protest;
friendship, not force;
reconciliation, not ridicule;
prayer, not policy.
Grenz, Stanley, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
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