Trends in the Canadian Religious Scene

Canadians are religious people but they are not necessarily practitioners of traditional Christianity.[1]  Canadians are religious in the sense that they believe in a higher power, express interest in the supernatural, and turn to religious institutions to provide fragments of belief, practice and professional service (i.e. baptisms, weddings, and funerals).  Canadians are interested in questions pertaining to the meaning and purpose of existence but they are not interested in organized religion.[2]

In biblical times, the home, work, and faith were integrated but Canadians compartmentalize home, work, and life.  A great chasm often exists between home life and faith life.  Parents do not see themselves as transmitters of faith but leave that responsibility to the professional church worker or to the choice of the individual.   A predominate attitude in Canadian life is that church is something a person does in a designated holy building at a specified time.  Sunday worship has little or nothing to do with the rest of one’s life.  Home life and church life do not go together.[3]

Multiculturalism has been enshrined as a basic dogma of Canadian society.[4]  Multiculturalism promotes pluralism and individualism which breeds in Canadians a hostile perception of Christian evangelization.  Canadians are taught that all viewpoints are equally valid and that objective truth does not exist.  One person’s opinion is as valid as another person’s opinion.[5]  Many Canadians have accepted relativism carte blanche and are therefore victimized by what Bibby calls, “open-minded mindlessness” (1990, 99-101).  In this environment there is little toleration for what some would perceive as proselytizing.[6]

Since Canadians are not frequenting the institutionalized church on Sunday mornings, church needs to be taken to them — in their workplace, in their homes, and in their recreational settings.  This will require a change of attitude in many Christians.  The Western Christian Church has been blessed for 1800 years with chapels, basilicas, and cathedrals in which Christians worshipped their Savior.  Unfortunately there was a down side to this blessing.  The church is plagued with an edifice complex — the attitude that a real church consists of people who worship in a building owned by a congregation.  Allen counters,

What is needed is a renewal of life that rediscovers the locale of God.  Christians need to know that here is the church when there is no building.  We need to see the holy when there is nothing religious around. (1972, 12; cf. 177-178)

The Lord communicates his grace to his people wherever believers are in His Word, in water baptism, in bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and in Christian hospitality.  The setting of a house church challenges Christians to abandon their “edifice complex;” that is, their tendency to look for God only in the artifacts of a stain-glassed sanctuary,[7] instead of seeing (by faith) that God dwells among them in the simple means of grace and the fellowship of the Christian community.

Note:  On most Mondays, I am posting portions of my doctoral dissertation which I wrote in 1995 and 1996.  Much of the material is still relevant for the missio Dei today.  The focus of my dissertation was the house church and its relevance for starting churches in the Greater Toronto Area.  The subject of the house church is presented from a theological, exegetical, historical, missiological and social science perspective.  Unfortunately, I am not able to provide complete footnotes which means you will need to do a little work to hunt down the sources.  Of course, if you contact me, I can provide you with the information.

[1]According to Bibby (1987, 8, 64) fifty percent of Canadians are Roman Catholic; forty percent are Protestant; ten percent have no religious affiliation; one percent are Jewish; and less than one percent are either Hindu, Islamic or Buddhist. Only four percent of the Canadian population are atheists.     

[2]Bibby observes some troubling trends: in the last forty years Sunday worship attendance in Canada has dropped from two-thirds in worship to one-third (1987, 11); conservative Christian churches are no more successful at reaching inactive people than the mainline denominations (Ibid., 28); only four percent are regular patrons of religious broadcasting (Ibid., 34); affiliation appears to be associated not with spiritual urgency but with the need for rites of passage: marriage, baptism, and death (Ibid., 44); Canadians do not desert their religious roots for they still identify with those groups but they do not attend worship services.  Bibby quotes Lewis Garnsworthy, Anglican Archbishop of Toronto, as saying, “It’s not that they’re leaving; it’s just that they’re not coming!” (Ibid., 51, 84); a significant decline in reading the Bible has occurred with one in two Canadians “never” reading the Bible (Ibid., 69); only about two in ten give preliminary evidence of embracing what might be regarded as a traditional expression of Judeo-Christian commitment (Ibid., 72); and the Christian churches, instead of saying to culture, “This is what religion is,” have been much more inclined to say to culture, “What do you want religion to be?” (Ibid., 111).

[3]According to Os Guiness the way Christians use the word “church” to refer to edifices has contributed to the separation of faith life from the rest of one’s life.  Guinness writes,

By using the word church not only of themselves but of their institutions and buildings, Christians create a language which favors the institutional separateness of religion.  After all, if this is the ‘the church,’ everything else must be ‘the world.’  There in the so-called edifice complex is the pre-modern seed of the problem; privatization is only a fertile new soil in which it has flourished. (1983, 87)

[4]A former Prime Minister expressed the philosophy behind the Multicultural Act and the identity of Canada when he said,

Canada . . . is a human place, a sanctuary of sanity in an increasingly troubled world.  We need not search further for our identity.  These traits of tolerance and courtesy and respect for our environment and one another provide it.  I suggest that a superior form of identity would be difficult to find. (Quoted in Bibby 1990, 21; cf. 49-50)

[5]Bibby 1990, 7-10, 45, 49-50, 56-57, 88, 91, 142; Bibby 1987, 57ff.

[6]This is especially true because many Canadians still identify themselves with some Christian denomination (Bibby 1990, 84ff., 143-146; Bibby 1987, 8, 38, 131).

[7]Armbruster’s (1985) book Let Me Out! I’m a Prisoner in a Stained-Glass Jail challenges the Christian to rethink this matter.  Armbruster stimulates the reader to ask, “Why do I worship God the way I do?  Have I, and other Christians, made God a prisoner in a stained glass jail?” (cf. Stott 1990, 143)

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