Brian Stiller

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Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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A Challenge to the Gideons

August 7, 1995 Articles

In 1893, George Grant of Queen’s University in Kingston spoke at the Congress on Religions in Chicago. Commenting on the state of affairs in Canada he said, all is well: the Sabbath is kept by Canadians and the Gospel is held in high regard.

Using those two windows as a means of evaluating the strength of the Christian faith in Canada, today we would say the opposite to Grant. Sunday is now a day for sports and friends and the Gospel is seen by many as something only for one’s private faith or the cloistered expression of a congregation.

If Grant were to parachute into Canada today, the shocking difference from our day to his would convince him that all had been lost. How often do I hear people lamenting the loss of Christian faith in the culture. Indeed one can make the argument that in terms of public influence, the Christian Gospel has been secularized, that is, pushed to the side, ignored by the public rulers who deem it to have no relevance to modern Canadian living.

Dr. M H. Ogilve, professor of law at Carleton University has recently written, that among Canadian Christians there is “a rising tide of apprehension, anger, a sense of betrayal and alarm at the speed with which the formerly Christian fabric of Canadian society has been unravelled with the half-generation since 1982 and certainly within the generation since 1968.” She continues to say “that Canada, like the United States, seems to careening out of control, while its elites plunder their spiritual inheritance and increasingly deny its expression in everyday life.”

Such analysis is shocking, especially from one whose vocation is spent in the analysis and teaching of law. And I concur. As I work on the national front, putting forward evangelical convictions on issues of public legislation, as we argue in the Supreme Court on some of the most critical ethical concerns of today, I face the cynicism and ridicule of an elite who are the cultural door-keepers of our culture.

As I speak to those of you in the Gideon community, I praise God for your faithfulness in love for the Scriptures and a determination to make His Word known. As we look together at the future of Canada and as we examine how our witness is to be made, I suggest there are two windows through which we can see our witness of Christ to the nation.

The window of public witness
Some say such concerns of witness in our parliaments and courts are outside the domain of the Gospel. They argue that only the winning of individuals to faith in Jesus Christ is what we should be about. I differ. In 1994 we were co-intervenors in the Sue Rodriguez case: she was asking for court approval of doctor assisted-suicide. As we sat in the court listening to the various lawyers make their case including our counsel, it occurred to me that indeed at that moment in that auspicious place we were about the business of evangelism.

I mentioned this to a pastor who responded, “Brian, haven’t you stretched the definition of evangelism too far?”

We then debated on how we define “evangelism.” We eventually agreed that evangelism simply means to declare the evangel. Not a huge leap of logic there. So we went further. What is the evangel we then asked? We agreed it is the Good News of Jesus. And what is that Good News? It is that Jesus has come. And because he has come we see all of life differently.

Before the Supreme Court of Canada we reasoned that life and death are to be seen differently because of the evangel. Of course our factum and legal counsel talked in language appropriate to the court setting. But at the heart of our intervention was a vision of life right out of the Bible. In the end, the majority decision written by Justice John Sopinka was based on “the sanctity of life,” and although he argued that it was a “secular” view our approach was to affirm that “sanctity” came from a Christian vision of life.

Being in the courts today is an outworking of what it means to be a faithful witness of our risen Lord. Given the enormous power of the courts coming out of the Charter, we would be unfaithful to the body of Christ, not to provide reasoned arguments for biblical values in that setting and in cases which are critical to the health and well-being of our culture. Also, if we aren’t there, who will provide for them a Christian witness? The old legal maxim, “use it or lose it” reminds us that unless we are faithfully and consistently there, putting forward our Christian rational, there is all likelihood they will never enter into the thinking of judges as they make their decisions.

Robert Nadeau, a good friend and lawyer, and one who provides us with good counsel wrote,

“Herein lies the challenge for the church. Pious detachment from matters of state and public policy is not longer a defensible option for the church in a pluralistic society. Issues of life, moral conduct, social justice and individual empowerment…are matters that must be nourished by spiritual direction, compassion and transcendent standards if they are to possess any enduring value.

“In the present context we would do well to remember that the rights enshrined in the Charter are really what we make them. And what we make of them depends ultimately on how seriously we take the commandment to be salt and light in a broken world.”

I would argue that it is in the interest of the Gideons to so declare the Good News in the public squares of our land so this nation will remain open to allow the public witness of Christ by way of Scripture and other means. A nation which sees itself within the framework of Judeo-Christian belief, will be more hospitable to the open witness of Christ. King David said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” There is an accumulative benefit to a nation which its underlying assumptions are biblical. To affirm those truths is, in my view, evangelism.

The window of personal witness
One group reported that only 3% in their Canadian city made any claim to Christian commitment. Some assume that only those who attend their church constitute the Christian church. The question, “How Christian is Canada?” is important for Vision 2000 Canada, a strategy designed and implemented by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Task Force on Evangelism.

Among Canadians there is an evident stirring as we pray and work towards a new initiative in nation evangelization. As we prepare for a new and courageous outreach, it is vital that we first understand the religious composition of Canada, the problems we face and the factors which encourage the church.

How “Christian” is Canada?
The defining of a person as “Christian ” will depend on one’s theology. An evangelical definition, for example, will be narrower than others. For our purposes it’s important we examine this question from more than one angle.

There are three ways for we can examine the Canadian religious landscape.

What the Canadian Census says.
First, let’s use the term “Christian” in the broad sense: Anyone who says they are. The 1981 Census shows that out of a total population of 24,083,495, 11,402,605 claim to be Catholic, 361,560 to be Eastern Orthodox and 9,914,580 Protestant. Thus 90% say they are Christian.

Average weekly attendance.
Another way to examine people’s Christian commitment is to ask how often they go to church.
From that question, 27% of Protestants claim they have been to their place of worship within the past 7 days and 43% of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox the same. This indicates that 32% of Canadians attend a Catholic, Eastern Orthodox of Protestant church, on the average, each week.

These statistics are based on the findings of sociologist Dr. R. Bibby in surveys conducted in 1986 and reported in Fragmented Gods, Irwin, 1987.

How many Canadians are evangelicals?
To narrow the religious analysis further, another question is how many Canadians consider themselves to be evangelical Protestants? his question is difficult as some assume that because a church or denomination is not “evangelical” those who attend aren’t either.

There are two major factors in answering this responsibly: (1) those attending Protestant churches who publicly affirm their evangelical commitment, and (2) those who consider themselves evangelical yet attend a mainline church which does not identify itself as being “evangelical.”

Attendance at evangelical churches.
According to the 1981 Census, two million list themselves as belonging to an “evangelical” church. While there are no statistics to tell us how many within the mainline Protestant churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church) would consider themselves “evangelical,” in examining this with Dr. R. Bibby, we concluded that six percent, or nearly 463,000, of those attending a main-line Protestant church (7,709,400) are of evangelical faith.

Adding those totals we estimate (and I remind you it is at best an estimate) 2.5 million Canadians–representing about 10% of Canadians–affiliate by belief and/or by regular attendance to an evangelical Protestant church.

However these statistics are only a partial picture. We know only too well that many are “nominal evangelicals” in that while they may identify with being evangelical and affirm their belief in the Scriptures, there is no evidence in their lives of saving faith. And so while nine out of ten Canadians believe in a personal God, seven out of ten believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and 32% attend church with some form of regularity, other indicators show that Canada is in desperate need of spiritual renewal.

The problems we face.
In targeting for outreach in Canada, there are specific problems we face. To make any significant impact, it’s vital we seriously examine them.

Next to the Soviet Union, Canada has the largest land mass in the world. Yet our population is no larger than that of California. Spread out over 4,000 kilometres, divided by six regions with many languages, including European, aboriginal along with the multi-languages imported by recent refugees and immigrants, Canada is divided by regional self interest, diverse languages, ethnic links and economic problems. This sprawling effect makes it difficult for religious waves to generate momentum.

Although we live on the edge of a highly religious America, when you attempt to speak to the average Canadian about his or her spiritual life it is like asking them about their sex life. Matters of personal concern, like spirituality, are not seen to be that which one talks about casually with a relative stranger. Thus evangelistic methods which assume that an approach can be made about faith in Christ, in a relatively short time after initial contact, will struggle.

Large meetings are not nearly as popular as they are in the nation to the south. Sports is a prime example. Canadians, although very much in love with their national sport, hockey, do not, as a rule, congregate in large numbers. Thus our use of mass crusades, while certainly valuable, have not had the impact they do elsewhere.

Canadian religious roots are largely Roman Catholic (Canada is 47% Catholic) and Church of England. Given that evangelism has used a more emotional approach, the reaching of nominal Catholics or Anglicans has not been very effective.

Critical to the strategy of reaching our nation is leadership. There are two reasons why this is an issue. The Canadian style is in general, more laid back and less assertive than, for example, Americans. While this has certain advantages, the community comes to expect church leaders, in their so called servant role, not to give direction. Also many capable leaders are attracted move to the greener fields of the U.S. This is not limited to the church but it can be seen in many other vocations. Contributing to this dilemma has been the problem of no liberal arts university in Canada. Many thus attended Wheaton and other U.S. schools, married, found a job and stayed. Today we are attempting to raise up a new generation of spiritual leaders who are willing to remain in Canada and not bow to the cultural pressure of those who assume leadership is just fulfilling the wishes of others.

For the last quarter century, secularization has taken over as the fundamental assumption of our culture. During the time when secularity was emerging as a national force, evangelicals were trapped by the sectarianism of early twentieth century fundamentalism. As a result we were unable to venture forth in cultural renewal and the Canadian public arena was depleted of its Christian assumptions. The result is that we now face a community which asserts that Christian faith is to be kept private.

While Canadians are familiar with the history of revivals, seldom in our history have we seen a sustained, wide spread move of God. The most remarkable revival occurred in the Atlantic region in the early 1800s. Led by Henry Alline, the New Light movement was used to bring many into a living relationship with Christ. Saskatoon (a prairie city in western Canada), in the early 1970s witnessed a brief but locally contained revival. There is much talk and praying for revival yet little is known of its cost or impact in a Canadian context.

Canada lacks a publishing base and in my view, this is important. Almost all of the books which find their way into our studies and homes are published in the U.S or U.K. In simple terms this means that most of the analysis and ideas come from those who live elsewhere and do not understand our issues and circumstances. As well, when publishers are resident outside of the country, there is little encouragement for the development of indigenous writers who reflect and stimulate thinking in a national context.

Is there hope?
While these peculiar challenges confront us in evangelizing Canada we are reminded of the many opportunities and signs of encouragement. We believe that as we are faithful there will be a blossoming of spiritual life in the nation, such as we have never witnessed.

Canadians continue to believe in the transcendent and in Jesus as the Christ. Although this faith tends to be nominal it does remind us that in general, Canadians are not atheists. The rise of the New Age movement is another reminder that even the socially sophisticated and academically inclined will open their minds to religious ideas.

Canadians tend to support national networks and denominations are our prime religious networks. Although there has been a modest independent church movement, even those tend to cluster in groups. This provides quick access to the various churches and groups.

This country struggles with social problems as do all nations. One of our tragedies is the native situation. However our cities are not plagued with the same inner city desolation, crime and poverty as are U.S. cities. This allows us to use our resources to concentrate on church growth and outreach. The danger, however, is that with a strong governmental structure that social reconstruction and beneficial ministries are pushed of to government.

Television is both a blessing and curse. The world has come to know of the failings of certain evangelists. Living on the border of a nation where unbridled religious speakers flourish and living in a country where television cable systems pump the religious material into our homes, the failings of specific personalities make quite a noise. Canadian televangelists (apart from a recent scandle in Quebec of a french speaking Roman Catholic televangelist) have maintained a high reputation for financial and moral integrity. Their faithful testimonies have brought a credibility to the Gospel.

Basic to our evangelical educational community has been the Bible School movement. Their contribution to the spiritual welfare of this nation has been outstanding. For out of this community has come our pastors and missionaries. The biblical focus of these institutions mould the lives of our prime spiritual care givers. And for that we are blessed.

One third of Canadians speak French as their first language. And the largest number live in the province of Quebec. In the early 1960s a social and political revolution erupted. Beginning in that difficult time, a most remarkable of spiritual movement has developed. Churches are being built such as Anglophobes never expected.

Another area of outreach and church growth is among the newer ethnic communities, specifically among Chinese, Korean and other Asian peoples. Churches are springing up under the leadership of their own people.

What I find most encouraging is the evident desire for cooperation. As noted, Canada is plagued with the “balkanization” problem; our country is divided by geography, language, and regional self interest. Under the pressure of this cultural tendency, younger and older leaders are resisting disunity, looking for ways to cooperate and fellowship. This is nothing short of historical.

However the most significant is the increased desire for prayer. Never have I heard Canadians talk about the need for prayer, organize prayer gatherings and spending time in prayer as they are today.

Historically, Canadian churches have been linked to American and European denominations. As well, most of our magazines, books, speakers and influencers have been non-Canadians and conferences and important events which Canadian church leaders attended were usually outside of this country. Cooperation tended to refer to what you did either with your denomination or organization but certainly not with Canadians outside of your grouping.

In 1986 we recognized God was calling us to take a fresh look at the spiritual needs of our nation and the strategies needed to evangelize Canada this next decade. We asked God to give us a plan which would encourage church and denominational leaders to place evangelism high on their agendas so that the convicting and regenerational power of Christ would call many to follow Him in obedience and would reshape our nation.

Out of those concerns has emerged a Spirit led movement called Vision 2000 Canada. Composed of denominational and ministry leaders from scores of groups it will launch its plan at a national conference in Ottawa in May of 1990.

While the forces of secular individualism attempt to marginalize the Gospel, within the hearts of Canadian believers there is a new cry for the purifying presence of Christ. Two questions I ask. Are we prepared for the personal sacrifice required for spiritual rebirth and do we have any idea what will result when King Jesus indeed rules and reigns?
1995

Brian C Stiller
1988