Columnist Bruce Clemenger reflects on the assurance of the gospel
Unsettled. That’s how many Canadians feel – like standing on shifting sand or becoming unmoored in a current or tide.
We are living with a heightened sense of uncertainty, the anticipation of more bad news mixed with a sense of powerlessness. The war in Ukraine, an unpredictable economy, rising interest rates, inflation, unaffordable housing prices, waning trust in governments and media, intergenerational harm from church-and-state residential schools. Such ugly realities feed a profound sense of unease and grief.
Many pastors are worn down by the demands of ministry during a pandemic. The pandemic has influenced many churches to re-evaluate mission and ministry programs and priorities.
Most of what Canadians hear about Evangelicals comes from U.S. news stories.
Most Canadians no longer hold some basic Christian beliefs, a significant change from a few decades ago. Recent polling suggests those labelled Evangelicals are not well regarded by at least a third of Canadians.
However, the familiar Baptist or Pentecostal church down the street doesn’t immediately cause many Canadians to think "evangelical." Evangelicals don’t wear distinctive symbols or clothing like people of some other faiths. Most of what Canadians hear about Evangelicals comes from U.S. news stories about politicization of evangelicalism and its ties to one specific party. They are unaware of how evangelical individuals and institutions in Canada differ in character and posture.
While a few Canadian churches did make news for violating pandemic restrictions, the vast majority complied and found creative ways to minister to their members and neighbours.
Sociologists have repeatedly shown that Evangelicals are more generous in time and money than other Canadians, and churches contribute to neighbourhoods in significant, though not necessarily high-profile ways.
But awareness of the public benefit is limited. Municipal leaders are more aware than most provincial or federal leaders because they see the positive contribution of Evangelicals in their communities.
On many social issues Evangelicals are, along with other orthodox Christians, the dissenters. (Historically, the label nonconformists was often used for free church believers in a state-church context.) Canada does not have a national state church, but there is a set of values ascendant and emergent in the public square, and these come with expectations of adherence that have the characteristics of a civil religion. Those who do not conform are the new heretics.
Within the spirit of the age, as a federal politician referred to it recently, there is an eclipse of the transcendent. Belief in a higher power is at best optional, and likely to be rebuffed or even rebuked if it stands in the way of someone’s autonomy and choice.
Living in unsettled times is not new for followers of Jesus, whether currently in other parts of the world or in the past.
The epistles are New Testament letters to believers scattered across the Roman empire, living out their faith despite marginalization or even hostility. The epistles call believers to live with hope and passion, and to weigh their allegiances to various authorities and customs while worshipping God through Christ, the creator of all things and the one to whom all things will be reconciled (Colossians 1:15–17).
The epistles call us to give honour to whom honour is due (1 Peter 2:17) and encourage us to live peaceably with others (Hebrews 12:14).
These unsettling times will prompt reflection on how we are the Church.
We can do so in unsettling times because our trust is in God in whom we find stability, a "sure foundation" (Isaiah 33:6). He is our dwelling place (Psalm 90:1), a strong tower where we are safe (Proverbs 18:10). Jesus is our cornerstone, a living stone, and those who trust in Him will not be put to shame (1 Peter 2:6–7). And on this secure cornerstone we are living stones being built into a spiritual house.
Historically, Christians have been adaptive in ministry without compromising our beliefs or our message to an unsettled and confused world. These unsettling times will prompt reflection on how we are the Church and how we can go about living our faith. The context within which we work out our faith will always be changing, but the gospel remains true and sure.
Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work and support us at www.TheEFC.ca/Donate or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.