What the Reformed Faith Must Mean for Canada

“The Reformed faith,” according to Rev. Johan D. Tangelder, “has a great opportunity in Canada! Is it ready to meet the challenge? I wonder. Too many still seem to be asleep and unaware that ‘everything that was fastened is coming loose.’ Calvinists, who believe in a total message for the total man we need vision, dogged steadfastness, and much prayer!”

Rev. Tangelder, pastor of the Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Weiland port, Ontario, is Secretary of the Evangelical Theological Society of Canada and has also served on the general council of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He has studied both at Calvin Seminary and at Central Baptist Seminary, Toronto, Ontario.

Canada has its own identity and unique history. But to be your own, while having a giant as neighbor, is not easy. It is a constant struggle. We are a nation of many cultures. Our Canadian mosaic includes Eskimos, Indians, Ukranians, those whose ancestry is British, immigrant from the Mediterranean, the Far East, and many other parts of the world. There are also six million French in Quebec who aggressively seek to maintain their own language and culture.

We do not have as many denominations as the U.S. Though Canada is an immigrant-receiving nation, the traditional Protestant churches are predominantly Anglo-Saxon. The church historian John Grant remarks that “comparatively few congregations went out of their way to make them feel at home.”1

A post-Christian generation – From the beginning, Canada was officially considered a Christian nation; parliaments and courts owed allegiance to Christ as sovereign Lord. The vision of Christ having “dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8) had for many Christians the dimension of a crusade.

Religion played a dominant role in the private and public sectors of life. This is no longer true. After World War II, Canada rapidly secularized. New literary, artistic, political, and educational impulses were no longer introduced and sponsored by the church, but came from sources hostile to her.2 We don’t even have a Christian consensus anymore. The present generation is the first post-Christian generation. One Christian principle after another is being removed from law, court, and culture.

Secularism has become a dogmatic and often intolerant ideology. The secular humanists don‘t allow a hearing for the views of the Christian minority. For example, CBC, our national radio, is controlled by the secularists. In Ontario, the Roman Catholic and independent Christian schools are sailing on rough waters. Mark R. MacGuigan declares in an essay “Unity in the Secular City.” The public school educates for democracy and brotherhood, in a way that no denominational school can do, precisely by mingling children of different religious faiths as well as of different social and cultural backgrounds and by engaging them in common tasks.

“Thus, as symbol and reality, the public school performs the work of democracy. From the viewpoint of the State, therefore, it would seem highly desirable that all citizens should be educated in the public system.”3

Canada is facing a moral, social, and economic crisis. Adultery, homosexuality, rape, abortion. You name it. We’ve got it. We also have the dishonorable distinction of having the second highest strike record in the Western world. Our nation is divided, but not over religion. The division is caused by a quest for a greater shape of the economic pie.

Response of Church to Crisis -How does the Canadian church respond to the challenge facing her? Theological liberalism believes that the answer is in ecumenicity and in social and political activism. Joint worship services no longer rate headlines. Many subscribe to the ideas of Father Jean Martucci, who said about the Christian Pavilion for the 1967 World Exposition in Montreal, in which Roman Catholic and Protestant churches participated, “Sharing the same faith, the same hope and the same charity, they (the churches) want to hear the same witness to Christ and his Gospel.”4

Dr. Douglas Wilson remarks that “the separate denominations and churches in Canada will have to dwindle in importance, while concerted efforts through the Canadian Council of Churches or other national bodies will have to increase.”5

Evangelicalism, in the broadest sense of the term, fights for doctrinal purity, but has narrowed down the gospel to individual salvation and eschatology. Canadian youth is in a shopping mood for answers, but many Christians are answering questions nobody is asking. So much preaching has little if any content. The Lordship of Jesus Christ is still too strictly confined to the experience of the Christian individual. The wider implications are ignored. Ethics is limited to the individual, especially to the problems of smoking and drinking. The social questions have been largely neglected. The historian Theodore Roszak describes modern Christianity as “socially irrelevant if privately engaging.”6

The observations I have made are generaL There are signs of a social awakening among evangelicals. I could mention other developments in Canada, but this would take a few articles.

Message of Calvinism – What must the Reformed faith mean for Canada? Calvinism has had some strong advocates in the past, but their image has not left such a favorable impression. A. Lower says that “Calvinism created strong men, strong in their conviction, strong in their demands for elbow room to carry out their allotted tasks. But not men who were much connected with their fellows.”7 Despite this legacy, I believe that we have a message for our nation at the crossroads of its history.


1. In theology we must call for a return to the foundation – the inerrant Word of God. Without a sound foundation, theology becomes speculation-philosophy rather than a theology. Reformed Canadians should address themselves to the Canadian cultural setting. Many Reformed theologians of Dutch background are still fighting battles that were fought thirty or forty years ago in Holland.

Young Canadian theologians find this frustrating and irrelevant. Dr. F. Schaeffer said to the evangelical church: “The church today should be getting ready and talking about issues of tomorrow and not about issues of 20 or 30 years ago, because the church is going to be squeezed in a wringer. If we found it tough in these last few years, what are we going to do when we are faced with the real changes that are ahead?”8 This is also true of us.

2. We must not only be orthodox in our theology, but also in our practice. Compassion and orthodoxy belong together. We cannot stand for truth unless we are ready to shed tears for those who are turning away from Biblical truth. 3. We need persistent grappling with the basic premises, experiences, patterns and traditions of our Canadian society. We must know the diseases of our society. Knowing the diseases we will have a better opportunity to apply the healing and transforming power of the gospel. 4. We are taking our Canadian culture seriously, if we are to practice the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we should be working on films, novels, and other art forms, all dealing with the questions and trials of man from the Biblical perspective. For example, Patmos in Toronto is trying to tackle this problem in a laudable way. But much more work needs to be done. 5. We may not he callous to social injustice. There are economic disparities between the various regions of Canada. There are still awful sweatshops in Toronto where workers are exploited for very low wages. Unemployment is high. Little is done to help the working poor. Our high inRation rate is harsh on people with a fixed income. The life expectancy of a Canadian Indian woman is twenty-four years; for a man, it is thirty-four. The infant mortality rate among Eskimos is more than ten times the infant death rate for the population as a whole.9

The church forsakes her principles when she is concerned only about the life to come and does not try to combat injustice.

Dr. Abraham Kuyper, the mighty exponent of Calvinism, made it clear that God‘s Word gives us the most positive direction on social issues. He said: “Oh, it is so profoundly untrue that God’s Word lets us hear only appeals for the salvation of our souls. No, very definitely also for our national existence and for our social life together. God’s Word gives us fixed ordinances; it marks out lines that are very clearly visible; and it is unfaithfulness in us Christians if we, noting this fact, impiously permit our theory and practice to be determined by ruling opinion or conventional law, consulting our own comfort.”10

6. We must present a clear and challenging vision of Chrislian education. We must try to give honest answers to honest questions. Orthodox Christians are still being accused of anti-intellechlalism and salesmanship. This image must be overcome. The influences of radical thought on university campuses are strong. A Canadian Christian alternative ought to be given. Our youth should not have to cross the border to get a sound education.

I am thankful for such ventures as the new St. Stephen’s University in New Brunswick and King’s College that hopefully will commence this fall in Edmonton, Alberta. We need young Christians who can speak as Christians in parliament, produce literature and so forth for our country.

The Reformed faith has a great opportunity in Canada! Is it ready to meet the challenge? I wonder. Too many still seem to be asleep and unaware that “Everything that was fastened is coming loose.” As Calvinists. who believe in a total message for the total man, we need vision, dogged steadfastness, and much prayer.


1. John Webster Grant. The Impact of Christianity on Canadian Culture and Society, 1867–1967. Theological Bulletin, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ont., No. 3, Jan., 1968, p. 46.

2. Ibid., p. 47.

3. Ed. Philip LeBlanc and Arnold Edinborough. One Church, Two Nations? Don Mills, Ont., 1968, p. 157. 4. Douglas J. Wilson. Tile Church Grows in Canada. Toronto, Ont., 1966, p. 204.

5. Ibid., p. 209.

6. Ed. J. D. Douglas. Let The Earth Hear His Voice. Minneapolis, Minn., 1975, p. 715. 7. Approaches to Canadian History. Essays, University of Toronto Press, 1967, p. 23.

8. Francis A. Schaeffer. The Church at the End of the 20th Century. Downers Grove, Ill., second printing, 1971, p. 81.

9. Ian Adams. Tile Poverty Wall. Toronto, Ont., 1970, p. 27.

10. Abraham Kuypcr. Christianity and the Class Struggle. Translated by Dirk Jellema, Grand Rapids, Mich. 1950, second printing, p. 55.