Over the next few weeks, ARPA Canada will be re-posting a number of old articles on Throw Back Thursdays. Today’s Throw Back Thursday article is the first instalment of a four-part series entitled “Kingdom Citizens in Secular Canada,” originally presented at a 2005 Burlington Reformed Study Centre event. The legalization of same-sex marriage was one of the most pressing issues facing Christians in that era. The series was replicated in the January 6, 2006, issue of the Clarion magazine, and posted to ARPA’s website on July 3, 2009.
The author of the first part of this series is Dr. Cornelis Van Dam. At the time when this series was first written in 2006, Dr. Van Dam was a professor of the Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. In 2011, he published “God and Government: Biblical Principles for Today,” an introduction and resource that many ARPA staff have greatly benefited from and that we highly recommend Reformed Christians interested in public theology to read. Dr. Van Dam is currently retired.
Kingdom Citizens in Secular Canada: The Lord wants us to be salt and light in a world that has a tasteless morality and lives in darkness
By Dr. Cornelis Van Dam
With the civic morality of our country dropping to ever lower levels as witnessed most recently by our national parliament passing the same-sex marriage bill last June, many Christians are asking themselves: What can be done to halt the apparently unstoppable slide of Canada going ever deeper into being a modern Sodom and Gomorrah? What used to be considered an abomination and sin, for the Lord said it was so, is now exalted as good and is defended as a human right. “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among men” (Ps 12:8). There is no doubt about it; the fundamentals of our national life are being shaken. With the psalmist, we can ask: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3)
Last fall the Burlington Reformed Study Centre organized a series of lectures under the theme of “Kingdom Citizens in Secular Canada.” The first evening explored how we got into the present predicament. Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff, a retired historian, gave valuable historical background on being involved in the public square as Christians by giving us a brief historical tour of how Christians in The Netherlands sought to fulfill their political task. Rev. Tristan Emmanuel, Executive Director of the ECP Centre, dealt with the problem of Christian apathy and some of the dynamics involved in this. The second evening investigated how we can effectively impact for good. This basic question was addressed by Mr. Ray Pennings, who has worked both for the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) and the Alliance Party, as well as by Mr. Ron Gray, the leader of the CHP. The speeches or summaries of them can be found in this issue of Clarion.
Responding to the challenge
It is very important to note that virtually all the speakers made the point that if we want to oppose secularization and make a difference for our country, we need to start with our daily walk and talk as Christians. To be sure, the truth must be proclaimed, but it must also be demonstrated in our lives. If each Christian in this land aggressively lived his faith in the face of secularism, the salt of the gospel could have quite an impact. The Christian’s daily life and the collective witness of the local church is really where it all starts. It is good to underline that. We owe it to our society to show that the gospel has real answers for the problems of today and we can start demonstrating the solutions in how we interact with society in the place where God has placed us.
Now our churches, societies, and schools are of course very important and we rightly invest considerable time in them. However, considering the state of our land, we must be mindful not to ignore what is going on outside our immediate community. The danger of placing ourselves in a self-imposed isolation is not imaginary. Our country needs Reformed people to be involved more than ever before. We need to be involved in local civic affairs and network with others in our society; we need to be involved in moulding our contemporary culture at all levels. We are no longer immigrants or immigrant churches. Although it is easy to stay within our own comfort zone, this is a temptation we must not fall into. The Lord wants us to be salt and light in a world that has a tasteless morality and lives in darkness. Our voice needs to be heard.
But how can our voice, our Christian testimony, best be heard? There is no single answer. Ray Pennings reminds us that politics is not always as important as it is made out to be. Society has to change before politics will. Our first duty therefore lies in being agents for the transformation of society. Depending on the gifts the Lord has given us, we must be active as Christians in every level of society wherever the Lord has placed us.
When it comes to politics, Dr. Oosterhoff warns us not to use the Dutch model of confessional parties as our template. Canadian Christians have historically been integrated in mainline parties and not faith-based parties. Furthermore, because we have no proportional representation, there is little hope of a Christian party electing a Member of Parliament. This is a sobering realism which we need to factor into the equation.
Yet, as Mr. Ron Gray has eloquently argued, we need to carry the banner of the biblical truth high in this country and keep God’s norms central. This testimony includes the need to develop alternate policies for our land, policies that both meet biblical criteria and are persuasive for our secular society. Our country needs to be convinced that policy grounded in biblical principles is good policy for reasons that can be demonstrated. Here much work can and should be done and the CHP can continue to facilitate and do much of this.
How one gets involved is, at bottom, not as important as simply being involved. There are many ways to work as Christians. At the most basic level we are to be an effective salt and light in our daily task and in our neighbourhoods. Individually and collectively, if Christians and the church are faithful, their influence can be profound! Furthermore, one can be involved in supporting Christian think-tanks and special Christian advocacy groups, working for political parties such as the federal CHP or, in Ontario, the Family Coalition Party. One can also seek to influence by working within an existing political party. Exactly how one works politically is a matter of personal conscience. South of the border, decades of hard work by Christians to infiltrate the Republican Party have made a big impact on that country.
The bottom line for all of us is that we need to do our utmost to be involved in our country’s weal and woe and seek to make a difference as Reformed believers. We also need to be aware that this is going to be a long and tough battle. It is a life long endeavour. So, let us as Christians persevere!
As you read this issue of Clarion, may it stimulate and challenge you! May we as kingdom citizens living in secular Canada never be justly accused of apathy. May the Lord bless our efforts for the good of our country!