The Future for Canada’s Reformed Churches in Public Life



January 12, 2011

Reader’s Comments: We would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. What are some reasons for optimism or concern when it comes to our public witness? Comments are welcomed through the Facebook page or send us an email at [email protected].

(By Mark Penninga): It has only been about 60 years since a swell of Dutch Reformed immigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a quest for space, freedom, and opportunity in Canada. A lot has changed since then, with a third and fourth generation emerging, many of whom have more awareness of Quebec culture than Dutch. We may wonder what the future looks like for a church community that is now fully Canadian. Here are some things to consider when we look specifically at the role of Reformed Christians in the public square.

Size Matters: We May Be Small, But We Have More Children

The fertility rate in Canada is 1.53, which is even less than China’s 1.7 and far below the 2.1 necessary to maintain our population. Fewer Canadians are getting married and those that are tying the knot are doing so later in life. When that is combined with the prevalence of birth control and abortion, it translates into very few children. In contrast, the Reformed church community is generally known for having large families. In the first generation of immigrants, a family of 7 or even 10 children was not something to blink at. Since then, 4-5 children is more common, with a few noticeably large families still present. Among the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, it is still common to see families with 8 or more children. A generalization would be that Reformed churches no longer have as many children as they used to, but still at least double the Canadian average. There are a lot of children sitting in the pews today.

Why does this matter? As policy makers are discovering (a little too late), a low fertility rate is devastating for a society’s economy and culture. Muslims are making huge inroads into Europe simply because they have a lot more children. A high fertility rate for Reformed Christians in Canada should mean increased growth and increased influence. That assumes that these children remain committed to their faith. Looking just at Canadian Reformed Church statistics indicates annual growth of only about 1.25% which suggests that either not as many children are being born or/and members are going elsewhere.

Worldview Matters: Christ’s Lordship Applies to All of Life

Reformed Christians that came from the Netherlands brought with them a conviction that Christ’s Lordship must apply to all of life, including culture and politics. We are blessed with a heritage that understands Christian worldview – looking at all of life through the lens of God’s Word. We are also blessed with Reformed schools, where this worldview education can permeate some of our most influential years. As a result, in many Reformed churches, there is a common understanding that we have a duty to be a voice for truth, even if it means being politically incorrect and (wrongly) labelled as right-wing fundamentalists.

This is not something to take for granted. Mainline churches in Canada (such as the United Church) are still willing to be involved in politics, but their message is more based on humanism than God’s Word. How else can a church be officially pro-choice and a vocal supporter of changing the definition of marriage? There are some evangelical leaders and organizations that do a great job of applying a faith-based perspective to current issues. But they struggle to convince many evangelical churches who view politics as simply a liability and something that distracts us from our calling to spread the Good News.

The point is that a growing Reformed community won’t make an impact in our society if we don’t actually apply our faith to our daily lives, wherever God has put us. This doesn’t just happen. The sad reality is that the preaching and teaching is being drowned out by hours of secular media that is coming into our homes daily and selling a very different worldview. Meditating on God’s Word, quality books and magazines (like Reformed Perspective) is being replaced with Facebook, socializing, and navel gazing. Postmodernism is making us all, young and old alike, very hesitant to speak up about anything that might offend someone, even if it is the truth. When we add to this mix the busyness that we strive to attain but claim to despise, we risk becoming an increasingly superficial people who don’t take the time to think things through, let alone act on our faith-based convictions.

Reason for Optimism: Youth With a Mission

When we started ARPA Canada less than four years ago, we weren’t sure if others would catch the vision. Thanks to God’s hand of blessing, it has flourished. We are encouraged almost daily with stories of Reformed Christians who are making a difference in their communities and country in small but meaningful ways. Our goal of 2010 “action items” for last year was easily surpassed, and that doesn’t even include so many actions that were never recorded on our website. There is no doubt in our minds that the Reformed churches are ready and willing to hold up the truth of God’s Word in all parts of our lives, including in the public square.

Perhaps most encouraging of all, much of this work is being done by young men and women. They may not be the ones that come out to the events in as large numbers, but they are getting informed and active in many ways, including through political and legal careers.

Yes, there may be many disturbing trends in our society, but we know who holds the world in His hands. Instead of being cynical or fearful, the Reformed community can make a powerful impact on this nation through our size and Christian worldview. For that to happen, we have a responsibility to treasure, and make use of, the heritage we have been given.

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