Canada’s Christian Heritage
by Rod Taylor
Every nation, like every individual, has a story, a history, a journey which defines its character. Throughout mankind’s existence, decisions made at kitchen tables, on the battlefield and in quiet reflection on the mysteries of life and the meaning of existence have shaped the experience and social structures of families and cultures.
Canada, as a nation, was birthed in Confederation in 1867 but her cultural development did not begin there. Before ships began crossing the Atlantic bringing European settlers and immigrants to our shores, families, clans and tribes—indeed nations—existed on this continent. Like people all over the world, they built homes, planted crops, hunted and fished, held council meetings, waged wars to defend their territories and raised their children to carry on their traditions and to pursue the universal goals of prosperity, comfort and security.
These people—Canada’s First Nations—had their own stories that reached far into the past. Stories of creation, stories of divine guidance, stories of their ancestors and the territories they had occupied for centuries.
The “nation of Canada” existed then only in the mind of God. No human eye could have foreseen (unless by divine revelation) the size and the shape of the future Dominion of Canada nor the blend of peoples and cultures that we have become. There was no US-Canada border. There was no United Nations. New France had not yet been named and forests stood where now stand the throbbing cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. There were no provincial maps, no Trans-Canada highway and no House of Commons in Ottawa. The peoples of the land marked their territories along the rivers and watershed divides.
But world history was moving. European nations were defining and redefining their borders and social, technological and spiritual transformations were taking place across the waters. The Gospel, the “good news” of Christ’s transforming power had swept from the “cradle of civilization” through the tribal cultures of Europe and had become—in a variety of forms and expressions—the defining worldview of Italy, France, Spain and Britain.
As is always the case in the growth of nations and the movement of peoples, there was not one only but a multitude of reasons and motivations for the decisions that led the first European settlers to the shores of the North American continent, to the land that would later come to be known as the Dominion of Canada. The people of those lands—some seeking to escape persecution and conflict, some seeking economic opportunity or adventure, some of them with a passionate desire to share the spiritual gift of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—took advantage of the latest navigational advances and marine technology and headed across the Atlantic Ocean in wave after wave of immigrants who found their way to the rocky coasts of this beautiful land.
Without attempting to give a detailed account of all the early social constructs of colonial governance, all the complex interactions and conflicts between the British, the French and later the Americans—all against the backdrop of existing cultures, existing territorial boundaries, existing systems of governance—-the purpose of this brief article is to paint in broad brush strokes the series of events, decisions and traditions that marked the beginnings of the nation we now call home; Canada.
The Christian Heritage Party believes that in order for Canadians to fully appreciate their rich cultural and legal heritage, and to be able to defend that heritage, we must be fully informed about its origins. For several decades after the introduction of “multiculturalism” in the 1960s, Canadians lamented the fact that Canada had “no culture.” This was wishful revisionism, as Canada has a rich history of culture, traditions and laws which arose out of an historical understanding shared by the peoples and founders of our nation—an understanding that God is supreme over all the actions and laws of mankind.
As has often been recounted, the story of the naming of our country at Confederation involves the prayers and personal devotions of Sir Leonard Tilley one of our Founding Fathers and a devout Christian who became Lt. Governor of New Brunswick. During deliberations about the name to be chosen for the newly-confederated nation, he read, in his morning devotions, a passage from Psalm 72 v.8: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” After sharing this with his fellows, they collectively chose the name The Dominion of Canada.
The British North America Act of 1867, together with English Common Law became the pedestal and foundation for all Canadian law until Canada’s Constitution was renewed and brought home to Canada in 1982.
From 1877 until 1994, the House of Commons was opened each day with the reading of a lengthy prayer, invoking the assistance of the “Most gracious God” for the leading of the House in their deliberations, that “peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety may be established among us for all generations…we humbly beg in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Saviour…”
In 1994, succumbing to secular humanist pressure, that prayer was modified to remove the specific reference to Jesus Christ. Prayer is still offered to “Almighty God” with thanksgiving for “the blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy.” It also includes a request to “strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and…Grant us wisdom, knowledge and understanding to preserve the blessing of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.” There is no doubt this was a prayer to the Christian God—the God of the Bible. “Wisdom, knowledge and understanding” are referenced several times in the book of Proverbs and their appearance together in this prayer is simply a reflection of the common teaching of the Bible, God’s Word.
The Preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, (which forms a part of Canada’s Constitution) says: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…”
This opening statement, upon which all of the following “Rights and Freedoms” are based, was not itself the beginning of that mutually-held understanding but rather an observation made by Parliament in 1982 on the historical record of the development of the institutions and laws of Canada up to that point.
In other words, the Preamble was not itself an act of social engineering but an attempt to anchor the rights and freedoms of all Canadians to two unchanging and generally accepted truths:
That God, the Creator of mankind and all that makes up our world, alone has the right to order the affairs of mankind and to direct our steps. He is over all; His precepts are non-negotiable and His judgments are right.
That the laws of Canada must conform to His law and that all Canadians must be equally subject to those laws.
At the time of the “patriation” of Canada’s Constitution in 1982, Parliament, despite the scepticism of then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, chose to retain this recognition of God as supreme. Without a doubt, this reference to God was to the God of the Bible.
Today, those truths so universally acknowledged just a few short years ago are under attack, not only by secular humanists but also by other competing worldviews. A variety of theistic and pantheistic religions are represented in Canada’s “multicult” society. While the “freedom of religion” guaranteed in the Charter ensures that every Canadian is free to worship or not worship according to the dictates of his or her conscience, it is undeniable that the Christian religious worldview has been the predominant influence across this country and today connects people in all provinces, all age groups and members of all ethnic groupings.
Our laws reflect the influence of Biblical teaching, our modern hospitals and school systems developed from the charitable work of Christian volunteers and missionaries. In the Peace Tower and other Parliamentary buildings in Ottawa, where Members of Parliament convene to legislate (to make or enact laws), portions of Holy Scripture are enshrined on the walls as a reminder of the roots of Canadian law and convention. Here are some examples:
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea. Psalm 72:8
Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. Psalm 72:1
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men. Luke 2:14
Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I lay down in the bowels of the earth, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right shall hold me. Psalm 139: 8-10
Love justice, you that are the rulers of the earth. Wisdom of Solomon 1:1 (Apocrypha)
Fear God, Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:17
The nation of Canada now stands at a crossroads of history. In a world made navigable by modern transportation systems, in a world where information and ideas can be shared in almost infinite formats and categories using infinitesimal resources, time and energy, in a world where every time-tested tradition is being challenged anew and where technology has become a tool for wicked schemes as well as altruistic motives, in a world where the individual mind and conscience has become an object of scorn and ridicule while selfish attempts to achieve significance are made possible by new and outlandish inventions, the onus is on the people of Canada and the leaders they elect to anchor the possibilities of the future to the successes of the past.
Much is said these days about “thinking outside the box”. This creativity must be balanced by the wise proverb: “Before you remove a fence, find out why it was put there”. We in the CHP believe that the wisdom of the Holy Bible, God’s Word, was given to mankind to enable us to tackle every challenge and maximize every opportunity in our quest for significance and in our pursuit of destiny. We believe that Canada has a marvellous and unique destiny among the nations of the world and that we will fulfill that destiny and achieve God’s purpose for us in the shortest time and with the least harm to any of our citizens if we recognize the sovereign hand of God and continue to apply His Word to the situations we face, both domestically and abroad.
For more on this, read Canada, A Christian Country, by Frank Hilliard and Leslie Bartley