The Church and Unity in Canada

Jack Charleson is an elder and Programme Co-ordinator at Bridlewood Presbyterian Church, Scarborough, Ontario.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada, from inception until this day, has recognized the Old and New Testament Scriptures as the infallible Word of God. Based on this understanding, where better to turn for direction as we seek unity across this great land of Canada. In recent years unity has been seen as a political process for Canada but, as we look back in history there is clear evidence of the desire of the Lord to remove rifts that have been established by humanity.

Following the great flood, Noah and his family formed the nations of the earth with a single purpose and language. Chapter 11 of Genesis reminds us of the gathering at Shinar when the Israelites built a tower which would be used to draw attention to themselves. This action displeased God. As a result, he confused the language so that people would not understand each other, and he scattered them across the face of the earth. Since then there has been little evidence most people are prepared to live and work in peace and harmony. However, over the past fifty years it appears the Lord is bringing together a nation whose roots stretch back to every corner of the face of the earth. That nation is Canada.

As a country, Canada has been established as one unit, made up of differing parts — various Provinces, Territories, regions, cities, etc. So it is with the people. There are those who are Canadian by birth, with various descent lines such as Native, French, English, etc., as well as many who have chosen Canada in which to establish their home. The latter have come from virtually every corner of the world, bringing with them opportunities to contribute to the Canadian way of life through their vast array of lifestyles, cultures and dialects. Regardless of race, mother tongue or skin colour, those who are Canadian by birth, or Canadian by choice, are part of this great country and the future of Canada is dependent upon the contribution of each individual.

Each of the many parts of Canada is dependent upon the others. If one region determines it has an abundance of one resource and senses it has no need of other regions, it would not cease to be part of Canada for that reason. Similarly, if a region were to determine the land produces well and therefore it has no need for the rest of the country, it does not for that reason cease to be part of Canada. Another region may feel blessed by the industrial wealth it sustains and reckons it can exist without the rest of the country but it, too, does not cease to be a part of Canada.

If the English- or French-speaking community determines it does not need other language groups, it would not cease to be part of Canada. Similarly, if the original inhabitants of Canada were to determine they had no need for all who have come to live in this land, they would not cease to be part of the country.

Clearly, there are many diverse components to a nation such as Canada, each being as important as the others. Those regions, or people groups, which appear to be less important may need to be treated specially, and given assurance of their contribution to Canadian society. Each is an integral part of the country and without them Canada would be much less effective. The country has developed with each region and/or people group dependent upon the others and there really is no room for division in the country — all groups should have equal concern for the others.

If one segment of the country suffers in any way, the others should seek to provide assistance where this is practical. Good examples of this were the Manitoba floods in 1997 and the Eastern Ontario/Quebec ice storm in 1998.

We are all Canadians, and as such, each person, Province, Territory and region forms an integral part of the country. There are various roles to be fulfilled and when we come together and play our part, this great country of Canada provides leadership which is second-to-none within the world community. However, if we spend time examining and debating differences which are perceived to exist within our borders, the impact of Canada on the international scene is diminished significantly.

Consequently, the interests of Canada can be promoted best when each person in the country is prepared to identify the role they must play to ensure the world can be a better place when influenced by Canadian society. Unity begins with individuals.

The line of thinking included in this article is not any new revelation. Indeed, it can be traced back to the first century when the Apostle Paul wrote to the people in Corinth. Basic thoughts have been gleaned from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and adapted to reflect Canadian society in the late-twentieth century.

When Canada was constituted in 1867, Christianity was predominant and the motto of the country based on the words of the psalmist "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea" (Psalm 72:8 KJV) and also the prophet Zechariah "and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea" (Zechariah 9:10 KJV). As years have passed this philosophy has diminished as various parts of the country have sought to do their own thing and go their own way. Now is the time to ask ourselves "Does God really have dominion from sea to sea?" — not just in the political sphere but also, in the Church across the Canada. The "divided" Church provides a poor example of unity within the Body.

Many congregations and denominations seek to present the Body of Christ to Canadians but, as they endeavour to implement "their" way, all too often fail to recognize the importance of unity. This contributes to weaker effectiveness in the presentation of the Gospel. On occasions, the Church can put aside theological and doctrinal differences, and focus on the Lordship of Christ and the truth of the Gospel, such as Mission Ontario with Billy Graham in Toronto (1995) and the National Capital Region Billy Graham Mission in Ottawa (1998). In both these cases we have seen significant impact on society at large. This is not true just of Canada, or our current times, but in times of revival all society is impacted for the better.

Clearly, the Church has a wonderful opportunity to provide leadership towards a new, united Canada by encouraging individuals, and various groups within Canadian society, to put aside differences and focus on the aspects of life in this country that bind us together. The Presbyterian Church in Canada can contribute to this process in a significant way as we seek to present the unified Body of Christ to communities across the land, joining with others to bring a sense of unity and restore Canada to the glory it so richly deserves. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians "He (the Lord) is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17, NIV). As the Body of Christ, of which the Presbyterian Church in Canada is an integral component, the challenge to Christians across Canada is to bring glory to the name of the One who created this land.

How, then can we rise to meet this challenge?

It would be extremely difficult to meet such a challenge as long as individuals, or groups, seek to promote their own agenda rather than endeavouring to come to an understanding of the needs of others. The importance of each person, or group, developing meaningful relationships with each other and seeking areas of mutual concern cannot be ignored. Christians are encouraged to "never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11, NIV) as well as to "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited" (Romans 12:16, NIV).

As Christians seek to do the will of the Lord they serve, the potential of developing unity grows and those who do not share the same spiritual values will be influenced. The Church has much to offer Canadian society by exemplifying Christ.

This is the challenge to the Church, the Body of Christ — to seek to develop a deeper understanding of each other and establish priorities that are for the benefit of the community as a whole, not just one individual little corner. By so doing Christian community across Canada can become the "leaven," and increasingly demonstrate to others the impact a united community can have on the world.

As the 125th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is celebrated, our denomination could establish no greater goal than to encourage unity within the Body of Christ across Canada, bringing Canadians of all backgrounds together for the glory of our Lord as we move into the next millennium.