Life on the Periphery

By Jim Tune

It’s no longer 1910 or the age of men. And if there once was a Christian age, it has come and gone.

Canada's Centennial Flame located on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. The lighting of the flame on Jan. 1, 1967, launched Canada's 100th anniversary celebrations.
Canada’s Centennial Flame located on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. The lighting of the flame on Jan. 1, 1967, launched Canada’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

As recently as 1967, one might have argued that Canada was a Christian country. July 1, 1967 marked Canada’s centennial birthday celebration. Thousands gathered in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, for the festivities. The celebration began with a prayer service, which was carried on national television and was a centerpiece of the day’s events. The crowd waited expectantly as dignitaries arrived for the service, including all the main political leaders of the day: the prime minister and members of the cabinet and Senate. When the guest of honor, her majesty Queen Elizabeth, arrived, accompanied by her husband, the duke of Edinburgh, they were greeted by eight members of the clergy, who escorted them to their places on the dais.

The service consisted of readings from the Bible, including Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson reading 1 Peter 3:8-14. Christian hymns were sung, and among the prayers offered were a prayer of confession for the sins of the nation and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. A litany was recited, and those gathered were invited to respond with the words, “We rededicate ourselves, O Lord.”

Similar scenes would not have been uncommon in the United States and most other Western countries of the time. However, for many of us, the scene I’ve recounted is hard to imagine now.

The displacing of Christian faith from countries throughout the West is a shared story. People in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany could share similar experiences. Even in the United States, Christianity is slowly moving from the center of culture to a peripheral role in many parts of national life.

Because of this shifting of religious orientation, these are unique days for the church. At one time the church played a significant role in culture shaping and the affairs of the nation. Christianity, which once stood at the center of Western culture and could presume a privileged voice, has witnessed its place at the center unravel and cease to exist.

As Christians, we mourn these changes. But we must not get stuck in our grief. And recreating 1967 in Canada is no more possible than bringing back 1910 England. With the lack of anything close to a Christian cultural consensus, the church must imagine new ways to define itself and engage the culture.

It’s not all bad news. As Ephraim Radner states regarding Israel’s exile, “Exile is also the movement by which our Lord delineated deliverance. As such, it can hardly be a cause for fear.” This can also be the case for the American church in the 21st century.

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