By Steven M. Studebaker
As Canada and other Western nations became less Christian, the rest of the world became more Christian. The past forty years witnessed the rise of the post-Christian West and global Christianity. “Partners in the Spirit” takes on this issue in respect to Pentecostal faith and ministry in the Canadian context.
Within a single generation, Canada became a secular, multicultural, and religiously plural society. Canadian society today is a place of declining and, in many cases, of closing churches. Though a majority of Canadians still self-identify as Christians, Christianity no longer enjoys the cultural privileges of the Christendom era. Christianity is a marginal religion in respect to mainstream culture. Indeed, for many cultural and political elites, Christianity is an embarrassing heritage hanger-on that is best left in the dustbin of pre-multicultural Canadian history. While Canada became less Christian and more secular, it became more multicultural and religiously plural.
At the same, the global face of Christianity has also changed from being a religion of primarily White Europeans and North Americans, to a religion of the majority world. As Philip Jenkins states, “The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning. The fact of change itself is undeniable: it has happened, and will continue to happen.”1 Consider China. Just a few years ago, Christianity in China was no more than a few beleaguered bands of home churches behind the bamboo curtain hunted and persecuted by a communist government. Today, however, according to the Pew Forum, the United States has 173 million adult Christians, which is 71% of its adult population of 245 million.2 The previous official number of Chinese Christians was 100 million. A government-sponsored poll by East China Normal University in 2007 revised that estimate to 300 million. Conservative estimates can range from 67 million to 130 million, while some estimates can reach as high 147 million. It is abundantly clear that the numbers are massive.3
Consider that the number of Christians in China, by the lowest estimate, is twice the entire population of Canada, which until a generation ago was one of the leading ‘Christian’ nations in the world. A recent headline even declared, “China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years.”4
We may quibble over numbers here and there but two facts are clear and undeniable. The church in the West, and Canada, is in hospice care, but in the rest of the world, it is just leaving the maternity ward.
What is important for Pentecostal ministry in Canada is that the two stories—the rise of the post-Christian West and Christianity in the rest of the world—intersect.
Immigration out of the global south to Western European countries, Britain, and, for the interests of this conference, Canada, has brought global Christianity to Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. Ironically, while Canada became post-Christian, secular, multicultural, and religiously plural, it also became more Christian. Global Christianity and its new vitality has come to Canada but it has become Christian in a way that people enculturated to white middle class and upper middle class suburban style churches may find uncomfortable.
How should we respond?
Not with fear. Paul encouraged Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Power, however, should not be understood as the vain triumphalism of human hubris.
Like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, we need the Holy Spirit to come upon us and liberate us from our post-Christian pessimism and give us tongues to proclaim the Gospel to the nations; people that are no longer at the ends of the earth, but making their home in Canada.
Michael Wilkinson’s two keynote presentations describe the context for ministry in Canada today and Gary Tyra’s two keynote addresses, along with eight parallel session presenters, answer the question: what does the post-Christian, secular, multicultural, and global Christian face of twenty first-century Canada mean for Pentecostal faith and ministry and what are the pathways forward for effective ministry?
They will help Pentecostal ministry leaders discern the way forward for working “out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) by keeping “in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25) in today’s Canada.
1. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 3.
2. Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” 20–32. For the history of Christianity in China, see Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, Blackwell Guides to Global Christianity (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).
3. Pew Research Center, December 19, 2011, “Global Christianity—A Report of the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” Appendix C. Methodology for China, p. 97 (http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/) and “Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020: Society, Religion, and Mission,” Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, June 2013, p. 36.
4. Tom Phillips and Zhejiang Liushi, “China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years,” The Telegraph, April 19, 2014.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*