This past week, Canadians have been both shocked and divided by a gathered group of protestors that descended, or rather drove into the nation’s capital of Ottawa. What originally started as a convoy of disgruntled truck-drivers, has escalated into a unified call for the end of the Canadian government’s vaccine mandate policy.
As a middle aged Canadian, I feel a deeply rooted connectedness to my home and native land where I spent my formative first 18 years. Having lived 13 years in Texas, and another 14 years in Ukraine, I’d like to offer a perspective and encouragement to believers.
Part I: Canadian Faith in Christendom Culture
As a Canadian, raised in the 70-80s, history reveals that my mental models, the ways in which I see the world, were shaped during massive ideological change which began in the 50’s and peaked in the 60’s. During this time, Canada experienced the delayed effects of Europe’s enlightenment, washing upon its shores as secular humanism was finally emancipated from the vestiges of the Judeo Christian framework. Essentially, Canada, as a dominant culture, stopped associating with its Christian roots, it was leaving Christendom.
Lauded as the “natural outcome of humanity’s coming of age in the modern era” churches which had formerly helped shaped culture during Canada’s first 100yrs, were now being either secularized (see United Church history), closing at a speedy clip, or being left to forage increasingly outside of dominant culture, in dedicated, tolerated religious spaces. Tolerated if they stayed within their pews on Sunday, church going Canadians became the odd ones at the culture building dance. Most historians I’ve read agree that this all took place swiftly within a 30-40 year period, and by the 90’s, Canadian policy was being formed and ideologies implemented which would ensure the formation of a new mental model, void of realities of deity, of evil, and a spiritual reality which had been embraced since the dawn of humanity, was swiftly replaced with measured things, enter science and data. Canada’s new god, progress.
Christendom is a fancy word for the West’s synthesized church + state policies which enabled vast, and often coercive expansion projects. In Christendom societies, “the church and state were in symbiosis: ecclesial and secular authorities supported each other” (Kreider 2011). For more than 1000 years western civilization advanced, developed, and for better or worse, functioned in this symbiotic relationship. The religious space for institutional churches was not only becoming smaller, but the dominant cultural values were now penetrating it’s once insulated space.
This simple artistic rendering helps us to understand the role of religion, and Christianity within the Christendom structure.
In a Christendom structure, the church, is viewed as an insulated category in society (religion), an institution that supports the cultural eco-system. It’s given its sub-culture to essentially play within. As long as the church stays in its lane, the symbiotic relationship seems to work well. Interestingly, the hierarchical structures within the churches often reflect the dominant culture, pastors and elders govern at the top, much like principals in a school, or commanders in the army. The cultural forces pressed upon the church are often unwittingly influencing the church itself, it’s practices, norms, and even values (and music!). Little by little, law by law, the church as an institution plays an important role in ensuring the dominant culture’s values, written in policy, are adhered to.
But what happens when values contradict the scripture, and Jesus Christ himself, promoting evil, injustice, and oppression?
In western culture, the institutional Church is caught in wake of a deconstructing, post-modern narrative.
In Canada, the humanistic agenda has aimed to proactively disassociate itself with Christendom, it’s heritage of dominion through coercive actions, stealing land from the indigenous population, the white European male usurping the dignity of women and people of color. The unifying narratives of yesteryear, through the eyes of the oppressor, were viewed as courageous acts of overcoming vast wilderness and bringing hope to uncivilized cultures, sharing the bounty of the Christian nations through education, humanitarian advances spiritual pathways towards eternal salvation. The Church rode in on the coat-tails of western global advancement and was swept up into the civil and economic machinery of the past 200 years in North America specifically. The church and state were bedfellows, a useful social system of stability and control for the state, and a place of safe harbor and faith practice for the institution of the church.
The Christendom model influenced the church to see the physical expansion of Christianity through force as the fulfillment of God’s mission on the earth. The sword in one hand, a bible in other, this is the perspective of those who were caught in western advancement over the millennia. Leading with the sword, the establishment of Christian realities, symbols, church buildings and their mirrored power structures rode in to set up shop, implement social ‘norms’ and re-interpret histories.
But what happens when the Christendom model deconstructs? What is left for the church? Where can she find harbor as western, post-modernism takes shape and meta narratives are questioned? What new relationship must the church strike up with civil government if simply submitting to ungodly powers will only lead to further escalating evils which contradict God’s revealed will in the first place?
I would suggest that the Christendom model is not God’s best for followers of Jesus Christ in the first place. The very posture of engaging in these questions from within it compromises an accurate reading of scripture’s original intent and audience in the first place. Missiologists, and many theologians now recognize that Christendom, instead of being a mutually beneficial societal system that benefited the movement of Christianity, understand it rather to represent the secularization of Christianity itself. The church is not, and never was in God’s vision a worldly institution alongside hospitals, schools, and other social projects. The real church of Jesus is a relational, diverse but unified people group centered on the new life experienced through the resurrection of Christ. This mystical body is Jesus extended life through the Spirit in all culture, from all nations, to all nations, outside of a false secular – sacred divide.
So, the question is whether the church ready to re-imagine its existence outside of shifting and deconstructing dominant culture? What will this church look like? To whom will it look for sanctioned activity and existence?
Christendom’s coercive ways throughout history have been less than anything the historical Jesus would want to be associated with. The power of the sword and the leader of the real Christian movement do not blend well. With bible in one hand and gun in the other, western culture has shaped a Jesus into it’s own image. The church has become a reflection of what the world has decided it should be. Jesus never supported coercive cultural meddling, forced indigenous cultural integration, or sanction any particular culture as superior to another – Jesus went after the heart, not the outward cultural reflections. So, if we’re to move forward, it seems the church body should first consider a new mental model for engaging with the world Jesus loves from within, as was the early church, taking it’s identity not from the sanctioned playground of a secular religious sphere, but from God’s continuous, sending heart to the broken in all spheres.
Jesus vision for the church went against the social order, the established and sanctioned temple worship, and undermined the influence of Rome in the Jewish religious system. Jesus obviously never read Romans 13:1.
What was Jesus vision for his church?
Consider Jesus’s own words to a people on the fringes of worldly power, suffering from it’s oppression:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus vision for the church was a people not in symbiotic harmony with the worldly culture. Jesus didn’t envision a Christendom sub-culture where his church had its own cultural sandbox to play in, singing its own songs, gathering once a week and completely irrelevant from the public life of the culture it served.
His vision was a people shining in ALL SPHERES at ALL TIMES. From God’s perspective, there is no such thing as a secular – spiritual division. That division is a human fabrication, rooted in dualistic, regurgitated Gnosticism that continues to haunt the Western world. Everywhere God’s people go, we bring the kingdom of Jesus, which is summarized as righteousness, peace, and joy. The material world matters to Jesus, his incarnation redeems and renews the corruption within it – we’re reborn now, as a reality, awaiting not the destruction of God’s good creation but the renewal of it. The presence of the church is God’s renewing force, ushering in the healing powers of salvation which include, but are in no way limited the western constructs of eternal salvation, or ‘heaven.’
This diagram, I believe, more accurately reflects God’s intention for the church in the earth. Emancipated from its secularized sphere of religion, communities of faith are sent by the Spirit to co-create new forms of culture on earth, through the power of loving influence, as the kingdom of Jesus takes roots in the heart, the home, and community.
God’s people are a missional people, coming alongside the Spirit’s work in our generation. Wherever there is injustice, oppression, and evil, the salt and light believers in unity stand against it, and throughout history, use sacrificial love (and if necessary, death) to witness to the reality of Jesus in our day.
Part II: Should Canadian Christians Protest?
It seems odd to question whether believers should be actively involved in all facets of culture making. It’s like asking whether a hockey player should lace up their skates and take the ice. We are the world’s antidote, through Jesus, whom resides now in us as the actualization of the Jewish temple, we bring light, love and usher in change wherever we go. We point to this world and the next. We understand that like CS Lewis writes, there is no gray areas in this world:
“There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.”
As we turn to scripture, it’s important to understand that democracies were the furthest thing from the New Testament writer’s minds when they wrote their letters. Churches were suffering under what seemed to be a worldly power that would only be defeated at the return of Christ. Scriptures encouragement was laced with words like endurance, perseverance, a “hang in there, Jesus is coming soon and will fix this suffering soon” (1 Pet 4:7) mentality. But Jesus didn’t return soon, the Father had something else in mind. Slowly, through the influence of love and hope in a resurrected reality, believers undermined the entirety of the oppressive system by following in the path of the suffering Servant. Love won! Domination systems like Rome have been undermined continuously throughout our world’s history through the blood of the saints and ushered in social systems that more truly, albeit imperfectly, reflected the way in which humanity should function, “in heaven as it is on earth.”
The idea that one could legally, and peacefully protest Caesar or the Senate would never have entered the mind of the first century church. The church was persecuted simply for being monotheistic, refusing to bow to the authority of Rome in it’s pluralistic forms landed you in a world of hurt, and your entire household (thus Paul addressing the entire household). Paying your taxes, something the believers in Rome struggled with, led Paul to encourage submission to the governing systems, to pick their battles, to suffer for good and not simply being a good citizen.
In a place like Canada, in 2022, you have a deconstructing Christendom narrative, a movement of humanistic socialism at the helm that has its eyes set on increase government control and an appetite for an ideology that beckons to Plato’s Republic. Utopian visions of a controlled, superior state that ignores the realities of evil itself are the kind of systems that should make every Canadian, and especially believers, hair stand on their end. The church in Canada should rejoice that the Christendom structures are falling apart, and doubly rejoice that it STILL has the privilege to legally, and rightly protest any mandates that increase government control while decreasing the individual. Socialism, as history has clearly demonstrated, is the gateway for tyranny, and a throwback to New Testament’s original context.
Only a improper reading of scripture and fatalistic embracing of a deterministic world, in my view, allows for a silent, uninvolved christian body in a functioning democracy.
Throughout history, Christians have stepped outside of Christendom structures to challenge the dominant culture. I recently visited Gettysburg, and was reminded while touring the museum of the realities of human slavery. We saw one of the first underground railroad stations where many believers risked their lives to assist those fleeing for their lives. Modern day hero’s like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspire us to challenge the status quo when there is misrepresentation of facts, and a status quo that infringes on human dignity. He said, for example, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  What matters to a believer living in Canada might vary from one to another, but to be silence and do nothing, is to cease living authentically.
I was thinking the other day about another Martin Luther, the risks he took, the power structures he rattled by questioning the moral and civil authority of the Church. The list could, and should go on, to inspire believers that this world is God’s world, and when there is human suffering, or evil at work, the kingdom of God doesn’t shrink back into private religious spheres, but brings the light of truth by embodying it peacefully, like Christ, even if it gets you crucified.
But what does it mean to really share the Gospel itself? I would like to introduce you to to the word theosis, a Greek word which in Eastern Orthodox faith, is synonymous with becoming like Christ, who is the good news. Is the gospel message a linear set of logical facts which one must hear and believe? This is how the reformation was framed, and Western brands of Christianity have emerged in our day. We live our faith in our minds in the West. Think the right thoughts, believe them, and voila, salvation as teleological packaged gift. Yet, Eastern believers would suggest that we are to BECOME (theosis) faith, BECOME hope, and BECOME love. As this takes place, through the work of the Spirit and a willing, surrendered heart, the gospel is first incarnated within us in the pattern of Christ’s coming. As we are formed into God’s image increasingly, we go into the world AS the gospel in all spheres, loving the unloved, bringing hope to the hopeless, and inspiring faith as we point to the resurrected Jesus.
One of the ways we love people is to stand up for them. In all cultures, the fringes hurt. I was in a major city this week, and witnessed several homeless on the streets, freezing, alone. Rome, historians agree, was not conquered by Christianity so much as overwhelmed by the Christians care to the diseased, dying, and outcast among their culture. One by one, home by home, village by village, Rome had simply no answer for the love and practical care that believers showed their neighbors. Even as the persecution increased, the public displays of Christ’s care for the lonely, abandoned, hurting, oppressed, were the reason why Christianity could no longer be ignored, and eventually was adopted by Rome (for better or worse!).
Part III: What does the Bible Say?
There are a handful of important admonishments from the Apostle Paul to his audience which we should not ignore. The main scripture used to oppose public protests and encourage a ‘pray only’ posture when it comes to governing authorities is Romans 13:1. Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”
An excellent literature and historical review, as well as exegesis on this often misapplied verse can be found here – https://learn.gcs.edu/mod/page/view.php?id=4267
- The authorities implemented by God for Paul were not individuals, but systems of governance. Paul was encouraging the new church in Rome to be good citizens, particularly pay their taxes.
- The greek is very helpful to understand in this passage, it’s not about resisting governing authorities on issues, but a constant posture of rebellion which is warned against.
- We must interpret scripture in light of the many other examples and scriptures which do show there are times to stand up against worldly power, peacefully. The apostles certainly did, and Paul caused riots in several places, which was illegal and warranted punishment.
- Jesus resisted evil power structures, within the Jewish religious system, which was supported by Rome.
It’s important, again, to recognize the era of the Roman Empire, and the letter sent to the (mostly) Jewish believers in Rome at that time. Unlike the John (see Revelation), Paul did not see an end to Rome. In terms of power, it was at its peak, and grinding its machinery of war throughout the known world. There was no such thing as democracy, or the vision for it in Paul’s mind. Paul knew the cruelty of Rome personally and found himself imprisoned on several occasions by its authorities.
Paul was not saying “Nero, is God’s man, do what he says.” We read in Acts 4:19 for example, when confronted by the appointed religious authorities, Peter and John don’t say, “We know God has appointed you so whatever you say” but instead they respond with, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Even Paul himself incited an uproar and upset one of the Roman epicenters. While he was living among the Ephesians, he made the local tradesmen so angry and was impacting their idol making sales to the point that a massive mob rose up and gathered at their infamous Colosseum. Last year I was able to visit Ephesus and sat in the theater reading over Acts 19, imagining the sight of the thousands gathered, angry, chanting, a city in uproar over a handful of monotheist Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who dared challenge the evils of a dominant culture.
That’s not to say we each, as believers have a right to disobey authority if we think God is speaking to us, but it does require us to approach scripture as a whole, and recognize that Paul’s letters were not written to theologically tackle whether Hitler was God’s man for the hour, but very practical and known situations in the church. Interestingly, Romans 13:1 was used by a young German pastor named Joachim Hossenfelder in one of Berlin’s most influential churches, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The pastor used this verse to affirm the importance of obedience to authority and justify the many red swastikas flying about the sanctuary. All that to say that we can read and use scripture in so many problematic ways that contradict Scriptures holistic intend if we’re not careful or married to a particular ideology (or systematic theology).
We must pray for our authorities.
One thing Christians from all generations and cultures can, and mostly do agree upon is that clearly, we are to love our neighbors and enemies alike, and to pray for our governing authorities. The world will hurl insults, believers are mandated through the example of Christ’s love towards us, to love everyone. This means we will the highest good for our neighbors our bosses, our spiritual and civil authorities. To will evil upon anyone, contradicts our Savior’s revelation. The believers battle is never against particular people, or as scripture says, “flesh and blood”  we understand the world is not the dualistic reality that humanism suggests, but rather a holistic reality, spirit and materiality intertwined.
Peter the apostle admonishes us to “Respect everyone, love your neighbor, and honor the king.”  In his letter to Timothy, Paul urges the church to “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Believers can, and should join in unifying prayer for peace, and that human flourishing will prevail in times of struggle. To live as free believers, for Peter, was to use our liberty as servants of the most high King, within our cultural contexts but do it in such as way that honors God. How do we honor God but by being salt and light in all spheres, out of our churches, and coming alongside those that honor the dignity of humanity?
A) Canadian believers should shine in public spaces, be brave, but be loving and kind to all who witness our actions. We should rid ourselves of any malice, of slander (1 Timothy 2:1) and let our actions and words be seasoned with the type of grace befitting Jesus. Our actions matter, they defend the weak, they oppose the harsh. Our in-actions also matter, they speak to what we believe as well, and what we embrace as God’s will. Each believer should wrestle through their individual convictions and respect one another regardless of their disagreements. Sometimes our own inner anxiety causes us to react to those that take a stand, or don’t on particular issues. Taking the time to process our own fears and frustrations is essential before reacting to the words or actions of others. Remember, leadership influences towards adaptive change that is perceived to be necessary and healthy. That doesn’t mean that change is embraced, and can be very difficult to process for some. Patience towards one another!
B) We should pray for our authorities, and trust that in doing so, with peaceful, legal, permit-table pathways, the hearts of the king may be swayed. In a democratic setting, which the authors and original readers of the New Testament could have never imagined, we should stand for new and better authority’s that reflect God’s kingdom on earth. What God stands for, as revealed in scripture and the perfect revelation of Jesus, we can have every confidence that the Father will bless, even if our neighbors don’t. I live in Ukraine, and have witnessed first hand the oppression before a government that served the people, and can attest to the drastic, wild-growth of Christianity when given the space to influence its culture. Only deterministic sentiments permit a passive, “Que sera, sera” attitude. This renders prayer nonsensical and the Spirit’s active work non-participatory. Jesus didn’t reveal this worldview, but he does invite us to join in ushering in the present-though-not-yet reality of the kingdom through prayer and service in his name.
Too many Christendom generations believed God’s kingdom came through the worldly powers as the power of sword touched down and church buildings were erected. For some Canadian churches, I fear, this same Christendom attitude will encourage them to lead the people of Jesus into hiding all the more, and like Belarus be insulate so far from where God actually is working, that all hope is lost for their communities because of their misaligned witness and ‘safe space’ given to them to practice their religion. I recall leading a group of students on a prayer walk outside of their building, the students were shocked and fearful to even pray outside, a completely foreign concept!
This is exciting for global missions, as faith communities emerge within culture again, not stuffed to the sidelines by secular mental models. Every culture is God’s inheritance, not just the western shapes that our world has known. As western culture is reshaped and meta-narratives are re-written, let’s come alongside this emerging world, and create new culture, new values, and participate in what God is doing in all spheres as it reflects the values of Jesus Christ, and his kingdom “as it is in heaven.”
What is a missional church? It’s the emerging response to the Christendom model. It’s a movement, not of reshaped programs that attract the western world, but rather available, surrendered folks who want to be where the action is in our societies.
A missional church is “any collective of believers set free from the disorder of this present age, who offer themselves in service in the mission of their God to alert people to the new unfolding order of things…” Hirsch
Canada, so incredibly diverse, full of the nations, what an opportunity for the people of Jesus to shine in all spheres – through democratic processes you should stand, be bold while you still have a voice out of gratitude for the privilege you have to do it, something the world has overwhelmingly NOT known in its history. You should pray, in faith, that good change is and will come and that trajectories align politically with the will and heart of Jesus on earth. Lastly, co-create new forms of culture with the Spirit, outside of the tired religious Christendom spaces.
Regardless of the political outcomes of the protests currently in Ottawa, it’s my prayer that a genuine awakening takes place, a bold, and hopeful witness emerges for the next generation ready to leave Christendom models, and practically love the world Jesus died for. Go Canada! Go church!
 Dissertation that is interesting on Canadas’s movement from modernity into post modernity https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/13619/Seaton_divinity.duke_0066A_10062.pdf?sequence=1
 Romans 14:7
 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:1
 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17