Under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadians have the freedom to practice religion. Specifically, if access to employment, services, or benefits is ever disallowed (based on religious belief), it would be considered discrimination.
So that means that believers have the RIGHT to practice religion, right?
It may not be that easy. We are to submit to the governing authorities and the system that’s in place (Romans 13), but the freedom to believe isn’t a right we find anywhere in Scripture. It’s more of a pleasure.
In fact, the early Church had no such rights, and one could argue that Christianity flourished because of it. Likewise, you could argue that when Christianity and the State merged (aka Christendom), the religion grew numerically, but authentic faith was often absent.
Today, our government is becoming less and less ‘Christian,’ Christendom has been dismantled, and even the basic idea of religious freedom is being questioned as one right is understood to collide with another.
With that said, if early Church history is any indication of our future, Christianity is being set up for some extravagant growth. When passionate faith is coupled with cultural obstacles (e.g. government policy), the message of the gospel has a way of spreading like wildfire.
The challenge, however, is understanding our role as believers. Do we take a stand? How do we ‘stand firm’? Do we advocate for change? Do we stand against those who believe otherwise? Do we become political? How do we share the Gospel?
To help, let me share some advice for Christians:
1) Personally Stand Firm
Don’t change your beliefs to match cultural shifts. Stand firm on God’s Word and don’t be ‘double-minded’ like the wavering wind over the sea (James 1:1-5-8). Base your beliefs on a holistic and a sound understanding of Scripture, and remain faithful to that belief.
When people ask you to explain yourself, there’s no need to worry because the Spirit will give you the words to say (Luke 12). That doesn’t mean it will be easy, or cost nothing. Jesus was very clear of the cost of remaining faithful to the gospel (Luke 9). While no doubt extreme, it may even cost you your own life (e.g. Stephen, Acts 7).
I’m not sure, in our democratic society, that we fully understand what ‘personally standing firm’ actually means. We tend to point to the chaos around us before we focus on becoming more faithful ourselves. We need to stand firm on our own faith.
2) Freely Extend Grace
Canada is not a Christian nation. Yes, in the past, the majority of our culture was composed of Christians (thus often ‘Christian’), but that day is no more. Today, not everyone will believe what you believe. So, from a biblical perspective, we are to extend as much grace to those around us as possible. It’s not our responsibility to judge those who are not claiming to be Christian (1 Corinthians 5:12).
You can still remain firm in your personal faith without imposing your beliefs on others. In fact, God is expecting us to do so. We are called to be witnesses of what God has done, not dictators of how others should act or respond (Acts 1:8).
We stand firm on our personal faith, extend grace to those who believe something else, and allow the Spirit to empower our lives as a witness to those around us.
3) Realize Government Benefits are Pleasures, not Rights.
Yes, as a citizen we have rights, but as a believer, the Government owes us nothing. First and foremost, we live for God. Secondly, we live in peace in our broken world.
For the sake of the gospel, we need to be ready to give up cultural benefits. As our government becomes less and less Christian, it will become more and more necessary to remove ourselves from policies that disfavour Christian belief.
We can’t fight for ‘our rights’ — the gospel is worth more than that. We must fight for ‘the gospel’ — to become healthy and strong disciples who live and model a Christian life. We must be the salt and light of the world that everyone is searching for, but can’t seem to find (Matthew 5:13-16).
Let’s put it this way: when issues of faith become uncertain, disconnect yourself from the government benefit altogether.
To the Church…
I personally believe we, the Church, should voluntarily (and pro-actively) remove ourselves from legally solemnizing marriages. It’s the only thing that still connects the Church and State. Believers would still engage in a spiritual ceremony, however, the legal component would be left to the government agencies.
We can also be ready to give up tax breaks in exchange for monetary giving to the Church. We don’t give to receive a tax break; we give to support the Kingdom, so let’s make sure we give that way — generously and without need of return.
In terms of government funding, we have to remember that the government doesn’t usually share Kingdom values. Therefore, we should expect problems and conflict to arise. We either need to be alright with differing beliefs and engage where possible, OR, let go of those funding options entirely.
The ‘Government’ isn’t expected to lead in ‘Christian’ change – their set of beliefs are much different than the Church’s.
The Church is the salt and light of the world. So let’s…
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NIV).
Do you feel that freedom of religion is a right? Why or why not?
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