Christianity~ Revival or Decline?
Over most of the world, organized Christianity is ebbing. Only in the Americas can it be said to be holding its own. Is the Christian faith dying too? Or is a new concept of Jesus' teachings replacing it? Here, as Christmas approaches, is a searching study of the most important question of our time
MILLIONS who regard themselves as Christians are this month celebrating, with a curious intermingling of bewilderment and joy, the birth of a Jewish mystic and reformer whose brief career of preaching to a secluded and subjugated people burgeoned into the world’s leading religion. 1 hey are bewildered because many are beginning to doubt how Christian Christendom reallv is. Not so long ago Oerman pastors were blessing Nazi submarines, British padres prayed over RAF bombers and a l . S. chaplain manned an anti-aircraft gun against Japanese bombers and coined history’s most ridiculous blasphemy “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.’’
I he great mass of Christians have been taught to believe Christ came to save mankind, vet their newspapers remind them every day that never has mankind’s earthly home stood in greater need oí being saved. Flight years ago science provided mankind with a means of obliterating itself— the same science that tor several centuries has been weakening the supernatural religious behels which have always been a potent force in guiding human behavior. Millions believe that the peril of our age is not the atomic bomb itseli ; it is the fact that the atomic bomb has appeared just as a punitive hell was disappearing from the reckoning of modern man.
Over the same years Christians have been assailed with a floodtide of words to the effect that
“The Christian Church is declining in
the devoutness and obedience it commands, and as an influence on public thought.”
Christianity is in a period of great revival; that it is slowly dying; that it is drawing a divided world together; that it is splitting the world apart ; that its message of love, peace and tolerance is the only cure for the world’s ills; that its arrogant dogmatism, intolerances and insistence on blind unquestioning laith are major causes of the world’s ills.
A majority of the Christian devout are sure that World War 11 has produced a revival in religious thought and participation. The sceptics are just as sure that if there has been a postwar revival it is no more than a momentary leveling off in an inevitable decline. In between are a great number oi people w ho do not know and w ho are fast ceasing to care.
Revival or declined There is no simple unqualified answer. I Afferent people see different meanings in the same facts. To many the word Christianity is acquiring a double meaning: there is Christianity the institution, the organized church, whose strength has to be measured in terms of membership, finances and the influence it wields on the thinking of its members; and there is Christianity the way of life, the code of ethics, which is being regarded more and more as an entity quite distinct from the act of going to church and being baptized or confirmed.
IN SPITK of the complexity' of the evidence some fairly clear facts emerge:
1 The Christian Church, considered in its world-encircling entirety, is declining—in membership, in the devoutness and obedience it commands from its members, and as a major influence on public thought and action.
2 The decline is most evident in Kuropc and in the foreign mission fields in Asia and in Africa.
3 The decline is least in the Americas; in fact, here the Christian Church may be said to be holding its own. If, as the most optimistic of Christians believe, the Christian Church is to capture eventually the soul of the world, its final triumphant march may well be launched from its new bastion of the Americas, not the heartland of its old strength—Kuropc. If it is to die. as some pessimists and sceptics believe, it will die here last.
4 To break dow n the picture in the Americas: Protestantism appears to be slightly in decline; Roman Catholicism is gaining slowlv.
5 Christianity, the attitude, the way of life, distinct from the organized church which promotes it, cannot of course1 be measured. But there is much reason to believe it is gaining strength.
Naturally enough, many spokesmen for Canadian churches claim there is no decline at all, measured in any terms. Dr. George Dorey, secretary of Ifni ted Church Home Missions, says: “Many churches which were half filled for an average service ten years ago are consistently filled today. The
gain in membership of more than thirty-two thousand in 1952 is the largest year’s growth in I'nited Church history.”
Rev. Thomas B. Fulton, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, says: “Three or four Roman Catholic churches in Toronto are holding simultaneous masses in their basements with another priest presiding to accommodate overflow crowds. St. Michael’s Cathedral holds six or seven masses each Sunday and is frequently so overfilled at late morning masses that worshipers must stand.” St. Michael’s can seat about twelve hundred people.
Dr. J. R. Mutchmor, secretary of the I'nited Church Board of Evangelism and Social Service, declares an evangelistic wave is sweeping Canada. He says that in Regina, Winnipeg and Calgary last winter evangelistic missions conducted by the Rev. Charles B. Templeton filled arenas that hockey games rarely filled. ( bartered buses brought groups as lar as two hundred miles.
The Rev. Homer R. Lane, Saskatoon, asserts: “It is doubtful if at any previous time in our history have so many people been inwardly quickened toward God.”
Recently in Toronto Archbishop Michael, head of one million Greek Orthodox adherents in North and South America, said: “Communism is a blessing in disguise because it is making non-Communists more Christian.” A great number of clergymen feel the same way.
Other spokesmen, however, see cause for deep doubt. Dr. Stanley Russell, minister at one of Toronto’s largest United churches, recently summed up a discussion of the Christianity-versus-Communism struggle: “The state of Christendom, as it faces the greatest crisis in its history, is terrifving. Only a miracle can save us.”
His Eminence James Cardinal McGuigan, Canada’s senior Roman Catholic cardinal, wrote last spring : “God is dead, as far as the consciousness of masses of men and women today is concerned. Even to those who still pay Him lip service He enjoys little or no part in the formation of human lile.” Other observers agree with him.
Dr. Henry I\ Van Dusen in his recent book \\ orld Christianity says the Christian faith in North America has had the same four-generation lifetime of many of the continent’s great pioneer financial fortunes—“accumulated by the first generation, enjoyed by the second, dissipated by the third, it is gone by the fourth.”
“Despite all the statistics of Church growth and prosperity,” Van Dusen writes, “in the larger view, we are not gaining ground—we are not even holding our own.”
Nominally at least, Christianity is the world’s strongest religion with a world membership greater than the combined strength of its two closest competitors—Confucianism and Hinduism. Of the world’s two billion people, six hundred millions, or close to one-third, belong to countries in which the national religion is Christianity.
I his globe-encircling fabric of Christianity is strongest by far in Canada and the U. S., though
A clergyman says, “Never in history have so many people been inwardly quickened to God.”
“The Communist Party expects to see all
religion die out with this generation. Gallup Polls have found atheism growing.”
even here the threadbare spots are numerous and only one of the leading denominations—the Roman Catholic Church retains anything like its old power.
The disruption of war and the postwar expansion of atheistic Communism have left the Christian Church greatly weakened throughout Furope. Today, for the one-third of the world’s people who are behind the Iron Curtain, godlessness has officially become a plank ot political philosophy.
The Christian Church is still allowed to carry on to a limited extent in Russia and the Communist-bloc countries of Rastern Rurope, possibly as a form of window dressing to impress Western observers. But ever since Marx called religion “the sigh of the oppressed . . . the opium of the people” the stamping out of religion has been one of Marxist Socialism’s principal aims. Vaclav Kopeckv, Czech Minister of Information, said last year: “People who go to church demonstrate their opposition to the Peoples' Democracy ... In the struggle against such enemies, we stop at nothing.” The Communist Part)’ expects to see all religion die out with the present generation.
But we don’t have to go behind the Iron Curtain to find evidence of hostility or apathy toward the Christian Church. Great Britain, in the coronation of Queen Rlizabeth, staged one of the most religious spectacles of modern times, yet the decline in British church attendance which started before the war has sharply accelerated since. A 1947 survey conducted under church sponsorship revealed that fifty percent of Britons do not attend church at all and only ten percent are “practicing Christians.”
Gallup Polls throughout Rurope have found atheism growing. The latest poll estimates on the number of atheists or agnostics in Furopean countries are: United Kingdom, sixteen percent of
population; Finland, seventeen percent; Sweden, twenty percent; Holland, twenty percent; France, thirty-four percent, (('añada is five percent; the U. S., six percent.) A much higher percentage, while believing in a deity, doubt the existence of a life after death.
How IS Christianity faring on its frontiers where foreign missions are struggling with ancient, tribal paganisms and rival religions?
For almost two thousand years the Christian Church has regarded as its first responsibility a literal obedience to Christ’s last command: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” By the early 1900s there was a beginning of a Christian Church in every country of the world except Afghanistan. But, since the mid-1930s, Christian foreign missions have been experiencing growing antagonism from nationalistic movements abroad and weakening financial support at home.
Major-General Victor Odium, son of a missionary and a former ('anadian envoy to Turkey and China, told the British Columbia conference of the United Church that he felt missionary work in foreign countries is often futile. “I question,” he said, “whether we are winning headway or antagonism in our missions.”
It is a sobering fact that after six hundred years of Christian mission work China is today less than one percent Christian and India only about two percent. All missionaries have been driven out of Communist China, the country which until a few years ago represented the spearhead of the Chris-
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tian mission effort. 'File government of India last spring, in an effort to protect ins own traditional eastern culture against western influences, denounced the evangelizing work of foreign missionaries and said all purely evangelical missionaries would be expelled from the country.
In western Africa, particularly Nigeria, Christianity is losing ground rapidly to Mohammedanism. Ibadan, a Nigerian city of four hundred t housend people, has more than twenty Christian schools and missions and only two Moslem schools yet in the past twenty years more than half the population has been converted to Mohammedanism from their native paganism.
The continent as a whole after three hundred years of mission history, during which the Christian proportion of the population has been considerably strengthened by millions ot immigrants from Europe, is ten percent Christian and forty percent Mohammedan.
All the contradictions and paradoxes that confuse and frustrate both theologians and laymen on the world scene can be traced in miniature in the perplexing state of Christianity right on our own doorstep.
According to what we tell the census taker, we’re a very religious people. Only one Canadian in two hundred and fifty comes out flatly and reports for the census that he has no religion. But religious leaders shake their heads sadly and admit that census figures on denominational strengths are inaccurate. For example, in 1951 close to three million Canadians told census enumerators they “belonged” to the United Church, but one million of these are totally unknown to the church and only eight hundred thousand are actually members. Two million Canadians told 1951 census takers they were Anglicans, but the Anglican Church’s own list of known adherents is around one j million, of whom fewer than four hundred thousand are members in good standing. Roman Catholic leaders claim eighty-five percent of the census’ six million Canadian Catholics are regular attenders at mass.
Society continues to regard the religious sceptic with suspicion. So when the census enumerator, frequently a neighbor, asks point blank, “What is your religion?,” millions whose only religious participation is to attend an occasional funeral or wedding probably name as “their” church the one in which they were married, or the one whose Sunday school they attended.
Church authorities sav the census inaccuracy is greatest among the leading Protestant sects United, Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist for these
are the churches that come to mind most often when a non-churchgoer is suddenly asked to name “his” church.
For the smaller sects (there are about forty) church leaders believe census figures are eighty to one hundred percent accurate. If an individual says he is a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon the chances are strong he is a faithful one.
Apply this rule-of-thumb reasoning to the census tally for each denomination and the resultant figures suggest that about fifty percent of Canadians are actively associated with a church.
Several recent Gallup Polls by the Canadian Institute of Public Opinion corroborate this. In each poll two thousand Canadians are interviewed, carefully selected for age, income and geographical location so that they form an accurate cross section in miniature of the adult population of Canada. But here, as in census questionnaires, reluctance to speak frankly on religious topics may seriously affect accuracy.
At any rate, the polls indicate fortynine to fifty-one percent of Canadians attend a religious service each week, and about one-third of Canadians rarely
or never go to church. Tnt .
Canadian churchgoers is boostedT^he siderably by the faithful attendance of Quebecers, ninety percent of whom belong to the Roman Catholic Church. This faithfulness, which is in evidence in many countries, makes the Church of Rome the strongest branch of the Christian Church.
Gallup Polls on religious beliefs (one in 1945, another in 1948) indicate that five percent of Canadians are atheists or agnostics; sixteen percent have no belief in or are dubious about a life after death. Yet less than one percent
of Canadians told census takers they had no religion.
Do the figures on Canadian church membership and attendance fifty years ago reveal any trends when compared with today’s statistics? The only churches which have national statistics back to the turn of the century are Anglican and Presbyterian and their membership figures show the relationship between census strength and real strength was roughly the same for the 1901 and 1951 censuses. Most other denominat'ons claim t his has also been true of the r memberships over the years. This would indicate that about fifty percent of Canadians were active church members then, as today.
But since 1901 Canada’s population has almost tripled find during t he interval some denominations have gained in proportion to population, others have lost. The denominations which have gained slowly and steadily are those which stress dogma or hold fundamentalist. views Homan Catholic, and the smaller evangelical Protestant sects.
I hose that, have lost ground have been the older well-established Protestant denominations.
In fifty years Roman Catholic membership, as recorded by the census, has ch’mbed from 41.7 percent of the Canadian population to 43.3 percent. The evangelical Protestants (Adventists, Pentecostal and so on) have risen from .7 percent to 2.5 percent. And these are the groups, remember, in which t he census figures ¡ire1 considered to he eighty-five to one hundred percent accurate. During the same period the five leading Protestant grm p^ (six before formation of the United Church in 1925) have dropped from 54 percent of the population to 47.7 percent, and in this group active membership may he only a fraction of what the census claims for each denomination.
A comparison of the 1941 and 1951 census figures shows the trend is continuing. Today t htgreatest gains, by far, are being made by Jehovah’s Witnesses there are nearly five in Canada today for every one the census shows ’for 1941. 'The “no religion’’ category ranks second in growth; it has tripled in ten years but still represents only about half of one percent of t he Canadian population.
Among leading denominations, Roman Catholic and United Churches have grown slightly faster than populat ion since 1941; Anglicans, Lut herans, Baptists and Presbyterians have lost. And the United Church census gain is a questionable one, for 1 he increase may be composed largely of former Presbyterians who, although attending United churches since the time of union, are just beginning to call themselves United Church members for census pu rposes.
On the census, Canada’s leading de-
nominations rank as follows: Ron an
Catholic, about forty-four percent: United, twenty percent; Anglican, fifteen: Presbyterian, six; Baptists, four; Lutherans, three.
1 he amount of money churchgoers [Hit in the plate ’ offers another yardstick of support. Canadians give about one hundred and fifty million dollars a year to their fifteen thousand churches
about forty cents a week per active church supporter. This is about one percent of total personal Canadian earnings. It is about one-eighth what we spend on tobacco and liquor.
Anglican and United figures indicate that church - giving per supporter in Canada has increased slightly during | the past twenty-five years. In 1926 the United Church received $13.08 for j every adherent ; today it receives$13.50. ! Anglican figures are $8.10 for 1926: ! about $13 today. But in “real money” this is a staggering drop for the inflated i dollar of today bears little resemblance to its 1926 predecessor. During t he same twenty-five years per capita earnings in Canada have doubled; annual savings have doubled; spending on movies has doubled, and on cars, tobacco and liquor it has more than tripled. Church-giving today, however. must compete with a host of charities whereas it used to be practically the only out led for “do good” spending.
In church finances no Prote tantHoman Catholic comparison is possible I for the Catholic Church is organized on a diocesan basis and has no national I figures.
A strong argument for those who be| lieve organized Christianity ¡s on the upgrade lies in the fact Canada is wit: nessing the greatest church - building boom of its history. In 1936, 1937 and .1938 Canadians spent nine million dollars on the construction of nine hundred new churches. In the three-year period. 1950-52 inclusive, we erected more than fourteen hundred new churches at a cost of seventy-five millions. Most of this building boom is; concentrated in mushrooming suburban areas around major cities. Today in suburban Toronto approximately sixty new churches are in planning stage or under construction by United. Presbyterian, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and many more are being built by smaller sects.
Observers looking at the broader field of our national growth point out ; however that in view of the great I rural-to-urban population movement in Canada during the war and since, the flurry of new church construction may be no more than a symptom of the crowding which exists everywhere in cities today in beverage rooms,
schools and everything else and may have no relation to church attendance in the nation as a whole. The urban proportion of Canada’s population grew thirty-three percent between 1941 and 1951, our rural population seven percent. Some cities have expanded as much as eighty percent in ten years. Is the big number of new churches being built in such areas an indication of religious revival or merely a result of new concentrations of population?
One thing is obvious to travelers: with the drain of population from some country areas many rural churches
have cio.-ed down, often because the building deteriorates and the small congregation remaining cannot afford to rebuild. During the pasf fifteen years, because of declining attendances, there has been a growing trend in rural churches to hold only one Sunday service.
One Toronto Anglican minister said: We may be kidding ourselves. YVe see more people in city churches, we see scores of new suburban churches being huilt and wo say it means a religious revival, but it may all beat the expense of the thousands of smaller village and
rural churches throughout Canada.”
Is there an answer to the puzzle in the “invisible strength” of the Church? Do members still accept its doctrines and dictates with unquestioning faith and obedience? Does the Church influence public thinking today as it did fifty years ago?
There are signs that many regular churchgoers, especially Protestants, hold personal opinions that differ radically from the official policy of their church on modern social controversies. The United Church, long bitterly opposed to the use of alcoholic beverages, two years ago began a Voluntary Total Abstinence Campaign; yet even if all the pledge cards and group signature forms ordered to date are filled, it means the campaign has produced only one hundred and sixty thousand abstinence pledgesignatures. Thechurch’s membership is eight hundred thousand, its adherents “under pastoral care” two millions.
Public rebellion against Protestant church restrictions on Sunday activities started in Canada in the 1920s when the automobile opened new opportunities for week-end recreation, and it still continues. Perhaps the biggest blow against the old-time Sabbath came in 1950 when Ontario passed a Lord’s Day Act permitting municipalities to legalize commercial Sunday sports if residents desired. Church organizations have fought strongly wherever plebiscites have been held and many plebiscites have been defeated. But the Ht. Rev. A. R. Beverley, Anglican Bishop of Toronto, summed up the churches’ feeling when he said last spring that citizens “had sold out the Canadian Sunday.”
Roman Catholic Quebec was spared this upheaval and bitterness because the Catholic Church has always accepted an open Sunday, rigidly demanding attendance at mass on the one hand but taking a lenient view on all other aspects of Sabbath observance.
Bunnies Come to Mind
The churches’ holiest religious festivals have suffered far more than the Sabbath, and the word “holiday” has long since lost all semblance of its original meaning of “holy day.” Commercialization and secularization of Christianity’s solemn days, notably Christmas and Easter, have gone so far that their religious meaning is all but lost to the masses. Santa Claus has replaced Christ as the Christmas saint and Canadians spend more money on Christmas liquor than they pay their priests and ministers for the whole year.
At Easter in 1952 the Canadian Institute of Public Opinion asked two thousand Canadians: “What is the
first thing you think of when you hear the word Easter?” Only sixteen percent replied, “the Resurrection.” Another twenty percent thought of the Crucifixion or other religious references but for more than sixty percent of Canadians Easter meant hats, new clothes, eggs, bunnies or flowers.
Is the growing tendency for people to form independent opinions on social matters also affecting belief in Christianity’s traditional supernatural doctrines? Are such beliefs as the virgin birth, Christ’s miracles and the Genesis story of creation as widely held today?
A growing body of Protestant theologians are openly claiming the doctrine of the virgin birth grew out of a Biblical translation error which turned the Hebrew word meaning “young woman” into the “virgin” of Matthew’s gospel.
Recently five hundred Protestant ministers and two hundred theological students in and around Chicago were
questioned on their fundamental beliefs. Here is how answers of the two groups compared: Seventy-seven percent of the ministers and thirty-three percent of the students accepted the New Testament as an absolute and infallible standard of religious belief. Half of the ministers but only five percent of the students believed in the creation story of Genesis. Half of the ministers and nine-tenths of the students held that to be a Christian it wasn’t necessary to believe in the virgin birth, participate in any sacraments or hold membership in any church.
Further confusion is added to the picture by the postwar boom in movies, | novels and radio and TV shows with j a religious theme. The number of religious films in circulation has increased from fifty to five hundred in the past ten years. Newspaper columns ¡ and even radio soap operas of religious nature are far more numerous than in prewar years. The U. S. television show of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen has become so popular that the bishop, a Roman Catholic in a country where the Catholic percentage of population is much lower than in Canada, was selected TV Man of the Year for 1952. Several large U. S. hotels and restaurant chains have begun printing forms of Grace on their menus.
March of Science
On the other side of the coin lies what many believe to be Christianity’s greatest danger—the blows that pure science has struck at many of the original religious concepts of man and his universe. Perhaps even more impor tant than science itself has been the expansion of our educational system which has taken science out of the laboratories and technical journals and brought much of it within the intellectual grasp of the average man. In 1890 only six percent of Canadian and American young people reached senior high school, today about sixty percent do.
It was easy enough for medieval man to believe in miracles and virgin births, to imagine a heaver just above the clouds, and to regard his earth as the centre of a universe t hat was created solely for man’s use. Doubt began slowly with the sixteenth and seventeenth-century astronomers Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton who took the earth out of the heart of the universe and showed it to be one of the smallest planets of one of the smallest suns. And the universe ceased to be a plaything of God and became a mechanism controlled by the laws of mathematics and physics. Theologians
saw the threat: Copernicus and Newton were denounced as heretics; Galileo was exiled; Bruno, the first to point out the new astronomy’s inherent attack against the religious conceptions of the day, was burned at the stake.
But science moved on relentlessly to insist, among other things, that the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Christ’s birthplace was merely a “nova” in the constellation Cassiopeia which flares into brilliance every t hree hundred and ten years.
The idea of evolution had been
rattling around in the heads oí thinking men since the time of the Greeks and a hundred years ago Darwin pulled all the loose ends together and exposed the ape in man’s family tree. Darwin himself stressed that evolution didn’t answer the basic riddle of human existence and hoped that it would add to the glory of God.
^ Other sciences began nibbling at Christianity’s foundations. Geologists, by measuring such things as the salt content of the oceans and the rate at which the earth’s uranium has altered to lead, set the age of the earth at
two billion years, a far cry from the Bible’s six thousand. Then Freud and the psychoanalysts diagnosed religion as a “mass neurosis” and claimed to have found the origin of the idea of God the Heavenly Father in man’s own subconscious mind where a yearning for childhood safety with its protecting earthly father still lingered.
Anthropologists discovered that many of the beliefs which Christianity regarded as exclusively its own had been borrowed from or, at least, existed in scores of earlier pagan religions. They found that every important people had
their “Bible” the Zend-Avesta of Persia, the Vedas of the Hindus of India, the Talmud of the Jews, the Koran of the Mohammedans each one believed to be the infallible message of a god to his chosen people.
Many historians have said no civilization has long survived the loss of its religion. From a host of statesmen, philosophers, soothsayers and tent-meeting evangelists has come a flood of warnings that only a stronger idea, a stronger faith, will finally shatter the Communist threat. And most of them say we have that st ronger idea now in Christianity. They are warning that the Western world needs a strong Christian Church as never before.
But the Church cannot be kept strong without a steady and growing flow of young men into the clergy. All major denominations in Canada, including the Roman Catholic, are at present handicapped by a serious shortage of ministers, and the low enrollments in theological colleges indicate that there is little hope of rapid improvement.
A Roman Catholic official reported in Toronto that his church had “a crying heed” not only for more priests, r but also for nuns to place in hospitals, schools and convents. The shortage, he maintained, was not due to a decline in the number of young men and women offering themselves as priests and nuns but because the growing Catholic population was getting ahead of the church’s training program.
The Anglican Church has approximately the same number of ministers today as twenty years ago yet during that time Anglican adherents have increased by four hundred thousand, and one hundred and thirty new parishes have been added. Some ministers in rural areas have had to take charge of as many as five churches. Laymen are being recruited and given a brief training course to qualify them to take over smaller churches.
Twenty years ago the United Church had more men applying for ministerial training than it could possibly use. Today it could place two hundred new ministers immediately. New parishes are being established and new churches
built with no ministers to serve them.
A committee of Middlesex Presbytery in southwestern Ontario recently called the ministerial shortage a threat to church survival. Dr. Denzil (1. Ridout, secretary of the Missionary and Maintenance Department, termed it: “One of the most serious crises ever encountered in the church.”
Another crisis of perhaps even great er magnitude looms in the apparent failure of the Church to win and hold the interest of the church supporters of tomorrow. The Roman Catholic Church holds most of its youth through religious instruction in separate schools but Protestant Sunday school figures indicate that Protestantism is progressively losing its young people. Since 1945 Canada’s non-Roman Catholic population has increased by five hundred thousand while Protestant Sunday school enrollment has only grown by ninety thousand.
The Canadian Youth Commission, an independent body of educators and citizens established to study the problems of youth, conducted a thorough investigation of youth’s attitude toward religion in 1945. “We may think of Canadian youth,” it reported, “as being twenty-five percent religious, fifty percent slightly religious and twenty-five percent completely indifferent or definitely hostile.” They added, “Perhaps j the last-mentioned category should be considerably enlarged.” Elsewhere it j says: “We believe that unless the j
challenge . . . be taken up by the churches, there will emerge a generation with a godless religion, to the immeasurable detriment of society at large.”
A few years ago the Student Chrisj tian Movement in Canada decided that | seventy percent of university students j were not interested in the Church.
The Protestant churches are meetj ing this challenge with a strong movement to revitalize Sunday schools by improving teacher training, injecting ¡ modern techniques into lessons and using films. And church leaders are also hoping that religious belief will j continue, as in the past, to grow with maturing age.
Although Canada has set an example
to the whole Christian world in the unification of creeds there are still enough splinter sects to draw the fire of critics who feel the Church loses strength and appeal to the undecided by not presenting a solid front. They point to Christ’s admonition that “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Although about five million Canadians never attend a church of any description, denominational rivalry has produced a free-for-all in which thousands of collection-plate dollars are spent in “home-mission” efforts to steal members from each other. The outstanding example are the missions maintained in Quebec by several Protestant groups for the conversion of already-devout French-Canadian Catholics to Protestantism.
There are some signs of a trend toward unification. Through the World Council of Churches, established in 1948, many leading European and North American churches are now working together on mutual international problems. In Canada talks toward an Anglican-United Church
union started ten years ago but success still seems a long way off. Dr. Gordon A. Sisco, general secretary of the United Church, said recently: “It is not officially dead but its pulse is feeble.” In Japan the Christian missions got together before the last war and established a united Church of Christ but since the war this promising union has almost disappeared in an outbreak of denominational bickering.
Among the Protestant Church’s attempts to strengthen its hand, one of the most promising is the concerted drive to bring Christianity closer to the individual lives of its members—Too close for diehards who hold to the belief that the Church and its ministers should be solely dedicated to the ritual worship of Cod. How far some of the churches have gone along the road of “popularizing” religion may be judged by studying, for example, minutes covering meetings of the United Church Board of Evangelism and Social Service. During 1952 this board discussed, heard reports or passed resolutions on inflation, farmers’ income tax, floor
and cheese, the Irish mtion, distribution and housing for low-income families, racc .^ack betting, old-age pensions, liquor advertising and a brewery’s decision to donate a trophy to the Dominion Drama Festival.
The board’s annual report covers alcoholism in France, pool betting in Britain, national health insurance, union membership, the price of gold, Canada - U. S. friendship, pre-marital blood tests and the Mau Mau problem. The annual report of the Anglican Council for Social Service covers such topics as comics, unemployment, conscientious objectors, liquor consumption and NATO.
This broadening of the Church’s place in modern life has also moved strongly in another direction. Most large churches have become centres for their community’s social and cultural activities as well as a centre for worship. There has been no similar trend in Europe. “I found,” said Canon C. A. Moulton of Toronto, “that the average British clergyman felt he was doing his duty if he performed the functions required for Sunday worship.” The Rev. Earl S. Lautenslager of Howard Park United Church, Toronto, says: “The Church in America has been on the right track in ministering to the needs of children and adults Monday through Saturday.”
The Clouded Side
The Rev. Frank P. Fidler, associate secretary of the United Church’s Board of Christian Education, adds: “We have been criticized occasionally for entering controversies far removed from religion but I think it is one of the healthy developments in our church life. The Church must provide guidance on social and national economic problems and the fact that it is doing so in North America is an important source of its greater strength.”
All this weighing of trends and figures, this tide of argument about Christianity’s fiscal state, sometimes clouds the great and portentous realization that the ideal, the way of life, that contains the very essence of the teachings of Christ has taken a hold on the hearts and minds of men as never before in history.
Perhaps Christians were slow to assimilate the idea fully but Christ’s gospel of love, mercy and a sense of duty to one’s neighbor did slowly sink in over the centuries, giving rise to a growing belief in the dignity and worth of individual man. Christianity contributed to our judicial system, ethics and culture in a degree that cannot be measured.
In the past two or three generations the Christian idea, or attitude, has made its greatest gains. Even on the international scene, despite wars and cold wars, there are encouraging and hopeful developments. Never before have there been such basically Christian organizations as UNPISCO, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Colombo Plan, assisting underdeveloped countries and working for world betterment as a political goal.
Although the Christian ethic may still be hard to see in operation on the international level it has won a crowning victory in the national life of all Western nations, particularly in North America. Our puritanical great-grandfathers who filled their churches every Sunday also attended and approved public hangings. Workers got the -minimum of wages for the maximum of toil. Children worked in mills and factories to help the rich get richer. And the worker who lived too long often wound up his days in the work-
house or begging from door to door.
Christianity’s impact on public morality, its fostering of a deepening sense of responsibility toward the underprivileged, has drastically changed the old social order. Today’s old-age pensions, workmen’s compensation, widows’ allowances and Children’s Aid Societies are all potent illustrations that while the Christian Church may have weakened as an organization, the cause it stands for has become solidly imbedded in national thinking.
Even the passing of the Church from the role it once played as the principal
administrator of hospitals, charities and public welfare is itself a measure of the victory the Christian idea has won. By pioneering these agencies the Church gained such a wide acceptance of the idea of social responsibility that their administration became more than the Church could adequately handle—a decline, perhaps, in the Church’s civic position but a far-reaching victory for its Christian ideal.
And there is another crucial and encouraging fact that the pessimists fail to see: only a very small propor-
tion of Canadians with no church
connections are atheists or agnostics. Their defection springs from a religious indifference, not a rejection of religion. The army of people who never go to church are simply uninterested in religion, not anti-religious, and the distinction may be a vital one. For it implies that what is being rejected is the admittedly ancient outward form of organized Christianity, perhaps some of its theological veneer, while its basic essentials—belief in God, the gospel of Christ and the sanctity of individual man—may be as strongly held as ever. ^