In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37 talks about the “dry bones.” Led by the Holy Spirit to a valley full of human bones, the prophet asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Of course, this vision represents the house of Israel, as the northern kingdom has been taken into captivity, and the Babylonian army stands ready to destroy the southern kingdom as well. The question, “Can these bones live?” is therefore a question about the ultimate future of the nation. Closer to home, we must ask a similar question regarding the state of Christianity in Canada. But first, let’s survey the landscape.
In his book, What happened to Christian Canada, American church historian Mark Noll recounts that a dramatic “de-christianization” among both French Catholics and English Protestants began during the 1960s. Most of us are well aware of this. In the mid 1980s, some 43% of Canadians attended a religious service in Canada, but today, that number stands around 25% and is still declining. Furthermore, there has been a dramatic growth of those who claim no religious affiliation (now at 25%). Today, over 10% of Canadians belong to a religion other than Christianity. In short, the spiritual landscape is profoundly different than we have ever seen.
Yet, there is an added complexity to the situation, because not all Christian churches in Canada are in decline. Due to immigration, the number of Catholics in Canada is increasing. While only about 12% of Canadians are evangelical, that number has not been dropping. The great decline has really occurred among mainline protestant groups such as the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church. Interestingly enough, these denominations were most likely to deny Biblical authority and adopt a more secular expression of faith. Or to put it another way, the denominations that held fast to the historic Christian faith were unlikely to be in decline.
But that still raises the question. Given the sharp rise in Canadians with no religious affiliation, and the sharp rise in non-Christian faiths, can these dry bones live? Is there a realistic possibility of reclaiming our nation for Christ? Before we answer that, we must admit that Canada’s population is changing, and will continue to change. The Canadian birth rate continues to be low, meaning that the level of immigration needs to be adequate in order to sustain our country. The future here does not belong to a predominantly Caucasian church. Therefore, it is imperative that if we are to reach our nation, we must reach immigrants with the gospel. Churches that do not reach immigrants simply will not grow.
And it is here, in reaching immigrants, that we will find our greatest opportunities to impact the spiritual state of Canada. New immigrants are open to change, and many come from cultures where “God talk” is considered natural and normal. I believe the church must seize the opportunities we have by learning to share our faith and form networks to reach these diverse communities.
“Can these bones live?” The prophet Ezekiel answers the question well: “O Lord God, you know.” He knows that in order for the bones to live, it will require a miraculous intervention. Only God can speak life into the bones so they will live!
Today, as never before, we need to ask God to bring life on these dry bones.