Canada’s Christian heritage has been largely forgotten by the millennial generation. Consider for example the teaching of Darwinian evolution in our educational institutions,[i] the intolerance of Christian belief in the public square,[ii] or the godless foundation of our law and government.[iii] These are all facts of which most millennials will say “It has always been so.” What can be more tragic, that the millennial has no knowledge of our country’s founding history, or that they presume that just because things are as they are, then it ought to be so?
From the time of Jacques Cartier, to Sir John A. MacDonald, to the 1960s, there has been a strong interwoven presence of Christianity in Canadian history, up until quite recently. In fact, Canada was always regarded as a “Christian nation,”[iv] strongly tied to the Church of England,[v] and wholly devoted to the teaching of God’s word.[vi] To examine “Christian Canada” would entail volumes upon volumes of writings, something quite lacking besides the works of historians John W. Grant, Eric Crouse, Terrence Murphy, John S. Moir, and few others. There, for example, is at least a starting point for fellow Christians to begin their journey of discovery in our nation’s capital.
There are various biblical passages found inscribed on the Peace Tower and other Parliamentary buildings in Ottawa that remind us of the Christian heritage of our nation. This article is by no means an exhaustive list of the engraved passages, but reviews, as a fraction of the whole, important passages that reflect the grand portrait of our historic national identity. The biblical vision of our nation is often neglected, if not completely ignored, by national history curriculums in our public schools, but the remnants of what once was can still be reclaimed by a faithful church in our present time. We will consider the Peace Tower, the buildings of Parliament, and the Memorial Chamber within.
The Peace Tower
The Peace Tower itself bears three primary passages, the most prominent being Psalm 72:8, which is also featured on Canada’s coat of arms. The passage reads “May He have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (ESV), inscribed in Latin on the wall, as “A Mari usque Ad Mare.” This is the Psalm which first inspired the Fathers of Confederation to name our nation The Dominion of Canada, and despite those who have argued for an initial reference to Israel’s first temple era, this passage actually refers to the kingdom of the Messiah.[vii] In verses 9-10 the kingdoms of Tarshish, Sheba and Seba are mentioned as under the dominion of this sovereign King, indicating inapplicability to Solomon’s reign and suggesting a transcendent rule. The two fundamental components of Psalm 72:8 constitute the absolute sovereignty of God over the entire earth, hence the mention of foreign nations; and that this kingdom and dominion shall be the Lord’s. In Daniel 2:44-45 we read the biblical prophecy of God’s kingdom establishment, which from a stone a mountain grows, covering the entire earth, echoing Psalm 72:8. It is not a kingdom marked by a particular ethnicity or language, but rather by the unity of multicultural diversity in its creed.
This concept of sovereign rule attributed unto God, not man, is at the root of the celebrations of July 1, Dominion Day, which was to recognize God’s sovereignty over our nation and all that it entails. This was officially overturned in 1983 in the passing of a private members’ bill that proposed changing the name to “Canada Day” with only twelve Members of Parliament present. This formed part of a larger de-Christianization movement,[viii] reflecting the change of values and beliefs by Canadian Parliament and its citizens, and the substitution of God with the state as sovereign in the adoption of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms.[ix] It is a statement of a country that sought not submission to God and His law but rather autonomy, to be a law unto ourselves, to be our own creators of morality and reality, such as the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriages, where “life” and “marriage” were redefined.
The other two passages in Scripture are Psalm 72:1 and Proverbs 29:18. The Psalm reads “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!” (ESV). It is the prayer of the Psalmist for an act that would later take place, the acts and principles of right government given unto the Messiah to rule in perfect justice. It is Christ, not man, who is king over all of God’s creation. This follows in line with the Proverb which reads “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18, KJV). The Fathers of Confederation had a vision for Canada; it was a Christian nation that rivaled the culture of the United States.[x] To have a vision, as is meant by the Psalmist, is to devote oneself towards the instruction of God’s truth through His divinely-inspired word.[xi] It follows that without the law, without godly instruction, our moral depravity will lead us to our own destruction due to the absence of moral restraints; we will witness the perishing of not only individuals but societies.[xii]
The application of this passage is fundamental to understanding the vision of the founding fathers, a nation under God, abiding by the law of God. That is not the vision of today, instead humanism has resulted in the decay of truth in the public square and the erosion of our moral foundation. It is the humanist who says that “there is no God,” that “we are not accountable to God,” that “man creates his own meaning, his own morality, and his own freedom.” The age-old vision, as derived from Scripture, is to submit our nation to the sovereignty of the king, Jesus Christ, who rules in perfect justice and with the principles of right government. It is an opposing view to modern understanding, a stark contrast to humanistic religion, but the Peace Tower reminds us of our former Christian identity and the destiny that awaits the wise decisions of godly nations.
A sample of the biblical passages found within the Parliament buildings is Ephesians 6:13 and Psalm 139:8-10. In the Pauline epistle to the Ephesian church, we read “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (ESV). The people of Ephesus were accustomed to Greek mythology and its tales of their gods providing mortal man with special armor, hence why Paul uses a common illustration to communicate the truth of God in his writings.[xiii] It is the “taking up of armor” that is regarded as a call to arms, to defend and protect God’s creation from evil. To neglect the response to evil is morally wrong in itself; we are morally bound by Holy Scripture to respond to evil, just as the western world responded to the cruelty of Nazi Germany in WWII. It is the role of the state to administer justice in all areas of society, to execute justice according to the perfect law of God.
This includes defending against the threat of humanism, the man-centered worldview that perverts justice and righteousness. Just as this passage applies to the preparedness of man individually, it also applies to the spiritual and moral integrity of a nation as a whole. As to the armor, Paul writes of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God (divine instruction), all biblical principles that are good and pleasing unto God, qualities that once distinguished our nation’s identity.
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:8-10 the following:
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me” (ESV).
It is the Psalmist’s recognition of God’s omnipresence and omniscience; He is both everywhere and all-knowing. He knows the deep thoughts of man, the dark sins of the nations, and is present in both private homes and public legislatures. But we not only find recognition of God’s attributes, we find a faithful promise, that those who turn to Him will be led by Him, and that in His nearness He also sustains us. It was a declaration of dependence upon God, a demonstration of humility, a forgotten devotion that has been substituted with the idol of self and independence.
In the memorial chamber of Parliament we find references to Jeremiah 23:5, which reads “…execute judgment and justice in the earth” (ESV) and Nahum 1:7, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (ESV). The Messiah king does not just reign over a spiritual kingdom, but righteously reigns over the entire earth (Jer. 3:17, 18). The mistaken belief that the kingdom of God is merely spiritual and doesn’t incorporate the physical world is damaging to the work of the church. This was the vision of our forefathers, that Christ would execute “judgment and justice.” Perhaps the question may be asked about the injustices in our own legal history, such as the court decision to allow and even publicly fund the massacre of the unborn, but what we ought to be reminded is that if Christ is sovereign, which He is, He will execute justice even if the state fails to fulfill its role.
The legal system was not meant to replace the judgment of God, it was meant to uphold the law of God, and whatever judgment is given by the courts, Christ will still administer the final judgment. A guilty man convicted of murder will not escape the judgment of God after serving twenty-five years in prison; it is Christ who will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1). Although the passage of Jeremiah affirms the sovereignty of God and His righteousness and judgment, Nahum assures us of the safety and refuge available in Christ. A man can escape the wrath of God by repenting of his sin and turning to Jesus Christ; likewise a nation can escape the judgment of God by turning to the King on His throne, who has conquered both sin and death. These are messages of both hope and judgment, the good news of God and the penalty for breaking His perfect law.
These inscribed biblical passages on the Peace Tower and Parliamentary buildings are merely scratching the surface of Canada’s Christian heritage; they provide a glimpse of our original national vision and the future hope of restoring a nation under God. The vaults of Canadian history are filled with fundamental Christian belief, but our secularized society has tirelessly worked to bury that fact, to eliminate all such traces of the past. To study the spiritual roots of our nation, and how it has poured out into other areas of life and society, is a worthy pursuit recommended for all Canadian Christians. Most importantly, it is a long-neglected work of the church, a vital task in reclaiming its evangelistic vigor and zeal for the glorification of God in the public square. Such a task can only be done by the understanding of Canadian church history, and by embracing the missio dei, the mission of God, as outlined by the Holy Scriptures (Matt. 28:18-19).
It ought to be known that there was such a thing as a “Christian Canada,” and there is hope, in God’s providence, for a renewed conversion of our nation. It only follows that if our faith is in a sovereign and righteous God, infinite in power and strength, with a Gospel that can transform minds and hearts, then we should expect the church to adopt a victorious outlook toward history, in which the “gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18), and where man can not only be saved in Jesus Christ (John 3:16) but be redeemed and renewed (John 3:3).
[i] Steven Chase, ‘B.C. MP Quits Conservatives to Defend Views on Evolution’, The Globe and Mail, March 31, 2015, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/bc-mp-quits-conservatives-says-his-christian-worldview-was-suppressed/article23709160/.
[ii] Douglas Farrow, ‘Of Secularity and Civil Religion’, ed. Douglas Farrow Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society: Essays in Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy (Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004), 173.
[iii] Joseph Boot, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope (St. Catharines, Ontario: Freedom Press International, 2014), 246-247.
[iv] John S. Moir, Christianity in Canada: Historical Essays, ed. Paul Laverdure (Yorkton, SK: Redeemer’s Voice Press, 2002), 1.
[v] John Webster Grant, The Church in the Canadian Era (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1988), 13.
[vi] R.D. Gidney and W.P.J. Millar, ‘The Christian Recessional in Ontario’s Public Schools’, ed. Marguerite Van Die, Religion and Public Life in Canada: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 275.
[vii] Robert Jamieson and A.R. Fausset, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), Kindle Edition.
[viii] Michael Wagner, Leaving God Behind: The Charter of Rights and Canada’s Official Rejection of Christianity (Russell, Ontario: Christian Governance, 2012), 16.
[ix] Boot, The Mission of God, 118-119.
[x] Mark A. Noll, What Happened to Christian Canada? (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 7-9.
[xi] Jamieson and Fausset, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Kindle Edition.
[xii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 233-234.
[xiii] Jamieson and Fausset, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Kindle Edition.