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by Dr. Richard Burton


Secularism is a philosophy that excludes God and the existence of moral and spiritual absolutes. It is one of the most disturbing trends to develop over the last century.
In over twenty years of ministry, the activities I participate in on New Year’s Eve have changed dramatically. Two decades ago while in youth ministry, events on the last night of the year included all-night bowling and tobogganing followed by breakfast at the church. In my current stage of life, the excitement of the youth all-nighter has been replaced by a zoomer social. The highlight of the night is choosing which game to play while watching the clock’s hour hand crawl towards twelve midnight. If cards are your interest, then the mainstays are Rook or Pit. Anyone wanting to be more daring will face off in high stakes backgammon or ping-pong. Those looking for real excitement can turn on the youth group’s Sony PlayStation 3 game, providing one of the zoomers in attendance can figure out how it works.

While some prefer card games, some the table games and others take up the risk of challenging the PS3 to snowboarding or auto racing, it would be silly not to have any games at all merely because we do not all want to play the same one. Sound ridiculous? Of course it does. However, this is exactly how a person with a secularist mindset would handle this scenario. A secularist accepts the preference of those who don’t want to play another’s game and rejects the preferences of all others; therefore, nobody plays any game at all.

Understanding Secularism
Secularism is a philosophy that excludes God and the existence of moral and spiritual absolutes. It is one of the most disturbing trends to develop over the last century. Over the past twenty years in particular, secularism has become a dominant force in Canada—primarily because many see it as an answer to problems presented by religious pluralism. It seems unusual to expect that secularism should provide a solution to the religious à la carte landscape in Canada, but secularists claim that religion must be removed from public life and confined to private life if we are to have harmony in a religiously pluralistic society. So, since not everyone can agree on which game to play (or, in this case, what to believe), secularists prefer to exclude all religions from public life. In so doing, all are given equal respect.

Getting the message out
Although the Christian message is given no advantages in the public square, we alone have the truth. The Christian message resonated with the Canadian Fathers of Confederation, who established the name of our country in 1867 after a reading of Psalm 72 by Premier Samuel Tilley of New Brunswick.

As pastors, deacons and church leaders we find ourselves striving to be heard in a nation very different from the one formed in 1867; but we cannot blame secularized society for any ineffectiveness we experience. The gospel went forward and the impact of the Holy Spirit spread like wildfire in a pagan environment, as described in the Book of Acts. It was a setting far more difficult than ours for getting a message out.

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
In an effort to be heard, our churches must focus on worship, evangelism, discipleship and hurting people—not upon trendy programs catering to niche interests. As a result, we proclaim truth over excitement and popularity. I am always wary of churches with a very long and impressive list of ministries. I wonder whatever happened to centering our attention on a few ministries and doing them well instead of focusing on a lengthy list of ministries and risk not receiving the pastoral support that helps make them effective. Our churches must be unlike a country club that everyone wants to join and more like a hospital for the spiritually sick and hurting; a training ground for those involved in spiritual warfare; a place for equipping those who penetrate society as salt and light. Ministry should be conducted to empower the remnant—not always to attract a crowd. Some of our churches may be huge numerical successes but may lack the blessing of God.

My challenge to church leaders in this age of Canadian secularism is to focus both on orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right actions based on beliefs) in order to be heard. Pastors today should return to the basics of the Christian message. The message of genuine love, transparent fellowship and community service is a loud one that must be proclaimed in twenty-first-century Canada. A back to the basics approach and a simplified message conveyed in a context of love will enhance the chances of its being heard. e
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Pilate asked, “What is truth?” This question echoes across the ages as people continue to search for truth. Is the truth any different than it was when Jesus stood before Pilate? No, but our means of proclaiming truth have radically changed. No longer do we have people coming to church to hear a preacher expound the gospel. Today’s world calls for innovative proclaimers, with ways and means to get into the homes and hearts of those who are looking for truth. My personal opportunity has come by means of a congregational appointment in a mainline church, the heritage of which acknowledged the truth initially. Sadly, for the most part, it has deviated greatly from its roots. I have found that the Word of God alone has the power to reach those who are searching for truth. We are merely the vessels used when we are open to change our approach.

CYNTHIA DUNNETT, Bethel Pentecostal Assembly - Barrington, NS

For the past seven years Cynthia Dunnett has had the opportunity to minister to a three-point United Church of Canada pastoral charge in Nova Scotia.

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