I have always found it difficult to believe that I am Canadian. I should say, rather, that I have never been able to truly identify the essence of what a Canadian is. But perhaps it is Canadian to not really know. Maybe we are a people whose identity can be found in not really ever having one. Or the truth could be that our actual culture has been largely absorbed, like liquid into a sponge, by our big, bold, and beautiful neighbor to the south. After all, eighty percent of our population live within one hundred miles of the United States’ border.
I grew up in a church with strong relational ties to America. Our pastors belonged to a fellowship of ministers that was based in Oregon, and they would regularly have American speakers, attend American conferences, and use American curriculum in the their Christian school. Suffice it to say, when I finally attended school in the States, I was quite indistinguishable from my American classmates. I had no accent, no cultural idiosyncrasies, and no overt political disagreements. I believe it was Plato who said that when a man refrains from engaging in politics he will always be ruled by his inferiors. Now, I do not believe that America is unilaterally inferior to Canada, although I could point to some excellent examples of superior Canadian custom; but I would say that, in deciding to stay loyal to the tyrannical crown of George III, Canada made sentiment of nationalism—which every citizen desires to have—a much more difficult thing to achieve. To this day, Canadians, like myself, struggle to find a strong sense of patriotic pride.
Thus, I would venture to say that if it was not for the influence of American Christianity, Canadian Christianity would only be a shadow of what it currently is. Indeed, when the American cup runneth over, the Canadian cup is filled. The city in which I was born and raised became the catalyst for the Third Great Awakening because of the influence of American revival. It was because of the spiritual hunger and resolve of two Methodist churches in Hamilton Ontario, that a flame sparked in 1857 that would see another great revival among the nation. It was the Methodist Church that created a wonderful opportunity for the Spirit of God to stir in the hearts of Canadians.
In truth, revival is not subject to the culture of a people, but it is subject to the cultivation of a people. In other words, it is the responsibility of people to allow revival to move upon and germinate within them. We can so easily harden our hearts to the leading and leanings of the Holy Spirit that we become more dependent upon our practices than upon the Giver of practices. The Methodists of Hamilton, Ontario understood that our utter and ultimate dependency is upon God and that we ought to fit our practice around Him, rather than fit Him around our practice. This is indeed the brilliance of the Wesleyan tradition. It held two truths to be in tension: principle and practice. The delightful and quite refreshing lucidity of Methodism was its balance of doctrine with experience, or principle and practice. Wesley believed it was God who initiated the call to salvation, and that it was a person’s responsibility to respond to that call. But moreover, it was a person’s responsibility, empowered by the Spirit, to practice their response. For the tendency of all who are passive recipients in any process is to become more and more careless towards its application.
What Wesley did, much like his medieval Catholic predecessors, was to develop a discipline of spiritual response. He bound together practice and principle. But beyond that it was to emphasize that practice is the conduit for principle, through the means of grace. Wesley grasped this quite mystical, profound, and orthodox truth that the body is the temple of God—a truth that has been assaulted since the early church days of Manicheaenism. It has always been the heretic who has done away with biblical personhood in order to reach God. The separation of God from humankind has been the battle ground of countless heresies and schism, while the Church always believed, and always fought to maintain, the profound truth that Christ, being fully God and fully man, closed the chasm. Christ embodied the truth that God and humankind could fellowship; that principle and practice could agree, that heaven and earth could be made on the same day. This is the reason why the Church has consistently proclaimed that holiness is attainable. For Wesley, the doctrine of sanctification rests upon the moorings of the redemptive work of Christ, a work that seeks to bring persons back into the presence of God while not destroying the person’s responsibility and choice.
And it was this desire to walk in the Spirit of God that motivated the Methodist churches of Hamilton, Ontario to gather together for prayer and intercession. What began as a time of prayer, ended as a movement of evangelism, and became known as the Layman’s Prayer Revival that helped precipitate the global revival known as the Third Great Awakening. But it was the spiritual discipline and focus of Methodism that infiltrated the Canadian culture and spurred it on to revival. It was the influence of John Wesley’s legacy of Methodism that compelled Canadians to humble themselves, to pray, to seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways. Because of this, God healed their land. It is with this Canadian heritage that I wish to be identified with.