Evangelism and Evangelicals | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Evangelism and Evangelicals

Evangelism is an English word derived from the combination of the 2 Greek words euangelion and euangelizomai, meaning "good news," or "gospel"] and "to announce, proclaim, or bring good news.

Evangelism and Evangelicals

Evangelism is an English word derived from the combination of the 2 Greek words euangelion and euangelizomai, meaning "good news," or "gospel"] and "to announce, proclaim, or bring good news." Historically all Christians have been committed to proclaiming the gospel to make converts, and thus to evangelism. Today the term evangelical is used to describe theologically Conservative churches and interdenominational para-church organizations.

Evangelicalism originated in the 18th century with a new emphasis on conversion, personal piety and a changed lifestyle based on Jesus' statement "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3.3). This experiential spirituality created a breach between established clergy, who deplored emotionalism, and "born again" laypeople who turned to itinerant preachers, known as evangelists. Members of this populist movement soon called themselves "evangelicals."

Canadian evangelicalism begins with Henry ALLINE, whose preaching launched the GREAT AWAKENING of 1776 in Nova Scotia. Alline's musical talents played an important role to the spread of evangelical piety. Today, popular music with groups like Petra and Striper continues to play an important role in spreading evangelical piety.

Throughout the 19th century Canadian evangelicalism was concentrated in the growth of Baptist and Methodist communities. Most of their preachers were self-educated individuals willing to sacrifice for the spread of the gospel. From the Maritimes evangelical preaching spread to Québec and Upper Canada. In 1886 a Methodist evangelist, Ralph HORNER (1853-1921), introduced the use of tent meetings. Expelled from the Methodist Church, he founded the Holiness Movement Church in 1897 and the Standard Church of America in 1916.

The SALVATION ARMY's popularity spread rapidly throughout Canadian urban centres, where it favoured street services which municipal authorities tried to suppress. To counteract this movement the Methodists supported the efforts of Hugh T. Crossley and John E. Hunter, who toured Ontario and the West in 1887-89. These evangelists formed the Gospel Band movement, out of which evolved the Epworth League. Anglicans, for their part, organized the Church Army.

Pentecostalism reached Canada from America and England in 1907 following the Azuza Street revival in Los Angeles. Several Anglican and other clergymen identified with the movement, including J.E. Purdie (1880-1977), who later became principal of Western Bible College (see PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT). Growing out of Pentecostalism NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS like the 1940s LATTER RAIN, 1960s Charismatic Movement, 1980s Vineyard and 1990s "Toronto Blessing" influenced many Canadian churches.

Evangelical spirituality creates a form of ecumenicalism and global culture. Thus, American evangelists have profoundly affected Canadian religious life just as Canadians were highly successful in America. Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) held gigantic rallies in Toronto in 1884. Billy Graham campaigned in Canada in the mid-1950s to large crowds and continues to attract a large audience for his television programs. Graham's Canadian brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, held revival crusades in the 1960s and hosts an annual School of Evangelism at Chateau Lake Louise.

Canadian Aimee Semple MCPHERSON (1890-1944), founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, drew large crowds to her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. She wrote several books, ran her own radio program, BIBLE SCHOOL and magazine. Another Canadian, A.B. Simpson, (1843-1919) moved to the US, where he founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1897. A prolific hymnwriter and author, he also founded Nayack College. Other Canadians such as devotional writer Oswald J. Smith (1889-1986) and theologians W.H. Griffith-Thomas (1861-1924), A.B. Winchester (1858-1943), John McNicol (1869-1956), Dyson Hague (1857-1935), William Cavan (1830-1904) and T.T. Shields (1873-1955) made significant contributions to the growth of international evangelicalism.

Throughout the 19th century evangelicals were closely associated with various social reform movements. In England William Wilberforce (1759-1833) led the crusade against slavery, as did Charles Finney (1792-1875) in America. Canadian evangelicals participated in various campaigns for social reform. Later, Alberta's William ABERHART led the SOCIAL CREDIT Party. Today, Preston MANNING, son of Aberhart's successor Earnest MANNING, leads the REFORM PARTY. The left of centre Committee for Public Justice regularly makes research submissions to government bodies on important social issues. At the other end of the political spectrum is the growing Christian Reconstruction Movement, which embraces a far-right agenda associated with the ideas of American economist Gary North and philosophy of R.J. Rushdoony. And Renaissance International was founded by Ken Campbel in 1974 to counter the "permissive society."

Most evangelicals tend to be moderates who feel comfortable with the middle of the road views of Brian Stiller and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. It sponsors a regular television program, publishes a monthly magazine Faith Today, and attempts to lobby the government on social issues.

Canadian MENNONITES, Dutch and Asian immigrants have enriched Canadian evangelicalism. The Mennonite Central Committee and Economic Development Agency make significant contributions to Canadian development and aid projects in developing nations. Mennonites were also instrumental in the launching of the interdenominational national newspaper Christian Week. The Dutch contribution centres around the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies, numerous Christian schools and 2 excellent undergraduate institutions, King's College, Edmonton, and Redeemer College, Ancaster. Asian evangelicals contribute a deep piety and aggressive styles of evangelism.

In general Canadian evangelicals strongly support humanitarian projects and have a higher than average record of charitable donations. Evangelical churches are also involved in a wide range of domestic social programs and international aid projects (see Christian Resources Handbook: A Directory of Christian Organizations in Canada).

The late 1960s saw an educational renaissance among Canadian evangelicals with the founding of Regent College and Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. More recently Winnipeg Bible College transformed itself into Providence College, and Prairie Bible College established a graduate school in Calgary. At the same time Canada has witnessed the phenomenal growth of the Christian School Movement. Some "Christian Schools" appear to maintain very poor standards but most offer a highly competitive alternative to government schooling (see CHARTER SCHOOLS).

Evangelicals have been very active in the media since William Aberhart pioneered the use of religious radio in the 1920s. By 1987 over 60 American religious broadcasts were syndicated in Canada, a much smaller number of home-grown religious broadcasters were also available. David Mainse's 100 Huntley Street is the best known. Since 1987 about 18 interfaith groups have co-operated in Vision TV. More recently, the Lethbridge Victory Church won the right to operate a local Christian television station. Similar stations are planned across Canada.

There are numerous evangelical arts and theatre groups in Canada. These include the Rosebud Theatre in Drumheller, Brookstone Productions in Toronto and the Pacific Theatre, Vancouver. Various Canadian artists also identify themselves as evangelicals.

About 5% of Canadians belong to Evangelical denominations. Another 3% of mainline church members identify as Evangelicals. Thus, around 8% of Canadians are Evangelicals. When we turn from membership to attendance, a different picture emerges. On a normal Sunday 810 000 Canadians attend mainline churches while 1 016 000 Canadians attend Evangelical churches. The per capita giving for the following denominations is also revealing: Mainline Denominations: United Church of Canada ($283.04); Anglicans ($299.92); Presbyterians ($350) Evangelical Denominations: Associated Gospel Churches ($993.86); Baptist Union of Western Canada ($1100.57); Christian and Missionary Alliance ($1891.22).

Other measures of religious commitment - the use of time and involvement in the community, etc - also confirm that Evangelicals are far more committed than either mainline Protestants or Roman Catholics, as sociologists Marlene Mackie and Merlin Brinkerhoff point out. Thus, if Canadian religiosity were measured in terms of actual involvement, Evangelicals would represent the core religious group in Canadian society.


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