Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Development of Mainline Churches in Canada

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
Most of the ÒmainlineÓ churches in Canada trace their origins to Europe with the exception of such North American developments as the various sects and cults: JehovahÕs Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Science. These all had their origins in upper New York State in the latter part of the nineteenth century. (For further reading on this, see A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults.).
A Patchwork of Different Beliefs
Roman Catholicism: The earliest settlers in Canada brought with them the Roman Catholic Church. This was a powerhouse in the affairs of Quebec until the middle of this century.

Presbyterians and Anglicans: The first Protestants were Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia (ÒNew ScotlandÓ); they were Presbyterians and brought with them a form of staunch Calvinism. During and after the time of the American Revolution (1776) ÒUnited Empire LoyalistsÓ came from the original Thirteen Colonies. They were politically conservative, wishing to remain loyal to Britain and they were from all walks of Protestant church life. They brought with them the Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist forms of church life. Remember, at this time the Anglican Church was called Òthe Church of EnglandÓ--not a very popular name amongst people who had just broken away from English domination. After the Revolution, those who stayed changed the name of the Anglican Church to Òthe Episcopalian ChurchÓ (ÒBishopÕs ChurchÓ). The United Empire Loyalists were a powerful force in the development of Canada and, ultimately, gave our land its English flavour. The French, of course, remained strong in Quebec.

Other Ethnic Churches: However, there were also other immigrant groups--both from the United States and directly from Europe. There were German and Scandinavian Lutherans, Greek and Ukrainian Orthodox (the latter especially at the turn of this century, in large numbers on the prairies). Although some of these ethnic churches have survived, they were never of much influence in Canadian society as such.

Amish and Mennonites: Another ÒethnicÓ group is the Amish and Mennonite people. Many of them settled in the Niagara area of Ontario, after first having been a part of the United States, especially in Pennsylvania, where they found refuge from oppression experienced in many European countries. This oppression caused them to spread all over the world--there are colonies in Russia, China and Latin America. The Mennonites are followers of that branch of the Reformation which looks to Menno Simons as its founder.

Within this large group of churches, which all hold to adult baptism by pouring and to the refusal to bear arms, there are the Amish, followers of Jacob Amman who held to the strictest possible interpretation of some of their beliefs. These people can be recognized by their plain clothes, refusal to use modern technology and, generally, their prosperous farms. There are at least a dozen different denominations within this large group. Although they have made an important contribution to the make-up of our society, they have managed, by and large, to stay apart and maintain their peculiar identity. (For interesting reading: Orland Gingerich, The Amish of Canada; or, in novel form, Rudy Wiebe: Peace Shall Destroy Many.

All these groups found their places in Canada, making it truly a patchwork quilt of beliefs and churches.

The Mainline Denominations
In the late nineteenth century we see in English speaking Canada that the Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist churches have emerged as the mainline groups. All these were children of the reformation in Britain and the last two were direct offshoots of the Puritan movement. At this time, in the late 1800's and early 1900's, there was not much left in the way of pure preaching. The social gospel had become the established way.

An extremely influential book at this time was C. M. SheldonÕs In His Steps or What Would Jesus Do? Although there are some good things in this book about how to live the Christian life, its main premise is false and dangerously misleading for it teaches, at heart, that salvation is by works and not by grace. All the emphasis is put on the ideal of the Christian life in serving others. This came at a time when there was already a shift in emphasis in the churches--doctrine was downplayed and lifestyle was emphasized. It was a time of great optimism as to how man could improve his lot through education and good works. Then World War I broke out. This Òwar to end all warsÓ gave rise to extreme pessimism amongst those who thought man was improving and about to make the twentieth century the best that there had ever been. Some form of Òpost-millenialismÓ had become extremely popular in many churches. This pessimism gave a boost to those who saw all the more the need of the gospel to Òimprove mankindÓ.

This general air brought churches closer together. Since the turn of the century there had been much talk of union. The first breakthrough came in 1902 when fraternal delegates of the Presbyterian Church of Canada (PCC) were cordially received at the General Conference of Methodist Churches held in Winnipeg. Reference was made to the churchesÕ common foe, materialism, and there was much talk of unity. Congregationalists, who had once been strong but had declined everywhere except in the Maritimes, were invited to be in on these unity talks. Representatives of the three bodies met at various times between 1904-08. Attempts to draw in the Anglicans and Baptists failed. During this time, the Congregationalists did absorb a small denomination of U.S. origin, the United Brethren in Christ.

A Basis of Union statement was drawn up. The fact that there was little difficulty in getting agreement on doctrinal matters proves that this was of little importance to them. Practical and social concerns were more pressing than theological matters. The statement of faith finally adopted was a mixture of mild Calvinism and mild Arminianism.

On June 10, 1925 the new United Church of Canada was formally founded. The objective was to have a national church in which all Protestants could find a home. This did not happen. In fact, there was much bitterness. The government was involved. William Lyon MacKenzie King, prime minister at this time and a Presbyterian, was opposed to the union while Arthur Meighen, leader of the opposition, favoured it and made a speech in Parliament which opened the way for it to take place. Not all went along.

The following numbers give quite a picture: 4797 Methodist, 3728 Presbyterian and 166 Congregationalist churches entered into the union while 784 Presbyterian and 8 Congregationalist churches refused.

Today there are three mainline Protestant churches left: Anglicans, United and Presbyterians. Although each presents a mixed bag theologically and the drift to liberalism has become a flood, there are still some conservative voices in each. May God strengthen those voices!


This concludes our brief overview of some aspects of the history of the Church. The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has had a rough journey and it will continue to be rough. But, we must always remember, she is the Bride, bought by His blood. Although the journey may be rough, the safe arrival is guaranteed. I hope this series of articles has given us all a deeper understanding of what the Lord has done and is doing throughout the ages. It is ÒHis story.Ó Are you a living member of His Church?

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