The Niagara 2020 declaration on religious liberty
A new statement on religious liberty
In Canada, as blessed recipients of the gospel of Jesus Christ for generations and heirs of the Christian Parliamentary tradition and English Common Law, we have long been able to take our freedoms and liberties in the faith for granted. Tragically, those days have waned, and we all share culpability for the declining situation and loss of the pervasive influence of the Scriptures. In our generation, with the undeniably radical cultural shift over the last sixty years, we are confronted with increased political, institutional, and legal opposition to the faith. Christians are facing an attack on our historic liberties and Charter freedoms. These include (but are not limited to) various persecutions in the form of media propaganda, speech and human rights codes, Supreme Court decisions regarding Christian institutions and end of life issues, municipal and provincial bylaws regarding sexuality and gender, indefinite emergency restrictions and lockdowns, and proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that could radically curtail the freedom of Christian leaders, churches and parents (cf. the federal bill to criminally ban so-called “conversion therapy”).
In facing these serious threats to freedom, we urgently need a united and collective witness bridging denominational distinctives, that gives voice to our concern for the ongoing freedom and liberty of Christ’s church and the propagation of the gospel in our nation. Such a collective stand can be used to great effect as part of a united Christian engagement with civil authorities when God-given and historic liberties are threatened or trodden upon.
Originating in a gathering of Christian leaders in the Niagara region in the fall of 2020, this document is a humble attempt to rally the Christian church in this nation around a common confession as it relates to church and State and the protection of our civil liberties. History proves that freedoms not fought for are soon forfeited; if the church loses its freedom, freedoms will be lost for all. We can no longer afford to be complacent. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, our neighbors who need the gospel, and our beloved nation of Canada, we must prayerfully and courageously seek to stem the tide to the glory of God and for the kingdom of His dear Son.
In view of various culture-abandoning errors and a broad decline presently inflicting and marginalizing the [Christian] church, and at a time in Canada when our civil society is renouncing, both in law and socio-cultural life, its historic Christian heritage in pursuit of liberty without the gospel, justice without God’s law, truth without the Scriptures, flourishing without obedience, atonement without the cross, love without faithfulness, peace without repentance, salvation without Christ, and a world without creational norms, it is incumbent upon a faithful church to set forth to all powers and authorities, the claims of Christ and the freedom of His kingdom people, the church (Mt. 28:18-20; Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:9-11, 17; 3:15; 1 Pt. 2:16-17; 5:11).
Our civil society is … in pursuit of liberty without the Gospel, justice without God’s law, truth without the Scriptures, flourishing without obedience, atonement without the cross, love without faithfulness, peace without repentance, and salvation without Christ
In a national cultural context in which ultimate sovereignty is rapidly being seized by – or readily surrendered to – the State, imperilling inherited liberties and exposing our civil government to divine judgment, we must be mindful that freedoms not fought for are soon forfeited.
Therefore, in response to our national spiritual crisis, we declare:
- Jesus Christ claims total authority over the nations as the Creator and Ruler of the kings, judges, and governors of the earth (Ps. 2:7-12; Ps. 110; Lk. 23:3; Jn. 19:11; Acts 17:7; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:5).
- The one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic church has been founded by our Lord Jesus Christ long before all temporal authorities of Canada came into existence (Mt. 16:18; Mk. 3:13-19; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:7-13; Col. 1:18).
- The church of Jesus Christ does not have her position in the nation assigned her by the permission of civil government, but jure divino – she has her own organization and she possesses her own office-bearers (Mt. 10:1-15; 18:15-20; 28:18-20; Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 6:1-7; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:9-13).
- The sovereignty of the State and the sovereignty of the church exist side by side, instituted by God and in service to God, mutually limiting each other as recognized in the Scriptures and applied in Magna Carta (Mk. 12:13-17; Acts 5:29-32; Rom. 13:1, 4; 1 Cor. 6:1-7; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:1-4).
- Various kings and queens of Canada have confirmed in the British Parliament the Great Charter which grants that the church “shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable” (Magna Carta, 1297).
- Our Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in her Coronation Oath (1953) swore that to the utmost of her power she would “maintain the laws of God and true profession of the gospel”.
- The royal coat of arms of Canada invokes the universal dominion of the Lord’s anointed King, Jesus Christ, over the land in its national motto: A mari usque ad mare (taken from the Latin Vulgate translation of Psalm 72:8: Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae, meaning “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth”).
- The Supremacy of God over Canada is clearly acknowledged in the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.
- Freedom of conscience and religion, expression, thought, opinion and belief, peaceful assembly, and association is enshrined in the international law common to all civilized nations and as fundamental freedoms in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The following God-given and historically inherited liberties of the [Christian] church are to be observed, maintained, and protected in Canada today and forever.
- Liberty in all spiritual matters
There shall be no interference from civil authorities in the spiritual matters of the church of Jesus Christ either by Federal or Provincial legislation, local bylaws, or by threats and intimidation from diverse arms of the administrative state bureaucracy. We recognize no authority other than Jesus Christ and His Word in the rule, ministry, and teaching of the church. Spiritual matters include, in particular, the worship of God, the confession, sacraments, ordinances, discipline, and rites of the church, and the teaching and pastoral guidance of the same.
- Liberties related to the Holy Bible
The Holy Bible shall be freely printed, distributed (both through electronic media and in hard copy), read, quoted, preached, and taught anywhere in Canada without fear of legal penalty or censure. The teaching of this Word is commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ, being Himself attested to us in Holy Scripture, as the one Word of God which all people have to hear, and whom all people have to trust and obey in life and in death.
- Liberty to preach the gospel
The churches shall remain free to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ peacefully, proselytize, establish churches, and disciple those who wish to follow Christ without any form of censorship or penalties imposed by temporal civil authorities. We reject all false doctrine asserting that the church must surrender the content or form of its message to the prevailing ideological and political convictions of our day. The Christian church is in all things to acknowledge and declare the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, whose Word upholds all things.
- Liberty of doctrine
The churches shall be free to define and express their theological and moral doctrines under the Lordship of Christ and authority of Scripture without any form of interference, censure, or legal persecution by temporal civil authorities. We reject the false doctrines of men which assert there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong and be subject to Jesus Christ but to other lords above or besides Him.
- Liberty of conscience
Like all citizens, Christians in Canada have a right to liberty of conscience. As such, none may be compelled or coerced to act contrary to their conscience. No one may be compelled or coerced to adhere to, or to renounce, any religious, moral, or philosophical belief.
- Liberties related to the Christian family
Parents in Christian churches are to remain free to disciple, educate, and catechize their children in the faith and confession of the church without fear of persecution, reprisal, or the seizure of their children by the State. We reject the false ideology that beyond its God-ordained and limited sphere as a ministry of public justice, the State should become the sole and total order of human life and so presume to fulfil the vocations of the family and the church.
- Liberties related to ministers of the gospel
Ministers and officers in the church shall remain free to carry out the duties pertaining to their office without hindrance or interference from any person or authority as affirmed and protected in section 176 of the Canadian Criminal Code, 2019.
- Liberties related to gatherings for religious worship
The churches and their members shall remain free to meet in person for religious worship, prayer, the study of the Bible, or any moral or benevolent purpose without disturbance or interruption from any persons. The sacred duties to assemble for worship and engage in Christian ministry are divine obligations laid down in Holy Scripture and uniquely protected in Section 176 of the Canadian Criminal Code (2019). Recognizing that both the church and a just State have an interest in mitigating harm when confronted with times of genuine crisis, such as war or plague, the churches may dialog and work with civil authorities to temporarily limit their religious practices without forswearing their prerogative to the same.
- Liberties related to taxation
Christians are ambassadors of Christ and the church is God’s embassy, representing the sovereign claims of Jesus Christ. For centuries in the West, the existence of the church institute has placed a real limit on State power for all citizens. As such, the church has maintained its immunity from taxation (modern law refers to charitable status) ensuring its freedom from coercion by the State, whilst at the same time freeing the State from any obligation to collect funds for the church. The church shall remain free and independent from State control by maintaining its immunity.
- Liberties to be enjoyed universally without partiality
Notwithstanding divisions existing within the church at any particular time, all denominations, jurisdictions, communities, and individual believers are entitled to the full benefit of the liberties set out herein. There should be no partiality in law between different churches and their confessions in the enjoyment of the aforesaid liberties.
This solemn document – containing an affirmation of scriptural truth concerning Christ and His church, the inherited liberties bequeathed to us by our forebears, and ten articles duly deduced from them – calls upon all who can stand in solidarity with its declaration to be mindful of these biblical findings in all their decisions and actions concerning the relationship of church and State and to passionately defend them when assaulted, and to earnestly pray for all those in civil authority, that God might direct them in all their ways so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-2; see also Ezra 6:10; Jer. 29:7; 1 Pt. 2:17).
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:17)
Appendix: Why didn’t you include other religious groups in this Declaration?
Other religious groups will automatically (by default) benefit from this Declaration …
As argued below, a Christianized constitution actually leads to greater religious freedom for all.
That said, it is not the responsibility or calling of the church to declare, for example, the ‘liberties of Islam’ since we cannot, in faithfulness to Christ, declare the Lordship or authority of Allah or Mohammed in the nation – neither does Islam have any role in our constitutional history. It is not our place or obligation as the church to speak for the doctrines of Islam or other religions present in Canada. It is not our express desire that other religions would flourish in Canada leading people away from Christ, and so seeking to represent them in any official capacity is not our mission. Christians are prophets, priests and kings unto God, not idols and so to make declarations for expansive freedom for the implementation of Sharia Law, the Hindu Caste System or any other pagan beliefs and cultural norms, would be faithlessness to Christ.
The text of this post comes from the Niagara 2020 Declaration.
I became aware of this statement through Bill Muehlenberg’s “CultureWatch” blog.
Written, October 2020
Also see: The Canberra declaration