June 12, 2023

Inside the Fundamentalist Christian Movement: A Response Statement

“[Ezra Institute is] the think-tank at the heart of the Christian fundamentalist movement in Canada”

– Jonathan Montpetit (CBC Investigative Journalist)

[Editor’s note: Ezra Institute was founded in 2009 by Rev. Dr. Joseph Boot – a Christian thinker, apologist, pastor and writer who has articulated and defended the faith in numerous contexts around the world for twenty-five years. He leads the Ezra Institute globally and resides in Great Britain]

The Ezra Institute and the CBC

Last week, Canada’s state-sponsored mainstream media, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, released two major pieces on what they are calling the ‘Christian fundamentalist movement’ in Canada. On the front page of their website, the CBC featured an article by the journalist Jonathan Montpetit, with an accompanying radio documentary for their official podcast Front Burner. In both pieces, the Ezra Institute is identified as a thought-leader and key player in advancing a muscular brand of Christianity that differs from so-called “mainstream evangelicalism” in both challenging the philosophical assumptions of contemporary secular pluralism and seeking to apply biblical principles in all areas of life. Not surprisingly, the article and podcast have been all over social media and people are interested to know our reaction.

For those who may have had their first exposure to us through this CBC article, the Ezra Institute is a reformational Christian worldview/Christian apologetics think-tank and training organisation concerned with the advancement of the Christian faith in all of life. Our work includes inviting people to consider the unique claims of Christ and the gospel, and equipping Christians to know and share their faith with others, understand the scriptural world-and-life-view, and apply the fullness of biblical truth in their daily lives – familial, social, vocational, civic and cultural.

In our work to that end, various Christian leaders and thinkers (‘Fellows’) from around the world, by the invitation of the Ezra Institute, have publicly aligned themselves with our vision and mission by providing theological counsel, articles, book manuscripts, podcast appearances or lecture series at our educational programs. Our Fellows are invited to join us after demonstrating long-term gospel fidelity, a high degree of professional competence in their field, and an alignment with our mission to explain and vindicate the Christian philosophy of life rooted in the scriptures. Evidently out of their comfort zone and a long way out of their depth (Montpetit hadn’t even heard of Reformed Christianity) a number of our American and Canadian Fellows were referenced and attacked in the CBC’s article.

As a think-tank, alongside our books, journal, podcast, articles and learning portal (coming soon!) we offer in-person multi-day training for youth, students, young professionals, emerging leaders and pastors, as well as open conferences for all who want to better understand the Christian gospel and scriptural worldview as it relates to culture and the various spheres of life. Information about these programs can be found here.

In terms of the optics – the CBC coming after a small reformed evangelical community actively articulating and advancing a Christian vision – it is David versus Goliath. The CBC is a vast state-funded behemoth which, in the last few years, has received an average of 1.3. billion dollars per-annum in taxpayer funds. With an annual budget in excess of 1.6 billion dollars, attempts by CEO Catherine Tait’s media giant to paint small Christian organisations and a handful of local churches as a well-oiled and well-funded machine whose reach and resources represent a direct and immediate threat to the established progressive orthodoxy of our culture are farcical in the extreme. It is certainly true that God has no need of the CBC’s money to accomplish His purpose, for He fells Goliath with a single smooth stone in the hands of His servant David. So, let’s be realistic, only a similar miraculous working of God will be able to turn Canada around to obey again the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel of the Kingdom. At the Ezra Institute, we sincerely believe that this is what King Jesus will do in His good time, for the sword and javelin of national media is no match for the Lord of hosts whose name is defied in our land. But we place no final confidence in ‘planning,’ the uncertain character of financial resources, or even strategic organisation. Christians will organise as they always have. But our confidence and trust are in Christ, for He alone can change Canada.

The Claims of the CBC

In the podcast/radio documentary, Mr. Montpetit initially seeks to give the impression that his interest in investigating a growing Christian reform movement in Canada began just a couple of months ago whilst working on another story. He claims to have discovered there had been a large upsurge of conservative Christians getting involved in local politics – on school boards and at the municipal level in 2022, and that there had even been a training program for Christian candidates. But this appears misleading and is contradicted by Montpetit himself when he acknowledges making deceptive secret recordings in November and December of 2022 at Trinity Bible Chapel and at the Ezra Institute’s annual ‘Mission of God’ conference in Windsor, Ontario. His inquiries and investigations into Christian leaders, organizations, and their stakeholders clearly began at least 8 months ago, if not before, and therefore it is highly doubtful his investigation was triggered by a keen interest in the events in local politics. Instead, the whole podcast production comes across as an attempted sting operation to help foil a nefarious plot bubbling away unseen by an unsuspecting public. Apparently, the open participation of Bible-believing Christians in a free democracy, unlike that of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and woke radicals, is unwelcome in the CBC’s vision for Canada.

It seems likely that Mr. Montpetit was assigned this task by the CBC at some point in mid-2022 with the goal of criticizing and attacking those Christian pastors and leaders who had spoken out against lockdowns – now widely acknowledged in the West as the greatest public policy disaster of the modern era[1] – the vast overreach of the state and its unprecedented interference with the freedom of the church during the Covid debacle. This fact is also evidenced by his repeated references to the  Niagara Declaration which I wrote in consultation with several other pastors and lawyers as a Christian theologian and apologist articulating the historic view of the church in terms of its identity and relationship to state authority under Jesus Christ. So, the premise that his investigation was prompted by a surge in Christian engagement with local Canadian politics (which certainly has happened in 2022/2023 thanks to the hard work of many faithful Christians) is a claim for the birds.

The next thing to be noted is that, despite insinuations to the contrary, the Ezra Institute cheerfully obliged the inquiries of the CBC, answering all their questions in written form. We did it this way to avoid being misquoted in interview ‘fragments;’ at the CBC’s request we also provided several articles, books manuscripts and podcasts that would assist their inquiries. Like all others approached for this project, we declined a live interview at our Canadian office due to the overt ideological bias of the CBC and the focus and agenda of previous articles written by the research journalist assigned to this task. The implicit suggestion in their article and programing that the Ezra Institute is part of a secretive network of underground revolutionaries refusing to engage with media behind locked gates is a comical and fanciful depiction designed to evoke disturbing and ominous sensations for the podcast listener – greatly assisted by eerie violin music. Far from being secretive, the reformed evangelical message of the Ezra Institute has been clear and public for nearly 15 years, with access for all to our website and podcast, public conferences, and easy availability of our written and published materials. We have nothing to hide and warmly welcome people’s exploration of the Christian worldview in our teaching. Given this fact, it is strange that Mr. Montpetit thought it appropriate or necessary to make secret recordings for his article and program. Neither of these recordings evidence anything nefarious or noteworthy whilst the substance and content of the entire Ezra institute conference in 2022 is omitted altogether. If these were meant to be “hot-mic” incidents, it was a monumental nothing-burger.

As one might expect in the current climate, although populism, trucker convoys, and resistance to Covid lockdowns are discussed so that all the issues are mixed together in a broader narrative of ominous resistance to progressive state ideology, the pre-eminent focus of Montpetit’s critical exposé of our reform movement is the resistance to radical gender ideology within segments of the Christian community. The release of the article and program at the beginning of ‘Pride’ month, reinforcing the irreconcilable nature of these perspectives, is no coincidence. The reader and listener are left in no doubt about the core agenda of the coverage: some Christians are unsupportive and non-compliant with the secular state’s vision of gender ideology and a new equalitarian society. They are therefore a potentially dangerous, subversive group and must be marginalized, censured, taxed and cancelled before they do more harm in the socio-cultural and political arena.

Although both pieces are positioned and undoubtedly timed as a critical exposé, they clearly lack the ‘smoking gun’ CBC were hoping for. That Montpetit thinks his deep investigation into publicly available information is sufficient to discredit orthodox Christian teaching regarding marriage and sexuality in the minds of the Canadian public is itself revealing. He seems aghast that some Christians regard sexual activity outside the male and female bond of marriage as ‘sin,’ and that there remain disciples of Christ who actually believe and follow the instruction of the Bible. The church’s historic teaching on this subject and the relevance of God’s moral law is unchanged in two millennia, having undeniably informed Canada’s life and culture from its inception. As a Christian think-tank advancing the biblical worldview, the Ezra Institute’s work involves articulating these unchanging spiritual teachings among many other important doctrines. A central part of the faith is the Christian view of human identity, found in Scripture; human beings were made male and female in the image of God of equal value and worth. Just as important is Jesus’ own teaching on marriage. Our saviour taught that God’s blessing and approval rests on only one form of human sexual intimacy – that of a man and woman in the monogamous and permanent bond of marriage (Matt. 19:1-6). Outside of this, we live a life of lawlessness and sin which incurs guilt before God and the shame that attends such a lifestyle.

Orthodox Christian Teaching on Marriage and Sexuality

Marriage is the cosmological key to creation because the distinction (transcendence) of the sexes mirrors the distinction in the being of God Himself – a unity in diversity reflected in the created order. Marriage is also the primary picture in the Bible of God’s relationship to His people. Israel is depicted as an unfaithful spouse that wanders after other lovers. Likewise, Jesus Christ is described as the bridegroom (husband) of His bride (wife), the church, which He is purifying and perfecting in history in preparation for a cosmic marriage celebration. Moreover, God reveals himself in His covenant as our Father who sent His Son into the world so that the language of family is basic to God’s self-revelation. This gendered language, along with scriptural teaching concerning identity and marriage, is not a mental illness (‘transphobia’), an irrational fear or hatred of people struggling with their identity. On the contrary, it expresses the love and goodness of God to all people.

As such, Christian apologetics is obligated by its very nature to offer thoughtful criticism of the radical ideological movements rooted in European Critical Theory that have arisen and become particularly aggressive, vocal, and influential in Canada in the last two decades. Such critical engagement should not be censured in a free society, especially one explicitly founded in the Christian tradition – doubters should perhaps watch the recent Coronation of Canada’s Head of State as a timely reminder of the nation’s religious heritage.

Numerous well-funded organisations and charities exist to further the goals of LGBTQ movements in Canada, and some are directly supported and even funded by the state and taxpayer.[2] If to teach and advance the Christian faith is now to be regarded ipso facto as ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia,’ then it would be a matter for the two Houses of our Canadian Parliament to openly rule the biblical teachings of Christianity illegal, effecting all churches and organisations that teach orthodox Christianity across the nation. If this were to occur, Canada’s approach to human rights would mirror those of countries like North Korea and China where Christians are actively and viciously persecuted. The Canadian Parliament has come perilously close to making the practice of orthodox Christianity illegal with its anti-conversion law, Bill C-4. The Bill’s preamble explicitly reduces the foundational teaching of biblical Christianity regarding human sexuality to ‘myth’ and proceeds to criminalise the pastoral care of church leaders for those struggling with unwanted same-sex desire or gender confusions – even consenting adults seeking help from their pastor are denied this basic God-given right in this new law.

Montpetit thus has things back to front. It is not the so-called LGBTQ2I+ leaders, persons and movements that are marginalised or oppressed by society and the law – they are celebrated, funded, endorsed, promoted and applauded across the banking, corporate, arts and cultural, medical, sporting and educational sectors of society. Their ideology is all-pervasive, their ideological symbols and flags ubiquitous, and their messaging enforced by regulation, edict, by-law and legislation in almost every cultural arena – from the municipal councils and provincial courts, to school boards, kindergartens and the Prime Minister’s office.[3]

Fundamentalism, Nationalism, and Reconstructionism

Several labels are used in the article and documentary to describe those who advance orthodox biblical teachings on marriage, identity and sexuality, seeking cultural renewal in terms of biblical principles and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The terms chosen are all used pejoratively. Their use is so misleading in terms of definitions and historical context that their employment renders them nearly worthless. Stigmatization rather than genuine description seems to be the underlying purpose.

The term ‘fundamentalist’ is rent from its proper historical usage in Christian thought and applied in the generic manner frequently utilized to describe certain jihadist Muslim groups or any ‘religious fundamentalist.’ This is no doubt deliberate because it invokes for the average person, not the notion of faithful orthodoxy, but the idea of radicalism or even violence. In Christian thought, the ‘Fundamentalists’ were orthodox Protestants in America and Britain during the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, who felt the need to respond formally and clearly to the encroachment of theological liberalism and modernism hollowing out the mainline churches. These Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists drafted and affirmed the core ‘fundamentals’ of the faith and insisted particularly on the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. The Ezra Institute certainly stands in the tradition of resistance to liberalism and cultural modernism, affirming the orthodox reformed faith and full authority of the Bible over all of life.

Yet Fundamentalism as a movement in the USA quickly became associated with a rejection of the social implications of evangelical faith, an abandonment of efforts at cultural transformation, and a withdrawal from distinctly Christian political engagement in terms of biblical principles. In what missiologists call ‘The Great Reversal’, evangelical fundamentalists (with notable exceptions) largely rejected the historic reformed Protestant vision for national moral reformation found in men like William Wilberforce and the optimistic eschatology of late nineteenth-century Princetonians like Benjamin Warfield and Charles Hodge, and so evacuated the public space to focus on personal piety and winning ‘souls,’ with an increased fixation on end-times prophecy within Dispensational theology. In this respect, the vision and work of the Ezra Institute and those who share our theological outlook is at odds with the once-popular notions of American ‘fundamentalism.’

The term ‘nationalism’ is also utilized in Montpetit’s article, with a link provided to some American church leaders. We are not embarrassed by our friendships with like-minded reformed evangelicals in America, nor have we ever tried to hide them. But the use of the term ‘nationalism’ to describe our political views is disingenuous and worse than tenuous. Again, this is done not by showing from our writings or publications an adherence to ‘nationalism’ as a political theory, but simply to carry the cultural freight of a loaded term into a discussion about Canadian Christians speaking out on cultural issues – in short, the purpose is to stigmatize. Nationalism is one of those ‘scare’ words immediately evoking images of white skinheads demanding an end to all immigration or shouting racial slurs. The Ezra Institute does not adhere to ‘nationalism’ as a political theory rooted in notions of blood and soil. Rather we believe and teach the need for a commitment to Christian culture or a Christian commonwealth. The unity of any society is found ultimately in its religious commitment, and so the Kingdom of God has priority over ethnic and even familial loyalties. Nationhood is an important biblical reality and a fact of Western history, but nationalism as an ideological concept needs very careful handling and different people mean different things by it. Our view of human government is laid out in my book, Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government – a copy of which was sent to Mr. Montpetit at their request but was not referenced in his article.

Finally, the term ‘reconstructionism’ is also handled with all the theological acumen of a liberal journalist who had not heard of the reformed faith before researching for this piece. Montpetit’s cited expert, John Stackhouse, is heavily edited, so the context of his remarks in the article is not provided. In the documentary, his comments could be construed as sympathetic when he is given more than a few moments to speak about the rapid transformation of Western culture.

Broadly, the term ‘reconstructionism’ is a pejorative label for Christians interested in the recovery and rebuilding of a Christian social order in terms of the moral authority of the Bible. As such it has been applied to people as diverse as Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell. Narrowly, ‘reconstructionism’ refers to an initially Presbyterian movement beginning in the 1970s, theologically and philosophically informed by the diverse work of Cornelius Van Til, R. J. Rushdoony (both named in the article), and Greg Bahnsen. The project has roots in both English Puritanism and the Dutch Reformed tradition as it looks to the principles of Sphere Sovereignty in Abraham Kuyper and takes inspiration from the massive critique of Western thought and religious statism in the towering genius of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. I have done considerable research into the life and thought of these important thinkers over many years as they each have a significant bearing on my field of cultural apologetics and Christian missiology. My conviction continues to be that the direction of their thought remains absolutely vital for Christians in our cultural moment. I have sought to bring the thinking of these Christian giants together in my own synthesis for an effective Christian cultural apologetic in my major works, The Mission of God, Ruler of Kings, Gospel Culture and Gospel Witness. Although I do not utilize the pejorative expression ‘reconstructionism’ because of the myriad misunderstandings associated with it, at Ezra Institute we share the following core convictions as it relates to Christianity and culture:

  • Kuyperian Sphere Sovereignty (indebted to Dutch thinker Abraham Kuyper)
  • Presuppositional/transcendental apologetic that confronts culture at its religious root (Cornelius Van Til)
  • An optimistic eschatology of transformation (Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, R.J. Rushdoony)
  • A Dooyeweerdian critique of totalitarianism, statism and Western philosophy
  • A critique of all dualism; especially Thomism and variations of Two Kingdoms Theology
  • A high view of the importance and details of God’s revealed law for society inherited from the English Puritans and exemplified in the work of Ezra Institute Fellow, Jonathan Burnside (cf. God, Justice and Society, Oxford University Press) 

Christ or Caesar

The difficulty with the CBC attempting to wade into all this is that, because of their ignorance and disinterest in exploring our actual convictions, Christians engaging with culture in terms of the Bible are all easily labelled dangerous theocrats trying to take the reins of government and impose Christianity and the Ten Commandments on an unwilling population. They simply don’t understand what they are talking about because as secular believers in a massive regulatory welfare state and the authoritarianism that goes with it, they assume Christians want to do what they are doing with civil government, but with different objectives. They can’t imagine a view of social order that actually involves true freedom and areas of independence from the state under God. Totalitarianism in politics is the view that the state can treat all other aspects of society as lesser parts of itself as the totalizing whole – this view actually dominates modern political life in the West. We have increasingly become strangers to freedom.

The reality is that all political communities are theocracies, but posit different gods as the source of law and sovereignty. It is not at all the same as an ecclesiocracy, in which civil government is in the hands of church officials. Ecclesiocracy is neither biblical nor desirable, while theocracy is inescapable. Modern radical democracy (vox populi vox Dei) claims ‘the people’ are the voice of god – the right of the 51%. In the ideal pagan state historically, the ‘reason’ of an elite class was the divine voice. Traditional Muslims claim it is Mohammad, as Allah’s representative who is the effective voice of God in the Islamic theocracy. Communistic nations claim ‘The Party’ is the voice of infallible divine law etc. But from our Christian reformational perspective, the biblical principle of Sphere Sovereignty places all people and institutions under the rule of Christ the King and frees all spheres to obey or disobey Him.

The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) or “Ten Words” echo the “Ten Words” of creation. That law remains obligatory for all men and nations. Sin is lawlessness and our rebellion against God’s law took Christ to the cross to redeem us from all lawlessness (Titus 2:14). Christ came not to abolish but fulfill the law of God and put it into force (Matt. 5:17) – hence His challenging the Pharisees that they set aside God’s law by their tradition (Matt. 15:3). As such, the civil law of men and nations should follow the ‘general equity’ of the law of God – the abiding valid principles of the law to be hammered out in historical practice, emulating what God taught Israel and the nations in Torah (Deut. 4:6-8). This was the basic conviction of Canada for many years. Liberal Canadian Senator James McMullen during a debate on the Lord’s Day Act stated clearly the view of many at the time:

…we must not forget that we claim to be a Christian nation, we are a Christian-professing nation at least, and as such we should respect the laws of God. We generally make our laws in accordance with the provisions of God’s law. His law says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and our law says that the man that sheds man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed. God’s law says ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,’ and our law says that a man who is guilty of perjury is liable to be punished and imprisoned for a violation of the law. We confirm all these commandments by legislation. Why do we not confirm that commandment which says, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’?’ … We are responsible to a higher authority. The responsibility is that we should recognize God’s law that is established and published in His own Word.[4]

The West has long been in revolution against God’s law, repealing it from the statute books for about seventy years i.e., divorce law, family law, sabbath law, blasphemy law, marriage law, abortion law, laws about euthanasia, murder, rape, taxation etc., Faithful Christians prophetically propose, not impose, a return to the Ten Commandments and the guidance of God in all Scripture for civil governments, which takes us right back to the first codification of English law and beginnings of the English Common law tradition under Alfred the Great. We do not believe that biblical truth and law can be imposed on a secular non-Christian culture unwilling to hear or obey. We believe in the need to evangelize, teach, engage and reshape socio-cultural and political life in faithfulness to Christ so that, over time, civil law will return to its biblical foundations as a Christian people insist on righteous laws.

Theocracy simply means ‘God’s rule,’ and the living God has always dealt with humanity in terms of a true or false theocracy – the worship of God or idols – in terms of the standards of His Word. As the Scripture says, “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Today’s Canada is the theocracy of a false god where ‘man enlarged’ in the state is the ‘divine voice’ and pretended source of all law and authority, redefining life, marriage, family, identity and sexuality by political fiat. If to oppose that pagan religious ideal makes us dangerous fundamentalists, so be it. Take your stand with Christ or Caesar.

[1] See massive recent findings of John Hopkins University: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/06/04/first-lockdown-prevented-1700-deaths-landmark-study-finds/

[2] See the Federal Action Plan: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/federal-action-plan-lgbtq-1.6564977 and public funding for Pride events for ostensible ‘security,’ https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/feds-providing-1-5m-for-increased-security-at-pride-events-across-canada-1.6427452

[3] See Trudeau’s recent statement: https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/1665049028349034496

[4] James McMullen, cited in Michael Wagner, Leaving God Behind: The Charter of Rights and Canada’s Official Rejection of Christianity (Russell, ON: Christian Governance, 2012), 25.

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