‘So tell me about the “Toronto Blessing”!’ That was the question that floored me a few years ago on a trip back to England.
Although I live in Toronto, I had never heard of the Toronto Airport church (at that time part of the Vineyard fellowship). On returning to Toronto, I made enquiries and discovered what everyone in England seemed to be talking about. But it still surprises me that a church that is considered so fringe over here should have made such an impact in the UK.
In many ways, Canada is midway between Britain and the USA. The trends towards mega-churches, TV evangelists and social churchgoing, which are pervasive south of the border, are barely evident here. Canadians are, in general, suspicious of showy, shallow, glitzy religion; they are more interested in substance and content.
However, Canadians also lack some of the courage, initiative and drive of their US brethren.
Toronto Baptist Seminary
Toronto Baptist Seminary (TBS) is small by North American standards. There are around sixty students, about half of whom are part time. Theologically we are Calvinistic and conservative. Academically we are challenging, and concerned to provide quality teaching.
At the same time we do not lose sight of the fact that God is a person, not an object to be studied. Nothing must come before our walk with him. All students must be involved in some kind of ‘fieldwork’.
We have a unique relationship to our host church, Jarvis Street Baptist Church, and many students are involved in ministry there.
The church offers a free Sunday-morning English language class, at which the Bible is taught. In the last two years we have been overwhelmed with immigrants from mainland China, who are very open to the gospel. It has been an indescribable joy to see many saved and baptised.
Our goal is to give students the tools to study the Scriptures for themselves – and then demonstrate why we hold fast to the truths we teach.
Sometimes students come to us as Arminians but, when we teach them good principles of interpretation, they change their views!
Last month a visiting pastor commented: ‘I’m so excited to see your students – you don’t have a huge campus with wonderful sporting facilities (as do most Bible colleges here and in USA) so they must be here simply because they are hungry to learn about God!’
We have a significant group of Americans, a large group of Koreans and Chinese, and others from the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. I myself came from England to study here, finding a training that was Calvinistic, church-based and of high quality.
At least half of our (male and female) students are not aiming for the pastoral ministry, but for involvement in missions or teaching. Some are just taking a year or two out to feed their souls. Yet our main task is still to train men as pastors for North America.
Back in 1927, T. T. Shields founded TBS to counter the liberalism sweeping the denominational seminaries. Arnold Dallimore, the well-known author, was one of its early graduates.
Year by year, faithful men were trained and sent out into the harvest field. Eternity alone will reveal the fruit. A book was recently published here by Fred Vaughan entitled Trail Blazers: Life stories of pastors and missionaries, and it was encouraging to see that the majority of the pastors referred to were trained by TBS.
Canada has a range of Baptist denominational groups and fellowship associations. One of the largest is the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists, which encompasses a wide spectrum of church practices but is broadly conservative. (It recently took a clear stand on the issue of women pastors.)
It is encouraging to see an openness to the doctrines of grace within this group. Quite a number of our graduates have become Fellowship pastors.
There are other smaller groupings. The Association of Regular Baptists of Canada has close ties to TBS. One of our graduates, Bill Payne, was an originator of the Reformed Baptist movement (now called the ‘Sovereign Grace Fellowship’) in Ontario.
Yet there are indications of troubling times ahead. A Christian printer faces prison for refusing to print homosexual literature. Child protection agencies threaten parents who dare to discipline their children.
Our multicultural society is moving towards a ‘political correctness’ that would condemn as a ‘hate crime’ any attempt to present the gospel to Muslims, Jews and others.
Our churches are not immune from the general instability of society. Some members lack commitment and some pastors have fallen or burned-out under the stress of their labours.
Above all else, we need to learn to depend more on God, and to appreciate more profoundly that ‘unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it’ (Psalm 127:1).