In 1985, two Canadian denominations will finalize processes that will make them independent of parent bodies in the United States. They will join the ranks of two other churches that in recent years have severed most of their ties to American denominations.

The Canadian branch of the Baptist General Conference (BGC) will finalize its autonomy process in June at the denomination’s annual meeting in Illinois. Another church, the Lutheran Church in America-Canada section, will become autonomous in May when it merges with a Canadian denomination. In recent years, the Canadian branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Evangelical Free Church of Canada broke away from their U.S. counterparts.

Reasons for autonomy vary from church to church. With Lutherans, the move is tied to the denominational merger. But with all groups, the sense of Canadian identity has been a major factor.

There has been a strong desire “for people in Canadian churches to get to know and work with each other,” said Canadian BGC general secretary Abe Funk. With 6,000 members in 72 churches, the BGC began its autonomy process in the late 1970s.

Funk said the Canadian BGC will reflect a slightly more conservative stance than its American counterpart, particularly in the area of biblical inerrancy. However, strong links will remain, particularly with respect to world mission projects. The Canadian BGC plans to seek closer ties with other Baptist bodies in Canada, including possible joint theological education.

In May, the 210,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada will be created by the merger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCC) and the Lutheran Church in America-Canada section. With the merger, the latter body will become independent of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).

Jackie Schmitt, a member of a committee set up to work on continuing relationships between Canadian and American Lutheran bodies, said her committee will deal with questions of pension portability and joint cooperation. The matter of pension plans grows more complex when a denomination gains autonomy after a long-time Canadian-American exchange of pastors.

Schmitt also was a member of the commission that brought the Lutheran autonomy-merger process to a vote last spring. At that time, the ELCC already was autonomous. The ELCC is strongest in the four western Canadian provinces, with the LCA-Canada section stronger in populous Ontario, where 40 percent of the merged church’s members live.

The Canadian branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) gained independence on January 1, 1981. The Canadian body sets its own goals, but it cooperates with CMA headquarters in Nyack, New York, on overseas ministries. At the time of its founding, the Canadian church claimed 241 congregations with a membership of 39,865. It has grown to 273 churches with 49,576 members. Canadian census figures show the CMA and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada to be the fastest-growing denominations in the country.

The Evangelical Free Church of Canada began its autonomy process six years ago, as Canadian church members struggled with “a new sense of community and responsibility,” said Dean Johnson, the church’s moderator. He credits much of the group’s recent church-planting activity to the spirit of autonomy. In the 20 years prior to 1979 there had been a net gain of one church on a base of 70. Today, the denomination includes 94 churches, with a combined membership of 5,000 and attendance running around 10,000.

LLOYD MACKEYin Vancouver,

British Columbia

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