Canadian pastor arrested for holding outdoor service after church was seized by authorities

"Tim Stephens, who serves as pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, was arrested Monday after refusing to abide by the order from Alberta Health Services to refrain from holding worship services that don't comply with the provincial COVID-19 rules." - C.Post

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The article omits any information on what the Alberta restrictions actually are. You can find them here: https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/2be831dd-d83e-42da-b634-6bc6d5232d1a/res...

In my view, they're excessive, but that doesn't erase Romans 13, which doesn't include an "unless you believe they are excessive" clause. If I were pastoring in Alberta, we would connect online and have multiple outdoor gatherings of 10 people, and we'd take it to court. This would be a painful ordeal, for sure, but Romans 13 also doesn't contain an "unless it's a painful ordeal" clause.

So we have both a government doing wrong and a church doing wrong.

Edit: just read the rules more carefully. They can meet indoors at 15% building capacity, so ... this is really not all that burdensome, and there is no disobedience to Scripture involved in doing multiple services at 15% capacity each. This pastor is not some sort of persecuted Christian hero. He's disobeying the clear teaching of the New Testament.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Our government has a reopening plan. Supposedly our mask mandates will move to "recommended" on Canada Day. Our reaction will be something like this, in Israel:

Rick Smol on Twitter: "The moment the teacher tells her pupils that as of now no more masks are required in the State of Israel. " / Twitter

I agree with Aaron on this, Tim Stephens and friends are in error, and constructing a false narrative of persecution. The vast majority of churches in Canada (like 99%) are finding ways to accommodate themselves to the regulations while maintaining some means of taking care of one another. That care for one another is the heart of local church ministry, after all. We can do that (somewhat) without meeting in one place if we have to.

Thankfully, we are able to comply with our current regulations with a combination of a drive-in worship service (FM broadcast from our front porch) and indoor meetings for our services that have lower attendance.

It is incredible to us, but our church seems to be growing through this ordeal, with more evangelistic opportunities than we've ever had all at one time before. We've never been busier with evangelism and discipleship.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Doran's picture

I usually only lurk and haven't posted on here in ages, but this is a situation that touches close to home since Tim is a grad of DBTS. He was an excellent student and we love his family and him. Grateful for his commitment to Christ and the local assembly.

As I read the criticisms of the position he has taken, and now been jailed improperly* twice over, they leave me somewhat baffled by the strength of opposition to his stance. I really don't understand why a simple "Here's why I don't agree with him, but respect his commitment to not violate his conscience" wouldn't suffice. It seems often (if not mostly) past that. I will grant that the advocates of opening their churches have, as well, too often demanded others do as they do.

In reality, none of us believe that Romans 13 teaches that we must obey the government no matter what the government says (or until we have fought it fully through the courts). We all draw a line somewhere. Tim, and others, have drawn the line at the regulation of the church's worship. The two of you think it is the wrong line. That's your call. The congregation and he made a different call. This seems exactly like the kind of situation where believers would leave room for disagreements while recognizing that each will answer to his own Master, not one another. 

The number of churches which are doing something other than what Fairview and Tim are doing really isn't a very compelling argument. "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 14:5). I would imagine that there are many other lines that are going to be drawn as Western culture moves continually toward full fledged paganism. If the reactions by pastors to how churches have differed with each other in the present situation is an indication of what will happen then, it will be ugly.

It is easier to criticize where others draw the line than to draw one ourselves. And, sadly, it is easy to demonize those who draw it differently (whether right or left of us). I am much more comfortable with Tim's position than I am a year+ long hiatus from assembling, but nobody answers to me on this matter. I bear responsibility for my leadership in this congregation and should be content to leave others to fulfill their stewardship before the Lord. I certainly can advocate my position without raising doubts about the character of other pastors or minimizing the consequence some are facing for seeking to maintain a good conscience (the judging or despising problem of Romans 14).  

*https://www.jccf.ca/pastor-tim-stephens-arrested-illegally-again/

 

DMD

David R. Brumbelow's picture

"I just signed a law that prohibits any government agency or public official from issuing an order that closes places of worship,"  -Governor Greg Abbott, TX

"Churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis," [Scott] Sanford said about the bill, which passed the Texas House in April. "Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution."

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/abbott-bans-orders-closing-houses-of-wo...

Wish every state had the same attitude, and same law. 

David R. Brumbelow

dgszweda's picture

Dave Doran wrote:

It is easier to criticize where others draw the line than to draw one ourselves. And, sadly, it is easy to demonize those who draw it differently (whether right or left of us). I am much more comfortable with Tim's position than I am a year+ long hiatus from assembling, but nobody answers to me on this matter.

I agree that everyone needs to make a choice and they are accountable to God.  I also agree that each individual will see that line differently.  The challenge that I think many of us face when examing these stories is that we have a number of individuals who are parading around the umbrella of extreme persecution, when it is a situation created of there own doing.  Yes there are limits put on the churches.  And yes, the limits put some constraints on how the church operates.  But it doesn't prevent the church from operating or the pastor from shepherding.  It just prevents it from taking place in the exact same manner and fashion as before COVID.  In addition, restrictions are lifting in various degrees and there is a line of sight soon when all restrictions will be lifted.

If a church building burns and a congregation must now meet in a tiny facility that makes it difficult to meet together and the church must split into two services for a time until the building is rebuilt.  We say that God is in control and we praise the church for their perseverance through the trial.  When a government says that a church must limit their meeting size for a time until a pandemic is under control.  The church than views this as an opportunity to resist.  It isn't God that is in control it is the government taking away our rights.

Churches in this province are meeting, pastors are being faithful and shepherding their flock.  Not in ideal circumstances, but also not being prevented from preaching, teaching, assemblying and shepherding.  The fact that this individual refuses bail conditions to make a "stand", while leaving his family without their husband/father, when some of these mandates are about to be removed in a matter of weeks, confounds me.  I don't understand what they are trying to accomplish.

I am not so much criticizing this individual for his beliefs, but trying to understand why they are going to to such an extreme when other God fearing pastors are accomplishing their calling without coming anywhere close to the persecution that this church has decided to undertake. 

dgszweda's picture

Comments from Don again point to the stark differences around the world.  Mask mandate is looking to be removed come July 1st., in his Canadian province.  In Florida we haven't had a mask mandate for quite some time, everything is fully open with no restrictions, vaccines are everywhere and anywhere you want to get them at no cost, and practically no one is sick in the state.

dgszweda's picture

I know 3 posts is the limit :).  Looking at the Alberta restrictions, they just hit 60% vaccinated, which allows them to enter into Stage 2 reopening.  At their current rate of 53,000 doses being administered a day, they should hit 70% before the end of June, which would trigger Stage 3 reopening two week following.  Which means that full reopening with no restrictions could be as soon as July 11th.

So again, making such a strong stand as this, when all restrictions could be gone in less than 4 weeks, and refusing to adhere to the guidelines for bail so that you can be with your family, just boggles my mind.  We have a primary duty to obey God.  We have a secondary duty to our family and spouse.  We have a tertiary duty as pastor.  He is not being asked by the Canadian government to disobey God.  He is not being asked to not fulfill his duties as a husband or a father.  He is not being asked to fulfill his pastoral duties.  He is perceiving his rights to be infringed because he is being forced to hold a service outside, social distance and wear a mask.

In return he is giving up his right to be a pastor as his actions have now prevented him from preaching, teaching and shepherding his flock on Sunday.  His actions have now prevented him from fulfilling his duties as a spouse and a father and his protection and ability to direct and lead his family on a daily basis is hindered.  And depending on how you want to interpret Romans 13, you could argue that his actions have prevented him from obeying God by obeying the government that God has ordained.

Don Johnson's picture

Dave Doran wrote:

I usually only lurk and haven't posted on here in ages, but this is a situation that touches close to home since Tim is a grad of DBTS. He was an excellent student and we love his family and him. Grateful for his commitment to Christ and the local assembly.

Hi Dave. I am aware that Tim is a grad of DBTS. Of the Covid rebels in Canada, his arguments are the most cogent, I have to say. It speaks well of his training and him. I don't doubt his sincerity, but think he is badly mistaken.

Dave Doran wrote:
As I read the criticisms of the position he has taken, and now been jailed improperly* twice over, they leave me somewhat baffled by the strength of opposition to his stance. I really don't understand why a simple "Here's why I don't agree with him, but respect his commitment to not violate his conscience" wouldn't suffice. It seems often (if not mostly) past that. I will grant that the advocates of opening their churches have, as well, too often demanded others do as they do.

The matter isn't as simple as that. As might be expected, Tim's arrests and the arrest of James Coates earlier in the year garner national headlines in Canada. Church members here raise questions. They wonder why we aren't taking the same stand. Beyond that, James Coates and some others (not so much Tim) have created real division in churches by their statements. James Coates is on record on Tom Ascol's podcast saying that he doesn't understand how those who disagree with him can honestly preach the book of Daniel, etc.

I know of one case where a family who have relatives in James Coates' church have agitated for their local church to take the same stand. Since that church has not, they recently announced they were leaving the church to start their own church. They have no pastor, but they are going to avail themselves of sermons piped in from John MacArthur to serve as their "preacher" for their new church.

The issues are a little more real for us here as a consequence, I'd say.

Dave Doran wrote:
In reality, none of us believe that Romans 13 teaches that we must obey the government no matter what the government says (or until we have fought it fully through the courts). We all draw a line somewhere. Tim, and others, have drawn the line at the regulation of the church's worship. The two of you think it is the wrong line. That's your call. The congregation and he made a different call. This seems exactly like the kind of situation where believers would leave room for disagreements while recognizing that each will answer to his own Master, not one another.

That is not really true. Tim argues that Romans 13 does not give the government authority to make regulations concerning health. You may not be aware (most of the world isn't), but I've done a good deal of writing on this topic. I started by summarizing the arguments of the Covid rebels ("The Rationale of the Christian Covid Rebels"), then addressed each of the main arguments as covered in that article (I am not alleging that Tim agrees with all of the arguments the others make). Here are links to my next three articles on the subject:

My next piece (due "real soon now") will examine what is and what is not persecution. I plan to address other topics in this discussion over the next few months. I believe we are deficient in our understanding and that real persecution may well be in our future. Critical Race Theory and the gender issues may well become litmus tests for public legitmacy, and if we don't say the passwords right, look out.

Dave Doran wrote:
The number of churches which are doing something other than what Fairview and Tim are doing really isn't a very compelling argument. "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 14:5). I would imagine that there are many other lines that are going to be drawn as Western culture moves continually toward full fledged paganism. If the reactions by pastors to how churches have differed with each other in the present situation is an indication of what will happen then, it will be ugly.

I don't think you can get away with arguing this is a Romans 14 issue. Romans 13 demands submission to government. That's a very high bar to get over. Disobedience to government isn't a matter of indifference (Romans 14), but a matter requiring very serious thought.

Dave Doran wrote:
It is easier to criticize where others draw the line than to draw one ourselves. And, sadly, it is easy to demonize those who draw it differently (whether right or left of us). I am much more comfortable with Tim's position than I am a year+ long hiatus from assembling, but nobody answers to me on this matter. I bear responsibility for my leadership in this congregation and should be content to leave others to fulfill their stewardship before the Lord. I certainly can advocate my position without raising doubts about the character of other pastors or minimizing the consequence some are facing for seeking to maintain a good conscience (the judging or despising problem of Romans 14).  

*https://www.jccf.ca/pastor-tim-stephens-arrested-illegally-again/

There was never a "year long hiatus" from assembling in Alberta. They have had restrictions that varied over the last year.

However, as dgssweda pointed out, 

Churches in this province are meeting, pastors are being faithful and shepherding their flock.  Not in ideal circumstances, but also not being prevented from preaching, teaching, assemblying and shepherding.  The fact that this individual refuses bail conditions to make a "stand", while leaving his family without their husband/father, when some of these mandates are about to be removed in a matter of weeks, confounds me.  I don't understand what they are trying to accomplish.

Just so. The government is not attacking Christian ministry, it is trying to prevent the spread of Covid. Ironically, I also think their "solutions" are wrongheaded and ineffective, but God appointed them to authority, not me. They haven't prevented me from preaching the gospel, nor have they prevented Tim Stephens or anyone else. They have restricted public assembly as to size and manner. It isn't easy to work with the restrictions, but wise pastors are working with it to serve their congregations and build them up in the faith. I've never had so much to do as in this past year. Nevertheless, the effort makes us sharper, and in our case at least, stirred up our people to greater discipleship than before. We've had problems, but many blessings.

I'm actually finding much joy in the experience. Just this evening I went to pick up a used bed-frame I purchased through our local online marketplace and as always gave my card to the guy selling me the item. He started asking me questions about church and our reaction to Covid and the gospel. The conversation wasn't long, but he promised to check out our website and our sermons. We'll see how it goes, maybe he will call back and want to talk more.

In any case, we are seeing a greater openness to the gospel than ever before in thirty-six years of ministry here. We aren't making headlines, but the Lord is opening doors for us.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Doran's picture

Gentlemen:

Thanks for responding. I am about to head out for the day so pardon the brevity and bullet point nature of my reply.

  • If a position is taken on the basis of principles, then the timeline issues raised are moot. Hopefully you can disagree with that position but see the validity of my point. It would seem difficult to maintain any leadership credibility if one says "we must do X" and "let's not do X for a few more weeks because there won't be trouble if we wait." Add to this the fact that these principles and positions have already been advocated and taken, so to change course now would be either to go against conscience or admit that they were not conscience bound in the first place. 
  • The position I articulated was that WE all draw the line somewhere when it comes to Romans 13, not that others have drawn it wrongly or mishandled Romans 13 badly. I was not arguing for anybody else's position, only suggesting that it is easier to criticize other people's positions than to stake one out for ourselves clearly and consistently.
  • Regarding my use of Romans 14 here: (1) I don't believe it is about "matters of indifference" in the way it is often treated precisely because Paul treats it as anything but that--they must be fully convinced, they should not go against conscience; (2) my post was not at all saying that obedience to government is a matter about which believers may disagree, but that identifying the precise place where obedience to God takes precedence over obeying government orders is (IOW, each of us will have to settle in our own minds where the line is where obeying gov't becomes disobeying God).
  • As I said in my post, some people on both sides of this debate have done and said things that are not helpful, not respectful of their spiritual family, and have produced tension in congregations. That is true but should not lead to a "well you did it first" kind of fight. If our congregations aren't able to process the fact that good brothers will disagree at times, then we need to teach and model that better. 
  • I am genuinely encouraged by anecdotes that I hear from those who are both sides of this that point to how God is using the pandemic for good in their congregations and for the spread of the gospel. That both sides have these anecdotes to share means they effectively weigh each other out as a compelling argument. IOW, the "We took this stand and look what good came out of it" isn't a persuasive argument, at least to me, since both sides are saying it and only time will tell how much lasting fruit comes from it.

To summarize my perspective: (1) there is a line where believers and churches won't be able to cross, thereby acknowledging that Romans 13 isn't the final answer; (2) each context (time & place) has its own peculiarities, so we should leave room for others to take the stand that they believe to be in good conscience; (3) we certainly can express why we don't see it the way they do, but we should be very careful not to indict the character of those who are applying Scripture differently than we do; (4) given the trajectory of our culture we better take seriously the task of identifying where we believe that line is for ourselves and our congregations so that we are not making "heat of the moment" decisions; and (5) when the proverbial bullets start flying, I think sympathy for our spiritual family should be a higher priority than criticism of them.

I'll leave you all to have the last word if you'd like it. 

DMD

T Howard's picture

The context of Romans 14 is the individual believer not the assembled congregation. If the pastor is making decisions that affect the entire congregation, he can't argue this is a Romans 14 issue.

That's like saying, I think drinking alcohol is wrong therefore no one in my congregation is allowed to drink alcohol. That's not Romans 14.

Don Johnson's picture

First, as I recall more of Tim Stephen's argument, I think he does move into conscience and Romans 14. However, I don't think we want to use conscience as a justification for any action a Christian might take. That is way too subjective. The fact is, Paul strictly limits the conscience issues in Rm 14 to matters of indifference. He makes no moral judgement, the matters are significant to individuals, but not binding on anyone else. Romans 13 is binding on all. It may only be set aside by a clear command of God, not merely an individual's conscience.

Second, I should clarify that my testimonial at the end of my last post was not an argument, just a general comment. I think the trials of these days are a tremendous opportunity for the gospel. We should all be opening conversations with people about the gospel by asking about their response to the pandemic. The story touches everyone, everyone has an opinion, and many are fearful and thinking about eternal things. During the shutdowns, I wrote a letter to the editor of our paper which the paper published. I was calling for equal treatment for the churches. I didn't think anything of it other than my politics, but recently a young man contacted us. From the letter to the editor, he checked out our messages on YouTube, then visited our services. He's recently made a profession of faith. Praise the Lord, and may he truly grow in the faith. 
 

But that isn't an argument, nor does it prove my point in this discussion AT ALL!! In our current days, I am exhorting everyone to tell others about our hope in the Lord. May he bring in more souls to his kingdom!

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mark Snoeberger's picture

I wonder if Pastor Doran’s concerns have been given due consideration. Without offering any specific opinion on the decisions made by Fairview Baptist Church, he argued simply that we should respect the right of a church to make a collective decision, based on their careful consideration of multiple Scriptures, without being savaged by their “friends.”

To the point, suggestions in this thread that Pastor Stephens considers himself a “hero,” is “parading around under the umbrella of extreme persecution,” or is “viewing this [situation] as an opportunity to resist” are uncharitable and frankly unfair. Pastor Stephens may be wrong, but he is as thoughtful and unpretentious as any pastor I know. He has developed a careful and biblically robust case from a network of NT texts (not, as some have suggested, from a single text) for the responsibility of local churches to meet as whole assemblies. 

To the point of appeal to Romans 14, the argument here is not that the contemporary situation shares synonymy with Paul’s, but that there is a biblical principle at stake, namely, that when a Christian (or in this case, a Christian collective) makes a coherent biblical argument for a particular motion of conscience—even if it is wrong—they should not be subjected to the judgment or contempt of the Christian majority. The appeal to Romans 14 is a valid one, and one we should take to heart.

MAS

Don Johnson's picture

Jiminy Cricket was not an apostle. "Let your conscience be your guide."

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

My concern is not that he is relying on his conscience.  It is that he is choosing to make a stand when one is not needed and painting that the Gospel and Christ is under attack and that his only recourse is to make this stand.  If you look at his tweets, many of them resonate with other objectors religious or secular.  For example, he states, "AHS still wants Tim to tell people what to wear".  This just does not resonate with Romans 14 with me.  I am sure that Tim tells people what to wear. I would assume that if individuals attending Sunday morning worship were wearing bikinis, that he would have a discussion.  When you read the tweets, and quotes in news stories, it appears the anger is more directed into the fact that AHS is directing the church what to do.  He wasn't arrested because he held an outdoor service.  He was arrested because the outdoor service was not following guidelines.  And ultimately he was arrested not for breaking the guidelines, but for repeated violation after many warnings.  He can still meet outside.  But the tweets want to paint it into a picture that the government is preventing services and therefore I am doing something great by being persecuted.  I cannot speak to his heart, but only to the words that he speaks.

As Don, stated, no doubt this is a very big inconvenience and definitely not one that churches would like to be under.  But it is not preventing the church from meeting, pastors from shepherding, or the Great Commission from being followed.

I fail to see how Christ is honored or the Gospel is exalted in this situation.  The current situation is not of AHS's own choosing, but the church the pastor.  They have created the scenario they are facing today.  The purpose of Romans 13 is to help the church focus on furthering the gospel.  If the goal of the church was to resist government, the church would never move forward with anything as everyone, everywhere could make the focus the resistance of government.  The purpose is to focus on the Gospel and communicate to the church that God is in control of the government.

T Howard's picture

Mark Snoeberger wrote:

To the point of appeal to Romans 14, the argument here is not that the contemporary situation shares synonymy with Paul’s, but that there is a biblical principle at stake, namely, that when a Christian (or in this case, a Christian collective) makes a coherent biblical argument for a particular motion of conscience—even if it is wrong—they should not be subjected to the judgment or contempt of the Christian majority. The appeal to Romans 14 is a valid one, and one we should take to heart.

So, I can lead my church in making "a coherent biblical argument for a particular motion of conscience" then quote Romans 14 to escape accountability for what turns out to be a poor decision or to silence other believers who disagree with how I led my church? Yeah, that's not why Paul wrote Romans 14. Romans 14 applies primarily to the individual believer in matters of conscience that the Bible does not clearly and directly address. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 are pretty clear and direct.

Further, Romans 14:20-22 is clear: "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God." In other words, if this were truly a Romans 14 issue, the pastor and his church should not be publicizing on social media their decision to flout the law because that decision is between them and God.

Therefore, the appeal to Romans 14 to condone this pastor's decision and behavior is fallacious.

Mark Snoeberger's picture

If I may, a few observations on Romans 14 might be useful here:

  • I grant that the specific issue addressed in Romans 14 is a matter of propriety in local churches. I don’t think anyone would dispute this. But the instruction applies in principle beyond local polity and offers instruction about conscience and interpersonal conflict that need not be limited to a local church context.  
  • The specific question in view in Romans 14, unless I’m reading the chapter incorrectly, is not “matters of conscience that the Bible does not clearly and directly address,” as Mr. Howard suggests, but rather two matters that the Bible does address clearly and directly, but with apparently conflicting voices: (1) eating meat and (2) observing special days (vv. 1–8), issues routinely paired in discussions of orthodox Jewish praxis. Because the eclipse of Israel by the NT faith community was such a complex issue, Paul allowed those who continued to follow the old rule to remain in the church without censure, even though they were slow to accept NT revelation (they were “weak in faith”).
  • Paul’s surprising conclusion, if I may respond to Pastor Johnson, is that even what is not sin can be sin to the one whose conscience tells him it is sin (vv. 14, 23—one can be condemned by what he eats in violation of his conscience, even when his conscience is wrong). So, yes, crude as it may be, “Jiminy Cricket” does stand as a valid source of authority for Paul. Of course, there are limits here—all recognize this. But intertextual harmonization of apparently conflicting Scriptures (the same issue in both Paul’s day and our own) is a very difficult matter, and Paul offers extraordinary latitude here.  
  • The governing principle in Romans 14, in matters such as these, is that we should accept one another, without passing judgment and without condescension, and pursue peace and mutual edification. How refreshing it would be to see this happen! By saying this, I do not mean that we cannot have significant discussions of key texts, aspects of ecclesiology, and the relationship of church and state (of which there has been precious little), but it does mean that the conversation needs to be irenic and edifying. 

Hopefully this helps explain the connections I see between Paul's situation and the current conflict.

MAS

Dave Doran's picture

T Howard,

Romans 14 is not about matters which the Bible does not address--Jesus had declared all meats to be clean (Mark 7:19) and there are no holy days in this dispensation (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16). That is why one group was weak and the other strong. The weak did not have faith to do something that the Scriptures permitted, whereas the strong did. And Paul clearly sided with the strong regarding food ("that nothing is unclean in itself") while recognizing that for some it remains unclean because he thinks it is unclean (Rom 14:14). IOW, the difference of conscience was based in wrestlings about what each believed was acceptable to God.

You are misunderstanding the argument here. I am arguing that we should leave room for disagreements about what the Scriptures require of us in matters like these. Nobody on this thread is saying that any pastor should tell the government he doesn't have to obey because of Romans 14. This is internal discussion among believers about how much room we should allow for those who disagree with us on the real world application of Romans 13. IOW, when two believers or congregations take different positions on where the line is between obeying God above the orders of men they are not denying Romans 13, only trying to harmonize the seeming conflict between obligations to God and obligations to human government. Within reason, those disagreements should be respected both ways rather than belittled.

And I think you misunderstand the nature of applying biblical truth when you dismiss Romans 14 as having any bearing on this discussion. For some reason you seem comfortable applying Romans 13 to an entity (the congregation) although it is written to individual believers, but reject the application of Romans 14 to congregations because it is written to individual believers. Seems like you can't have it both ways. And the culmination of this section is decidedly congregational anyway ("together with one voice"). But, frankly, all of that is beside the point because we, as individuals, are having a conversation about the decisions of other believers and should therefore follow what Romans 14 says about how we relate to them.

It is genuinely baffling to me that believers, particularly pastors, are so intent on judging this brother so harshly and so publicly. And, to be fair, I am surprised by the character shots fired both ways. The mindset seems to be everyone to the right of me is a egotistical rebel and every to the left is a compromising coward.

 

DMD

Don Johnson's picture

Dave Doran wrote:

 

Nobody on this thread is saying that any pastor should tell the government he doesn't have to obey because of Romans 14. This is internal discussion among believers about how much room we should allow for those who disagree with us on the real world application of Romans 13. IOW, when two believers or congregations take different positions on where the line is between obeying God above the orders of men they are not denying Romans 13, only trying to harmonize the seeming conflict between obligations to God and obligations to human government. Within reason, those disagreements should be respected both ways rather than belittled.

Dave, I will concede the possibility of misunderstanding you, but I think you and Mark are allowing your personal connections to cloud your judgement.

Tim has made explicit statements about Romans 13 that I think are not hard to contradict. You can read my answers to those arguments in  the artices I linked above. He makes an astounding claim that God only instituted human government for the purpose of "taking vengeance on wrong doers" (Rm 12), and did not authorize government any authority over public health. I see no way to justify that and appealing to the idea that "a local church came to this conclusion so shut up and give them space" is not acceptable.

Why don't you answer this question: Does government have legitimate authority over public health?

There are follow-up questions.

Does government have legitimate authority over occupancy standards based on fire codes and safety standards, etc.?

Does government have legitimate authority to require conformity to building codes?

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Doran's picture

Don,

I suppose it is possible for all of us to be influenced by our closeness to the issues here. But I'll play along. Here are my answers to your three questions: Yes, under God (or, IOW, up to the point of disobedience to God). I'm sure we all agree that God is our highest authority and government has been given legitimate authority from Him, so that's not really the point of disagreement. It is the part where we have to decide in government has gone too far. Certainly we can all concede it is possible that a government might wrongly use such mechanisms against believers.

But my answers really aren't the issue here because: (1) they are beside my point (which is to argue for allowing room for disagreements); and (2) they are more of the "gotcha" kind of question than they are substantive refutation of Tim's position.

Regarding (2), I can disagree with his answers to those questions without disagreeing with his larger points. For instance, when he writes "By no means does Romans 13 give power to the state that requires obedience in all circumstances," I agree. Further, "It does not give power to the state to outlaw gathering freely in worship, and then bring the punishment of the sword upon those who do," I also agree. And, I also agree when he argues that Romans 13 "does not command that Christians must always be obedient to the state." 

So, let me ask you then:

  • Does Romans 13 give power to government that requires obedience in all circumstances?
  • Does God give the government the authority to outlaw worship gatherings?
  • Does Romans 13 command that Christians must always be obedient to the state?

I would contend that if your answer is no to the first and third questions, then you must wrestle through what circumstances would justify disobedience, If you answer yes to the second, then you must wrestle through what limitations are placed on that authority?

If I am correct about this, then it makes sense that believers and congregations might come to differing conclusions about the circumstances and limitations. I might not agree with (or even like) the conclusions that some others come to, but if they show evidence of sincerely seeking to wrestle through it biblically and practically, I'm content to leave it with the Lord to make the assessment. I believe I can say, with a good conscience, that this has been my position for almost four decades, so I am not inclined toward the idea that my thinking is being clouded by personal attachment here.

 

DMD

Don Johnson's picture

Dave Doran wrote:

But my answers really aren't the issue here because: (1) they are beside my point (which is to argue for allowing room for disagreements); and (2) they are more of the "gotcha" kind of question than they are substantive refutation of Tim's position.

Regarding (2), I can disagree with his answers to those questions without disagreeing with his larger points. For instance, when he writes "By no means does Romans 13 give power to the state that requires obedience in all circumstances," I agree. Further, "It does not give power to the state to outlaw gathering freely in worship, and then bring the punishment of the sword upon those who do," I also agree. And, I also agree when he argues that Romans 13 "does not command that Christians must always be obedient to the state."

not a gotcha question at all, Dave. I think you are a little disengenuous in your representation of Tim's position. Here is a quote:

There is nothing in Romans 13 that teaches that the government is responsible for the common good. There is nothing in Romans 13 that teaches that the government is responsible for keeping people safe from a virus such that they even command what takes place in the church and in the home. Source

and another

One might seek to argue that all matters relating to health restrictions all fall under Romans 14. That is, it is a matter of conscience and conviction before the Lord. So whether one chooses to gather or stay home, to submit to restrictions in all areas or defy in others, it is all a matter of personal conviction not to be judged by any other. Source

In fact, Tim's position is that the government has no authority to regulate health and we have a right to follow our conscience as to whether we will obey or not. I encourage you to read my articles linked above and I invite you to correct my reading of him if you can.

Dave Doran wrote:

So, let me ask you then:

  • Does Romans 13 give power to government that requires obedience in all circumstances?
  • Does God give the government the authority to outlaw worship gatherings?
  • Does Romans 13 command that Christians must always be obedient to the state?

No to the first.

It depends to the second.

Yes to the last, but other Scriptures give authority that supersedes Romans 13.

On the "it depends answer" - it depends on

  1. The reason the government is closing down the churches
  2. Whether this is an action directed especially to Christian churches alone (or to religious institutions alone)
  3. Whether this is an attempt to permanently close the Christian church

And in this case, the government of Alberta (as far as I know) has never outlawed worship gatherings. They have restricted them, but not outlawed them. There is a difference.

Here in BC, in-person gatherings were closed from November 15 until about a month and a half ago. Outdoor Drive-in meetings were permitted, with strict guidelines and about three weeks ago they opened up indoor meetings with masks up to 50 people, with distancing.

That is still not "outlawing" Christian services.

These are regulations under a public health order. As I understand it, our emergency powers act gives the Provincial Health Officer the legal authority to make such orders as long as the state of emergency exists. When the state of emergency ends (and it will), the power dies.

I look forward to that day, probably sometime this fall.

 

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben Edwards's picture

Don,

 

I was curious to see if you were properly understanding and presenting Tim's arguments, so I looked at his articles. I was surprised to see what he actually said in the second quotation you cited:

"One might seek to argue that all matters relating to health restrictions all fall under Romans 14. That is, it is a matter of conscience and conviction before the Lord. So whether one chooses to gather or stay home, to submit to restrictions in all areas or defy in others, it is all a matter of personal conviction not to be judged by any other. This is not my argument."

 

So you cited a statement as though it were his when in the very next sentence he denies that hypothetical argument. While I trust that was an honest mistake, at a minimum it gives me little confidence that you are actually understanding what he is arguing well enough to properly critique it.
 

Ben

 

Don Johnson's picture

I looked at my saved copy of the article and the part I left out was indeed in that as well, so clearly I blew that one. I will go back and make corrections in my articles where I cited it. I don't want to misrepresent Tim and it appears I may have misunderstood that point

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Where I included the offending quote, I deleted it and inserted this line:

[In the original edition of this article, I discussed Tim Stephens’ position on Romans 14, the next chapter. I find I misunderstood his point and grievously misquoted him. You can see the correction at the end of the article.]

Here is the error correction at the end of the article:

Error Correction

In my original post, I misquoted Tim Stephens. My misquote caused me to misunderstand and misrepresent his argument. Here is the offending section:

According to Stephens, Christians may defy government health orders as a matter of conscience. If their conscience allows them to meet in church services, their conscience is the only authority they need follow, government has no authority in this matter at all.

“One might seek to argue that all matters relating to health restrictions all fall under Romans 14. That is, it is a matter of conscience and conviction before the Lord. So whether one chooses to gather or stay home, to submit to restrictions in all areas or defy in others, it is all a matter of personal conviction not to be judged by any other.”

What I missed was the next sentence in the quote: “This is not my argument.” My missing that sentence misconstrues Tim’s argument at this point and I unreservedly apologize. I thank Ben Edwards for pointing out my error.

~~~ 

I still disagree with Tim, but not on Romans 14 as such. He discusses Romans 14 in one of his articles, but he doesn't make it clear how Romans 14 ties into the government regulations. I think he makes some errors in that discussion (calls Heb 10.25 a command - it is not), but he doesn't say "government regulations are a matter of indifference, you can't judge me if I ignore them."

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave Doran's picture

Don,

First, thank you for correcting the misrepresentation of Tim's position that Ben pointed out. I also had noticed it, copied Tim's full statement, and was about to post when I read Ben's comment and your response. I appreciate the fact that you responded to this concern. Thanks.

Second, although I'm inclined to think you won't agree with my assessment of your answers, it seems that we agree on the basic point that government does not have unqualified authority over believers and that believers must use discernment in applying the Scriptures to the real world circumstances in which they find themselves. It is not always as easy as yes/no. My basic contention is that we should then be very circumspect about public criticism of those who disagree with our applications. No one has said "just shut up" about this topic.

Well, I've expressed my concerns so I plan to bow out at this point. 

 

DMD

Ben Edwards's picture

Don,

I'm glad to see you acknowledged the error and made the correction in your article.

Ben

Don Johnson's picture

Dave Doran wrote:

Don,

First, thank you for correcting the misrepresentation of Tim's position that Ben pointed out. I also had noticed it, copied Tim's full statement, and was about to post when I read Ben's comment and your response. I appreciate the fact that you responded to this concern. Thanks.

Second, although I'm inclined to think you won't agree with my assessment of your answers, it seems that we agree on the basic point that government does not have unqualified authority over believers and that believers must use discernment in applying the Scriptures to the real world circumstances in which they find themselves. It is not always as easy as yes/no. My basic contention is that we should then be very circumspect about public criticism of those who disagree with our applications. No one has said "just shut up" about this topic.

Well, I've expressed my concerns so I plan to bow out at this point. 

Dave, I also thought we had each said all we needed to say to each other on this thread and expected you to bow out. I'm quite prepared to continue the discussion with others, though I don't know if anyone really has anything they would like to add.

I will note a couple of things in closing up with you, however. 

First, I am chagrined I misunderstood Tim's point in the section I cited. However, it is essentially your point, isn't it? After all, what is the difference between the bolded portion of this:

One might seek to argue that all matters relating to health restrictions all fall under Romans 14. That is, it is a matter of conscience and conviction before the Lord. So whether one chooses to gather or stay home, to submit to restrictions in all areas or defy in others, it is all a matter of personal conviction not to be judged by any other. This is not my argument.”  [Tim Stephens]

And this:

My basic contention is that we should then be very circumspect about public criticism of those who disagree with our applications. No one has said "just shut up" about this topic. [DMD]

Perhaps you wouldn't be so crude as to say "just shut up," but that's really what you mean, isn't it?

We agree on the concept that there does come a point when Christians must resist government action, but only on the concept.

I don't agree

  1. That it's a matter of conscience that other Christians should be silent about.
  2. That government is wrong to institute public health regulations
  3. That Christians have the right to claim "persecution" when they don't like the restrictions put on them (and all other citizens) by public health regulations
  4. Or that there is a command to assemble in Hebrews 10.25.

On that last, I challenge anyone to prove that point. My article "Putting Hebrews 10 into Perspective" addresses it, and so far all I've gotten is "I disagree" or "I still see a command there." All I ask is, prove it, don't just assert it.

 

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

We agree on the concept that there does come a point when Christians must resist government action, but only on the concept.

I don't agree

  1. That it's a matter of conscience that other Christians should be silent about.
  2. That government is wrong to institute public health regulations
  3. That Christians have the right to claim "persecution" when they don't like the restrictions put on them (and all other citizens) by public health regulations
  4. Or that there is a command to assemble in Hebrews 10.25.

On that last, I challenge anyone to prove that point. My article "Putting Hebrews 10 into Perspective" addresses it, and so far all I've gotten is "I disagree" or "I still see a command there." All I ask is, prove it, don't just assert it.

So given you agree that there is a point (somewhere) where Christians must resist government action, is it your contention that on #1, when such resistance becomes necessary it will be so clear that there will be no possible difference in application among Christians, such that there will not need to be any quarter or deference to conscience given?  Or is it just that you think that differences in interpretation will need principled opposition and discussion (which, at least in my view, is also different from simply declaring other views to be wrong or against scripture).  I.e., even in disagreement, I think we should do so with charity.

I would agree on #s 2 and 3 with you -- to a point.  You mention in #3 "all other citizens," and I think that is key.  If restrictions are put on Christians that are not put on all other citizens, and that implementation goes against other laws not permitting such discrimination, then in that case I (and many other Christians) see government as violating the law itself.  It becomes difficult at that point to decide who to obey if some ministers of government attempt to enforce the violation when others do not.  There have been plenty of examples (even in my own state) during this current pandemic of local officials coming to a different conclusion on the validity of state-level emergency orders and what to do in response.

On #4, I'm one of those who isn't sure yet whether to agree with you.  It's not that I can prove my view, or just want to be resistant, but given what I've heard from many other men who have also studied that scripture and come to an opposite conclusion from you, it's not a matter of simply discarding an "incorrect" interpretation, but one of careful analysis.  For years, I've followed the principle that if a new look at a scripture (or a new article I read, etc.) concludes something different from long-standing interpretation by well-respected orthodox Christians, then my previous belief isn't something that should just be blithely discarded without a lot of careful thought and prayer.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:

So given you agree that there is a point (somewhere) where Christians must resist government action, is it your contention that on #1, when such resistance becomes necessary it will be so clear that there will be no possible difference in application among Christians, such that there will not need to be any quarter or deference to conscience given?  Or is it just that you think that differences in interpretation will need principled opposition and discussion (which, at least in my view, is also different from simply declaring other views to be wrong or against scripture).  I.e., even in disagreement, I think we should do so with charity.

Well, in Nazi Germany (see, he runs to Hitler right away...) and in Soviet Russia and in Communist China, there are churches that go along with the regimes. One would think resistance is obvious, but then the guns are pointed at you, the rationalization begins.

I think we need to do a lot of thinking about this right now. That is the purpose of my substack. I am thinking and writing about the topic in the hopes of developing some understanding about what we should do when the time comes. I don't want to just offer myself up as a sacrificial lamb when the guns are pointed at me, rather I want to think about how most effectively to resist and prepare myself at least (and others who read) to perhaps take some mental steps at preparation for the eventuality.

dcbii wrote:

I would agree on #s 2 and 3 with you -- to a point.  You mention in #3 "all other citizens," and I think that is key.  If restrictions are put on Christians that are not put on all other citizens, and that implementation goes against other laws not permitting such discrimination, then in that case I (and many other Christians) see government as violating the law itself.  It becomes difficult at that point to decide who to obey if some ministers of government attempt to enforce the violation when others do not.  There have been plenty of examples (even in my own state) during this current pandemic of local officials coming to a different conclusion on the validity of state-level emergency orders and what to do in response.

Another variable is the kind of government you are dealing with. In America, you have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That is a powerful weapon (albeit expensive to access). In Canada, for example, not so much. Our so-called Charter of Rights and Freedoms isn't worth the paper its printed on.

dcbii wrote:

On #4, I'm one of those who isn't sure yet whether to agree with you.  It's not that I can prove my view, or just want to be resistant, but given what I've heard from many other men who have also studied that scripture and come to an opposite conclusion from you, it's not a matter of simply discarding an "incorrect" interpretation, but one of careful analysis.  For years, I've followed the principle that if a new look at a scripture (or a new article I read, etc.) concludes something different from long-standing interpretation by well-respected orthodox Christians, then my previous belief isn't something that should just be blithely discarded without a lot of careful thought and prayer.

I hear you. I actually have changed my position here. I used to preach it as a command. I am forced to conclude by studying the Greek construction that my previous understanding was incorrect. I would like my friends to argue with me, to push back on these points. Especially my friends who are better in Greek than I am. So far nothing.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mark Snoeberger's picture

It looks to me like ἐγκαταλείποντες (Heb 10:25) is a fairly straightforward participle of antecedent reference that attaches itself to the three hortatory subjunctives in vv. 22, 23, and 24, respectively (προσερχώμεθα, κατέχωμεν, and κατανοῶμεν). If this is the case, then ἐγκαταλείποντες, while not imperative in form, borrows imperatival force from the hortatory verbs that it attends. Wallace suggests further that it is a “clear example” of a customary/habitual present (GGBB, 522): “Let us not forsake our customary assembly,” or perhaps stronger, “We must not forsake our customary assembly.”

That said, I’m not sure that this is the best text to use to establish the biblical expectation that whole churches assemble regularly. Hebrews 10 is a warning against personal apostasy, and doesn’t exactly fit the circumstances brought about by COVID. It is a piece of the argument, I’ll warrant, but texts like Acts 15:55; 1 Cor 5:4; 11:17–34; and 14:23 seem better suited to demonstrating the need for whole-church, in-person participation in order to successfully satisfy the regulative principle of worship. The church cannot do all that it must if it does not assemble as a body. 

This is where I think Pastor Stephens, who apparently harmonizes competing biblical commands according to the Dooyeweerdian sphere sovereignty model (by all accounts a recognized approach within orthodox church life), has a case. He argues that while the spheres of civil and ecclesiastical authority legitimately overlap, the command to gather in whole congregations falls squarely in the ecclesiastical sphere, and thus cannot be countermanded by civil authorities; nor, further, may pastors be conscripted as agents of the state to enforce civil mandates. 

This is not the only approach to harmonizing the texts in question, but it is one that is well established in the literature and in church history. My burden all along has not been that we all must agree with Pastor Stephens at every point (full disclosure: I don’t), but rather that we should charitably admit that his approach is reasoned and principled (even if we reject it), represent him fairly, and show sympathy for his plight.

MAS

Don Johnson's picture

Mark Snoeberger wrote:

It looks to me like ἐγκαταλείποντες (Heb 10:25) is a fairly straightforward participle of antecedent reference that attaches itself to the three hortatory subjunctives in vv. 22, 23, and 24, respectively (προσερχώμεθα, κατέχωμεν, and κατανοῶμεν). If this is the case, then ἐγκαταλείποντες, while not imperative in form, borrows imperatival force from the hortatory verbs that it attends. Wallace suggests further that it is a “clear example” of a customary/habitual present (GGBB, 522): “Let us not forsake our customary assembly,” or perhaps stronger, “We must not forsake our customary assembly.”

That said, I’m not sure that this is the best text to use to establish the biblical expectation that whole churches assemble regularly. Hebrews 10 is a warning against personal apostasy, and doesn’t exactly fit the circumstances brought about by COVID. It is a piece of the argument, I’ll warrant, but texts like Acts 15:55; 1 Cor 5:4; 11:17–34; and 14:23 seem better suited to demonstrating the need for whole-church, in-person participation in order to successfully satisfy the regulative principle of worship. The church cannot do all that it must if it does not assemble as a body.

Thanks for this Mark. However, I  would encourage you to read through my article and interact with my reasoning.  I looked up Wallace there, but I think many serious commentators disagree with him. Forsaking means for saking, abandoning, not the habitual ignoring. At least so say some. I don't think I dealt with that aspect too much in my article, however,  I was concentrating on the grammar. I take the participle as an adverbial participle of means, answering the question "how" - the exhortation is "consider one another to stimulate to love and good works" and the "how" is answered negatively, "by not abandoning" but positively "by encouraging (parakaleo) one another"

It is also interesting to me that all the commentators I consulted (if I recall correctly) made NO application to regular church meetings being commanded by the passage, including John MacArthur. (I quote MacArthur at the end of my article.)

Thanks for this, though, I will think more about this comment by Wallace, but I wonder if he is correct on this particular example.

Also, of course, is the issue of the regulative principle, which I categorically deny.  I see no Biblical proof of it in the New Testament. At all. (But let's not go down that road!)

Mark Snoeberger wrote:

This is where I think Pastor Stephens, who apparently harmonizes competing biblical commands according to the Dooyeweerdian sphere sovereignty model (by all accounts a recognized approach within orthodox church life), has a case. He argues that while the spheres of civil and ecclesiastical authority legitimately overlap, the command to gather in whole congregations falls squarely in the ecclesiastical sphere, and thus cannot be countermanded by civil authorities; nor, further, may pastors be conscripted as agents of the state to enforce civil mandates. 

This is not the only approach to harmonizing the texts in question, but it is one that is well established in the literature and in church history. My burden all along has not been that we all must agree with Pastor Stephens at every point (full disclosure: I don’t), but rather that we should charitably admit that his approach is reasoned and principled (even if we reject it), represent him fairly, and show sympathy for his plight.

I think Tim is reasoned and principled, but I think he is wrong. I want to represent him fairly, but to be honest I have little sympathy for him in putting himself into this position. I feel sorry for his little kids, but the fact is that he doesn't have to be in jail. It's his choice, and I don't believe its a noble one.

Further, the way this is played out, especially in the States, is equally irritating and amusing. Irritating when Americans, who live in a different political and cultural system, accuse our government as being a dictatorship and persecuting churches and amusing to see the lengths to which they go to distort what is actually happening up here. 

I am all for liberty and hold to right wing political views, but we have lots of people in the right wing media who are as capable of distortion as those on the left.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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