Master’s Seminary Pastor Jailed in Canada

"In November, Canadian health officials began showing up at Grace Life worship gatherings, recording the number of attendees, those who were not wearing masks, and social distancing. This continued each Sunday for about three months." - Cripplegate

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This guy is no kind of hero of the faith. The restrictions in question could have been followed without disobedience to Scripture.

The intent of Romans 13 is not that we would cease to obey the authorities the second we think we know better than them.

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.

Larry's picture

Moderator

 The restrictions in question could have been followed without disobedience to Scripture.

No, they can't. If your church is 200 people and the state limits you to 50, you cannot obey the command to meet with your church. You can only meet with part of your church. As in the past, this is a theological issue and we are seeing that a great many churches are not driven by theology and the Scripture. I think that is a problem.

Whether or not this guy took the right tack, governmental overreach is clearly an issue and the courts have agreed with churches on that.

The intent of Romans 13 is not that we would cease to obey the authorities the second we think we know better than them.

Actually, it is. When we know the word of God better than they do, we are to disobey them when they call for disobedience to God.

Don Johnson's picture

Canada is not the USA. Our laws are different, the conception of our country as a nation is different -- actually the exact opposite of the USA conception. It seems to me that this fellow is adopting MacArthur's stance which has no legal standing in Canada.

Now, I agree, our governments are over-reaching up here. Malls and stores are open and crowded. Life goes on. Churches are shut or in contempt. (98% shut). That is where the legal argument should be, in my opinion. However, I am not sure open defiance is the right approach to take.

I am going to work on an article on this for P&D for next week. Jeff Straub wrote a couple for us that are worth looking at for some background. This one from September and this one a couple of weeks ago.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

josh p's picture

My understanding is that in places in Canada churches cannot meet in any capacity. Is that correct Don? The father of a woman at our church is a pastor in Canada and my understanding is that they are forbidden from meeting at all. They are meeting anyway and have been fined $10k so far.

Bert Perry's picture

For me, it's very....interesting....that the church was under surveillance for a couple months before charges were filed.  It's almost like stalking.  And if Don's right, commerce gets to open up, but churches do not?  

Sad to say, too many churches would be able to function just fine at 15% of their capacity, and it should be noted that fire marshal limits are often pretty generous.  Prior to the 'rona, my church felt nicely attended at about 300, was pretty stuffed at 500 or when we had Thanksgiving dinners in the auditorium, but I'm pretty sure the fire marshal would have allowed 700 or more for full attendance.  So when we get 100-130 in towards the tail end of the epidemic, we're just a little bit above the Canadian guidance.  

BTW, daily cases diagnosed are now down around 60,000, about a fifth of the peak, and deaths are now clearly shooting down.  I don't know if it's natural variation, vaccines, herd immunity, or the virus mutating into irrelevance, but something nice is going on.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

In BC, no churches are allowed to meet since November. We had been meeting June to November with distancing, some activities curtailed (no potlucks, for example). In November, they shut everyone done "for two weeks" then "two months" and now "indefinitely". BTW, A.A. and similar "support" groups can meet in churches in groups up to fifty, but heaven help you if that same group of people decides to have a worship service as well.

I believe one church in Ontario has accumulated over $1 million in fines. I don't have link handy, but you can find it on Google. Small churches like ours don't have the resources to handle very much of that, and there are varying degrees of responses among the people in congregations. You can't run roughshod over the consciences of the more cautious without splitting the church.

In BC, the government sought an injunction against three churches who are defying the ban. They wanted to get them on contempt of court, rather than on their breaking the rules. The judge ruled yesterday, refusing the  injunction, saying the province already has the authority to enforce their rules, he wasn't going to play the heavy for them. That is a hopeful sign, but our courts are so liberal that I don't have a lot of confidence in the ultimate outcome 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There is no NT teaching that a church ceases to be a church if it meets in shifts for a while rather than all at once.

There isn't even a command to have everyone always meet at the same time in the same place. 

There is quite clearly a command to obey the authorities though.

It's actually that simple.

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.

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

In BC, no churches are allowed to meet since November.

In New Brunswick they can meet in person.  Up to 100 together in an auditorium as long as there is a divider separating them in half.  So essentially 50 on one side and 50 on another side of the auditorium.  For the most part the churches have been open except for some sporadic closures as a result of spikes.

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

There is no NT teaching that a church ceases to be a church if it meets in shifts for a while rather than all at once.

There isn't even a command to have everyone always meet at the same time in the same place. 

There is quite clearly a command to obey the authorities though.

It's actually that simple.

I agree, but the divisions this is causing in the church, in my opinion, is almost as strong as Election vs Free Will.  We have created this Western Concept of church based on a unique 200 year microcosim of religious liberty, that is so foreign to the First Century churches that we have created walls worth fighting over.

pvawter's picture

I really do understand the desire to meet together all as one. It was very frustrating here in WI when we couldn't do that last year for about 6 weeks, and I don't want to imagine what it must be like for those who are going on months with no end in sight. I also reject the multi-site, multi-campus model that some churches have chosen to follow. That being said, we know that churches in persecuted countries such as China and the old Soviet Union meet in homes in small groups and never really gather en masse. Does this invalidate their claim to be legitimate churches? I do not think so. Even if this situation were to go on indefinitely, how is it different from the everyday experience of believers in many hostile places? I'm not saying this is good, or that we should welcome it, but the rhetoric from many seems to be that unless the body gathers as a whole, it is not a body or at least not acting as a body. I just don't see how this idea holds up historically or globally.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Does this invalidate their claim to be legitimate churches? I do not think so. Even if this situation were to go on indefinitely, how is it different from the everyday experience of believers in many hostile places?

Again acknowledging that these are extraordinary times in which faithful Christians may differ on the application of Scripture, size isn't the issue. A church could be 10 people or a 1000 people or 10000 people (theoretically). The issue is what a church is. I would argue that a church is a church because of, among other things, its commitment to each other to meet together for biblical purposes. So in some countries where size is limited (either by edict or space availability), the answer isn't to be one church in multiple meetings or places, but to be multiple churches. 

You ask what the difference is. The difference, at least at a major level, is that we are not in a hostile place. America has civil liberties and civil protections and it is completely Christian to expect those to be upheld. We, as citizens, have a right to expect the government to do what it said it would do. We also have a obligation to do what God has told the church to do.

X% capacity is fine if the church can gather. But X% capacity isn't fine if the church is bigger than that. The key thing that is being missed is that X% might not be the church but part of a church. If your building seats 500 and your church is 400, then 15% is 75 people. Which means your "church" can't meet; only part of your church can.

Remember, a new member joins "the church," the total number of other believers who have committed to that particular local assembly. They do not join a subset of the church.

Again, we can discuss the wisdom of meeting as a whole church during these times but we should strive to be clear on what the issues are.

Larry's picture

Moderator

It's actually that simple.

I am not sure it is that simple and for evidence, I offer this very (repeated, here and elsewhere) discussion. There is also the evidence of the past year where faithful believers of good will and conscience have differed on how to respond. If it were actually that simple, why are there so many faithful people who see it differently? And why are there so many unanswered questions? I think it is because it isn't simple to apply the Scriptures to this. It reminds me of a suggested corollary to Murphy's Law: "If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something." In this case, if it seems simple, you have obviously overlooked something. 

Of course, there are a lot of questions unanswered in any meaningful way. One of the questions I have asked a lot of people over that past year, "When does this stop?" or "What would change this for you?" 

Aaron, at what point would you say the government has gone too far? Is there any point at which you would allow other believers (or even yourself) to reject a government mandate? I can't remember any place in your comments on this that you would. Are there any bedrock principles about the church--it's definition, nature, responsibilities, etc.--that you would say the government can't touch? In another thread you have said that a certain thing is a reason for disobedience, but there is no reasoning as to why that issue results in civil disobedience but this one does not. To call one temporary and the other not seems hardly a biblical principle. What is the scriptural support for temporary disobedience? And isn't it all temporary since one day this world will pass away? Even a ban on certain counseling or conversations is temporary. And what if that ban is said to be for public health and safety (as this was). Are you okay with that? My guess is no, but why?

There is no NT teaching that a church ceases to be a church if it meets in shifts for a while rather than all at once.

Again, we are back to basic ecclesiology: What is a church? Where in the NT is a church meeting in shifts? Or at different times? What is the NT basis for an assembly that does not assemble? How is that not two assemblies? And who gets to determine whether or not a church can be defined in such a way?  

This seems to be that form of legalism that "If you don't have exact words, then the Bible doesn't address it." But if we look at the Bible as a whole, or even in parts, to answer these questions, it looks different. Why isn't the question, "Where is the NT teaching that parts of a church can meet at different times while still being the same church?"

Perhaps there is no clear NT revelation on this because it is so basic to the definition of church that it would be absurd to consider otherwise. 

Consider the practical questions this raises: If you have a baptism, to which church is the public confession made: The 9am or the 11am one? How do you have communion when the church "comes together" (5x in 1 Cor 10-11) for a sign of unity if the church never comes together in unity? Given the command to sing to one another, how does the 9am service sing to the 11am service? How do they encourage one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds? These are biblical commands.

I would suggest that any claim that this is simple is perhaps not thinking carefully about the questions.

I don't suppose the answers will be any more clear this time than in previous times.

As I have said before, there is room for churches to come to differing conclusions about these things but let's not pretend that ecclesiology doesn't matter. As usual, my concern is less about the immediate moment and more about the underlying theology that is driving churches to do certain things.

There is quite clearly a command to obey the authorities though.

Yes, until they demand that we disobey God. And that is exactly what has happened here. Even if, by some strange use of the language and the NT history, we could accept that a church does not meet together, how could we accept disobedience to the command to sing? Or to observe communion? When the government says, "Don't sing," they are commanding us to disobey God's command to sing, are they not?

Had the early church followed Aaron's principles, would there even be a church? Why meet at all? Why preach the gospel? After all, the government said not to and we just do what they say because we have a command from them and we are to obey the authorities. It's that simple.

Aaron would rightly respond that the command to preach the gospel supercedes the government's command not to. Which then leads to the question of why the gathering of the church and the things we do while gathering are less important commands than the command to preach the gospel. 

Again, I don't imagine this conversation will go any further than it has before. I think the questions matter and could provide some clarity on positions. As I have said, far more important than the immediate moment is the underlying theology that is being espoused and propogated. And long after this pandemic is over, there will still be a need for doctrine.