Romans 13

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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The Rationale of the Christian Covid Rebels (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Reading several articles by the activist group of pastors, I find the re-interpretation of Romans 13 best articulated in a series of posts by Tim Stephens, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary.7 He begins by proclaiming the lordship of Christ over the church (all Bible-believing Christians agree with this). He describes the Scriptural pattern for church life as set down by the Lord Jesus Christ:

“We can all see from Scripture the pattern set down for congregational worship, singing, fellowship, preaching, public prayers, practicing hospitality, a host of ‘one-anothers,’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and living as a family of faith—brothers and sisters under the lordship of Christ.”8

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The Rationale of the Christian Covid Rebels (Part 1)

In which we seek to understand why James Coates took his stand against the Alberta government

Startling events in Canada brought the long dormant question of the relationship of church and state to the forefront of Christian minds. On Feb 16, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta, pastor James Coates turned himself in to the police because of repeated violations of orders from the Public Health Officer of the province. Pastor Coates refused comply with an undertaking to obey a court order until his trial date, so he remained in custody for 35 days. Three weeks after his release from custody, on April 7, the police fenced his church property and posted security guards so no one could access the building.

Some Christians applauded Pastor Coates, some other pastors in Alberta and Ontario. Despite this, most Canadian pastors disagree with Pastor Coates’ approach to the government orders. Many of these sympathize with his plight and that of his church, but can’t agree with the direction he took.

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Church vs. Public Health Orders: Objections & Options

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

When governments place burdensome regulations on churches, what are their options?

I’ve argued that when these regulations are plausibly unconstitutional, or seriously hinder a church’s ability to function as a church—but don’t require disobedience to God—defiance is not the New Testament response. Rather, following the example of Paul’s use of the Roman legal system in his defense, a better option is to obey the authorities God has ordained but to also seek relief through legal means. For convenience, I’ve termed this strategy “comply and resist.”

I’m personally aware of four responses various congregations have chosen:

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How Can We Simultaneously “Submit to Every Ordinance of Man” and “Obey God Rather Than Men”?

"...it seems necessary to amend the statement, 'We must obey the government unless the government explicitly tells us to disobey God,' to something like this: 'We must obey the government (1) unless the government explicitly tells us to disobey God, or (2) unless the government exceeds its jurisdiction so as to speak authoritatively into a sphere regulated by another, God-instituted authority.'" - Snoeberger

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Church vs. Public Health Orders: Buildings, Spheres, and Statements

My heart goes out to churches in places where COVID-related health orders have made it impossible to “gather in a normal way,” to use a phrase from Grace Community Church’s (GCC’s) “Statement from Pastor and Elders.”

True, gathering that way is only “normal” in the sense of “what we’re used to as a megachurch, in modern times, in the most prosperous nation on earth.” But if we consider the conditions they actually have to meet under, to gather legally, it’s much easier to feel their pain. Outdoor temperatures in parts of LA County, California (where GCC meets), reached 121 degrees a couple weekends ago.

Can they really comply with God’s command to obey the local authorities—including health orders banning indoor gatherings—and also obey God’s command to gather for worship?

I believe they can, and in a previous post I laid the principles groundwork for a comply and resist response, rather than assuming churches must comply or resist. Here, I want to look at GCC’s case for it’s noncompliant-resistance response. Tyler Robbins’ evaluation posted here several weeks ago. I’m looking at it a bit differently, though we land in similar places.

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Church vs. Public Health Orders: A Case for Complying and Resisting

Much of the debate over whether churches should submit to COVID-related rules in California has been inaccurately framed. “We must obey God rather than man,” they say (drawing from Acts). Using phrases like “ban on indoor worship” or even “ban on worship,” they represent the options as totaling two: We can (1) obey God by continuing to meet, disobey the manmade rules, and stand up for our rights or we can (2) disobey God by not meeting at all, comply with oppressive orders, and watch our liberties be slowly stripped away.

But these aren’t really the choices anywhere in California.

It’s true that some counties are more restricted than others, and, at the moment, Los Angeles County (where John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church meets) has a broad ban on indoor gatherings. Orange County (where Greg Laurie pastors Harvest Christian Fellowship) is under a very similar ban. These bans do apply to churches—along with bars, restaurants, parties at people’s homes, and a variety of other venues.

Another Option

The only-two-options talk in these cases is like saying, “Either the traffic light is green or you have to stop.” That really isn’t quite how it is, as all drivers know. Maybe the light is yellow. Maybe you’re well into the intersection already. Maybe the light just turned yellow.

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