Fences going up around James Coates' church

Help me out here, brothers.

Today, the RCMP and Alberta Health Services began erecting two fences around GraceLife Church. You remember GraceLife Church’s pastor, James Coates, spent five weeks in prison after the leadership of his church refused to enforce social distancing and capacity guidelines (currently 15% of fire code in Alberta) during their worship services. He was freed about a week ago and was back in the pulpit this Sunday with capacity crowds in attendance. And today the law showed up…

These brothers chose civil disobedience and the sword of the state has responded. Could they have complied? Yes, easily. Multiple services with reduced capacity. Should they have complied? Given this response by the Canadian government, my heart says no. Yet, they’ve reaped what they’ve sown. They were commanded to social distance and reduce capacity, not change the content of their preaching and teaching. Many act as if the government’s direction to take medical precautions is for the government to encroach on Christian doctrine. Yet, as partially with the Moscow situation, the actions taken by the government are a response to folks disregarding their call for medical precautions and not because of Christian doctrine at all. To this point, it has taken an amazing amount of spin to maintain that this is Christian persecution. All it would take to prove this situation in Alberta is not persecution is to find a restaurant they shut down because of violations.

Now that they find themselves in this situation, how should they respond? How do you think they will respond? Should they “let the government know they are not scared”? Break down the fences and enter the building this Sunday? Meet in the big, open fields next to the building? Meet in some secret location (remember the conventicles)? Patiently work through legal mechanisms to fight this action? Repent and comply?

3 Likes

Is there any special illegality in crossing the fence or opening it up? I read the timeline of closure orders but that specifically wasn’t clear to me.

Not sure. The article says authorities were there to “physically close” the facility.

UPDATE: Here’s a press release from Alberta Health Services—“Alberta Health Services (AHS) physically closed GraceLife Church (GLC) and has prevented access to the building until GLC can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s (CMOH) restrictions.”

None of this is about substance. If you want to debate the virus and it’s danger, or if you want to debate Romans 13, you won’t get anywhere because that’s not what matters to Coates and his defenders. It’s the politics of grievance combined with the vanity of social media.

Christians do not want to be told by people who hate them to not have worship or greatly restrict their worship. Whether public health authorities really hate Christians or not, they present themselves as the Forces of Science, and we all know what the Forces of Science think about Christian doctrine. The assumption from the outset is that this is a conspiracy and you are against us, so we will fight you on everything.

Except not really everything. But this is the mindset.

It’s similar to the paranoia spread about cops and black men. Light on facts, heavy on performative outrage. Facts don’t matter; appearances matter.

The Deep State and the chattering classes and the clueless credentialist experts richly deserve what they’ve been getting the last year. They’ve sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind. At the same time, me, myself and I must admit these experts sit in Moses’ seat and they deserve respect by virtue of their office. Scoring points in the culture war can’t override everything. If it does, then all we have left is anarchy. Every man does what is right in his own eyes.

If you want to see how performance trumps substance, look at the political careers of AOC, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Andrew Cuomo, Matt Gaetz…there is very little in actual accomplishments, but much in hype. Hype is all we care about, so the culture war has become a contest of virtue signaling between the two sides. We turn up the heat while precious little is actually done, and things fall apart.

While Christians beat our chests, we do so with bad consciences. We refuse to repent and call it all conspiracy (Isaiah 8). While the calamity of the last year is doubtless a judgment on our enemies, it is also a judgment on us. It’s judgment everywhere, across the board.

6 Likes

This. And the other similarity is that you need a somewhat legitimate case of grievance (or one that appears to be at first glance) to rally the troops.

3 Likes

They are out to get us. But they’re not out to get us about everything. There are some cops who target blacks, especially in the past. But not all cops are out to get blacks.

This is the rub, ain’t it? I see those videos and think “Since when does a western democracy react like this?” Tyranny has been overused recently but, man, this seems a bit more than over reach.

With Moscow you can chalk it up to some over zealous cops who arrested those folks. And, the hymn sing was arguably much more of a taunt than simply not complying with distancing and masking.

It is difficult to sort out even thinking that I disagree with Pastor Coates refusal to comply.

I wouldn’t be as disturbed if they simply sent a couple deputies on Sunday morning and told people to go home after they were at 15% capacity. That would at least make a bit of sense - but fencing off the building on a Wednesday? With a dozen or so cars for a show of force?

Set aside the religious element and it is still a bonkers response.

6 Likes

This statement is still helpful:

No reasonable person would claim the civil sphere has authority to quarantine its people, including the church, in perpetuity. The question becomes what period less than perpetuity and what conditions would render a quarantine ultra vires at the point of interfering with the duties of the familial and ecclesiastical spheres in their worship of God? More broadly, what period of quarantine and what conditions are inimical to the well-being and proper function of the familial sphere and ecclesiastical sphere?

The question still isn’t easy to answer.

One way to think about this is an alternative hypothetical. Suppose Christianity is outlawed, and large gatherings become dangerous. Is it disobedience to God to break into smaller gatherings that can be easily hidden, or must we all try to meet together at once in a large gathering every week? I think the answer is clear. It’s okay to have smaller gatherings.

So the justification for refusing to do so in this instance has less to do with obedience to God and more to do with strategy. Then the question becomes strategy for what?

5 Likes

Maybe I am not reading this clearly, but it seems like you’re inferring that since smaller gatherings are acceptable some of the time, or under certain circumstances, that the practice of the church to come together corporately as one man need not be defended as vital to the Christian faith. I don’t think you actually believe that though.

There are many things we do as Christians which, I am sure, we may do differently if persecution were in our faces, and our situation dire. But does that mean we should content ourselves with a lowest common denominator approach to the faith? Just because Matthew 18:20 is true, and Jesus is present among his people when two or three are gathered in his name, does that mean we have no warrant to insist upon the gathering of four, or ten, or two hundred saints? Is the posture of the church supposed to be such that we yield to the authority to the civil sphere to the point of allowing them to strip us to only the barest skeletal form of our faith and practice?

That statement on spheres of authority was very helpful to me when it was published last year. I appreciated the comments about authorities acting ultra vires, and how even when they are acting ultra vires, our response to them must not be knee-jerk rebellion, but “through prayer, wisdom, humility, and honor, if not exact obedience.” I also appreciated the comments about “incidental interference,” and how it is not to be confused with targeted persecution.

Nevertheless, this simple affirmation stands:

One exercise of ultra vires power in the current crisis is a declaration from the civil sphere that the church is an essential or inessential entity. The civil sphere has no authority to confer or withhold essential status regarding an institution that God Himself ordained for the gathering in, sanctification, and protection of His people.

In the case of James Coates’ church, I believe their position is quite simply that. The civil sphere has no power to abolish the corporate gathering of the church. The whole church – not just the percentage of the church that the state would deem permissible. This is not a negotiable tenant of the Christian faith to them. The corporate gathering is intrinsically vital to the health and sanctification of the people of God. And I could be wrong, but I believe James Coates’ church believes that in earnest to the extent that even in your hypothetical scenario of brazen persecution, they would not content themselves to smaller gatherings.

8 Likes

Yes, this is the issue. It is such a gross overreaction. If the state is requiring 15% capacity then it is both less costly and easier to simply station a deputy to count heads. The complete shuttering of the building seems unbelievable.

It will be interesting to see what happens by Sunday morning. It would also be good to try and find anything similar ever being done.

2 Likes

If brazen persecution comes, perhaps it’ll be time for us to take our cues from the Chinese underground church movement. They are forced to limit themselves in a number of ways, including the size of their gatherings. Why would they limit themselves this way? So that their gospel witness (to their children and to their neighbors) is not entirely snuffed out. Is that faithless? No, hardly.

Let’s not forget that GraceLife found acceptable the fire marshall’s designation of maximum capacity for their building and they provide a live-stream of their service…so they’ve already shown themselves willing to have the body fractured and the number of attenders capped.

3 Likes

As for the gathering restrictions in Alberta, they are onerous. Nothing like this has happened in my neck of the woods (SC)—and I’m very thankful for that.

Let it be noted that the churches in Alberta have less restrictive rules—15% capacity—than restaurants—0% capacity. Grocery stores, retail stores—15%. Casinos and nightclubs—0%. Libraries—0%. Concert halls—0%.

You may claim their rules are ridiculous (I would agree), but they have tried to accommodate churches with their least restrictive percentage.

1 Like

Regarding the fire code, are you saying that just because they were willing to submit to the civil authority in one area, they are being unreasonable to resist them in another? There are some things wherein cooperation with the civil authority makes reasonable sense, and does not infringe upon or inhibit the course of our worship. Not all laws and regulations are equal in their scope and effect. If the fire code were such that it unduly prevented Christians from gathering, then I’m sure there would be something to dispute.

Regarding live streaming of services, just because a church records their sermons or streams their services doesn’t mean they are diminishing the importance of the corporate gathering, or promoting stay-at-home church. That may be how many mainstream evangelical churches have used the live stream, but it isn’t fair to say that all do it. Providence may dictate that an individual or a family not be able to attend the corporate gathering on a particular day. In such cases, while the particular benefit of being present with the saints is not afforded to them, the ability to still listen to a sermon can be a boon to them, but not encouraged as an alternative to skip church.

They may have less restrictions being imposed on them than other institutions, sure. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the civil sphere has the rightful authority to issue the restrictions to begin with. Before we celebrate the state’s benevolence toward the church, we first need to stop and ask if they are acting ultra vires.

4 Likes

This is surely a relevant point as many of the loudest complaints against covid regulations have been the inequitable application of restrictions so as to pick on the church and give preference to even strip clubs.

If this point is not relevant than neither are the complaints.

1 Like

If brazen persecution comes, sure. But going back to what I wrote above, brazen persecution hasn’t come, has it? Isn’t that one of arguments often raised against the Moscow guys and similar crowds – that these folks are all acting as if everything going on is targeted persecution against the church, when that isn’t what’s really going on? Well, which is it?

Are we supposed to be regarding ourselves as living in a time of brazen persecution, where we need to retreat underground and yield to the secular state’s demands that the Christian faith be reduced to a witness and a ministry that is acceptable to an unbelieving world? Or are we living in saner times, where we might reasonably and respectfully challenge civil authorities on the reality of the limits of their power? Where rather than resolving ourselves (prematurely?) to the thinking that we live in a time where we need to be going underground, we instead interact with the civil sphere and teach them concerning the power they have been rightfully given by the Lord Jesus?

If the latter, then it seems to me that what the Grace Life churches of the world are doing right now is a good thing – provided they conduct themselves in humility, grace, respect, and with an attitude of submission to the civil authorities, even as they challenge them.

If the former, then it feels like we’re being inconsistent somewhere in our critiques.

5 Likes

At some point, the civil government must be told no. No they do not have unlimited authority over every area of life. No, they can’t take a virus with an overwhelming survival rate and use it to bring to themselves more and more power. No, they don’t get to put arbitrary limits on the worship of God’s people. No they can’t keep the healthy quarantined in perpetuity. I am thankful for Pastor James Coate’s stand.

I have said this many times, the state never persecutes the church just because she is the church. You will never hear them argue that it is simply Christ they don’t like. There is always some other reason, some other excuse. If Christians had only cared about the public health of Rome then they would have not been killed. If Christians had not interfered with the social glue of Rome then there would have been no need to persecute them. If Boniface had never chopped down that tree he wouldn’t have been killed for destruction of property.
It is past time for us to stand on the truth. The reaction to Covid has been over the top. The civil government has used it as an excuse to acquire power, take away liberties, and steal wealth from future generations. It has been unjust and ungodly.

5 Likes

No, I’m saying it is the same area. It’s apples and apples. The state has determined to put restrictions on places of worship when they believe the people gathered may be in danger—whether that’s fire code or covid-related restrictions.

1 Like

I think there is probably a good argument to be made for any of those. My gut is not to meet in secret locations but probably to meet in the big open field and make public opposition to the wickedness of the civil government. But I wouldn’t fault them for going in to a secret location. This is one of those areas where our presbytery’s statement about leaving it up to the local elders and fathers to determine their action is a good statement. But I personally lean towards standing while there is opportunity to do so.

4 Likes

The point is definitely relevant, I completely agree. Going back to the beginning of this COVID business, I remember someone on this forum noting that we should recognize the fact that the lockdowns were not targeting Christians, in specific. Rather, the point was made that our secular culture was cutting itself off from its own gods as well – the movie theatre, sports, etc. I think this point is instrumental in helping us “tap the brakes” to make sure we aren’t prematurely and knee-jerkingly calling this “persecution.”

But after recognizing this point, we must then move on to recognize the next thing, which is that we are still Christians. And even if the world wants to cut itself off from their gods, that doesn’t mean we cut ourselves off from our God. We don’t take our cues from the secular world when it comes to how we are to worship. So if the secular state wants to close down its theatres and its arenas, this ought have no bearing on the church’s obedience to Christ.

We ought also take note that there are other gods which the secular world refused to cut themselves off from. I know of no abortuaries that have been closed down due to COVID. After all, even during the pandemic, we must not neglect our most sacred ritual of sacrificing our children to Molech. It is unthinkable to the secularist that we should cease in that worship, even in the worst of pandemics.

So yes, it’s true that Christians are not being explicitly targeted. And on that point, we ought not think of it as straight up persecution. But we are very much being told to concede to the point that Christianity is simply one of many superstitions that exist in the world – a superstition that will be tolerated so long as it exists only in the privacy of our own minds, and so long as at the end of the day we affirm the secularist worldview. In effect, Christianity is permissible so long as we don’t actually act as though Jesus is Lord.

4 Likes

Couldn’t agree more…if it is the truth we are standing on and the truth that is at stake.

1 Like