Several weeks back I was alarmed to see news stories on social media about Jacob Reaume, pastor of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario. I know Jacob from my time pastoring North Benson Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. Jacob pastored a church across town, and our families were friends. Our churches held joint services where Jacob preached in my church and I preached in his church. Jacob was a source of great encouragement to me in the early days of my ministry.
More recently, Jacob has been the target of Canadian authorities because he has refused to comply with draconian lockdown orders in Ontario. After several weeks of non-compliance, Jacob and the other elders were facing the possibility of more than $10 million dollars in fines and possible jail time. You can read about these penalties at the Trinity Bible Chapel website. The great injustice of this situation is that while Trinity Bible Chapel was not allowed to meet, big-box stores like Wal-Mart were open for business just down the road. As of today, Jacob and the other elders have been convicted of contempt of court, and they are awaiting sentencing from the judge.
More recently, in the province of Alberta, pastor James Coates has been arrested for refusing to comply with the lockdown order in his province. In Alberta the restrictions on churches are as follows: 15% capacity, mandatory masks, no Lord’s Supper, no singing (but humming is allowed), social distancing between families, no conversing or fellowship after the service. These are the restrictions in a province with almost 4.5 million people and less than 100 COVID ICU cases.
Pastor Coates continued to gather with his church (Grace Life Church) in defiance of these restrictions. In response, Canadian authorities have arrested and detained pastor Coates. He was offered release on the condition that he neglect his responsibilities as the pastor of Grace Life Church. The images below are screen shots from text messages sent by his wife, Erin Coates.
Earlier this week, pastor Jacob Reaume talked to pastor James Coates’ lawyer. You can view the entire 40 minute conversation on YouTube.
Clearly these stories are troubling developments for our brothers and sisters who live in Canada. The question is, what should American Christians do? Clearly we have no standing with the Canadian authorities. However, we do have standing with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. In light of this standing, I urge you to consider the following courses of action.
- Pray. When the early church was told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, their first response was corporate prayer. You can read about this in Acts 4. These persecuted believers trusted in the sovereignty of Almighty God, and they asked that God would continue to grant them boldness. The Lord answered that prayer, and the gospel advanced in spite of government opposition. Pray that the Canadian government would stop interfering in the administration of the Lord’s church, and pray that the Lord would grant our brothers and sister boldness to gather and proclaim the gospel.
- Prepare. In the YouTube interview above, Coates’ lawyer and pastor Reaume talk about the story of Daniel. Daniel faced a 30 day injunction against praying to the Lord. Rather than pray secretly or wait for the 31st day, Daniel steadfastly continued in prayer. Our brothers to the north have been faced with a difficult decision. No one denies the reality of the COVID virus. The question is, will they – and will we – obey God rather than man? There is no reason to think that Christians in America will forever be immune from these kinds of scenarios and these kinds of decisions. Like Daniel, we must resolve to be obedient now so that we are prepared to be obedient later.
- Gather. Again, no one denies the reality of the COVID virus. Additionally, as a pastor, I realize that for some at risk individuals, online church is the best option for the time being. However, with vaccines available and therapeutics improving, most people ought to be able to gather with their church family for corporate worship. Those of us who are blessed to live in states that have not unjustly targeted churches should not think lightly of the freedom we have to gather. Moreover, those of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should not think lightly of the charge to continue meeting together so that we might encourage one another as the Day approaches.