The Sovereignty of God and Human Action

The old Latin adage from John Calvin goes “ora et labora” or “pray and work.” We trust that God is sovereign but we still labor hard for His kingdom in this world.

How does this work?

King David obviously trusted in the sovereignty of God in his fight for the kingdom of Israel. This can be seen throughout his prayers in the Psalms. And yet, he didn’t sit back, put up his legs, and wait for God to fight for him.

John the Baptist was aggressive in spreading the message of the coming kingdom out in the wilderness. He did not sit back and wait for God to convert the hearts of men.

God uses means for the conversion of men and the growth of the kingdom just as He uses rain and sun to grow the plants of the earth. In the New Testament, the primary means is the preaching of the gospel.

Of course, God also must bless these labours. When He withdraws His blessing, you hear the faithful complaint of the Sons of Korah in Psalm 44:9: “But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies.” The withdrawal of presence when they ride out to battle is not necessarily because of their own faithlessness: “All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.” (Ps 44:17)

You see these themes in Psalm 60 and 74 as well.

But you also see a constant call to repentance throughout the Scriptures. Think of the letters to the Churches in Revelation 2-3 and the covenant renewal with Samuel at Mizpah in I Samuel 7.

So what does it look like to pray and work?

The sovereignty of God is the basis for hard labor for the Lord in this world (Phil 2:12-13). We fight because He works within His people both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). We seek to live faithfully because of His steadfast love and truth and faithfulness as displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ.

And so in the life of the true believer, you will see a mighty striving to stay true to the truths of Holy Scripture and to continue in the fear of the Lord. Those who live in such a way will transform their church communities and their communities in the world. The Lord has chosen weak and feeble means to show forth His witness in the world. When things don’t go our way, we must remember that He may be using faithful action and living in ways that we never imagined. Even in visible or worldly defeat we are called to be faithful to the Lord (Psalm 44, Rev. 2:8-11) because that is victory at the end of the day. That is the glory of faithful living. Christ is your greatest treasure.

This is the life of the Christian who boldly and cheerfully and with all his heart believes in the sovereignty of God and relies on Him every day of life. It all begins with grace and it all ends with the glory of God.

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Why I Write

I have been writing publicly since I was 16. When I was 16, I started writing articles for the Sunday Times (a Pakistani-Canadian newspaper) on Christianity. I started this blog in December of 2016 during my second year of seminary. It became an outlet to share some of my seminary studies more publicly. Since then I have written for various magazines including the Reformed Perspective, the Christian Renewal, the Theopolis Blog, the Haddington House Journal, and one blog post ended up on the Aquila Report.

We live during a time where Christians are asking questions, looking for answers, wrestling with various doubts. Many unbelievers are also seeking and searching. Over the years, I have fielded many questions from Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists, agnostics about Christian morality and the teaching of the Bible on many different issues. These conversations have happened in both university and blue collar settings.

Over the last 10 years, while acquiring my BA and MDiv degrees during my four years at New Saint Andrews College and four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, I have reflected a lot on some of the many lofty opinions that are being raised against the knowledge of God (II Cor. 10:5). Over the last four and a half years on this blog you will see various posts on creation & evolution (exegesis of Genesis 1-3), gender and sexuality, various authority structures, pornography & masturbation, Christian living, Marxism, the nature of worship, covenantal theology, etc.

These are issues that I will address from the pulpit when the text leads me there. They are not matters that I constantly bring from the pulpit since I preach through Scripture expositionally (verse by verse, text by text). Preaching of course does address these cultural issues. But preaching is based on the text in front of me. Preaching is centered on the good news of deliverance from sin by Jesus Christ. Preaching addresses the loves of the heart. Preaching focuses on the entire revealed will of God. This is much broader in scope than some of the issues that I address on this blog. Preaching is far less topical than what I do here.

That being said, if you go through all these blog posts you will see that I strive to rightly handle the Word of truth in these posts as I strive to apply Biblical principles too life and ideas in this world. You will see that in dealing with cultural issues, my posts are pock-marked by Scripture. The Apostle Paul puts this need for the Scriptures best in 2 Corinthians 10:4 “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

The Holy Bible is the highest authority. It shines as a light in a dark place (II Peter 1:19). A light that first and foremost brings attention to the Morning star: Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:19). It is God’s revelation in this world of the way things were, the way things are, and how they ought to be. At the center is the gospel that Jesus Christ is renewing a people for Himself in this world through His precious blood out of free grace. These Scriptures not only shape the way we think but also the way we love and the way we talk.

I share these Biblical principles with a very diverse audience and receive feedback from that audience (that is the nature of the internet). And so, if you are reading this blog and you are confused by something I write then please shoot me a note and if it is possible we will sit down together and have a respectful conversation about the Scriptures and then we will pray together. Coffee is on me.

The prophet Zechariah writes in Zechariah 8:16: “These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbour; give judgements in your gates for truth, justice, and peace…” God has given us the truth in His Word and it is in His Word that Christians find the principles for how to make such righteous judgement. What is truly true, just, and peaceful flow from a heart that is aflame with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Guest Post from Ben Linzel – Letter to the Locked-Down Churches

This letter was originally posted on Facebook from a brother in Ontario, Canada who is a layman in the Church. It was passed on to me through the grapevine. I post it here for my readership:

To the Locked-Down Churches

I tried to avoid writing this letter. I truly did.

But I can’t let all this time pass without speaking the truth, because that’s how we got here in the first place.

My faith is suffering right now, just as many are who have been isolated from the church for months. And the spiritual hospitals are shut down. That’s not to say I’m doubting my fundamental worldview or convictions, but my confidence in church leadership is at an all-time low. Christ doesn’t abandon us if we’re the last Christian on earth. Church attendance does not determine salvation. But when those Christians and church buildings exist in close proximity, and refuse to meet? That’s maddening. The church was designed in part to facilitate spiritual healing and growth, but the body of Christ has cut off its own arms and legs, and dismissed it as a flesh wound. We can’t meet for corporate worship, we can’t meet for small groups. So much for the thundering praise we used to offer up every week. So much for brotherhood, accountability, and discipleship. You can’t operate as a church body remotely for this long. This is not how church was intended to be done, and you know it.

Let me be the first to say that when this is over, I’m expecting churches to never regain their former capacity or membership. Leadership has inadvertently trained people to think that closing churches for an extended period of time is OK. How are you going to convince people that going to church in person again is important, when you throttled capacity and closed so quickly for so long? How are you going to tell people with a straight face that they need to join and attend small groups when you led by example and didn’t meet for months on end, and never fully reopened anyway? What are we teaching our kids?

I’ll never walk into a Canadian church again without wondering when they will close next for months or years on end at the slightest pressure, from a virus or some other form of public health emergency. Most churches have set the precedent that if there’s social and legal pressure to close, it’s “winsome and submissive” to acquiesce, it’s “unloving and disobedient” to stay open, and if a church disagrees and is punished publicly, most other churches will stay silent so as not to “foment disunity.” Apparently, the best we can hope for from most churches is a digital protest, a polite letter or call to our elected representatives, and the occasional pastor that gets arrested and only becomes real news in other countries that see it as a bad indicator of religious freedom in Canada. Can’t you see that by your actions, you’ve agreed to the government’s assertion that it is the ultimate authority over the Church?

You who pray for the Christians in China who need to meet underground to worship, I guess given the State-approved churches available, they should just attend those? It’s not “formal persecution” anyway unless the government says “We’ve decided that we just don’t like Christians, so we formally announce our intent to persecute them?” James Coates was right to diagnose the western church with an “atrophied ecclesiology”, a church that’s soft and obsequious instead of bold and unflinching in the face of public criticism. You’re letting the government practice how to take down churches individually, and you’re just plodding along with a myopic focus on getting back to 30% capacity. What do you think happens when your turn comes? Or do you think we’ll go 10, 20, 50 years without the government deciding to come after you for violating hate speech codes?

We in the locked-down churches are not suffering for Christ right now. The Biblical exhortations to “run the race with endurance” were not meant for situations where the church itself refused to function. Our current self-imposed suffering is for short-term worldly gain, and there’s no glory in that.

I’m writing this for 3 reasons.

  1. I’m just a regular Christian. I’m not a pastor or an elder or a regular contributor to some Christian website. I hope this encourages other average Christians without a voice to know they’re not alone if they feel the same way, and maybe they can speak up, too.
  2. Because I can’t physically meet my fellow Christians, grab them by their shoulders, shake them and tell them to snap out of it. So until then, this is the next best thing. I’m trying here to speak the truth in love by respectful rebuke.
  3. To save my children from the shame of knowing that their father lived through this time and said nothing publicly.

Please, churches, get back to work.

⁃ Ben Linzel

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Hold The Line

We live in challenging times. Turbulent times.

Ideas and situations have changed so quickly over the last year that it might feel like you are trying to farm the wind. Tame the ocean.

We will never go back to the world we lived in 2019. The effort to turn back the clock is futile.

The only way to move forward is to hold onto the authority of God’s Word whether it is matters of sexuality, life, or worship. The only way to forge our way into the future is in simple obedience to Jesus and His Word.

If we scatter in this effort. If we turn on each other in this effort. If we fall asleep in this effort. All is lost.

There is nothing better to hold the line and step forward into the unknowns of the future in faith. As the Preacher in Jerusalem said “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Isn’t that what God has required of you and me? (Micah 6:8).

The Lord gives you a feast in the fog. He gives you the ability to enjoy His gifts even as the clouds gather.

Hold the line. God will bring every deed into judgement. Whether good or evil. (Ecc. 12:14).

There is nothing better than to do your duty knowing that God has already accepted your works in Christ Jesus (Ecc. 9:7).

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Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

Below is a Book Review that I wrote for the Haddington House Journal which is based out of Haddington House here in Charlottetown, PEI Canada. You can buy a copy of this journal here.

Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

By Rev. Nathan Zekveld

The book Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, by Gene Edward
Veith Jr., is a timely and prophetic analysis of culture especially in the Western world. After all the cultural chaos of 2020, this book should help Christian laymen and pastors think through some of the cultural forces that are at work.

This book comes 26 years after Veith published his book Postmodern Times in 1994. He remarks that he thought that the bombing of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, would be the end of postmodernism. Instead it morphed and hardened in various ways. While there still remain modernists and postmodernists, many of the views at work might now be described more broadly as post-Christian. This book is a sequel to his earlier cultural analysis in 1994.

The term “Post-Christian” is not used to refer to the defeat of Christianity in the West. It is rather a term used to describe the way of thinking in the West that was shaped by Christianity, changed by secularism, and may in fact be leading many back to Christianity again. Many of the cultural revolts of the late 1900s have turned out to be self-defeating. This is “the universal wolf” that devours itself as Veith refers to cultural trends in Shakespearian terminology.

He considers the trajectory of thought in the West in four areas. In Part I, he describes this arc in terms of how we conceive of reality in the West: particularly through science, technology and reason. In Part II, he speaks about this in terms of how we conceive of the body in the West: particularly in the area of sexuality. In Part III, he focuses on society: particularly in how we perceive community following the technological and sexual revolutions. In Part IV, he hones in on religion: he focuses on the “nones” and how Christianity can respond to the growing desire to be religious.

The real genius of this book is in how the author finds common ground with many thinkers in this post-Christian age through creational realities. This is known broadly as “natural law” in Reformed theology. He continually points not only to the Word of God, but to the way in which we were created. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:12-16, this knowledge is written on the consciences of men and women. Veith writes in the conclusion: “Though the postsecular public will be most interested in personal, inner spirituality – which Christianity indeed can supply them – they are also in need of a Christianity that can take them outside of themselves. They need to recover objective reality, that is, God’s creation.”1

Veith also explains how secularism is being put to the test in our Post-Christian age. We may even be headed into a post-secular age as secularism devours itself. I do wonder about this point. The year 2020 has made increasingly clear the vice-grip that secular science has as it holds both North American governments and churches. This worldview does not recognize the supremacy of God as the Creator. But then again, the author gives hope that the science will show itself to be unmoored from creational realities. By God’s grace, the flux of the times may drive people to ask questions which will bring them to the truth of the Bible.

In the middle of all the dire warnings of the pundits, and the despair of many conservative Christians in the Western Church after years of contending for the faith, this book really does offer a word of encouragement to weary Christians. The author points worn out Christians to the example of a growing commitment to Christ and His Word in countries around the world. He concludes with the testimony of thriving immigrant congregations in the West.

Gene Edward Veith Jr does an excellent job of trying to capture some of the trends in the West. He points to the sovereignty of God in all the instability of the times. His cultural analysis is a good challenge to the Church to think about her duty in the culture. It is a warning about some of the trends that are affecting members in the pew and drawing them away from the pew. He addresses the problem of privatized faith and the concern that the Church in many places has become increasingly secularized.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is great for pastors who want to help the young people in their congregations work through some of the ongoing cultural trends. It is great for high school students preparing for university, and for students going through university. It is an excellent point in time to get people thinking about new trends that have hit hard and fast between 2010 and 2020 and what we can do as Christians to witness to the Name of Christ in 2021 and the coming years. In our world, Genesis 1-3 is a great place to start. Veith puts it well in his introduction: “But Christians should be undaunted at the post-Christian onslaughts, knowing that such onslaughts are ultimately doomed, in this world as well as the next.”2

1 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 300.

2 Ibid., 21

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Endowed with Freedom

Below is a quote from Robert Louis Wilken’s book “Liberty in the Things of God: the Christian Origins of Religious Freedom.” I would encourage my readers to get a copy from what I read so far. I hope to post a book review in the next month or two.

“This book does not offer a complete history of the rise of religious freedom in the West. It is an historical essay based on my reading of the sources and my judgments as to which thinkers and ideas best represent key lines of development. It aims to show that religious freedom took form through the intellectual labors of men and women of faith who sought the liberty to love and serve God faithfully in the public square. John Plamenatz, the political philosopher, got things right when he wrote that liberty of conscience arose ‘among people who had been taught for centuries that nothing was more important than to have the right beliefs… This was, no doubt, the source of fanaticism and persecution, but it was also, I suggest the source of a new conception of freedom. Liberty of conscience was born, not of indifference, not of skepticism, not of mere open-mindedness, but of faith.'”

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Conscience and the Coates Trial

Monday, May 3, James Coates takes the stand to defend his conscientious objections to public health orders and their effects on his congregation.

In October, 2014, the current Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, delivered an address to the annual Red Mass dinner hosted by the Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto. It was entitled “Conscience Versus the Spirit of the Age.” It was a reflection on the life, legacy and lessons of St. Thomas More.

He describes the nature of Thomas More’s reason for martyrdom well: “Saint Thomas More suffered martyrdom because he insisted that there was a limit to the King’s lawful authority, namely that he had to respect the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by the very nature of the State and the nature of the Church. These ancient principles were recognized in the first article of the Magna Carta, which guaranteed the Church’s freedom.” (italics mine) He writes later: “The spirit of the age can be a powerful juggernaut that is wont to run roughshod over the consciences of those who would resist it.” He concludes with a quote from Pope John Paul on the life of St. Thomas More: “Above all, he never compromised his conscience, even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice so as not to disregard its voice.”

It is a different age, a different time, a different culture than that of St. Thomas More. But as Kenney points out in his fine lecture, the conscience still plays a role in Canadian society: “The witness of conscience, including the consciences of people of faith, therefore offers a valuable contribution to the common good of society, and has certainly made a positive contribution to the development of Canada these past 150 years.”

As Luther pointed out in the year 1521, four years after he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany, conscience must be bound by the Word of God. As he stood before church authorities that had allied with civil authorities to suppress the growing dissent, he stood up on the podium and stated these famous words: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

We are facing new issues as a society. The sweeping lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 are yet untested in history. The evidence of the dangers of lockdowns are mounting. Many pastors and elders have voiced their conscientious objections and a number of churches have acted on their conscientious objections to the various restrictions that have impeded and even shut down movement to and from the assembly. These voices echo the warnings of men who warned of this kind of authoritarianism in modern governments at the beginning of the 1900s: such as J. Gresham Machen and Abraham Kuyper. They also reflect the Biblical command to gather before the Lord in repentance and to ask for mercy and to care for one another in times of need.

As Coates takes the stand in the province of Alberta, I trust that Premier Kenney will remember his lecture in Toronto 7 years ago.

May every church leader reach the end of life and be able to confess with the Apostle Paul these words and receive their commendation from God Himself: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (I Cor. 4:1-5)

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Decision Making in Tumultuous Times

Here are some notes I took down for an alumni lecture that Dr. Ben Merkle gave alumni from New Saint Andrews College. There should be a video coming out soon. These are just my notes:

God is shaking things. God is sharpening things.

You are called to be faithful with the matter in front of you.

Don’t let precision get in the way of being decisive. The choice is right now. Don’t let your decisiveness take away your ability to see clearly. A good leader embraces both.

Academics tend to be precise. Business men tend to be decisive.

These types of leadership clash. They should not be opposed but you should be able to grab both sides and pull them together.

Mute the crowd and make your decision before God. Is a case decided by the evidence or the volume of the crowd?

The crowd is increasingly employed against godly faithfulness.

You have to sit there and turn off the crowd in the court-room of your mind before God as judge.

Prayer is a good place to find the mute button. You are getting men out of your vision and filling your sight with God.

Know that today’s work will be sharpened tomorrow. You don’t need to solve tomorrows problems. But today’s decision will be refined tomorrow.

God brings great growth through great sharpening. The thing that comes out of it is the thing that explodes.

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A Buffet of Virtue

Welcome in. Pick your virtue. What is your preference? What comes to you most naturally?

There is a lot of discussion at large about some of the challenges that churches are facing right now. Some are letting off the war-cry for courageous action. Others are calling for wisdom in both speech and action.

In the cacophony of voices some get called “cowards” and others get called “unwise”. It might be real cowardice or folly. It might be a disposition of character. Sometimes Christian principle gets lost in the malaise of virtue signalling and virtue scorning.

There does come a time to challenge Christians on a lack of various Christian virtues. That time may have already come. Maybe on a case by case basis as well. Even the godliest among Christian men and women need to be reminded frequently and daily to ask our Heavenly Father for the fruit of the Spirit and the ability to lead wise and courageous lives.

Before I jump to the matter of courage and wisdom, my central question is this: what are you doing and why are you doing it? Do you have a Biblical, historical, confessional, and pastoral rationale for what you are doing (Biblical is central)? If you are just trying to be courageous or wise, that doesn’t really answer the question. In a worldly sense, you can be wise and bought out by vain philosophy and empty deceit. You can be courageous and have the intellectual and Biblical maturity of a 12 year old.

That is the thing with Christian virtues. They are Christian virtues. They are not Greek or Dutch or Canadian virtues. We are not sophists or stoics or secularists. We are Christians. And when a Christian thinks about courage he or she is thinking of the Book of Joshua or the Book of Acts. When a Christian thinks about wisdom he or she is thinking about the book of James.

The Christian, when looking at Scripture is looking at principles that fill all of Scripture and not just a small portion of Scripture. When Protestants teach sola Scripture, that does not mean that we reject tota Scriptura. All the principles of Scripture come to bear on a specific matter at hand as we look to Christ for wisdom and courage to serve Him with a glad and joyful heart.

Is it possible to be a man (or a woman) who is not just wise but also courageous, not just courageous but also wise? What about boldness, or the ability to speak with clarity, in tense situations? What about gentleness? The fruit of the Spirit is one fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whether you have a peaceful or fiery temperament, is it possible to have this fruit of the Spirit and various other Christian virtues in effect? What are your weaknesses that might relate to your temperament?

If you look at James 1, wisdom is developed in the face of trial, as the Christian seeks wisdom from God in the hour of need. But that is a wisdom that leads to a “groundedness.” This groundedness is at odds with compromise. If you look at Joshua 1, the basis for strength, and courage is that God is with you wherever you go. It is not a self-reliance that is to be boasted in. That pride is at odds with godly courage. Both wisdom and courage come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). Courage and humility and wisdom are complementary. They are not at odds.

In Proverbs we find that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). But courage also begins with the fear of the Lord, or at least not fearing men (Deut. 31:6).

Also important to remember. Niceness is not a virtue. Kindness or gentleness are virtues. Brashness is not a virtue. Courage and boldness are virtues. Vain philosophy and empty deceit will not lead to Christian wisdom. But a love for the authority of God’s Word will lead to Christian wisdom. The temperature of American or Canadian culture is not the test for wisdom or courage. Rather, a longing for the Lord and a fear of Him, is the beginning of all Christian virtue.

Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that a person in conflict is unwise. Otherwise the Apostles were unwise throughout the Book of Acts. Lack of conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that a person in times of peace is a coward. Sometimes it takes courage to maintain peace. Again. What are you doing and why are you doing it? Do you think I am wrong? Let’s open our Bibles together. Let the Spirit convict me that I am a coward or unwise.

In the current climate of Canadian culture in particular, those who speak about wisdom may need more courage, and those who speak about courage may need more wisdom. But at the end of the day we all need the Word of the God and the fear of the Lord and His strength to speak with both courage and wisdom in a culture where principles are so often based on the direction that the wind is blowing.

And so it comes back to Biblical principle. Principled men who love the Lord will ask Him for not just certain virtues but all the virtues. But they will never compromise their Biblical principles in that search for courage and wisdom.

Only then will we do what is right. Only then will we be the Church. Only then will we find true peace under the cross. Only then will we live in joyful obedience and submission as the bride of Christ to Jesus Christ and His Word. In that submission you get the whole buffet.

I will conclude with a word from Abraham Kuyper: “When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”

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What do GraceLife and James Coates have to do with Reformed Churches?

Over the course of the last 3 months, an Alberta pastor spent some time in prison. Following his release, he is scheduled to go to trial on May 3-5. His Church, GraceLife Church of Edmonton, is now meeting in an alternate location now that AHS and RCMP officers in Alberta have shut down their building. If I had told you that this would happen in February 2020, I would have been called a conspiracy theorist, or told that I am fear-mongering.

I don’t know Pastor James Coates, or any of his elders, or any of the members in this congregation. So I can’t really vouch for their characters or persons on an “I know that guy” basis. I know the area somewhat having interned in churches in Parkland County and having worked a little further away out of Grande Prairie. But I was not in Alberta long enough to have a thorough understanding of the region.

If you read through all the news sources on this brother and his congregation, it appears that they have proven themselves to be above reproach in many ways. Of course, their incessant refusal to follow health orders in the assembly of believers for worship appears to have warranted the reproach of the premier, public health officials and many pastors and churches throughout Alberta. Each reproach comes from its own unique angle. At the end of the day, these brothers do still have legal protections within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the criminal code.

There have been a number of news reports and articles released that range all the way from inflammatory, to balanced, to defamatory.

Does every church have to do exactly what GraceLife is doing? Of course not. But every church should be seeking to learn from the GraceLife debacle. And there are things for Reformed Churches to learn as well.

  1. There is a debate of over certain principles in the Reformed Churches (re the 5th commandment). There are three basic camps 1) Obey the government; 2) Submit to the government; 3) Rebel against the government. I would contend against the third option, but I understand where people are coming from in both the first and the second camp. It appears that James Coates and his elders are in the second camp as much as many want to put them in the third camp. James Coates and GraceLife have shown a willingness to submit to the government in this situation, especially by submitting to judicial process. But this has warranted a critique from certain leaders in Reformed Churches that they are not following the command of Christ because they are not obeying the governing authorities.
  2. There is a shift in how authority is understood and used in North America as reflected in this thoughtful article by MLA Drew Barnes. Part of this shift in authority is seen in the continued shift away from Christian principles for government towards secular principles for government. The Church and it’s officers no longer hold a central role in the community. It is one of many faith groups. It’s officers hold just one opinion among many faith leaders. Churches that were once approached respectfully as an authoritative body and even took in the sick and infirm are increasingly separated into a private sphere.
  3. There is a heavier emphasis on technocratic powers in North America at expense of the more Biblical focus on courts and those who run them as the proper authorities. This means that society is governed by technical experts. Rather than simply receiving advice from various experts, those experts are given un-elected authority through various emergency response measures. These experts may be experts in their various fields like science, but they are usually not experts in law, economics, or religion. Nevertheless, government officials continue to make theological statements about the nature of worship.

I would love to sit around the table with Pastor Coates and other Reformed pastors in Canada who have taken the position of critics. I am sure that there would be a great and animated discussion. Many of us have similar concerns over how the last year has affected not only churches but also individuals. Some questions for discussion:

What does ministry look like in this brave new world? What does Jesus want from His servants? What does it mean to be the Church? What is the authority that Jesus has given His office-bearers in the sanctuary? What role do we hold in the sanctuary in both Scripture and the Reformed confessions? How can we be a salt and a light for King Jesus in a world where there is so much apostasy, loneliness, abuse, mental illness, confusion, anger, depression, sorrow? Is it possible to be apart, but also together? How can we stir each other up to love and good works in real and tangible ways? What are necessary risks that Jesus calls us to take for the advance of the gospel? Is the gospel advancing? What losses are churches taking? How and why? Above all, what does it look like to place the highest importance on obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word in the world that we live in?

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