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The elders of Trinity Bible Church in Waterloo, Canada, are facing charges for violating lockdown orders. The church is not backing down, saying that prohibiting church attendance and labeling church as “non-essential” is tantamount to blasphemy.
Trinity Bible Church in the Waterloo area of Ontario has decided that obeying the government’s lockdown order would be disobedience to God’s Word. The church was transparent, issuing an open letter to government authorities on December 3 that the church would disobey a lockdown order. On December 24, the church told its own members that it would defy the order set to take effect on December 26. After violating the order on December 27, church elders were each issued summons to appear in court. The church issued a sharp response, stating that the authorities were guilty of hypocrisy and exceeding their authority.
The six elders of Trinity Bible Church are facing charges for violating Ontario’s new lockdown orders. The Reopening Ontario Act limits religious ceremonies and some other gatherings to 10 people. Waterloo Regional Police said that the church’s gathering on December 27 well exceeded the 10-person limit.
Police spokesperson Ashley Dietrich also stated that some attendees wore masks, but most did not.
On December 3, the pastors and elders of the church issued an open letter to the governing authorities of Ontario and Canada, notifying them that the church would violate lockdown orders that prohibit the church from gathering together. The church leaders stated that it would be a violation of their religious beliefs to cease gathering and such restrictions violated members’ religious freedom.
The letter stated the government had not shown that a lockdown is effective nor the least restrictive means of dealing with the virus. The church noted their observations that restrictions have caused a variety of harms. They explained:
“These observations do not surprise us because the restrictive actions of the government have wrongfully reduced human beings to biological units with little purpose to existence other than to avoid contracting and spreading a virus. Scripture teaches us that people are much more than biological units. We are created in the image of God with dignity and worth to live free, love one another, worship together, grow families, eat with each other, laugh and cry together, embrace one another, exchange goods and services, and build things. Central to the Christian life is the ministry of the church, and TBC asserts that the church must remain open.”
They further stated that not congregating for worship violates the commands of Scripture as well as the church’s covenant. The church issued a sharp response after the elders received their summonses. The elders said,
“We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God. We are not criminals … For years we have taught our children to respect police, and now our children and grandchildren are witness to their fathers and grandfathers receiving charges from police for worshipping Christ with our church. It is a dark day for Waterloo Region and Ontario.”
They pointed out the hypocrisy of the police chief, who supported last year’s protests over racial issues, protests that, the statement claims, had between 12,000 and 20,000 attendees.
The church criticized authorities’ decision to limit church attendance,
“Our Saviour shed His blood to purchase the church, and therefore deeming the church ‘unessential’ is tantamount to deeming the blood of Christ unessential, which is a public act of blasphemy. One day our elected officials, bureaucrats, and police will stand before the court of God’s justice for these acts. We earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit would draw them to his Son, Jesus Christ, who offers free grace and forgiveness to all who would repent and put their faith in him.”
TBC elders recognized that government leaders likely believe that their public health reasons cover their clear violations of religious freedom, but that doesn’t make them any less autocratic and wrong. They astutely ended their statement with a quote from C.S. Lewis:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Trinity Bible Church has repeatedly expressed grace and love for the governing authorities but has been resolute in its commitment to the belief that Church is essential. Ontario’s government has been unwilling to work with the church and instituting such over-the-top restrictions on churches is an abuse of power. Church leaders believe that “Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords” and will not obey any government order that causes them to violate their religious convictions.
As churches across the globe face harsher restrictions and increasingly tyrannical state power, it is important for churches to communicate with governing authorities, as Trinity Bible Church has done, and politely but firmly make it clear that whether the issue is COVID-19 lockdowns or any other government edict, the church is beholden to Christ’s commands first and foremost.
It is a righteous stance in the spirit of St. Thomas Becket, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury who 850 years ago, almost to the day, was given an ultimatum by King Henry II’s knights as he stood inside his own church: Submit to government demands or die. He refused, declaring: “I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.” St. Thomas Becket was struck down that day and became a martyr to the cause of religious freedom.
Today’s government leaders may feel that in the face of a contagious virus, they have ample justification to shut down churches and threaten their leaders, but that is only because they have either forgotten history or they never knew it: The Church exists to serve God not government — and no amount of social shame, financial threat, imprisonment, physical torture, or even death can or will ever destroy the Church’s mission and commitment.
Check out the Falkirk Center podcast with Dr. Jay Wesley Richards on the price of panic: