A Gospel Coalition council member and contributor has doubled down on his claim that Canadian Churches have not been persecuted, nor have they endured ill-treatment at all during the pandemic, suggesting that those claiming otherwise need to stop yapping about it, lest they “destabilize” the rest of the body.
This isn’t the first time that author Pastor Paul Carter has had a go at this. Months ago, he published an article insisting that while there was “probably” some “overreach,” by and large, Christians have endured no “hostility and ill-treatment because of our religious beliefs,” as he concluded: “I’m not sure how any reasonable person could argue that [there was].”
Well, he’s back. In a lengthy essay on the Gospel Coalition, he draws a comparison between the persecution in 1 Peter and what Canadian Christians have endured (being hit particularly hard by ruthless government leaders enforcing asinine lockdowns), saying that Peter’s goal was to “stabilize” the Christians there and give them a “realistic appraisal of their difficulties.”
Carter incorporates Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan that sought advice on how he should deal with the Christians in their midst, showing that so long as Christians didn’t get too uppity, Trajan was content to enact a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that ensured a sense of normalcy around their coexistence. “Christianity was discouraged but not destroyed, Christian people were marginalized, but not martyred and converts from paganism understood that becoming a Christian would be costly but generally not fatal.”
He argues that up until the time that Christianity was legalized by Constantine, Christians were really only formally persecuted for 2 years. In the other 260 years, things weren’t that bad. Carter explains that “this lesson ought to underscore the importance of being realistic about the challenges and difficulties that we are facing.”
Drawing comparisons to Canadian churches, he says that the churches have had a difficult time, but they categorically have not been persecuted. He points to his own situation in Ontario, which involves him having to get up at 4:00 am and have multiple services, and confesses, “I have a hard time thinking of that as persecution,” whereas something like “4-5 in basements and root cellars, whispering hymns in the dark, knowing full well that if they get caught they will be executed or sent to internment camps” is real persecution.
And here is the crux of his argument:
What we’re experiencing here in Ontario, and throughout most of the Provinces in Canada, is inconvenient and exhausting – but it doesn’t feel to me like persecution and I don’t think it would be helpful for our people if I called it that. I think this letter from the Apostle Peter cautions me about making too much of the difficulties that I’m facing.
That is because he is complying with the government, and the question at hand is what happens if he stops being so cooperative and starts to disobey them?
That’s the fundamental flaw with his argument.
He’s looking at churches that stopped meeting altogether, forbidden by the government to meet in any capacity and forced to do online services, or other churches forced to adhere to nonsensical and arbitrary capacity restrictions.
He’s looking at churches that won’t sing anymore because the government has forbidden them to do so, saying it’s too unsafe.
He’s looking at churches that insist that all members wear masks at all times and social distance, forbidden from having fellowship.
He’s looking at churches that have altogether ceased taking communion, on the orders of the government, removing themselves from the elements for fear of getting fined.
He’s looking at churches across the provinces and is saying “as long as you do all these things, you won’t get persecuted, and it’ll just be hardships and inconvenience.”
In this way, he is 100% correct.
Compliance with the government rules that dictate how and what a Christian church service must look like, and what the congregants can and can’t do will be exhausting but it won’t result in persecution.
But what of the churches that will not comply? What of the churches that insist that Christ is Lord of the church, not the Government, and that they will all gather on the Lord’s day as one body to worship as the Scriptures say?
You know their names by now. James Coates and GraceLife Church, arrested and jailed for a month. That church was barricaded and forcibly shut down, and is now having services in hiding.
Tim Stephens and Fairview Baptist Church, arrested and put in jail. Fined thousands of dollars. Church locked up and forcibly shut down, and they have been doing some services in hiding.
Jacob Reaume and Trinity Bible Chapel. Facing fines of over fifty million dollars – some of which cannot be appealed and must be paid. Church locked up and forcibly shut down, all the while being continually harassed by law enforcement and who has members fearful they could lose their jobs if they are known to be associated with the congregation.
That is persecution.
It isn’t on the same level as North Korea or Syria, but it doesn’t have to be. It is undeniable that it does exist in a milder form and has emerged whenever a congregation gets “out of line” according to the powers that be.
But if you’re a church that doesn’t get out of line – handing your service over to Caesar in order to avoid his judgmental and intolerant eye, you’ll be standing in disobedience to the scriptures and to the word of God, but like Paul’s church, you’ll be just fine.
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