By Elizabeth Prata
We’ve all heard and seen how Grace Community Church led by Pastor-Teacher John MacArthur has continued to meet and preach despite California’s attempts to shut them down, or to enact measures that would be so onerous it would effectively shut them down. They resisted, and have paid the price. The price is literal, there is an accumulation of fines they’ve set aside for the day they must pay it to the government officials, and they’ve paid by having come to the notice of scandal mongers, cacklers, and yellow journalists who smear the church and disrespect the pastor and elders continually.
We know also that there are many other churches that are resisting shutdowns and over-the top infringes on religious liberty in America and abroad. One such church came to my attention when a friend up in Canada sent me the link to their church’s statement on why they remain open and preaching.
Before I share the statement, here is what the Bible has to say about churches and preaching. Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says, “in season, out of season—that is, at all seasons; whether they regard your speaking as seasonable or unseasonable. “Just as the fountains, though none may draw from them, still flow on; and the rivers, though none drink of them, still run; so must we do all on our part in speaking, though none give heed to us” [Chrysostom, Homily, 30, vol. 5., p. 221].”
“I think with Chrysostom, there is included also the idea of times whether seasonable or unseasonable to Timothy himself; not merely when convenient, but when inconvenient to thee, night as well as day (Ac 20:31), in danger as well as in safety, in prison and when doomed to death as well as when at large, not only in church, but everywhere and on all occasions, whenever and wherever the Lord’s work requires it.”
It seems we are in the ‘out of season’ part of the verse. The season where arrests are made, where people stop their ears, where they clamor for myths and fables instead. The season of government oppression, hatred, marginalization, boycott and other repercussions…simply for speaking the (unwanted) truth.
There are people who for years have been warning of this time, that it’s coming.Paul Washer and John MacArthur come to mind as some of those warning of the out of season times, as well as many anonymous pastors preparing their flock.
GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta Canada is a normal, every day church. They have a couple of pastors, a medium sized congregation, earnestly teach and preach the word, and do this Sunday by Sunday, like any church. However, since December, they were told to limit attendance and comply with COVID health measures or face legal consequences.
The legal consequences came this past week, according to the National Post. Not that the leaders of this church are being unmindful of the situation, nor are they being callous or disrpespectfully disobedient. They simply have a different interpretation. And they are preaching the word in season and out of season, like the Bible says
Here is the Church’s public statement and reasoning. It is 1600 words but in addition to the link in this sentence, I’ll post it in its entirety below. The pastor noted in a separate missive to his church that synagogues have been granted a variance to meet, that COVID deaths are declining in Alberta, that bars/restaurants/ski resorts are all open, that other churches have resumed in-person worship, and that the government has not provided any documented evidence that Christian churches are a major source of transmission. GraceLife’s court hearing is March 31.
I ask us all to be mindful of the times in which we live, the coming likely persecution, (if the Lord does not tarry), and to pray for each other, our pastors, and the global church. I know that I can tend to be so single-minded about my own church and my own little life, it shrinks my perspective and I forget we believers are part of a larger body. A body that is global, with struggling Christians in all four corners of the world. A year ago I’d never have thought this could come so soon, police entering a church to arrest the pastor. (they did wait until the service was over, and the pastor cooperated).
They’re coming for us, that much is obvious. We have a little time to prepare our hearts and minds for this ‘Cowardly New World’ and to make our decisions about how we will respond. It is Out of Season times.
Dear fellow Albertans,
It goes without saying this has been an incredibly difficult 11 months. The effects and ramifications of COVID-19 on our precious province are not insignificant. We sympathize with everyone who has suffered loss in this time, whether it be the loss of a loved one, or loss stemming from government lockdowns (such as economic loss or suffering as a result of being denied necessary health care).
Given the attention our church has received in recent days, we want to address the broader public on our reasons for gathering as a local church. What follows is not a theological defence. We have already addressed that sufficiently here, here and here (and it is primarily and predominantly obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that has shaped our stance). Instead, what follows will shed light on our approach to what is being called a “pandemic.” The reason we put “pandemic” in quotes is because the definition of a pandemic was changed about 10 years ago. At one time, a pandemic was defined as an infectious disease that resulted in a certain percentage of excess deaths over and above normal annual averages. The definition was changed in connection with H1N1 to remove this threshold. Ten years ago, COVID-19 would not have qualified as a pandemic. In fact, not even close.
When COVID-19 first appeared, we shifted to livestream and abided by most of the new government guidelines for our gatherings. But when the first declared public health emergency ended, we opened our doors and returned to nearly normal gatherings on Sunday June 21st, 2020. We did so recognizing COVID-19 was much less severe than the government had initially projected. This sentiment was reflected in the assessment of the Premier of Alberta, who deliberately referred to COVID-19 as “influenza” multiple times in a speech announcing the end of the first declared public health emergency.
In early July, it was brought to our attention that two separate individuals had attended our gatherings on two consecutive Sundays and subsequently tested positive for the virus (both cases being unrelated to each other). At that time, we did our own internal contact tracing (prior to AHS notifying us of the exposure), many of our congregants were tested, and it was determined that no transmission of the virus had taken place. Out of an abundance of caution, we shifted exclusively to livestream and shutdown all other ministries for two weeks (14 days). We did this to mitigate any further spread of COVID-19. When it was evident that no further spread had taken place, we resumed our nearly normal gatherings. Since then, we have gathered as a church each Sunday without incident (28 Sundays to date).
Having engaged in an immense amount of research, interacting with both doctors and frontline healthcare workers, it is apparent that the negative effects of the government lockdown measures on society far surpass the effects of COVID-19. The science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective. In fact, there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus. We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called “pandemic” is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent.
As such, we believe love for our neighbor demands that we exercise our civil liberties. We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along. If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end – the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections. Our local church is clear evidence that governmental lockdowns are unnecessary. In fact, it is also evidence of how harmful they are. Without going into detail, we recently lost the life of one of our precious congregants who was denied necessary health care due to government lockdown measures.
Consider the following statistics. It is alleged that 125,000 Albertans have tested positive for the virus. That works out to just less than 3% of the population. However, it needs to be pointed out that the PCR test being used to test for COVID-19 is fraught with false positives. This is especially true, since at least until recently, Alberta was running the PCR test at 40 amplifications. As such, the number of Albertans who have actually contracted the virus is likely significantly less. It is also vital to highlight that more than 99% of those who contract the virus will fully recover.
Alberta is currently reporting 1660 COVID-related deaths. It is critically important to articulate it this way. There is a big difference between dying from COVID and dying with COVID. But it is also critical to note that these COVID-related deaths, as tragic as they are, have not resulted in a statistically significant increase in excess deaths (and the average age of those who have died related to COVID-19 is 82, consistent with life expectancy in Alberta). Sadly, most of these individuals would have likely died due to various other lethal co-morbidities (and it immensely grieves us that in many cases they were forced to die apart from their family unnecessarily). In addition, experts estimate that deaths, in the long run, resulting from government lockdown measures will surpass COVID-related deaths 10 to 1 (e.g. premature deaths resulting from not receiving necessary health care, suicides, drug overdoses, addictions, the development of chronic health conditions, total loss of income, family breakdown, etc.). In fact, it would seem that COVID-related deaths are being treated as though they are somehow more tragic than any and all other deaths.
Many Albertans are afraid and are convinced of the efficacy of government lockdowns for two reasons: misinformation and fearmongering. The media has so pounded the COVID-19 drum since the “pandemic” began, almost exclusively emphasizing caseload and deaths, that people are fearful. So fearful, in fact, they have been convinced that yielding up their civil liberties to the government is in their best interests. It is difficult to have not lost confidence in the mainstream media. It would seem as though journalism is on life-support in our province. The media should be made up of the most thorough, discerning, and investigative people in our society. Instead, many of them seem to be serving an ideological agenda. Now more than ever, it is vital that Albertans exercise discernment when listening to the mainstream media.
What do we believe people should do? We believe they should responsibly return to their lives. Churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back. In fact, some say we are on the cusp of reaching the point of no return. Protect the vulnerable, exercise reasonable precautions, but begin to live your lives again.
That said, living life comes with risks. Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we are assuming a degree of risk. We accept that risk due to the benefits of driving. Yes, though vastly overblown, there are associated risks with COVID-19, as there are with other infections. Human life, though precious, is fragile. As such, death looms over all of us. That is why we need a message of hope. One that addresses our greatest need. That message is found in Jesus Christ. It is found in Him because all of us have sinned and have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Rom 3:23). To sin is to violate the holiness and righteousness of God. As our Creator, He is the one who will judge us according to our deeds and no one will stand on their own merit in that judgment. Therefore, we need a substitute. One who has both lived the life we could not and died the death we deserve.
Praise be to God, there is! God the Father commissioned His Son into the world, to take upon Himself human flesh (John 1:14), being true God and true man, whereby He lived under the Law of God (Gal 4:4), fulfilled it in every respect, was tempted in all things as we are, and yet was without sin (Heb 4:15). Then, in obedience to the Father, He went to the cross, drank the full cup of the Father’s wrath for the sin of all who would ever believe on His name, died, and rose again! In this way, He proved He had conquered both sin and death, our two greatest enemies. He has ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Col 3:1), awaiting the time of His Second Coming.
In the meantime, this message of salvation is to be proclaimed to all people (Matt 28:18–20). In fact, the church exists to proclaim this message! That if you would turn from your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, putting full trust in His finished work on the cross along with His resurrection from the dead, you will be saved! Not only will all of your sins be forgiven you, but you will also be credited with a perfect record of righteousness; the very righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). And so, we would urge you to be reconciled to God through His Son this day. The very one who has given you life and breath.
Should you do so, you will receive eternal life and will experience life after death (John 11:25).
Death looms over all of us. But there is a message of concrete hope, in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.