On November 4, 2021, The Gospel Coalition Canada released an article authored by Pastor James Seward titled, A Word to American Christians from a Pastor in Canada.
When I first read the article, I was disappointed. Though I do not know James well, I have had time with James, sitting at meetings or discussing life and ministry over coffee. During my time as a Fellowship pastor, the opportunity provided good conversations and understanding that Pastor Seward sincerely loves Christ and is a servant to the church. I respect James, and this must be clear.
However, my respect for James does not negate the alarm I had when I read his article.
My first reaction was to comment under the TGCC post that such an article was useless. Here is why.
The article was written through the eyes of an American, serving as a Canadian pastor in the North. He references [I am loosely quoting] pastoring in Canada as walking a tight rope as the church is sparse, under-sourced and underfunded. In addition, the church is scattered over a large landmass, and denominations are small. Most can agree with this point, but there is an underlying problem: the caution he is attempting to make. James uses a hypothetical scenario. He speaks about a law in Canada being passed labelling certain kinds of preaching as “hate speech.” As a result, the Canadian church works together in a “slow-developing and careful” response. Indicating this is part of the Canadian culture. There may be some truth to this but declaring a slow-developing process should never excuse sin. Churches not responding, acting or engaging is a matter that needs to be addressed, not dismissed.
Having set up his argument, he moves into a pastor, also under the banner of the hypothetical scenario. This pastor is named Billy. According to Seward, Billy mocks the commitment to the process, calls his fellow pastors cowards and even conducts outdoor services. Billy is one who, in Seward’s hypothetical story, defies the law.
Let’s move from hypothetical to reality. First, Canada already has hate speech legislation. It also has legislation passed by provinces and municipalities that are currently suppressing the freedoms of Canadians and coming against the Christian church. There have been pastors from all denominations standing firm against this. These men hold firm to the doctrines of the Reformation and are strong on their position about the absolute separation of church and state. These men simply cannot and will not sit by and violate Scripture or conscience. Men have been charged, arrested, imprisoned, churches seized and forced to meet outside. So, unless Seward lived under a rock these past twenty-plus months, I do not buy he is not referencing anyone specifically, and the hypothetical Billy is indeed the noncompliant Canadian pastor.
We also know faithful brothers like Pastor James Coates of Grace Life Church, who went to the US and spoke at the well-known G3 conference. In comparison, others such as Pastor Jacob Reaume, of Trinity Bible in Waterloo, Pastor Dr. Aaron Rock of Harvest Windsor or Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist (and others) made themselves available to discuss the issues here in the North to an American audience to assist them as they navigate their rapids of uncertainty. So for Pastor Seward to highlight a so-called hypothetical situation is very real indeed. Further, Seward says that “Billy’s situation has galvanized the American Church”, and thus his “status has hampered the Canadian Church”, which is complete nonsense. The only thing the hypothetical Billy could do is hypothetically hamper the slumbering compliant church.
He closes the article by asking for caution before retweeting or sharing a story. To stop and consider the potential impact on the North. More nonsense. The Christian church is without borders. We share stories all over the world. Stories of persecution, stories of revival and never has this been a problem. Perhaps and to be fair, if someone feels what is going on in Canada is acceptable and normal and sharing stories would cause a ripple in peaceful, passive compliance, the argument has merit. I am not saying Seward feels this way, as he has not gone on record to state his opinion one way or another, but considering the history of the TGCC blocking pastors who disagree with them on social media, there is a possible “poking the bear” at what is going on. So, it does leave one to ponder.
So why this post? After releasing a Tweet on November 9, 2021, James responded to some comments defending his article over my concern. He posed a question to me as to which pastors do I have in mind who has a history of division as he claims to “know none.” I want to believe him but cannot. He is aware; the hypothetical Billy is made up of people he has read about or is aware of personally. If he admits this on the public domain is another issue.
As I mentioned in the opening, I respect James, so when he made the gentle charge that I am trying to turn his article into a COVID hit piece, I must reject this. His article had perfect timing, and it was passive and nuanced enough to bring about a rebuke he feels needed towards pastors who are not complying with the overreaching Canadian government. As well as a rebuke towards those sharing their stories.
So to all those in Canada, keep going. Keep preaching. Stay compliant to Jesus and Scripture, not to the government or pressure from others. If you get fined, arrested, locked up, or property seized, share your story. Share those stories with me or to others who can pray and support you. To my American friends, please keep an eye on what is going on here. Pray for us, share our stories, be the bullhorn and spread the news. The Lord has blessed you in many ways, and you are an extension of our voice – because we are The church.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)
In His Grace,