This document has the full support of all pastors and elders of Trinity Bible Chapel.
To all who witness.
An open letter to the executive branches of Ontario and Canada, Municipal Regulatory Authorities, Judges, and all those who may be blessed by our commitment to obedience to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who purchased us by His very own blood.
RE: Trinity Bible Chapel’s position founded on the Word of God to remain open and meeting under Threat of Lockdown
This letter is intended to give notice and reasoning as to why Trinity Bible Chapel (“TBC”), located in Waterloo Region, Ontario will remain open in the event of a lockdown or similar order issued by the Province or Municipal government (a “lockdown”).1 TBC asserts that its religious belief, which freedom is protected under section 2(a) and 2(c) of the Constitution Act, 1982 (the “Charter”), requires it to meet regularly in person. Further TBC asserts that the Province has not demonstrated that the restrictions currently put in place with respect to COVID-19 or a lockdown would be effective, nor would they be considered the “least restrictive means” or a “minimal impairment”, an essential branch of the seminal Oakes test, the proportionality test required to be satisfied whenever the Provincial/Federal government violates a person’s (including a corporation’s) constitutional rights.
In addition to the violation of religious freedom and a point that we wish not to belabour, a lockdown would represent an offence under section 176 of the Canada Criminal Code, obstructing or violence to or arrest of an officiating clergyman, since such a lockdown order would be an unconstitutional and unlawful restriction of religious freedom. An offence under section 176(1) of the Canada Criminal Code is an indictable offence carrying serious consequences. Despite the historic independence the church has enjoyed from the Federal and Provincial government, seen both in legal precedent and codified in the Canadian Constitution (British North America Act, 1867), Charter and the Canada Criminal Code, along with other major acts of legislation (e.g. Income Tax Act, Corporations Act, Land Transfer Act, etc.), this independence has been seemingly abandoned by the rules set by the Province.
Biblical Requirement to Meet Regularly as a Church
TBC has, since its beginning, served our Lord and community by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sponsoring foreign missionaries, contributing to local pregnancy crisis centers, assisting those in need, offering hope to those in despair, comforting the bereaved, providing pastoral care for families and singles, counseling broken marriages towards restoration, visiting the sick and lonely, sponsoring refugees, helping immigrants integrate into our community, educating children, officiating at weddings and funerals, and performing a plethora of other good deeds which have positively contributed to the welfare of thousands of individuals. Our observation is that these times of isolation, due to the government’s restrictive actions, have harmed people and society by perpetuating loneliness, hopelessness, fear, poverty, division, anger, the deterioration of relationships, and a plethora of other evils which will become more evident with time. 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.2 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.
TBC believes that Scripture commands us to meet for worship in person, that the definition of “church” requires us to gather in person, and that the Law of God demands we gather at least weekly. This has been articulated in our church doctrinal statement, and each of our members has taken a solemn oath and covenant before God to meet regularly for worship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper.
Scripture, which is God’s Word to us, commands Christians to gather in person for church (Hebrews 10:24-25). Regularly meeting in person was the pattern established by Christ’s apostles: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Christian meetings include fellowship, which entails togetherness, sharing of goods and food, showing hospitality, and presence of person, much like a family unit (Acts 4:32-37). The New Testament upholds the church as a spiritual family, so much that the bonds within the church are stronger than blood relations (Matthew 10:37; 13:53-58; Luke 14:26). For this reason, Christians often refer to each other as “brother” and “sister.” To operate as a church, Christians are expected to experience fellowship regularly with one another like a family that lives under the same roof.
Embedded in the definition of church is gathering together. The New Testament word for church is the Greek word, ekklesia. Etymologically, ekklesia is the combination of two words that together mean “called out,” as in a group of people called out to gather. The definition of the word demands that a church not be reduced to less than a gathering of people. The lexical range of ekklesia includes “assembly,” “gathering,” “a specific Christian group assembly, gathering ordinarily involving worship and discussion of matters of concern to the community,” and “the totality of Christians living and meeting in a particular locality.”3 Where there is no physical gathering there is no church. For the church to exist it must gather.
The pattern since creation has been for believers to meet officially for worship at least once weekly. The Ten Commandments were written in stone by the finger of God, thus signifying the abiding authority of God’s Law. The fourth commandment reads, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8-11). The Old Testament community set aside the seventh day for rest and public congregational worship: to do otherwise was a transgression of the Law. Christ was raised from the dead on the first day of the week, and since then churches have regularly met on the first day, Sunday, for worship, prayer, preaching, and the ordinances (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). To cease meeting together for worship at least weekly is to be a disobedient Christian.
Scripture describes the church as a body with many parts. As a human body cannot exist without all its parts fastened together so the church cannot exist without all its people together. Saint Paul presses this analogy,
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (1 Corinthians 12:14-20).
In essence, the church is a composition of members that function in harmony. It is a body, and as a body all the parts must be together. Saint Paul continues, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Each individual is a valuable part of the church, and the church as a whole needs each individual. A church that does not gather is like a body with its parts scattered across a city. A body exists as parts together, and the church exists as Christians together.
The church must be together to fulfill its mission because its mission depends on togetherness and physical presence. The Scriptures command the church to partake of the Lord’s Supper together (1 Corinthians 11:17-34), to baptize new converts (Matthew 28:19), to anoint the sick with oil (James 5:14), to ordain elders and pastors with the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22), and to greet each other with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20). None of these actions are possible while separate or isolated. Each must be done in person because the New Testament presupposes that the church will be together.
Jesus epitomized Christian togetherness by incarnating as a man in the flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Some have expected church services to be held online, but that betrays the Scriptural notion of an unmediated ministry. Had God conceived of something other than the normalcy of an in-person ministry, he might have sent a picture or a hologram or a pixelated representation of Himself on a computer screen. Instead, God incarnated in the person of Christ by being born of a virgin, living and eating among men, performing miracles, being crucified, and rising bodily from the dead. Christians still wait expectantly for the bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth. Because of Christ’s example to us, TBC believes that we must be physically present with each other.
Ironically, politicians and medical bureaucrats are calling for people to self-isolate this Christmastime out of what they consider “love for neighbour” to “reduce the spread.” Yet, Christmas is the season that celebrates God’s act of love when He became a man and dwelt among men. The concept of healthy people self-isolating to love their neighbours is not only completely foreign to Scripture but is also condemned as foolish and selfish by Scripture: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1). It is noteworthy that the indoor gathering of three wise men with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would be an illegal gathering in a lockdown, as would Christ’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand and His Last Supper with His twelve disciples. The call to isolate is a call that is contrary to Christ’s example at Christmas when He became a man, and it is furthermore a contravention of God’s demands on His people.
In accordance with the practice of the ancient church, TBC has taught since its inception that the church must meet. So fundamental to our existence is our gathering together that it is captured in TBC’s doctrinal statement, a foundational document to the church, which all members agree to uphold:
The Scriptures command believers to gather locally in order to devote themselves to worship, prayer, teaching of the Word, fellowship, the ordinances of baptism and communion, service to the local body through the development and use of talents and spiritual gifts, and outreach to the world to make disciples. Wherever God’s people meet regularly in obedience to this command, there is the local expression of the Church under the watchful care of a plurality of elders.
Another foundational document to TBC is the church covenant. In accordance with that covenant, all members of TBC have taken a solemn oath and covenant to meet together for worship, prayer, and to partake together of the Lord’s Supper:
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others. We will regularly participate together in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
Being bound by Scripture to be with each other, members of TBC therefore have solemnly covenanted before God to worship together and be with each other regularly. To not be together is to violate God’s commands and our own solemn oath and covenant.
Extent of Christian Obedience to Governing Authorities
Scripture also commands Christians to be subject to governing authorities. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). The command, however, is not ultimate. In such cases when government edicts contradict God’s commands, Christians must obey God over government. Confronted with governing authorities that required them to disobey God, Saint Peter and the other apostles once said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The Lord Jesus predicted that governments would oppose His Law to the point of punishing His people through court systems (Matthew 10:16-25). Tradition and history recount that all of Christ’s apostles, except one, were martyred for their obedience to God instead of man. History indicates that the one apostle who did die of natural causes, Saint John, was once imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos and also boiled in oil for his obedience to God instead of man. The apostles, along with the Lord Jesus and the earlier prophets, exhibited Christian faithfulness under the threat of government penalty. They “suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:36-37). When the government commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, Christians must obey God over the government.
Typically obedience to Federal, Provincial, and Municipal regulations is easily given, such as is the case with fire safety codes, municipal drainage requirements, and other building codes. But a lockdown order to cease meeting as a church body for fellowship and worship would contradict the commandments of God, and in such a case TBC is compelled to listen to God instead of the government. Further, while TBC respects the power and scope of various legislative and executive bodies in Canada to regulate public matters, the matters of a church are to be governed by the elders of a church (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:7).
The Scriptures command the church to meet. The church must meet to be a church. God’s Law teaches us to meet no less than once weekly. This is written in our church doctrinal statement, and every member of our church has taken a solemn oath and covenant before God to meet. Under threat of prosecution and public shaming, TBC will, with God’s help, obey God over government.
While our desire is to work with the Province to care for the health of our community, TBC respectfully advises that it must practice civil disobedience in the event of a government lockdown. By God’s grace, Canada was founded on Christian principles, as enumerated in the preamble of the Charter, namely the supremacy of God and the rule of law. While it is still our hope and prayer that another lockdown does not occur in our region, TBC will, with God’s help and by His grace, continue to meet if any lockdown or similar order by the Province or Municipal government does occur and firmly states that the sincere belief and religious practice of regular Sunday meetings fall under the fundamental freedoms of religion and peaceful assembly found in sections 2(a) and 2(c) of the Charter.
To all those who read, we encourage you to prayerfully consider the biblical requirement of Christians to physically gather as a body and the blessing provided by this gift of fellowship.
Pastor Jacob Reaume and Trinity Bible Chapel hosted a webinar with constitutional litigator James Kitchen and Pastor Aaron Rock called “Conflicting Duties: Christian Worship and the Magistrate’s Quarantine” on May 14, 2020. It can be accessed here.
Pastor Will Schuurman wrote several blogs on the Trinity Bible Chapel website in late May on related topics including “COVID-19 and Romans 13” on May 23, 2020 and “On Gathering, Assembly Bans, and Romans 13” on May 26, 2020. You can access them here and here.
Pastor Jacob Reaume and Trinity Bible Chapel were involved with the Reopen Ontario Churches Campaign in late May and early June, 2020. Several hundred churches petitioned the government to open the church, and the petition can be accessed here.
Pastor John Macarthur and Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, California wrote a blog called “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church” on July 24, 2020, in which they declared that their church will not abide by California lockdown orders. It can be accessed here.
Pastor Jacob Reaume and Trinity Bible Chapel were involved with and among the first signatories of the Niagara Declaration, drafted in September, 2020 in which many Canadian churches and politicians asserted the divine, historic, and legal independence of the church from the state. It can be accessed here.
Pastor Aaron Rock, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Windsor, Ontario, authored a blog exhorting churches to obey God over the state, under threat of lockdown, called, “A Call to Divine Obedience, over Civil Obedience.” It can be accessed here.
Pastor Jacob Reaume, senior pastor of Trinity Bible Chapel, was asked to pray at a worship protest, held November 29, 2020, at Queen’s Park. The full video of the protest can be accessed here.
The Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity in Grimsby, Ontario, with Rev. Dr. Joe Boot, recently produced a series of podcasts responding to the threat of a second lockdown on the church. You can access them here, here, and here.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, on December 3, 2020 released a report that government data demonstrates that the lockdown is more deadly than COVID-19. The news release, which links to the report, is available here.
- The intent of this letter is to declare why TBC will remain open and ask its members and community to attend worship services. In declaring that, we are also declaring that under most circumstances Christians must be in church. Notwithstanding that declaration, we continue to teach that there are extenuating circumstances in which absence from church attendance is excusable and permitted. Thus, we will continue to offer a livestream option for those that would like to view our worship services from a distance.
- At the time of writing this, nine months into the pandemic, more than 99.967% of Canadians have not died from COVID-19.
- Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 303-304.