Just over a year ago, Trinity Bible Chapel was first bound by a court order forbidding us from gathering as a congregation to worship. Believing that Jesus Christ is Head of His Church and conversely that the Province of Ontario and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice are not head of Christ’s Church, we decided to gather for worship. After all, Jesus deserves a reward for His suffering.
As a consequence, Trinity Bible Chapel and all her elders have been convicted of contempt of court two times, with combined penalties totaling approximately $220,000 for the convictions. With that we still have potentially millions of dollars in fines before the courts. Our worship has been extravagant, and Jesus is worth it.
Represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, we decided to challenge the court orders on the grounds that we believe they violated our constitutional rights. We had our hearing a few weeks ago, and now the ruling is in (see here).
In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms serves as the highest law of the land. Under s. 2(a) of the Charter, Canadians are guaranteed freedom of religion. But s. 1 of the Charter allows the state to limit our freedom so long as such limitations are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. For a court to declare a Charter violation, it would need to be demonstrated that the s. 2(a) rights were violated and also that those violations were outside of the provisions in s. 1.
Here’s the judge’s conclusion on our matter from the citation:
Having applied the constitutional frameworks, I have determined that certain religious gathering restrictions imposed by Ontario infringed s. 2(a) of the Charter. I am, however, satisfied that the limits on s. 2(a) are amply and demonstrably justified as reasonable limits in a free and democratic society (paragraph 5).
In other words, yes the government violated our rights, and yes the government’s violations were demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Ontario argued that most of the gathering limits did not violate our rights, and the court ruled against Ontario in that. But Ontario also argued that the actions against us were justified, and the court sided with Ontario. In essence, our religious freedoms were violated, but there was something more pressing than our worship of God in Christ which warranted the violation.
In one sense, the court was more theologically astute than some certain pastors and church leaders. I still can’t believe that so many who profess Christ found movie theatres and restaurants analogous to church. I lost track of how many times people told me, “Well, if movie theaters are closed so should be churches,” as if venues where people pay a few bucks to eat popcorn while watching people fornicate in HD are somehow as essential as Christian worship. That’s my subtle hint that it’s about time those who made those arguments repent. Theatre and church are different. The court agrees:
In this respect, a church service is different than other public gatherings, such as live theatre performance. If only a small group can attend the theatre, the play can be performed on multiple occasions to smaller audiences. This does not change the play. It does not change the experience of the actors on stage, or the audience in the gallery. Religious services do not draw the same bright line between the stage and the audience. The observers perform and the performers observe in an interactive and symbiotic fashion (paragraph 104).
…I am satisfied that the evidence that was led by the claimants, including the affidavit of Rev. Reaume, established the importance of congregants to gather together as one. One can logically infer from this that multiple services would not offer an equivalent means of religious expression. The question is not whether there were any conceivable alternatives for religious expression. There were. The question is whether those alternatives would effectively achieve religious objectives. The claimants say no, and I defer to them on that point (paragraph 109).
We were brought before a court, and we taught the court some truth. Church is not theatre. Church is distinct from theatre. Church is a gathering. It’s now a matter of public record in the court files. If only pastors were as willing to learn or as ready to admit as much.
Ruling that our religious freedoms were violated, the court maintains that there was a greater good which superseded our worship of God:
…The perspective of a religious claimant, while important, “must be considered in the context of a multicultural, multi-religious society where the duty of state authorities to legislate for the general good inevitably produces conflicts with individual beliefs”: Hutterian, at para. 90… (paragraph 88, italics mine)
… While an important interest, religious freedom may have to yield to the public good. While the perspective of a religious claimant is important, it must be considered “in the context of a multi-cultural, multi-religious society where the duty of state authorities to legislate for the general good inevitably produces conflicts with individual beliefs”: Hutterian, at para. 90 (paragraph 157, italics mine).
This is the rub. The ruling exposes the inadequacies of the Charter, especially s. 1. I have no doubt that the Charter was a downgrade in liberty, and this only affirms my belief. But this reasoning also exposes that the state is not neutral. The secular multi-cultural state claims to be neutral. It is not neutral at all. Not in the least is it neutral. The multi-cultural state declares all cultures equal, and by doing so declares itself the authority over all cultures. It’s a sneaky little move, covertly presenting itself as neutral, while operating as the norm of norms or law of laws, putting Christian culture on par with all cultures, simultaneously maintaining that its designation of good is the goodest good.
This ruling illustrates my point. Pay attention to three little words which I italicized in the above cited paragraphs: “the general good.” The legislature and now the court have pronounced the general good. The worship of Jesus was not in the interest of the general good. The millennia old gathering of believers for worship was not in the interest of the general good. Calling people to come hear the Gospel was not in the interest of the general good. The crown rights of Jesus over His church were not in the interest of the general good. If you boil it down, “the general good” was on trial. God has His view of “the general good,” and Ontario has its view. The state offers no concrete definition of “good,” nor can they even prove that a “general good” exists. But they do assume it exists, and they claim to have mastered it, or at least to have mastered it more than others have.
The only One who has a mastery on goodness is God. In Mark 10:18, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone,” and He then listed commandments 6, 7,8, 9, and 5 of the Ten Commandments. In doing so, Jesus was explaining that God’s Law, which comes from the only good God, is the final standard of good. Because Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, His Law is the Law of laws or the Norm of norms. My point in noting this is that while the government claims to operate for the general good, the state also claims that God’s definition of good is not the goodest good. The state has claimed that its good is better than God’s good. God calls His people to gather because He loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but the state has an even more wonderful plan for our lives. Its good is better than God’s good.
Our nation abandoned God’s immutable standard of goodness when it abandoned God. His standard was literally written in stone. It changes not. We now have mutable goodness, a goodness that changes with the times. The state claims to be neutral, but in reality is, with a religious zeal that would make the Pharisees blush, enforcing its own arbitrary standard of goodness, even when that means persecuting those who hold to God’s standard of goodness. Trinity Bible Chapel believes obedience to Christ is good. We also believe that Christ is Head of the Church and He commands His church to gather, which makes gathering for worship good. The state had a gooder good in mind last year, which rendered God’s definition of good bad. Bad is good, and good is bad.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
The state claims to be neutral. It is not. It has declared its goodness to be the greatest goodness. That means that the state is not even good, because in doing so it has set itself up as lord over the church, which is a bad action. The state claims to be neutral, and the state claims to be good. The state is neither good nor neutral. The state is dogmatic in enforcing and upholding its own definition of good, which is very very bad.
This Charter challenge was a conflict between “general good” as defined by God and “general good” as defined by the state. The ruling sided with the state. We might yet appeal to a higher provincial court. We shall see. But we rest assured that while God’s Law is the Law of laws He’s also the Judge of judges. We will win our appeal, but whether that appeal is won in an earthly court or the heavenly court is to be determined.
Our job is to continue worshipping Christ while asserting His Lordship over all and especially His Church, even if it costs us. He died for us, and we have died to ourselves. He deserves it, and He must find a reward for His suffering.
“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” – C.S. Lewis