After the liberation of Europe, German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) condemned the cowardice of German elites and clergy for their silence during the Nazi era. The Nazis slowly picked off those who dissented from official state dogma, and the clergy let it happen bit by bit.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Pastor James Coates has been arrested and detained for opening his church just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. He could be in prison for weeks.
I fail to see how the silence of Canadian pastors is an act of faith. I fail to see how it’s not sin. Pastors should have spoken when the government tried to take control of the churches. They should have spoken when their parishioners were thrust into financial ruin by forced government shutdowns. They should have spoken when churches and elders were fined for opening their churches to offer hope to the world. The overwhelming majority were silent. Some were fast to condemn the tone or the tactics of the pastors who stood up for the church, but most just said nothing.
Christ commands the church to meet. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s not just a pithy confessional statement. It’s a statement of allegiance. He gets the first fruit of our obedience.
Handing over the church to state control is rendering unto Caesar that which is God’s. Where are all the shepherds? The pastors? Where are they?
A member of Trinity Bible Chapel sent me his own rendition of Niemöller’s poem a few weeks ago, after the arrest of a Toronto restaurant owner and the ticketing of a dissenting politician while under lockdown orders. Now with the arrest and imprisonment of Pastor Coates, I think it an appropriate time to share it:
First they came for the restaurant owners
And I did not speak out because I was not a restaurant owner
Then they came for dissenting politicians
And I did not speak out because I was not a politician
Then they came for the pastors who kept their churches open
And I did not speak up because I was not a pastor
Then they came for me
And there was no one left to speak out for me
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Where are all the pastors?