Word has come from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom that James Coates, lead pastor of GraceLife Church of Edmonton, is finally getting some good news. All of the charges against James have been dropped except one, and he has agreed to pay a $100 fine for failing to comply with the restriction against holding in-person services exceeding the density limits. James is expected to be released by Friday without conditions. This is surely welcome news for his wife and children as well as his church. It is also welcome news for believers across Canada. What was really served by incarcerating him for the past month, only to release him well in advance of the May trial date? Whether one agrees with his stand or not, to be incarcerated for trying to be a faithful shepherd was pretty severe. I don’t know James’s heart. I appreciate his willingness to follow his convictions even if I question his wisdom in taking this particular stand.
I am glad this release is pending. He will still be in court in May on the lone charge. After I published last week, word came out that the church as an entity was charged for continuing to ignore the provincial COVID restrictions. His church met again this past Sunday, ignoring the COVID restrictions yet again. The COVID problem still abides in Canada and elsewhere. In some ways, we are all in uncharted waters. We need to continue to pray for James and the church that they would reflect Christ in their response to civil authorities.
This situation has provided an opportunity for Canadian and American believers to think through our duties to our civil magistrates. We clearly are not all on the same page. Some have argued that the civil magistrates have no authority over churches while others argue that the provinces were acting within their powers. Let us try as far as possible to be courteous in our treatment of others with whom we disagree. One pro-church pastor called the adversaries of James Coates sanctimonious for their objections to his actions and suggested the adversaries were more concerned about James being arrested than of rapists and pedophiles being released into their communities. I’m not sure how he would actually know this. It is the severest of judgements on someone else’s motivations. This kind of unguarded rhetoric ought not adorn a minister of the gospel of Christ. Why can believers not disagree agreeably? Sanctimonious? Really?This story is far from over but with the release of Pastor Coates, those who oppose the COVID restrictions will be strengthened to continue their fight for a lessening of the rules. Let us pray that God will manifest Himself through these trials and that the Gospel will advance in Canada. There are many faithful brothers and sisters up north on both sides of this issue. Greater challenges lie ahead for the church in Canada.