Where's Your Line?
Addressing the Hard Stuff

Where’s Your Line?

A Response to “Don’t Call it Persecution” posted by EBC Nipawin’s Pastor Chris Hutchison February 20, 2021 (found here)

I’ll admit it: when I read Chris Hutchison’s article, I felt sick to my stomach. Have I been looking at this all wrong? Am I as morally condemnable as James Coates is presented to be right now, you know, for choosing not to abide by all the government mandated regulations? Lord, I want my heart to be soft to conviction, so is this from you?

It was certainly presented that way. Chris Hutchison comes across as a knowledgeable young man, quoting Scripture left, right, and center. Oh, and having the title of pastor sure helped too. Who am I to oppose such wisdom, presented so eloquently!

Oh, wait. I am a child of God and fellow heir to the kingdom of heaven, just as he—just as you if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour­—with the same Holy Spirit at work in my life and the same desire to sift and be sifted by Scripture, for God’s glory and my sanctification.

So, after digging deeper into Chris’s article, I must say:

There’s much to be untangled.

Truth has been evaded through cleverly-crafted wording, passive-aggressive nuances, and likely ultimately self-righteous roots.

How was that for word-y wit! It could also be said I’m being presumptuous; however, all too often we accept what’s being fed as true and right without digging deeper.

We are called to dig deeper, to be of noble character like the Berean church which is mentioned in Acts 17.

I digress…

It saddens me to hear the argument presented: that Coates is merely a criminal, justified in his jail sentence, and not actually being persecuted for his faith.

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

Um, what?!

And, why has this been so widely welcomed and accepted by Christians?

What has happened to the Church? Do we not see the bigger picture here?

Persecution is an absolute for those following Jesus. (John 15:18-21).

There’s a line being drawn. Just because most have chosen to respect the boundary, to not push back, doesn’t make it any less real. Standing for faith, standing for what we know and believe is right, is going to mean watching for and choosing when to cross or not cross that line.

It’s not a question of if or even really of when. No, it’s a question of where.

Where’s your line? Where are you going to choose to say “no more” to ungodly governances?

We are told that as we await the return of Jesus, wickedness will continue to increase. (Matthew 24:12). It’s not going to get easier…no, instead, the love of most will grow cold.

James Coates has declared these health regulations are his line. Who are you, Chris and fellow church-goers, to say his line is wrong? His heart has heard the Lord say, “Do not forsake the fellowship of believers” and his head knows that the government has overstepped their bounds.

Are we called to submit to government authority when it goes against God’s Word? No! Is the government going against God’s Word right now? Yes!

We are being told to cut out, or “cut down” gathering together. Smaller numbers means fifteen percent of a congregation gets to meet, but what about the other eighty-five? Who decides who fits into each category? Who decided church was a non-essential service?

Another line being drawn. Another classification and distinction, all in the name of government mandates.

God’s Word is being forsaken, and those choosing to stand against such evil are being condemned…even within the body of Christ.

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

How sickening! How sad!

The Scriptures Chris presented were taken out of context and ultimately not addressing the heart of the issue here. Kindly allow me to go through them, along with his arguments, in more detail.

Romans 13:1-4

These verses are referencing the point that government is in place for a reason. God instituted government to allow for order within society. So yes, we are called to live under government, to obey laws that allow for order and good conduct.

But, what really is bad conduct?

Is it bad to obey God’s Word? Of course not! So, rules set in place, though instituted under an authority appointed by God, are not always carried out by godly people. Then what?

We understand that judgement comes for going against the rules of the land set in place by governing authorities, and yes, even a sword (or a jail cell, or a cross, as in the days of Roman rule)!

To say that these judgements are not persecution because they are merely in response to a defiance of the rules…well, that’s nonsense.

Wrongdoers will incur God’s wrath. But Christians will also incur persecution under the banner of wrongdoing.

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

So where is the line?

Luke 2:1-5 and Luke 3:12-14

I’m placing both references together because I can sum them both up equally with the following: they have nothing to do with standing up for God’s Word in light of obedience and submission to the government.

Being counted in a census and paying taxes are agreeable points under Paul’s explanation of living under government authority as read in Romans 13. There’s nothing in either of these two instances that attacks our faith and the mandate of the gospel which we abide by as believers.

Sure, they aren’t easy, especially when there’s abuse of power or no money left in the bank because of taxes. But this isn’t a question of easy, is it? James Coates isn’t exactly taking the easy road here either, is he?

I would dare say that it’s far easier to obey the rules than to stand against them in this instance. And yet, here he is, taking a stand.

And here we are, Christians, fighting about whether his stand is acceptable in God’s sight.

How pathetically safe and easy of us!

Where is your line, Chris? Where is your line, Church?

When it’s no longer about taxes, when it’s no longer about health regulations—which our current situation has already agreeably seen to be fraught with debate—but instead, when it’s about something else—something else vitally biblical that you are no longer willing to accept—will you see the line, and will you dare not to cross it?

Or will it be easier to follow the government mandates, to submit to their authority and not cause a fuss?

James Coates has stood his ground, but not in a bad way!

  • He took precautions to keep people safe.
  • He closed the doors entirely when presented with a possible contact tracing linked to the congregation.
  • In godly wisdom, he chose to once again open the doors to freedom for all to come and worship.
  • Then, he submitted to the mandate’s consequences that he must sit in a jail cell and await sentencing because he chose not to follow a rule that goes against his understanding of the faith.

Is he a criminal? Maybe, in the eyes of ungodly laws. Is he being persecuted for his faith? Yes.

Matthew 5:38-39, 41

Again, these are being presented with insight and motivating speech, but ultimately, Chris has not addressed the implication at the heart of his argument:

When the government is clearly acting in opposition to God’s Word, where do we draw the line…and is it persecution to suffer for doing so?

To use the argument “don’t just go one mile with your oppressor—go two” is lunacy for someone suffering under human trafficking or other forms of ungodly, evil, lawlessness. Are they never free to stand against such abuse?

So, where’s the line?

In adherence to this particular argument presented in Matthew 5, it could be said that Jesus is calling us to close church doors to all but 7.5% capacity instead of the 15% regulated (go the extra mile, why don’t you!) Logical? Sure! Jesus said it. It’s right there in Scripture after all…

But wait. Of course that’s not the intent.

Jesus also tells us in Matthew 5 that we are the light of the world, and not meant to hide our light under a bowl. No, set it on a stand for all to see.

We’re supposed to stand out, be set apart. And sometimes, that looks like resistance. Especially when what’s being resisted is evil—even more so, an evil being called good.

In choosing not to resist when the line has been crossed, acceptance of evil becomes sin.

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

Matthew 16:24

This is actually an excellent verse to present in the concern of James Coates’s choice to stand up against government mandates and suffer for it. Do you not see?

Yes, the cross was a symbol of sacrifice and oppression. Jesus tells us to forsake our very lives, bearing our cross for His Name.

James Coates has indeed taken up the cross of oppression that came when he stood for his faith despite the rules in place. There’s no human glory in suffering! This isn’t about taking a beating to look good. He saw the line, he drew the line, and he’s walking it out in faith.

Was Jesus’s death on the cross not persecution? And Peter’s, and others of the faith?

In the argument being presented by Chris Hutchison, we shouldn’t call Jesus’s nor the apostles’ deaths persecution at all—they were wrongdoers under government instituted by God, and therefore just suffering wrath for such actions.

That would be laughable to the Church, who for the past two thousand plus years has undergone persecution and suffering and willingly stood against orders meant for harm because they went against God’s Word.

Maybe the real issue today is not is this persecution? But rather, is the Canadian church afraid of persecution?

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

Fear is a powerful motivator. We’ve been blessed to live in a country that’s given us freedom to worship and was built on godly orders. Dare I say, we’ve had it easy!

The idea of taking up our cross is legitimately scary. If fear is the motivating factor in choosing not to stand, you can pretty it up all you want. You can even find Scripture to support your argument, taken out of context of course, but that doesn’t make it right.

God searches our hearts. He knows the root of our actions. Sure, we can say the mandates still hurt us too, but it becomes very self-righteous of us to say,

“Look at me! I’m following the rules and suffering for it. And he, that James Coates, he didn’t follow the rules. Let him rot for his crime!”

This attitude sounds similar to those Jesus called out as “broods of vipers”! (Matthew 12:30-37)

Titus 3:1-2

These verses are fine and good, but not addressing our call to stand for truth and obey God’s Law over man’s.

When the government takes power that’s beyond their God-given scope, when they go against God’s Word, we are told to stand. Not in violence, in truth. Even unto death. More so, don’t fear them or what they can do to the body, nor worry about what to say. (Matthew 10:28 and Mark 13:9-11)

Chris defends the verses from Titus with the argument that Nero was the emperor when they were written. As in, holy smokes that would have been an awful time to be a Christian!

True! But did Christians back then relinquish God’s commands for how they should live and worship, just to hide from Nero and avoid wrongdoing under his rule? Of course not, in fact, they still lived out their faith and the mandates of God’s Word, and were persecuted because of their faith and their stand.

Come on, Chris! Come on, Church! Enough is enough! Quit hiding! Quit defending evil and sitting self-righteously on the sidelines when God’s Word is being attacked.  

Romans 13: (again) 1-7

Chris quotes James Coates’s sermon on this very passage then chooses to call it “logical, but at odds with what Paul is really saying.”

Unfortunately, here again, he misjudges the difference between ungodly rulings that have no influence on our ability to follow God’s Word and those that draw a line and require us to take a stand.

No doubt the church of the day would benefit from the reminder to submit to authority in place. No one likes being told what to do, especially when it goes against what we want to do.  These are good reminders for all of us.

But this conversation is about far more…So, let’s keep going.

John 19:10-11

Please hear me when I say, these verses have been grossly misused in Chris’ argument.

He says,

“Pilate had the authority to crucify Jesus. This authority was given to him ‘from above’ i.e. from God. He was about to use it in an unjust way, way out of alignment with God’s word.”

Now, hold it right there. Pilate’s authority was given by God, but it was also prophetically declared in God’s Word that Jesus would suffer under Pilate’s ruling.

Jesus submitted to God’s will in this, not to Pilate specifically. He knew the cup His Father had for Him to drink, and it was in the garden before all this took place that He chose submission to it, to God. Further, when in front of Pilate, Jesus reminded him where he stood in the grand scheme of things. Pilate was not above God, nor even on par with God, but under Him.

To say Jesus submitted to Pilate is to blaspheme God’s design to bring about redemption of the world through the cross.

sara kennerley – within this jar of clay – www.sarakennerley.com

Whether Chris realized or intended this is not for me to say. Likely he didn’t. But all the same, to ignore such a point would be to continue promoting the lie.

The So-Called, So-Called Pandemic.

Chris doesn’t believe our current COVID situation has gone over the line as far as government rule and ungodly decision making is concerned. We still have some rights left to worship, after all.

He reminds us that many people are truly believing in and fearful of the legitimacy of this pandemic. Okay. Agreed. So what? Already acknowledging that there are two sides to the story, he’s decided that he’d rather stand on the side of many than few. That’s fine, and not for me to judge.

But, consider this: the enemy is smart. He knows that to eliminate God’s mandates with one fell swoop he’d be caught immediately, and fought against with righteous anger.

No, the better way to accomplish his goal is a slow fade.

Like the story of the frog and the boiling pot of water, Christians across the board would hop right out of the boiling pot if that water was incinerating right off the bat!

But twist the frog’s plight carefully—center his decision around a perverted understanding of what loving our neighbour looks like—and that frog will oblige the water. He won’t even notice when the heat gets turned up. It will feel like everyday turmoil, not worthy of deeper consideration of long-term effects for his overall good.

In Conclusion

James Coates and GraceLife’s position is going to be heavily debated from within and beyond the body of believers.

Instead of discerning James Coates’s choice to see the line and stand in faith against it, Chris and so many others have called him out as a wrongdoer and denied him the very honor of a brother in Christ, suffering for the sake of Jesus.

Where is the love in this? Where is the unity within the body?

We’ve failed as an effective witness of Jesus Christ by choosing compromise within the church and devouring one another rather than lifting each other up under God’s truth and tender mercies.

Lord, forgive us! We don’t know what we are doing!

2 Comments

  • Chris Hutchison

    Hi Sara, WordPress sent me a note that another blog had linked to my post, so I clicked on the link and read your post here. There’s much I could respond to, but could I just ask you (and your readers) three simple questions?

    1. Could you take note of how many times in my article I made reference to (or insinuations about) James Coates’ heart, motivations, and attitude?

    2. Then could you compare that answer to the number of times your post here made insinuations or suggestions about my heart, motivations, and attitude?

    3. Given the difference between these two answers, is it not somewhat ironic that I am the one being accused of the sin of “devouring one another”?

    I have no hard feelings towards you, and am very happy to forgive you for judging my heart their way you have.

    In the grace of Christ,

    Chris Hutchison

    • sarakennerley

      Hi Chris,

      Thank you for reaching out so gracefully to reply. I can imagine that my post came across harshly and hit some nerves. I would say that for me and my readers to take your three simple questions and respond to them is missing the point of my post altogether. If you feel in your heart there is no basis for my accusation of the church devouring one another, then that’s between you and Holy Spirit. Thank you for freely offering me forgiveness for the offense, I accept it with grace. Please know that my words were not meant as an attack, but rather as an exhortation to go deeper: to see the lines being drawn, to stand up for truth, to stand up for our faith, and to love one another in the Body in the midst of this fight. I’d be happy to discuss the topic further with you, please feel free to reach out via email: sara.withinthisjarofclay@gmail.com. Blessings in the Lord, Chris.

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