Southern Baptist/SBC

Throwback Thursday ~ The 11th Commandment: 6 Principles for Boldly and Biblically Breaking It

Originally published July 12, 2019

Every organization has them. Those unwritten rules that everybody seems to know. That newcomers learn through whispered admonitions or perhaps by inadvertently breaking them. The Southern Baptist Convention – and probably a lot of other denominations and parachurch ministries – has them too, and one that more and more people are learning about has, tongue in cheek, been dubbed “The 11th Commandment”:

Thou shalt not publicly criticize
other Southern Baptist leaders.

It seems to apply mostly to the upper echelons of SBC leadership: entity heads, celebrity pastors and authors, seminary leaders, the SBC president, the head of LifeWay. Basically anybody with power, position, or name recognition.

And we’re not talking about slandering or lying about someone. Naturally, that would be sinful and worthy of reproof. We’re talking about anything negative or critical even if it’s biblically correct and necessary.

I don’t know anyone personally¹ who has told me he’s/she’s been in this situation, but I’ve heard several stories from reliable sources over the past few years of pastors, people who work for LifeWay, SBC seminary employees, etc., who would like to speak publicly, biblically, and truthfully about sinful situations or unbiblical decisions in the SBC, but are reluctant to do so for fear of losing their jobs or positions. (On a smaller scale, I have heard from plenty of women who have been spiritually abused and bullied into silence, or out of their own churches, by church leadership for daring to speak out against LifeWay-endorsed false teachers.)

Think about that for a minute. This is a purportedly Bible-believing Christian organization in which doctrinally sound Christians are afraid to publicly stand for biblical truth for fear of retaliation from other Christians. Hush up. Cover up. Don’t shine the light of Scripture into the dark corners of the SBC.

This is an organization which, not so many years ago, battled to preserve the concepts of the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible. A Bible which says:

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is
good and right and true)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. Ephesians 5:8b-9,11

If we truly believe these words are breathed out by God (inspiration), completely trustworthy (infallible), and without error (inerrant), how can there be a culture of back room intimidation in the SBC?

Why isn’t the Scripture we say we believe being obeyed?

Sin. People are sinning and it’s negatively impacting fellow Believers. Just like when I sin it negatively impacts fellow Believers. Just like when you sin it negatively impacts fellow Believers.

Anyone¹ who is helping to create a culture of intimidation against fellow Believers for speaking out in accordance with Scripture is in sin and needs to repent and be forgiven by the grace and mercy of Christ.

But, often, when we’re sinned against, even by brothers and sisters in Christ, the person sinning against us doesn’t repent right away (or sometimes, ever). She continues in her sin against us. Although we might be able to talk to the person and encourage her with Scripture to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, we can’t change her heart. Only the Holy Spirit can convict someone of sin and give her the gift of repentance.

So, as leaders continue to attempt to enforce the “11th Commandment,” the only remaining decision to be made by those feeling pressured into silence is, “How do I respond to this? Do I speak out and risk my job, my reputation, my church, and a peaceful life for my family, or do I remain silent?”. I would encourage these folks to prayerfully consider the following biblical principles about this issue.

1.
Be Wise

As Ecclesiastes tells us,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

Don’t just let your default response be to keep your head down and your mouth shut regardless of the issue that comes your way. There are times when it is biblically valid to remain silent, but there are also times when we are required by Scripture to speak up, regardless of the personal cost. You must ask God for wisdom to discern how to respond biblically to each situation, and then you must act accordingly, trusting God with the outcome.


2.
Know the Issues

You’ve got to know your Bible and know where Scripture lands on various issues. That goes hand in hand with making a wise decision about whether to speak out or remain silent. Using wine versus grape juice for the Lord’s Supper isn’t a make or break New Testament issue for the church, so you probably won’t want to risk your job over something at that level of adiaphora, but false teachers who are wreaking spiritual havoc on your denomination and the church when you have the power and the platform to biblically denounce it? Speaking out on that issue is all over the Old and New Testament, and you’ll want to be sure you follow Scripture appropriately in your particular situation.


3.
Count the Cost

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-33

Have you counted the cost of being Jesus’ disciple? It’s high. Jesus says you “cannot be My disciple” if you aren’t willing to sacrifice relationships with your closest loved ones in favor of Christ and His Word. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your physical life. If you aren’t willing to bear your own cross and follow after Him. If you don’t renounce all that you have. That includes your job, your reputation, comfort, ease, security for your family, your church, your friends, book deals, speaking engagements, and sitting at the cool kids’ lunch table with evangelical celebrities. Jesus was despised and rejected by men. Are you, His servant, greater than your Master?


4.
Don’t Miss Your Calling

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14

Go back and read the entire book of Esther. One of the main ideas of this little book is this:

Any position, power or platform you have is given to you by God,
and you are not merely to preserve and protect it, but to steward it for His purposes.

Just like God didn’t make Esther queen as an end in itself, God didn’t give you that job at LifeWay or that position at a seminary for you to protect it at any cost. He gave it to you as a means to an end – His glory, and the furthering of His Kingdom. Esther was willing to risk death, divorce, even banishment to speak up because she realized God had put her in the position of queen as a means of bringing about His purpose of delivering God’s people. Is it possible that’s why God put you in the position you’re in – to give you the voice and platform to speak out so others could be informed and inspired to stand up for biblical truth? Don’t let fear of the consequences rob you of the joy and honor of being used by God to bring about His purposes.


5.
In His Steps

Jesus. John the Baptist. Peter. Paul. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Samuel. Gideon. The Minor Prophets. All of these men (and more) spoke out against ungodliness among the people of God, and all of them paid dearly for it. Maybe some of them were afraid. Maybe some of them were concerned about their families and livelihoods. But all of them put God’s Kingdom and His people ahead of personal concerns and trusted that if they did what was right in God’s eyes, He would take care of them. And the same God who never failed them will never fail you.

Let the boldness and bravery of these men inspire you to be unwaveringly courageous. Let their unflagging resolve inspire you to forge ahead with no turning back. Let the depth of their faith inspire you to take God at His Word and believe Him for everything. We still need heroes of the faith today. Be the next one by following in the footsteps of the heroes of Scripture.


6.
Share in Suffering

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3

Suffering for the name of Christ and the truth of His Word is such a major theme of the New Testament I couldn’t begin to list all the passages that address it. When you’re a servant of Christ, suffering the same reproach He suffered from the same kind of people for the same reasons isn’t an option. It goes with the territory.

Second Timothy 3:12-13 says:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

And not only is suffering the reproaches of Christ guaranteed, we need to grasp the fact that this kind of suffering is an honor for the Believer.

And when they had brought [Peter and the apostles], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Acts 5:27-29, 40-41

Read the whole account in Acts 5:17-42. Men of God were threatened, imprisoned, and subsequently beaten, by their “denominational leadership” for boldly proclaiming the Word of God to the people of God in the house of God. And those men of God got back up, dusted themselves off, and rejoiced because God Himself had seen fit to bless them with this honor.

We’ve got to radically transform our perspective on suffering for the name and Word of Christ:

  • We need to internalize and embrace the prospect of suffering rather than fearfully kicking against it and avoiding it.
  • We’ve got to fully wrap our minds around the fact that we won’t just suffer at the hands of unbelievers outside the church, we’ll also be persecuted by unbelievers (and sometimes even Believers) inside the church.
  • And finally, we not only desperately need to see suffering the reproaches of Christ as an honor rather than an embarrassment, we need to support, encourage, and stand with fellow Believers who are being persecuted rather than being ashamed to be counted with them.

When you face an “11th Commandment” issue there are some hard questions you need to ask yourself: Am I embracing the prospect of suffering for Christ, or avoiding it? Am I grasping the fact that the attempt by other Christians to silence me on a biblical issue is persecution? Am I ashamed of God’s Word and ashamed of being counted with those who are standing for it? Am I choosing to stay silent because that is the biblically wise decision regarding an inconsequential matter or am I just being a coward? Am I fearing God or fearing earthly consequences? Those are questions only you can answer through prayer and by rightly dividing and applying God’s Word.


Sometimes it is biblically wise to remain silent, but in the times when Scripture requires us to boldly take a stand for Christ and for His Word, we dare not seek to avoid suffering by caving in to the pressure of the 11th Commandment.

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. Ezekiel 33:6


¹I am not personally privy to specific examples of specific people intimidating others or being intimidated by someone, so this article is not aimed at any specific person/people. This article is about the principles surrounding the “11th Commandment”.
Church, Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution

I usually wait at least a year to “throwback” an article, but with the Canadian government’s seizure of GraceLife Church
yesterday, I thought a refresher might be in order.
Please keep the whole GraceLife family in your prayers.

Originally published February 26, 2021

Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).

Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.

In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.

To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.

But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.

And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.

Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.

1.
The degree of persecution does not equal
the definition of persecution.

“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”

I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.

But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.

I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours without permission, that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.

The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.

We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.

2.
We must think about persecution
on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.

There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes. 

And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.

Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding. 

So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving COVID as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.

In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s COVID regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it. 

The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:

  • God says:
    proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and make disciples of them,
    come, all who are thirsty, and
    whosoever will may come.
    He casts out no one who comes to Him.

    His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.

Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.

3.
Satan is a deceiver.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)

That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him. 

There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”

But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.

At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with COVID regulations3:

It’s for your safety…

It’s for the safety of others…

It’s loving your neighbor…

The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…

And…

James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey COVID regulations.

Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about COVID regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to  oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.

Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.

And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.

And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.

And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.

Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.

He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of COVID regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.

If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.

4.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time
doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.

“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating COVID regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”

Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would face the furnace.

Daniel knew the consequences for his prayers would be the lion’s den.

Jesus knew the cross was coming.

The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.

Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.


1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.

2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire

3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.


Additional Resources:

Persecution in the Pew

Why Pastor James Coates’ Imprisonment is Actual Persecution at The Cripplegate

Why are COVID restrictions on gathering size persecution, but fire codes limiting gathering size are not? Glad You Asked (~23:21) at A Word Fitly Spoken

Erin Coates Interview

I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen:

Movies

Movie Tuesday ~ Paint the Wall Black: The Story of Nini’s Deli

It has long been my perspective that the grit, wonder, and inspiration of true stories far surpasses anything in the fictional realm. And Paint the Wall Black only serves to bolster this belief.

Meet Juan, a dear brother whom God graciously saved out of a number of depravities. Listen to his story of serving Christ and ministering to others through his family’s business…and what happened when he stood his ground on God’s Word on Black Lives Matter during the 2020 riots. Bonus material after the movie: Jon Harris, of the Conversations that Matter Podcast, interviews Juan and Pastor Joe.

A couple of caveats:

The filmmakers nobly attempted the herculean task of bleeping or blurring out every audible or written instance of profanity and vulgarity. But as you will see, it was impossible to edit out all of them. You will see the F-word. You will see middle fingers flying. Many pagans express themselves in such ways. If you cannot handle that, please do not watch this film.

Featuring this film on my blog does not equal an endorsement of Metro Praise International church, which, from its website, appears to be Pentecostal. Though I appreciate their strong focus on preaching the gospel and don’t doubt their confession of Christ based on what I’ve seen in this movie, Pentecostalism holds to some doctrines which are unbiblical. If you’re looking for a church in the Chicago or Dallas areas please see my Searching for a new church? resource instead.

Suffering

Erin Coates Interview

Normally, when I feature a full length video in a post, it’s for leisure time entertainment, or maybe it even focuses on something important that you need to educate yourself about.

This time, it’s urgent.

Let me get this part out of the way first because I know some of you, like me, looked at that 3 hour time stamp on the video and your visceral reaction was, “There’s no way I have the time or the attention span to watch all of that.” I get it. But here’s how the video breaks down:

  • Justin Peters’ interview with Erin: About 45 minutes long
  • James Coates’ February 14 sermon: About an hour
  • GraceLife Associate Pastor Jacob Spenst’s February 21 sermon: A little over an hour.

If you read my article from last Friday, 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution, or if you’ve been paying attention to Christian news and social media, you’re familiar with the story of Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (And if not, it’s explained in the video.)

I want to urge you to at least listen to the interview with Erin and pray for her, James, their family, and GraceLife, especially today and tomorrow. Thursday is the hearing to determine whether James can bail out of jail without agreeing to the shamefully discriminatory bail conditions that have been put in place. Erin explains more in this Instagram post:

At the end of the interview, Justin asks Erin if there’s anything we outsiders can do to help. Here’s what you can do:

  • Pray
  • Contact Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, Canada via phone, mail, email, or via Facebook and Twitter, and request that all charges against James be dropped. Do so kindly and politely. Remember, you are representing Christ. Mention where you’re from. Even if you don’t live in Alberta or anywhere in Canada, the Premier needs to know this is a bad look for Canada in the eyes of a watching world – and so do other world leaders who are undoubtedly watching to see what Canada will do in this case. Never underestimate the power of negative publicity in the hands of an Almighty God.
  • Help get the word out. Share this post with your pastor. Post it on social media and ask all your friends to share. If you have any contacts in the media or anyone with a large platform who could aid in spreading the word, ask that they help shine some light on this situation. The more publicity, the better.
  • Pastors, open your churches. Especially if you’re Alberta. Not only is it obedient to Scripture, can you imagine how encouraging it would be to Pastor James and GraceLife to see other churches and pastors standing in solidarity with them?
  • Keep your mouth shut. I can’t tell you how many horrifying comments I’ve read from professing Christians about this situation. If you can’t be an encouragement to your brother in Christ, just be quiet, and maybe examine yourself against Scripture. I definitely won’t be publishing any comments or reading any emails that are discouraging or critical.

Watch. And pray.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you…in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25: 37a, 39-40

Church, Suffering

4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution

Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).

Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.

In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.

To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.

But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.

And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.

Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.

1.
The degree of persecution does not equal
the definition of persecution.

“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”

I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.

But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.

I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours, without permission that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.

The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.

We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.

2.
We must think about persecution
on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.

There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes. 

And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.

Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding. 

So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving Covid as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.

In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s Covid regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it. 

The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:

  • God says:
    proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and make disciples of them,
    come, all who are thirsty, and
    whosoever will may come.
    He casts out no one who comes to Him.

    His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.

Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.

3.
Satan is a deceiver.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)

That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him. 

There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”

But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.

At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with Covid regulations3:

It’s for your safety…

It’s for the safety of others…

It’s loving your neighbor…

The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…

And…

James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey Covid regulations.

Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about Covid regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to  oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.

Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.

And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.

And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.

And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.

Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.

He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of Covid regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.

If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.

4.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time
doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.

“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating Covid regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”

Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would face the furnace.

Daniel knew the consequences for his prayers would be the lion’s den.

Jesus knew the cross was coming.

The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.

Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.


1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.

2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire

3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.


Additional Resources:

Persecution in the Pew

Why Pastor James Coates’ Imprisonment is Actual Persecution at The Cripplegate

Why are COVID restrictions on gathering size persecution, but fire codes limiting gathering size are not? Glad You Asked (~23:21) at A Word Fitly Spoken

I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen: