Do you know a Church that has Great Content and Messages? Let them know how to be Found Online when someone searches Google for "Churches Near Me" .

Click to Email Your Church Now

Crossflix - Join free for 30 Days

Should Christians Be Involved In Civil Disobedience?

Should Christians Be Involved In Civil Disobedience?

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

— Martin Luther King (while in jail for civil disobedience)

According to writer Caroline Grebbel, civil disobedience is the active, non-violent refusal to accept the dictates of government. It informs the government that unjust actions will be opposed and the people will act illegally if pushed to do so.  

Civil disobedience causes disruption and focuses attention, while forcing debate with the aim of bringing about fundamental and progressive changes within our societies and our world.  

Our history is full of positive examples of civil disobedience.  Our Canadian society is better because people in our nation, and internationally, have taken a public stand for things they believed were not right.

Three examples come to mind.  

When Civil Disobedience Is Right

Women in Britain went on strike for the right to vote.  Prior to 1928, women were not seen as informed or educated enough to cast a vote.  Thousands of women took to the streets to demand the right to vote.  Every democracy in the world is better for these women who took a stand.

India used to be a subject colony of England.  In 1882, England imposed a salt tax. It was a way to control the nation of India, especially the poor.  No one was allowed to make salt; you had to get it from the British.  On March 12th, 1930 Mahatma Gandhi traveled 386 kilometres from his home to the Arabian Sea.  He started the journey with 78 others and tens of thousands joined him in the process. 

60,000 Indians were sent to jail, as was Gandhi.  On April 6th, he openly defied British law and made his own salt from the sea.  His little gesture started the process that would culminate in India becoming a self-governing nation.  Gandhi has become a symbol of non-violent protest around the world.

In the 1950s, much of America was segregated.  Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old-girl, became the first African American to refuse to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  She was forcibly taken off the bus, arrested and placed in an adult jail.  Her crime: believing that she had the right to an empty seat on a bus.  

Nine months later, another lady named Rosa Parks did the same.  She refused to give up her seat.  1955 and 1956 were very turbulent years in the South.  Black Americans, later to be joined by many white Americans, demonstrated against segregation laws with acts of civil disobedience.  It wasn’t until 1964 that a law was passed in America outlawing segregation.  Simple actions like going to school and sitting on a bus brought transformation.

We look back at these actions, often starting with one person, and realize that they changed laws and society.  Their willingness to take a stand for what they believed was right cost them.  But they were right.

Canada, Covid and Church

The Church in Canada is in a very interesting place.  The lockdown has affected churches along with almost every other facet of life.  Our church family were temporarily not allowed to assemble in person.  We were allowed to gather via virtual formats such as zoom. We could chat with each other as we watched the live stream of our meetings on Sundays.  During certain periods, we could only gather with 10 people in our venue and we used those ten to produce a meeting to be livestreamed.

Across Canada, there are pastors and church leadership teams who feel that no government should be able to tell a place of worship to close.  They are actively being disobedient to the government guidelines.  You will have heard the stories.

In Alymer, ON, Pastor Henry Hilderbrandt leads the Church of God congregation.  That church has remained defiantly open every Sunday.  Almost every Sunday the police cars are in the parking lot allowing the congregation to enter.  Almost every Monday, Henry and his leadership are given a ticket for breaking the stay-at-home orders.   

In Edmonton, AB, Pastor James Coates of Grace Life Church chose to go to jail rather than pay a fine for having their congregation meet during the lockdown.  He was released after a month and promptly led the following Sunday meeting.  The police came and erected a fence around the property to force the congregation not to meet.  You may have seen video of non-church members taking down the fence.

In early May, another Alberta pastor, Artur Pawlowski and his brother David were arrested for opening their church and not enforcing face masks.  You may have seen the video in April of Artur demanding that police not enter their church building.  He called the police Nazi’s.  He was defiant in his right to meet and citied the law that no one, including police, can disrupt a worship service.

I’m not going to judge any of these leaders.  If their motives are pure and they are doing what they feel the Lord has asked them to do, who am I to disagree?  I do feel that there are some questions that need to be asked when church leaders are involved in civil disobedience.

I find it fascinating that it is Christian leaders who are at the forefront of this round of civil disobedience.  Jewish, Muslim, Hindu clerics are not the ones protesting the lockdown in the same way as Christians.  Either these Christian leaders are pioneers for freedom, or they are out of sync with the rest of Canada.

Two comments on civil disobedience.

First, how do we act when confronted by authorities?

In many of the videos that I have watched, which are produced by these pastors and their congregations, the faith leaders are behaving poorly.  It is my opinion that the words they are using to defend their actions and to demand their rights, don’t portray Jesus well.  My opinion.  

In the videos I’ve seen of police issuing tickets, seeking to check if church leaders are following the law (limits in the venue, wearing of masks), the police were the gracious ones.  Their words and actions to uphold the current laws of the land were kind, clear and calm. I’m sure there were and are exceptions, but from what I’ve seen, many of the faith leaders were rude, rebellious and nasty with their words.  

Two cases have already gone to court in Canada.  Springs Church in Winnipeg, MB lost its case earlier this year.  The courts ruled that asking a church to meet digitally was in the public’s best interest during a lockdown.  The Premier of Manitoba asked all places of faith to switch to zoom, Facebook and other social media formats for their meetings rather than meet in person.  The courts agreed.  

In Toronto, a Scarborough church challenged the order of 10 and argued for a percentage as their venue sat over 1000.  The church argued that a 10-person limitation was a more severe punishment for them than for a building that seated 100.  The courts ruled against them.

In most provinces, churches have filed papers with the courts to argue their rights under the constitution to meet as a place of worship.  Time will tell which way the courts will rule.

How Jesus Responds

We have only one example of Jesus possibly being involved in civil disobedience.  You will remember that he overturned the tables of the money changers (Matthew 21).  In my mind, this wasn’t an action against the Roman government, rather the hypocrisy of the Jewish faith leaders.  Jesus specifically told his followers to carry the backpack of a Roman soldier for two miles when only one mile was required.  Jesus paid taxes to the Romans.  

Here is a story you didn’t hear about.  A small-town church in Ontario had the police show up between the two meetings.  The next day the rules were changing to 10. The police got it wrong and challenged the pastor as to why they had so many people.  Instead of videotaping the event, instead of demanding his rights, this pastor complied and didn’t hold the second meeting.  He felt that his role was to cover the error of the police rather than expose it.  

Because he had a relationship with the mayor of the town, he called the mayor and explained what had happened. He met with the chief of police who apologized for their mistake.  You didn’t hear about this story, but it happened in April of this year.  I felt corrected by Holy Spirit when I heard this story.  To me, this was a better way of responding.  To me, this sounded more like what Jesus would have done.

My conclusion:  If Father God asks you to be involved in civil disobedience, represent Jesus well in your words and actions.

"My conclusion:  If Father God asks you to be involved in civil disobedience, represent Jesus well in your words and actions."

Second, What are we declaring to our secular world?

The mission of every church community and of every follower of Jesus is found in Matthew 28.  While living in our secular society, we are to make disciples. That’s not my role as the leader of Catch The Fire; that’s everyone’s role who listens and follows Jesus.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:18-20

I understand that if the Lord has clearly spoken to the church leaders who are defiant, then they need to do what the Lord has asked them to do.  But in my mind, Christians are gaining a bad reputation in Canada right now for fighting for the wrong issues.  The vast majority of Canadians want covid-19 over; they want compliance with the lockdown so we can get back to a semblance of normalcy.

In Alymer, ON, there are protests each Sunday from the community, including people from other congregations.  The people in that town seek to block the entrance to the church building.  The police are there to keep the parking lot open.  Interestingly, many who now attend this congregation didn’t before the lockdown.  They are like-minded people who are willing to travel to this church to make a statement.  

The community of Alymer is upset that people of faith are gathering and not wearing masks when asked to.  They fear that covid-19 will spread in the community.  Alymer, a small town west of Kitchener, just happens to be a hot spot of covid-19.  The town’s people are blaming this church.

I worry for the reputation of this congregation after covid is gone.  Will the people who need to know Jesus to be willing to listen to any of the church members when they attempt to explain what it means to be a follower of Jesus?  I don’t know.

I’ve noted that in the UK and most European nations, churches are at the forefront for encouraging the wearing of masks, getting vaccinations, etc.  One of the slogans is “I wear a mask for you.”  “I got vaccinated for you.” The mentality of many followers of Jesus is that Jesus served others, He didn’t live for his own rights, rather lived for others.

My conclusion:  Is living for my rights and privileges helping me or hurting my ability to see people come to know Jesus?

Final thoughts:

The leadership team of Catch The Fire Church in Toronto) and our board of directors have felt that we, as a church community, need to obey the lockdown orders.  We feel that this is right before the Lord. We feel this best follows the example of Jesus, Paul and other first-century apostles.

We know that some who attend Catch the Fire feel otherwise. We’ve had people tell us they are disappointed that we have lacked the courage to stay open and they will no longer be attending. We’ve had people on the other side of the spectrum feel that when we opened at 15% and 30% capacity during those seasons, we were irresponsible and put those assembled in danger.

My encouragement to our church family is this:

  1. Do what the Lord tells you to do. (And make sure you follow the Bible’s rules for hearing the voice of God, such as having two witnesses and checking if it aligns with Scripture.)
  2. Don’t judge those who are doing things such as civil disobedience without first knowing their story. Recognize that what you read and hear in the media may not be the whole story. So give people grace rather than make a hasty opinion.
  3. Remember the big picture. As followers of Jesus, we are to represent Jesus to others. How do we best do this?

Original Catch the Fire post here

Steve Long is the Senior Leader of Catch The Fire Church (Toronto). He is the author of several books including The Faith Zone and My Healing Belongs to Me.  Steve and his wife Sandra serve on two apostolic teams; one for the City of Toronto as well as Catch The Fire World.  They live in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Report This Page
Contact Member
Show Phone Number
View Church
Homeschool Products from Nest Learning