Canadian pastor: Neither ‘fine’ nor ‘jail time’ will stop believers from in-person worship
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CALGARY, Alberta, March 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A Canadian pastor who held in-person Sunday worship amid COVID restrictions said that “no amount of fine, no amount of jail time” will prevent him and his church from gathering. Previously, police had taken photos of his parishioners inside his church for allegedly breaking local COVID rules.
“We see with our city councillors, in our mayor, and others in government … that they don’t really understand Christian convictions, they don’t really understand that this is a matter of obedience to God and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and so no amount of fine, no amount of jail time is going to discourage people as they come together to worship,” said Senior Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, in an interview posted on the news site Rebel News.
Stephens and his church have been openly defying Alberta COVID rules which limit gathering sizes to 15 percent capacity, mandate mask-wearing, and proscribe social distancing.
Last Sunday, Stephens said Calgary police visited the church, along with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and bylaw officers. Stephens allowed the officials to come inside his church so long as they promised to not disrupt the service.
Officials photographed congregants, many of whom were not wearing masks.
A Calgary Herald report notes that City Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said he has received “numerous complaints about the church from its neighbours,” and that a potential fine of up to $250,000 should make him think again before breaking more COVID rules.
Regarding this, Stephens told Rebel News that “it’s strange that they [government and officials] would almost in a sense lecture Christians about how they ought to behave and how they ought to worship.”
“I think there’s a real misunderstanding on their part. Christ is King, so we’re here to worship him, and he is above every other authority,” said Stephens.
Following his February 21 religious service in defiance of Alberta COVID rules, Stephens noted in a message posted to his church’s website that he and his church “cannot comply with rules” that make “what we essentially do as a church impossible.”
“We understand the dangers of COVID-19 but we also understand the dangers of policies that seek to reduce the spread of the virus. All must admit that the lockdowns and restrictions have been damaging,” said Stephens.
Stephens has also expressed his solidarity with Alberta Pastor James Coates, who is in jail for preaching to his flock amid lockdowns after refusing to agree with bail conditions that would force him not to hold church services while lockdowns are in place.
Coates is awaiting a trial date of May 3 to 5. His legal representation, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), announced it would appeal his bail conditions.
Coates’ bail hearing appeal on March 4 ended with a judge deferring a decision on the matter until Friday morning.
Fairview Baptist had previously been cited with a total of seven violations by AHS inspectors in January. His church was fined $1,200. AHS claimed that Fairview Baptist was not observing rules around attendance size, and that most faithful were not wearing masks, which is mandated by the government.
As for Stephens, he noted in the Sunday Rebel News report that if one is to lose their soul, they have nothing.
“Jesus said that if you were to gain the whole world, so you had all this power you have all this money all the status in the world if you had that but if you lost your soul, you have nothing,” said Stephens.
“There’s nothing more important to you than your own soul, and what we’re doing as a church is proclaiming that message of Jesus because forgiveness with God, peace with him, to be reconciled with him — there is nothing more important than doing that.”
Stephens said that when you see a “free church,” you see “free people,” going on to say that without Jesus and his salvation, there will be a need for “more police because inside of our hearts is sin.”
“We’re self-governed according to the principles laid down in Scripture, we have a free society, free for Christian, free for non-Christian,” said Stephens. “We’ve seen that is going away in our society, as it’s not just the church, it’s our entire society that is coming under the grips of more, more tyranny, especially medical tyranny in this day in age.”
The Church Must Gather declaration lists a growing number of churches who have declared they must gather for in-person worship, “with or without the permission of the civil authorities.”