Just like God was leading the Israelites on their journey, we can have every confidence that he has been leading us on ours. Just like every twist and every turn they took was within the wise providence of God, so too every step we’ve taken forward and every step we’ve taken back. He planned that we would approach mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, and he has used them all for his good purposes.
When I was a child, the maps in my Bible got me through many a sermon. I was rarely interested in listening to the preacher, so I would flip to the back pages of the Bible to study the maps there. I would gaze at the contours of the lands of the Middle East. I would observe how Abraham had obeyed God and left his country and his kindred and his father’s house to journey to the land that God would show him. I would study the ancient world as the Patriarchs knew it. Best of all, I would see how God had miraculously delivered his people from their long captivity in Egypt.
Like just about every Bible, mine had a map that traced the route the Israelites followed after they escaped from Egypt and began to make their way toward the Promised Land. The map had a line in blue that began in Egypt and then traveled south for a time toward the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula. Eventually, it bulged north for a short while before dipping south again. Then finally it turned permanently northward and led the way to Jericho before it terminated on the banks of the Jordan.
The route the Israelites followed is far from straight and hardly looks efficient. Instead of taking a direct approach leading straight from Egypt to Canaan, the route appears to wander and meander, to turn this way and then that, to progress for a time and then bog down.
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By Jon Payne — 2 years ago
Like every pilgrim traveling the narrow road from suffering to glory, you need (we all need) the loving fellowship and accountability of the church. Therefore, may we all joyfully express with the psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
Is gathered (in-person) worship optional for Christians? The question is a profoundly relevant one, especially in our day of endless online services and superficial views of public worship. The Bible’s answer is unmistakably clear: No, gathered worship is not optional. In fact, it’s a divine requirement for every follower of Christ. Indeed, unless providentially hindered by legitimate impediments such as illness or perilous weather, believers are commanded to assemble for worship in the context of a biblically constituted church (Heb. 10:24–25)—that is, a local body of believers who are under the loving shepherding care and discipline of qualified elders. These elders oversee the souls of Christ’s flock and faithfully execute the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the public prayers (Acts 2:42; 14:23; Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). Gathered worship in a biblical church is, therefore, a nonnegotiable—an essential mark and means of Christian piety, discipleship, and witness. The church is certainly more than the sacred assembling of believers on the Lord’s Day, but it is never less than that.
During the month of December, church attendance generally swells. Advent hymns, festive decorations, nativity sermons, and family traditions add incentive to assemble with the people of God for worship. But what about the rest of the year? What about the other forty-eight Lord’s Days? Why is gathered (in-person) worship so vital for Christian believers?
Reasons for Not Assembling?
Before answering these important questions, perhaps it would be helpful to consider a couple of the typical reasons that many of today’s believers choose not to assemble for worship. We will touch on two of them—individualistic spirituality and negative church experiences.
The first reason that professing believers forsake gathered worship is the growing trend of individualistic spirituality. Rather than identify with Christ through committed church membership and gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, many have untethered themselves from the ministry and mission of the visible church. Instead, they prefer to cobble together a highly personalized spirituality from websites, books, podcasts, and informal fellowship. Many have grown partial to online worship instead of in-person, for reasons of convenience and autonomy. They envision Christianity on their own terms, without accountability, discipline, or shepherding care. The glaring problem with this approach is that nowhere in Scripture do we see this kind of privatized faith. It’s utterly foreign to biblical Christianity. Jesus requires His redeemed children to be active members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–26; Eph. 4:15–16), living in joyful submission to qualified leaders who are charged to “[keep] watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17). A Christian without a church is like a lone sheep in the wilderness, exposed to countless dangers.
A second reason that Christians choose to forsake gathered worship is that they’ve had a negative church experience. More than a few believers have been traumatized by abusive leadership, toxic relationships, and false teaching in the church. For some, the memories are raw. The scars are real. Even so, all churches should not be judged on the basis of negative experiences in some churches. Christ understands the pain caused by bad leaders and unfaithful churches. He also knows best what His blood-bought followers need most—that is, gathered worship, constituted of the means of grace, in the context of a healthy church.
Canadian Pastor, Who Faced Six Years in Prison, $600,000 in Fines for Holding Worship Services, Receives Small FineBy Staff — 2 years ago
On January 20, 2022, Richardson was fined $3,000 (plus lawyers’ fees). In response to this court ruling, Richardson wrote on his Twitter account: “Thank you for your prayers. I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support in prayer that I have received in the last few days. Praise God for a wonderful outcome: That I was allowed to address the court in Jesus’ name, and that I came away with a very small fine.”
In 2021, Pastor Steve Richardson of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tillsonburg, Ontario, was initially charged with two counts of exceeding the 10-person limit for church services that were conducted in the church building. Other charges were brought against Richardson for holding services outside. Each charge had a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000, bringing the potential total to six years imprisonment and $600,000 in fines.
Read more here: Pastor Faces Six Years in Prison and $600,000 in Fines for Refusing to Turn People Away From His Church
Here is an update on Pastor Richardson’s case: On January 20, 2022, Richardson was fined $3,000 (plus lawyers’ fees). In response to this court ruling, Richardson wrote on his Twitter account: “Thank you for your prayers. I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support in prayer that I have received in the last few days. Praise God for a wonderful outcome: That I was allowed to address the court in Jesus’ name, and that I came away with a very small fine.”
Richardson detailed more about his experiences on his blog:
I want to offer here a brief update regarding my court case. I do so with a measure of trepidation. I have heard some say that if I believe my cause is just I should just quietly accept the penalty. Some might think my updates have been motivated by pride. They may feel that what I have done – in keeping my church open – was wrong and that spreading the word about my charges is self-serving and arrogant. I can say this with a fair degree of certainty. Such men do not know my heart. If they did I expect they would find it worse even then they believe. I am nowhere near the man I would like to be, and if there is anything praiseworthy in me it is by the grace of God. The truth is I am probably far more proud than I know. Though I want to eschew pride, and while I desire humility, pride seems strangely natural to sinful men. But I also know what motivated me through 2020 and 2021; and I can say that at every step I acted in faith, with sincerity and with an eye to the glory of God. I can only hope and pray that I have not gotten in the way of the honour and praise that belongs only to Him.
Many readers will know that I was charged 6 times for keeping the church open during lockdowns. I had continued to worship through 2020, but it was not until December of 2020 that the police began to really pay attention to us. Each of the charges carried a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison and 100,000 dollars in fines. Cumulatively I faced a maximum of 6 years and 600,000 dollars.
Initially I opted to contest the charges as being unconstitutional. However, when my relationship with Faith Presbyterian Church was severed this became an impossibility. After a great deal of discussion with my lawyers, with other pastors and with my wife I decided that it was best to plead guilty. Though I had not broken God’s law, there was no question that I had broken provincial regulations. And my lawyer told me my case was not winnable. If I were to lose – which I was assured I would – it would set a bad precedent for other pastors who had a better chance at trial. It was agreed that I would plead guilty on the condition that I be allowed to (briefly) address the court. This was against the advice of my lawyers, as they understood that it would not likely help my case. Still, I felt constrained by conscience and love for my Redeemer to speak for Him. For me this was the most important thing. Not that I be spared a severe penalty or even jail time, but that I should honour Christ.
Early this week my stomach was in knots. The lawyers assured me that the fine would be small and that I would not face jail time. Still I recognized there was a small possibility that my statement would anger the judge and that he (having the authority to decide on the sentence) could make things bad for me. I am a family man and the thought of prison is not appealing to the flesh. Early on I had researched a local Ontario prison; so I had an idea of the kind of cell that would become home if I did have to do time. And of course I could imagine the trial of prolonged separation from my wife and children. As unlikely as it was, the fact that James Coates and Tim Stephens had both spent time in jail, suggested to me (at least) that it wasn’t an impossibility. I didn’t know what the judge might ask me, but I knew I could not agree to any kind of compromise. If asked I would do it again. The principles that governed my behaviour in 2020 and 2021 had not changed.
Then Wednesday came, and part way through the day it was as if I could sense the prayers of the saints. I knew many were praying as I had heard from a number of them… but it seemed that the Lord was very near. I felt a tremendous peace and even joy. I was overcome with a sense of the worth of Jesus Christ. He was worthy; and that is all that mattered.
This morning as I prepared for court I was filled with a desire to be allowed to suffer for Christ. It was not a carnal martyr’s complex or anything like a fleshly desire for man’s praise. I just felt an intense longing to be allowed to follow in His steps, to be counted worthy to suffer for Him and perhaps even to be given a prison ministry. The thought filled me with joy.
I cannot tell you what a blessing it was to go to court (online) with my Bible open at 1 Peter 4:12-16, knowing that cause was just, and keenly aware of the prayers of the saints. Our God is faithful, and He is indeed a prayer hearing God!
When I appeared in court this morning the judge indicated that I would be allowed to give my statement after sentencing. However, the crown had not seen what I had prepared to say and asked to see it. When he and the judge looked at what I had prepared they decided that I should read it before sentencing.
Here is what I said:
Thank you sir. I have always believed it is my duty as a Christian to honour civil authorities, to pray for them and to obey all their laws except where those laws come into conflict with God’s laws. I deeply desire to be on the right side of the law. But my allegiance belongs ultimately to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
If I were to comply with regulations that limit the number of those who can gather for worship, prayer and fellowship, or regulations that would limit what goes on when we do, I would be derelict in my duties as a Christian pastor. That is something for which I would one day have to answer to God. I do not want to disobey my civil authorities, but I cannot and will not dishonour and disobey my King. He died to save me from my sins, and I love Him for it. I owe Him everything and I count it a joy to live and die in His service.
I was amazed when I was finished to hear the judge say “thank you very much.” He then proceeded with his own statement and the sentencing. After a bit of a preamble the prosecutor was advised that my statement indicated I would do it again and that the crown might want to use it in the future if needed. That, he said, was up to them. He then explained that I would have to pay $3000.00 (plus costs & surcharges).
I see this as a tremendous answer to prayer. Certainly the court was wrong. They were lenient (for which I am thankful), but their decision to sentence me for gathering God’s people for worship was both a violation of the Charter and an egregious sin against God. Still, I recognize that God has overruled this for good. He has mercifully spared me and my family what might have been a very severe sentence. For this we are deeply grateful. He is good, and He is most worthy!
I have been praying for those in court today. For other defendants and lawyers, for the crown and for the judge. Let us pray that Christ may have His reward. But let us also pray for our authorities both civil and ecclesiastical. Let us remember that ours is a gospel of grace. We have glad tidings of great joy and the feet which carry such good news are counted beautiful. Remember that the Saviour who came, came for sinners. He did not come for the righteous but the unrighteous. In the last 2 years we have seen injustice on the part of civil rulers and compromise on the part of pastors (and elders). But God’s grace is greater than our sins, and these too may be forgiven. Let us be praying that God would come down and that repentance and revival would spread across the nation.
By Nick Batzig — 9 months ago
In the house of God, Christians must learn to remember the identity of their brothers and sisters, humbly pray for their brothers and sisters, lovingly cover the sin of their brothers and sisters, and privately confront their brothers and sisters. As we do, we will see God’s grace healing and sustaining our relationships in ways that the world will never experience.
As the culture war rages on, there is another battle raging to which we must turn our attention. When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes tell me, “No one will hurt you so much as others in the church.” In my lifetime, this has generally proven to be true. Believers sometimes experience the greatest hurt in their relationships with other professing believers in the church at large.
When a professing believer hurts our feelings or reputation, how should we respond? Should we, in turn, demean that individual by telling others (whether privately or publicly), “I can’t stand him,” or “she’s such a mess” or “I’m not even sure that he or she is a Christian.” To our shame, most of us are guilty of having responded in such sinful ways. When someone hurts us, the instinct of our flesh is to hurt them back.
Thankfully, God does not leave us to our fleshly instincts to learn how to respond. Instead, He instructs us in very specific ways about how we should respond when someone does us harm. By virtue of our union with Christ—in His death and resurrection—we can learn to put the following into practice:
1. Remember the spiritual identity of the offending brother or sister.
The Scriptures differentiate between the children of God and unbelievers. Everyone who is united to Christ by faith has been adopted into God’s family. None of us deserves to be adopted into God’s family. It is the height of the spiritual blessings that God has conferred on us by grace. When we sin against others in the body, or when they sin against us, we are sinning against one of God’s beloved sons or daughters.
We are to view all professing believers as our brothers and sisters in Christ—as members of “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:14). Our actions are to accord with what we believe about the doctrine of adoption. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, then we should “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10), and we ought never “speak evil of one another” (James 4:11). If we viewed each other according to the doctrine of adoption, it would radically change the way that we respond when a brother or sister hurts us.