Ken Boessenkool argues on The Line, here, that “(i)f the Grace Life (sic) (Church) leaders want to truly make (sic) their case, they should be charged.” A Canadian Reformed Calvinist, Boessenkool deems GraceLife Church’s holding packed Sunday services in Spruce Grove, Alberta, as civil disobedience. He implies they are unwilling to “accept the consequences of their actions,” including trial and imprisonment. He says this disinclination shows the GraceLife Church leaders are insincere: “But let’s pretend for a moment Grace Life Church (sic) is sincere.” He asserts their putative unwillingness to suffer consequences and their refusal to make a case mean they “are promoting anarchy – the very absence of rules or due process.” Boessenkool claims that “where I go to church,” one of the “rules” is “love your neighbour.” He describes the substitutionary sacrifice of Our Lord as “due process.” Is he correct, or is this too-clever-by-half rhetorical blather?
Do facts bear him out?
Further, the church pastor James Coates was jailed. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms led by John Carpay made legal arguments against bail conditions that kept Pastor Coates in jail for over a month.
The church seeks a hearing on the constitutionality of Alberta’s public health order banning churches’ holding services with attendees’ exceeding 15 per cent of sanctuary capacity. As Carpay put it, “We look forward to appearing in court in May and demanding the government provide evidence that public health restrictions that violate the freedoms of religion, peaceful assembly, expression and association are scientific and are justifiable in a free and democratic country.”
Boessenkool is “out” on the facts. Where does that leave his theological grounds? As to Christ’s second commandment, “love your neighbour as yourself,” the first and greatest commandment restated by Our Lord is, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In respect of both, the Epistle to the Hebrews admonishes against forsaking their assembling together to encourage one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Boessenkool points to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice as an argument for “due process.” Jesus’ sacrifice is discussed in the Epistle to the Romans (3:25-28). Legal terminology is used. However, the means of accessing the benefits of the sacrifice is not “due process” but, above all, simple trust or faith.
Boessenkool’s theological arguments against GraceLife Church do not stand up. How do his arguments fare in light of his own confession, unpacked and promulgated in the Heidelberg Catechism? The Catechism poses a question about “the sabbath,” understood as The Lord’s Day, Sunday: “What does God require in the fourth commandment?” The answer: “First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained, and that, especially on the day of rest, I diligently attend the church of God to hear God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the LORD, and to give Christian offerings for the poor.”
No COVID exception.
For 2000 years, Christian thought has reflected on Christ’s saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Western Christendom drew a line between church authority and secular, political authority. Within the western church, authority was exercised plurally or collegially. Political rulers exercised their authority in council, going back to Charlemagne. Autocrats were unknown in the Christian West till Louis XIV. Coercive power was exercised plurally, not singly or dictatorially.
Now, the rule of law is taken to mean the courts hold near absolute authority over every inch and dimension of life. At a 2004 conference on religion and public life at McGill University, the former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said as much, conflating state and society. The late Jean Bethke Elshtain pushed back hard on this totalistic understanding of the rule of law in favour of the Western Christian tradition of plural institutions with plural domains and authority exercised plurally, and “competing understandings of a public good.”
There is not medical unanimity about risks posed to public health by the COVID-19 virus or its variants, nor on the efficacy of lockdown. Economic and social consequences are dire. Irrespectively, we should be wary of delegating near total authority to a public health officer’s individual discretion. We should question the wisdom of shuttering churches on dubious grounds and the sincerity of leaving supermarkets, malls and big box stores open and crowded. Are both for the public good?
Do separation of church and state and rule of law mean the state can legitimately impose its authority by force as to whether or how congregations and parishes gather to worship? Is this fair, right or just?
Is this the church’s 21st-century Thomas à Becket moment?
 All direct Scriptural citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
 Article 103.
 Recognizing Religion in a Secular Society: Essays in Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy. Ed. by Douglas Farrow. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004. Cf. pp. 14 and 40.