This article has been contributed by my husband, Rev Tim Wilson
What would you do if you are convinced from the Bible that you must disobey the government in order to obey God? How would you respond to pressure from the media, other Christians, and the world to go against your biblical convictions?
Are you committed to obedience to Christ, no matter what the cost?
In some form, these questions and more have been asked by God’s people for thousands of years. We see in Scripture some of the brave men and women who have followed God, rather than the government in tests of their faith e.g. the Hebrew midwives, Daniel and his friends, Paul and the other apostles, and Jesus.
However, in the western church, over the past few centuries, there has been little threat to our faith and the government has seemingly provided the church with freedom to worship.
For the whole world this all changed during the covid crisis of 2020-2021. As every country (and even state) took different approaches to the situation, churches in the west were faced with a dilemma they’ve never encountered before... what is church and what is the role of the government and the church?
For my friend and pastor, James Coates, the answers to all these questions I’ve posed, landed him in jail for more than a month.
My personal relationship with Pastor James
I still remember the moment meeting pastor James at the end of 2015. We only chatted briefly as I attended a conference his church was hosting, but I was surprised by his sincere and warm welcome. Next, I was struck by his obvious high view of God’s Word even in the way he read the Bible.
A few months later we began attending his church (Grace Life Edmonton) and I was captivated by his preaching, as he preached clearly from Scripture, in a manner I had never been exposed to. This method of preaching (expository preaching) was nothing new or original, but simply a devotion to the Word of God and a commitment to study and proclaim God’s Word with clarity, authority, and application.
The love and care the congregation also demonstrated to one another (and us) surpassed anything we had ever experienced and the depth and love for theology was unlike anything we had known before.
James’ life and ministry was such a great testimony that by the end of that year I had enrolled in the seminary he graduated from and in 2017 I began studying at The Master’s Seminary (TMS) in Los Angeles, California.
During our time in LA, we were also blessed with continued relationship with Grace Life and I was able to meet with James on numerous occasions when he attended in-person classes for his doctorate program.
Following my graduation, my family and I moved back to Canada and I began ministry only one hour from Grace Life. In the Lord’s gracious providence, this proved to be a great source of support, strength, love, and wisdom through a challenging year of ministry.
We are so grateful for the support of Grace Life in this season, even though they were experiencing great challenges themselves. During and since this time, Pastor James also remained a sounding block, a source of wisdom, and a patient but direct counsellor.
My reason for including this background information is not to boast about any association with him, because compared to the impact Pastor James has had on people for more than a decade at Grace Life, my story and personal relationship with him is limited.
However, I hope this background provides an honourable and honest picture of this man (who has since become famous), so that we can learn valuable lessons from his life and understand the faithfulness he has demonstrated to His Lord in his greatest trial.
Pastor’s James’ personal story before, during, and after his imprisonment
The fame that surrounds pastor James is a result of the stance he, the elders of Grace Life, and the whole church took in response to the government restrictions to Covid. As is fitting with pastor James, such a stance was based on a high view of the Bible, submission to God’s Word and Christ, a settled conviction on theology, and a love for people.
These motivations (not politics, finances, or power) led to a prayerful and thoughtful unified decision among the elders at Grace Life, to boldly continue meeting as a local body of believers. As noted, in his recent book, this decision was not taken lightly and there was much patience and humility throughout the decision-making process and how this was then communicated with the church.
As history now shows, this decision also became the public face of ‘resisting’ the government mandates and received media attention all over the world. This was clearly not the purpose of the church’s response, but such was the biblical conviction from pastor James that ultimately, he was arrested and imprisoned.
I think it’s important to note his continued submission to Christ, rather than submission to the government, was only in matters that related to the church. This is clearly articulated through several sermons he preached that clarify and defend his theological convictions on the response taken and the biblical answers to the questions about the role of the government and the necessity of church.
Pastor James has recently co-authored a book called, “God vs Government: Taking a Biblical Stand when Christ and Compliance Collide.”
This book provides the biblical basis and the personal story of pastor James and the experience of Grace Life through the challenges they encountered during the Covid crisis of 2020-2021.
The book was co-authored with Dr Nathan Busenitz of TMS and Grace Community Church, who provides a similar account of the challenges faced in California.
Since his jail time, pastor James has certainly received fame and the church has almost tripled in size. However, such focus and growth has only offered more opportunities for Gospel ministry and increased the exposure to the teaching of God’s Word!
At the end of the day, pastor James knows lots of people don’t agree with his stance, but his motivation is to be faithful and pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, no matter the consequences… may this always be our motivation too.
Genevieve Wilson is Canadian. a happily married home-schooling mum of 3, whose passion is to see people come to know Jesus. She is a seminary wife to her amazing husband.