Before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors.
In case the preceding sentence is strange to you, here’s what has been happening in Canada lately. Truckers from across the nation streamed into Ottawa a week or two ago. They did so in order to peacefully protest the loss of liberties. Under the guise of COVID policy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has altered the very nature of citizenship in Canada. Vaccine mandates, forced closure of all manner of institutions, and vaccine passports have meant that Canadians have suffered tremendously as they watched their freedoms dwindle. In the name of fighting a (real) virus, a once-great nation has fallen to its knees.
But it has not stayed there. The truckers have fought back. They have shown that the light of the West—freedom for the individual—has not gone out. Putting their livelihoods on the line, the truckers have acted as men must in the face of massive civilizational threat: boldly. They have not torched Ottawa or anywhere else. They have not caused violence and mayhem. Unlike the riots of the summer of 2020—riots fomented by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the mainstream media’s coverage, the winter of 2022 has featured protest of a peaceful kind. The truckers have given the world an example of how to advocate for liberty and defy tyranny—tyranny of a distinctly Trudeauian kind. Call it “champagne tyranny,” for although Canada’s foremost political leader projects a cosmopolitan air, if you look beneath the half-smile and the flowing locks, you see an emerging totalitarian.
The truckers have defied “champagne tyranny.” They were not the first to do so in Canada, however. Starting in the summer of 2020, Ontario pastor Jacob Reaume saw that he could not fail to gather his people for congregational worship. The flock of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo needed the Word and the gospel. Sermonettes on Zoom and text messages to one another would not cut it. Reaume’s conscience told him that remotely gathering over Zoom was no substitute for the gathered church (Hebrews 10:25). Reaume knew instinctively what John MacArthur has proclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Zoom church.”
It is no bad thing for sick folks to be able to stream sermons, of course. Further, Christians do have real disagreements in charity over policies regarding lockdowns and governmental decrees. There are gray areas and hard questions that pastors have faced the last two years, and we have sympathy for their efforts to try to hold churches together in divided times. But with that noted, Reaume and his peers saw something vital: Caesar does not rule the church’s worship. Christ does. To gather together weekly, even in difficult and tempestuous days, even when Caesar says not to, is to render to him what is due him (Matthew 22:21).
So, not long after the lockdown began in spring 2020, Reaume—like many pastors—gathered the flock and “opened the church.” As he did so, he drew the wrath of Canadian officials. Over time in late 2020 and 2021, they fined his church millions of dollars. Yet Reaume and his elders refused to stop meeting. They did so not to spite the government; they did so to glorify God and love needy people. God has commanded that his people gather, so loving God means meeting for worship, which also happens to be the foremost way Christians love their neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-39). Yet today, we are tempted by our fallen world to break the first commandment (and not gather for worship) in order to keep the second commandment (and thus love neighbor).
These pastors knew that Christians need congregational worship and body life, even desperately. So, too, do unbelievers need the gospel. This becomes especially clear in a global lockdown when seemingly every comfort and pleasure of normal life has drained away. One woman who had no interest in church prior to the lockdown visited Trinity Bible Chapel during it. Her name is Jennifer. She was, by her own testimony, shooting cocaine, being promiscuous, and living without any hope at all. She was lost. But her son asked her to come to a gathering at Trinity, and she did. She heard biblical truth and experienced biblical love. God’s Spirit moved, and Jennifer was born again. She was baptized not long ago at Trinity and said these words in her baptismal testimony:
Most recently, I was smoking and shooting seven grams of cocaine a day, and my son asked me to come to a prayer meeting at Trinity. In my small group, I asked for prayer to stop... I know for a fact that I’d be dead right now if God had not used this church in my life.
The ministry of Trinity, Pastor Reaume, and the faithful elders of this church bore much fruit even in difficult days. The same trend—light advancing in darkness—was playing out in Western Canada as well. In Edmonton, at a church called GraceLife, Pastor James Coates and his elders had reached similar conclusions. Coates saw that his people needed the hope of the gospel and determined with his elders and the support of the church that GraceLife Edmonton would not close in 2020 and 2021. For doing so, James Coates and his church were targeted. Civil authorities put a fence around the church building. Coates refused to stop preaching the Word to his people (and hundreds more who came), and for doing so, was thrown into prison in February 2021.
The same happened to Tim Stephens, a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. In May and June 2021, Stephens went to prison for gathering his flock. The video of Stephens being taken by authorities from his family is heart-wrenching. His children weep, and Stephens was hauled off. Alongside Stephens, other faithful men have spoken up and taken a stand in Canada as well. Men like Mike Hovland, Steve Richardson, Aaron Rock, Joseph Boot, Samuel Sey, and Steve Bainbridge have put themselves on record as those who will not bow the knee to champagne tyranny. Still others, like Artur Pawlowski—a Protestant of a different religious stripe than the aforementioned men— have also paid a heavy price for defending religious liberty.
Yet here is something remarkable: the American church has been largely silent about the plight of the Canadian church. Rarely has so much communicative power gone so untapped. Very few pastors, theologians, and religious leaders have supported the persecuted and suffering Canadian church. In America, blessed with huge organizations devoted to the cause of religious liberty and freedom more generally, precious few have spoken in defense of the faithful leaders and congregations of Canada. In fact, over the last couple of years, when Americans (and some Canadians) have spoken up at all about the suffering Canadian pastors, they have done so to oppose them, nitpick their arguments, and generally discourage their bravery.
There is a great more to say about all this. Yet what we should not miss is this: courage is having an effect in Canada, a tremendous effect. It always does. Courage is how movements advance; freedom is what comes from the gospel of Christ, freedom of many kinds. God has done something unprecedented in Canada in recent days, and a nation falling under the shadow of tyranny has awoken. The truckers show us this, as does the massive cross-country opposition to Trudeau’s champagne tyranny.
Truly, at this hour, Trudeau is alone. He is not bolstered by a wave of popular opinion. He who has done so much to mask and muzzle the Canadian people is well and truly unmasked. In his common grace, God has let the world see—in Canada and across the world—the totalitarian nature of modern leftism. It is not “live and let live” as an ideology; it is “do what I say or suffer.”
Here is the story on the ground, then. Canada is not fallen—not yet. Amidst much travail and real suffering, the true Canada is rising. Long may it rise. We ask not for violence or destruction but a return to liberty, human flourishing, and justice. If it is brave truckers who have lately led the way here, know this: before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors. Man may oppose them, but God is behind them. What is the emblem of the Christian faith, after all? Light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
And, we may rightly say, it never will.