Various Puritan pastors attempted to minister to their people under the duress of government opposition and a real virus. Like these godly leaders, the elders of GraceLife (and other churches) are taking major heat from their government.
Remember my chains.
—Paul, Colossians 4:18
In the 1660s, the thriving Puritan movement hit the buzzsaw. King Charles II handed down a fourfold series of acts called the Clarendon Code. In the “Great Ejection,” close to 2,000 Puritans lost their pulpits. England was never the same; Puritanism never regained its prior strength, though the light of the gospel never went out.
In point of fact, Bible preachers were already suffering. As one example, John Bunyan entered prison early in this decade and remained there until 1672. As in many seasons in church history, it was a dangerous time to be a Baptist, and a dangerous time to be a man of conscience. The Act Against Conventicles—religious gatherings that took places in meetinghouses, homes, or even outdoor fields—dropped in 1664. It decreed that families could study the Scripture with up to four visitors. This was a power-play against Puritan services, and some pastors stopped holding them.
Others did not. According to Lee Gatiss, assorted Puritans employed tremendous daring and skill in order to feed their sheep. Through dictation and a network of friends, Obadiah Grew transmitted his sermons “to be read, to four or more Writers in short Hand, every Saturday Night, or Lord’s Day Morning; and every one of these read it to four new Men who transcrib’d it also: And so it was afterwards read at twenty several Meetings.” Other gatherings took place in the extreme morning hours, and various Puritan groups employed derring-do out of a Christopher Nolan thriller, using trap-doors, hidden escapes, and what we could call “pop-up churches.”
As noted, there was not just one move made by Puritans in this season. Some embraced the government’s decrees, some met in clandestine ways, and others preached openly despite the state’s directives. The end result for a good number of Puritan preachers was quite simple, and quite painful: imprisonment. Like Bunyan, around 200 pastors went to jail because they continued proclaiming Christ. Many godly laypeople joined them in their confinement. The specific reasons for jailing varied, but the general reason was easily recognizable: these preachers refused to close down worship of the living God. They believed that they preached under divine mandate. So they gathered the body of Christ and preached until they could preach no more.
Our Modern-Day Trial
Fast forward 360 years or so. In 2021, many churches find themselves in a tenuous place. The global response to COVID-19 has meant a changed religious landscape. For nearly a year now, churches have discussed, debated, and in some cases divided over the proper response to the lockdown. Christians who agree about soteriology and bibliology have found themselves in different places in regards to a proper crisis response. Even as they exercise their convictions, many are trying to show charity to those who hold differing views.
In such confusing times, it is worth noting what one group has done. Like the aforementioned subgroup of the Puritans, some pastors have dared to preach and to dissent, respectfully and principially, from the stringent measures placed upon Christians in some locales. In Alberta, Canada, GraceLife Edmonton has determined that it should continue to meet, and meet in such a way that differs from some particulars of the provincial mandate.