There is Now an Underground Church in Canada

Pastor Artur Pawlowski from Calgary, Canada, has been arrested by a SWAT team on a busy highway for failing to close his church under Alberta’s strict Covid-19 health order.

Enduring rough treatment during his arrest, Pastor Artur is now in jail, where he has been deprived of contact with his lawyers. According to Rebel News, the pastor has been forced to endure a sleepless night while lights remained on in his cell throughout the night.

Pastor Artur has not been accused of any crimes, but he has continued to run church services at The Fortress (Cave) of Adullam congregation. Within just kilometres of his parish, hundreds of customers can still freely browse stores like Costco and Walmart under the same health order.

This is not Pastor Artur’s first brush with the Canadian authorities since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. In April 2020, he was issued a $1,200 fine for feeding the homeless outside in the snow, instead of remaining indoors. Artur has been presented with various awards for his civil liberties and humanitarian work.

Pastor Artur also made headlines in April of this year, when armed Calgary Police entered his church to shut down an Easter service.

A video went viral of him calling the police ‘Nazis’ and ‘gestapo’, and demanding they leave the church property and only return once they had obtained a warrant. “This is a place for worship and no place for weapons,” Artur told reporters. “We have people praying here. They were scaring the kids. This was Passover. This is Easter.”

Artur Pawlowski grew up in Poland under communism. His grandparents lived under the Nazis. “My family escaped the communists in Poland and first went to Greece and then to Canada to get away from it,” he explained to reporters after that incident. “There were millions of Jewish people murdered in Poland including at Auschwitz.” Pawlowski became a Canadian citizen in 2004.

During a jailhouse interview following his recent arrest, Pastor Artur said,

I’m in good spirits, I’m not going to quit. They will not silence me. I will keep doing what I’m doing, because if I don’t have freedom, then I have nothing else. If we don’t have freedom to worship our God, then what else do we have?

The Fortress (Cave) of Adullam is not the only church to have been impacted by Canada’s inconsistently severe health orders. GraceLife Church, also located in Alberta, is now meeting in an undisclosed location, after its facilities were barricaded by officials and its pastor spent over a month in a maximum-security prison.

Christians will react differently on hearing of pastors arrested and churches forced underground in a Western nation like Canada. Some may instinctively fear that “the end is nigh” and that widespread persecution is just around the corner. Others will dismiss these stories as a measured response from authorities against congregations and spiritual leaders who refuse to cooperate with temporary measures for the “common good”.

Both reactions miss the mark in different ways. In all likelihood, once Western governments no longer have Covid-19 as an occasion for these health orders, church life will return to something approaching normality. I will of course happily eat my words if this turns out not to be the case.

But on the other hand, the Bible does command us to praise God “in the assembly of the faithful” (Psalm 149:1), and to “not neglect our meeting together” as believers (Hebrews 10:25). Nowhere does Scripture provide an exception to this — whether under political persecution or public health orders.

Indeed, if the will of God and the will of man come into conflict, we are told to “obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). In all of this, we are still commanded by God to love our neighbour and our enemy—which includes taking sensible precautions not to harm anyone.

What many Westerners do not have access to is the experience of life under totalitarian rule, like Pastor Artur Pawlowski and his family have endured. Countless people who escaped the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century testify that it was far easier to “go along to get along” under those regimes than it was to resist and stand up for righteousness, no matter the cost.

Covid-19 and governments’ responses to it will pass. But other forms of persecution — mostly related to issues of sexuality — are likely to soon impact the Western church in significant ways. 

As this unfolds, it will be tempting to dismiss early dissenters as quacks and belligerents who deserved what was coming to them. In every such case, there will be reasons aplenty we could provide for why authorities got it right and Christians could have done better.

We saw this with Israel Folau, when too many Christians lined up to criticise him for his tone or delivery on social media, but failed to express support for his fundamental freedoms. This dishonours our fellow man — and it dishonours God himself, in whose image we’ve all been made.

Freedom — whether freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, or religion — is not something provided to us by the powers that be. No government can give us our freedom or take it away: the government’s role is merely to protect our God-given freedoms.

In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” From a civil perspective, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.

Unless we want to see history repeat itself, we must remember this truth and guard it wholeheartedly.

This article first appeared at The Daily Declaration.

5 thoughts on “There is Now an Underground Church in Canada

  1. Thanks for this article Kurt. I am extremely glad you are writing about this when so many Christians are staying silent or are actually helping perpetrate the issues. I applaud your bravery to speak out when so many others are too afraid. Thankyou from the bottom of my heart. Jas

  2. Sorry, Kurt, I have to disagree on this one. but I hope you don’t regard this as “backlash”.

    As COVID is still going strong in Canada, in a nation with a population 1.5 times ours, yet with so far over 4 times the number of cases diagnosed, & with over 7,500 new cases & 56 deaths yesterday, it is actually on the increase there.

    What I’m not saying is that the measures aren’t extreme or unfair. If, as you say, “hundreds of customers can still freely browse stores like Costco and Walmart under the same health order (although this seems to be contradicted by https://www.retailcouncil.org/coronavirus-info-for-retailers/provincial-covid-19-resources-and-updates/ which shows that in Alberta, the province where this occurred, “All retailers are permitted to open, but must lower their in-store capacity to 10%).

    I think it would be wiser to assume that, as in most nations, the people in authority there are doing their best for their communities, as we’ve also seen here. But just like here, what I think we’re seeing is mere inconsistency in making regulations on the run, which is something we’ve witnessed in so many nations & their efforts against the pandemic.

    In this respect I’ve seen too many Christian commentators being hyper-critical of politicians & their medical advisors for being people who, while coming up with all of these restrictive measures, they’re accused of not having “skin in the game”, as their jobs are not on the line like so many in severely effected industries. But is it really even remotely fair to assume that these are people who don’t feel a huge weight of responsibility for their actions just because it doesn’t affect their income? How can people who are Christians be so cynical to jump to such a conclusion?

    So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take of this, as a Christian observer.

    Are the regulations against churches in Canada more restrictive than for retail (I haven’t checked their wider restrictions)? In some provinces, like Alberta, a little, in some they don’t seem to be. So is this an example of persecution? No, not even remotely.

    However, can we see how persecution can be committed by a government which is opposed to Christianity? Absolutely! But as those have been put into practice for over a century under Communist regimes (like the one this pastor experienced in Poland), among others, we already know what they look like.

    So can we expect these regulations in Canada to ease, along with those affecting retail & other aspects of daily life? And is there anything to suggest that churches will not be treated the same, that they will also be allowed to open as normal? Again, absolutely!

    So it’s my opinion that we need to be “sons of Issachar”, who with spiritual wisdom & insight understand the times (1 Chron 12:32), who look more carefully at what is happening before we cry “Persecution”. Otherwise we will end up being like the boy who cried “Wolf!”, & when the real wolf comes for us, nobody will be listening.

    1. I respect your right to disagree, Kym. Interestingly, I didn’t use the word persecution to describe these events – though I did address the issue of persecution more broadly. I looked into the specific health order in Alberta and how it is affecting churches versus other sectors, and it was hard to get clear information. But as I wrote above, it’s not entirely relevant whether the cause is political persecution or a public health order – if churches are told by God to gather but by the state that they are not allowed to, I respect the decision of congregations to obey God first, so long as they are not inflicting any measurable harm, just as I respect the decision of other churches not to meet. I believe this is a faithful application of Romans 14:1ff.

      As to the issue of persecution down the road, I disagree that this is a “boy who cried wolf” scenario. I think a more fitting illustration is the frog in slowly heated water. Covid and these restrictions will pass. Therapeutic totalitarianism won’t, unless something changes. I am not crying “persecution” at this present case, but by drawing attention to it, I am letting believers know that the water is heating up and that we must stay vigilant.

  3. I enjoy your plight Kurt and I can see the point you are trying to make in this post. However as a Canadian and a Christian I think this one is a bit sensationalist and misses the mark of reality in Canadian culture.

    The Canadian Government celebrates diversity in all aspects including religion. I do not believe that the authorities are singling out Christians but rather people and organisations that refuse to obey public health orders.

    People like Pastor Artur are giving Christians a bad name as they paint us as a defiant extreme group when we are called by Christ to keep the peace and respect our Government officials.

    Covid 19 has made it difficult to do the things we normally do such as meeting together in person, there are no regulations on meeting in different ways such as online and here in British Columbia we can have outdoor services at a reduced capacity. This is actually more lenient than most recreational clubs who largely have been forced to cancel their activities.

    I feel the governments have been trying their best to keep people safe and try to keep the spread down in an extremely difficult and unprecedented situation. While trying to find a fair balance on this, as far as what things in society need to be postponed has not always been perfect, overall in BC at least I feel they have done a good job.

    My issue with your latest blog post is it takes one situation of one guy who is a bad example of a Christian in his actions to meet and defy a public health order, and paint him as a hero. I feel this is a misrepresentation of the situation and i do not think this guy should be celebrated for this act.

    I appreciate your plight to point us towards being vigilant towards totalitarianism, I don’t feel that defying public health orders makes you a Christian Martyr – It just makes you a bad citizen and human.

    The verses you quote to back up your argument are also very out of context of this situation, we are not banned from meeting together in Canada as Christians – we are just asked to do so differently so that less people will die from a virus that is going around.

    Keep up the good work Kurt – I don’t think this latest blog was it.

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