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John F MacArthurIn 2017, John MacArthur preached a sermon on Galatians 4:19-20 called ‘The Primary Importance of Sanctification’.

In addition to preaching well on the text, he also gave a discourse on why today’s churches are so, well, awful, for lack of a better word.

The excerpt follows, emphases mine:

We talk a lot about the economy in America and the economy growing. You do understand, don’t you, that the economy in America grows on massive self-interest, not on altruism, not on wanting to help others; it grows on massive self-interest. The church has bought into that as a way to appeal to those people who live for their own fulfillment. Churches then look and sound and feel like the world, and they advertise God as if He was a product that would satisfy your heart’s desires. Carefully they avoid anything that condemns people, anything that convicts them, certainly anything that terrifies them, like the judgment of hell. They avoid anything that expects people to deny themselves, take up a cross, pursue with passion what is holy, pure, and good. And, again, even in churches where there’s a strong emphasis on justification, and maybe a now and then emphasis on glorification, there is a strict avoidance of sanctification. This plays out all the time.

The church is supposed to look like Christ in the world. And rarely does a day go by that there isn’t some blatant, gross sin and immorality attributed to someone in the media across the country, if not across the world, who is anything but Christlike. Faithful churches are always led by godly shepherds who lead their people away from the world, away from themselves to God, away from the fulfillment of their own desires, their own longings, to seek those things which are above, not things on the earth. The church is in a sad state.

Now, how did we get to this point? I don’t want to belabor this, but this is a little bit of helpful history. Churches for centuries were theological, theological, and biblical. The Bible was the centerpiece, and the theology that the Bible taught established the convictions, and churches were God-centered.

It was even demonstrated architecturally. You go back a few generations, and when churches were built they were built to manifest a kind of transcendent perspective. They were tall, they were high; they wanted to demonstrate something that was above the earth. Some of you have visited those kinds of places where you look up, perhaps in some cases a hundred feet or more, and you see paintings and stained glass and things like that.

There was a sense in which when you went to church you were encountering God, and transcendence was important. It was God-centered, it was Christ-centered. And they trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church. I’ll say that again. They trusted in the Holy Spirit for the growth of the church.

Churches opposed worldliness. They opposed sin categorically ... But even Protestant churches, even gospel-preaching churches had a sense of transcendence. There was a dignity about them. The music had a dignity. The way people conducted themselves had a dignity. The leadership carried themselves in a dignified fashion. One commentator I read this week said, “Modern pastors look like they buy their wardrobes at Forever 21.” There was a loftiness. There was an ascendency. You came to hear from heaven. You came for an encounter with God.

New churches are not theological, they’re not biblical; they are psychological, sociological. They have given up transcendence – a heavenly experience, for imminence – an earthly experience, to make it as much like what is familiar in the world as possible; to not make you think that you’ve stepped into any kind of different category, either in the style, the fashion, or anything else; make it as worldly, as flat as possible. It is man-centered. And though the names of Jesus and God are used, Jesus and God are like imaginary friends who give you what you want. Churches today trust in their growth techniques, not the Holy Spirit. They trust that by sucking in the world and redefining worship as a mindless musical stimulation while the people think only about their own desires, that somehow this is how you grow a church.

You can collect a crowd that way, but only the Holy Spirit can build a church. Vague spirituality has replaced sound doctrine. True holiness is not an issue, because that would be way too confrontive. You can’t talk to people about self-denial, of giving up everything they long for, everything they think satisfies them, giving it all up in total self-denial for the sake of God; can’t do that. This culture today has drunk too deeply of the wine of self-fulfillment for too long. They are drunk on it.

Attendance in a church and loyalty to a church is never related, it seems, to the love of the truth or the love of Christ, but always to the love of self: “I like what they do, it’s my style; makes me feel good about me.” You might say, “How did we get here?” We got here because ideas have consequence.

Sigmund Freud died in 1939. He was the father of psychoanalysis. His system was a system that rejected God. His system was a system that said man is the ultimate. And so he said, there is in every human being, what he called, the id. And the id is the real you, the authentic you. It’s basically the complex out of which comes all your desires. And if you want to be who you are you’ve got to let your desires go. If you want to be an authentic person, you need to be you. Whatever you is, whatever the complex of your heart’s desires are, you have to be able to fulfill them to be a healthy, authentic person. In other words, unleash your sinfulness.

Obviously, the most eager people to buy into that were young people, because young people haven’t learned lessons in life about how living like that destroys you. So they’re the fertile ground to sow those seeds. The most liberated sinners are the youngest, because they lack the restraints that come from the lessons of life, and so youth become the symbol of authenticity. Youthful, irresponsible desire is elevated to a noble level, and the perpetual adolescent is the most authentic person.

We see it in our culture. The heroes of this culture are so profoundly sinful and so proud about it, that it would be hard to track the record of their iniquitous behavior. But they’re real; they’re the real people. The church is a restrainer. The church is bondage. The church is full of hypocrites, people who dress up like we do because they’re phonies and they are not authentic.

Over the years since Freud, this youthful authenticity movement has taken over the culture. Dramatically it made strides in the 1960s when, for the first time, the selfish, self-indulgent, immoral young person, hedonistic young person became the cultural hero: the hippies – sex, drugs, rock and roll. This is played out in songs like “I’ve Got To Be Me,” “I Did It My Way.” “And so if a church doesn’t let me be me, I reject it.”

This has reached severe proportions. An illustration: same-sex marriage. Homosexual people don’t care about marriage – just mark it – they don’t care about marriage, they just care about doing what they want to do. They don’t care about marriage.

Why do they want same-sex marriage? They want it established by law for one reason: so that they can put those who are against that sin out of business. That’s all they want; LGBTQ lobbying constantly for acceptance in the culture. It isn’t that they want some kind of political acceptance, they want to make criminals out of the people who spell that out as sin. They want to criminalize Christianity. That’s the only reason any of this is happening. They’re free to do what they want, and they do it. But what bothers them is those who denounce that behavior as sin; they want to make us criminals. So we’re in a tough spot.

The culture, mostly young people, is against us. In the ‘60s after the hippie movement, when immorality just broke loose, there were some kids who supposedly came to Christ; they became the Jesus people. They came to Southern California down to Orange County. There was a guy named Lonnie Frisbee who was leading that movement, who was secretly a homosexual and died of AIDS.

But Lonnie Frisbee had decided they needed to take their kids, that were meeting on the beach and baptizing in the Pacific Ocean, to church. So they went to Calvary Chapel in Orange County where Chuck Smith was pastor. Then it was a four square church, traditional church. And they all showed up on a few Sundays barefoot, long hair, irreverent, casual, with their own kind of music; and the leaders of the church said, “We’ve got to hold onto the young people. If we don’t give them what they want they’ll leave.”

That was already being discussed a lot of places, because the hippie movement caught fire across America – the movement of rebellion against authority, responsibility, duty, expectation; rebellion against right, honor; it caught fire. So the church feared, “We’re going to lose these people if we don’t acquiesce.” So for the first time when the Jesus people came to church, first time I can find in church history, the church began to redefine its own identity and worship based upon the wishes of a rebellious subculture. That definition started then and spread; started in California, spread clear across the country.

Prior to the ‘60s, nobody expected a church service to be rock concert. Nobody expected a church service to be entertainment. Nobody expected worship to be physical stimulation, emotional feelings without engaging your mind. Nobody expected church to be a manipulation of people’s desires to fulfill their own self-styled identity. A church was a church, and it was a place where there was thoughtful, prayerful, biblical, sober-minded hearing from the Word of God, leading to conviction and edification and elevation. It was a heavenly encounter.

But to this modern generation of young peopleserious, sober, thoughtful, scriptural preaching about God, and confrontation of sin, and a call to holiness, and a call to separate from the world and from iniquity is far too absolute and far too offensive. People who want to feel good about themselves the way they are don’t want that, so the church caved in. The church caved in and gave them what they want. And now pastors continue to accommodate those same people – irresponsible, lazy, undisciplined rebels who want what they want – and the church, instead of confronting it, conforms to it. No preaching on sanctification, no preaching on holiness can be done in those environments; they’d empty the place.

This is the situation today. Strong preaching on holiness against worldliness, confronting the desires of the hearts of the “me” generation as sin from which they need to repent is a far cry from the trend.

How true.

I put this post together on Easter Day. What was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon about? The Resurrection? No. Justin Welby preached about the ungodliness of processing economic migrants crossing the English Channel from France to the UK — overwhelmingly single, young men without papers — in Rwanda. That is the Conservative government’s plan which is scheduled to start in several weeks’ time. It is an attempt to reduce the number of migrant crossings which went up from several hundred per annum a few years ago to 28,000+ in 2021.

In a further note on the Church of England, which illustrates what MacArthur is rightly condemning, a 30-something ordinand, GB News commentator Calvin Robinson, is unable to be formally ordained yet because he follows the Bible and is not conforming to the world. The C of E doesn’t like biblical preaching. The C of E is one of the worldliest denominations around. However, many of us stick around because we love the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and, where we can find it, the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We ignore everything and everyone else.

The channel’s article on Robinson’s struggle appeared on Holy Saturday:

When asked what reason the Church gave to him as to why they cancelled his curacy, Calvin added: “They said it would be too turbulent for me to be an ordained minister and have a public profile.

“The official line will be that there [are]n’t enough curacies in London but that is nonsense as I have had several offers for title posts, but even then the Church says no.

“It’s not about there not being enough space, it’s purely politics.”

In response to Calvin’s comments, the Diocese of London told GB News: “In the Diocese of London, we have a limited number of curacies available each year that are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We work with and support Ordinands throughout the discernment process to establish the right path for each person.

“In this instance, it was felt that there was no suitable option available that London could offer.

“Calvin continues to be a candidate sponsored for ordination. We continue to be willing to work with him to discern the right way forward, and we keep him in our prayers.”

Last year, Calvin Robinson presented an hour-long programme, The Meaning of Christmas.

This year, he presented a similar programme on Easter, featuring classic hymns, a biblical viewpoint and interviews with clergy and laity discussing the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection as well as what it was like living in our Lord’s era under Roman rule:

I, too, will keep Calvin in my prayers for his future. He was a teacher for several years, and he would make a good priest. He’d be an ideal Archbishop of Canterbury.

One can only live in hope for the future.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 12:19-21

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s self-defence against the accusations of the false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthians.

His letter then turns towards the spiritual state of the Corinthians.

He says that he has been doing much more than defending himself; in fact, he has been speaking in Christ in the sight of God for their edification (verse 19).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure.

John MacArthur has more on this verse, noting the sarcasm here, tempered by calling the Corinthians ‘beloved’:

Verse 19 – why then are you giving this all to us? – end of verse, “It is all for your” – what? What’s the word? – “upbuilding, beloved. At the same time that he was seeking to reverence God, at the same time that he knew who his judge was and that he was seeking to please God and God alone, he also sought the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian church. And here’s the point; if he w[ere] discredited, they wouldn’t listen to him. If they didn’t listen to him, they wouldn’t hear the Word of God. If they didn’t hear the Word of God, they wouldn’t grow, bottom line. Their sanctification was dependent on listening to him.

He wanted to convince them that he was the true spokesman of God not so they could sit in judgment on his life, but so they could listen to his teaching. “It was all for your upbuilding; it’s all for your edification. You’re not my judge, but you are my spiritual responsibility. You’re not going to sit in judgment on my life, but you are going to sit under my teaching. And only if you trust in me as the true apostle of Jesus Christ are you going to hear what I say and believe it and therefore grow. “

He calls them beloved tenderly here. He’s been sarcastic, and I think putting in the word “beloved” sort of balances it off a little. “You’re not my judge, but all that I’m teaching, all that I’m trying to accomplish here ultimately benefits you, because when you hear the truth, you’re built up in the truth.”

MacArthur explains the transition of subject matter from the false teachers to the Corinthians themselves:

So, in 12:19 and 13:10, he speaks of his commitment to building up the church. And in between those two verses is the final section on how that is done. This is a very, very instructive portion of Scripture. It is at the end of the epistle; that doesn’t lessen its importance. In fact, if anything, it heightens it. He has reached a kind of crescendo here, and he gives us a summary of what is involved in the building up of the saints which is the passion of his life.

He fears that when he finally sees them again they might not find him in a good mood if he finds them reverting to the sins he warned against in 1 Corinthians: quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (verse 20).

Henry says that Paul did not want to be harsh on the congregation unless he found good reason for so doing:

He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them, though he was so careful to make himself easy to them.

Paul ends the chapter by saying that he fears God might humble — humiliate — him before the Corinthians for their stubborn sin and that he will grieve for the souls of the many who had not repented of their impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality (verse 21).

Henry offers these observations. ‘Professors’ here means those who profess their faith:

Note, (1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear lest my God will humble me among you. (2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented, 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 12:21. If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case, their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love them, should mourn for them.

MacArthur looks at some of the words in the original Greek manuscript:

Now, look at Paul’s concern, verse 20, “For I am afraid.” He says the same thing at the beginning of verse 21, “I am afraid.” What is he saying here? He has some fears. The word is phobeō, from which we get the English word “phobia.” It’s not talking about a superficial thing; it’s talking about a deep-seated fear, a deep-seated anxiety

Such a fear, by the way, was reasonable because the last time he went he found that. It was reasonable because since that last time, false teachers had gained the ascendency, and many of the Corinthians had followed their lies, and you don’t follow error without attendant sin; iniquity follows error. Theological error is followed by behavioral iniquity.

So, he realizes that there is great potential for sin to be in that church, because they have false teachers there who are leading them astray. And he’s afraid that when he goes there, he’s going to find that is present – sin and no repentance, as he notes in verse 21 …

Strife, for example, he already spoke to them about in 1 Corinthians 1:11. It means rivalry, discord, debates – literally battles. And then the word “jealousy” – zēlos – envyings. He confronted that in 1 Corinthians 3:3. And then angry tempers – thumos. “Outbursts” is the word, fits, sudden explosions of anger, out of control hostility. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 6:1 and following. And then disputes – eritheia – factious attitudes, divisiveness, partisanship. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 1:11.

And then slanders, which is open, loud-mouthed criticism, public insults, public vilification. He spoke of that in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:10. And by the way, that’s an onomatopoetic word katalaleō – la-da-la-da-la. “Gossip” is another word used here. That, too, he had to address in an indirect way in 1 Corinthians 11:18. Gossip is quiet whispers of criticism. That’s a word in the Greek that’s even hard to pronounce – psithurismos. It’s like, psss-shh-shh-shh-shh – another onomatopoetic word. Whispers of criticism. “Arrogance,” that’s another word that is sort of onomatopoetic. It starts out with a P-H-U (blowing sound), hot air, puffed up, overblown. He referred to that in 1 Corinthians 4 and 5 and 8. And then he closes with disturbances, disorder, tumults, anarchy. They may have been trying to exercise congregational rule, where everybody does what’s right in his own eyes.

And 1 Corinthians 11:20 and following, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and following deal with that. Every one of these sins had been dealt with in 1 Corinthians. They were a part of pagan culture; they got dragged into the church, and Paul’s afraid he’s going to come there and find they’ve all sort of come back again. Because if people are following error, they inevitably are going to follow sinful behavior. And these are the things he fears he’ll find.

Familiar sins. They were part of the habit patterns of these people before they came to Christ.

MacArthur explains Paul’s priorities as a minister in Christ. Sanctification of the flock was his — and should be any pastor’s — ultimate goal:

If you are concerned for the sanctification of the Church, which you must be, because that’s what you’re called to do, if you’ve been given for the upbuilding of the saints, and you’re committed to that, there are six things you must be consumed with. One is repentance, two is discipline, three is authority, four is authenticity, five is obedience, and six is perfection. And those are the six features that Paul works through down to verse 10 of chapter 13.

The pastor is concerned that his people become like Christ. Paul the apostle was concerned that his people became like Christ. And it was that concern that literally consumed his heart and his mind. It moved his emotions, and it moved his will.

His concern for them had very little to do with their physical well-being; it had very little to do with their health, very little to do with their wealth or prosperity, very little, if anything, to do with their success, very little to do with their comfort, very little to do with their personal satisfaction or the fulfillment of their desires and goals. That was not an issue for Paul.

The faithful pastor’s concern was for the sanctification of his people. He was concerned for their spiritual well-being. And I daresay it is fairly common that most churches and most Christians in them become preoccupied with the physical concerns of the church and much less preoccupied, if at all, with those which have to do with personal sanctification

Of course he’s concerned to be a part of times of suffering, and times of pain, and times of illness, and times of loss, and times of difficulty in the matters of physical life, but only insofar, really, as they touch the spiritual dimension, because that’s where the real concern lies.

2 Corinthians 13 closes the book. Next week’s verses are about the necessity of repentance in gaining eternal life in Christ.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:1-4

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

That’s Paul-ine (not as in the female name Pauline), reminiscent of the Apostle Paul.

By resisting California’s local and state government, the Revd John MacArthur is walking into St Paul’s territory.

When I last wrote about the travails of Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, he was still in battle with Los Angeles County. That was in mid-August.

His and his church’s fortunes have not improved since then.

Before going into Grace Community Church’s struggle in detail, an unfortunate situation has resulted from the coronavirus. This is universal and separate, going on throughout Western countries.

It might have happened by accident or by design, through lockdown.

However, the unchurched or the formerly-churched who wished to find comfort and succour in a church community because of a pandemic were unable to do so because of lockdown.

Some Christians often say, ‘Church is everywhere you look or what you make of it personally. If you don’t, it’s your own fault’.

Those from a Calvinist tradition strongly maintain that church is not a building. The Church of Scotland holds to that tenet. Their attitude is: ‘Lockdown? So what?’ Someone from the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) lambasted John MacArthur here a few weeks ago.

For the rest of us, however, that belief does not hold true. In fact, not being able to worship in person in community, particularly at a difficult time, can be deeply unsettling at a time when people feel the desire for a spiritual — and physical — connection more than ever.

RedState, much improved since the departure of Erick Erickson, posted an article by Kira Davis: ‘The Church Has Spectacularly Failed the COVID Test … and the Faithful’.

Ms Davis met up with a friend of hers in California. Her friend was clearly upset about not being able to go to church during lockdown. She said she thought perhaps she was having a crisis of faith.

Ms Davis diagnosed her friend’s problem differently (emphases mine below):

Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.

The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.

Davis rightly chose to put the blame where it properly lies — with our clergy. I don’t live in the United States, but even those of us in other Western countries have experienced limitations on our fellowship. In England, at least, we need to sign in to attend a religious service, wear face coverings, observe social distancing, bring our own liturgical printouts/Bibles, realise we mustn’t sing and remember to greet from a two-metre distance.

At least we can worship indoors.

In California, the state mandates outside worship, more on which later:

Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.

Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at.

Too right!

During normal times — the rest of our lives, bar 2020 — priests and pastors have been telling us that we must attend church for the state of our souls:

Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.

Yep. Except when there’s a pandemic.

During this crisis, those same clergy — men and women– have scurried from sight, just when so many of us need them:

There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentmentall of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.

With John MacArthur in mind, Davis then zeroes in on the current conflict between Church and State. She nails it perfectly:

Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.

She concludes:

The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.

California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.

Nope.

Fortunately, at the age of 81, with a full life of ministry dating back to the late 1960s, John MacArthur has decided to don St Paul’s mantle.

No doubt, he and his godly wife Patricia have prayed together over this issue since July.

On September 16, MacArthur told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that he and his church were still under threat of fines or imprisonment. He said, ‘Bring it on’:

That day, RedState‘s Alex Parker compared him to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in The Enforcer: ‘Pastor John MacArthur Backs Down Not an Inch: If California Wants to Jail Him, “Bring It On”‘. Citations follow below.

It’s hard not to cheer along with the congregation at this announcement of his from August 9, because the only legitimate way to assemble en masse these days is through ‘peaceful protest’:

Returning to his interview with Laura Ingraham, he expressed his deep admiration for Paul the Apostle:

We received a letter with a threat that we could be fined or I could go to jail for a maximum of six months. Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the apostle Paul, and when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like, he asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was gonna spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic if they want to tuck me in a jail.

He also reminded Ingraham and her audience of the COVID-19 figures and the absurdity of prohibiting state-wide public worship:

We believe that the governor, the county, the city, and the health department are going against the Constitution,” MacArthur said in the Tuesday night appearance on Fox News. “And just to remove one obvious question, the rate of COVID in California is 1/100 of 1%. So 1/100 of 1% of 40 million people have COVID and that eliminates freedom to worship from the entire state.

He told Ingraham that President Trump is also on his side. Excellent news, even if MacArthur is self-avowedly apolitical:

I am so thankful that President Trump has told me personally that he supports the church as essential and the churches need to stay open. So, with the Constitution on our side and the president’s backing, we’re open.

A few days earlier, on Sunday, September 13, MacArthur appeared at the pulpit to resounding, if not deafening, applause and cheers. If you had heard only the audio, you would have thought that President Trump were standing there.

MacArthur had a long list of demands from the State of California to read to his congregation:

He thanked them and said, by way of compliment:

You people are out of control. Thank you, thank you.

The requirements follow.

Keep in mind that thousands of worshippers attend Grace Community Church each Sunday:

– No indoor meetings;

– Registration of every person on church property;

– Screening and temperature checks upon entry;

– Six feet of social distancing mandated, including in the car park and in restrooms;

– Every other parking space must be left vacant;

– Everyone must be masked;

– Restrooms must have monitors;

– Floors must have tape markings;

– Restrooms to be used during the service, rather than afterwards to prevent queues;

– Hymnbooks, Holy Communion and Bibles are forbidden;

– No one can shake hands;

– Mandatory seat covers must be in place;

– Services must be shortened (congregation laughs);

– Worship must take place in a tent with a maximum of 350 people;

Anyone who comes in contact with someone outside of their family afterwards for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.

A lot of those sound like what we have in England.

MacArthur concluded:

Obviously, this is not constitutional but, more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the Church.

On Thursday, September 24, Ryan Helfenbein of the Falkirk Center interiewed John MacArthur at length (26 minutes). This is the second of a two-part series on COVID-19 and the Church:

Ryan Hefelbein asks him about his critics decrying his reopening of Grace Community Church.

MacArthur says that Scripture says that the members of the Church are called out to meet together. There is no such thing as an ungathered church.

The notion that the church is scattered is an un-scriptural belief:

That is a foolish statement to make.

MacArthur and his legal counsel had appeared in court that day — September 24 — and presented the enduring infinitesimally low statistic of contracting, let alone dying from, coronavirus, especially between the ages of 30 and 60:

On the basis of statistics alone, this [lockdown] is completely arbitrary.

He says that, even though he is cautious, he believes that whether we live or die depends upon the:

purposes of God.

MacArthur says that his mission in life is to make sure that as many people as possible hear the word of God.

He said that there was only one person, a physician, who had COVID-19. The doctor recovered.

As such, word got around the congregation. MacArthur said that many wondered if the alarm surrounding the pandemic was justified. Through nothing of his own doing, people began to return to church. That would have been in July. Prior to that, he and his assistants had been doing online worship broadcasts in several different languages.

He said:

The Church should never close its doors.

He spoke about the irony of our clergy lauding the heroes of the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Knox), yet they will never run that risk of being in danger — especially surrounding a virus. He pulled a face, disapprovingly.

He took exception to the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris comparing COVID-19 to the Second World War:

Last I knew, no one was bombing LA.

Nice one!

MacArthur said that more and more people have been attending his church’s services every week. That’s probably because there is nowhere else for them to worship normally.

He dismissed ‘conspiracy theorists’ but posited an ongoing ‘conspiracy’ in California and elsewhere in the West — pre-COVID — undoing the tenets of the Gospel as expressed in the Book of Romans:

This culture has done a massive work on destroying the law of God in the heart.

He said that the only remaining bulwark is the Church, but, that, too, has been restrained, not only this year but over the past few decades:

What the hell is going to keep this culture from going to Hell at warp speed?

He said that the only solution is to:

keep preaching, living godly lives, confronting these things

Ryan Helfenbein asked if the coronavirus had changed him.

He replied that, no, it hadn’t. The word of God and his ministry had not changed. Yet, the culture has certainly changed.

Incredibly, he ventured into politics, which is somewhat of an unknown frontier for him, because in past sermons he says he was not interested in the subject. Yet, today, he says that the parties have divided along moral lines (19 minutes in):

For a Christian, a real Christian, I do not believe they can vote Democratic …

Not only do Christians have to uphold righteousness, they must take the side of those that uphold religious righteousness … God wants you to take the stand for righteousness’s sake …

He reiterated not to vote for a platform — the Democrats’ — which goes against God’s will as expressed in the Bible:

Certainly not to vote for that, otherwise you have complicityMurder and perversion is not an option for a Christian on any level. I think it’s come down to that.

He says that the Republican platform — not necessarily the personal lives of their candidates — is on the side of biblical morality.

True to form, MacArthur has a can of Fresca by his side on the desk. He loves Fresca. So did my late maternal grandmother.

Fresca has a weird taste, but if you grew up with it, as I did, it brings back fond memories.

Returning to a serious note, MacArthur reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and the Ruler of the world. MacArthur warns us about the different forms of wrath that can be wrought against a culture.

In Romans 1:24-26 and 28, he says, that God will deliver persistent sinners unto their own devices: serious sin, including sexual immorality. Essentially, God gave them over to a ‘reprobate mind’ i.e, insanity.

He believes that, by and large, we are now ‘in a reprobate mind’ — not all of us, but too many — and that God has unleashed judgement. However, MacArthur says the judgement is temporary, provided that we, as a people, repent.

MacArthur ended by saying:

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

Last week, I ran a series on the Revd John MacArthur and the court battle involving his Grace Community Church regarding indoor worship in Los Angeles County.

It seems as if John MacArthur is an outlier, with no support from clergy from other churches.

Last week ended on an optimistic note: ‘A court win for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church’.

One of my readers, H E, sent in the following comment concerning religious and other restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some time ago, H E gave me permission to repost his comments, and I am happy to do so now. This is excellent (emphases mine below):

Thank you for your series of articles about Pastor John MacArthur and his court fight to permit his church to hold indoor services.

I concur with John Cheshire that it is disappointing that mainstream church bodies generally have not supported Pastor MacArthur’s efforts.

I live in the US. In elementary school, I was taught that the rights enumerated in the US Constitution (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc) are inalienable, natural rights given by God (teachers could say ‘God’ in those days) which pre-exist and supersede civil law.

What troubles me is that governors and mayors in the US issued dictates that forbade a citizen from exercising his God-given rights, despite the fact that, at their inauguration, these officials swore to uphold the Constitution which guarantees free exercise of such rights. I live in the state of New Jersey. Our governor, Philip Murphy, stated on television that he had not considered the effect of his restrictive executive orders on the Bill of Rights. In that interview he stated “the Bill of Rights is above my pay grade.”

(As a sidebar, there have been no calls for the removal of Governor Murphy on the basis that either he lied when he swore to uphold the Constitution or he is incompetent. On the contrary, his approval rating is about 70%).

Policemen are sworn to uphold the law. Implicit in this oath is the understanding that a policeman should not enforce an illegal law. Nonetheless, policemen in New Jersey, acting on an executive order from the Governor, walked into a Jewish religious service, arrested the Rabbi, put him in handcuffs, and hauled him off to jail because he had the temerity to hold a religious service that violated the Governor’s dictates.

For the police to disrupt a religious service and arrest the person leading the service is appalling to me and unheard of in the US, in my personal experience. This is something I would expect to see in China. The legal system in the US is normally reluctant to interfere with religious activities and arrest religious leaders. (I understand that this is a reaction to the shameful way the courts and the police treated Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s). In fact, all one needs to do is to call himself ‘Reverend’ and establish a ‘church’ and he pretty much can do what he wishes. As an example, see Al Sharpton who for decades has been a political rabble rouser, but somehow is untouchable by the courts and the police.

It’s good that the court ruled in Pastor MacArthur’s favor. But what if it hadn’t? Would this mean that Pastor MacArthur’s inalienable right to assemble and worship God is void? How can this be? How can the exercise of one’s God-given, inalienable rights be dependent upon a decision of a local court judge, whose normal job duty is to adjudicate parking tickets?

In my opinion, the issue here is that there should never have been orders by local officials to close church services. They simply don’t have the legal authority to do this. And policemen should never have obeyed orders to enforce such unlawful directives.

The problem we face is that our society has devolved to the point where God-given, inalienable rights have been reduced to the level of municipal ordinances, subject to the whims of petty public officials.

How do we get our rights restored? Through the courts? I don’t see this as likely since the courts are an arm of the state and work to uphold the interests of the state against the citizens. Elect new representatives? We elected Donald Trump as President and the Deep State has blocked nearly every action he has tried to take. I don’t know what the answer is.

I replied:

I don’t have an answer, either …

I am not surprised, though, that other churches aren’t openly supporting John MacArthur, although, no doubt, they’ll gladly take any benefits accruing from a court decision in Grace Community Church’s favour.

First, most pastors in established denoms are left-wing. Secondly, the last thing they want to do is stick their heads above the parapet. A lot of those denominations have hierarchies, too, therefore, individual pastors cannot take those sorts of decisions independently.

The independent Evangelical pastors probably want a quiet life but will gladly let MacArthur do the heavy lifting and then reap the rewards any wins bring.

Today, by chance, I came across an article at LifeNews.com:

‘Judge Fines Church $3,000 for Holding Worship Service, But Abortion Clinics Can Kill Babies’ chronicles the stories of two other California churches that have fallen foul of the law recently. One is in Ventura County. The other is in Santa Clara County:

California Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks appeared before Judge Vincent O’Neill in Superior Court of Ventura County on Friday, August 21 and was held in contempt of court.  Godspeak Calvary Chapel was fined $500 per three services, for two Sundays, or a total of $3,000.

Pastor McCoy received an order from a Ventura state judge on Friday, August 7, banning the church’s in-person services. Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco issued a temporary restraining order to Pastor Rob McCoy, the Church, and Does 1-1000, along with anyone “acting in concert with them” who might attend worship in the future. Governor Gavin Newsom ordered no singing or chanting, and then ordered no worship, even in private homes with anyone who does not live in the home.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel (Church) held three worship services on Sunday, August 9 and August 16. An evidentiary hearing is set for Aug. 31.

North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California was also fined $5,000 for singing in each of the two worship services yesterday, although social distancing was practiced. The four-page letter posted on the front door of the church said, “North Valley Baptist is failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist’s services from singing. This activity is unlawful. The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship. However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly. The county demands that North Valley Baptist immediately cease the activities listed above and fully comply with the Risk Reduction Order, the Gatherings Directive, the State July 13 Order and the State guidance. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”

Santa Clara County had North Valley Baptist Church under surveillance:

Santa Clara County acknowledged in its cease and desist letter they had been sending agents into the church to spy on the congregation during worship services.

In his defence, the church’s pastor pointed to the Bible:

Pastor Jack Trieber said, “You can’t have any law against assembling in God’s house. None. I know we have a Constitutional right to worship, but we have a Higher Power that we answer to. I have a biblical mandate. We have obeyed authority in this church. We’ve always obeyed authority. But when local authority begins to disregard this authority, we go with this book right here,” he said pointing at the Bible.

This is the crazy situation that Newsom has created during the coronavirus outbreak. You can meet in church for anything except worship:

Gov. Newsom’s orders allow the church to feed, shelter, and provide social services, but the same people in the same building cannot worship. In order words, non-religious services are acceptable but religious services are banned. People can receive food, but not take communion. People can be housed overnight, but cannot hold a short worship service, Bible study, or meet for prayer. People can receive counseling to find work but cannot be counseled on finding eternal life.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The same governor who encourages mass protests, bans all worship and is now fining churches for their right to assemble and worship. The same governor who says the church can meet for secular services, bans the church from having religious worship. This unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end.”

Absolutely. I could not agree more.

Thank you, H E, for another excellent comment. The quotes from LifeNews.com reinforce your salient and important points on this topic.

It is cruel that, during a time when church becomes even more important during a life and death health situation, California’s governor forbids his residents from seeking communal solace in God and in Jesus Christ.

This week, I have been writing about the Revd John MacArthur‘s — and Grace Community Church‘s — battle with Los Angeles County over holding indoor church services during the coronavirus restrictions.

On Wednesday, August 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked the county court to hold both MacArthur and his church in contempt of court for having held indoor worship on Sunday, August 16. The Thomas More Society issued a press release that day stating (emphases in bold mine):

Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, responded to the attack by the county:

The LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. They are now asking the court to hold the church in contempt for simply being open for worship last Sunday. Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical board, which is clearly defying the constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty.”

MacArthur and Grace Community Church are suing the county – and the state of California – for attempting to shut down their worship under COVID-related orders that violate the state’s constitution. The lawsuit was filed after MacArthur received a cease and desist letter prohibiting indoor worship and threatening him with fines and imprisonment should Grace Community continue to worship in their church building.

After a California Superior Court judge denied the county’s request for a temporary restraining order against MacArthur and his congregation, the church held weekend worship services. Following that, the County of Los Angeles asked the court to hold the pastor and church in contempt.

The Revd Dale Matson, an Anglican priest serving the Diocese of San Joaquin in California, sent me a positive update from the Thomas More Society, which is representing Grace Community Church. I am most grateful to him for sending me the news during a time when I have been busy offline.

The Thomas More Society’s press release dated Thursday, August 20, reads in part:

The Los Angeles County Superior Court announced on August 20, 2020, that there is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services. The renowned minister and his Sun Valley, California, congregation are being targeted by the County of Los Angeles, which has made repeated attempts to shut down the non-denominational, evangelical megachurch. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri are representing the church, defending the religious freedom of the pastor and congregants against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Ellis responded to the judicial finding:

We are pleased with the outcome today. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff correctly found there is no court order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. LA County continues to harass and target Pastor MacArthur. Having failed to get a court order to shut down the church they have sought three times, theyre going to try again by hauling us back into court. Ironically, LA County said in its application for contempt that, Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions dont go its way, yet thats precisely what LA County is now doing themselves. We will simply continue to defend our clients constitutionally protected rights because church is essential.

What unprofessional, if not vulgar, language for the county to use, especially with regard to a church.

That aside, this is excellent news not only for John MacArthur, his church and the congregation but possibly also for other churches in Los Angeles County, if not California as a whole.

Well done to Jenna Ellis, Charles LiMandri and Judge Beckloff.

I share Fr Dale’s sentiments regarding this ongoing legal battle:

I think a lot of churches will be looking to see the results. God bless this pastor and church.

I hope that the clergy and congregation of Grace Community Church enjoy a lovely Sunday together in air-conditioned comfort.

John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church is at loggerheads with Los Angeles County.

They are still holding indoor church services, despite curtailment of indoor worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday’s post looked at the legal background and how MacArthur’s church decided to resume indoor worship.

Today’s will excerpt the church’s statement of July 24, explaining how it complies with Romans 13:1-7 and similar verses on obeying civil authority.

The statement is entitled ‘A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open’ and ‘Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church’.

Emphases mine below.

The statement begins by saying that Christ is the head of the Church and:

As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.

The statement explains why this is not in violation of Scripture’s commands to obey civil authorities:

Some will think such a firm statement is inexorably in conflict with the command to be subject to governing authorities laid out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authority, including kings, governors, employers, and their agents (in Peter’s words, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” [1 Peter 2:18]). Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained.

However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders.

When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official and arrogates to himself authority that God expressly grants only to the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign over His Kingdom, which is the church. His rule is mediated to local churches through those pastors and elders who teach His Word (Matthew 16:18–19; 2 Timothy 3:16–4:2).

Therefore, in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.

Later in the statement, we read:

In short, as the church, we do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded. The church is Christ’s precious bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23–27). She belongs to Him alone. She exists by His will and serves under His authority. He will tolerate no assault on her purity and no infringement of His headship over her. All of that was established when Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

Christ’s own authority is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And [God the Father has] put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21–23).

Accordingly, the honor that we rightly owe our earthly governors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include compliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way.

The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church. Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both. Neither church nor state has any higher authority than that of Christ Himself, who declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

My post on Romans 13:1-7 has several quotations from one of MacArthur’s sermons on said verses which would seem to contradict the church’s statement. He gave the sermons in 1985.

It says:

… how you behave under the authorities in your country, your nation, your city, whatever it is, will demonstrate your faith, the legitimacy of your faith, to that society. And so we are to submit then to the king, to the governor, to anyone who is over us in authority.

Also:

It was not consequential whether the Roman emperor was kind or good, whether he was a persecutor of Christians, or a lover of Christians. It was not consequential whether he was elected by the people, whether he was appointed by the senate, or whether he took over in a military coup. It was not consequential worker the assertion of imperial authority by Caesar was just or unjust, whether he was wicked or whether he was basically good. None of that was consequential.

It was simply and only that government, as it exists in any situation, is for the purpose of God in that situation. And resistance and rebellion against that government is resistance and rebellion against God. Now again I say, unless it is obvious that the government has overstepped its bounds and is forcing you to do that which is contrary and counter to all that Scripture indicates. God operates in the maintenance of government. We obey …

So government is divinely decreed, and to resist it is to resist God. Now I want to take you to a third thought as we wrap up. Those who resist will be punished. Look at verse 2, again. “They that resist shall receive to themselves judgment.” If you resist the government, you’re going to be punished. That’s the way it is. The word is krima. It’s a word that means judgment.

However, his sermon also has this:

Even when government and the Word of God conflict, we should not disobey overtly until we have done all we can to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. Did you get that? To try to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Well, the church is definitely doing that by going through the courts.

Back to the statement, which briefly acknowledges the Constitution but is based on a biblical defence of the church’s actions:

History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.

The statement ends as follows:

As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true church. Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even where governments seem sympathetic to the church, Christian leaders have often needed to push back against aggressive state officials. In Calvin’s Geneva, for example, church officials at times needed to fend off attempts by the city council to govern aspects of worship, church polity, and church discipline. The Church of England has never fully reformed, precisely because the British Crown and Parliament have always meddled in church affairs. In 1662, the Puritans were ejected from their pulpits because they refused to bow to government mandates regarding use of the Book of Common Prayer, the wearing of vestments, and other ceremonial aspects of state-regulated worship. The British Monarch still claims to be the supreme governor and titular head of the Anglican Church.

But again: Christ is the one true head of His church, and we intend to honor that vital truth in all our gatherings. For that preeminent reason, we cannot accept and will not bow to the intrusive restrictions government officials now want to impose on our congregation. We offer this response without rancor, and not out of hearts that are combative or rebellious (1 Timothy 2:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–17), but with a sobering awareness that we must answer to the Lord Jesus for the stewardship He has given to us as shepherds of His precious flock.

To government officials, we respectfully say with the apostles, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). And our unhesitating reply to that question is the same as the apostles’: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Our prayer is that every faithful congregation will stand with us in obedience to our Lord as Christians have done through the centuries.

No doubt the church’s prominent legal counsel will be able to put that into more secular language in court.

The church has a press release issued this month which presents the lawyer’s arguments. Excerpts follow:

The Thomas More Society announces that nationally renowned attorneys Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri will represent Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California as Special Counsel …

the State of California is using COVID-19 as a pretext to attempt to force churches to close indefinitely. This illegitimate, over-broad, and unconstitutional order to indefinitely cease assembling, and exercising their religion and sincerely held religious beliefs, forced Grace Community Church to defy the order and continue exercising their rights, seeking shelter in the guaranteed religious freedom protections of the United States and California constitutions. By unanimous vote of the Elder Board, led by Pastor MacArthur, Grace Community Church issued a statement July 24, 2020 explaining their decision.

That is the statement I have cited above.

The press release also has statements from Ms Ellis and Mr LiMandri:

The City of Los Angeles through a cease and desist letter has threatened Grace Community Church and Pastor MacArthur specifically with a daily fine of $1000 or arrest.

“Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church are not disobeying the Constitution; it is California’s Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti that are defying their constitutional obligation to protect religious freedom and church assembly,” said Ellis. “Our American system of government specifically recognizes that our individual, fundamental right to free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly is a pre-political, God-given, inalienable right. That right is not given by the government or the Constitution, but rather, government is mandated by the Constitution to preserve and protect it for the church. Grace Community Church has every right to assemble without impossible and unreasonable infringement from the state, and the state has absolutely no power to impose the restrictions it is demanding. Church is essential, and the government has no power to arbitrate whether religious organizations are essential. This is not about health and safety, it is about targeting churches.”

LiMandri said, “It is unconstitutional for Governor Newsom and the State of California to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment. Pastor MacArthur and his church, as well as all churches, are entitled to practice their religion without government interference. This is especially the case when the government has given free rein to protestors, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, and abortion providers. The government orders are also unconstitutional because there is no compelling need for the onerous restrictions on the churches at this time. The hospitals are not overwhelmed and the percentage death rate from COVID-19 is now extremely small. It is time for Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti to recognize what President Trump has already proclaimed: Churches are providing an ‘essential’ service to the people. Therefore, they must be allowed to serve the people in the manner in which God has called them.”

I can hardly wait to see how this turns out come September 4, the date of the hearing.

I certainly hope that Grace Community Church wins this battle.

Since the end of July 2020, the Revd John MacArthur has resumed holding indoor services at Grace Community Church in the face of a ban on indoor worship by the State of California.

I will have more on how the legal battle unfolded between July and the present day.

For now, MacArthur decided to continue with indoor services on Sunday, August 16:

The Daily Wire reported (emphases mine):

Grace Community Church and its senior pastor John MacArthur continued indoor services Sunday even after the California Court of Appeal struck down a lower court ruling that would have allowed the church to gather indoors with masks and social distancing.

As The Daily Wire reported, a Los Angeles County judge denied the county’s request Friday for a temporary restraining order against Grace Community Church and MacArthur after they did not comply with Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to shutter their house of worship because of the coronavirus. The church nevertheless agreed to abide by mask and social distancing protocols at least until the full hearing in September.

According to a Saturday night press release from the Los Angeles County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, “The California Court of Appeal today set aside a lower court order that would have allowed indoor services to take place at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The Court of Appeal’s decision temporarily upholds the County’s Health Officer Orders prohibiting indoor worship services in order to protect congregants and the community as a whole from transmission of the highly contagious and potentially fatal COVID-19 virus.”

This is what happened at Grace Community Church on Sunday morning:

“We’re having church,” MacArthur told his cheering congregation on Sunday morning. Explaining that he is unsure exactly what the city intends to do, he said that the church is not trying to be rebellious, but rather simply trying to do what they believe God has commanded them.

He continued:

We’re meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and to worship him. There was a court order that granted this church, and this church alone, the right to meet indoors. And the powers of the city were not happy about that. They were going to be asking us to do two things: social distance and wear masks. That was until yesterday, when the city — we agreed, look, we’ll comply for a few weeks, they asked that for three weeks. We’re not wanting to be defiant. We will do what is reasonable. That was not enough for the city, so they went to the Appellate Court at the last minute on Saturday late and had that order removed.

So the good news is, you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks. And it’s also good news that you’re not outside because it’s very hot out there. So the Lord knew that we needed to be inside and unmasked. So he did us that gracious favor. They don’t want us to meet, that’s obvious. They’re not willing to work with us. They just want to shut us down. But we’re here to bring honor to the Lord. They’re not our enemy, we understand that. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders, for their salvation. We need to be faithful to do that.

This is a large congregation, in the thousands. Those people will attend nearly every Sunday. Grace Community Church also has Spanish services, so it is a broad community of Christians choosing to worship at one of three services every Sunday.

Interestingly, I wrote about Romans 13:1-7 only a week ago. John MacArthur has strong thoughts on respecting civil authorities, which I cited in my post. Therefore, for him to go against what he has been preaching for decades is highly significant.

However, he sees this particular battle as a constitutional issue regarding freedom of worship.

More to follow tomorrow.

Last week I started a new series, ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds‘.

This week’s instalment presents a defence of Christian beliefs. The tweets are from the Revd Everett Lees, SCP, vicar of Christ Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

BCP below is the Book of Common Prayer:

I could not agree more.

For too long, spiritually corrupted Protestant clergy have portrayed Jesus in a vague, butler-in-the-sky manner or as a socio-political activist.

Episcopalians — and other Anglicans — must recapture the doctrine and beliefs of their denomination. This holds doubly true for clergy. We must teach those tenets and the life of Christ to newcomers and the next generation. I am happy to see that the Revd Mr Lees does just that:

May God continue to bless him and his ministry team.

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