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My last post about the Revd John MacArthur’s ministry and church was dated October 5, 2020.

Thousands of people attend his Grace Community Church services each Sunday.

There are three services each Sunday.

MacArthur has defied lockdown regulations in Los Angeles County since July.

By way of background, here is a report from The Federalist from September 11 (emphases mine):

Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff of the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction Thursday that prohibits Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services.” The ban also extends to services held outside “unless onerous restrictions are followed.”

Since the church first began meeting in-person and defying local lockdown orders in July, Los Angeles County officials have threatened fines, arrest, and even terminated the lease held between the church and the county for parking lot space claiming health and safety concerns.

A $1000 fine issued by Los Angeles County was also imposed on the church this week for signs asking congregants to refrain from entering if they were experiencing “an elevated temperature, a cough, or any flu-like symptoms.” According to the county, the signs were not placed at the proper entrances and exits and did not contain instructions asking people to “wash hands or use sanitizer, to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing.”

Special counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri expressed their disappointment in Thursday ruling, claiming that the court “ducked the issue” and failed “to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review.” They also explained their belief that the church was held to a different standard than other activities during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors,” LiMandri said.

This opinion by the court, according to Ellis and LiMandri, shows that the church was unfairly targeted.

Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny,” Ellis said. “Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”

“More than ever, California’s churches are essential,” LiMandri agreed.

Despite the court’s ruling, Pastor John MacArthur told Fox News’s Shannon Bream on Thursday night that the church would still be meeting.

“1/100th of 1 percent of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said,” said MacArthur. “Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”

The Thomas More Society also said that they will appeal it to “ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

The Federalist‘s article also included a tweet from Jenna Ellis:

On September 25, The Federalist reported:

In a previous order by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction that was intended to prohibit MacArthur and Grace from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services.”

“It’s tyranny to even suggest that a government action cannot be challenged and must be obeyed without question. This case goes to the heart of what our founders designed for the purpose of the legitimate government—not to be above the rule of law,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis. “Pastor MacArthur is simply holding church, which is clearly his constitutionally protected right in this country.”

While the trial will not officially commence until 2021, the judge agreed to host a hearing in mid-November “to consider the scope of the challenge to the validity of the preliminary injunction order for purposes of the contempt trial.”

“This ruling prevents Los Angeles County’s attempted rush to judgment in its continued prosecution of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church for courageously exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Special Counsel Charles LiMandri. “We are pleased that Judge Beckloff indicated he agreed with the major points that we made on behalf of Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church and we are very gratified that the judge’s ruling today reflects that he appreciates the importance of the constitutionally protected rights at issue in this case.”

MacArthur said:

We are holding church. The Lord Jesus requires us to meet together and we will continue to do that because we are commanded to and because it is our right.

Well said.

On October 22, the Los Angeles Times reported that three COVID-19 cases have been linked to Grace Community Church, which receives 7,000 worshippers each Sunday:

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley has seen three confirmed cases, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Public health officials are investigating the outbreak and said they will work closely with the church to help limit transmission of the coronavirus in the church, which has an estimated attendance of 7,000. The county did not provide any further details about whether the cases were confirmed among staff or worshipers. Attorneys for Grace Community Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the county health officer’s order, places of worship must report to the county Public Health Department when at least three coronavirus cases are identified among staff or worshipers within a span of 14 days so the agency can determine whether there is an outbreak.

The conservative megachurch announced in late July that it would restart indoor services — despite a county public health order barring any house of worship from doing so. Thousands of people have attended services, with most not wearing face coverings as they sit side by side indoors, or close together outside under a tent, according to public health officials.

Pastor John MacArthur has repeatedly told the congregation that no one from the church has gotten sick with COVID-19 and claims the pandemic threat is overblown. The church does not screen congregants for symptoms before they enter or require them to follow any protocols, according to court records and interviews with members.

MacArthur has been increasingly skeptical of the pandemic, a viewpoint he has shared from the pulpit. He and his attorneys have argued that it is their constitutional right to hold church services and that meeting together in person is a crucial part of how Grace Community Church’s congregants exercise their religion.

MacArthur has been bucking the county regulations. Good for him.

On October 24, The Federalist reported that Jenna Ellis, one of the two lawyers representing MacArthur and Grace Community Church, said:

Three very mild positive tests among more than 7,000 people is hardly news. 0.0004% or 0.043% is not an ‘outbreak.’ The LA Times and others’ grossly misleading and fear-mongering headlines aim to mischaracterize Grace Community Church as irresponsible and a superspreader.

She added:

It has never been the Church’s position that it is only safe to hold services if no one ever tests positive, or for example, if no one ever gets the flu during flu season. Our position has been that LA County shutting down churches indefinitely amid a virus with a 99.98% survival rate, especially when state-preferred businesses are open and protests are held without restriction, is unconstitutional and harmful to the free exercise of religion.

The day before, Ellis retweeted this Bible verse from MacArthur’s The Master’s Seminary:

I could not agree more.

May our good Lord continue to guide John MacArthur 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.

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.

In late July 2020, the Revd John MacArthur resumed weekly services at his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

The church is located in Los Angeles County.

At first, few people came, because California is still under lockdown.

As the weeks passed, more and more people began attending Sunday services.

A full hearing about the church’s indoor services will take place on September 4.

At the moment, Los Angeles County could fine the church and have prison sentences imposed. The Washington Times reports:

The county issued a cease-and-desist order July 29 warning that the church would be subject to fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in prison for each indoor service.

In Los Angeles County, all religious services must be held outdoors, with masks and social distancing:

Under the county order, churches may conduct outdoor religious services, and participants “must wear cloth face coverings and maintain six feet of distance from each other unless they live in the same household.”

Grace Community Church objects to the lax attitude of Governor Gavin Newsom towards the summer protests, a stark contrast to his stance on indoor church services:

The Supreme Court has ruled twice in favor of state authority to issue emergency orders in lawsuits by churches challenging coronavirus health restrictions, but the Grace lawsuit argued that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had discriminated against churches with his lax enforcement of public-health mandates on protests.

With regard to the congregation not wearing masks at the service on Sunday, August 16, MacArthur offered this explanation:

“They were going to be asking us to do two things, social distance and wear masks,” said Mr. MacArthur. “We agreed, [saying] 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. They went to the appellate court Saturday late, and had that order removed.”

The California Court of Appeal issued a stay of the judge’s order, ruling that the dangers of COVID-19 outweigh the right to hold services at the popular church, where Sunday attendance has in pre-pandemic years topped 8,000.

Grace Community Church has hired a lawyer from the Thomas More Society, which handles religious freedom lawsuits.

Jenna Ellis is representing Grace. She is also a Senior Legal Adviser to President Trump’s campaign team and one of his personal lawyers.

Charles LiMandri is also representing the church.

PJ Media has more on both lawyers:

MacArthur and his church have hired Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri. Ellis is the senior legal adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, private counsel to President Donald Trump, and served on his legal team for the impeachment trial. She also serves as a senior fellow at the Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty and is the author of The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution. LiMandri began the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund in 2012 and has litigated high-profile cases in California for decades, including the ACLU’s effort to remove the Mount Soledad Cross and San Diego’s effort to force firefighters to participate in a gay pride parade against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Breitbart quoted the judge who found in favour of the church on Friday (the stay came on Saturday):

On Friday, Judge James Chalfant of the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, upheld the right of MacArthur and the church to remain open and hold indoor worship.

Attorney Paul Jonna of the firm LiMandri & Jonna LLP, which litigates civil rights issues, tweeted some quotes from Chalfant’s ruling against Los Angeles County, which apparently argued that churches are being treated no differently than other “businesses.”

“The Governor can’t just issue policies without a rational basis to do so,” the judge said. “To my knowledge he never has developed a rational basis to distinguish between businesses. This is all sort of shooting from the hip, which is understandable at the beginning of an emergency and less understandable as time goes on.”

Chalfant continued that “although the moving paper purports to treat churches the same as other businesses, that is constitutionally wrong.”

“They’re entitled to heightened protection, not to be treated like a hair salon,” he said, adding that he agreed that Newsom and Los Angeles County “have not treated churches differently than any other business, and they have to. They absolutely have to.”

The PJ Media article summarises how Grace Community Church got in the crosshairs of the state and the county:

After Newsom ordered churches to shut on July 13, Grace Community Church released a statement on July 24 explaining that Grace Community Church would remain open. “Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles,” the church said. “Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gathers. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”

On July 29, the City of Los Angeles sent a cease-and-desist letter, threatening Grace Community Church and MacArthur with a daily fine of $1,000 or arrest. The letter gave him one day to respond. On Sunday, August 2, health officials came to the church, asking to inspect the premises. The church declined to let them in without a warrant and told them to speak with the church’s counsel. At that, they left.

The statement is on the church’s website. I will go into it in more detail tomorrow.

For now, here is the addendum, added on August 6. It gives the history of this year’s lockdown and the church’s initial compliance (emphases mine below):

The elders of Grace Church considered and independently consented to the original government order, not because we believed the state has a right to tell churches when, whether, or how to worship. To be clear, we believe that the original orders were just as much an illegitimate intrusion of state authority into ecclesiastical matters as we believe it is now. However, because we could not possibly have known the true severity of the virus, and because we care about people as our Lord did, we believe guarding public health against serious contagions is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government. Therefore, we voluntarily followed the initial recommendations of our government. It is, of course, legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health.

When the devastating lockdown began, it was supposed to be a short-term stopgap measure, with the goal to “flatten the curve”—meaning they wanted to slow the rate of infection to ensure that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. And there were horrific projections of death. In light of those factors, our pastors supported the measures by observing the guidelines that were issued for churches.

But we did not yield our spiritual authority to the secular government. We said from the very start that our voluntary compliance was subject to change if the restrictions dragged on beyond the stated goal, or politicians unduly intruded into church affairs, or if health officials added restrictions that would attempt to undermine the church’s mission. We made every decision with our own burden of responsibility in mind. We simply took the early opportunity to support the concerns of health officials and accommodate the same concerns among our church members, out of a desire to act in an abundance of care and reasonableness (Philippians 4:5).

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared. Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary. Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond. That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the church’s statement and how it complies with Romans 13:1-7.

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.

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