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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.

On Sunday, October 27, 2019, Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden was denied Holy Communion at Mass in South Carolina because he has publicly supported abortion.

Fox News reported that Biden, a self-described ‘practising Catholic’, had no comment on being refused the Sacrament:

“I’m not going to discuss that,” Biden told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an on-air phone interview on Tuesday.

Biden and his wife attended Mass at the St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence during a campaign stop, but he was denied Holy Communion — seen by Catholics as receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ — after the pastor took issue with Biden’s support of a woman’s right to an abortion.

The pastor of St Anthony’s was quite open about the refusal:

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Rev. Robert Morey said in a statement on Monday. “Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.”

Good for him. It was unlikely to have been an easy decision to make, considering the former vice president’s status as a political celebrity.

A Catholic pastor, Fr Ryan of St Mary’s in Huntingburg, Indiana, explains the finer points of refusing Holy Communion:

However, Biden is on public record for his support of abortion ‘rights’. Note in particular the first tweet below. The Scripture citation is 1 Corinthians 11:29:

Every Catholic knows what the rules are for Holy Communion.

Joe Biden should have learned from John Kerry in 2004.

That said, perhaps supporting abortion means more to the two of them than receiving Communion.

Now there’s something to think about.

This year, I was pleased to have been able to attend two Sunday services at the Reformed Church in Cannes, 7 rue Notre-Dame.

The name in French is no longer ‘Reformed’ because, those churches unified some time ago with the Lutheran churches in France to create L’Eglise Protestante Unie.

That said, L’Eglise Protestante Unie in Cannes offers a Reformed service rather than a Lutheran one.

2017

Although I went there in 2017, I did not document it. I previously posted on the church in 2015, in the final weeks of Pastor Paolo Morlacchetti’s tenure there. He went to Nice to serve at l’Eglise St Esprit that summer.

I appreciated my visit in 2017. At that time, they had a newish pastor, the Revd Philippe Fromont, who is still there today, I am happy to say. His sermons are very good.

Their organist that year was excellent. I could have listened to him play for hours.

2019

I attended Exaudi and Pentecost Sunday services, both of which were very good.

Pastor Fromont has cut back on the liturgy somewhat. We had only one reading each Sunday and no Psalm. By contrast, in 2015, there were two readings and a Psalm.

Both were Communion services.

When entering the church proper, congregants take a hymnal, a Bible and the liturgical booklet, all of which are neatly stacked in the back pew. The liturgical booklet is colour coded for the Church year.

Exaudi Sunday

Exaudi Sunday is the one between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

The reading was from Acts 1:

And while staying[a] with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Pastor Fromont’s sermon followed the traditional, bittersweet Exaudi Sunday themes: the feeling of sadness that the disciples had following our Lord’s Ascension and the anticipation of a new beginning.

He said that they had no idea what would happen when the Holy Spirit came and asked how often we feel that when an abrupt change comes into our own lives: a severe loss, followed by a new beginning. While the new beginning is not what we had expected, it is often better than we had feared. His sermon was far superior to my summary, by the way. It was actually comforting and inspiring.

After the service, on the way out, he wished me a pleasant stay in Cannes.

Pentecost Sunday and Confirmation

This service was exceptional, as it included a Confirmation service.

Fromont said that it was the first he had performed thus far during his three years in Cannes. He confirmed two boys, Alexei and Dmitri, both of whom are probably 16 years old. If I remember rightly, both have French fathers and Russian mothers.

I spotted Dmitri straightaway as soon as I entered the nave. He was dressed in a suit, white shirt and bow tie. He was talking with family and friends, bussing them, shaking hands and so on. His comportment was very advanced for his age. He was intriguing to watch, because he was very much at ease with young and old alike.

The reading

The reading was from Acts 2:

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Fromont’s sermon expanded on the Exaudi Sunday one, which was a good segue, especially to get us into the mindset of the disciples.

He continued to explore the idea of an end and a beginning. One stage of the disciples’ lives had ended and another began at that first Pentecost. They entered into a powerful new phase not only of their lives but that of the Church. Again, my summary doesn’t do it justice, but I could have readily listened to more.

The sermon ‘joke’

Fromont then turned his attention to the two confirmands.

They, too, he said, were ending one phase of their lives and entering into a new one through Confirmation.

He told an all too real ‘joke’. (By way of explanation, many families stop going to church once their children are confirmed.) A Catholic priest had problems with pigeons in his church’s belfry. He’d tried everything, but they would not leave. So, he decided to consult the other clergy in his small town. He enquired of the rabbi, who offered his commiserations but had no solution. He then asked the Protestant pastor for his advice. The pastor said, ‘Baptise them, confirm them and you’ll never see them again’.

Fromont said he hoped that would not be the case with the two boys he was about to confirm. Each is going to study abroad during the next school year. He said, ‘We won’t be seeing you for a while, but we hope that you will not forget your church family. We look forward to seeing you again upon your return.’

Confirmation, he said, was a beginning of a new life with the Triune God, not the end of attending church. (How true.) He said he hoped that they would continue to grow spiritually and manifest their faith to others, including in the countries where they were going to study.

I pray that they do, too.

Confirmation

I was encouraged when Fromont invited both sets of parents and both boys’ godfathers to speak individually to the congregation. Both sets of parents said that their sons had begged them for Confirmation classes. Fromont catechised the boys in meetings and discussions over a period of months.

Dmitri’s father gave a sermon, giving his son — and us — his favourite Bible verses ‘to live by’. The man, who is an instructor at the Conservatory in Cannes, is a powerful speaker. I can see where his son gets his self confidence.

I should say that both boys spoke before their parents and godfathers did. Both thanked their pastor for the catechism instruction and thanked their parents for allowing them to be confirmed. Dmitri is incredibly comfortable speaking in public. He spoke at length, only glancing at his tablet now and then. He will go far in life, I’m sure.

After the speeches, Fromont prayed over both boys and blessed them. There was no anointing with chrism (blessed oil), but I did not expect that.

Music

There was no organ music that day. Dmitri’s father played guitar, accompanying another Conservatory instructor who played the piano. The two were so good that I felt we were listening to recorded music.

Students from the Conservatory also made their contributions, as Dmitri’s friends. The first group were three little boys who played ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on violins. The lady playing the piano conducted them. She also conducted one of the violinists and played a sombre duet with him.

A teenage boy played a Glenn Miller number on his saxophone. He was very good, too.

So, although these students’ contributions were not religious, they were, in a sense, offerings to God of the talents He had given them.

Communion

There is a certain etiquette to receiving Communion there, which is why I prefer the services without the Sacrament.

Everyone gathers around the altar. The bread is cubed brioche. Some people offer a cube to the person next to them. I did that years ago and the woman to whom I presented it gave me the side eye, so I never did it again. This year, I took mine and passed the plate to the man next to me. He side-eyed me, probably because I didn’t put the bread in his hand. I don’t know.

The cup is then passed in two forms: the chalice and little plastic cups. Whether one drinks from the chalice or the plastic cup, it’s grape juice, not wine.

Fromont gave us his views on Communion on one of those Sundays in his sermon. He adopts the Zwinglian approach, that both the bread and the ‘wine’ are symbolic of the Last Supper. He does not believe in a sense of Real Presence. However, he did say the Sacrament was a means of grace, which was why we needed to partake of it.

On Pentecost Sunday, the confirmands came by with the bread and the wine, which was really nice to see. This was their first Communion, too.

———————————————————————————-

I hope to report on church again when I next visit Cannes, God willing.

John F MacArthurThose who have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts will know that I have been citing one of John MacArthur’s sermons in my posts on Acts 23.

John MacArthur wrote ‘Providential Protection’ in 1974, and it is about Acts 23:12-35.

Throughout, the Lord divinely intervened on Paul’s behalf — via unbelievers — to bring the Apostle where He wanted him to be: first class in the governor Felix’s palace, formerly Herod’s. Although Paul was a prisoner and recovering from a heavy physical beating from the people of Jerusalem, he was able to rest for a few days and share the Good News with the upper strata of Roman society in well deserved comfort.

I cited MacArthur’s sermon most recently in my post on Acts 23:31-35 and would now like to share the ending with you. This pertains to all of us and it might surprise some readers in that God does not want us to be miserable. He provides as and when we need it. Emphases mine below:

People always think God wants everybody to be poor, destitute, and barely scrape by. No. God knows when you need first class. I remember coming home from a meeting one time, to give you a really silly illustration. I was so tired; I had never been as sick as I was. I got sick during the entire meeting. In fact, the church wouldn’t let me come home and come back to preach. I was flying from Chicago to Portland, and I was at the end of my tether. I had stayed all week in Chicago in a place that was un- air conditioned. It was 100 every day and about 95% humidity, and I had the flu, and I had to speak two or three times a day in an auditorium without air conditioning. And by the time the week was over, I was wiped out.

And I’ll never forget; I just didn’t think I could hack it. I knew I was going to get on that airplane and get squished in that preachers’ economy section, next to a guy with a black cigar, you know? I mean, I had it all figured out. I got on there and the girl says to me, “I’m sorry, sir, there are no more seats left. We’ll have to put you in first class.” And I said, “Lord, You know. You know,” and I went in there and they started feeding me, and they fed me from Chicago to Portland.

The Lord knows those things. It is His delight. “Fear not, little flock.” First Samuel 30, verse 6, “And David was greatly distressed, but David encouraged his heart in the Lord his God.” Amen. Let’s pray.

We thank You, Father, for what You have accomplished in the life of Paul through Your providence, as well as through miracles. We thank You for what we see in our own lives as the providence that You design guides us to the accomplishment of Your will.

Thank You for the time we’ve shared together today. Teach us to trust You, to remember that You care. For remember the words of Peter, “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you,” and to fear not, to be anxious for nothing; to know that it’s Your delight to give us all that the Kingdom involves. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Excellent points.

Of course, the Lord also gives us trials — another subject — but everything He does is for a greater purpose in accomplishing His will.

Returning to ‘first class’, the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. He is all-loving and all-merciful. May we always remember that.

Two ELCA — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — pastors have been in the news this month.

Adult content follows — discretion advised.

On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, Big League Politics reported on a story that first appeared in the Christian Post about the Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber who:

is protesting the “evangelical purity culture,” also known as “adherence to the scripture,” and sometimes even “Christianity.” Her plan is to “take down” the church’s teaching about sex, which makes one wonder why she became a pastor in the first place.

This month, she is asking girls to send her their purity rings so that they can be melted down to make a golden vagina:

Mail in your purity rings to be melted down into a special sculpture. In return you’ll receive a Certificate of Impurity, an “Impurity” ring, and the support of all those ready to support a sexual reformation!

Big League Politics tells us:

“This thing about women that the church has tried to hide and control and that is a canvas on which other people can write their own righteousness ― it’s actually ours,” Bolz-Weber reportedly said to HuffPost. “This part of me is mine and I get to determine what is good for it and if it’s beautiful and how I use it in the world.”

The Christian Post article says that one pastor left the ELCA, he was so disgusted by this and similar clerical goings-on (emphases mine):

Rev. Tom Brock, formerly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, crushed Bolz-Weber on his blog. He left the church over its liberal stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Instead of disciplining this heretical pastor, the ELCA invites her to speak at events,” he said. “I am part of a clergy Facebook page for ELCA and former ELCA pastors and it is tragic to see some of them defend all this.”

Bolz-Weber’s website’s About page has a potted autobiography:

NADIA BOLZ-WEBER first hit the New York Times list with her 2013 memoir—the bitingly honest and inspiring Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint followed by the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Accidental Saints in 2015. A former stand-up comic and a recovering alcoholic, Bolz-Weber is the founder and former pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Denver, House for All Sinners and Saints. She speaks at colleges and conferences around the globe.

Big League Politics says:

Bolz-Weber’s behavior is simply the effect of modern liberalism on the church, which tends to preach God’s love and acceptance, forgetting that a large portion of the bible teaches God’s wrath and anger with the wicked.

Their second ELCA clergyman up for examination is the Revd Steven Sabin:

On Monday, December 10, Big League Politics reported on the pastor, who is from San Francisco:

A gay Lutheran Pastor with a history of fighting for gay rights within the church was arrested for possession of child pornography in mid November.

“The Reverend Steven Sabin, pastor at Christ Church Lutheran at Quintara Street and 20th Avenue, was arrested November 15 on three felony charges,” according to Bay Area Reporter. 

Sabin pleaded not guilt to one count of distribution of child pornography and two counts of possession or control of child pornography. According to a San Francisco Police Department news release, the investigators “located a cellphone belonging to Sabin, which contained hundreds of child pornography videos and images depicting juvenile minors being sexually abused. During a subsequent search, investigators found that Sabin was storing child pornography on a cloud storage application.”

The pastor has since been released on bail while he awaits a Dec. 19 pre-trial hearing.

The article says that, in 1998, before the ELCA went off-piste, they expelled Sabin for coming out of the closet. Sabin then joined an offshoot of the ELCA, Christ Church Lutheran. Fortunately, Christ Church Lutheran San Francisco took the child pornography charges seriously and issued this announcement:

We have learned of the arrest of Steve Sabin, who will no longer serve as pastor of Christ Church Lutheran. We are concerned for and ask for prayers for all affected, including all victims of sexual misconduct and for the people of the congregation of Christ Church. We will cooperate fully with law enforcement. We have zero tolerance for clergy sexual misconduct and are committed to providing safe spaces for all children and youth in our church.

Big League Politics points out that the ELCA has gone off the rails over the past two decades:

The ELCA, from which Sabin was booted for being gay, now accepts openly gay pastors, even one who teaches “sex positivity” and is asking young women to send her their purity rings so she can mold them into a large golden vagina. Needless to say, this is contrary to biblical teachings.

Absolutely.

Those looking for a church, especially parents with children, need to exercise caution and pray for discernment.

John F MacArthurThe other Sunday, a group of parishioners who had attended an Anglican diocesan series on church growth spoke after the service.

Oh, dear, I thought. Church growth programmes are so wrong, so very, very wrong.

John MacArthur explains how to get people coming in the doors and get them out again, evangelising. It involves teaching doctrine and the Scripture at every church service.

This excerpt is from a 1973 sermon I cited in my post on Acts 11. MacArthur had been at Grace Church for a little over four years at the time. This is his gimmick-free formula (emphases mine):

For four years, plus, I have endeavored basically to do one thing and that is to teach doctrine. Now we teach through the Bible verse after verse after verse, but really what we’re doing is taking Scripture and framing a doctrine, framing a principle. Doctrine is just principles. And we’ve endeavored for four plus years to build a strong doctrinal base.

I believe in my heart for all the time I’ve been here this has been my goal, my one single desire. And I really think that God in His wonderful providence has blessed His Word here. It’s not me. I’m the first one to know that. It’s the Word of God. But as you teach the Word of God strength is built, doctrine becomes firm and strong. That’s the very basis. The Word is established and my commitment has been to do just that, to spend the time establishing with the Word.

During that same time I feel God has prepared instruments and I prayed this would happen. I prayed that we wouldn’t just have a good theology on paper, but that we’d have a lot of people who had grown up with that theology and who were a part of it, and who lived it, and who would mature, and I prayed that this would happen …

I think the last two months have been one of the most exciting times in my life. I couldn’t begin to remember the names or even count the people who come to me and say, “John, I’ve had enough. I’m full. I’ve learned. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to take it somewhere. What can I do?” You wouldn’t believe how many people have been coming and telling me this. Everyday I hear this.

Sat down last night playing basketball, a guy on the basketball team says to me, “God wants me to go on the mission field. I never dreamed this could even happen. I just feel in my heart I have to go on the mission field. I got to share. I got to get out.” That’s just one in a long chain. A lady came in my office the other day and she says, “Is there a place for me in this church? I just want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to evangelize women.” I can count on my hand five people I can think of who told me they’ve got to go to the mission field soon. God’s just leading them. God’s calling.

People come to me and say, “I got to start a work of evangelism. I want to do this. Can I work here?” We trust God by the time fall comes around we’re going to have a campus evangelist on almost every high school campus in the Valley, people establishing Bible studies and winning people to Christ and nurturing Christians. We’re going to do the same thing on every college campus and I haven’t generated any of it, haven’t invented a program, haven’t done one single thing, just teaching and praying that God will raise some people up. You know what they do, they knock my door down and finally I just tell them, “Go ahead and do it.” Shows you what kind of an administrator I am. But anyway, that’s the way everything works around here. Just wait till people get excited about it. They’ll do it. Get them praying about it. A guy prays long enough the Lord will shoot him out and that’s the supreme joy for me I’m telling you.

Somebody told me the other day that by next semester we have 24 young men at seminary, Calvin Seminary. You don’t know what a joy that is. That’s reproduction. See that’s reproduction. Those men are going to affect thousands of people in their lifetime. And that’s what I hoped would happen, and I praise God that we’re beginning to see the little murmurings of it beginning to happen. People are coming to me and say I feel God’s calling me to begin a work over here and over there. Will you help support us?

I think our church is going to have to catch a vision, people, because we’ve come to the place now where we’ve got prepared people and they’re going to demand, by the Spirit of God, that we turn them loose on this world, and we’re going to have to be ready to handle it and it’s going to mean sacrifice to do it financially. But oh the dividends are eternal, amen? We got to be ready. It’s coming. Believe you me if I come up here in the next month and tell you there’s ten new staff members. You’d better be ready to handle that. Don’t laugh, it might be. The way God’s working right now I’m just drowning in them. You don’t know what a joy this is.

I think it’s a similar thing right here in this situation in this text. The groundwork was laid and it took seven years. For us it’s been four years of teaching and teaching and teaching and teaching and we’ll keep doing that because there’s new people coming all the time and we’ll just keep flip flopping them over and someone says, “Do you want more people in your church?” I want more people in here for a little while so I can send more people out of here. That’s what I want. I don’t people want to just come here and stay. I want people to come here and leave. Now some of you can stay because we need some of you here to train the people to leave. Don’t everybody go so next Sunday I’m here alone, right? …

Some people have talked to me about beginning pastorates; about outreach on campuses, about adult evangelism mobilizing people for reaching out, all kinds of things. I’m just thrilled and I think we’re seeing a phase like we see here in the 11th Chapter of Acts. As a church, when the groundwork is laid, begins to move out. And you know it’s not something you have to generate. Amazingly the Spirit of God does it. He does it.

So, one of our local Anglican churches is opening a café as part of church growth. Big deal. Our area has half a dozen cafés.

I told a good friend of mine — Anglican, but no longer a churchgoer — about the café. He thought it was absurd to think that it would bring more people to church. I agree.

He said he no longer goes to church because the services have been watered down such that there’s no more mysterium tremendum that takes you out of the world and puts you in God’s presence.

He also complained about the poor preaching.

He said that if the Church of England wants people coming back in droves, they will have to go back to basics regarding the liturgy and the sermons. In short, have more 1662 Book of Common Prayer services and robust preaching that gets one thinking about the state of one’s soul.

In short — my friend’s advice is not far from what John MacArthur advocated in 1973 and continues to advocate today. His Grace Church in California is jam packed every Sunday. His Masters Seminary is also highly successful. His Grace To You Ministries is international. That is because MacArthur is doing what the Apostles did.

Church growth programmes do not work. Return to doctrine and Scripture instead for real, lasting growth in the Spirit.

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