At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Grace Community Church, led by John MacArthur in Sun Valley, California, took a lot of heat from critics after the elders decided to initially comply with shutdown orders and close the doors to their church temporarily in an effort to ward off the virus. While this was something new in the modern era, most church leaders were ill-equipped to respond to such orders and most churches in the United States complied, save a few.
Now that the world has had time to figure this out, most churches have re-opened — at least, to some degree. And most people realize that the initial panic in response to the virus was way overblown. Life must go on and, particularly, church must go on.
However, far-left Democrat governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has continued to keep the state on shutdown and enacted even more drastic lockdown orders in recent weeks. Newsom’s executive orders not only keep schools and businesses closed, but limit gatherings — including those in worship services — and strictly prohibits singing in church.
John MacArthur has vowed not to obey.
In a recently released statement by John MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church, MacArthur insists their decision to remain open and fully operational despite the governor’s orders is not in conflict with the biblical tenets of submission to governing authorities — namely, Romans 13.
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. 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.
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.
MacArthur then goes on to say that “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
And, in declaration of civil disobedience to the not only unconstitutional, but irresponsible and ungodly orders, MacArthur writes,
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.
Good on MacArthur and Grace Community Church. We can only hope that many more will follow the lead of this church and do the same thing. You can read the statement in full at this link.