Pastor John MacArthur is best known to non-Christians for his awful treatment of women, telling a female preacher to “go home” and saying things like, “When women take over a culture, men become weak.” He has also insisted gay people don’t exist.
So when it comes to handling COVID concerns, there was no reason to think he would suddenly come to his senses.
In California, where his Grace Community Church is located, MacArthur posted a statement on Friday calling for the re-opening of all churches — along with the close seating arrangements, hugs and handshakes, singing, and drinking communion wine from a common cup that comes with it — despite all the harm that could cause the public due to the spread of the virus.
Christ is Lord of all… 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.
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.
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.
This is unbelievably dangerous and remarkably disingenuous.
Churches already obey fire codes when it comes to having exit signs, being built with certain materials, and making sure attendance doesn’t exceed a certain capacity. These are government regulations that aren’t controversial. It’s not like MacArthur or any other pastor is suggesting those rules should be disobeyed.
More importantly, his refusal to obey sensible policy regarding COVID has the effect of hurting other people. A church doesn’t have any right to put the public in danger due to their sincerely held beliefs. That’s what MacArthur wants to do, though.
The irony is that he says very bluntly that it made perfect sense to listen to the government when the virus was initially spreading:
… 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.
That “imminent threat” still exists! Just because the pandemic is inconvenient doesn’t mean it’s over. If caring for people mattered a few months ago, it should still matter now.
In fact, at no point in his lengthy explanation does MacArthur ever mention the reason why churches are supposed to remain closed — because the virus can and will spread when large groups gather indoors, because churches (unlike grocery stores) are meant to be social places, because elderly people are more susceptible to the virus, etc. He makes it sound like this is all about the government telling churches what to do when it’s really about making sure church members are safe.
MacArthur can cite Scripture all he wants, but the fact remains: Large indoor gatherings are hazardous to everyone’s health right now. It’s hard to carry on a worship service when congregants keep getting sick or dying. If anything, the secular government is acting with more love and concern for the congregation’s well-being than their own pastor.
Incidentally, Grace Community Church received between $1 and $2 million in PPP loans. So they have no problem with government intervention when it means more money in their pockets, but they draw the line when it comes to caring for public safety.