Amid raging debate on the topic of church operation in the age of COVID-19, a prominent and widely respected voice has just weighed in with what should be the final word.
In an Friday blog post, renowned California pastor John MacArthur declared with certainty that houses of worship should remain open, reminding local officials and Christian congregants alike that “freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.”
“Christ is Lord of all,” wrote MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in San Fernando Valley. “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 pastor added.
Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church: A Statement from John MacArthur and the Elders of Grace Community Church https://t.co/tObjChOfcI
— Grace to You (@gracetoyou) July 24, 2020
The letter came less than two weeks after Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom did an about-face on the social and economic reopening of California, issuing an executive order that once again restricted businesses and religious institutions following a major coronavirus case surge within the state, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Newsom’s controversial edict, issued July 13, ordered the shutdown of all indoor dining locations, bars, zoos and museums, in addition to largely closing down churches and gyms.
It had been just over two months since the state began incredibly modest reopening efforts on May 8, according to the Times.
Previous efforts to lock down the state were met with substantial challenges by early May as numerous counties, cities and citizens protested by reopening early. Sizable church networks also pledged to ignore Newsom’s order that they remain closed.
And where patience once wore thin, it has now dried up entirely.
According to MacArthur, the closure and re-closure orders were a radical step beyond the government’s jurisdiction in regard to houses of worship.
“God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church,” he wrote. “Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected.”
“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,” MacArthur added.
With a great deal of foresight, however, MacArthur also pre-emptively responded to a group of detractors who have been incredibly vocal within the church in recent months — those who would argue that Christians must submit themselves to any and all earthly authority, no matter the circumstances.
In Mark 12:17, after being asked whether a believer in God can in good conscience pay taxes to an unbelieving state, Jesus Christ says: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Therefore, some argue, we must close our houses of worship in biblical submission to our leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite our disagreements with the policy.
These folks have, however, missed something. When we violate God’s command to worship him communally out of respect for earthly authority, we are “rendering to Caesar” what is belongs to God: us.
“The church is Christ’s precious bride,” MacArthur wrote. “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.”
“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,” MacArthur wrote.
“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?” the pastor asked. “There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“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.”
MacArthur’s church is not alone. It appears a series of California megachurches have already begun gearing up to operate in protest of Newsom’s latest order.
The government would do well to remember that. As would the people.
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