Against the governor of California’s orders, Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church are assembling for worship every Lord’s day. Their decision has led to many responses and criticisms within the evangelical world. Many who take a different stance than MacArthur still acknowledge that he might be right to practice civil disobedience at this moment. Personally, I am thankful for the stand John MacArthur is taking, and I hope all Christians will pray for him and the elders and members of Grace Community Church. I agree with MacArthur that churches should be open, even if, in his words, “how we do that might vary based on geographical and legal circumstances.”
Below is an email I sent to Grace to You. It expresses my appreciation, admiration, and support of Pastor John MacArthur as he faces fines and potential arrest.
Dear John MacArthur,
Thank you for your courage and boldness during this unprecedented time. I want to thank you that in the twilight of your ministry you have not chosen to push the coast button and drive safely into the sunset. Instead, you have demonstrated the courage of conviction by staying true to your biblically shaped conscience even at the cost of your own safety and reputation. Your leadership at this moment is an encouragement to young pastors like myself.
I think some Christians believe that your position unnecessarily binds the consciences of those who disagree with you. I want you to know that I do not think my conscience is any more bound by your recent statements about civil disobedience than when you argue passionately for premillennialism or elder-rule polity (I am an amillennialist and congregationalist). I view your exhortations to other pastors not as conscience binding, but as fatherly encouragement and fatherly chastisement. Even if some pastors disagree with you, it would be good for them to carefully weigh your exhortations. Your 50 plus years of faithful gospel ministry have earned you a hearing from all of us.
I believe that yours is the voice that needs to be heard during this hour. Since the pandemic began, we have heard many good discussions about the relationship between the church and the state. Most of what I have heard over the last five months is that we need to submit to the government. While obeying the government is biblical and right, every pastor recognizes that there comes a time when the church needs to practice civil disobedience. You have weighed the evidence carefully and have acted consistently with your evaluation of the evidence. You believe now is the time for the church (especially in California) to stand up to the beast.
The evangelical world needs someone of your status, longevity, position, and reputation to remind the magistrates of the limitations of their jurisdiction. We need someone of your stature to tell the governing officials that they are God’s servants appointed to reward good and punish evil (Romans 13:6). Woe to them if they reward evil and punish good. I fear for a state government that picks a fight with the bride of Christ. May God use your pushback at this moment to prevent greater threats to our religious freedom in the future.
Your stance against the magistrates is a compelling witness to the watching world. The testimony our world needs right now and in every generation is the testimony that Jesus is Lord. Perhaps more than ever you are showing American citizens that when Christians say, “Jesus is Lord,” they really mean it, even if it costs them everything. I see your testimony to the watching world as a great act of love for God and love for neighbor. Your courage at this moment has given you a platform on multiple venues to preach the gospel to millions.
Thank you, Pastor MacArthur, for reminding secular officials that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is and always will be essential. Some American judges seem to think that casinos are more essential than churches. But every casino could vanish from planet earth and the world would be a better place. Take away the pillar of truth, which is the church, and the whole world would plunge back into the dark ages.
Thank you, Pastor MacArthur, for reminding all of us how important is the biblical command to assemble. In the present circumstance, the governing authorities are asking you to refrain from doing something that the Bible commands. With the rest of us, you have been forced to evaluate if the threat of COVID-19 should keep churches from assembling. With many pastors and Christians, you do not find an overwhelmingly clear reason to refrain from doing what the Bible requires, or to adjust the way in which you gather. You have led your church to start gathering again and to do it in a way that retains their liberty of conscience on how and when as individuals they will gather for worship. I think your approach is the best way to preserve unity in the body of Christ.
I am praying for you, Pastor MacArthur, and the members and elders of Grace Community Church. Whatever happens, I rejoice with you knowing that Jesus is on the throne, the gospel will advance, and even the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.